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Canon PowerShot G12 Review
by Jim Keenan -  11/1/2010

The Canon G12 carries much of the same DNA that make up its G11 and G10 predecessors. When Canon brought the G10 to market a couple of years ago with 14.7 megapixels wedged onto a 1/1.7-inch sensor, criticism was immediate over less than stirring ISO noise performance. The G11 debuted with the same sized sensor but - surprise! - a reduced resolution of "only" 10 megapixels.

Canon PowerShot G12


Dropping the resolution helped the G11 achieve good ISO performance to go with fine image quality - quality so good I rated it the best compact digital I'd reviewed up to that time. Wise enough not to mess with a good thing, Canon has rolled out the G12, an updated version of the G11. Bearing a strong family resemblance to the earlier camera, the G12 could easily be mistaken for your father's G11 but for additions like 720p HD video with stereo sound, multiple aspect ratios, a high dynamic range scene mode, electronic level and tracking AF.

The 1/1.7-inch sensor, 10 megapixel resolution, DIGIC IV processor, RAW and JPEG shooting options and 5x optical zoom covering the 28 to 140mm focal range are all back. Here's what that zoom range looks like at each end:

Canon G12 Sample Image
Wide Angle, 28mm equivalent

Canon G12 Sample Image
Telephoto, 140mm equivalent

Stabilization in the G12 features Canon's hybrid image stabilization system, which incorporates "...both an angular sensor and an accelerometer, enabling it to suppress both the blur caused by the angle of the camera and the "shift blur" that happens when your subject moves parallel to the camera." DSLR fans will feel right at home with the addition of a front dial that offers speedy adjustment of shutter speed or aperture in the appropriate manual shooting modes (and shutter speed in full manual, with the control dial setting aperture).

In addition to those manual shooting modes the G12 offers automatic and scene-specific shooting options that should appeal to a broad range of users, both experienced or not. That about covers the changes incorporated into the G12, which also retains the SD/SDHC/SDXC, MultiMediaCard, MMC Plus Card and HC MMC Plus Card memory media compatibility of the earlier camera. Canon includes a lithium battery pack and charger, neck strap, AV and USB cables, CD-ROM software and a printed "getting started" user manual with each camera. A complete user's manual may be downloaded from Canon's website in Adobe PDF format.

The G12 looks, feels and shoots like a G11, so portions of this review may include text from the G11 review where appropriate. The G11 proved to be a wonderful camera - time to find out if the G12 is more of the same.

BUILD AND DESIGN
The G12 offers the retro look of a classic rangefinder camera, and its metal and composite body's fit and finish are first rate. Given the $500 MSRP that places the price of admission to the G12 club at the fringe of entry-level DSLR country, they should be. The camera is finished in rich-looking flat black paint with a light texture. This is a large and heavy "compact" in relation to most 5x point and shoots - measuring out at 4.41x3.0x1.9 inches and over 14 ounces with battery and memory card onboard - and not something that slips casually into a shirt pocket.

Canon PowerShot G12

Ergonomics and Controls
The rounded-edge, rectangular body of the G12 features a slightly built-up grip in the right front that provides a secure feel to one-handed shooting. The flash is positioned at the top left edge of the camera body and invites total or partial blockage by fingers of the left hand in two-handed holds.

The top and back of the body are covered with controls. The shooting finger falls naturally to the shutter button but the thumb lies across the menu button, control dial, metering and delete buttons on the camera back. Even so, unintended activations were not a problem. As with the G11, external controls allow fairly quick access to a number of shooting settings you might want to change on the fly, such as ISO, metering method, white balance and others - depending, of course, on whether you're shooting in a mode that permits inputs. The front dial is a nice addition and will be appreciated by folks shooting in the manual modes.

Canon PowerShot G12

Menus and Modes
Folks familiar with Canon compacts will feel right at home with the menu set on the G12, and newcomers to the brand will find the camera highly intuitive to manage and set up, even without benefit of the user guide. After pressing the menu button, menus or menu items are selected via the control wheel and the camera displays a brief explanation of the function of the specific item in question.

There are ten primary shooting modes:

Display/Viewfinder
The 2.8-inch LCD monitor has a 461,000 dot composition and offers 100% coverage. It can swing through 180 degrees and rotate along its long axis through 270 degrees. The monitor is adjustable for 5 levels of brightness and the ability to articulate can be of help in bright outdoor light, where the monitor can sometimes be difficult to see for image composition.

Canon PowerShot G12

The camera has an optical view finder, but coverage is only 77% and makes the VF useless for accurate image composition - the image seen and composed through the finder does not include significant area on all sides that appear in the actual image that is captured. No data is presented on the VF screen - two small circular lights that appear in your peripheral vision when using the VF indicate when the camera has achieved focus. The VF does have a diopter adjustment for varying degrees of eyesight acuity. One major advantage of the viewfinder is power consumption, or rather, lack thereof. Canon rates the G12 for a battery life of 370 shots using the monitor, but 1000 shots using the viewfinder.

PERFORMANCE
While the G12 retains the range of automatic shooting options along with manual modes and plenty of user inputs afforded by the G11, it unfortunately also retained some of the somewhat disappointing performance numbers generated by the G11.

Shooting Performance
Power up time is only average - the G12 presents a focus icon in a bit over 2 seconds after power on, and a first shot takes about 2.75 seconds. Single shot-to-shot times run about 2.75 seconds with a class 10 SDHC card. Shutter lag measured out as 0.04 seconds (although in truth it doesn't feel that slow), still quick enough to catch a couple of Anna's hummingbirds contemplating a snack at one of our feeders.

Canon G12 Sample Image Canon G12 Sample Image

AF acquisition times proved to be about 0.50 seconds in good light, not among the best in the class and a bit off what we saw with the G11. (The hummingbirds were shot with prefocus on a set spot, then waiting for them to fly into that area). Continuous shooting rates came up at 2.1 fps - about as advertised - and the G12 shoots at over 4 fps in the low-light mode (at greatly reduced resolution). Tracking moving subjects is hamstrung by a screen blackout after the first shot of the sequence, and the camera is always one shot behind on display.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 0.01
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 0.01
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 0.01
Canon PowerShot G12 0.04

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 0.19
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 0.28
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 0.40
Canon PowerShot G12 0.50


Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 3 3.3 fps
Canon PowerShot G12 2.1 fps
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 4 1.9 fps
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 4 1.6 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Flash range is listed as 23 feet at wide angle, 13 feet at telephoto, both with auto ISO. Using the 80 and 100 ISO sensitivities that provide the best noise performance will cut into these distances significantly. Canon lists recycle time as "less than 10 seconds" but using auto ISO and wide angle in moderate light provided times in the 2 to 5 second range; a seemingly full discharge (aperture priority, f/8, telephoto, in complete darkness) took about 8.5 seconds. And if the flash doesn't quite get the job done, the G12 offers "i-contrast" as part of the replay menu - you can select auto, low, medium or high levels of enhancement to brighten dark images. Here's another Anna's that came out a bit dark and the same shot after in-camera processing with i-contrast:

Canon G12 Sample Image
Original
Canon G12 Sample Image
Auto i-contrast

The flash did a good job not overpowering close up subjects - here are a hibiscus and an oleander at near-macro distance:

Canon G12 Sample Image Canon G12 Sample Image

I found the shutter button action to be light - there is a barely discernable detent when the button reaches half-push for focus purposes, and it is a simple matter to go right past focus and initiate capture (without focus) without intending to, particularly if you're rushing a shot. You get used to the feel eventually, but even after acclimating to the camera rushed shots would sometimes be taken without acquiring focus.

Battery life, as mentioned earlier, is about 370 shots with the LCD, and 1000 using the viewfinder. Most folks will probably use the monitor, so a spare for all day shooting sessions is a good idea if you're a monitor person.

Canon PowerShot G12

Lens Performance
While the 5x zoom of the G12 is unchanged (at least in length and maximum apertures) our review unit showed a bit of moustache distortion (versus barrel in the G11) at wide angle. Moustache looks like barrel distortion in the center of the image, then starts to pincushion toward the edges. It is sometimes called gull-wing distortion. Corners were a bit soft, edges a little less so. There was just a hint of purple fringing at wide angle in some high contrast boundary areas, but 200 to 300% enlargement is required for it to be readily apparent - it would take an eagle eye to spot it at 100%.

Canon PowerShot G12

The telephoto end turned in an excellent performance - geometric distortion was not apparent and edges and corners of the frame were quite sharp. Some purple fringing was present at high magnifications, but to an even lesser degree than at wide angle.

Close focus distance for the lens can be as close as 0.4 inches, although these roses are a little further back than that.

Canon G12 Sample Image Canon G12 Sample Image

Video Quality
With 1080p HD video already established in a number of Canon DSLRs and at least one member of the PowerShot family (SD4500 IS), it was a bit surprising to find "only" 720p video in the G12. Well, at least we know what to expect from the G13 in this department. But as 720 HD videos go, the G12 image quality is pretty good. Zoom is available, although the camera will record zoom noise, and the microphone is wind sensitive. There is a wind filter available.

Video capture requires that you set the mode dial to movie, compose the shot, establish focus and shoot. If you recompose the shot focus doesn't change, but exposure will be based on the new composition. It is possible to establish focus on one point and then by zooming or panning onto another point, find that your focus is unacceptable. Subjects at the same general distance as the original focus point will be acceptably sharp, but focus on a distant subject and then pan or zoom to a nearby one (or vice-versa) and you may encounter soft captures.

Image Quality
After shooting the G11 last year, I had high expectations for the G12 and the new camera didn't disappoint. Default images are very good, and there are settings aplenty for folks who shoot the manual modes and want to custom tailor their captures.

The "my colors" color palette will be familiar to Canon users - here are the off (default), vibrant, neutral, sepia and B&W options.

Canon G12 Sample Image
Default (Off)
Canon G12 Sample Image
Vibrant
Canon G12 Sample Image
Neutral
Canon G12 Sample Image
Sepia
Canon G12 Sample Image
Black & White

There are additional options such as positive film, lighter and darker skin tones, vivid blue, green or red and a custom setting to allow you to adjust color to your preference.

The G12 incorporates a couple features to expand the camera's apparent dynamic range. The first is dynamic range correction, which is off by default. In the manual shooting modes with ISO also set manually you have the option of selecting 200 or 400% strength - with auto ISO an auto setting is also available. I didn't notice dramatic changes in setting either strength versus leaving the feature disabled - there was a bit more detail retained in bright areas, particularly at 400%. The downside is that setting 200% involves bumping the ISO to 160 if you have it set lower; at 400% it goes to 320 ISO. If you had ISO set higher than 1600 (and as we'll see later, why would you?) ISO goes to 1600. Here's a shot in aperture priority, and then with 200 and 400% correction.

Canon G12 Sample Image
DRO Off
Canon G12 Sample Image
DRO 200%
Canon G12 Sample Image
DRO 400%

There's also the HDR (high dynamic range) shooting option (for stationary subjects) in the scene menu that's a bit interesting. HDR requires a tripod as it takes 3 images (under, over and correctly exposed) and then merges them to bring out detail from all three in a single image. This is the same basic process used in HDR captures with a DSLR, except those images are then merged in a post processing operation using specialized software. Canon also recommends turning off stabilization when using HDR. I forgot to turn off stabilization in the examples below, but it didn't seem to impact the image. The tripod is mandatory, however - I tried hand holding and also bracing the camera on a rail, but images showed camera shake in both cases. Here's a walkway at the mission shot in aperture priority and again in HDR. Note greater detail and a brighter exposure in the wooden beams overhead in the HDR shot, and also the movement of the branch to the right as a result of three captures being merged into one.

Canon G12 Sample Image
Aperture Priority
Canon G12 Sample Image
HDR

Auto white balance was used for the shots in this review and worked well in most cases - except for shooting fairly warm under incandescent lighting. There are daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, underwater and 2 custom settings available. Somewhat surprising was the lack of a color temperature setting in a $500 camera.

Canon G12 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Evaluative metering was used for image exposure calculation and did a good job overall. As with most compacts there were some instances of lost highlights in high contrast situations, but the G12 performed well on the whole. There are center-weighted and spot options available.

ISO noise performance is what we expected, that is to say, a bit better than your typical compact with smaller sensors and/or more resolution. ISO 80 and 100 are pretty much identical, with 200 showing just the slightest bit of noise and a tiny loss of fine detail - but nothing that would be apparent without the closest scrutiny, and perhaps not even then. ISO 400 shows a bit more noise and loss of fine details, but remains very usable for large prints.

Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 80
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 80, 100% crop
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 100
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 200
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 400
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 800
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Canon G12 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop


ISO 800 shows more noise and fine details are becoming smudged, but this is still a small print capable setting. By 1600 images show a marked decline from 800 with increased noise overall and fine details becoming more indistinct. ISO 3200 takes the most dramatic downturn, with significant increased noise over 1600 and fine details that are now reduced to featureless blobs.

Additional Sample Images
Canon G12 Sample Image Canon G12 Sample Image
Canon G12 Sample Image Canon G12 Sample Image
Canon G12 Sample Image Canon G12 Sample Image
Canon G12 Sample Image Canon G12 Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
The G12 represents a measured update to an already wonderful G11 platform and carries on the better than average ISO performance and excellent still image quality of the earlier camera. Video has now been upped to 720p HD status and there's a useful HDR shooting mode along with multiple aspect ratios and a tracking AF function to tempt G11 owners to move into a 12. That might not be enough to pry another $500 from too many G11 drivers, but for someone contemplating a move into a G12 from most other compacts the camera is an attractive, if expensive choice.


Shutter lag and AF acquisition times aren't too bad, but not class-leading and off the pace a bit compared to the G11. The video quality is good but doesn't feature AF, and coming up short of 1080 HD in your PowerShot flagship while another PowerShot (with a $350 MSRP) already boasts that resolution seems a bit odd. Size and weight will turn a number of potential buyers away.

Still, the G12 is an excellent camera and none of the perceived shortcomings is fatal. And for every buyer who walks away from a "compact" that isn't so compact or light, there's apt to be another who relishes the chance to leave the really big and heavy DSLR at home in lieu of a compact with a RAW shooting capability and a DSLR-like suite of user inputs.

Pros:

Cons: