No camera does everything, and my photographic needs have evolved a bit. So as stage one of a long-term strategy to bring my digital camera toolbox up to date I bought a Canon G11 digicam. My particular interest was that it be light enough for me to hold (my hands are no longer strong enough to easily hold a heavy camera) and to perform well in low light. I’ve had the camera a few days now and here are some observations.
First, the picture below. It’s a small cropped section of a larger photo, and I took the pic in early morning before sunrise… handheld. This camera does indeed perform well in low light. (By the way, I only use flash as a last resort.)
I’ll invite you to click through to the example photos as we go. Many of them have been resized smaller because we’re looking at how the camera handles light, not whether you can use it to make money counterfeiting plates.
The coffee shop interior looking out to sunlit exterior is a super-difficult high-contrast shot, as is the construction shot of the building with gaping windows. In both cases, the camera had to preserve some shadow detail even though there were sunlit areas in the picture. It did so very well, without the shadows becoming green or muddy.
The two nighttime shots and the store interior show the camera excellent for night and commercial interiors. With minimal post-processing, those pictures would come out fine.
More impressive is the way the camera handles dimly-lit areas like the pizza shop. It was really dark in there, but you wouldn’t know it from the snapshot. Shoot indoors with lights off, and you’ll get pictures that give the impression of well-lit rooms. It also handled mixed-light areas like the coffee shop well. It’s going to be incredibly useful for interiors.
One feature I love is the knurled aluminum click-stop analog controls for exposure control, ISO and shooting mode. These are controls I use a lot so it makes sense not to bury them in a screen menu somewhere.
On interior shots the camera detected and prioritized faces, both in exposure and focus. That’ll be handy.
The camera is NOT strong on outdoor sunlit pictures with ideal lighting. At its default settings it tends to blow highlights and bend greens to yellow, as you’ll see in a couple of the exterior shots. A partial solution is to set the “MyColors” control from “Off” to “Neutral” as you’ll see in the comparison shot. The Neutral setting does a good job of representing colors as my eye sees them, at least.
But I don’t take very many pictures in sunlight, and I have a couple other digital cameras that do fine in bright conditions. So this is not a big deal to me but if you take a lot of pictures on sunny days, think twice before buying the G11. It is optimized for, shall we say… “interesting” lighting conditions. It has something I’ve never seen before: a built-in neutral density filter. As optimized as the camera is for low and mixed light, you’ll use the ND in bright light where it does help.
The folding viewfinder is excellent for macro use, candids, and in lots of other ways. I found it takes some practice to handle the camera without bumping vital controls, but the most important ones are real analog wheels. Manual focus is usable but not great though, so hold out for a dslr if you need that.
In black&white and night mode, it’s like a small rangefinder with push-process Tri-X, very nostalgic.
Canon has had a lot of practice creating solid, well-made cameras and this is one of their better examples.
So here’s the short version:
- Not a substitute dlsr, not for everybody
- Is very strong in mixed or low light, handles high-contrast situations well
- Stumbles in very bright lighting
- Very light weight
- Folding viewfinder is incredibly useful, best of any manufacturer that I have seen.
- Some of the controls are annoying but I love the analog exposure controls.
- Wasn’t super-expensive, and I’m going to use the hell out of it.
My next camera will probably be a Sony NEX5, but it won’t be available until July and I plan to let it be on the market for about a year before getting one. Then the G11 and NEX5 would be my two main cameras.
UPDATE: 26 June 2010: OK, I’ve had the camera for a while now and with experimentation am learning to capitalize on its strengths and manage its weaknesses. I would have to say it is the biggest image-quality + professional flexibility bang for the buck in its price range. And check out this panorama that I made the other day!