In the world of photography, I am a Canon guy. It’s not only that I like Canon photographic products, but I have a big investment in Canon lenses which makes it difficult (read: expensive) to change to cameras from other manufacturers. My current photographic weapon of choice is Canon’s 5D D-SLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera (reviewed on this blog here). Additionally, like any self-respecting photographic junkie, I have a wide range of lenses and other stuff from Canon that acts as a crutch, bolstering my otherwise mediocre photographic skills. All in, my camera and associated equipment weighs about 20 pounds and, in its most portable configuration, fills a reasonable size backpack.
Most often, this isn’t a problem and the chance to get a truly great shot outweighs (pun intended) the inconvenience of carrying the heavy load. Sometimes, though, an alternative is needed. Like when on an active vacation or in confined spaces that aren’t ideal for long lenses and really bright flashes. This is where one of the huge number of compact cameras available comes in.
For the most part, compact cameras are virtually all fully automatic – point-and-shoot, as it were. The user need but to turn the camera on, aim at a desired target and push a button to steal their soul. They are the modern equivalent of the original Kodak Brownie, everyone can use one.
Recently, I decided to replace an old compact that I had used for many years with something equally as portable, but with more power and manual control. My requirements were:
- Reasonable Sensor Resolution – 8MP should suffice (more on this later)
- As Large a Physical Sensor as Possible – Low pixel density and larger pixels = clearer pictures and less noise.
- Optical IS (Image Stabilizer) – Image stabilization helps to capture clear pictures where a shaky hand or low light might have otherwise prevented them.
- Optical Viewfinder – I cut my teeth on SLRs, I like to see the image through glass instead of via an electronic screen – old habit.
- Aperture/Shutter Priority + Full Auto – I wanted the camera to have a fully automatic mode, but I also want to be able to shoot pictures by fixing either the shutter speed or the aperture myself.
- Easily Settable ISO Speed – In digital camera terms, the ISO speed setting adjusts the sensitivity of the sensor in the camera – the more sensitive, the better the pictures at low light, with trade-offs, of course. Most point-n-shoot cameras automatically set it, I want to be able to do it manually.
- Built-in Flash – Used for fill flash mostly – to light the objects close to the lens so they are not in shadow.
- Good Battery Life – Nuclear power would be nice. I just have to find the plutonium section at my neighborhood camera store.
- Completely Retractable Lens – The lens has to curl up inside the camera. It makes the camera smaller to carry and protects the lens.
- Small as Possible Package – I’d like to carry it in my pocket.
- Reasonable Wide Angle and Long Zoom – I want to get lots of stuff in my photo when I’m close up and be able to get good shots from far away. My goal is below 30mm wide and over 200mm tele.
- RAW File Support – I’ll shoot in JPEG almost always, but when I find that really special shot, I want to be able to capture everything with no in-camera processing.
- Good Macro Mode – I like taking pictures of flowers and creepy, crawley bugs up close. Having a macro mode that lets me focus within a few inches of the lens would be great.
Whew! I also wanted a slew of other features like exposure bracketing, fast startup time, adjustable metering mode, etc, but they were less important to me. Yeah, I wanted a lot, but I figured it was all doable. I was wrong.
Because of what is a small market for this set of features combined with the fact that they amount to an enormous boatload of technology, there aren’t many cameras that meet these criteria. In fact, there are none. The ones that came close (at the time of my (purchase several months ago) were:
- Panasonic LX2
- Leica DLux3
- Ricoh GX100
- Nikon P5100
- Canon A650
- Sony DSC-H10
- Canon G9
Even though I am a self-proclaimed Canon guy, I had no bias towards any manufacturer. Especially since none of my existing equipment was going to work with any compact camera anyway. In the end, though, I thought that Canon’s G9 came closest to my requirements. Hardly fitting in my pocket, it does fit on my belt (in a geeky, pocket protector sorta way). I’ve now used the camera for a couple of months and I’m convinced that a good photographer could make this camera jump through hoops. It’s very powerful and takes some really good pictures. That said, it’s not without some issues.
- For as large a sensor that this camera has (see stats below), there is a surprising amount of noise above ISO 400. I have to believe that it’s related to the resolution of the sensor. I guess resolution is what sells, because if this same sensor was made with 8MP instead of 12.1MP, I’d bet it’d be great up to at least ISO 800.
- The small flash on the camera is often too hot or not powerful enough. There should be built-in metering for the flash intensity, but it doesn’t always do a very good job.
- The lens’ widest view is 32mm (35mm equivalent). This isn’t bad, of course, but 25-28mm would be a lot nicer.
- At telephoto, the lens is a bit slow (F4.8). Combined with the ISO noise problem, above, it’s almost useless in low light.
- The viewfinder is useless, but there is so much information on the 3″ display, which performs well in sunlight, that it’s less of a problem than I had anticipated.
Other than these issues, and a few nits here and there, this camera met all my prescribed needs.
I just carried this camera on my belt on a trip to Europe that had me walking through cities, museums and cathedrals from dawn till dusk. Carrying an SLR with a few lenses and a flash would have been a tremendous pain in the ass. The G9 performed stellarly in daylight and well in low light conditions giving me almost all the results I expected in almost 1,000 photos.
While there are certainly some trade-offs in using this camera, it is very good overall and the only camera that comes close to being a truly portable D-SLR alternative in my opinion.
Here are the key specs . . .
|Sensor Size||1/1.7″ CCD|
|Resolution||12.1M Effective Pixels|
|Lens – Zoom||32-210mm (35mm Equiv) 6X|
|Lens – Speed||F2.8-F4.8|
|Display||3.0″ TFT (100% Coverage) + Viewfinder|
|Size||106.4 X 71.9 X 42.5mm (4.2 X 2.8 X 1.7in)|
|Weight (w/o battery)||320g (11.3oz)|