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28

Gadget Review: Canon G9

Canon-G9 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
ISO 80-1600
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)
Macro 1-50cm

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 July 28th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets, Photography  
   
 13 Comments

13 Responses to Gadget Review: Canon G9

  1. Pingback: flash 9

  2. Pingback: Gadget Review: Canon G9

  3. Will, you show your true “colors” (pun intended) by the fact that the price is not included in the specs…

    I’ve had a Sony DSC-T200 for a few months now and very happy with it. 8MP, 5x optical zoom, it’s smaller and lighter than the Canon (I take it hiking and backpacking, so weight is important). It does have a macro mode. Nice big LCD, and it also has a “slide-down” lens cover that also turns it on, which I like better than the “twist-in” kind (last camera it started to lock up after a while). It was about $500 after adding the 2GB memory stick. I don’t know any of the other parameters, a lot of that stuff is settable but the camera seems to do pretty well without mucking with it.

  4. Will, you show your true “colors” (pun intended) by the fact that the price is not included in the specs…

    I’ve had a Sony DSC-T200 for a few months now and very happy with it. 8MP, 5x optical zoom, it’s smaller and lighter than the Canon (I take it hiking and backpacking, so weight is important). It does have a macro mode. Nice big LCD, and it also has a “slide-down” lens cover that also turns it on, which I like better than the “twist-in” kind (last camera it started to lock up after a while). It was about $500 after adding the 2GB memory stick. I don’t know any of the other parameters, a lot of that stuff is settable but the camera seems to do pretty well without mucking with it.

  5. Funny . . . I guess I can’t argue with you about showing my “true colors.” Even though it’s a pricey camera, I never mention that fact. Can you put a price on love or good photos? I think not. 😉

    The DSC-T200 looks like a good camera. It lacks aperture and shutter speed priority settings which were critical to me. It also has a pretty small sensor and only goes to 175mm at full zoom.

    I completely get the need for small size and cutting weight, though. The G9 would only be reasonable in a backpacking scenario for someone who has photography as a goal of such a trip rather than for just recording interesting stuff and memories. That, of course is what 99% of compact cameras are for, after all.

  6. Funny . . . I guess I can’t argue with you about showing my “true colors.” Even though it’s a pricey camera, I never mention that fact. Can you put a price on love or good photos? I think not. 😉

    The DSC-T200 looks like a good camera. It lacks aperture and shutter speed priority settings which were critical to me. It also has a pretty small sensor and only goes to 175mm at full zoom.

    I completely get the need for small size and cutting weight, though. The G9 would only be reasonable in a backpacking scenario for someone who has photography as a goal of such a trip rather than for just recording interesting stuff and memories. That, of course is what 99% of compact cameras are for, after all.

  7. Yes, nice camera and I’m holding out for something like this that can act as the camera that stays in my car. The G series are great for Canon users – you can actually mount a speedlight and get automated exposure (ETTL) with the G9; many are now using the G9 as a camera for ultra high-speed flash sync (rather than 1/250 second on the professional 1 series bodies, this thing can go up to 1/2500 second!!!). Take a look here for examples of what this camera can do: http://strobist.blogspot.com/search?q=g9

    Its major problem is the terrible noise above 400. They just crammed way too many pixels into the tiny little CCD sensor it has. 10 MP! Ridiculous – if it had 5, it would have much better usability and you’d be able to make bigger, better prints because there would be lower noise and better dynamic range. Greater density of light sensitive cells packed into the same surface area just means that the size of those cells is smaller and you therefore capture less light. That means you’ve then got to amplify your signal more and while you’re doing that you’re amplifying the noise. So less is better.

    There are rumours of an update to a G10 at Photokina in September: apparently the big thing is a much larger (in size) CMOS sensor and that translates to sharper, much lower noise with higher dynamic range. Hopefully they won’t cram too many pixels into it (no more than 8 please!) like they did with the G7 and G9. We’ll see if it happens, but that’s what I’m holding out for (well that and a 24-70 or 24-105 2.8 equivalent lens).

    I’m just waiting for the day when I can buy a compact camera like this that has all the manual control, but doesn’t sacrifice the image quality. Back when I used film, I could put the same roll of professional grade film in my compact 35mm camera that I could in my SLR and get incredible results. The reason why I lug my 1DSII around with me everywhere is that the divide in image quality between a compact and that camera is so huge. If I can get half-way there, such as the sensor from a 40D in the size of the G9, I’d be a very happy camper.

  8. Yes, nice camera and I’m holding out for something like this that can act as the camera that stays in my car. The G series are great for Canon users – you can actually mount a speedlight and get automated exposure (ETTL) with the G9; many are now using the G9 as a camera for ultra high-speed flash sync (rather than 1/250 second on the professional 1 series bodies, this thing can go up to 1/2500 second!!!). Take a look here for examples of what this camera can do: http://strobist.blogspot.com/search?q=g9

    Its major problem is the terrible noise above 400. They just crammed way too many pixels into the tiny little CCD sensor it has. 10 MP! Ridiculous – if it had 5, it would have much better usability and you’d be able to make bigger, better prints because there would be lower noise and better dynamic range. Greater density of light sensitive cells packed into the same surface area just means that the size of those cells is smaller and you therefore capture less light. That means you’ve then got to amplify your signal more and while you’re doing that you’re amplifying the noise. So less is better.

    There are rumours of an update to a G10 at Photokina in September: apparently the big thing is a much larger (in size) CMOS sensor and that translates to sharper, much lower noise with higher dynamic range. Hopefully they won’t cram too many pixels into it (no more than 8 please!) like they did with the G7 and G9. We’ll see if it happens, but that’s what I’m holding out for (well that and a 24-70 or 24-105 2.8 equivalent lens).

    I’m just waiting for the day when I can buy a compact camera like this that has all the manual control, but doesn’t sacrifice the image quality. Back when I used film, I could put the same roll of professional grade film in my compact 35mm camera that I could in my SLR and get incredible results. The reason why I lug my 1DSII around with me everywhere is that the divide in image quality between a compact and that camera is so huge. If I can get half-way there, such as the sensor from a 40D in the size of the G9, I’d be a very happy camper.

  9. Hey Rob,

    You’re right on and I’m happy and sad to hear about the G10, since I just invested big bux in the G9. 😉

    The noise issue is not as bad as some of the camera blogs and web sites say, but it’s certainly not good. AS I said in the post, if you’re shooting in daylight, the pictures are excellent. Virtually no noise in shadows or anywhere. I found that even in fully automatic mode, the camera was most often shooting at ISO 80. At 100-200, the pictures remain excellent.

    By the way, it’s not 10MP, it’s 12.1MP! Even worse. 8MP is all that anyone would really need for 5X7s or even 8X10s. If you need to print larger images, use an SLR.

  10. Hey Rob,

    You’re right on and I’m happy and sad to hear about the G10, since I just invested big bux in the G9. 😉

    The noise issue is not as bad as some of the camera blogs and web sites say, but it’s certainly not good. AS I said in the post, if you’re shooting in daylight, the pictures are excellent. Virtually no noise in shadows or anywhere. I found that even in fully automatic mode, the camera was most often shooting at ISO 80. At 100-200, the pictures remain excellent.

    By the way, it’s not 10MP, it’s 12.1MP! Even worse. 8MP is all that anyone would really need for 5X7s or even 8X10s. If you need to print larger images, use an SLR.

  11. You have a great blog here and it is Nice to read some well written posts that have some relevancy…keep up the good work 😉

  12. what about if canon product is compared with sony?
    nice post…thx

  13. what about if canon product is compared with sony?
    nice post…thx

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