Canon PowerShot G12 Review
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The Canon PowerShot G12 is the 2010 version of Canon's premium compact camera, aimed at the DSLR owner looking for a backup model or the enthusiast who wants DSLR functionality without the added size and weight. The new Canon G12 inherits most of the core features of its predecessor, the G11 - 10-megapixel CCD sensor, 2.8 inch vari-angle LCD screen, 5x, 28-140mm equivalent zoom lens, RAW image capture, optical viewfinder, 4.2fps burst mode, flash hotshoe, 1cm macro mode, ISO 80-3200 and full range of manual shooting modes. Brand new additions to the G12 include 720p HD video recording, a front control dial, hybrid image stabilisation system, multi-aspect shooting, High Dynamic Range mode, an electronic level, SDXC card compatibility and an optional Lens Filter Adapter. The Canon Powershot G12 is available in black priced at £539 / €649 / $499.99.
Ease of Use
First impressions are that, outwardly, little if anything has changed in terms of shape and form from its family of forebears. It looks virtually identical to the G11, with a solid feel, tank-like construction. Canon's developers are confidently suggesting 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it', with a smattering of new features for 2010. The Canon PowerShot G12 feels very well made, with a layout that while busy avoids looking cluttered, and controls that both offer just the right amount of stiffness and resistance. Unlike some, they're also large enough to be easily and quickly accessed in the heat of the action. With its beefy design, as with its predecessors the G12 won't fit into a trouser or shirt pocket like the latest IXUS, though if you have a deep-pocketed coat you'll be all right.
Those who love getting hands-on will relish as we did being able to turn the G12's top plate rangefinder-like dials to select ISO speed and adjust exposure as well as select capture options from a more standard-issue shooting mode dial. If we've a grumble, it's that annoyingly for a creatively rich camera, the full manual is provided on CD only. In what comes across as a cursory gesture, a very slim quick start guide is included.
Still, given its target audience what's here will be relatively self-evident; the top plate housing the same half-penny sized wheel for adjusting exposure (+/- 2EV) as found on the G11, along with a hotshoe for an accessory flash (in addition to the built in bulb), plus a larger wheel for adjusting the ISO speed in 1/3 stop increments (80-3200 at full resolution) upon which is mounted the smaller shooting mode dial, resembling the upper tier of a wedding cake. The new Auto ISO feature allows the maximum ISO speed to be set, therefore specifying what ISO range the G12 will use if you leave it up to its own devices.
The latter features settings for auto capture, program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual, along with two user customisable settings, a smattering of scene modes (18 in all), a Low Light and Quick Shot modes, and finally a video mode. The upgrade to 720p HD video quality at 1280x720 pixels at 24fps is a big improvement on the G11's VGA quality and is more than adequate for most users and situations. The G12 also boasts stereo sound courtesy of microphones positioned either side of the flash hotshoe and you can use the Miniature creative filter during recording to spice up your footage. Unfortunately the 5x optical zoom is still disabled when filming, though a 4x digital version can be deployed. OK, so it's not a deal breaker, but it does feel like a missed opportunity when most other compacts offer this functionality.
The new High Dynamic Range scene mode automatically takes three exposures of the same scene at different settings, then combines them in-camera to create a single image with greater dynamic range. Note that you need to mount the G12 on a tripod or stable surface to avoid camera-shake.
Continuing our hands-on tour of the Canon PowerShot G12's top plate, just to right of these dials we find a springy raised nipple-style shutter release button surrounded by a rocker switch for operating the optically stabilised 5x zoom (28-140mm equivalent on a 35mm camera), and behind this again the on/off button. The fact that the lens is image stabilised, says Canon, provides a four-stop advantage when shooting handheld, while the new Hybrid IS system makes shooting macros easier than before by counteracting both shift and angular movements.
Flip-Out LCD Screen
The unassuming-looking front plate is dominated by the lens with filter thread for the attachment of supplementary extras, the optical viewfinder directly above and bulbs for the built in flash and self-timer/AF assist lamp flanking them on both sides. An optional lens filter adapter which extends with the lens when using the zoom to offer full coverage throughout the zoom range allows the attachment of 58mm filters. New to the G12 is the very useful front control dial, as featured on EOS DSLR cameras, and for us this is one of the major improvements that the G12 offers when compared to its predecessors. It makes changing the aperture and consequently the full Manual shooting mode much easier than before. There's a gently sloped padded ridge by way of a handgrip to the left hand side of the G12 - if viewed lens on - and a newly-introduced small pad at the back for the thumb to grip.
The G12 is quick to power up in a second or so, the rear LCD blinking into life with PowerShot visual and audio 'sting' and the 5x optical zoom lens simultaneously extending from storage within the body to maximum wide-angle setting. Here, as with the G11, it's the equivalent of 28mm, making it very useful for those landscapes group portraits or getting the required shot in confined spaces. The G12 has respectably bright apertures of f/2.8 and f/4.5 at either end of the zoom range. As a further aid to landscape fans, a neutral density filter option is provided among the function menu options, to be turned on or off as required, and the new horizontal Electronic Level and RGB histogram can be enabled to help with composition and exposure.
We appreciated the flexibility presented by the adjustable screen in terms of trying out unusual and formerly awkward framing, which as well as being flipped out at right angles and rotated about its axis can be folded screen-in to the body for added protection. This monitor tilts forward through 180° and backwards through 90° in order to achieve those otherwise awkward angle shots when users can't quite get their eyes level with its optical viewfinder, such as when shooting low to the ground or over the heads of a crowd.
Fittingly enough this screen takes up the largest part of the back plate's real estate, above which is a porthole for the alternative of an optical viewfinder. Although larger than you'll find on most compacts these days, it's no match at all for that typically found on even an entry level DSLR, which, with a UK asking price of £539 at the time of writing, the G12 is directly competing with. Still, in being targeted at enthusiasts first and foremost, the best way to view this camera is as a more portable back-up to existing DSLR ownership.
Top left of the LCD is a direct print button that will be familiar to users of the Canon PowerShot range. This more helpfully doubles up in shooting mode as a user assignable shortcut key to the likes of red-eye reduction or auto exposure lock. Falling naturally under the thumb at the Canon PowerShot G12's rear is a playback button, to the right of which is a larger button marked with an asterix. Press this when in program or any of the other creative modes and sliding scale of apertures and corresponding shutter speeds appears along the bottom of the screen, scrolled through with the aid of - aptly enough - the scroll wheel surrounding the familiar four-way control pad to the right of the G12's screen.
Beneath this again is a pair of dual-purpose buttons. In playback these are the delete button, plus, alongside it, a means of jumping through batches of captured images, variously 10 or 100 at a time. In auto capture mode the left hand button acts as a way of activating face detection, while in program mode it allows the focus point to be shifted from its default central position to one of the user's choosing. The new Tracking AF mode allows you to select objects from the centre of the frame and track them if they move or if the frame is recomposed. The second button then allows for the adjustment of metering options in tandem with the scroll wheel, the choice here evaluative metering, centre-weighted average or spot. The operation of the above feels reasonably intuitive, as should be.
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Underneath this pair of controls is the four-way selection or control pad, with, at points north, east, south and west a means of adjusting focus manually, choosing from the on-board flash settings, selecting self timer options or activating macro mode, here down to as close as 1cm from your subject - what we'd expect for the G12's class. At its centre is the function/set button that is again consistent with this Canon series. Press this button at its centre when in any of the capture modes, and an L-shaped toolbar that will be familiar to Canon users appears on the screen, offering pull out toolbars with further options from the range when you come to rest on a particular setting.
At the bottom right hand corner of the backplate are a further pairing of buttons - display and menu. While pressing the former in shooting mode brings up a nine zone compositional grid on screen, pressing it in program mode adds a live histogram, though as this feature is highlighted in grey rather than white it's slightly hard to read against the background of the shot itself at times. A press of the 'menu' button meanwhile brings up a trio of folders on screen, the first the shooting menu where the likes of the AF assist beam and blink detection modes can be turned on or off, the second the set up menu where sound options and LCD brightness can be tweaked, and the third being a 'My Menu' option for commonly used functions.
On the right hand flank of the camera - viewed from the back - we find covered ports for HDMI out, an optional remote shutter release cable plus combined USB 2.0/AV out connection. On the bottom is a familiar metal screw thread for a tripod, and a sliding cover for the compartment that houses the lithium-ion battery needed for power and the SD, SDHC or SDXC cards needed for image storage. Curiously, battery life is less impressive than its G11 forebear, at around 370 shots from a full charge rather than 390.