Canon Powershot G9 Review
Review Date: October 8th 2007
Author: Mark Goldstein
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Ease of Use
Canon's G-series compacts have long been the preserve of the dedicated enthusiast, choc full of features that mean they're worthy of being described as a bridge camera, just a step down from a fully fledged DSLR. The question is, why opt for the Canon Powershot G9, with its 6x optical zoom not quite stretching to 'super zoom' status, when for a just a little more you could be the proud owner of an interchangeable lens EOS 400D DSLR? For starters, the G9, despite its boxy dimensions, slots handily into a coat pocket. It therefore suggests itself as possibly the most over-qualified spur-of-the-moment snapshot camera out there. But its pretty reasonable price makes that a possibility. Though there are add-on tele and wide conversion lenses available, the advantage the G9 has over similar bridge cameras and super zooms is that its admittedly modest yet thankfully image stabilized 6x zoom (a still respectable 35-210mm range in 35mm terms) is stored flush to the body when not in use.
But the build is one of the camera's aspects that immediately impresses. It feels like it could be dropped, bashed around a bit (possibly shot at) and still come back for more, like some war photojournalist's trusty Leica. Basically it doesn't feel like Canon has cut any corners to bring the camera to market at this price (£429 RRP in the UK, slightly cheaper than the previous G7 model), with a matt black finish denoting a serious intent. Although, as the lengthy spec list shows, Canon has crammed a plethora of photographic controls into the camera body, everything within the layout feels in its rightful place and is easily – and intuitively – accessible in an instant.
Up top, and located to the far left (if the camera is viewed from the back), is a very useful dedicated dial for rapidly changing light sensitivity settings, from auto through to ISO1600. Immediately to the right of this, square over the lens, is a hot shoe for supplementary flash, and to the right again, a familiar mode dial. Starting at full auto setting, and moving clockwise around the dial are shooting options including pre-optimised scene modes (that feature a high speed ISO3200-equivalent option), stitch assist for framing panoramic images, movie clip mode (an advantage over a DSLR for some users), and full Auto, followed by six 'creative zone' modes. These are the regulars of program, shutter speed priority (Tv), aperture priority (Av), manual, plus a choice of two readily accessible custom settings.
To the right of this again – I told you the camera was veritably crammed with functionality – are a forward-situated zoom lever encircling a raised, and very springy feeling shutter button, behind which sits a slightly recessed rectangular on/off button. It's to Canon's credit that despite all of these controls falling immediately at your fingertips, nothing feels cramped, compromised or unnecessarily miniaturized for the sake of 'fashion', which, to be frank, is a breath of fresh air for any compact camera user.
The rear of the camera is dominated by a (fixed) 3-inch LCD screen, bigger than the 2.5-inch screen on the older G7, with a rounded window for the optical viewfinder ranged immediately above. Having previously tested the same company's PowerShot A-series camera, I missed their vari-angle LCD (also a feature of the G6), as, to be honest, I found myself reverting to using the G9's screen for shot composition in the main. This has a couple of advantages: firstly, you can see the live on-screen histogram to check exposure as you go, and secondly, a compositional nine-area grid provides added assistance when framing landscapes and attempting to get your horizon level. Screen visibility is also universally good, in contrast to the optical viewfinder appearing murky when used indoors under artificial light. The increased size of the LCD screen has conversely resulted in a decrease in the size of the optical viewfinder, making it more difficult to use than on the G7. Also off-putting is the fact that you can see the lens in the bottom-left of the viewfinder when it's set to a wide-angle focal length, and you can only see around 80% of the scene anyway.
|Rear of the Camera||Top of the Camera|
Though the G9 can be operated with one hand, using both feels more comfortable, even though, with a lack of a grip to the left hand side of the body – if viewed from the rear again – it's easy to smear the side of the LCD with thumbprints. Top right of the monitor are a self-explanatory playback button, with a customary Canon direct print button for PictBridge compliant printers top left that, if wanted, doubles up as a shortcut button. Immediate right of the LCD are four buttons ranged at compass points around a control dial that features a scroll wheel (for sifting through captured images and navigating menus) encircling a function set button.
These buttons include one for deleting images that doubles up as a means of switching between AF options (face detection, AiAF – standard auto – plus FlexiZone AF), a second for adjusting exposure on the fly (-/+2EV), a third for switching the display on or off (including the aforementioned nine-zone grid and histogram), while the fourth is a singular menu button for calling up just that on-screen. Finally for the camera back, top right of this is a button for adding voice annotations to images in playback that doubles up as an AE and FE (Flash Exposure) lock button. On the right flank of the camera – again if viewed from the back – is a sturdy pull-out flap protecting USB and AV out ports, above which is a handy mount for a neck or wrist strap. On the left hand side is another strap mount, below which is a speaker.
Turning our attention to performance, the G9 powers up just less than two seconds, the LCD bursting into life and the lens barrel simultaneously and quickly extending to maximum wide angle. Not bad at all. A half press of the shutter button and, if AF is set to continuous mode, you immediately notice the sound of the lens hunting for critical focus. In truth it's reasonably quiet and nowhere near as distracting as the 'insect buzz' of the Nikon Coolpix range. That shutter button however is so springy that you have to be reasonably gentle with your half press, but personally I liked its more tactile nature, which, as with the camera's other features, allows the user – and not just the camera itself – to feel more in control.
Going on to take a shot, there's no discernable shutter delay, while, as long as you're not taking more than three single shots in quick succession, there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it wait of around a second before you can take the next image – and at maximum resolution, superfine JPEG image quality setting too. The "new" RAW mode is equally as snappy in single-shot mode, but also equally as ponderous in continuous shooting mode - just 1.5 fps with the LCD monitor turned off, and half that with it on. The Powershot G9 isn't a camera for the action shooter who wants to blast off lots of frames at as quickly as possible. On the plus side, you can hold the shutter down and the camera will continue to take pictures until the memory card is full, just not very quickly. Via the LCD, the user can display the aforementioned nine zone compositional grid, shots remaining, selected shooting mode, flash setting, plus metering mode. To this is usefully added the histogram display if you move out of point-and-shoot auto mode and opt instead for program, shutter speed priority, aperture priority or manual shooting mode.
A press of the 'function set' button at the centre of the control dial brings up an L-shaped toolbar running up the left hand side and across the bottom of the screen. As with other Canon compacts, you scroll up and down this to select and affect various key functions on the fly. In auto mode, most are disabled and all the user is allowed to do is change file size and quality – large and superfine being the best (least compression) option. Flick the shooting dial around to program however and you get the added options of being able to adjust white balance – which includes both an underwater and custom setting – plus access the familiar, but often unused, 'My Colors' menu, bracketing options, flash strength, metering mode, and, rather more interestingly, switch a neutral density (ND) filter on/off for those contrasty landscapes.
These myriad options remain for the other main shooting modes, with various features obviously subtracted when shooting video clips – although you still get white balance, My Colors, and use of the ND filter if required – which adds the options of being able to shoot at 320x240 pixels, 640x480 or the new 1024x768 high resolution mode (15fps only), and at 30fps or 15fps depending on end usage. Turning the mode dial again to access the scene modes, you're presented with a range of icon-illustrated options via a virtual mode dial onscreen. Among the usual suspects, these include pre-optimised settings for snow (like you, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas), fireworks, aquariums and underwater, plus the aforementioned ISO 3200 mode, the results from which invariably resemble more a Pointillist painting than a realistic photo.
|Battery Compartment||Memory Card Slot|
Press the menu button on the G9's back and you get a choice of three familiar Canon folders. The first, illustrated with a camera icon, allows users to turn on or off the digital zoom, and additional flash settings such as flash synch, slow synchro and red eye reduction not otherwise available by pressing the dedicated flash button (why anti red eye isn't automatically included on the latter I don't know). You can also adjust the AF mode from single to continuous (the latter being the one which hunts), and disable the bright green AF assist beam if wanted. Face Detection is a new feature that's rather buried away. You have to press the dedicated Menu button and then choose face detection from the AiAF mode options. Rival compact cameras have a dedicated button for this feature, so it's a curious decision by Canon to bury it away within the menu system. The new face detection feature won't make a great deal of difference for the more experienced photographer, as there's the tendency for the user to pre-focus on the subject – and obviously a face if taking a portrait – before fully pressing the shutter button. It will prove more useful for the novice point and shoot user though. I didn't notice any notable difference between the AiAF On and AiAF Face Detection settings in terms of speed, so I just set the camera to the latter.
The new ISO Auto Shift function is more useful, providing a quick way to boost the ISO speed when the camera is struggling to provide a fast enough shutter speed for the prevalent lighting conditions. Turn this feature on, and when the Powershot G9 displays the red camera shake icon on the LCD screen, the round Print/Transfer button on the rear of the camera flashes blue. Press this whilst half-pressing the shutter button, and the camera sets a much faster ISO speed (typically ISO 800), which is usually enough to allow you take the shot and avoid camera shake. Quite a clever and quick way to access a more usable ISO speed. On the Powershot G9 Canon have also added an "On" option to the ISO Auto Shift function, which automatically sets an appropriate ISO speed without any user interaction required via the Print/Transfer button. There are some notable limitations with ISO Auto Shift though, principally the inability to use it with flash.
Like Canon's high-end IXUS models, image stabilization can be activated at the point of taking a shot or likewise set to continuous. There's also a panning mode and it can, if wished, be disabled entirely. You can also customize the information displayed in this menu. The second folder, illustrated by the familiar spanner and mallet, is the set up menu, where operational sounds can be handily muted, LCD brightness tweaked, clock set, memory formatted, and all settings returned to default if someone else has been playing with the camera. The third folder allows you to change start up sounds and images, a feature included on all Canons but largely unnecessary I find.
Press the camera's playback button and a full resolution captured image appears in just over a second. A further press of the display button brings up basic shooting information, such as file number, the time and date the image was taken and which file size (e.g. 'L' for Large) and quality setting was selected. Press the display button a second time and you get more detailed information, including size of the file in MB, white balance and metering mode, aperture and shutter speed, plus shooting mode and a retroactive histogram – just like a baby DSLR in fact. Pressing the Display button for a fourth time accesses a new screen, which shows an enlarged section of the image alongside a small thumbnail. This is perfect for checking if the image is sharp and in focus, and you can scroll around the image to as you wish.
Hit the menu button in playback and you're offered a choice of four folders – two for variously tweaking set up and camera sounds and images as before, plus an initial review folder containing options for slideshows, erasing or protecting images or adding sound, plus a second folder of print settings, particularly useful if you're hooking the camera up to one of Canon's PictBridge-enabled standalone printer ranges. Despite the chunky range of options that matches its equally chunky yet still compact frame, everything here seems logically placed, with controls falling easily under the finger or thumb, and the menus being bright, clear, thoughtfully laid out and easy to navigate once you get used to the scroll wheel.
It's built like a tank, it's packed full of features, its performance is fast and responsive (except for burst shooting), and Canon have thankfully brought RAW mode back from the dead - but does the Canon Powershot G9 cut the mustard when it comes to image quality? Let's find out…
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