Canon PowerShot G11 Review

October 22, 2009 | Gavin Stoker |


The Canon PowerShot G11 is the newest member of Canon's serious compact camera range, predominantly aimed at the DSLR owner looking for a backup compact or the enthusiast who wants DSLR functionality without the added bulk. At first glance the Canon G11 looks very similar to its popular predecessor, the G10, but there are a number of key external and internal changes underneath the serious matt black exterior. The megapixel count has dropped from 14.7 to 10, as Canon targets image quality rather than out-and-out resolution. The combination of this new "high-sensitivity sensor" and the DIGIC 4 image processor has resulted in a 2-stop increase in image quality compared to the G10, at least according to Canon, with an ISO range of 80-3200 and faster 6400 and 12800 settings at 2.5 megapixels. The G11's LCD monitor is now a little smaller at 2.8 inches, but Canon have responded to customer feedback by making it a vari-angle screen. Other key highlights of the Canon G11 include the 5x, 28-140mm zoom lens, RAW shooting mode, optical image stabilizer to help combat camera-shake, optical viewfinder, flash hotshoe, 1cm macro mode, and full range of manual shooting modes. The Canon PowerShot G11 is priced at £569.00 / €659.00 / $499.99.

Ease of Use

The first choice for Canon converts wanting a robust, fully featured compact as a more portable back up for their DSLR, the manufacturer's much-anticipated follow-on from the year-old PowerShot G10 has arrived on the Photography Blog test slab. Looking to deliver exceptional image quality and professional levels of creative flexibility - so promises its manufacturer - the question is: will the logically named G11 justify both wait and hype?

First impressions are that, outwardly, little if anything has changed in terms of shape and form from its family of forebears. It looks identical to the G10, at least from the front, and, with a solid feel, tank-like construction, Canon's developers are confidently suggesting 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

Generally the Canon PowerShot G11 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 in the G7, G9 and G10, the G11 won't fit into a trouser or shirt pocket like the latest IXUS, though if you have a deep-pocketed winter coat you'll be all right.

In terms of feature set, and intriguingly so for an apparent upgrade, Canon has changed tack and emphasis somewhat. Indeed, on first perusal of its spec list, the G11 appears like a step back rather than forward. For example it offers 10 megapixels, down from the G10's 14.7, plus a smaller 2.8-inch, 461-dot resolution LCD rather than the G10's 3-inch, 460-dot screen.

Canon PowerShot G11 Canon PowerShot G11
Front Rear

That said, on the G11 this can be largely explained by the fact that said monitor is the swivel and tilt 'vari-angle' variety, not fixed as on the G10, its implementation claimed to be a direct result of customer feedback. With both cameras identically priced at the time of writing, the manufacturer is leaving it up to the consumer to weigh up the points of difference.

Low light shooting would appear to be chief among them, the Canon PowerShot G11 offering a maximum user selectable setting of ISO 3200 (up from the G10's ISO 1600) at full resolution, with the ability to expand the range to a DSLR-like spec of ISO 12800 in a newly-implemented low light mode, with the compromise of a resolution drop to 2.5 megapixels. Its maker further claims that by wedding a high sensitivity sensor wedded to its standard issue (at this level) Digic 4 processor, it is delivering a 'dual anti noise system'.

As was true of the G10 this time last year, those who love getting hands-on will relish as we did being able to turn the G11'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 G10, along with hotshoe for accessory flash (in addition to the built in bulb), plus a larger wheel for adjusting ISO (80-3200 at full resolution) upon which is mounted the smaller shooting mode dial, resembling the upper tier of a wedding cake.

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 (17 in all), a stitch assist mode to aid with shooting panoramas and finally a video mode.

Canon PowerShot G11 Canon PowerShot G11

Flip-Out LCD Screen

As with the G10 there's no chance of HD clips here though, resolution frozen at a standard definition 640x480 pixels at 30fps. Unfortunately the optical zoom is likewise disabled when filming, though a 4x digital version can be deployed. OK, so it's not a deal breaker but does feel like a missed opportunity when Canon now includes HD video on its snapshot models and here - as if to underline the omission - an HDMI out port is offered.

Continuing our hands-on tour of the Canon PowerShot G11'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.

With the unassuming-looking front plate dominated by the lens with filter thread for the attachment of supplementary extras, optical viewfinder directly above and bulb for the built in flash and self-timer/AF assist lamp flanking them on both sides in truth it's really on the aforementioned top plate that this camera begins to come alive.

Curiously, although there's a gently sloped padded ridge by way of a handgrip to the left hand side of the G11 - if viewed lens on - there's not a corresponding pad at the back for the thumb to grip. Instead your thumb wanders about looking for a home, occasionally coming to rest on the unfortunately placed delete button.

More positively the G11 is quick to power up in a second or so, the rear LCD blinking into life with PowerShot visual and audio 'sting' and 5x optical zoom lens simultaneously extending from storage within the body to maximum wide-angle setting. Here, as with the G10, it's the equivalent of 28mm, making it very useful for those landscapes group portraits or getting the required shot in confined spaces. 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.

Canon PowerShot G11 Canon PowerShot G11
Top Side

The fact that the lens is image stabilised, says Canon, provides a four-stop advantage when shooting handheld, while white balance can be fine-tuned in camera. We did also very much appreciate 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.

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, which, although larger than you'll find on most compacts these days is no match at all for that typically found on even an entry level DSLR, which, with a UK asking price of £569 at the time of writing, the G11 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.

As well as the aforementioned delete button, also falling naturally under the thumb at the Canon PowerShot G11'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 G11'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 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.

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 G11's class. At its centre is the function/set button that is again consistent with this Canon series.

Canon PowerShot G11 Canon PowerShot G11
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

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; 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.

To sum up, mostly everything about the build of the Canon PowerShot G11 exudes quality. If we're particularly picking holes however, the combined four-way control pad and scroll wheel at the rear takes some getting used to and shame about the shared card and battery compartment at the base - not atypical of course - plus lack of HD video. Curiously, battery life is less impressive than its G10 forebear, at around 390 shots from a full charge rather than 400. Again though, this is hardly a deal breaker.

So how does the G11 measure up when it comes to image quality? Has Canon taken a gamble too far in trimming the PowerShot G11's resolution by four megapixels, or has less pixels, among other things, resulted in less noise at higher resolutions?