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.
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.
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.
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.
Memory Card Slot
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?
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 10 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 3.5Mb.
In general terms the Canon PowerShot G11 is capable of capturing plenty of fine detail, especially evident when images are downloaded and examined close up on a desktop, colours being for the most part natural, even when the likes of vivid colour mode are deployed to add some visual punch to blues and greens in landscape shots.
When left on default settings, sky detail tends to burn out still, so the ability to invoke the built-in neutral density filter proved useful in preserving detail throughout the image. Though there is some pixel fringing to be found between areas of high contrast, it's better disguised here than on most compacts or DSLRs for that matter.
Shooting at maximum 28mm wideangle on the Canon PowerShot G11, there is some barrel distortion visible, as most closely witnessed on our white wall test shots.
Canon has further suggested that the G11 features greatly improved noise reduction, delivering a two-stop advantage. Although ISO 12800 in theory allows for shooting in near darkness, the camera has to find a subject bright enough to focus on.
When it does, results actually leave much to be desired, detail smeared and the image taking on that all too familiar watercolour effect. So, it seems Canon's not quite up to Nikon D3S or Canon 1D Mark IV ISO levels yet (yes, true, they are almost 10 times the price).
Sticking less ambitiously to the manually selectable range which tops out at ISO 3200 reaps more impressive results, images at that top setting displaying so little noise they're comparable to levels witnessed at ISO 800 on most rivals.
There are 7 ISO settings available on the Canon PowerShot G11. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.
ISO 80 (100% Crop)
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
ISO 3200 (100% Crop)
The Canon PowerShot G11's 5x zoom lens offers a versatile focal range, as illustrated by these examples:
Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little soft at the default sharpening setting. You can change the in-camera sharpening level if you don't like the default look.
Original (100% Crop)
Sharpened (100% Crop)
The Canon PowerShot G11 handled chromatic aberrations well during the review, with fairly limited purple fringing present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.
Example 1 (100% Crop)
Example 2 (100% Crop)
The Canon PowerShot G11 allows you to focus on a subject that is just 1cm away from the camera. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.
The flash settings on the Canon Powershot G11 are Auto, On, Auto Red-eye Reduction, Slow Synchro and Off. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.
Flash Off - Wide Angle (28mm)
Flash On - Wide Angle (28mm)
Flash Off - Telephoto (140mm)
Flash On - Telephoto (140mm)
And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, neither the Flash On or the Red-eye-Reduction settings caused any red-eye.
Flash On (100% Crop)
Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)
The Canon Powershot G11's maximum shutter speed is 15 seconds, which is great news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 1/4 second at ISO 1600. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
This is a selection of sample images from the Canon PowerShot G11 camera, which were all taken using the 10 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
Priced exactly the same as its still current predecessor in the G10, the G11 offers the advantage of a flexible LCD screen plus higher ISO options. If neither is particularly important and a higher resolution will serve better, then the older G10 is the one to go for.
With the G11 taken on its own terms, although the lens in use can't be swapped, the broader than average 28-140mm equivalent focal range makes for a wealth of creative possibilities from landscapes to portraiture.
But perhaps the most notable thing about the G11 is that Canon has stopped playing the numbers game and is trusting the camera's target audience to realize that there's more to digital photography than ever increasing helpings of megapixels with each successive product.
For us though, it doesn't quite hold up to its manufacturer's claim of this being the ‘ultimate' compact - particularly when you've had the opportunity to swap lenses as on the competing Olympus Pen and Panasonic GF1 Micro Four Thirds models, the latter being a near ringer for the Canon in terms of size, shape and form. But then, with those models lenses cost extra, and with the G11 you have mostly everything you'd want in one neat package, which shouldn't be underestimated.
Ratings (out of 5)
Value for money
Reviews of the Canon PowerShot G11 from around the web.
The Canon PowerShot G11 offers excellent photograph quality and options for a compact camera, and the downshift from the old PowerShot G10's 14-megapixel sensor to a 10-megapixel one has paid dividends. But it remains a fat, heavy and expensive compact that's not without its flaws, including sluggish responses and an awkward main controller.
Read the full review »
Canon’s primary reason for reducing resolution was to improve high ISO performance. That strategy was successful and the G11 definitely provides obvious benefits by ISO 800. At this ISO, the JPEGs are surprisingly smooth, although there’s more smudging of fine detail due to noise reduction processing. Even so, I was able to make excellent letter size prints from my technically-best images after some careful sharpening. By comparison, the G10 produced ISO 800 images that were very grainy; while there was less smudging, all of my friends preferred the smoother prints made from G11 photos.
Read the full review »
Colour Filter Type
DIGIC 4 with iSAPS technology
6.1 - 30.5 mm (35mm equivalent: 28-140mm)
Optical 5x. Digital approx. 4x (with Digital Tele-Converter approx. 1.4x or 2.3x and Safety Zoom¹)². Combined approx. 20x
11 elements in 9 groups (1 double-sided aspherical element)
AF System/ Points
AiAF (Face Detection / 9-point), 1-point AF (Any position is available, fixed centre or Face Select and Track)
Single, Continuous, Servo AF/AE¹
AF Point Selection
Manual selection using FlexiZone AF/AE, Size (Normal, Small)
AF Assist Beam
Closest Focusing Distance
1cm (W) from front of lens in macro
Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF frame), Centre-weighted average, Spot (centre or linked to Face Detection AF or FlexiZone AF frame)
+/- 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments
Enhanced i-Contrast for automatic dynamic range correction
ND Filter (3 stop)
1/3 - 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments
AUTO, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
1 - 1/4000 sec (factory default)
15 - 1/4000 sec (total range - varies by shooting mode)
Auto (including Face Detection WB), Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Underwater, Custom1, Custom2.
White Balance Correction
Real-image zoom, optical viewfinder
Vari-angle 2.8” PureColor II VA (TFT), approx. 461,000 dots
Adjustable to one of five levels. Quick-bright LCD
Auto, Manual Flash On / Off
Slow Sync Speed
Yes. Fastest speed 1/2000 sec
Flash Exposure Compensation
+/- 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments. Face Detection FE. Safety FE.
Flash Exposure Lock
Manual Power Adjustment
3 levels with internal flash (up to 19 levels with external EX Speedlites 270EX and 430EX II. 22 levels with 580EX II¹)
Second Curtain Synchronisation
Built-in Flash Range
50cm-7.0m (W) / 4.0m (T)
E-TTL with EX series Speedlites¹, Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX, Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX, Canon High Power Flash HF-DC1
Auto*, Program AE, Shutter priority AE, Aperture priority AE, Manual, Custom (2 modes), Low Light¹, Quick Shot, SCN (Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sports, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Sunset, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, Color Accent, Color Swap, Stitch Assist), Movie
*with Scene Detection Technology and Motion Detection Technology