Canon Powershot G7 Review
The Powershot G7 is the successor to the popular G6 model from 2004 and both share a resemblance to that of a 35mm rangefinder camera. The G7 features numerous technological advancements over the G6 including increasing the resolution to 10-megapixels, a 6x Canon optical zoom lens with true Optical Image Stabilization, the latest DIGIC III image processor, a broader sensitivity range (from ISO 80 - 1600, compared to the G6's 50 - 400), and a larger 2.5-inch LCD which is fixed unlike the G6's Vari-Angle LCD.
Aimed more towards the photo enthusiast, the G7 offers a multitude of manual and custom controls. It's a prosumer camera that fits between the less expensive consumer models and the interchangeable lens dSLR cameras. However, don't let that scare you off if you're a novice or even a beginner, there's an exposure mode for everyone. From full Auto, to Program AE, or one of the 16 pre-programmed scene modes, the G7 will help you capture great photos in a wide variety of shooting environments. And with two Custom modes right on the Mode Dial, you can make your own mode, setting the configurations just how you like them.
The G7's ergonomics are excellent, its controls are well positioned around the body, clearly labeled and within easy reach of your fingers. One new feature we really liked was the Control Dial that is located around the 4-way selector. Using this feature allows for quick navigation through the menus as well as the ability to change exposure settings; depending on what mode you are using. The menu system is logically organized and the Function shortcut menu allows for quick changes to camera settings for image size/quality, white balance, metering, etc. While the G7 is not a "compact" model, it's smaller and lighter than previous "G" models making it a breeze to carry around all day. The 2.5-inch LCD takes up a large portion of the back of the camera and works great in almost any lighting condition. The only issue I had, which is common, is that the surface of the display is very prone to fingerprints. When shooting outdoors, I had no problem framing even with bright sun light directly behind me. Indoors it "gains up" (brightens) which helps you frame your subject. The "green" AF-assist lamp helps to illuminate the subject in dark conditions when the Red Eye function is turned On - the lamp stays on to help reduce the effects of red-eye in your portraits.
The G7 also features a zoom-coupled optical viewfinder, that covers approx. 80 to 85% of the
captured image. Optical viewfinders are great when trying to conserve battery life or when
following fast moving subjects in burst mode. However, I did find the viewfinder on this
model has a framing problem. As you can see by the illustrations below, when using it to
frame your subjects, the center of the frame does not match up. In other words, the picture
you thought you just took, looks a bit different. I found this to be the most noticeable when
taking photos with the camera held in portrait orientation. Normally you would expect to
capture more than what you saw in the optical viewfinder.
Below are four examples so you can see for yourself; the first image in
each set was framed with the LCD, the second with the optical viewfinder. In both cases, the
subject was centered in the frame. (Note: these images have been resized for illustration
purposes only, no cropping has been performed.)
Unlike the 4x lens found on the G6, Canon has equipped the G7 with an optically stabilized, all-glass 6x zoom lens. It covers approx. 35-210mm (in 35mm equivalence) with a maximum aperture of F 2.8 (W) - F 4.8 (T). This lens features Canon's true Lens-Shift type Optical Image Stabilization system. This will allow you to capture blur free images at lower than normal shutter speeds, as well as help keep your movie clips steadier. I noticed moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle as well as slight pincushioning at the telephoto extreme. Overall, this is a very nice piece of glass, and helped the G7 produce sharp results throughout the range. The zooming mechanism is smooth and fast with about 14 positions from wide angle to telephoto, allowing for precise zooming. The 9-point autofocus system covers from 1.6 ft. (50cm) to infinity in normal mode, and the macro mode covers 0.39 in. - 1.6 ft. (1 - 50cm). In the Manual Focus mode, focus is set by the using the Control Dial mounted around the 4-way controller and a sliding bar graph with distance marks is shown on the LCD. The center portion of the frame is also magnified to better determine critical focus.
Image quality was excellent using the Large SuperFine mode. Our outdoor images yielded proper color saturation and overall exposure. I did notice that the exposure system did tend to overexpose the sky on very bright days, which decreased the cloud detail. The G7 also does very well in the portrait department. Using the dedicated Portrait Scene mode it produced sharp facial details and accurate skin tones both indoors and out. When shooting in marginal lighting using the built-in flash, you will have to work within its maximum range of about 13 feet at wide angle (ISO auto.) Our indoor flash portraits were shot from about 6 feet away using the mid-telephoto end of the zoom. I found the built-in flash coverage to be better than most and maybe a bit under-rated. However, when trying to illuminate high ceiling rooms or large groups, you'll want to use an external flash unit. The G7 features a hotshoe that can E-TTL control Canon's 220EX, 430EX, 580EX, MR-14EX and MT-24EX Speedlites. I also found that it was able to control my old 380EX as well. While the zoom head on the unit could be used, the AF lamp on the camera was chosen instead of the more powerful one on the flash.
Noise is a big issue with digital cameras, especially with those featuring high sensitivity settings like the G7. While I found noise was very low at ISO 400 and below, you can see by looking at our ISO examples that it becomes very noticeable at 800 and 1600. While I feel the ISO 800 setting is still usable, that might not be the case with ISO 1600. You can also choose the dedicated scene mode called ISO3200. When using this mode, the image size is dropped to M3 (1600x1200 or 2-megapixels), which explains why there is less noise than manually setting the ISO to 1600. While noise may be an issue in this model, I feel that the positive effects of the IS system will allow you to keep the sensitivity below 400 all of the time, thus solving the problem.
The G7 features a high-quality movie mode, allowing you to choose from several resolution choices. Standard has options for 640x480 or 320x240 and a frame rate or 30fps or 15fps. You can also choose from Compact (160x120, 15fps), High Resolution (1024x768, 15fps), Color Accent and Color swap. Our movie samples were good, showing very little compression noise. You can see some examples of the Standard and High Resolution modes on the samples page.
Power comes from the Canon NB-2LH 7.4v 720mAh lithium battery pack (the same as that used by the Digital Rebel XTi.) Canon claims this pack can power the G7 for up to 220 shots with the LCD on or 500 shots while using just the optical viewfinder, and a continuous playback time of approx. 300 minutes. I had no problems capturing our samples (about 175 shots and 25 short movie clips) as well as concluding many of our other tests on a single charge. Since the pack is charged out of camera in the handy CB-2LW rapid charger, we strongly recommend you purchase at least one extra pack, kept charged and ready; there's nothing more aggravating than missing a spontaneous photo opt due to a dead battery.
Bottom line - I was very pleased with this latest addition to Canon's legendary "G" series line. While we miss the Vari-Angle LCD, the new 6x IS lens is a definite plus. The only negative issues we found were the problem with the optical viewfinder and the higher image noise at ISO 800 and 1600. That said, the G7 is a good choice for the beginner, novice, or enthusiast that wants a less bulky alternative to carrying around a dSLR and a bag of lenses. With an MSRP of around US$599 the G7 offers an outstanding value that will be hard to beat this holiday season.
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