Canon Powershot G9 Review
Canon has continued their popular "G" series line of compact, yet versatile prosumer digicams with the Powershot G9. It includes most all of the features we loved in its predecessor, the G7 from last year. Both models share very similar specifications, including a 6x Canon optical zoom lens with true Optical Image Stabilization, the latest DIGIC III image processor, Face Detection AF/AE technology, a broad sensitivity range (from ISO 80 - 1600), shutter speed and aperture range, etc. However, the G9 now sports a higher resolution 12-megapixel image sensor, RAW (uncompressed) file format, and larger 3-inch color LCD screen.
Like its predecessors, the G9 is designed for photo enthusiasts who are looking for a compact model with plenty of options. Offering a multitude of manual and custom controls, this is considered a "Prosumer" model that sits between less expensive consumer models and interchangeable lens dSLRs. But, to our novice and readers, don't let all of that scare you off. The G9 has an exposure mode for everyone - from full Auto to Program AE, or one of 16 pre-programmed scene modes, the G9 will help you capture great photos in a wide variety of shooting situations. There's also two Custom modes on the Mode Dial which will allow you to create an exposure mode that is configured to your shooting style and needs.
Overall, we were very pleased with the ergonomics of this camera. The controls are well positioned around the body, clearly labeled and within easy reach of your fingers. We were glad to see Canon kept 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 very quickly; the setting changed all depends on what exposure mode you are using. The menu system is logically organized, and as with almost all Canon models, the Function shortcut menu allowed for quick changes to camera settings (image size/quality, white balance, metering, etc.). While you can not consider the G9 to be a a "compact" consumer model, it is, however, small, light, and very well built. I had no problem carrying it around for several hours during a high school homecoming parade and game; with the included neck strap of course. The new 3.0-inch LCD is a nice and appreciated improvement over the G7. I was also glad to see that the optical viewfinder still remains. While we found the LCD works well in various lighting, the surface is still slightly reflective (never caused a problem in framing though) and is very prone to fingerprints. In marginal lighting conditions, the display "gains up" (brightens) which helps you see your subject for framing. The "green" AF-assist lamp also helps to illuminate the subject in dark conditions when the Red Eye function is turned On.
One issue that Canon has not totally resolved is the framing/orientation problem with the optical viewfinder that we saw with the
G7. As you can see by the illustrations below from our G7 and G9, when using the optical viewfinder to frame your subjects, the center
of the frame does not match up with what was actually captured. In other words, when you capture an image using the optical viewfinder,
the picture you thought you took, looks a bit different. I found this is most noticeable when taking photos with the camera held in
portrait orientation. With these types of viewfinders, you normally expect to capture more than what you saw in the viewfinder.
Typically optical viewfinders on consumer models cover only 80-85% of the captured image. Below are four examples so you can see for
yourself; the first two are from the G7, while the last two are from the G9. (Note: these images have been resized for illustration
purposes only, no cropping has been performed.)
As mentioned earlier, the G9 allows you to capture images in RAW mode. This is an uncompressed file format that allows you to later edit the image with no in-camera processing. You can also shoot in RAW+JPEG mode and capture both formats simultaneously. RAW mode obviously slows the camera down a bit. The shot to shot delay in RAW mode averaged about 2.5 seconds between shots, which is quite impressive when you consider these are huge ~12MB files. Canon's included ZoomBrowser software includes a function called RAW Process, which brings up the RAW Image Task software for processing your RAW images. See Page 6 of this review of a brief overview of this software. You can also see an example of a converted RAW file on the samples page.
Unlike the 4x lens found on the G5 and G6, Canon has equipped the G9 with an all-glass 6x zoom lens with Canon's exclusive OIS technology. 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 helps the G9 produce sharp results throughout the entire zoom range. The zooming mechanism is smooth and fast with about 13 positions from wide angle to telephoto, allowing for precise framing. The G9 features the same 9-point autofocus system that we saw on the G7, with the same focus range as well. It 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 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.
Our image quality results when using the Large (12-megapixel) SuperFine setting were pleasing. As usual with Canon models, the exposure system is very accurate and produces excellent images. This also helps create some beautiful blue skies with awesome cloud detail. Our images are also tack sharp from edge to edge, and the colors are very vivid. In fact, colors are almost a bit over saturated. I noticed this mostly when shooting some portraits in Aperture priority mode, using my old 380EX speedlite. You can see an example on our samples page where we posted the file IMG_0086_2.JPG, which I took away a bit of saturation using ThumbsPlus Pro. In my opinion, the slightly edited photo looks more natural. Also, the white balance system doesn't seem as accurate as the G7's, as you can see from our illustrations a couple of paragraphs above (the viewfinder issue). Those shots were taken with the same settings on both cameras, in the same environment, with no new bulbs, etc. The only difference is time, the G7's images were taken about a year ago. The G9 images seem a bit more "green". However, our outdoor images seem fine, I only saw this when shooting in available light, on a tripod, using the self-timer.
Our portrait results were good. As stated above, I did notice that the color saturation was a bit higher than I like, however this is something that will help make your prints really "pop". When shooting in lower lighting (like indoors), you will have to work within the limits of the small built-in speedlite. It offers maximum range of about 13 feet at wide angle (ISO AUTO), which is a typical range for a consumer model. Like the G7, I found the built-in flash coverage to be better than most with a similar flash range specs, and it may be a bit under-rated. Just remember, it will be able to illuminate your subject in medium sized rooms, however, it lacks the power to illuminate large open areas; this is when the built-in flash hotshoe comes into play. The G9 can control Canon E-TTL flash units, like the 220EX, 430EX, 580EX, MR-14EX and MT-24EX Speedlites. It also seemed to work well with my old 380EX, controlling the zoom head as well. However, it used the AF lamp on the camera instead of the more powerful one on the flash unit.
Imager noise is an issue we discuss with all models that feature such a versatile sensitivity range. Our ISO test images showed very little noise, becoming slightly noticeable in shadow areas at ISO 200. ISO 400 looks great, and even 800 is very usable for even large prints. While ISO 1600 shows considerable noise, even when viewing at only 25%, it is still usable for small prints. Luckily, the OIS system on this model is very effective and will allow you to keep the sensitivity down (like ISO 400 and below) and still capture blur-free images without the flash. 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.
To record video, simply rotate the mode dial to the Movie mode position. You can choose from several resolution choices, like Standard has options for 640x480 or 320x240 with a frame rate of 30fps. For e-mailing, you can use the Compact mode, which records at 160x120 (15fps). While it helps keep the file size down to a minimum, the movies are very small. Other modes include High Resolution (1024x768, 15fps), Color Accent and Color swap, which allow you to capture more creative videos. Our results were good when using the VGA (640x480) mode. The real-time (30fps) frame rate helps produce nice smooth video. The XGA (1024x768, 15fps) mode produced movies that only look Ok, as the slower frame rate causes video to be a bit "choppy".
The G9 is powered by a 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 G9 for up to 240 shots with the LCD on or 600 shots while using just the optical viewfinder, and a continuous playback time of approx. 300 minutes. I had no problems capturing our samples (about 185 shots and 30 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 - Canon has produced yet another awesome "G" series Prosumer model. The G9 continues the traditions of this line, offering a slew of manual functions, great image quality, blazing fast performance, a durable exterior, and class leading specifications (12-megapixels, 6x optical zoom with OIS, Face Detection AF, etc.), not to mention plenty of automatic controls for novice users. The addition of the RAW mode is very appreciated, especially since I felt it tended to use a bit more color saturation than I would normally prefer. With a street price of US$499 or less, we feel it offers a good value for those who want all of the control over the exposure process of a dSLR, but don't want to carry around a bulkier camera and a bag of lenses. The Canon PowerShot G9 is a worthy adversary in the prosumer category (if not the top contender), and it's sure to be a very popular model for the 2007 holiday season.
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