Canon G12 Review Final
April 2011, Carl Garrard
Canon G12 Review: Canon's G12 is a fixed lens, enthusiast level, 10 megapixel large compact camera (oxymoron alert). It boasts 720p stereo sound HD video, a 28-140mm f/2.8-f/4.5 lens, optical image stabilization, raw recording, electronic spirit level, 460k pixel vari-angle LCD screen, robust build quality (metal and plastic both), ISO 80-3,200 standard sensitivity range, rangefinder styling, optical viewfinder, a plethora of external control, and many more items worth mention. It retails in the US for about $419-499.00 currently.
Canon G12 Best Price Check
The G12 is, in a few words: Nostalgic, sexy, modern, and versatile all in one. Canon's G12 is by far my favorite Canon camera, ever. Let me tell you why.
I'm just a huge fan of the underdog, always have been. Today's digital world showcases phenomenal DSLR image quality that exists at a bargain price. Yet, herein this world lies the compact camera. A tiny sensored class of camera that still outsells DSLRS and all other types of cameras combined almost ten to one. And inbetween that yin and yang of camera offerings sits a tiny little class of cameras all their own- the enthusiast compact. Seemingly, this fact alone is enough to deem the enthusiast compact an underdog based on sheer sales numbers, but that's not the kind of underdog I'm talking about.
What I am talking about is the small, cramped-pixel sensors that lie at the heart of these camera's. Sensors that just three years ago wouldn't dream of performing nearly as well as they do today. However, technology does actually advance believe it or not, and the G12 is live in the flesh evidence of such an advance. So when I say underdog, I'm talking about the G12 and its tiny little sensor rubbing elbows with DSLR image quality in a seemingly impossible way.
Although the G12 is the underdog by default, the image quality that comes from the G12 rivals some entry level DSLRS from just two to three years ago at base ISO. It even rivals some of the modern mirrorless cameras today at its low to medium ISO settings. When I realized what the G12 could do after evaluating it's image quality I sat back in my chair and reconsidered everything I thought and learned about small sensored compact cameras, and decided to make an article on this fine little specimen.
Canon G12 Review
Canon G12 Best Price Check
I was/have been asking for a lot, and I never thought it would be possible in my lifetime.Reflecting back on my wants in a compact digital camera, it only took 10 years for me to get it. A few designs have really come close along my journey, but have always failed to deliver one big need or two of mine. Not the G12.
I think there are a few cameras that I've seen come along since 2002 that I can say are truly special. I could count them on one hand, in fact. I'm talking about the whole package here, a well rounded and balanced overall product that offers a great deal for the price. A camera that ends up becoming nearly legendary in the photographic community. Told you, I ask for a lot.
In hindsight every camera has its special quality over another, otherwise there wouldn't be so many camera designs over the years, but there are some that stand out from others in the crowd by offering a rare and versatile overall package for the money. The G12 is one of those gems. Owner satisfaction that I've seen (besides myself of course) is through the roof good. Why is that?
The Potential Buyer
First of all, the G12 needs to be viewed as an upgrade to the G10, not the G11. Put your mind in this place, right now. The G11 will get its upgrade from the camera that comes after the G12, so just forget about the G11 while you read the rest of this article. It doesn't exist, it never did, you are becoming sleepy, sleeeeepy.
Now that you view the G12 from this respect, it is a huge upgrade from the G10 isn't it? Right! Glad you are with me, and, that you agree.
Secondly, comparisons of mirrorless system cameras (DILC cameras) to the G12 are utter rubbish apples to oranges comparisons. This is a fixed lens small sensor compact, it is not Canon's equivalent of a DILC camera. They have larger sensors and are a completely different class of camera, so I find them irrelevant to compare to the G12 by default. If one cannot understand this simple fact, they need to get their head checked. DILC cameras are a total different class of camera, period, end of subject.
Now, if you've read anything on the net criticizing the G12 with either of those two arguments, you can rest assured that you are now in the right mindset to objectively look at the G12.
Here are my assessments of the G12's pros and cons.
*Note that I add "immediately and not so immediately" tags to the pro/con section. There is a real reason for this. Time with a camera will reveal more cons later on than immediately and sometimes tone down the immediate pro's. These pro's/con's I find to "stick" even after much use of the G12 (as well as my other reviews).The Pro's and Con's listed here don't fade away over time.
The Immediately Obvious “Pros”
- Looks, the G12 is a looker, it's sexy (not Fat Bastard sexy either)
- Build quality is exceptional, metal and good choice of plastics, beautiful durable finish all over the thing
- Image Quality is top in it's class (look no further if that is your main squeeze), compares to some DSLRs, and very well against most micro 4/3 sensors. DR, Color, Tonality, top notch for a compact
- Handling is superb, G12 stamps a serious statement immediately
- Digital Level is helpful, especially when attempting to control barrel/other distortions
- LCD is superb, gives you one handed shooting versatility and freedom, excellent size and glare resistance, housing is raised and LCD reverses- both to keep accidental scratches down
- Fan of the included OVF- the word is minimalist here, and I'mz diggin' it yo!
- Sharp and reasonably fast lens, great overall focal length and good macro ability- versatile
- Decently powerful included flash, in the proper position
- Quick start-up and shutdown- Invaluable to me, I love a quick responding camera
- Included hot shoe and available 270EX flash w/tilt feature
- Bayonet style external lens mount for quick DSLR style changing of accessory lenses and filters
- Auto Focus Assist Lamp (invaluable for zero light focusing, and low light focusing)
- Great grip, perfect rubber choice, with included rubber foot on rear for thumb purchase
- Front control dial and tons of external control for a camera this size, without being confusing
- Customizable settings and buttons
- Battery life baby, battery life! Lots of life. Easily able to obtain 500 shots with the G12 (after you cycle the new battery a couple of times, some reviewers totally forget about this, hello!)
- SD card slot (the rising media type star)
- Some in camera video/still editing and pretty loud playback speaker
- Hinged door access to cable outlets, not a chincy rubber grommet thingamabob
- Easy to navigate menu system, well sorted, quick access
- Excellent included software, actually (can you believe that?)
- Lots of support for third party accessories of all kinds (Canon's big name and popular series camera are reasons for this)
- Included automatic lens cover, rare nowadays
- Addictive, can't put it down, can't stop playing with it, wife might end up hating the men who buy it
The Not So Immediately Obvious "Cons"
*Note that these are more nitpicks than serious "Cons", the G12 is that good
- It will not allow for contrast/sharpness/saturation changes in any of the My Color modes except for Custom in Jpeg shooting
- No noise reduction control in Jpegs at all
- Aggressive automatic noise reduction on Jpegs
- When recording Raw and Jpeg simultaneously, no control over the Jpeg output at all, you get color only and exactly what Canon gives you (I don't like the oversaturated, oversharpened, and over noise-reduced look)
- Lack of zoom control during video, or other manual controls such as exposure compensation, etc.
- HDR mode is too automatic, glad to have it, but still, really? Also there's no automatic alignment of the images in camera, you must use a tripod or freeze time to get a sharp image
- 15 Second max exposure time, should be minimum 3 minutes
G12 In Action
Over the last twelve days the G12 has not left my side, once. A bit about me though, first. I'm the type of guy who hates carrying tag-along items, I don't really even like carrying keys and a wallet with me. Cell phones, forget about it- I hate them. Anything that can be lost that is valuable that I don't use very often, I leave at home if at all possible. No, I don't use a cell phone often and don't get me started on that.
So suffice it to say that it is a sort of honor that I carry the G12 everywhere with me. And when I say everywhere I mean everywhere, less the shower or the mens room (if I can avoid that one). I cannot say that any compact camera has ever had that honor. The G12 is almost as valuable as my wallet to me, when it isn't with me for a moment, I experience near the same kind of stress when I can't find my wallet. You know the kind.
Why so? Admittedly, it must seem obsessive to those reading this. But I'm being honest here, I don't want to leave it anywhere. I play with it constantly (to get to know it), and I'm even doing serious shooting with it as well (shots I intend to sell one way or the other in this saturated competitive market). I can't say that I've really ever been struck by a compact this way before, or, have ever taken one with any real serious intent. I've certainly got some good results from compacts I've used before, but never expected them. I've come to rely on the G12 as a serious camera, not just a fun and portable one. That, is why so.
The G12 may lack the resolution power of most current DSLRS and even some compacts (hello G10), but what it loses in 'some' resolution and detail for very large prints, it makes up for in dynamic range, tonality, pleasing color, and full-of-life images, especially in raw files. The lens is suited for a wide range of composition opportunities and is very sharp corner to corner especially at f/4 where I find the lens' sweet spot to be.
If you want to go wider, you do have choices from third party makers for wide angle lens attachments, and the bayonet style mount on the G12 gives you the further impression you are packing a mini-DSLR. I have an Opteka .45x HD2 lens that I use, and I find it to be very acceptable (not to be confused with exceptional). Otherwise, the 28mm focal length is wide enough for most of my composition needs for landscapes.
I ordered a 20x30 " print from my favorite lab in Chicago to see how well the G12 could resolve fine detail at this print size (processed from raw, image shot at optimal f/stop, no cropping) vs.a DSLR I used to use for landscapes with the same resolution. I found that the G12 held up remarkably well in all facets of my personal image quality standards. Frankly I didn't expect the G12 to hold up as well as it does. Yet, it does and I'm ecstatic about this fact.
Add that it doesn't weigh me down no matter where I'm trekking (often the mountains), and has effective image stabilization that allows for very sharp images at slow shutter speeds, and I feel spoiled. Less need for a tripod can be a good thing sometimes.
A whole new world compared to Landscapes but, one of my favorites. The G12's only weakness here is that its maximum magnification is at the wide end of the focal length and that in order to get that magnification your subject needs to be about one inch away from the lens. Actually that can be an advantage at times, but not most of the time. However, up to about mid way through its focal range I find the G12 can still get a very small minimal area in focus and, you get some distance between yourself and nervous critters (if they are your forte).
Sharpness is excellent across the frame at this point, and I find that corner sharpness drops when you use the wide angle setting for macro. Either way, this is a workable lens for macro. Lets talk about the juicy part now.
Two things matter to me most when doing macro images. Good depth of field with a large aperture (check) and, being able to manually focus with a magnified portion of the screen (check). Other important items to me are a tiltable screen (check), and one handed operation in tight quarters (check). The G12 gets high rankings for macro photography from me, very high.
Maybe the weakest part about the G12 is this kind of photography wherein you want to control your depth of field . Actually, because it is a small sensor compact, it's an inherent weakness not a design weakness. Still, I find that if you shoot at full telephoto and you are close enough to your subject you can control your backgrounds and foregrounds a bit. It's just not the ideal set up for this kind of photography. That does change a bit more when you add a telephoto lens extension however, wherein you can get a thinner depth of field at any given aperture due to the increased focal length. Still though, good results are possible if you have some patience and work your focal length and close focusing to it's maximum.
Solid camera for street, extremely solid. The vari-angle LCD, almost silent shutter, optical viewfinder, unintimidating looks and size, and excellent image quality are all assets to street shooting. I've found ways of making images wherein people are almost completely unaware you are making images (or video) of them. The wide range of focal length compared to some compact offers a great variety of compositions. If you need to go wider, get a lens add-on for $40.00 USD like mine, you'll love it.
Certainly any camera can be used for sport shooting, but just as certain is the fact that some are better suited for this than others. Although I've owned cameras that are worse to use for this task, the G12 is no sports camera. It's limited at two frames per second, and it doesn't have a far reaching telephoto lens like the super zooms do. I'd give it a 5/10 for sports shooting, an average rating. It's good side is that it has low shutter lag so if you are close enough to the action and have good reflexes, you should be able to pull off a one-grab shot. The tilt LCD means you can get over people's heads too, which is another practical advantage. Remember that a 10 rating means a Nikon D3, and a 1 rating means a field film camera. Ok?
The G12 makes a near perfect one solution family camera. Wide enough shooting for indoors with a fast lens, variable angle LCD for self portraits, wonderful stereo HD video (LCD adds shooting versatility), great image quality up to ISO 800 for dim circumstances, fast manual white balance reading setup (with blue/amber fine tuning via front wheel) and fun in camera editing and playback features, all add to the appeal of the family photographer. On automatic the G12 performs consistently all around. It's price for what you get here means you won't break the bank, yet you'll be able to show off your images and video to guests who'll think you spent much more money than you actually did.
The G12 gets some criticism for the lack of manual options when shooting video. For serious video shooters or those who wish to grow as video shooters, I can see how this is a detriment. If you fall in that category and really plan on using the G12 as a dedicated video camera, you might want to look at other options. But, if you are like me, you should read on.
I find that the stereo sound is quite good. Just be careful how much you move your hand(s) while holding it, it is very sensitive to small sounds, including when you breathe.I found the video quality to be dynamite on my HD LCD TV. My wife and I were blown away at the quality, but we're no video experts.
In my days using limited video I've come to the conclusion that noises generated by zooming and changing modes on the camera ruins the video, so, the fact that I can do neither on the G12 doesn't affect me in the least. I'm not going to record a separate sound track for my videos, so this suits me just fine. I don't mind using my pedal zooming option either, a fixed focal length again, is fine by me.
Scene modes and automatic modes don't do it for me, but they seem to operate pretty much as intended for those of you who like to use either. I found the quick shot (DSLR style simulation mode) to be uh, kinda neat but not fully effective, and the same goes for the low light/2.5mp mode. Program mode is useless to me without being able to manually change the automatic aperture/shutter speed combination's (or did I miss something here?). HDR can come in handy in certain situations for me, although because of it's automated personality I'm less inclined to work it in as a normal tool, unfortunately. The shot to the left retained a lot more highlight and shadow detail than otherwise would have been captured in a mid day lighting shot.
Custom one and two settings are cool, these settings come in real handy for specific types of shooting I do, but I won't use them often. I'm an adapt-to-da-light-and-scene kinda guy, what can I say. Further, I do like the programmable Square-around-S-and-Arrow button on the upper left rear of the camera (yes I called it that, I'm making a point). I've programmed that for switching quickly between Jpeg only and Raw shooting, but it can be programmed to do so many more tasks than that.
I dig using the optical finder even though the view is small. I'm an optics fan (mostly), so I dig it a lot despite the very small view and 80% accuracy. Guess what? I know this is a minimalist set up and I embrace that fact, I don't resist it or become unrealistic. The finder gives me twice the battery life if I use it and that can come in very handy in situations where you are low on battery life for some reason. Also, its pretty consistent throughout the zoom range less very close up subjects.
Flash works just fine for my needs and I find it more powerful than most compacts with an included flash. Red Eye seems to be only an issue very close up or very far away. With the forthcoming add-on 270EX flash (with tilt/bounce capability), I'll have a lot more shooting options from the G12 that mimic a DSLR system, at a very low cost.
Compared to the G10
Canon G12 Best Price Check
I actually owned the G10 longer than I've owned the G12 so far. I found the G10 almost swept me off my feet but it lacked a couple of critical performance characteristics and features the G12 has. First and foremost is image quality. I know, I can already hear G10 users cursing me and throwing dead fish my way. Relax, image quality is a subjective thing (mostly). Here is my subjectivity for you.
Straight up- I find much more life in the Jpegs from the G12 when I do want to rely on them. Specifically more color, tonality, dynamic range, and less noise. I found the G10's Jpegs to be flat and lifeless, in comparison to the G12. Detail perhaps may suffer but that's debatable. Raw I find even more tonality, color, and dynamic range with a kicker- more highlight recovery than the G10.
And despite the popular claim that the G10 has less noise at low ISO, I disagree completely. In fact, that seems impossible considering the G10's pixels are much smaller and crammed into the G10's sensor. It might match the G12 for well lit areas of the scene, but not in the shadow regions where I find the G12 to perform superbly at base ISO. Too many people looking at well lit studio samples and not real life images, is my take on that. Last but not least on this subject, the grain (noise) that does exist on the G12's raw files is prettier and more uniform.
The G12's noise in raw (converted with ACR) looks much more like tasteful film grain, rather than the smashed digital-mosquito jaggie-tetris-looking configurations the G10 has in comparison (note the G10's noise looks much better than the LX5's does, puke!).
Another area that the G12 smokes the G10 (yep smokes it, sorry) is the tiltable LCD. I don't care that it is .2" smaller, dude.... really? I find it so much more versatile in so many areas it elevates the cameras useage to a whole other level than the G10, and, you can tilt it to get rid of any bright glare that seems to fixate itself on the G10's screen. Bingo. Use it before you criticize, otherwise sorry, you have no clue what I'm talking about.
The G12 adding HD video, HDR shooting, 1/3 stops on the ISO dial, improved rear grip, and a wealth of other small features in the camera I haven't already covered is just- extra juicy. And guess what? I got my G12 for less than I bought my G10 for initially. I found one on Amazon for $429.00 USD from 47th Street Photo (it would help me if you helped cover costs for purchases of the camera needed for this review, you know how).
Often I am asked what camera I'd recommend when buyers are looking for a new camera. Two compacts come to mind that I have recommended, and will continue to recommend to others- the Canon G12 for more serious shooting/shooters and features, and the Panasonic ZS5 for a slim ultralight affordable solution. That's it. Why fiddle with others when you can get the best overall compact for the dollar right from the outset?
Canon's G12 is a refined G series camera with rich heritage, and it represents Canon's flagship compact camera position perfectly. It is truly worthy of the G badge inset on it's grip. It is a practical, versatile, sexy, photographic solution for anyone wanting to delve into serious photography for the first time, or those who prefer to have a smaller camera system in addition to their DSLR system.
The G12 won't do everything, and no camera can. Yet the G12 will do a lot more things than most cameras will, and do them very well. On top of that the G12 can be taken anywhere with you. Like they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. It just so happens that statement is true two-fold when you are talking about the G12. Currently the G12 ranks up there as one of my favorite cameras of all time, and it might have even taken that title solely.
As always, be safe. And, happy shooting.
I recommend B&H Photo as a reliable retailer with great pricing, for a quick check on the G12's current price, go here: Canon G12 Best Price Check