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Powershot G11
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Canon PowerShot G11

Canon’s PowerShot G11 continues the G-series’ proud tradition of delivering high-end features and full manual control in a compact form factor. This is a well-built camera which will greatly appeal to enthusiasts.
Like previous models in the series, the G11 shares much in common with its predecessor, but makes a handful of evolutionary changes to satisfy demands – although revealingly two of the major ‘advances’ here are actually blasts from the past. After many pleas, Canon’s finally brought back an articulated screen, a feature not seen since the G6 back in 2004. It’s also reduced the resolution to the same 10 Megapixels of the G7 2006 model.

It seems ironic the major new features are in fact ones we’ve seen before on the G-series, but Canon’s been playing a gradual game of catch-up since the G7 unforgivably dropped RAW recording, a flip-out screen, a bright f2.0 lens and an upper LCD panel from the feature-list. RAW was reinstated with the G9 and now two models later we’ve got the flip-out screen back again. Who knows, maybe next year we’ll get the fast lens.

To be fair to Canon, both the screen and sensor on the G11 are at least new models. The screen uses a 2.8in panel, which may be a little smaller than the 3in panel of the previous G10, but shares the same 460k resolution for a crisp, detailed image, and of course now becomes fully-articulated for easy composition at unusual angles.




As mentioned in the main review, the screen may not quite flip out by a full 180 degrees, causing a little disorientation when framing at waist-level, but it seems a little churlish to complain when we’ve been requesting its return for so long. It’s a welcome upgrade, but next time Canon, please ensure the screen can flip-out by the full 180 degrees.

As for the sensor, its resolution and physical size may match that of the old G7, but Canon assures us it’s a new chip; it can certainly operate at much higher sensitivities anyway. And this is partly what’s behind Canon’s decision to reduce the resolution from 14.7 to 10.0 Megapixels here: better low-light performance.

In practice it bears-out too, with the G11 delivering noise levels at least one stop better than its predecessor above 200 ISO. Canon’s also been very clever about its noise reduction, keeping visible textures under control at higher sensitivities with only a gradual reduction in saturation and fine detail giving the game away. Even the 12,800 ISO top sensitivity in Low Light mode can deliver acceptable images when shrunk further for emailing or web applications. Indeed we’d say the G11 has one of the best ‘small-sensor’ performances we’ve seen to date, although it’s important to consider the bigger picture – literally.

The G11 may look better than the G10 at higher sensitivities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d want to use them. At 400 ISO it’s acceptable, but at 800 ISO and up, the quality is unsurprisingly suffering when viewed at 100%. As always, the best results are had at 200 ISO and below, but it’s important to remember the G10 also looked good at these settings, while recording finer detail thanks to its higher resolution sensor. So if you can restrict yourself to shooting at the lowest sensitivities, the earlier G10 could actually be a better bet. And if you want really decent performance at higher ISOs, you should really be looking at a camera with a bigger sensor like a DSLR or the Micro Four Thirds compacts from Olympus and Panasonic.

This puts the G11 in a slightly tricky position in terms of image quality, although it still comes in comfortably cheaper than the Micro Four Thirds compacts, while squeezing a bigger zoom and articulated screen into a smaller package. It’s also important to note at 80 ISO under bright light, the G11 delivered a similar-looking image to the E-P1 and GF1 in our tests.



Speaking of the lens, it may be unchanged from the earlier G10, but the 5x zoom still delivers a decent general-purpose range from wide angle to respectable telephoto, not to mention 1cm macro close-ups, while also including effective stabilisation to iron-out the wobbles. It’s well-corrected too.

The G11 also inherits a variety of other useful features from the G10, including full manual exposures, RAW recording, a flash hotshoe and a number of decent physical controls with tactile handling. Beyond the articulated screen, the body’s essentially identical too, and as such is built like a solid brick which is surprisingly comfortable to hold and use given the relatively minor grip.

But the G11 is more than just a G10 with a flip-out screen and 10 Megapixel sensor. Canon’s also equipped it with scene recognition in Auto, new Low Light and Quick shot modes (the former allowing you to shoot at up to 12,800 ISO albeit at 2.5 Megapixels), and an HDMI port. Annoyingly the G10’s handy sound recorder and Superfine JPEG options are no longer present though.

Of greater concern though is the movie mode, again inherited wholesale from the G10, and as such operating at nothing higher than VGA. That’s right, there’s still no HD or widescreen options, and to add insult to injury, you still can’t optically zoom the lens while filming either. Canon explains this is due to a technical limitation, but in terms of the current marketplace, it’s unforgivable to release a premium compact in 2009 without HD video.

Bizarrely given the reduced resolution, it’s also disappointing to find the already paltry continuous shooting rate of the G10 is even slower here at a mere 1.1fps under best conditions. The G11’s new Low Light mode may boost this to 2.4fps by reducing the resolution to 2.5 Megapixels, but it’s revealing to note Panasonic’s year-old LX3 matches this speed at its full resolution (for eight frames), or increases it to 6fps when dropped to 3 Megapixels. So while we’re pleased to see Canon offering a faster option at a reduced resolution, it still falls below what we’d expect from a model of its calibre.

Good points
5x zoom with 28mm wide and 1cm macro.
Flash hotshoe, RAW files and high ISOs.
Great quality 2.8in / 460k articulated screen.
Good controls, build and ergonomics.

Bad points
Slow burst shooting – just 1.1fps at full res.
No HD movies or zooming when filming.
Noise better than G10, but beaten by M4/3.
Older G10 delivers more detail at 80 ISO.

Scores

Build quality: 19 / 20
Image quality: 18 / 20
Handling: 16 / 20
Specification: 18 / 20
Value: 17 / 20

Overall: 88%

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