The Null Device

Canon PowerShot G11

Nine years ago, Canon released the PowerShot G1, a premium compact digital camera, kicking off the G series. The G cameras had fold-out screens, fast f/2.0 lenses and excellent dynamic range and low-light performance. Then, in 2006, it all started to go pear-shaped; with the G7, Canon downgraded the line to a weightier version of the consumer A series; the size was reduced, the fold-out LCD was gone, and the f/2.0 lens was replaced with a slower f/2.8 lens, of the sort typically found in consumer cameras. Meanwhile, Canon cranked up the megapixels, cramming increasing numbers of pixels into the small sensor, resulting in inevitable compromises to dynamic range and low-light performance (the latter not helped by the lens). While Canon still had their historic name to impress those who didn't look too hard, newcomers stole a march on them in the compact market; not least among them Panasonic, with the Lumix DMC-LX3.

Now it seems that Canon have seen the light and are moving back in the right direction; they just announced the PowerShot G11. The successor to the G10, it knocks down the pixel count from 14 megapixels to an altogether more reasonable 10, and reinstates the fold-out screen. However, the f/2.8 lens stays.

Which is a good start, though it'd take a lot more for me to buy a PowerShot again. I've had a DMC-LX3 since the end of last year, and have been somewhat spoiled by it: by the image quality, which is superb for a compact, the fast f/2.0 lens, and by other enhancements which are wholly innovative; the user interface, for example, consists not only of the usual MENU button and D-pad, but includes dedicated switches for focus mode and aspect ratio. (Which brings me to another feature: you can change the aspect ratio between TV (4:3, as in most compacts), 35mm film (3:2, as in most DSLRs) and widescreen (16:9) to suit your compositions.) If you push the joystick in, a pulldown menu appears, giving you quick access to common settings such as resolution and ISO mode. Cranking the resolution down gives you a nonmagnifying digital zoom, letting you zoom beyond the lens's (admittedly middling) range by cropping to the centre of the image without blowing things up as the "digital zoom" in other cameras does. The USB interface looks like a mass storage device one can copy image files from. It's little grace notes like these which make a better camera.

While Canon were away (and they were, for about three years), Panasonic came up and ate their lunch. While the G11 is a welcome first step, it'll take a lot more than that for the G series to regain its leading position.

There are 3 comments on "Canon PowerShot G11":

Posted by: Michael S. Thu Aug 20 21:17:30 2009

There's a nice-looking S90 as well:

Posted by: cos Thu Aug 20 22:39:34 2009

The S90's more of a DMC-LX3 competitor - yes, it has an f/2.0 lens (if that's what matters). Most of the other specs are like the G11, minus the fold-out screen.

Either of them look interesting but I reckon the Olympus E-P1's a lot *more* interesting, at least as a proof of concept - I'm looking forward to the next iteration of it, or something from Panasonic to answer it.

Posted by: acb Thu Aug 20 23:02:17 2009

The E-P1 does indeed look interesting.

According to unauthenticated photos on a Chinese forum, Panasonic are readying a slimmer Micro Four-Thirds camera named the GF1:

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