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Canon G9 review

After six very successful models, the Canon “G” series line of cameras, that started with the G1 of 2000, has grown into the G9 of 2007. The latest model has kept all the good things from the previous cameras, and although it lost its popular rotating LCD screen somewhere along the way, it has gained a 12-megapixel sensor, a 3.0-inch LCD display and RAW image capture - which was dropped from the G7- has returned. Apart from this, its specifications are remarkably alike to the previous model. The familiar 6x Canon zoom lens with optical image stabilisation is still there, just like the excellent Digic III image processor, face detection of up to nine faces and a wide range of automatic and manual functions.

front of Canon Powershot G9 rear of Canon Powershot G9


Using the Canon G9

The look of the camera brings back memories of traditional rangefinder cameras from the seventies. Although it is shaped like a brick, its ergonomics are excellent, with a no nonsense rubber strip on the front to act as a grip for your right hand and a small thumb rest in the top RH corner at the back. In true Canon tradition the G9 is built like the proverbial tank and we wouldn’t be surprised if Don McCullin would again find it to be completely bullet proof.

In your hand the camera feels like a quality piece of engineering, unlike some plastic models other manufacturers try to force upon us. Its weight and rugged, all metal construction inspire confidence and we feel this Canon will serve you for years to come. Things like the metal tripod mount, the feel of all control buttons and switches and strong doors for battery compartment and connectivity slots are further proof of the level of engineering Canon have put into it.

The back of the camera is dominated by the large 3.0” LCD screen with 230.000 pixels. Visibility of the screen outdoors is excellent from most angles and in low light situations it gains up automatically so you can clearly see your subject. It is nice to see that Canon has kept the optical viewfinder, directly above the LCD screen. It is a decent size, features dioptre correction and is eminently useable. Remember that it only shows about 80% of the frame, so for precise composition you would have to use the LCD screen.

To the right of the LCD is the traditional 4-way dial combined with a handy control wheel surrounding it. The latter is used to select manual settings, navigate the menu, or play back photos, plus a range of other settings dependent on which programme mode you are in. The control wheel is a fast and convenient solution to what most other cameras do by pressing the 4-way switch a zillion times.

On the 4-way switch we find options for setting Manual focus; flash; macro and continuous shooting modes including self timer. The central SET/FUNC button gives access to Canon’s familiar Function menu, with settings for image format and quality; White Balance; My Colors options; flash compensation; metering plus exposure and focus bracketing. The latter allows you to take three images, one at the chosen focus setting and two a little closer and further away.

Most functions on the Canon G9 can be assessed without having to use the menu system, as there is bound to be a button somewhere on the camera for most functions you can think of. On the back we find dedicated buttons for display options; camera menu; exposure compensation over +/- 2 stops in 1/3 EV increments; playback; delete; focus point and AE lock. A small custom button in the top left corner can be set to control things like metering, white balance, AF lock or a 3-stop neutral density filter.

Two nice additions to the camera’s 9-point AF system are the Flexizone focus option, in which you can choose your own focus point from one of 375 spots across the screen, and face detection of up to 9 faces. The system works extremely well and can be quite handy when taking shots of a group of people. The focus area can be enlarged to regular or small according to your needs.

Moving over to the top plate of the Powershot G9 we find two large control dials, one for ISO settings (Auto, 80-1600, Hi) and one for the various programme and subject modes (13). The tiny zoom switch is located around the shutter release button. A dedicated flash hot shoe allows external flashlights to be used, either dedicated Speedlights or third party flashes. Most Speedlight options are controlled automatically in-camera and these offer more advanced possibilities than third party flashguns.

We won’t go in to some of the typical gimmick settings like Color Accent or Color Swap modes, which we personally feel are only there for trivial image effects and should not be part of a serious photographer’s vocabulary.

Although we realise that most people hate to read any instructions at all, with the G9 it pays to sit down with the manual an evening, to familiarize yourself with all the functions and get to know all that this camera can do. The Canon G9 is a true photographic tool that you really have to learn to use.

mixed lighting

In the Canon G9 box

Nothing sensational here, as all the necessary goodies are included with the G9. Or it would have to be that Canon are one of the few manufacturers to still include a memory card with the camera. The enclosed MMCplus 32Mb card won’t help you much though, as this tiny gem will only store five images at the highest JPEG setting. Our advice as always would be to get yourself a decent sized SD, SDHC or MMC card for serious shooting.

The NB-2LH, 7.4V 720mAh Li-ion battery provides energy for about 240 images according to CIPA standards. We found this a bit of a disappointment as many compacts nowadays manage to capture substantially more images per charge than this one. It will take about 105 minutes to recharge and get you going again.

mixed lighting

There is a small 32-page introductory manual with the camera, but the G9’s full specs and functions are explained in detail on the enclosed CD. As already mentioned, if you want to find out all this camera can do, read it thoroughly and it will certainly improve your photography with the Powershot G9.

The second CD is the familiar Canon Digital Camera Solutions version 32.0, which includes Canon’s ZoomBrowser EX 6.0 and Photostitch 3.1 for MAC and Windows OS. Support for Windows 98SE seems to have been discontinued as the supplied CDs are only compatible with operating systems from Windows 2000 SP4 onwards. Zoombrowser EX6.0 is not only used for downloading images to your computer and organizing them, but now also supports full RAW editing capabilities such as exposure, white balance, sharpness, colour and noise reduction.

contrast, saturation, sharpness -2 My Colors Neutral My Colors OFF My Colors Vivid contrast, saturation, sharpness +2

Some accessories available for the Canon Powershot G9 include a 0.75x wide-angle and 2x telephoto lens adapter; three external Speedlight flashes that sync with the camera; an external slave flash and a waterproof case to take the G9 up to 40 metres under water. A remote control, which was supported on older G-series cameras, is not available for the Canon G9. The camera does support remote capture however, by using the Remote Capture Task built into the Browser software to operate the camera from your PC, saving images directly to your hard drive.

Image quality

The Canon Powershot G9 is equipped with a fixed f/2.8-4.8/35-210mm (35mm eq.) 6x Canon zoom lens with optical image stabilisation. The system is supposed to offer a gain of three stops over conventional lenses. How much you really benefit is also determined by the photographer’s individual handholding qualities, but we found the system to be quite effective at providing sharp images at lower shutter speeds. It is definitely advised to hold the Canon G9 with two hands to obtain sharp pictures, as you may find the brick-like shape a bit lacking for single-handed operation. Focusing is excellent and responsive in most conditions, although in certain image situations or at the longer end of the zoom it can slow down a little. There is hardly any hunting and the AF usually does a good job of locking on to your subject quickly.

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600

Image quality is excellent with just a tiny amount of barrel distortion at wide-angle and almost perfectly straight parallels at the tele setting. Vignetting at either end of the zoom is practically absent and we could only find a slight hint of corner softness and chromatic aberration at any lens setting at wide apertures.

Colours are vibrant but natural without the over-saturated look of some other compacts. When reviewing images on the LCD screen at the capture stage however, we found that most images appeared to be extremely warm and postcard-like in appearance. It was not until our images were downloaded to a computer that their true colours could be seen. Should you prefer your own colour characteristics, the My Colors function allows further control over sharpness, contrast and saturation.

Dynamic range is good although some clipping of highlights could become evident in certain bright or contrasty image situations. Capturing images in RAW would give you some room to correct this, but don’t expect ZoomBrowser to perform miracles in this area as the RAW function basically performs the same tasks as the in-camera processing does with JPEG images. Other reviewers have remarked that other, third party RAW software can coax more out of G9 images, but we have not been able tot test this ourselves.

ISO 800 ISO 100

For ultimate image quality with compact cameras it is best to keep ISO levels as low as possible to avoid noisy or grainy images. The Canon G9 is no exception in this area. Images taken at ISO 80 or 100 are simply superb with plenty of detail and nice colours, but when you get to higher ISO levels, quality definitely starts to suffer. ISO 1600 or 3200 on the Canon G9, or any other compact for that matter, should only be used when there are no other options available, such as using a tripod or flashlight. It is not for nothing that the G9 will automatically lower its resolution to 1600x1200 for images taken at ISO 3200.

As with all Canon models, exposure is very good delivering nicely balanced images. The choice of three metering modes ensures that in situations with prominent highlights or shadow areas you can resort to centre-weighted or spot metering. The live histogram will be a big help here if you know what you are doing. White balance outdoors was excellent but in mixed lighting conditions or under fluorescent light, results were sometimes a bit too warm or a pronounced colour cast became evident. Apart from AWB and seven presets, two custom white balance settings can be user-set and stored in-camera.

Conclusion

The Canon G9 is a fantastic camera but it is not for everyone. Let me explain. Although the Powershot G9 does have a green Auto mode, where all important decisions are made for you by the camera, it is not really meant for the point-and-shoot enthusiast. If you only take the odd holiday snap or shoot the kids around the house, you would be well advised to look elsewhere as this camera is really too advanced for snapshots only.

The serious photographer though, will certainly find the Canon G9 to be a worthwhile investment and a true photographic tool, as you can really create photographs with it instead of snapshots. There are plenty of functions to try out and the G9 enables you to use your creativity to the full. This Canon Powershot G9 really is a camera that grows on you. Its strong points are definitely its wide range of specifications, strong built quality and responsiveness. On top of this we feel it would be ideally suited to act as a handy addition to your DSLR kit with all the control of a DSLR, without the discomfort of its size and weight.


Additional information: Canon G9 product details and other reviews
December 1, 2007

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