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Review: Canon G11

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As a professional photographer, I’ve become accustomed to hauling around a 20lb + camera bag. I’ve run, biked, climbed and paddled with the gear on my back for countless assignments. Carrying the weight has become a norm. Unfortunately, another norm I’ve developed is not wanting to take a camera on trips that are just for fun. My bulky pro camera and all the various attachments are just a big hassle. So, in an effort to put more ease back into my shooting, I searched for a smaller, yet capable, point-and-shoot camera. I found the Canon G11.

Canon G11 camera

There’s a lot to love about this little $500 tank of a camera. I say “tank” because it is larger than the average point-and-shoot camera these days — its about the size of my fist, and it weighs 12.5oz. But the bulk is due to the features it offers over the smaller cameras — like the bright f/2.8 lens that gathers loads of light for low-light or indoor shooting and Canon’s Image Stabilization, which helps correct camera shake.

Camera front

The lens optically zooms from a 28-140mm equivalent — plenty for most situations. And if you find yourself wanting more reach, you can buy a teleconverter attachment (about $190 for the two necessary parts) to increase your telephoto capabilities. A push-button macro setting is easy to use and works wonderfully. I used this feature every day on a recent trip to Chile.

Point-and-shoot flashes are generally pretty wimpy. The G11 offers a hot-shoe for attaching one of Canon’s many Speedlite (flash) options. A top-mount flash can greatly improve your image lighting and give you more flash distance.

Camera back

A large, 2.8-inch LCD screen swivels out and flips around — shooting overhead, or those self portraits we all love, are now a breeze. When you are done shooting, you can flip the screen around and close it, keeping it protected from scratches. The 10-megapixel sensor is more than adequate for most any need. (The previous G-camera, the G10, offered a 14.7-megapixel sensor, but the G11 uses a “high sensitivity” sensor that offers better high ISO for low light). Less megapixels does not necessarily mean an inferior image. Sensor improvements are beginning to balance the differences.

The build quality is nearly ideal for an outdoor enthusiast. While not tiny, it is still pocket-sized, and it is made tough. I recently tripped and sent the G11 bouncing and skittering across a wooden deck. I dusted it off and put it back in my pocket — no damage done. I do not recommend overly rough treatment, but I think it ranks higher in durability than average P&S cameras. The lens has a built-in, retractable cover.

The flipping, pivoting LCD screen

One of the main reasons I chose this camera was the RAW file format. RAW, as opposed to a JPEG file, allows the shooter to have much more control over things like exposure and color. Comparing RAW format to JPEG is difficult to explain in words, but I’ll try: It is kind of like a raw egg — you can make any number of dishes out of it (“it” being a RAW file). However, if it is already fried (“fried” being the JPEG format), you are limited to what you can do with it. In short, you have expanded control over the RAW image. Included software will allow you to edit in RAW and then convert the file to a JPEG for printing or sending.

My gripes? Well, I’d love the camera to be waterproof. Canon does offer an underwater housing ($240 retail) for serious wet protection. When it’s wet out, I’ve just carried the camera inside my waterproof jacket and tried to be careful. But if you are a paddler, or spend a lot of time near the water, you may want to research cameras that offer submersion ability — this one does not. I also accidentally press buttons on the back of the camera when shooting one-handed. I understand that the buttons have to go somewhere, but it remains a small gripe. Another thing: The RAW files are great to have, but they are not nearly as beautiful as the files from my full-size SLR. I would not expect them to be at the $500 price point, though.

My No. 1 gripe? Shutter lag! This camera has it, just like most P&S cameras. But likely it is much better than what you have experienced in the past. Again, it is not an SLR.

Overall, I am very pleased with the little G11. I find myself picking it up to go on bike rides with the kids, or to friends’ houses for dinner. It makes beautiful images and even takes a decent video when I want to. I suppose the ideal buyer might be someone who has an SLR and wants something smaller, or just someone who wants a top level point-and-shoot. Anyone in the market for a capable digital still camera would be foolish to overlook it.

T.C. Worley is a freelance photographer based in Minneapolis. You can view his work at www.studiobluempls.com

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