Canon PowerShot G12

10MP | 28-140mm (4x) Zoom | $379 (US) £359 (UK) €409 (EU)

Canon's PowerShot G-series is a stalwart of the high-end compact camera market. Originally designed to offer film SLR users a (relatively) affordable ladder into enthusiast digital imaging, over the past ten years G-series cameras have evolved to become what they are now - aspirational, high-quality compacts that are attractive second cameras for existing DSLR users, fitting into the niche between 'mainstream' compact offerings and small DSLRS.

Canon's current version, the 10MP G12, is little changed from its predecessor the G11. It offers the same pixel count, the same 28-140mm (equivalent) zoom range and similar operational ergonomics, but it certainly isn't out-of-date compared to its peers. The G12 boasts an ISO sensitivity span of 100-3200 at full resolution selectable in 1/3EV steps, and 720p video with stereo sound. It offers full manual exposure control via two dials, including one that is positioned on top of the hand grip (in a position that will be familiar to Canon EOS DSLR users). The most obvious direct competitor to the G12 in terms of specification and ergonomics is Nikon's P7100 (which is covered on page 4). 

A feature of recent G-series models that we really like is the chunky stacked ISO and exposure mode dials (which rotate independently of  each another).  Likewise a manual exposure compensation dial, in 1/3EV steps up to +/-2EV to the left of the G12's hotshoe. Just behind this dial, on the rear of the camera you can see the 'S' shortcut button which can be assigned to a range of shooting parameters.
A front control dial is exactly where a Canon EOS user would expect to find it - above the hand grip, just in front of the shutter button.  The G12's rear control dial doubles as a 4-way controller, with key shooting settings activated by pressing down on its four cardinal points. 

The G12 might be extremely close to its predecessor the G11 in terms of operation and feature set, but there are some key differences. The G12 has a higher resolution movie mode (and thereby becomes the first G-series camera to offer HD video), a built-in electronic spirit level, and also offers both in-camera HDR and ISO expansion up to ISO 12,800 (equivalent) at 2.5MP.

Key Features

  • 10.0MP 1/1.7" CCD
  • ISO 80-3200
  • 28-140MM (equivalent) f/2.8-4.5 optically stabilized zoom lens
  • PASM modes and full manual control in 1/3EV steps
  • Twin control dials (front and rear)
  • 720p video @ 24fps with stereo sound
  • 2.8in fully-articulated LCD screen with 461k dots

Performance and Image Quality

The G12 has a long heritage, and as we'd expect from the 10th camera in its model line (there was no G4 for cultural reasons nor a G8), it offers a refined, impressively hassle-free user experience. We reviewed the G12 in early 2011, and then, as now, we really liked the electronic level gauge, chunky manual ISO and exposure compensation dials, and the fully-articulated LCD screen. The resolution of this display isn't quite up there with the best in class, but it is significantly more versatile than the simple fold-out design of the P7100's display (and more useful again than the Fujifilm X10's fixed screen). The G12 is the camera from which Nikon took 'inspiration' when it produced the Coolpix P7000, and there is a reason for that. The G12 is a very nice camera indeed.

The Canon PowerShot G12 has a small flash that, unlike those inside the Fujfilm X10 and Nikon P7100, does not pop up, but is built into the front of the camera. As you can see from this shot, flash metering is well-balanced, and although no match for a dedicated external flashgun, perfectly adequate for casual portraits and 'fill in'. 

As a stills camera, the G12 is an almost exact match for its predecessor the G11, and very similar to the Nikon Coolpix P7000/P7100 and Samsung TL500/EX1 (all four models use the same sensor). In raw mode in fact, files from the G12 and P7100 are virtually impossible to tell apart. What this means in practice is that the G12 gives excellent image quality up to ISO 400 and, in everyday photography, noise and noise-reduction are only noticeable at ISO 800 and higher. Even then, they only become problematic on close inspection. At ISO 3200, the G12's JPEG output is poor by comparison, but no worse than its competitors and actually slightly better than the P7100, the default noise-reduction of which is rather more heavy-handed.

Naturally though, because the G12's lens is (like the P7100's) relatively slow compared to some of its peers, you'll be forced to use its high ISO settings more frequently than you might with a camera like the Fujifilm X10 or Olympus XZ-1, which offer larger maximum apertures.

Pattern metering and automatic white balance have combined to give a fairly dull, cool-looking shot here, but despite the relatively low contrast there is still plenty of detail.  100% Crop
Shooting in raw mode and adjusting the file in Adobe Camera Raw has allowed me to sharpen that detail up a little, and increase brightness a little for a more 'punchy' result. I have also tweaked white balance slightly, to make the scene a little warmer.  100%

As usual, with a little care and attention the G12's true potential can be unlocked from its raw files, but even high-ISO JPEGs are fine for small prints and web use (and can look very nice in black and white). Assuming that white balance and exposure are accurate, you will probably find that there is little real need to shoot in raw mode with the G12 in everyday shooting. For ultimate control though (and of course a little more dynamic range 'headroom' in highlight areas) there is no substitute for a carefully-processed raw file.

The PowerShot G12's JPEG files are very good, and unless you need to make drastic post-capture adjustments to white balance or exposure, you're likely to be perfectly happy with the G12's JPEG image quality. 100% Crop
As always though, slightly more detail can be drawn out of the G12's raw files, which is particularly important in highlight areas, like the bright areas of sky in this ISO 400 shot. Here, I have also slightly brightened the foreground in Adobe Camera Raw and tweaked the colors in the sky for a more natural result.  100% Crop

As far as video image quality is concerned, the G12 is satisfactory but is doesn't stand out in its class. Video footage from the G12 looks fine, and we'd expect stereo sound recording in a camera at this level but it can't match the 'true' HD resolution of the Fujifilm X10 and it does not allow optical zoom control or AF during movie shooting, which is rather limiting. Since the more recently-released PowerShot S100 overcomes these limitations it seems likely that the G12's successor (whenever it might be unveiled) will improve on the G12 in this respect. 

Summary

Arguably, there was very little wrong with the PowerShot G11, and with the G12, Canon has smoothed out a few more rough edges. The result is a very pleasant, if rather bulky camera. Despite its somewhat lumbering appearance the G12 is quick, responsive (in both JPEG and raw capture modes) and its operational ergonomics are well thought-out. Although it can be used as an 'auto everything' compact, the G12's real strengths come to the fore when it is used in its A,S and M modes. The G12's twin control dials plus big, chunky, ISO, exposure compensation and mode dials offer a level of truly manual control which is very welcome in a compact camera. 

Assuming that you don't mind the G12's relative bulk (despite not being much larger in any single dimension than many of its peers, but like the Nikon P7100 it feels like a substantial 'lump') the G12 is by and large a very pleasant camera to use. We would expect it to be replaced in early 2012, but even if it is, the G12 is unlikely to look out of date any time soon, if only because it still stands up so well against (and in some respects outperforms) its nearest competitors. 

No camera is perfect though, of course, and we do have some criticisms of the G12, albeit relatively minor ones. A 28-140mm lens isn't quite as long at the long end as we'd like (the Nikon P7100 wins that battle hands-down) and we're disappointed that with all of the various buttons and dials which pepper its surface, Canon couldn't find room on the G12 for a direct movie shooting button. Both the Fujifilm X10 and Nikon P7100 provide one and its omission in the G12 wouldn't be such an irritation if the shortcut button could be reassigned accordingly, but unfortunately this isn't possible. Finally, having done a lot of shooting with the Canon PowerShot S100 I'd personally love to see its 12MP CMOS sensor nestling inside the G12, but that will have to wait...

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Tool Canon PowerShot G12 Samples (25 images)

Score when originally tested: 73% (+Gold Award)

Click here to turn to page 3 of our enthusiast raw-shooting compact cameras buyers' guide...