S90 & G11 – my final conclusions & suggestions

Started Oct 12, 2009 | Discussions thread
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ebrandon
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S90 & G11 – my final conclusions & suggestions
Oct 12, 2009

There have been a lot of people with an S90 or with a G11 posting very thoughtful and accurate reports about those two cameras, and I won’t bother repeating what they’re doing.

However, since I have been using both cameras for a few days now, I think I should evaluate the similarities & differences between them, and make some suggestions for people who know they want one of these but aren’t sure which one.

Of course, everyone is different and some people really care about things that don’t matter to me at all like whether or not a camera has a hot shoe. Additionally, there are factors that would powerfully influence someone’s choice that have nothing to do with the intrinsic quality of these two cameras, such as what other cameras you already own.

But I have been thinking about this quite a bit, and so this post will try to cover

  • How the cameras are the same & different

  • What I like better about one camera than the other

  • What I dislike more about one camera than the other

  • What kind of person would like each camera

  • Easy mistakes to make in choosing between these two cameras

How the cameras are the same

In my opinion the following qualities are essentially the same between the two cameras and should probably be irrelevant to choosing between them.

  • AF speed and accuracy

  • Startup time, shutter lag, and general responsiveness

  • Screen quality

  • Image quality is 99% identical

How the cameras are almost the same

  • I have noticed no practical difference between having f2 on the S90 and f2.8 on the G11

  • The IS may be slightly better on the G11, but I’m not sure and difference is minimal in the most extreme conditions and completely irrelevant 95% of the time

  • The Auto White Balance may be slightly better on the G11 in the most extremely artificial light conditions, but the differences are small, possibly imaginary, and completely irrelevant 99% of the time

  • While you can get in closer with the G11 macro than the S90 macro, the greater capability of the G11 macro comes with so much distortion and puts you so close to the subject that no living thing would let you get that close, no flower stays still enough to let you photograph it from that distance, and at that distance the G11’s lens is sure to either cast a shadow on or collide with the subject, so there is no practical benefit. If maximum macro capability is your must have there are better cameras than either of these.

  • The 140mm range of the G11 is sometimes welcome, but there is in fact little practical difference between the 140mm and 105mm. If you’re “putting up with” the greater size, weight, complexity and cost of the G11 mainly in order to get the longer reach you’re barking up the wrong tree. Why? Because in 90% of the situations where you’d rather have 140mm instead of 105mm

  1. you can take one step forward

  2. you can crop the photo a tiny bit when you get home

  3. The 105mm picture is actually better than the 140mm picture you wish you’d gotten.

For example I first took this 140mm with the G11.

Then switched to the S90 and noticed that 105mm wasn’t long enough. Took two steps forward and took this picture which I think is better.

  • The flip out screen really is nice, especially for me because I have bad knees and don’t like to crouch. A flip out screen is great for taking pictures of kids because you can get the camera at their height and take undistorted straight-on shots. I also think it’s great for street photography because you can keep the camera down at your waist and it doesn’t really look like you’re taking pictures. And sometimes you want to get the camera up high like for this shot where I needed to hold the camera very high to get the horizon out of the image.

The equivalent S90 picture has the horizon in it because of no flip out screen.

However, the flip out screen is just a convenience, not a must-have because you can still see the picture on the S90 screen even if its down low or up high.

  • The Optical Viewfinder

In my opinion the optical viewfinder is too small and inaccurate to be of much use, and is terrible for people with glasses (like me) or with big noses (like me). In my opinion, If you really care about having a viewfinder, don’t buy a G11 instead of an S90 – get an entry level DSLR or a Panasonic G1 for an extra $130 and have a really amazing viewfinder.

How the cameras really are different

I won’t cover the spec sheet differences here. Rather owning and using the two cameras are very different experiences, which I will try to explain here.

Class and stealth vs. Look at me

The S90 is a tiny, light, stealthy little jewel. It is almost all black, square, flat, and has no eye catching bits. This is a camera you won’t feel self-conscious pulling out anywhere anytime. People will continue to act naturally when you point this camera at them. Security guards won’t give you the evil eye, and pets won’t walk right up to you and try to lick the lens.

The G11 says “I’m a photographer with a serious camera and look at me I’m taking pictures” almost as much as a DSLR does. It does this not because it’s the same size as a DSLR but because it has so many shiny and eye catching bits (chrome ring around the lens, exposed flash, viewfinder window, hot shoe contact points) and because it has so many bits poking out this way and that. Flip out the screen if you really want some attention. There’s nothing wrong with this per se. After all, many of us use DSLRs and have no problem with the attention they attract. If however, for example, you already own a DSLR and want to buy a point and shoot because you’re too shy to use the DSLR at your child’s school, or at a party etc. then don’t buy this camera.

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