Like the G7 before it, the G9 is an undoubtedly handsome, serious-looking camera with classic 'rangefinder' styling and a build quality that puts most digital SLRs to shame. The external skin of the body is nearly all-metal (only the top plate is plastic) and the attractive matt-black finish exudes quality; and impression that's reinforced by the weight; at around 370g with battery and card the G9 is one of the heaviest compacts on the market and is, for want of a better word, nicely 'dense'.
Although superficially very similar to the G7 there are differences. Most obvious is the larger screen, which now takes up an even larger proportion of the back of the camera and has squashed the optical finder and meant a couple of the buttons (playback and shortcut/direct print) had to move out of the way - and shrunk a little in the process. One small - but welcome - change is a small thumb rest on the top right hand corner of the back plate and a slightly more prominent finger grip on the front of the body. This might not look like much but it improves handling significantly - far more than appearances might suggest. The only other immediately noticeable change is that the cosmetic ring around the base of the lens (which is removed when using the wide or tele converter) is now painted black. I preferred the chrome of the G7, but this is a small detail.
In your hand
The more I used the G7 the more I grew to appreciate how different it is to the vast majority of compacts that have passed through our offices over the last couple of years. It's one of those rare cameras that people can't resist picking up and playing with; it has that satisfying tactile quality and weight that comes with the kind of self-indulgent over-engineering normally reserved for swiss watches. Compared to the G7 - and now the G9 - even most entry level digital SLRs feel like plastic toys, and despite sharing many internal components with much cheaper compact cameras it really does have the air of a serious photographic tool about it.
But of course the classic 'rangefinder' styling and clean lines come at a price - unlike most cameras in this class the G7's lack of anything to really 'get hold of' meant it only really felt safe supported with both hands. The G9 is much better, thanks to the improved grip, but it's still essentially a fairly heavy smooth block - hardly the ideal design for a camera.
The G9 uses an NB-2LH Li-Ion battery that sits under a plastic covering door (the only vaguely flimsy part of the entire camera) on the base. The battery is supplied with an external charger (which takes around 105 mins). Battery life from the 720 mAh pack isn't great, but at around 240 shots (CIPA standard) it is marginally better than the G7 - and the battery type is very common, making inexpensive spares easy to find.
The SD card slot is located in the same compartment. The G9 is compatible with standard SD cards up to 2GB, and SDHC cards for higher capacities. You can also, if you wish, use MMC / MMCPlus cards.
Annoyingly you cannot open the battery door - and therefore cannot change the memory card - when the camera is mounted on a tripod. Grrr.
The G7's screen was very nice, but the G9's screen is even better; it's bigger (3.0 inch), sharper (up from 207k to 230k pixels) and brighter, and has a very wide viewing angle. Like the G7 the G9's screen has an effective anti-reflective coating, but again it is prone to smearing unless you shoot wearing white gloves. And wearing a balaclava.
The optical viewfinder is fairly bright but is very small and to be honest - like most such cameras - I found it all but unusable in most circumstances. Obviously with a 6x zoom (and a 210mm long end) there's only so much you can expect from an optical 'tunnel' finder, but we were impressed by how well it deals with parallax and how accurate it is for framing. Note that although it looks smaller than the G7's finder, it is identical.
The shutter release sits inside a small circular zoom rocker and has a slightly more positive action than the G7 I used (there is less travel, and it's easier to find the 'half press' point). Below the shutter release is the main power button and to the left the main mode dial - complete with two custom modes for saving your own preffered settings.
The G9's slim built-in flash has a 4.0m (13.1 ft) reach at the short end of the zoom, falling to 2.5m (8.2 ft) at full telephoto. Naturally there's lots of control, from standard flash modes to front/rear curtain slow synch, flash AE-compensation and three-step output control in manual mode (16 steps when using an external flash). We also found the flash worked perfectly in macro mode, down to around 11 inches.
The G9's lens offers an impressive optically stabilized 35-210mm (equiv) 6x zoom range, biting at the ankles of the 'super zoom' models such as Canon's own S5 IS. What it doesn't have is the ultra wide aperture that was the signature of every G series model before the G7. The F2.8-4.8 range is nothing special, and does mean you have to rely on higher ISO settings than you might like - especially at the long end of the zoom.
One of the big differences between the G9 and the majority of other compact digicams is the inclusion of a fully dedicated flash hot shoe, compatible with Canon's 220EX, 430EX and 580EX II guns (and several dedicated flashguns from independent suppliers). With Canon's flashguns you'll get most of the features you would using an SLR, including power zooming. To the left is the unique ISO dial, which we like a lot.
The zoom retracts fully into the body when powered down. At the wide end of the zoom it extends by around 3cm, zooming to the long end adds about another 1cm.
Canon currently supplies two add-on lenses for the G9; a 2.0x teleconverter (TC-DC58C) and the huge 0.75x wide converter (WC-DC58B), shown here, which takes the wideangle down to around 26mm equiv. The lenses bayonet on and off (after the removal of the cosmetic chrome ring).
Note this is a picture of the G7.
The rear controls. Canon adopted another new control system for the G7 that is carried through to the G9. Around the conventional four-way controller (which is used in record mode purely to change macro, flash, focus and drive modes) is a rotating ring that changes exposure settings and navigates menus. It takes some getting used to (especially if you're used to using a camera with a standard 4-way controller), but is very quick once you do, and it's really grown on me.
As well as an AE/FE lock button (not shown) the G9 has a customizable shortcut button that can be assigned to control several useful functions including white balance, ND filter and AF lock.
The USB (2.0 high speed) and AV ports are located under a plastic cover on the side of the camera (viewed from the rear). There is no DC-in port (you can use the G9 mains powered, but this requires the purchase of a separate 'dummy battery' type adaptor.