Conclusion - Pros
- Very good all-round image quality (albeit without the G10's excellent low ISO resolution)
- Generally good high-ISO performance for a compact camera, surprisingly good high ISO raw output
- Flexible lens range with effective image stabilization
- Very little vignetting and good edge-to-edge sharpness across the zoom range
- Low lens distortion (none at the long end)
- RAW mode (and RAW+JPEG option) that's fast enough to be useable
- Classic styling backed up with high build quality
- Dials make it one of the best handling compacts currently available
- User-defined shortcut button boosts already high levels of direct access to features
- My Menu for quick access to most used menu options
- Good battery life
- Included software allows helps make most of RAW capability
- Flash hot shoe for dedicated flash units
- Two custom modes and customizable shortcut button
- Efficient H.264 video compression
Conclusion - Cons
- Rather slow lens (in terms of aperture) by traditional G series standards
- Movies limited to VGA resolution
- High ISO images lose saturation and detail (and offer no control over noise reduction)
- Focus prone to hunting (and focus failure) in low light at longer focal lengths
- Some chromatic aberration visible at wide end of zoom
- Focus speeds and shutter lag (when using LCD) could be better
- Rather over-sharp JPEGS
- The JPEG accompanying a RAW always has default image settings
- Little choice over JPEG compression
The G11 is the latest in a well-established line of compact cameras aimed at enthusiasts and, with its large-bodied, retro styling it would appear to be just as aspirational at its predecessors. However, there's hardly a niche left in the camera market that isn't finding itself getting pretty crowded as more manufacturers hunt for areas that will allow them room for a little bit of profit margin. As such, if you're tempted to buy the G11 for its image quality, flexibility of lens range or high level of manual control on a compact camera, you may find a camera that outdoes it - the G11's talent is to offer all of these things.
We had little in the way of complaints about the G11 - from an image quality point of view it's one of the most consistently good compacts we've tested. That being said, it is still based around a small sensor and, while its 1/1.7" example is bigger than many compact cameras, it's clearly no match for the truly large-sensor cameras such as the Panasonic GF1 and Olympus E-P1 (and that's a sector we'd expect to become quite busy over then next year or so). So although its images feature good color and tend to be bright and sharp, they do suffer from the usual compact camera problems of limited dynamic range compared to anything with a larger sensor.
The high ISO performance is good for its class but there's no control over noise reduction (and, if you're shooting RAW, there's no control over any of the image parameters used in the accompanying JPEG). Sadly the noise reduction that is applied is a bit over-keen for our liking, which means that you have to process from RAW to make the best of the camera's high ISO performance.
Handling is undoubtedly one of the things that that sells the G11 - its ISO and Exposure Compensation dials provide a feeling of connection with the camera's operation that even the best menu systems and button-based user interfaces can't. This sense of the G11 being a 'proper' camera extends to the high number of direct access buttons that get you straight to the changes you want to make. The rear control dial is rather small and has no damping, which slightly undermines the sense of solidity that the rest of the camera exudes, but that's only a niggle, really.
The other slight annoyance is the manual mode, which requires you to press the metering button to swap between aperture, shutter speed and metering (with no hint that that's what you need to press). However, given the lack of control over depth-of-field you get with a camera based around a sensor this small, it's unusual for you to need to use manual mode at all, especially given how easy it is to set the right settings in aperture-priority or shutter-priority modes. The usefulness of the flip-out screen should be more than enough to calm anybody becoming unduly worried about the loss of the G10's metal rear casing.
The Final Word
Although the G11 faces competition from more sides than its predecessors did, it's still a unique offering. There are more readily pocketable cameras out there that offer similar image quality and, once you're resigned to wearing it around your neck, there are not much larger cameras that will trump it for image quality (though they are more expensive). There are even cameras that offer greater zoom ranges in smaller, less expensive packages. However, there's nothing to match the G11's all-round capability - its strengths are its balance between size, flexibility and image quality.
The G11 combines some of the best compact camera image quality with excellent levels of manual control, an optical viewfinder, flip-out screen, raw capability, superb battery life, flexible lens range and the ability to mount dedicated flashguns. It may not be the smallest camera out there (in fact it's one of the largest to use such a small sensor), but, if you can live with the compromises this all-round ability brings, then there's little that can touch it.
The lack of HD video looks odd on a contemporary high-end camera and the removal of some of the G10's minor features might appear a touch petty and see the G11 marked down a little for features. However, the addition of a flip-out screen and its more consistent performance in a wider range of situations means the G11 improves on the G10 enough to just gain our highest rating.
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||9.0|
Highly Recommended (just)
|Polaroid Underwater Housing for Canon PowerShot G11 / G12 Digital Camera||$99.99|