Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution and respectable edge-to-edge sharpness across the zoom range
  • Raw mode, Raw+JPEG option, surprisingly fast - and useful
  • Classic 'rangefinder' styling looks great, fit & finish superb
  • Marginally improved handling (better grip) and better shutter release (more distinct half-press)
  • Capable of very good results at lower ISO settings
  • ISO 200-400 usable for standard sized prints (noise and NR effects are visible, however)
  • Huge feature set
  • Real, usable photographic control
  • ISO dial on body and external access to all important controls
  • Bigger, brighter, sharper screen that works pretty well in bright light
  • Rugged, solid construction and excellent build quality
  • Useful 35-210mm focal length range
  • Effective image stabilization with 3 stop advantage
  • Fast and responsive overall performance (with slight improvements over G7 in key areas)
  • Optional lens adaptors
  • Improved software bundle and remote capture utility in the box
  • Flash hot shoe for dedicated flash units
  • Built-in flash performs well
  • Two custom modes and customizable shortcut button
  • Wide range of image color and sharpness parameters
  • 1cm macro mode
  • Excellent movie quality

Conclusion - Cons

  • Still missing some features 'G' users could once rely on: fast lens, vari-angle screen
  • Although image quality is good, you'll only get the best results shooting raw
  • Some shadow noise visible even at ISO 80, Noise Reduction effects start to creep in and smear detail from about ISO 125
  • Despite improvements, the lack of a true grip makes single-handed operation difficult
  • ISO 800 and 1600 so noisy (and soft) it's almost pointless, ISO 3200 very low resolution
  • Focus sometimes hunts in low light at longer focal lengths and in macro mode
  • Continuous mode slower than the G7
  • Highlight clipping and metering issues in bright conditions
  • Mild purple fringing and some CA visible at wide end of zoom in some shots
  • Focus speeds and shutter lag (when using LCD) could be better (improvement on G7, however)
  • Battery life not great
  • Supplied raw converter controls lack sophistication and essentially just mirror the in-camera parameters, and results look just like camera JPEGs (ACR support coming soon)

Overall conclusion

I should start by giving Canon a little credit for so quickly responding to at least some of the criticisms of the G7; the G9 may be a relatively minor upgrade but it does knock a few of the rough edges off its predecessor and - most importantly - brings RAW capture (and highly usable RAW capture at that) back to the G series. The new screen is nice too, and the handling performance tweaks might not be enough, but they do bring a noticeable improvement.

And everything we loved about the G7 is still here; the superb build, lovely retro styling, expansive feature set, comprehensive manual control and unusually wide range (for a compact) of expansion options. The build quality and sheer weight of the thing give a real feeling of 'quality' in the hand, and it has that certain something that makes everyone who sees it want to pick it up and use it. And - unusually for a compact camera - it positively encourages you to get out there and take some pictures.

But a camera that seduces you with its indulgent styling and solid build is only half the story; the G9 is a wonderful 'gadget' and a powerful photographic tool, but is it a great camera? The sad truth is that the one area where we'd really like to have seen Canon making significant changes - the image quality - hasn't really changed at all. Not that it's poor - anything but; it's just not outstanding (and I have to say, using the default settings and shooting JPEG, occasionally disappointing if you stray over ISO 100).

It's the biggest irony of the compact digital camera market: since the cameras all use very similar sensors (often the exact same sensor) and many even share the same lens assembly, the price difference between the entry-level models and range-toppers such as the G9 simply isn't reflected in a commensurate difference in output quality. And it doesn't matter how much you are prepared to spend; you can't buy your way out of the 'compact camera problem' - a small, noisy sensor is a small noisy sensor no matter what kind of tank you build around it or how many 'professional' features you build into the body.

IQ-wise the G9 is about as good as it gets in a compact camera (at low ISO - once you get to ISO 400 the gap between most decent cameras is very narrow), and physically it puts virtually everything else to shame. But inside, at the heart of the image capture system, sits the same (or an almost identical) sensor you'll find in a Casio, Canon or Sony point and shoot camera, in all it's 12 megapixel glory. When I mentioned giving Canon credit for listening to feedback on the G7 (and boy was there a lot of feedback) I don't remember anyone crying out for even more megapixels. Whatever drove Canon's top brass to look at the G7 and decide 'I know what it needs! More Pixels!' it certainly wasn't consumer demand.

And thus, like the G7 before it, the G9 is a wonderfully built and designed camera, but one that simply cannot (nor could ever) really deliver on its promises; it truly is a sheep in wolves' clothing. By all means buy one (I would - it makes 99% of other compacts look like toys, and it's not like you can get significantly better image quality anywhere else), but do so in the full knowledge that a lot of what you're paying is for the icing, not the cake.

Canon could never be accused of taking risks with its cameras, but a company this big could surely gamble on enough people buying a high end model with a sensor to match the rest of the package, even if it meant dropping the pixel count by half (hey, Nikon still sells a lot of D40's at 6MP, and Fujifilm proved you could sell a 6MP compact on image quality alone).

In the final analysis the G9 has more to recommend it than most enthusiast compacts we test, and at ISO 80 the quality is simply superb. It's a pleasure to use, is built like a tank and offers an SLR-like feature set in a compact format. Yes, you can buy a PowerShot A650 IS (same lens, same sensor, similar feature set and a vari-angle screen) for around a hundred dollars less, but take my word for it, the G9 is in a different league. And yes, it's pricey ($500 or thereabouts) for a compact, but look at what even $1000 would have bought you a couple of years ago and you realize it's a lot of camera for the money. The RAW mode makes a big difference too, and really helps overcome some of the issues we had with the G7's and this camera's JPEG output.

It's not a camera for everyone; you need to know what you're doing to coaxe the very best out of it, and it doesn't operate that effectively as a 'point and shoot' model (especially in low light), but in the right hands it's a real step up from the mass of indistinguishable compacts on the market, and the more you use it, the more you'll grow to appreciate it. And so, like the G7, the G9 only just scrapes into our highest rating bracket.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 9.5
Ergonomics & handling 8.0
Features 9.5
Image quality 8.0
Optics 8.5
Performance (speed) 8.0
Value 7.5

Highly Recommended (but only just)

Highly recommended

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