Operation and controls

It is perhaps inevitable that the G9 takes a little longer to master than your average compact camera; it has a hefty feature set and a is aimed at the kind of user that wants that control at his - or her - fingertips. The slightly bulkier body has allowed Canon to include a large number of buttons without completely filling every square inch of the surface, but it all still feels a little crammed in, and - as mentioned earlier - there's really not a lot of room for your thumb to rest if you're trying to shoot single-handed.

Like the G7 before it the G9 is not a camera everyone will take to immediately - at times it is frustratingly counterintuitive and some aspects of the control system/user interface are surprisingly inconsistent. But after a few day's use it all starts to 'make sense', and you start to appreciate the G9 as a true photographic tool. It's not an easy task to make a camera this small - and with this many features - transparent and intuitive in use, but Canon hasn't done a bad job at all.

In this way the G9 is much more like an SLR; you really do have to learn to use it, and to learn its foibles, before you can really start to take advantage of the large feature set. I started off hating the user interface, but I soon learned to love it.

It's also worth mentioning that the G9 is unusually fairly customizable; as well as the shortcut button (which can be assigned to control any of a number of functions) there are two custom modes that allow you to save your favorite settings.

Rear of camera

The rear of the G9 is fairly well covered with buttons and switches, putting just about every commonly-accessed photographic control at your fingertips; I found no need to enter the menu system at all when out shooting.

Top of camera

The top plate of the G9 is equally busy; from the left is the ISO dial, flash hot shoe, mode dial, shutter release and zoom control and power switch. From this angle you can clearly see the slab-like minimalist styling and almost total lack of anything to really get hold of (though you can, just, see the slightly enlarged front 'fingertip' grip).

Display and menus

The most basic preview screen showing focus point, AE compensation setting and - as here - the setting being used in aperture priority / shutter priority mode. As usual you can change the amount of information shown on-screen, and there is a 'grid' option (shown here) for those of us who struggle with straight horizons and - of course - a preview histogram. It can get get a little crowded on-screen with everything showing, but the extra screen real estate means it's marginally better than the G7 in this respect.
Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the aperture and shutter speed chosen, along with a camera shake warning if necessary. As with all modern Powershots the ISO in use is indicated - even in AUTO ISO mode. If you hold down the AE lock button with the shutter half-pressed you get a program shift function with a very pretty display of aperture and shutter speed combinations.
In shutter or aperture priority mode turning the control ring moves up and down the scale with a very pleasing faux-analog display as shown here. In manual mode the +/- button switches focus between the aperture and shutter speed settings; a nice 'needle' exposure meter also appears on the right of the screen.
As usual the FUNC menu offers a wide range of controls over shooting and image parameters. Like its predecessors the G9 has a 3 stop neutral density filter you can use if you need to cut down on the light. You get the usual array of 'MyColors' effects and - more usefully - 5 levels of Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation, Red, Green, Blue and Skintone.
Of course the big news is that the G9 now supports RAW capture. The record menu offers the option to save a Large/Fine JPEG at the same time as a RAW file (you can't save a 'Super Fine' but the visible difference is minimal).
There are three focus modes; 9-point AiAF (where the camera chooses the focus point 'intelligently'), FlexiZone (choose your own focus point from 375 across the screen) and 'face detection' (which does what its name suggests, and works very well). Manual focus is a simple case of pressing the MF button and turning the control dial to move up and down the scale. You can choose to have the area around the focus point magnified in manual focus mode (not shown).
The scene (SCN) mode adds 13 subject programs covering most of the common shooting situations, plus a (low resolution) ISO 3200 mode and Canon's unusual Color Accent and Color Swap modes. Record mode menu allows you to customize everything from flash synch to the spot AE point and self-timer delay. It is also here where you'll find the control for image stabilization. A new feature first seen on the S3 IS allows you to customize the on-screen display in record mode (there are two custom settings, activated by repeated presses of the DISP button).
The shortcut button (direct print button in playback mode) can be customized to control one of eight functions (including White Balance, metering mode, IS mode and AF-lock). Bizarrely Canon has removed some of the options (including file size/quality and MyColors options). It's not a big thing, but it's odd to see features being removed... The G9 has a useful ISO 80-1600 sensitivity range, controlled by the dedicated dial on the top of the camera. As usual if you use either of the Auto ISO settings (standard or HI) the camera doesn't save the ISO used in the file's exif data.