White Balance

The G9 features a grand total of eight white balance settings including the default automatic mode. There's also two manual (custom) white balance options, which are created by aiming the camera at a white (or gray) subject and pressing the SET button. Automatic white balance appeared to work well outdoors and not terribly in mixed lighting, but as per previous Canon digital cameras less well in artificial fluorescent or incandescent light, where it produced a pronounced color cast. It is advisable to switch to the tungsten preset (or set a custom WB) when shooting indoors if you don't like a warm cast to your indoor shots.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 11.6%, Blue -17.0%
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red -1.7%, Blue -1.9%
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 3.8%, Blue -17.9%
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red 1.4%, Blue -5.1%

Flash Performance

The built-in flash unit has a specified range of 4.0 m at wide angle and 2.5 m at telephoto (when the ISO is set to auto) - which is fine for social snaps and the occasional bit of fill-in, but is hampered by the relatively small maximum aperture as you move up the zoom range. In use we found the flash to work very well indeed, with most indoor flash shots perfectly exposed. The FUNC menu offers a Flash Exposure Compensation setting (-2.0 to +2.0), and the AF illuminator helps focus in low light. We found the red-eye reduction to work well at shorter distances but to be less effective if you move further away and zoom in. One thing worth noting is that the shutter lag when using flash (because of the pre-flash metering) increases to around 0.3 seconds (though this is an improvement over the G7). On a more positive note you can use the flash in continuous (burst) mode.

Of course the inclusion of a dedicated hot shoe means you can expand the G7's flash capabilities as and when you need to.

Skin tone - Slight warm tone. Color chart -Slight warm tone, excellent exposure

Macro Focus

Macro performance is, unsurprisingly, identical to the G7, with the minimum focus distance at the wide (35mm equiv.) end of the zoom a very impressive 1cm, allowing you to capture an area around an inch across. Of course it's not always practical or desirable to get that close, which is why macro performance at the long end of the zoom is also important. At the 210mm equiv. end of the zoom the G9 can focus down to 50cm, capturing an area just over 10cm across. There is some corner softness at the long end, but distortion is very low.

Wide macro - 26 x 19 mm coverage
153 px/mm (3886 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 35 mm
Telephoto macro - 104 x 78 mm coverage
38 px/mm (972 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: Above average
Equiv. focal length: 210 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

The G9 exhibits pretty low distortion given the large focal length range - 1.3% barrel distortion at the wide end, and only the barest measurable distortion (0.3%) at the full 210mm telephoto end. There is also virtually no vignetting at either end of the zoom. There is a hint of corner softness and chromatic aberration when shooting at either end of the zoom with the aperture wide open.

Barrel distortion - 1.3% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 35 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.2% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 210 mm

Specific image quality issues

Perhaps unsurprisingly the G9's JPEG output isn't significantly different to the G7; the extra two million pixels make little if any difference in 'real world' photography, the color, tonality and contrast are almost identical, and the limitations of such small sensors still painfully obvious if you look too closely. At ISO 80 the output, especially outdoors in good conditions is simply superb (if a little 'over the top' color and sharpening-wise), and aside from the usual dynamic range issues there really isn't much to complain about.

At anything over ISO 100 the effects of noise reduction can be seen on low contrast detail (such as distant foliage or very fine texture), but it's important to note that you'll only see this at 100% on-screen, and at more reasonable enlargement sizes the output is perfectly usable at up to ISO 400.

The ability to bypass the G9's noise reduction (using ACR to process RAW files) means that more experienced users are now free to eke the maximum detail out of the lens/sensor, an important development and one that puts the G9 head and shoulders above its predecessor. The difference in the amount of detail you can get at, say, ISO 160 when shooting raw as opposed to JPEG is remarkable, and you'll only really realize the G9's potential if you shoot raw and expose carefully.

Purple fringing & Chromatic Aberrations

Although nowhere near as bad as we've seen on some Canon compacts (and actually seems better than the G7), the G9 does suffer from occasional mild purple fringing, particularly at the wide end of the zoom and in contre-jour situations such as this. We also saw some red fringing around a couple of blown highlights in over-exposed shots, but this was rare. In some of our test charts you can see fairly obvious chromatic aberration, but it's not something we detected in 'real world' shots.

100% crop 35mm equiv., F2.8

Exposure / Dynamic range / clipping

As we saw with the G7 (and virtually every high resolution compact we test) the G9 suffers from highlight clipping in bright contrasty conditions, a result of the limited dynamic range of sensors with such small pixels. As we see so often things aren't helped by a tendency to over exposure when faced with such scenes, meaning you need to watch the histogram and manually intervene if you want any chance of rescuing highlight detail. Shooting raw helps (there's a little headroom, but not a lot), but the key thing is to watch your exposures when shooting in very contrasty situations (low, bright winter sunlight, for example).

100% crop 35mm equiv., F4.0