Canon PowerShot G12 Review
Canon's flagship point-and-shoot offers a host of professional features in a small package.
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The Canon G12 is a high-end point-and-shoot that sports an image sensor that's larger than those typically found in fixed-lens cameras. It sports an optical independent viewfinder, an articulating rear LCD, and a substantial, albeit lightweight, body size.
It offers a host of manual controls and dials, including physical dials for both exposure compensation and ISO speed, in addition to both a front and rear control dial.
Aimed at enthusiasts looking for greater control out of a point-and-shoot camera or as a second camera for those who want to leave the DSLR at home, the G12 offers the full photography experience in a relatively compact package.
Design & Usability
The G12 offers a solid amount of editing and playback features, with multiple slideshow options and color filters on hand.
The G12’s playback mode is accessed through the dedicated button above the rear LCD. From here users can get a detailed information readout of each image, a full view of the shot, an array of multiple images to sift through (with a maximum 10×10 grid), as well as a fairly substantial digital zoom for checking small details. The MENU key brings up a number of options, including a tab for direct print options, a smart shuffle option, a simple slideshow option, along with the ability to erase, protect, rotate, trim, or resize an image. The menu also allows you to mark an image with a category or as a favorite, apply the i-Contrast or red-eye correction filters, or apply any of the “my color” settings to create a new image.
The rear 2.8-inch rear LCD isn’t of the highest quality, though it has a 461k-dot resolution. It tends to fairly drastically oversaturate the image on the screen, while also clipping shadows and highlights when in live view. It’s not bad at all when reviewing images, but for focus adjustments and color grading prior to shooting, there are definitely better options on the market.
The Canon G12 employs a fairly standard flash that is built directly into the front of the camera body, just above the camera lens. The flash is rated at a guide number of 23 feet when the camera’s maximum aperture of f/2.8 is available (this drops to 13 feet at f/4.5 when zoomed all the way in), with a recycle time of 10 seconds or less per shot. In actuality, we found the flash was able to recycle at a rate of just over one shot per second.
The Canon G12 makes use of SD/SDHC/SDXC and MMC memory cards, which interface through a slot in the battery compartment on the bottom of the camera. There is no listed maximum card size, though Canon’s specifications do not reference any card larger than 16GB, which we found worked fine. Given that you can fit over 6,000 of the highest resolution JPEGs on a 16GB card, that should be enough for most uses.
The G12’s menu is fairly typical for a Canon point-and-shoot, as it offers both access to a quick selection of shooting options by pressing the OK button while framing in live view, and a more in-depth menu. The full menu is organized into tabs, with options stretching vertically off the screen. You can quickly switch between tabs by hitting the zoom level left or right, which brings you to the first option of the next tab to either side. The rear control wheel also comes in handy here, as you can glide rather quickly through each tab by rotating the rear wheel.
While not every feature is perfect, the G12 has all the bells and whistles a high-end point-and-shoot can offer, including hot shoe, viewfinder window, larger than typical image sensor, and substantial metal body.
The G12 includes a rather unique optical viewfinder, as it looks like a simple window placed above the LCD, as with most older compact cameras. Inside this little box is actually a motorized zoom lens that will match the zoom of the actual camera lens, offering a fairly accurate 1:1 ratio crop of the approximate center of the image. The sensor and viewfinder do not share any light transfer of any kind, so the angle is slightly off and the camera takes a larger image than what shows up in the finder, but it is a clever solution to the desire to place an optical viewfinder in a camera with no mirror.
The G12 allows users to apply several filters to images after capture, specifically the i-Contrast, red-eye correction, and “my colors” options. Red-eye correction is pretty self-explanatory, but i-Contrast will make corrections to the overall range of an image, correcting for slightly overblown highlights and bringing up shadows a bit. The “my colors” feature is essentially the G12’s color modes, with options for applying more vivid blues, reds, greens, as well as sepia tones and other color casts to your images.
The Canon G12 offers a physical shooting mode dial that is stacked, wedding cake style, on top of the ISO dial. This dial offers a very solid response with each click as the wheel slots confidently into place, with options for manual, aperture/shutter priority modes, program mode, full automatic, low light (reduced 2.5mp resolution), quick shot, scene mode, movie record mode, and two custom settings that are user-defined.
The G12 has a nice novice-friendly shortcut button on the left rear shoulder of the camera, which can be left alone or put to use giving immediate access to any of 18 menu options. These options include: i-Contrast, white balance, custom white balance 1, custom white balance 2, “my colors”, bracketing, drive mode, flash exposure comp./output, neutral density filter, aspect ratio, RAW and/or JPEG, resolution/compression options, movie quality, servo AF, red-eye correction, AF lock, digital tele-converter, and display off.
This compact pseudo-DSLR has the performance specs you might expect.
Color accuracy is always a bit of a sticking point among photographers. Most would rather capture colors that are as true to life as possible, a viewpoint that most high-end cameras aspire to. The G series from Canon seems to ignore this logic, however. In truth, even basic point-and-shoot cameras rate higher in color accuracy than the G12, which is disappointing to say the least. With so many custom color options and modes on offer, Canon should do better to offer at least one mode that can offer an accurate color profile and leave the vibrancy to, say, the “vibrant” color mode.
The Canon G12 is able to suppress noise greatly throughout its ISO range. While noise did rise from the minimum ISO speed of 80 up to the maximum 3200, it never amounted to much. The G12 seemed to return images with less noise when light was less plentiful versus brighter conditions in our lab.
The Canon G12 suffers from heavy distortion at the wide angle that quickly evens out, with decent sharpness and little chromatic aberration for a compact camera. The one main issue with the G12’s performance was the heavy distortion visible when shooting at the wide angle. The lens tested almost identically to what we saw with the G11, offering little to no distortion at the midpoint and telephoto ends of the zoom range. If you plan on shooting landscapes or architecture—such as on vacation, for example—we’d recommend taking a few steps back and zooming in further to correct distortion naturally.
The Canon G12 is such a substantial camera that it feels wrong to call it something as simple as a “point-and-shoot.”
While it doesn’t hold a candle to fixed-lens juggernauts like the Fuji X100, its size, customizability, image quality, and accessory options—not to mention price—make it far more than a simple compact camera. While many have billed it as the ideal “second camera” for a DSLR owner, that’s largely a function of its price rather than its own intrinsic quality. The G12 would, in fact, be a superb first camera for anyone who doesn’t want to fiddle with a DSLR at all. For its price, however, any current entry-level DSLR will far outstrip the G12 in image quality.
That leaves the G12 in an interesting middle ground that seems to plague all the luxury compacts that we compared it to: it’s so expensive that it must be compared with entry-level DSLRs, but without the image sensor and true optical viewfinder that normally comes with dropping a substantial portion of your paycheck on a camera. The G12 is a fine camera in its own right, however, and for those for whom a DSLR and lenses is simply too large, it is one of the first cameras they should consider purchasing.
The Canon G12 (MSRP $499) is a space-saving DSLR that falls onto a middle ground—between the compact quality of a point-and-shoot, and the high end performance of a "pure" DSLR. The science page is here to flesh out those performance parameters in more detail.
Noise & ISO Range
The Canon G12 is able to suppress noise greatly throughout its ISO range.
While noise did rise from the minimum ISO speed of 80 up to the maximum 3200, it never amounted to more than 2% of the final image, likely due to noise reduction. These aren’t necessarily uncommon results for a point-and-shoot camera, but most accomplish this with a heavy dose of noise reduction. While noise reduction is obviously present, the larger sensor of the G12 (and our comparison cameras, as well) allows more fine detail to be retained, while noise was kept under 1.1% as high as ISO 800.
The G12 seemed to return images with less noise when light was less plentiful (tested at 60 lux) versus brighter conditions (3000 lux) in our lab. At ISO 80 the results are an identical 0.55%, but a gap of 0.03% arises at ISO 100 and stretches to 0.24% at ISO 3200, likely as a result of heavier noise reduction being applied in low light at such a high ISO speed, resulting in more detail loss.
The G12 offers ISO control only through its physical dial on the top of the camera. This allows for quick changes in ISO sensitivity, from a minimum of 80 through the maximum of 3200, with 1/3rd stops and an AUTO setting. Automatic can be given set parameters to follow in the menu, allowing users to set a maximum between 400 and 1600, while also specifying the rate of change.
We were surprised by the G12's video color accuracy.
The G12 has surprisingly very good color accuracy, with a delta C of just 3.88. This was right where it performed in still shooting, while most cameras perform worse. That was good enough to make the G12 the best in the comparison group, by far, and is quite good compared to any compact camera. The “my color” modes are still accessible in video mode, including custom, so this can be tweaked considerably by the user to get a desired effect. Despite this, the best result we found was with "my colors" turned off.