Cameras

Canon PowerShot G9 Digital Camera Review

Read a digital camera review of the Canon PowerShot G9.

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Testing / Performance

Color*(11.05)*

Every camera reproduces colors differently, which is why we test color accuracy. For example, every camera renders the same blue sky a slightly different shade of blue. Many will shift the blues so the sky looks more vibrant, though some will dull the blue or oversaturate it so much it looks unnatural. Some cameras even turn blue skies purple. The principle goes for all colors, especially skin tones. We test color accuracy by photographing an industry standard color test chart, the GretagMacbeth ColorChecker. The ColorChecker is made up of 24 different color tiles, each a common color from around the color spectrum. The image below represents the G9’s color accuracy. The outer squares show the colors the camera reproduces, the inner squares show the actual color of the ColorChecker corrected for exposure, and the small inner rectangle shows the actual color of the chart under an even exposure. The reason the inner rectangles are brighter than the squares is because the G9 was most accurate when underexposed by -1/3 stop.

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As you can see in the image above, many of the inner squares blend right into the outer squares. This indicates the colors are very accurate. The biggest problems appear to be in the blues and yellows; though as mentioned above, manufacturers often shift blues to make skies look more vibrant. In the G9’s case, the blues are shifted toward purple, making skies look richer without making them too purple. The graph below shows the color accuracy more quantitatively. The background of the graph is the color spectrum. The values of the ideal ColorChecker chart colors are shown as squares, and the colors the camera reproduced are shown as circles. The longer the lines connecting the circles and squares are, the worse the color error.

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The graph shows how accurate the G9’s color is; only one blue tile is significantly shifted from its ideal hue. Colors are also slightly oversaturated, at 103.2 percent. The G9 will reproduce the colors in your photos remarkably well, and will make them slightly more saturated and vibrant. The camera scored extremely well here, similar to other high-end Canon point-and-shoots, and significantly better than the Nikon Coolpix P5000.

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Resolution*(9.06)*

With 12.1 megapixels packed onto its sensor, the Canon G9 has the highest resolution in a point-and-shoot camera to date. We put the camera to the test by photographing an industry standard resolution test chart and varying the aperture, focal length, and exposure to determine the G9’s sharpest image. All resolution test images are run through Imatest, which evaluates resolution in terms of line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and sharpening level. The unit lw/ph represents the number of equally spaced alternating black and white lines that can fit across the entire image frame before becoming blurred.

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Click to view the high-resolution image

The G9 has the best resolution at ISO 80, f/3.5, at a focal length of 14.8mm. Imatest measured 2009 lw/ph horizontally with 1.8 percent oversharpening, and 1926 lw/ph vertically with 11.7 percent undersharpening. This is more undersharpening than we would like to see, but the resolution numbers are still very impressive. However, the corners and sides of the images appear softer than the centers, and slightly blurred and washed out. Unfortunately, you will only get the impressive resolution of the G9 at the centers of your photos. Overall, the G9 had the second highest resolution score of any camera tested in 2007, only behind the Fuji FinePix F40*fd*.

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Noise – Manual ISO* (5.65)

*One of the major problems with the megapixel race is that while cameras may have better resolution, their noise levels also significantly increase. More and more pixels are being crammed onto sensors that aren’t being increased in size, so the pixels are becoming smaller. The signal to noise ratio decreases with pixel size, meaning smaller pixels generally yield more noise. We test noise by photographing our test chart under even, bright studio light at every ISO sensitivity a camera offers. We run the photos through Imatest, which measures noise in terms of the percentage of image detail it drowns out.

Related content

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The 12-megapixel G9 keeps noise levels moderately low up to ISO 400, but noise levels are very high at ISO 800 and 1600. The noise itself looks fairly uniform and has fine splotches of yellow and blue. It’s not the ugliest noise ever seen, but it certainly isn’t desirable. To its credit, the G9 avoids smoothing the noise significantly, which would also smooth over detail. The 12-megapixel camera manages to maintain good detail even at a high ISO sensitivity. The G9 edges out its lower-megapixel predecessor, the G7, in the manual noise score.

G9-Scores-ManNoise.gif

Noise – Auto ISO*(1.56)*

We also test the noise levels when the camera is set to Auto ISO. The G9 fired at ISO 200, yielding a moderate amount of noise, visible when viewed at full resolution (see the still life images below). This is more noise than we would like to see under such bright light, and thus the G9 earns a poor auto noise score.

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White Balance*(9.33)*

Because all light sources have different color tints, it is important that cameras can recognize this and adjust color reproduction accordingly. This process, called white balance, is necessary for accurate color reproduction. Manually white balancing is almost always the most accurate way to go about it, but if you don’t happen to have a white card on you then you will be using the Auto setting or one of the presets. We test white balance by photographing the ColorChecker test chart under four types of light: flash, fluorescent, outdoor shade, and tungsten, using both the Auto setting and the appropriate presets.

Auto (9.33)

Set to Auto white balance, the G9 is very accurate using the flash and under fluorescent light. In fact, the Auto setting is even more accurate than the flash preset. However, under outdoor shade and tungsten light, Auto is very inaccurate, giving photos a blue cast in outdoor shade and a yellow cast in tungsten light.

Preset (9.34)

The Tungsten preset is much more accurate than the Auto setting, though the Cloudy preset does not help accuracy in outdoor shade. The Fluorescent preset is very accurate in fluorescent light, though surprisingly not as accurate as Auto. With the G9 it is a good idea to use the presets in indoor shooting, but stick with Auto when outdoors.

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Still Life Sequences

Click to view the high-resolution image.

Low Light*(7.97)*

Not all photographs are taken in ideal lighting, so we evaluate the color accuracy of cameras in low light, as well. To test color accuracy in low light, we photograph the ColorChecker at light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux; 60 lux corresponds roughly to a room lit softly by two lamps, and 5 lux corresponds approximately to the amount of light that reflects on your face from your video iPod. All shots are taken at the camera’s highest ISO setting, which in the case of the G9 is ISO 1600.

Color accuracy was very good in low light, hanging around a mean color error of 7 or 8, even at 5 lux. Noise levels, however, were a different story. ISO 1600 is very, very noisy in the G9, and this certainly does not go away in low light.

We also test long exposure performance in low light at ISO 400. The G9 can be set to shutters speeds as long as 15 seconds. One thing to note about shooting long exposures is that it is frequently nearly impossible to manually white balance. You need to increase the shutter speed in order for the G9 to properly manually white balance. Other than this annoyance, the G9 has very good color accuracy in long exposures. Noise levels are moderately high, but more manageable than at higher ISO levels. The G9 scores identically in low light to the Canon PowerShot G7, its predecessor.

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Dynamic Range* (5.12)

*Dynamic range is a measurement of how well a camera can discern detail at many tonal levels. A camera with good dynamic range will pick up information in both bright and dark areas of an image. This is especially useful in wedding photography (white dress and black tux) and landscape photography in bright sunlight (bright highlights and dark shadows). Like noise, dynamic range is also affected by the size of the camera’s pixels – the G9’s pixels are quite small because there are so many of them on the sensor.

We test dynamic range by photographing a backlit Stouffer test chart, which consists of a row of rectangles that vary in tone from the brightest white to the darkest black. The more rectangles the camera can distinguish, the better the dynamic range.

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The G9 has decent dynamic range at ISO 80 and 100, but at higher sensitivities it falls off quickly (see the graph above). At ISO 800 and 1600 dynamic range is severely limited. Note that the graph indicates the best possible dynamic range with the camera, and these values my not be achievable in normal shooting conditions. The G9’s dynamic range performance is worse than average for 2007 cameras, though better than the Canon PowerShot G7 and Canon PowerShot S5 IS, and identical to the Nikon Coolpix P5000.

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Speed/TimingAll speed tests are conducted using a Kingston Ultimate 120X 2GB SD Card, with the camera set to the highest resolution and best quality JPEG.

Startup to First Shot (7.6)

The G9 takes 2.4 seconds to start up and fire its first shot. It is slowed by its rather long autofocusing time.

*Shot-Shot (9.3)

*The G9 can be set to two different Burst modes, Continuous and Continuous AF. In Continuous mode, the camera takes full resolution photos every 0.7 seconds until the card is full. This is nice, and should help capture some action shots. In Continuous AF mode, the camera takes photos every 1.3 seconds, autofocusing between each.

Shutter-to-Shot (9.0)

The G9 has a lag time of less than 0.1 seconds when the shutter is held halfway down and prefocused, and a lag of 0.8 seconds when not prefocused.

Processing (6.8)

It takes 1.6 seconds for one 5.4MB photo taken at ISO 125 to be processed.

Video Performance*(5.60)

Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux*

We test the video color accuracy by recording footage of the ColorChecker under bright studio lights at 3000 lux. The G9 has a mean color accuracy of 23.4, which is terrible, but actually quite normal for a camera shooting under tungsten light set to auto white balance. Noise levels are quite low, however.

*Low Light – 30 lux

*We also evaluate video performance in dim light. At 30 lux, the G9 has fantastic color accuracy, much better than many cameras have when shooting stills and manually white balanced. Noise levels are also kept quite low at 30 lux, drowning out only 1.5 percent of image detail.

*Resolution

*We record footage of our ISO chart to see how well resolution holds up in Movie mode. Sure, the camera uses the same optics, but the processing is quite different than with still images, and video compression changes video resolution tremendously. The G9 records 316 lw/ph horizontally with 6.8 percent undersharpening, and 456 lw/ph vertically with 22.3 percent oversharpening. This is more sharpening than necessary and introduces some image artifacting. However, resolution still stays quite sharp, as you can see in the crops below.

Motion

We take cameras out of the lab to shoot some video footage of moving cars and pedestrians to see how the motion looks. Motion captured by the G9 looks great, with excellent color, very good exposure, and sharp detail. However, motion stutters a little, and you’ll see some moiré on fine grid patterns, like brick walls. The Movie mode looks almost identical to the Canon PowerShot S5 IS, which has an excellent Movie mode. The G9 fell a little short of the S5 because its color isn’t quite as accurate.

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Components

Viewfinder*(4.0)*

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The Canon G9 has a real image optical viewfinder that isn’t as comfortable as the one on the Canon S5. The G9’s viewfinder is small and framed in a small plastic panel that protrudes only slightly. It has two indicator LEDs to its right.

The viewfinder isn’t very pleasant to use. The lens is always visible in the bottom left corner. When zoomed out, the viewfinder cuts off the edges of the captured image; the view on the LCD shows more on all edges. The viewfinder is even more inaccurate when the lens is zoomed in; it should be avoided at all costs in this situation. In telephoto, the viewfinder sees above the recorded image so if users tightly crop a portrait the person’s head will likely be cut off.

In addition, the glass looks bent in the viewfinder; subjects are blurry around the edges of the frame. Avoid the viewfinder unless you’re trying to squeeze the last few shots out of a dying battery and opt to turn off the LCD.

LCD Screen*(9.0)

*

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The Canon G7 had a 2.5-inch LCD screen with subpar resolution, but the Canon PowerShot G9 upgrades to a 3-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD monitor. It has second generation Pure Color LCD technology and a new coating that resists glare, scratches, and fingerprints. It almost sounds like a superhero; if only it could resist fire and water and be virtually indestructible, perhaps it could survive a toddler.

It does well at resisting fingerprints, which didn’t seem to stick and obstruct the view. The viewing angle is incredibly wide, and it can be seen vertically and horizontally at the widest of angles.

The inaccurate and blurry viewfinder makes the view on the gigantic LCD screen even more appealing. The LCD has a 100 percent accurate view of the recorded image.

The LCD screen on the Canon PowerShot G9 is one of the best we’ve seen.

Flash*(7.75)*

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A built-in flash is positioned to the upper right of the lens on the front of the camera body, right where the left fingers wrap around the camera and are likely to obstruct its illumination.

The flash can be set to on, off, or auto via the right side of the multi-selector. The rest of the flash control options are found in the Recording menu grouped under a "flash control" heading. The Flash mode can be changed from Auto to Manual. The flash exposure compensation can be adjusted on a +/- 2 scale in 1/3-stop steps; this can also be changed in the more easily accessible Function menu. The shutter sync can be set to first or second curtain, and slow sync and safety flash exposure functions can be turned on and off. For the safety flash to work the Flash mode must be set to Auto; the safety function only increases the shutter speed or shrinks the aperture to avoid overexposing images.

In the Recording menu, a few options down from the flash control, is a Red-Eye reduction feature that can be turned on and off to reduce the amount of red-eyes in photos. If a few red eyes still sneak into the image, the Playback mode has a red-eye fixing feature that does a decent job recognizing and correcting eyes.

The Canon G9’s flash isn’t very impressive. It can reach from 1 to 13 feet when the lens is zoomed out and 1.6 to 8.2 feet when the lens is zoomed in and the ISO is set to auto. The flash coverage looks good in already decent lighting, but doesn’t look impressive when photographing subjects in a dark room. The flash light doesn’t fill the entire frame: it leaves the edges and corners significantly darker.

Like the G7, the G9 has a hot shoe that accepts Canon Speedlite flash accessories. The Canon Speedlite 220EX, 430EX, and 580EX II can be mounted to the top of the camera directly above the lens. Canon designed the G9 like this with pros in mind: the G9 can act as a backup camera or a camera that can be easily carried along to non-professional events. Most pros agree that packing a DSLR, five lenses, and a few flash accessories isn’t practical when going for a stroll with the kids in the park.

Another digital camera competing in this high-end market is the Nikon P5100, which also has a hot shoe and is tailored to attract loyal Nikonians who already own a few Nikon Speedlite flashes. The P5100 also has 12.1 megapixels and a chunky body, and retails for less at $399.

The Canon PowerShot G9’s built-in flash component isn’t very impressive with its spotty coverage and weak range, but there are some redeeming qualities in the amount of manual control and flexibility with the hot shoe.

Zoom Lens*(7.75) *

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The Canon PowerShot G9 has the same 6x optical zoom lens as the G7. It has an optical image stabilization system that is effective at steadying bumps in videos and tempering blur in pictures. It can be set to function continuously, when the shutter release button is pushed halfway, or only while panning. It can also be turned off, but it’s not recommended since it benefits image quality.

The view isn’t exceptionally wide with a 7.4-44.4mm range, equivalent to 35-210mm in the 35mm format. The range isn’t amazing when compared to the 12x Canon S5 IS, which sells for the same price. For consumers who are trying to decide between the G9 and the Canon S5, the S5 has the advantage in this area. The S5 has a 12x optically stabilized zoom lens that is functional while shooting videos. The G9, however, locks the optical zoom when recording movies.

The zoom is controlled by a tiny ring that surrounds the shutter release button. The knob on the ring provides something to hang onto, but it isn’t much. The control isn’t very sensitive; it stops at 13 focal lengths when zooming in and 12 when zooming out. In both directions, it seems to breathe and stutter a bit before settling on a focal length.

The aperture of the lens opens to f/2.8, letting plenty of light pass through to the image sensor. At the telephoto end of the 6x, the maximum aperture shrinks to f/4.8.

The G9 and S5 both accept wide and telephoto conversion lenses WC-DC58B and TC-DC58C, respectively. The G9’s lens ring screws off when the button to the lower right of the lens is pushed, exposing the threading where the conversion lenses can be attached.

Design / Layout

Model Design / Appearance*(8.0) *

The Canon PowerShot G9 is styled somewhere between a DSLR and compact digital camera. It has a hot shoe, a rotary dial, and a mode dial reminiscent of DSLRs, but the small size of the controls and camera body come from compact point-and-shoot designs. The ISO dial and funky grooved edges of the dials and lens ring give the G9 a retro look.

The G9 also looks very much like the Canon G7. They have almost the exact same shell, with the exception of the redesigned back that accommodates the larger LCD screen on the G9.

Size / Portability*(6.5) *

The Canon G9’s body looks like a DSLR that has been flattened on the front and back. It isn’t built to slide in a pocket, but it is made to travel where a DSLR cannot. It measures 4.19 x 2.83 x 1.67 inches and, like the G7, is compatible with a waterproof case.

Canon designed this camera with the idea that some serious photographers don’t want to carry DSLRs to birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, and family outings because of the bulk of carrying a DSLR and lenses. The G9 has a flatter body and 11.29-ounce weight (body only) that allow it to slip into a backpack or coat pocket. The weight is a bit much for a camera of this size, but there are a lot of quality components jammed into that space.

The camera is outfitted with strap lugs on both sides; the included neck strap can be strung across these. The G9 can hang from the neck comfortably and can be toted around much more easily than a DSLR, which is the point.

Handling Ability*(6.75) *

Canon made a few attempts to improve handling the G9, but more attention was paid to its size. DSLR users will miss a decent hand grip. The G9 has a slight protrusion where the right hand holds the camera and even includes a vertical rubber strip on the front to ensure fingers don’t slide around, but fingers still can’t really get a good grip.

There isn’t much on the back to counter the handling features on the front. There is a slight bump where the AE lock/FE lock/microphone button resides, but it isn’t much to hang onto. Most of the camera’s surfaces are flattened out, which isn’t good for handling but is optimized for better portability and better fits the underwater housing.

The hefty weight of the Canon G9 requires two hands to properly handle it. The problem with this is that the left fingers often block the poorly-positioned flash component.

The handling of the G9 isn’t impressive, but it’s hard to improve upon without moving into the bulkier DSLR-like bodies most ultra-zoom digital cameras now have. That’s the price of portability.

Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(8.25)

*

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The G9 has a control layout that combines design elements of DSLRs and compacts. The mode and ISO dials atop the camera look retro but are very functional and accessible. There are plenty of buttons on the back, even one that acts as a "shortcut." This button, located in the upper left corner, can be set to access the following with only one touch: light metering, ND filter, white balance, custom white balance 1, custom white balance 2, digital tele-converter, AF lock, and display off.

The shutter release button is a bit small when compared to other digital cameras, but it protrudes farther upward than most. Of note is the interesting multi-selector/rotary dial combination on the back of the camera. It consists of a central function/set button that accesses the menu of frequently used options. It also makes selections in the standard menus. Surrounding this button is a traditional dime-sized multi-selector. It is surrounded by a grooved rotary dial that rotates easily through pictures and menu items. It is much more comfortable than the traditional multi-selector, and thumbs will appreciate this feature.

The buttons and controls on the G9 are properly spaced, labeled, and accessible.

Menu*(7.25)

*The menu system on the G9 looks like those on other Canon PowerShot digital cameras – only bigger than most because of the enormous LCD screen. The 3-inch LCD allows the menu to be displayed in a larger font and is therefore easier to read. Canon’s menus are split with the more frequently used settings accessible by pushing the function/set button in the middle of the multi-selector. When pushed, the left and bottom edges of the LCD are darkened and white graphics appear to show the menu. The functions appear on the left and the respective settings appear horizontally along the bottom. This leaves a wide space in the frame that gives a good view of the live preview.

With dedicated buttons, Canon tries to simplify the camera’s layout so the menu system can be avoided. It has designated buttons for functions like deleting pictures; there is even a shortcut button that can be set to access a feature customized by the user. The G9 also has functions like Macro and Burst modes that can be accessed from the multi-selector. But if the menu must be accessed, the Function menu provides a quick and simple in-and-out solution. All options can be seen on one screen, yet there is still a nice, large live preview.

The standard Recording menu takes a little more fishing to find the right option. It is organized in "folders" with color-coded and icon-labeled tabs at the top.

There is a third tab in the menu system that allows users to customize the camera’s less important features: start-up image and sound and sounds for operation, self-timer, and shutter.

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The tabs are helpful, and there is a vertical bar on the right that shows approximately what page of the menu users are currently viewing, however there is still no easy way to jump from page one to three of the menu. The lengthy menu, easily found with the menu button, is best avoided. Luckily, the G9’s buttons and simpler Function menu make this a possibility.

Ease of Use*(6.75)*

The Canon PowerShot G9 isn’t built for point-and-shooters. Its body is hefty and chunky, but DSLR owners will think it’s a featherweight compared to the larger bodies they’re used to. The G9 is easy to use for consumers who are familiar with Canon digital cameras; the split-menu systems, control placement, etc. But technology-deprived consumers might have a hard time maneuvering the different controls and menus on the G9.

Modes

Auto Mode*(8.75) *

The Canon PowerShot G9’s Auto mode is easy to find. It is labeled in green against the black mode dial while the rest of the options are labeled in white. When in the Auto mode, the Function menu is limited to image size and compression.

When in Auto mode, the multi-selector omits Manual Focus and the Burst mode. Exposure compensation is not available either, but users who want to tweak the exposure can enter the Program mode, which offers a little more functionality. Along with the Program mode, Shutter Speed and Aperture Priority modes provide a nice transition to the Manual mode.

Movie Mode*(7.25) *

The G9 has several Movie modes and many of the same features as the $499 Canon PowerShot S5 IS, but just doesn’t perform quite as well in this respect. The S5 is marketed as a hybrid model with its functional 12x optical zoom lens. The G9, on the other hand, has a shorter 6x optical zoom lens that locks when movies are being recorded. The 2x digital zoom is functional, but makes subjects in videos look like moving piles of colored blocks.

The Motion JPEG files are recorded at resolutions of 1024 x 768, 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120 pixels for up to one hour or 4 GB. Don’t get too excited about the high-resolution 1024 x 768 pixels, though: it only records 15 frames per second (fps), so it looks very choppy. The standard 640 x 480 pixels look much better at 30 fps. There are two frame rate options in the standard Movie mode: 30 fps and 30LP fps. The "LP" stands for "long play" and compresses the video files so videos can be recorded for twice as long. There is a trade-off, though; the LP resolution video looks like details have been smoothed over.

The same frame rate options are available at 320 x 240 pixels. A compact Movie mode records 160 x 120 pixels for up to three minutes at a choppy 15 fps; this is designed for e-mail.

Color Accent and Color Swap Movie modes are available with the standard 640 and 320-size options, but these aren’t incredibly useful. They are fun to play with, but are a bit of a frivolous inclusion on the high-end G9.

Other features available in Movie mode include optical image stabilization, with its Continuous mode that keeps small bumps from reaching the recorded video. Also available is the face detection feature, which superimposes boxes around faces in the movie and properly exposes them.

There is a Time Lapse Movie mode for photographers who want to record slow-moving objects. A picture is taken at 640 x 480-pixel resolution at a selectable interval of one or two seconds for up to two hours. Most PowerShot digital cameras include this feature.

The Canon PowerShot G9’s Movie mode allows users to manually adjust white balance, Color mode, and ND filter. The G9 has excellent audio, although it doesn’t have the stereo audio and vast audio options the Canon S5 offers. The G9’s monaural audio still sounds good, though.

The actual video quality is decent. Like many compact digital cameras, there are some problems when alternating dark and light objects cross the frame – for example, cars driving by. The metering changes are based on the center unless the face detection setting is engaged. Colors are also quite oversaturated, even in normal lighting. See the video performance section in Testing/Performance portion of this review for a more detailed analysis.

Drive / Burst Mode*(6.0) *

The Canon PowerShot G9 has a less than impressive Burst mode than the G7, but that might be partially due to its massive 12.1-megapixel files. The burst snaps away at 1.5 fps, the same pedestrian rate as the 8-megapixel Canon S5. There is a Continuous Shooting AF mode that focuses before each shot but is even slower, at 0.7 fps.

The view in the two continuous shooting modes freezes, as is common in compact digital cameras. To fix this, Canon included a Continuous Shooting LV (Live View) mode that keeps the live view functioning and shoots at 0.8 fps. It is only available in the Fireworks scene mode or when the manual focus is enabled. The caveat to this is that the focus is fixed, but it is fixed in the standard Continuous mode, as well. The live view keeps the feed going rather than freezing on the previously taken image, like in the other modes, but the LCD screen still blacks out for a split second between each shot.

Burst mode is accessible from the bottom of the multi-selector, as is the self-timer. The self-timer scrolls through basic 2 and 10-second options and has a custom option that can be set in the Recording menu. The delay can be adjusted to 0 to 30 seconds with 1 to 10 shots taken at the end of that delay. This is a nice feature for family reunions where it’s a good idea to take a few group shots to ensure subjects’ eyes are open and they are smiling.

Playback Mode*(8.0) *

Playback mode is accessible by pushing a rectangular button on the back of the camera; there is no access from the mode dial. The dedicated button makes it easier and faster to get from the Playback mode back to shooting.

Viewing images on the 3-inch LCD screen is a treat. The resolution is fabulous and the viewing angle is so wide that images can be viewed from almost any position. The Canon PowerShot G9’s large LCD makes it possible to gather a crowd of friends around for a slide show.

Slide shows can be played via the Playback menu. There isn’t music to play in the background like on some cameras, but there are three transition effects and a host of options to select which pictures or movies to play.

Pictures can be viewed individually or as index screens of nine shots, and scrolled through using the multi-selector or the much more comfortable rotary dial. The designated jump button to the upper right of the multi-selector makes it easy to navigate through lots of pictures. It allows users to move to the 10th or 100th image or view movies, categorized files, dates, and folders. Pictures can be categorized via the LED-adorned button in the upper left corner of the back.

Individual pictures can be magnified 2 to 10x using the zoom control. They can be automatically rotated, if desired, by activating the feature in the Setup menu.

Most options are outlined in the Playback menu, shown below.

A new addition to Canon’s Playback menu is the "range" selection feature, which allows users to easily select batches of pictures for deletion and categorizing. Instead of checking a box on for every picture to be deleted, users can mark the first and last pictures in a series, which will then automatically mark all in between.

The Red-Eye Correction feature works surprisingly well. It automatically places a frame over eyes and then darkens them. Users can also manually add frames to eyes to start the red-eye elimination process. The new files can overwrite the old ones or be saved separately.

Sound memos of up to 60 seconds can be added by pushing the button in the upper right corner of the camera’s back. Although the audio is monaural, unlike the S5’s stereo audio, the quality is still decent.

Videos can be played back with audio at normal speed or in slow motion. There is also some primitive editing available; users can cut the beginning or end of movie files and save them separately or overwrite the old file.

There is an image inspection tool, but it is difficult to find and barely covered in the included owner’s manual. Here is the scoop; pushing the display button several times cycles through information and a histogram, and then to the image inspection tool. This is only used with pictures taken with the face detection activated. A tiny thumbnail of the entire image appears in the upper left corner of the LCD screen, and boxes show where the faces are. The boxed face is magnified in a larger view in the lower right corner; users can scroll through multiple faces by pushing the set button or magnify the view of the face with the zoom control. This tool makes checking focus a quick task – if you know where to find it.

Overall, the Playback mode has all the basic features and adds a few effects in its menu. The enormous LCD screen with wide viewing angle enhances the playback experience and is a real asset to the G9.

Custom Image Presets*(7.5)

*

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There aren’t any independent Scene modes on the mode dial; they are all grouped in the "SCN" position on the dial. The Scene modes can be accessed easily by rotating the rotary dial when in the SCN position. Like the G7, the G9 has 16 Scene modes: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sports, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, Indoor, ISO 3200, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Color Accent, and Color Swap.

The ISO 3200 Scene mode shrinks the image size to 1600 x 1200 pixels, which is unfortunately small. Other modes allow more flexibility, though.

In the Function menu, only the image size and compression can be changed. The Recording menu is also shortened to include basics like digital zoom and image stabilization. Exposure compensation is still accessible from its designated button.

Control Options

Manual Control Options

DSLR users might miss the jog dial layout, but the G9 does have plenty of manual The G9 gives users a host of manual control options. Some are in the Function menu and others, like ISO, have dedicated on-camera controls.

**Focus

***Autofocus (8.25)*

The PowerShot G9 uses a 9-point autofocus system that offers FlexiZone, Face Detect, and AiAF framing options. The FlexiZone autofocus allows users to move the focal point around using the button to the upper left of the multi-selector. AiAF is the default focus mode that automatically chooses what to focus on. The Face Detect mode, which automatically recognizes and focuses on faces, is an improvement from the G7.

The G7 can recognize up to nine faces at a time, but according to manufacturer specs the new G9 can recognize up to 35 faces in a frame, and at different angles. Subjects used to have to face the camera directly to be detected, but the G9 can recognize and track faces at semi-profile angles up to 45 degrees. Most digital cameras can recognize 10 to 15 faces, so Canon’s system is theoretically far ahead of the competition in this area. I could only get the camera to recognize and track up to five faces at a time, though.

There are Single and Continuous autofocus modes. The Continuous mode makes a dull electronic noise, but it shouldn’t be a show-stopper.

The through-the-lens autofocus has the same issues as most other digital cameras. Low contrast subjects are more difficult to focus on, as are low light scenes. The camera has an autofocus assist beam, but the green lamp is very bright and a distracting color green color. It stays on as long as the shutter release button is pushed halfway and is fairly effective. 

There is a Macro mode that can be set using the left side of the multi-selector. It allows subjects to be photographed from 0.39 inches to 1.6 feet when the lens is zoomed wide. Normally, the camera focuses from 1.6 feet to infinity.

Overall, the Canon PowerShot G9 has a lot of focus controls and features, but it's a little slower than some of its competition. 

Manual Focus (4.0)

The manual focus is activated by pressing the top portion of the multi-selector. The center of the view on the monitor is magnified so it is easier to focus on; this zooming function can be turned off if desired, though. A vertical bar appears on the right edge of the LCD screen, and users can scroll through the focus with the rotary dial. There is also a "safety MF" feature that allows the autofocus to override the manual focus; this can also be turned on and off in the Recording menu. There is a focus bracketing option in the Function menu that takes three pictures; one with the selected focus, and one on either side of that position.

ISO*(8.0)*

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The PowerShot G9 has a designated ISO dial on the top of the camera. There are 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600 ISO options, along with high and auto settings. The vast ISO range is appreciated, but it should be kept in mind that as ISO increases, image quality suffers. To see just how much noise creeps into high ISO pictures, look at the Testing/Performance section of this review.

For users who are attracted to high ISO sensitivity, beware the ISO 3200 Scene mode on the camera – it shrinks the image size to 1600 x 1200 pixels.

Recent PowerShot digital cameras, including the G9, have an Auto ISO Shift feature that increases the ISO to compensate for camera shake. The shortcut button can be set to activate this feature at a moment’s notice, or it can be accessed through the Recording menu.

White Balance*(8.25) *

Found in the Function menu, the white balance can be set with the help of the handy live preview. The options are Auto, Day Light, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Underwater, Custom 1, and Custom 2. Having two custom settings is handy. Users can set white balance in a room they often shoot in and never have to set it again. Nice touch.

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Exposure*(7.75) *

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The exposure can be adjusted in every mode except Auto and Movie. The exposure compensation is accessed from the button to the upper right of the multi-selector. A +/- 2 scale is available in one-third increments. For users who can’t decide which exposure value is best, there is a bracketing feature in the more manually-oriented modes. The exposure bracketing takes three pictures at intervals of +/- 0.3, 0.7, 1.0, 1.3, 1.7, or 2. In the Recording menu, the exposure can be set to sync with the autofocus point. It can also sync with the face detection system so faces are always properly exposed. There is also a handy live histogram on the LCD screen.

The inclusion of Priority and Manual modes will appease DSLR owners as they allow users to control the visual effects within the image. There are two custom positions on the mode dial that allow users to quickly access frequently used settings of their choice.

Metering*(7.75) *

Like most other digital cameras, the Canon G9 has three metering modes. Evaluative is the default mode that automatically selects where to meter from. When the face detection is turned on, this mode incorporates facial brightness into the equation to determine exposure. The Center-Weighted Average metering mode meters from the middle of the frame. The Spot mode meters from a tiny point in the center, or can be linked to the autofocus frame.

Shutter Speed*(7.5) *

The G9’s shutter speed range isn’t spectacular at 15-1/2500 of a second. Most digital cameras in this price range offer exposures as long as 60 seconds and some, like the S5, as quick as 1/3200 of a second. The shutter speed can be manually adjusted in the Shutter Speed Priority and Manual modes by pushing the exposure compensation button to the upper right of the multi-selector and scrolling with the rotary dial.

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Aperture*(6.75)

*The G9 comes with a proprietary 6x optical zoom lens with a wide f/2.8 aperture when zoomed out. This allows a lot of light to hit the image sensor. The aperture shrinks to f/4.8 when the lens is zoomed in. In the Manual and Aperture Priority modes, aperture can be manually adjusted by pushing the exposure compensation button until the aperture is selected and scrolling with the rotary dial. The smallest the aperture can go is f/8.

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Image Parameters

Picture Quality / Size Options*(8.5)*

At 12.1 megapixels, the high-end Canon G9 boasts the most resolution of any compact digital camera. Under the hood of the G9 is a 1/1.7-inch CCD with 12.4 total megapixels. The G9 is also capable of RAW and RAW + JPEG shooting at 4000 x 3000 pixels.

The image size can be adjusted in the Function menu with the following options: L (4000 x 3000), M1 (3264 x 2448), M2 (2592 x 1944), M3 (1600 x 1200), S (640 x 480), and W (4000 x 2248). The JPEG compression can be changed from Superfine to Fine and Normal in the Function menu, as well. Some PowerShot digital cameras hide the compression options in a hard-to-find submenu, but they have their own spot in the Function menu of the Canon G9. Pictures can be resized to 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240 pixels in the Playback menu.

The simultaneous RAW + JPEG shooting can be turned on and off in the Recording menu, separate from the image size options in the Function menu. This is slightly inconvenient.

There aren’t any RAW editing features in the Playback mode; users have to wait until pictures are loaded into a software program to really play around with editing.

For more detailed information about the effectiveness of the Canon G9’s 12.1-megapixel resolution, check out the resolution portion of the Testing/Performance section.

Picture Effects Mode*(8.5)*

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As with most other PowerShot digital cameras, the G9 is not lacking in terms of its picture effects. It has a great selection of effects in the Function menu under the My Colors submenu.

Available picture effects are Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, and Custom Color. All except the Custom Color option are also accessible in Playback mode.

Users can customize colors by tweaking contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue, and skin tone channels on +/- 2 full-step scales. The picture effects are interesting and more useful than the other two effects residing on the camera, Color Swap and Color Accent. These options are grouped with the Scene modes, but are more closely related to effects than modes. They allow users to select one or two colors with a superimposed frame and the set button.

Connectivity / Extras

Connectivity

Software (6.75)

The Canon PowerShot G9 comes with version 32.0 of Canon’s Digital Camera Solution Disk CD-ROM. It contains the following Mac-friendly programs: ImageBrowser 6.0, PhotoStitch 3.2, and EOS Utility 1.1. Windows operating systems can take advantage of ZoomBrowser EX 6.0, PhotoStitch 3.1, Camera TWAIN Driver 6.8, and EOS Utility 1.1a. Apple’s QuickTime is also included so users can watch uploaded videos.

The ZoomBrowser EX program has basic viewing and editing features. There are buttons along the left side of the window for quick access: acquire & camera settings, view & classify, edit, export, and print, and e-mail. Along the top edge are a few access points for viewing images, properties, slide show, search, delete, and rotate. Viewing can be done in zoom, scroll, or Preview mode.

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There aren’t very many editing options: Red-Eye Correction, Auto Adjustment, Color/Brightness adjustment, Sharpness, Trim, and Insert Text. Users who want to have more control over images should invest in other editing software.

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Panoramas can be made in the PhotoStitch 3.1 program with the tutorial-like setup. The program walks users through opening images and arranging them before merging them. Pictures can be aligned vertically, horizontally, or in a matrix or 360-degree wrap.

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Jacks, ports, plugs*****(5.0) *

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The Canon G9 has a plastic door on the right side that closes tightly to block the separate USB and AV jacks from the elements. The door doesn’t have rubber seals, though, so don’t hold it under running water or anything. The mini-B USB jack and separate AV-out jack come with appropriate cables in the box so pictures can be viewed on televisions, transferred to computers, and directly transferred to printers.

*Direct Print Options (7.0)

*The Canon G9 has most of the right components for direct printing. It has a USB cable and jack and even a designated transfer button. Users can create print orders and easily select which and how many pictures to print from the print tab of the Playback menu. The camera is PictBridge compatible and can print ID photos and movie prints with select PIXMA, CP, and Selphy Canon printers. The only problem is that there is no 3:2-formatted image size, so users can’t directly print perfectly cropped 4 x 6-inch prints. To its credit, the camera has 3:2 guide lines that can be set to display on the live view, but images still have to be loaded into software and cropped before printing.

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*Battery (4.75)

*

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The G9 comes with a rechargeable lithium NB-2LH battery pack. It lasts 240 shots with the LCD turned on but lasts much longer with it off. The optical viewfinder is horribly inaccurate, but if relied on in place of the LCD, the battery can last up to 600 shots. The camera also comes with a wall-mount charger that takes almost two hours to recharge the battery. An optional power adapter can be purchased that fits in the same compartment as the battery.

*Memory (3.75)

*The G9 comes with a 32MB MMCplus card that can capture five shots at full JPEG resolution. It can capture only one single RAW file. The camera also accepts SD, SDHC, MMC, and HC MMCplus. No internal memory is included, so don’t forget to pack the memory cards. Users will need a lot of memory for the 12.1-megapixel files.

Other features*(6.5)*

Stitch Assist – This feature shows a live view that aligns images right to left or vice versa. It can also align pictures vertically or in a square-shape so images can be stitched into high-resolution posters. The stitching doesn’t actually happen inside the camera; that only happens on select Kodak and GE digital cameras. The Canon G9’s pictures are merged together when loaded into the included software program.

ND Filter – This feature is located in the Function menu, and can be turned on and off. According to the user manual, the ND filter "reduces light intensity to 1/8 (3 stops) of the actual level." This is for situations like photographing a bright moon. The use of a tripod is recommended with this feature.

Overall Impressions

Value*(6.75)*

The Canon PowerShot G9 is priced at $499, $100 less than the introductory price of last year’s G7. Currently, the G7’s price is hovering around $450, but we predict it will drop. The price drop from $599 to $499 probably occurred because of the price drop of entry-level DSLRs. Consumers can now purchase an entry-level DSLR and a kit lens for $599. DSLRs offer a little more flexibility but also take up more space. The portable body is a luxury the G9 offers, while still toting a hot shoe, RAW file format, and compatibility with accessory lenses. The Canon PowerShot G9 isn’t a steal; Nikon’s version, the P5100, costs $100 less. However, the G9 is packed with great features and high-quality components. It’s a nice camera that produces high quality images – and it’s worth it.

Comparisons

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Canon PowerShot G7 – Last year’s model has 10 megapixels in almost the exact same body. The back of the camera has a different design that accommodates a smaller 2.5-inch LCD screen, which has less resolution at 207,000 pixels. The G7 has the same 6x optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization, hot shoe, and Manual to Automatic exposure modes. It has face detection, but it’s an older version that can recognize only nine faces at a time and does not include the interesting image inspection tool found on the newer G9. The PowerShot G7 does not shoot RAW files and originally retailed for $599, although its price is around $450 now.

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Canon PowerShot S5 IS – The S5 has less resolution at 8 megapixels, but more zoom with its 12x lens. The S5 is the better hybrid camera-camcorder; its 12x optical zoom lens is functional while recording videos. The S5 also has stereo audio and allows users to control the quality of the audio and even add a wind filter. The S5 and G9 share many similarities, including their range of Manual and Automatic modes, hot shoes, and optical image stabilization systems. They share the same price tag too; $499. The trade-off is between picture resolution and video quality. The S5 takes better videos but the G9 has more detailed pictures.

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Kodak EasyShare P880 – This digital camera has a similar SLR shape but is even chunkier with a more comfortable hand grip. It has less resolution at 8 megapixels and a little less zoom with its 5.8x lens. The LCD is also subpar at 2.5 inches and 115,000 pixels. The P880 sells for much less, though, at less than $400. The Kodak P880 has its advantages. It shoots RAW files, has full manual and automatic functionality, and has a Help guide on the mode dial. It also allows the optical zoom lens to function while recording movies, something the G9 can’t do. But the P880 has disadvantages, too; the ISO range is capped at 400 and noise creeps into images more than it should.

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Nikon Coolpix P5100 – The G7’s nemesis was the P5000, and now Nikon has released the P5100 to counter Canon’s G9. The Nikon Coolpix P5100 has a similarly chunky body with a hot shoe on top, although it is not vertically aligned with the lens. It has the same resolution at 12.1 megapixels and Manual, Priority, Program, Automatic, and Movie modes. With a shorter 3.5x optical zoom lens and image stabilization system, the P5100 doesn’t have the same zooming capability as the 6x G9. The Nikon camera has a smaller 2.5-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels, but packs in a whopping 52 MB of internal memory and accepts SD/SDHC media. The P5100 takes a few shortcuts in its specs, but also has a shortcut in price; it retails for $100 less at $399.

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 – The R1 was released in late 2005 but is still a contender with its 10-megapixel CMOS sensor and 24-120mm lens. It doesn’t have optical image stabilization, so the G9 beats it there. It has a 2-inch rotating LCD screen with 134,000 pixels. It produces accurate colors and little noise. The Sony R1 originally retailed for $999 but now sells for about $599.

**Who It’s For

***Point-and-Shooters* – The G9 isn’t designed for beginners, although it does include Scene and Auto modes in case a point-and-shooter picks it up.

Budget Consumers – At $499, this digital camera has one of the highest priced point-and-shoots. Consumers on a budget could consider the older version, the G7, although its price is still holding at about $450.

Gadget Freaks – The Canon PowerShot G7 has optical image stabilization, a hot shoe for accessory flashes, and face detection that can recognize up to 35 faces. Gadget freaks will lust after this camera.

Manual Control Freaks – These consumers may miss the jog dial access offered on DSLRs, but the manual controls are still here and healthy with Manual, Priority, and Program modes on the list.

Pros/Serious Hobbyists – The Canon G9 is tailored for these photographers who own Canon Speedlite flashes and DSLRs, but don’t want to carry the bulk of a DSLR around on some occasions.

Conclusion

**Conclusion

**Canon made a lot of improvements on the PowerShot G9 – most notably the image quality, LCD screen, and RAW file capability. The Canon G9 offers more megapixels than its predecessor, the G7, which on paper suggests it will have better resolution but more noise and worse dynamic range. Our tests prove the G9 has significantly better resolution, better than most cameras released this year. Noise levels are high, but not any higher than the G7, which is commendable. Color accuracy is fantastic, as is the Movie mode, both of which have become consistent successes for high-end Canon PowerShots.

The LCD screen is enlarged to 3 inches and is matched with excellent resolution and very wide viewing angles. Older G-series digital cameras have RAW shooting capability, but the G7 does not; it is a welcome reunion on the PowerShot G9.

The good features on the G7 stayed put on the G9. The black retro design remains, with its easily accessible ISO and mode dials and more modern elements, such as the rotary dial. The Canon G-series remains somewhere between DSLRs and compacts with its flattened DSLR-like design, hot shoe, and host of Scene modes.

The Canon PowerShot G9 isn’t perfect – its Burst mode is slow, its 6x optical zoom doesn’t function in the Movie mode, and its autofocus system takes more time than it should – but it’s almost there. It is fairly priced at $499, as it is stuffed with lots of great features, manual controls, and high-quality components, which make it worth the price.

Sample Photos

**Sample Photos

**Click to view the high-resolution image.

Specs / Ratings

Specs Table

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