Compact cameras have come a long way since the stereotype of them being only good for holidays and stag parties. In fact I know several travel and landscape professional photographers that use top-end compact digital cameras in their work. Naturally I was keen to see what all the fuss was about so I arranged to test the Canon PowerShot G10 digital camera for a few weeks in the field.
As soon as I took it out of the box I could see that the Canon G10 was more than just your average compact. For a start it weighed a lot more than I expected, but it was a nice chunky fit in the hand and I liked the layout of the controls straight away.
So what was the Canon G10 like to use in the field? In a word, great! I found the controls were incredibly intuitive; in fact they were better placed and easier to use than those on some digital SLRs that I have used! I love the exposure compensation dial on the top especially, it allowed me to be creative and make on-the-fly exposure changes without searching the menus. The same is true for the ISO dial, which is located underneath the main program control dial. I shot in aperture priority mode all of the time and changing the aperture was a doddle; just move the rear thumbwheel and an on-screen indicator shows you exactly where you are. Brilliant, and a very useful feature for the creative photographer.
Shutter delay on the Canon G10 was negligible, which is a major improvement from previous models of this level that I have used, and makes the Canon G10 very interesting for all manner of applications.
Autofocus has always been a bit dodgy with compact digital cameras in my opinion, and traditionally the approach was simply “f8 and everything in focus”. Recently however the desire for features such as Face Detection has forced compact cameras to progress to decent AF systems - the Canon PowerShot G10 takes it a step further with continuous AF. Of course it is not anything like the AI Servo of the Canon digital SLR range but you wouldn’t expect it to be and I found that it worked pretty well at keeping track of slow moving subjects like mountains. When I tested it on some dancers I did notice that although it tracked them well, there was a slight delay in taking the image. This could have been caused by my lack of experience with the camera at getting the focus point over the action (which I would do with a digital SLR anyway). I wouldn’t expect the Canon G10 to track a fighter jet with the ease of a DSLR, but for everyday stuff it does an impressive job, and although I did not perform this test myself, I know a man who has used the G10 to shoot a Formula 1 racing car and he said it works!
The Face Detection feature did its job well in all kinds of situations, occasionally it was a little slow to lock on but it produced a decent result. The most useful AF mode I found was Flexizone, which gave me the ability to move the AF frame around the image for precise composition. The feature worked great but I think that Canon could externalise this from the menus to make it a little easier to use.
In response to customer requests for a wide-angle lens Canon has changed the G10 from the G9 and given it a 35mm equivalent of 28-140mm. A digital zoom extends this but in my opinion you are best sticking with the optical zoom for optimum quality. A revamped image stabiliser has also been included and it certainly seemed to work although I have nothing to compare it against. One area where it was noticeable though was in Movie mode; the G10 videos are noticeably less shaky than my advanced Hi-def video camera!
As I have mentioned previously the ISO setting is a well-designed dial on the top of the camera. The top end has now been increased to 3200 and an AUTO ISO feature has been added. I suggest that you use this with caution. I forgot it was on one morning and took some landscapes, the G10 decided that despite the fact I was on a tripod that it wanted to use a high ISO. The resultant images at ISO 3200 were a little noisy to say the least! Ok it was my mistake and I should have set it at 100 but I just wanted to mention it as something to be aware of.
Using clever pixel processing techniques the i-Contrast setting is designed to give JPEG images a better balance between light and dark areas and minimise processing time on the computer. I believe however that if you are going to buy this kind of camera then you are looking to push your photography and are therefore less likely to shoot in JPEG mode as you would want to eek out the maximum quality from your files. The Canon G10 provides a true CR2 RAW file so I would rather spend the time in Photoshop getting the balance right than letting the camera do it. Of course there will be some people that want to shoot JPEG, so I had a quick test and clearly the i-Contrast does its job efficiently, improving the balance between the light and dark areas. Personally I prefer not to allow the camera to do it automatically though, as there is no going back, so the best approach if you want to use this feature is to apply i-Contrast to your JPEG images selectively after you have taken the shot. If JPEG is your bag then I would recommend doing it this way and staying in control. My own opinion is that this is a RAW camera and it delivers such astounding quality in RAW that it is a crime to lose some of this via compression to JPEG.
The Canon G10 uses the MOV format that arguably gives the same quality as an AVI file but uses half the memory to store it. I found the Movie mode simple to use and it produced nice results, like I said producing less shake than my actual video camera!
Some nice creative options here including second curtain and slow synchro plus flash exposure compensation. You can shoot in either auto or manual output too. I found the flash system pretty good to use, certainly I don’t have any burnt out images and most have a good colour and good exposure balance. A nice touch by Canon was to add the flash icon to the main dial on the back, this not only allows you to easily turn it on and off but gives direct access to the flash specific menu options. Clearly someone has thought this camera out. Oh yes and finally the Canon G10 can take Speedlites! Yes that is right, you can put a decent flash on it – deep joy!
The Canon G10 has a brand new DIGIC 4 image processor and as such promises to deliver image quality that should make it the leader in its market sector. Shooting at ISO 100 the image quality amazed me for such a small camera and moreover such a small lens. Comparing it to some of my older files from my Canon 350D, 40D and 5D, I can see little difference in terms of absolute image quality. Of course there is a slight tendency to burn out highlights but once you know this then it can be controlled. Overall however the image quality at ISO 100 and even 200 is incredible for a camera of this size. As the ISO increases then so of course does the noise but not enough to render the image unusable until you get to 800 and above when it does become noticeable. Most of us though will rarely take it above 400 and for this ISO the G10 certainly bats well above its size.
One issue I found is that it is very easy to get complacent with the Canon G10 and expect it to perform miracles. If you are using it at ISO 100 in low light and at the maximum aperture of f8 then the shutter speed will be quite slow. The G10 warns you of this but it is so easy to ignore it and think that because it is only a small camera you can hold it steady no problem. Big mistake. The G10 is less forgiving of mistakes than a DSLR so you have to be sensible about it. At low light levels use it on a small tripod, be careful with the focus and use a shutter release or the self-timer to trigger the shutter. If you do this in low light then the G10 will reward you with cracking images.
I really liked using the G10 and found myself using it as a “walkabout” landscape camera when I was trekking. It is much easier to handle than a digital SLR whilst you are walking, and for extra stability I screwed it to the top of my monopod, which doubled as a walking stick. The file size is almost large enough for my agents too. I think that for many applications, such as travel photography, the Canon’s G10’s small size and unobtrusive nature will be a real godsend, particularly as so many photographers want to add a movie element too. Of course it needs to be taken with a pinch of reality and the PowerShot G10 will never replace a digital SLR, but it performs a vital function in my kit bag. Oh yes did I mention, I’ve bought one for my next trip to Australia.
- I don’t give a 10/10 and I don’t see what else a compact can really do that the G10 doesn’t.
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