Canon Powershot G5

Canon Powershot G5
G5 Review

I must admit to being slightly perplexed at being given the new Canon Powershot G5 to test. After all I’m a professional wildlife photographer and used to much higher specification equipment. Surely giving this camera to me would be a grave mistake for all concerned? Always one to do a professional job I took it away on a weekend trip to stay with some friends on a Yorkshire farm. Here are my thoughts and findings on the G5. One word of warning thought, if you are looking for techno bits and bytes then you’re on the wrong site. This review will be from a photographer’s viewpoint and I make no apology for it.


First Impression

Out of the box I actually liked the feel of the G5 straight away. It felt solid and comfortable in my hand, with all the controls where I would expect them to be. The LCD was nicely tucked away, only folding out when needed, a nice touch to prevent too much damage to the coating by a rough coat pocket or my even rougher unshaven face. When opened the LCD gave a really high quality image and I liked the fact that you could rotate it through 180 degrees to frame a self-portrait.

The G5 is a 5-megapixel camera and incorporates the same DiGiC processor technology found on the EOS 10D. This should ensure excellent image quality and good long exposure performance.

Being familiar with a Digital-SLR I recognised most of the controls straight away and have never even opened the G5 manual. There are only two menus to navigate, one to control the usual camera setup functions (including saturation, contrast etc) and the other to set the ISO and control the various special effects. I delved down into the menus and found that as well as the usual clutch of JPEG settings the G5 had an option for RAW. This is vitally important as a RAW image, when used with a decent browser, is so much more flexible than a JPEG. The top of the camera houses the main on / off switch, which also toggles between the shooting and playback modes. The mode selection dial contained all the same culprits as a top end SLR – AV, TV, M, and Program to name just a few. The motordrive option surprised me, at 2 fps it would be useful but I could find no information at to how many shots the buffer would take before it became full. I liked the manual focus option, which meant that macro and picture composition became an option for the first time in my limited test experience with these compact cameras.


Field Tests
Horse
My tests were to simply use the G5 in the course of my normal weekend and to see if it could cope with a multitude of different situations. The first culprit was the horse, which looked stunning against the dark, stormy sky. Setting the G5 to aperture priority, I selected an aperture of f5.0 at an ISO setting of 50 for max quality. I had just a few seconds to get the shot and the G5 autofocus locked on straight away. What surprised me again with the G5 was the lack of any real shutter delay, something that I have always hated about cheaper digital compacts. The image of the horse looked great on screen, and the histogram agreed, but the acid test would be at home. I loaded the file into Breeze Browser (the Canon software is still limited in functionality) and converted the RAW “as shot”. It produced an 8-bit TIFF with resolution 2592 x 1944 which gave a 14.4MB file. The print size was 21.95cm x 16.46cm at 300 dpi. Upto 100% magnification the image looked extremely clear and only began to show pixel elements at 200%. I printed the image out at A4 on Epson Matte Heavywight Paper and was truly very surprised indeed. It was difficult to tell the output from a similar file from the EOS 10D, over 2.5 times the price.
Field
My good spirits from the horse faded a few minutes later when I found a nice spread of rosebay willowherb. Composing the shot, I flicked the dial to increase the aperture and found that it stopped at f8. No amount of persuasion could force it any higher, which disappointed me. Of course the G5 is not aimed at serious landscape photographers, but f8? Hmm, not put off I took the shot anyway at f8 and again was surprised at how well the meter coped with the situation and produced a nicely balanced image. Again at 100% magnification I could see no pixelation, which only became apparent at 200%.
Church
The G5 has several special effects modes that I was keen to try out. The first was Vivid, which I assumed increased the saturation in the image. This shot of York Cathedral (forgive the dodgy lines but I was being jostled by tourists all the time) was taken with Vivid enabled (via the “Func” menu). Annoyingly I found that I could not compose the shot via the eyepiece and had to use the screen, which although perfectly usable, took some getting used to for a regular 35mm guy. I also found that the zoom facility could have done with a few more steps as it made composition difficult. The image came out very punchy, a nice blue sky and warmth on the brickwork. Again good quality upto 100% magnification and very surprising depth of field (everything is sharp enough) for f8.
Field 2
A typical agricultural scene with a power station on then horizon, I shot this in colour then selected the Sepia effect from the menus and liked the result.
Black + White Shot
This time I selected black and white mode and was really impressed as the quality of the image, which was just really a snapshot. I’m certainly not a monochrome maestro but liked the point and shoot approach of the G5 that allowed me to have a go.
Autofocus Shot
The G5 has a continuous autofocus capability that allows the camera to track moving subjects. Being very cynical of this I first gave it a test on my running dog Muppet. It failed completely to lock on and managed to get a beautifully sharp background and a lovely out of focus dog. I did like the ability to be able to select an aperture of f2.8 to get a fast shutter speed when needed but the resultant image was not up to scratch. On reflection however I decided that this was not a fair test of the G5’s ability, as it is not designed for such fast moving subjects (that SLRs would struggle with anyway). So my friend Steve and I recreated this scene from the film Gladiator. I set the autofocus to continuous, the effect to Sepia and let him walk away from me. This time the autofocus locked onto the moving hand and kept the focus nicely. I guess that my expectations were just a little but too high.
Tractor
The White Balance sensor on the G5 seemed to be very accurate when just left to Auto the whole time. The snapshot of a manure laded tractor, that hadn’t moved for years, was well handled by the sensor. I originally shot this in black and white but decided to show you the colour version here. Again the quality upto 100% is very good indeed.

The G5 has an integral movie mode, making 30 second AVI clips, which I tested and it worked the same as all other compacts do these days.

Last point – batteries. I only charged the Li-on battery once before usage and have never needed to charge it again.


Features I didn’t test
Here are the features of the G5 that I have not managed to test so far, which are all due to time constraints. I will add to this review as and when time permits:

• Flash usage including red-eye reduction mode
• Long Exposures – should be great quality with new Digic processor
• ISO performance above ISO 50 (other reviews state the high noise that the G5 prodices but I am unable to comment on it).
• The Canon supplied browser software
• The Canon supplied remote control software, which on reading of the manual states that is has a live viewfinder feed.
• Macro Mode and manual focus (although these both seem very easy)

Likes and Dislikes

Likes

· Feature List
· Feel in the hand
· Image quality to A4 at ISO 50
· Virtually no delay in taking shots
· Fold-away LCD screen and quality of the screen
· Ease of use
· Battery consumption
· CF card and IBM Microdrive support

Dislikes
· F8 limit on aperture priority
· Lack of zoom steps
· Composition via viewfinder difficult


Conclusion

The G5 is a feature packed compact camera and delivers excellent image quality to A4 (provided you stick to ISO 50). In my opinion this camera would suit the photographer who doesn’t yet want to make the leap to a D-SLR but wants to dip their toe in the digital pond. In fact I know several G5 owners who have purchased it fore exactly this reason. As a “prosumer” digital compact it provides most of the functionality that a D-SLR does, and when familiar with its functions will make the upward transition easier. Of course you may decide that the G5 produces perfectly good images for your needs and do not need a D-SLR, looking at my A4 prints I can certainly see the reasoning behind this. I really enjoyed using it and would dearly love to take it with me to Africa this month to really put it to the test. Unfortunately everyone knows what I’ll do with it and it will probably end up flattened under an elephants foot.