Canon's G11 is a step in the right direction.

Dec 15, 2009
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent compromise between resolution and low light capability, RAW capture, articulated screen

Cons:much better than G10 but still noisy at high ISO, somewhat slow

The Bottom Line: Great power in a smallish package, (much) better than most P&S but no match for dSLR.

Canon released not too long ago the respectable G10, and while a good camera it was also a kind of zenith of the megapixel race with 14.7 MPx in such a small sensor. It's already eclipsed by even more dense sensors, but in the Advanced P&S category it became clear that MPx isn't everything and low light capability (or low noise) are equally if not more important. So Canon finally realized that the company's most advanced point and shoot camera needed to offer more than a gazillion blotchy pixels in other than conditions. Unlike Panasonic or Olympus, Canon does currently not offer a P&S camera with an APS sensor and the G-series is the most serious camera in their lineup without the heft of a dSLR.


The most important aspect is expressed by the step back from the G10's 14.7 MPx (1/1.71" diagonal, 3:2 ratio; 35 MPx/cm2) to the G11's seemingly inferior 10 MPx (1/1.71" diagonal, 3:2 ratio; 23 MPx/cm2). With the reduction in density and an improved micro lens design along with circuitry improvements, the G11 provides good picture quality over a much more usable ISO range than the G10. Of course it's no match in any way for a dSLR like Canon's own EOS 5D MkII (2.3 MPx/cm2), but portability and price are in completely different classes too.

The PowerShot G11 is technically very similar to the PowerShot S90 and the $80 difference in MSRP buy RAW recording and an articulated screen along with a longer zoom lens on the G11 in a significantly bigger package. So if these factors don't matter to you, consider the sleek S90 which is capable of very similar picture quality.

In fact, aside from the major sensor change and other minor improvements it's very similar in function and design to the predecessor G10. If you own that and don't see anything wrong with the noise in your pictures, the upgrade may not be needed for you. (Same lens, processor, similar body etc.) However, as available light drops and ISO increases, the difference in picture quality becomes more obvious and the G11 certainly wins. Regardless, if you're looking for best picture quality and can compromise on size, the G11 is still no substitute for a dSLR.

- CCD sensor w/ 10.0 Mpx
- RAW recording (supported by Canon's DPP software)
- High ISO Auto, Auto ISO shift
- Optical Image Stabilizer, Motion Detection Technology and
- 5x wide-angle (28mm) zoom lens with IS (both optical)
- DIGIC 4 processor (faster AF, including Servo)
- Face Detection AF/AE/FE/WB plus Face Select & Track and Face Self-Timer
- New articulated 2.8” LCD (halfVGA), wide viewing angle
- i-Contrast boosts brightness and retains detail in dark areas
- Quick access via dials for Exposure Compensation and ISO
- Manual control and custom settings
- 1.1 fps shooting speed
- 30 fps VGA movies


Ergonomics: [***--] The G11 grew ever so slightly compared to the G10 which shedding about 15 gram. It's a very handy sized for a P&S. It's surprisingly comfortable to hold but some controls feel unnatural and clumsy while the multifunction controller is surprisingly workable even with my rather large thumb. The weight of 375g helps to keep the device planted in your hand and somewhat stabilize the camera, but some might feel it's heavy too, especially when dangling in your pocket. Overall, the G11 is easier to hold than most compacts due to size and ergonomic features like an actual grip. The shutter button is really the only major exception as it does not allow for a comfortable rest of your finger between shots.

Picture Quality: [****-] Mostly due to the increased low light capabilities and the associated noise reduction, the quality is surprisingly good considering the sensor size and lens (no L grade). The reduction in pixels does a great job in opening higher ISO ranges for normal use. Of course neither ISO1600 nor ISO3200 produce great quality but with the help of RAW files and overall better image quality than the G10 it's a step in the right direction. Since the integrated zoom lens didn't change, the G11 has still significant problems controlling chromatic abberation under severe lighting conditions -- probably more so than the best of the category. The resulting color fringes can be quite visible (and require RAW capture and treatment in DPP to remove effectively). The dynamic range is remarkable relative to the photo cells size, but still prone to clipping as the small sensor cells don't have the range of their larger "siblings" (in dSLRs). The sensor appears to be on par with the lens resolution and under less than perfect conditions, the true image resolution appears to be a bit below the recorded pixels. This is not unusual for tiny sensor cells like these and could be a combination of lens limitations and the CCD read-out.

Speed: [****-] Generally the processor (DiG!C4) remained the same and speed improvements can be attributed to the reduction in data per picture to be processed. The 14.7 MPx slumped along at 0.7 fps while the 10 MPx can run at 1.1 fps. Of course startup remained the same with 1 sec, and shutterlag can be up to just under one second and that's no recommendation for action shots either, but the average of just under 0.5 sec than most. Either way, it's snappier than most compact cameras but by no means anywhere close in speed and responsiveness to dSLRs or Epson's high speed series for that matter.

Flash: [****-] Another relatively quiet improvement is in the integrater flash which is significantly more powerful and allows to penetrate the dark up to 7 meters (up from 5.7m). Generally that's not a main argument for me as flash photography isn't the look I am after anyway. Regardless, it helps such a little camera to cope with its limitations. The integrated flash meets basic requirements and an external flash can be added via standard hotshoe. Of course now your accesssory is actually larger than the camera itself, especially when putting the Speedlite 580EX-II on the G11 and what looks like an odd couple also feels like one as it becomes very top heavy. However, photo results may be worth the hassle, even if that renders the size advantage to a dSLR somewhat invalid. The G11 doesn't support all ETTL-II functions, which probably can't be expected in this price range.

Exposure: [****-] Light and ultimately exposure are the technical essence of any photo. Introduced with the G10, the so-called i-Contrast which treats highlights to maximize the dynamic range and with it make colors "pop". It only applies to JPEG pictures and for my use it's ineffective as I am using RAW anyway. Bracketing is supported (3 exposures w/ up to 2 stops difference). The dedicated compensation dial makes it easy to quickly overcome difficulties in the automatic metering as needed. The maximum aperture is variable from f2.8(wide) to f/4.5(tele) and especially the latter is guaranteed to drive the need for higher ISO in medium to low light situations, which is quite manageable up to ISO 800, before compromises become visible in the form of excessive noise and/or aggressive noise reduction (blur = detail loss).

Advanced Features: [*****] The G11 continues the tradition of advanced P&S cameras and packs much of the functionality of a dSLR without the heft. Automatic or full manual setup and exposure compensation for those cases when the sensor has been tricked by the lighting conditions. It's right on an easy to access dial. RAW capture is an exotic feature for P&S cameras but welcome nevertheless for the flexibility of adjusting white balance and for more detailed processing. Lens based Image Stabilization has become Canon's standard solution to reduce the effect of camera movement, and for an integrated system there is no major difference to a moving sensor except that theoretically the moving the much lighter lens element over smaller increments has potentially better performance. A clever detail is the "closed eye" warning as it can be difficult to have a group photo quickly assessed for such "blunders" and the processor looks and tries to warn in case you missed it.

Video: [***--] Despite the HD video trend these days, the G11 is able to capture VGA 30fps video clips as the maximul quality, but at least it's easy to share via the internet. Processor limitation or simply market decisions may have driven the lack of a HD mode, but the VGA and half-VGA modes produce a sharp picture within the format's capabilities. Neither quality nor ease-of-use replace an actual video camera (like Canon's own Vexia HF11), but it great for those occasions you otherwise would have missed (and that's my main reason for the G11 anyway.)

Value: [****-] This isn't straight forward, and the $499 are directly competing with entry level dSLR (like the EOS 1000), which the picture quality certainly can't compete with from ISO 800 on up. However, it's in that much smaller form factor which no dSLR can compete with. So it's not absolute value to me, but usability that makes the G11 special. The packed functionality and overall build quality, on the other hand, are reflected in the price. Not a bargain, but a good alternative.

© 2009, theuerkorn

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Canon EOS 40D dSLR
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- Canon Speedlite 580EX II external flash
- Canon Speedlite 420EX external flash
- SLIK Pro 340DX tripod
- EPSON P-3000 portable media viewer

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