Its been a number of years since I've reviewed a digital camera, largely because I was very happy with what I owned, and still use film for my serious photography. When I read about the new 10 megapixel PowerShot G7, I thought it might finally be time to put my Nikon F3 into semi-retirement, sell my PowerShot G3 and find compact,creative bliss. Almost.
Recommend this product?
The G7 is everything I expect in a modern G-camera from Canon, and improves on my now 4-year-old G3 in every important way except for one, which as the reason I didn't buy the G7, I'll save for the end of this review. Here is the good stuff.
I like old mechanical cameras, and the G7 gives me that precision machine feel despite being a modern electronic marvel. Perhaps its the retro styling with large round dials for function mode and ISO setting that would be right at home on my old Nikons. It could be the solid build out of what seams to be real metal, perhaps just the quality of the glass, which I'll get into in a bit, but as a whole, the G7 really had me ready to spend my hard-earned money. First off, the lens on this thing, like all G-series lenses, is exceptional. The G7 ranges from the 35mm equivalent of 35mm standard/wide all the way to 210mm telephoto. I like to shoot outdoor portraits and with film use a 100mm telephoto for the pleasing combination of shallow depth of field and the slight compression of spatial perception, which is quite favorable at this focal length for making faces attractive. I've shot portraits with both longer and shorter lenses, but always come back to my "magic" 100mm Nikon series E, a 20-something-year-old lens that I bought used for about $100. When I bought my PowerShot G3, I thought that I had finally found a convenient digital camera worthy of informal portrait use, but the problem was when the lens was zoomed out to its maximum (140mm equivalent), required to get shallow depth of field, its compression effect tended to make faces look too flat. It was great for portraits where I didn't want to blur the foreground and background, but since I like that particular effect, it wasn't ideal.
The G7 doesn't improve on my control over depth of field, but for non-portrait subjects, its 210mm focal length equivalent does give me the ability to produce very shallow depth of field in subjects where the compression effect isn't so critical. More important than portrait trickery, the G7 lens has very little distortion throughout its zoom range, so I actually can use the same lens for scenic shots and shots of distant subjects without one extreme or the other being noticeably distorted. The G3 shared this quality, but of course did so over a much shorter focal length range.
The only trade off for the extra reach is a half stop of speed at the wide end, which due to the increased light sensitivity of the sensor, is essentially a wash. Increased sensitivity of the sensor? The sensor is the "film" in a digital camera, and how sensitive that sensor is to light can be measured by how much noise, the digital equivalent of grain in a fast film, there is in low light photographs. With the older G3, ISO 50 produced stunning images, with ISO 100 still quite good. ISO 200 was for fine for casual snapshots or for 4X6 prints where I really needed to not use flash, while ISO 400 was a waste of a menu setting, suitable for email, but little else. The G7 goes all the way up to 1600 ISO, and is actually quite clean up through 400, looking much like the G3 does at ISO 100. So the lens is a stop slower, but the "film" is two stops faster. In the end, you gain a full stop of light to work with.
In older digital cameras, I never considered digital zoom as a useful feature, and still don't. That said, I often do crop, taking a picture too wide because I my glass just doesn't have sufficient reach, and cutting out what I want in the darkroom, or more recently, in Photoshop. I still won't use the digital zoom feature on a camera like the G7, but with an amazing 10 megapixels, crops are of MUCH higher quality. Cropping 50% off of a 10 megapixel photo still leaves enough pixels to make high quality enlargement, something not possible on the 4 megapixel G3.
Color was already outstanding on the G3, and remains much the same. Pictures I took on my friend's G7 have warm, saturated color and at 5X7, are indistinguishable from the output of my G3. What is much improved is the percentage of correctly exposed and white balanced photos that you will get when you leave everything on automatic. The G3 already had excellent manual controls for exposure, metering and white balance, allowing a knowledgeable photographer to really get the terrific results even in difficult lighting conditions. With the G7 I found that the camera often got similar results on full auto to what I would spend minutes thinking about an experimenting with to obtain on the G3 in its manual modes, and that would produce pure garbage in the G3 on automatic. Very impressive.
Also impressive is the speed of this camera. It turns on almost instantly and has shutter lag close to an SLR than the point-and-shoots of just a few years ago. I have a PowerShot S410 Elph, a 4 megapixel compact that is about 50% faster in shutter response than my G3. The G7 is about 50% faster than the S410, or near instantaneous when prefocused. Again, very impressive to a guy used to slow digicam shutter lag.
And now to the flaw, which really surprises me on a premium model from Canon. THERE IS NO RAW MODE! What were they thinking? Every G camera has had a RAW mode, and serious photographers demand it. I can forgive the move from Compact Flash to SD even with my significant investment in CF cards, but I just cannot spend this kind of money on a "serious" camera that won't shoot RAW. The JPEGs were very nice, but they are still JPEGs, a lossy format, instead of a true lossless format like RAW that allows your computer or lab to work with the entire image.
My guess is that a compact SLR is my only option, with the new Olympus system really catching my eye. I've avoided DSLRs for the simple reason that I shoot digital when I want to leave the big bag at home. SLRs, no matter how capable out of the box, tend to invite clutter. More and different lenses, flashes, filters, all sorts of toys that have put permanent dents in my shoulders from years of heavy camera bags. With cameras like the G-series, photographers can still carry a versatile, high quality camera with creative controls, while leaving the bulk at home.
Just give me a RAW mode and I'll buy one of these.
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Amount Paid (US$): Didn''t Buy
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Flexible Enough for Enthusiasts