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Choosing the Canon PowerShot G12 vs S95 and Everything Else

May 28, 2011

I was so tempted by the pocket friendly Canon PowerShot S95, which is well known to be the most powerful camera that can actually fit in a jeans pocket. There are so many comparison reviews: G12 vs S95, S95 vs Panasonic LX5 vs Olympus PEN E-PL2, etc. etc., many of them looking very favourable for the S95. (Edit: The PowerShot S100 replacement for S95 is now released, and it looks very nice. BUT it isn’t as fast as G12 and I’m not convinced the image quality would be any better…)

But I resisted the temptation of smallness and stuck with my decision to purchase the PowerShot G12 and I am SO glad I did! The G12 should be renamed the ‘Amazing Universal G12’, since it can do almost everything.

However I will start with what I don’t think it will be able to do:

1. The zoom is only mid range, i.e. 5X or 140mm equivalent on a 35mm full frame camera. The large ‘mega zoom’ cameras will have quite a lot more reach, or a huge SLR with long 400mm lens will be much better for bird watching. But for the camera’s size and class the G12 zoom is better than most. Indeed it is better than the S95.

2. Aperture is only f/2.8 and it is a point and shoot with 1/1.7″ CCD sensor, so no nice bokeh (blurred backgrounds) like I can get with my SLR. The S95 is better, with f/2.0 at wide angle, and that made it very attractive. However the G12 improves as you zoom in and quickly becomes brighter than the S95 when you’re doing a portrait or zooming right in.

3. No super wide angle shots, because it only goes out to 28mm (equivalent). Some competing cameras in the same class go wider, to 24mm, so they were tempting. SLR’s can attach a wide angle lens and blow away any point and shoot camera, so I’m going to leave wide angle shots for SLR’s only.

The G12 does more than a reasonable job at everything else.

For example, in low light: At a party or a concert, I can zoom right in to 140mm and still have a reasonably bright aperture of f/4.5. Plus, after the G10, Canon dropped the image sensor pixels from 14.7 MP to 10 MP, and this made a huge improvement to the low light performance of the G12. The optical image stabilizer is extremely effective and fast, so these difficult zoom shots in low light actually work. I have at least as many usable shots as I do with my SLR, unless I happen to have the perfect choice of prime lens attached to my SLR at the moment the action happens.

Another low light feature of the camera is Low Light mode, easily selected on the top dial of the camera, to make the camera drop to 2.5 MP. This could be called: “party mode, without flash”. This makes the camera 4 times more light sensitive, i.e. it becomes ISO 12800 and the shots are surprisingly good. I think we’ve all forgotten just how good 2.5 MPixels can actually be, since we are conditioned by the disappointing results of modern phones below 5 MPixels.

Landscape shots are yet to be explored. I have not been outside with this camera yet. I purchased the filter tube from a cheap aftermarket supplier on eBay, and I am waiting for my 58mm Kenko Pro1 CPL (circular polarizer) filter to arrive. The filter will help improve the color and contrast of landscape shots.

The camera feels great to hold and looks so much nicer than I expected. I expected it to be ugly for some reason, after reading all the reviews and comparisons with other cameras. But it looks beautiful to me.

The Canon 270EX flash arrived and it did a great job lighting quite a large room at a function I attended on Thursday night. The exposure on auto was very good, so the close faces were not too shiny, or blown out at all. The tiny flash is well balanced and looks fantastic on the G12. The bounce mode works well too. The flash has no wireless modes or anything fancy, but it is small and only uses two AA batteries. I use Lithium batteries, so the camera still feels very light, even with the flash attached.

The dials on the top of the camera are a bit difficult to see which position is selected while the flash is attached, but the dials can be turned easily. I’ll just need to memorize the relative positions so I can more quickly spin the dial to get what I want.

The movie mode is very impressive with very crisp and clear sound, but I did notice the occasional click. I’m not sure if that was my camera handling. At the poorly lit indoor function on Thursday night I took some video but I was extremely disappointed to discover I had the resolution set to only 320 pixels. I guess I somehow changed it without realizing, but I don’t remember any slip like that… the previous recording was at 720p (1280×720) so who knows how the setting changed! Anyway the tiny screen recordings still looked fantastic, much better than my phone’s HD recordings would look if they were resampled down.

So far the controls of this camera have been very intuitive and easy to control. The thumb dial on the back of the camera is one of the features I love on Canon cameras (the last Canon I used is an S80), although the one on this camera is a bit small and your thumb can hit the edge of the LCD display until you get used to it.

Unlike all other point and shoots I’ve used, the dials don’t get accidentally changed while I’m not using the camera, and the power switch is very protected against accidental actuations. I love the fact that this thing is like a tiny SLR, with all of the controls I expect at my fingertips.

I love the RAW + JPG mode, so I have my RAW files as well as the convenience of JPEG files. In auto mode, the RAW is disabled though (I think), but that is not such a big deal for me, and may help performance for emergency point and shoot situations. The RAW + JPG mode increases the amount of time the camera needs to write to the SD card, so with a cheap 16GB Class 6 SD Card the Continuous mode will slow down to about 1 frame per second*, insead of 2. The performance has been non-irritating to me. I was expecting frustration, after using a fast SLR with fast SD card, but so far I’m very happy.

*For the complex subject matter (the computer screen), this was writing about 22 MB to the card for each shot, and achieved 44 shots per minute. For a simpler subject matter (computer keyboard) this sped up to 57 shots per minute because it was only writing 13 MB to the card. The keyboard shots are 1.8MB for the JPG file and 11MB for the CR2 RAW file. Card: 16GB Kingmax, Class 6 (slow and cheap). I prefer Class 10 or above.

A G11 review said the camera takes 1.5 Seconds to display the image on the LCD screen after taking a shot, but on my G12 this seems to be a lot less than a second, even with JPG + RAW enabled. The reported delay almost put me off this camera, so I’m sure glad I took the plunge and found it had improved so much in the G12. There is a small delay, but it is not annoying and is not nearly as bad as the delay seen on cheaper cameras.

The power on speed is very fast and makes the camera feel eager to get going taking shots. The shutter lag is small, so most of the wait is for the autofocus to complete. The autofocus seems just as fast as my SLR, so I’m not complaining.

Macro mode on this camera is outstanding! If you like taking shots of bugs or mushrooms or wild flowers you will love the macro. In low light the autofocus can hunt around a little so I feel like it may misfocus. In this situation, I use manual focus, and this shows the middle of the screen blown up so it is very easy to achieve sharp focus. I can’t wait to get out into the Australian bush to take some macro shots with the G12!

I purchased a Remote Shutter Release for Canon G12 ($5 made in China) and a 1.8m E-TTL Off Camera Flash Sync Cord OC-E3 for USD $19.95, both after market, from eBay (Hong Kong sellers). Neither of these have arrived yet. I hope the off-camera flash cord will allow me to light macro shots in interesting ways.

Battery consumption is very good. When the battery is low, the warning is very good. Some cameras don’t effectively report low battery and you are caught short. This camera flashes an icon on the LCD display and flashes the power LED on the power button at the top of the camera. In my simple test it still allowed almost 100 more shots.

I did 3 bursts and let it rest for a minute between bursts. The bursts were Continuous AF, with JPG + RAW, so it was the most challenging situation for the battery. For each shot, it had to autofocus and then write about 22 MB to the SD card. I was shooting the computer monitor and it created large files for some reason. After 80 shots it finally ran out of steam and shut itself down. After a few minutes it let me take a few more shots, but the LCD screen swicthed off while I was taking them. I switched to preview mode and it let me look at the shots on the LCD screen. Five minutes later it let me take another 17 shots.

So you have plenty of battery warning and can just take more care with every shot to complete the shoot, or you can wait for a convenient break before changing the battery. The first battery lasted a week. I took 3.87 GB of data, in 590 files, which included a dozen small movies accounting for 392 MB. 412 files were JPG, with a total of 1.19 GB. I suspect if I left the camera in default JPG mode and didn’t take any movies, I could have taken at least 600 shots which is amazing. I hardly used the internal flash though, so that would reduce the shot count. The LCD screen is slightly smaller than average because it can swivel out, and this has the added bonus of not using quite as much battery power.

So in conclusion, this camera has blown me away! The lens is super sharp and is much faster in low light than I expected. Even with the advanced setting of JPG + RAW the operational speed is very pleasant and batteries last a long time. The feel in your hands is great, and the look of it with the small 270EX flash gun sitting on the hot shoe is very impressive -:)

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