There aren't many compacts good enough for pros or enthusiasts to consider as a worthwhile back-up for their digital SLR system, but the PowerShot G11, the successor to the PowerShot G10, is one of them. Canon's taken the brave step of dropping the pixel count from 14.7 megapixels to 10 megapixels for its flagship PowerShot model, but still thinks it's worth the £570 asking price.
The G11 isn't an upgrade to the old G10 so much as a refresh. The G11 has a different sensor and a new, flip-out LCD display, instead of the fixed display on the old model, but it's difficult to tell them apart otherwise.
The drop from 14.7 to 10 megapixels is a response to the widespread realisation that higher pixel counts in similarly sized sensors are reducing picture quality, not improving it. Escalating noise levels and the fierce image-smoothing algorithms needed to control them produce mushier pictures, not sharper ones. Also, while the G10's pictures start to look soft as early as ISO 400, Canon claims the G11's lower-resolution sensor offers much better high-ISO performance, equivalent to as much as two whole ISO steps.
The other advantage of the lower resolution, and hence larger individual receptors on the sensor, is improved dynamic range. Canon claims the new model is much better than the old one at recording extremes of light and dark.
But the old model's positive points are retained. These include the cast-iron body and chunky external dials, instead of an over-reliance on menus. The 5x wideangle zoom is especially good. It's not a particularly long focal range by today's standards, but it's sharp right through its range and right to the edges of the frame, too.
Bang for your buck
But is the G11 really worth the asking price? You're going to expect a great deal for this kind of cash, and you don't necessarily get it.
Why can the G11 only manage 1.1 frames per second at full resolution in continuous-shooting mode? It's only got 10 megapixels after all, so is this the fastest that Canon's Digic processing technology can go?
This sluggishness affects other areas of the camera's operation. The 'quick shot' mode is as good as its word, grabbing pictures with minimal delay -- unless it's still chewing over the last one you took, which will take it a second or so. And surely in manual-focus mode there should be no shutter lag at all -- yet there is. Cartier-Bresson would not be impressed.
The three-tier rotary controller on the back has too much to do, too. Its cramped, light and somewhat vague feel is at odds with the meaty, chunky dials on the top plate. Canon's gone a long way towards reproducing the tough, hands-on, mechanical feel of a traditional, professional camera with the G11, and then spoilt it with this... thing. What's wrong with the simple control wheels on old G-series cameras?
The Canon PowerShot G11 is certainly one of the best serious compacts on the market, but you've got to ask yourself just how much you ought to be spending on any camera with a 1/1.7-inch sensor, especially given the emergence of the new breed of large-sensor hybrids, like the Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1.
Edited by Charles Kloet