If you're looking to upgrade from a basic compact camera, Canon's PowerShot G12 might seem like a brick of a snapper, with a steep learning curve to boot. But, if you're seeking a back-up camera for your digital SLR, the G12 will prove a portable, user-friendly alternative.
The G12 competes with the Nikon Coolpix P7000, Samsung EX1 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, among other high-performance compact cameras. It boasts the tank-like build quality of a dSLR, yet, with its 5x optical zoom lens retracted, it will still squeeze into a jacket pocket -- just. You can expect to pay around £370 for the G12.
The G12 is reassuringly weighty, at 401g. It also has a chunky chassis, measuring 112 by 76 by 48mm. It feels durable and rugged. Curiously, though, its handgrip is rather flattened, which doesn't help with handling.
The camera powers up almost instantaneously. Squeeze the shutter-release button half way and, after the briefest of pauses, focus is determined.
The G12's 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor 'only' has a resolution of 10 megapixels. That might seem disappointing given that some £100 snapshot cameras now offer 14-megapixel sensors. But the fewer pixels that are crammed onto the sensor, the less chance there is of visible noise appearing in shadow detail. Indeed, the G12's images are usable all the way up to ISO 1,600.
The G12 offers a versatile focal range, starting out at a wide-angle film equivalent of 28mm (for squeezing in landscapes) and going up to 140mm at the telephoto end. Perhaps inevitably, there's some barrel distortion as a result, and leaning verticals are visible in pictures taken at the widest setting.
The snapper builds on the PowerShot G11's features, and it's chock-full of them. One new addition is 'hybrid image stabilisation', which, according to Canon, combats 'unintentional shift and angular movement'. That feature complements the camera's standard optical image stabilisation, for shooting darker scenes without flash.
The camera also offers 4.2-frames-per-second burst shooting, 720p high-definition video recording, and a high-dynamic-range mode that combines three different exposures into one, helping to reveal detail in both dimly lit and brightly lit areas. The camera also offers multi-aspect-ratio shooting, including the 3:2, 1:1, 16:9 and 4:5 formats. It sports 'smart auto' functionality too. This picks from 28 built-in scene settings, allowing you to just point and shoot.
Other features include comprehensive scene and effects modes; a 10mm macro option; the ability to shoot both raw and JPEG images; a tilt and swivel, 2.8-inch, 461,000-pixel display; and a tiny optical viewfinder.
We enjoyed twisting and tilting the LCD display when shooting low- or high-angle images. The image on the screen may not be as life-like as those seen on recent AMOLED displays from Samsung, but the display's versatility is a real boon.
The G12 offers 720p movie-recording capability at 24 frames per second with stereo sound. It's a shame, then, that the microphones built into the top plate are located in a position which means they pick up the movement of your fingers. Even less easy to forgive is the fact that the optical zoom is disabled in video mode. On the plus side, Canon has provided HDMI connectivity under a side-mounted flap, so you can connect the camera to your hi-def TV.
Shots in the dark
We like the fact that the shooting dial is encircled by another dial for selecting ISO speeds in 1/3 stop increments, stretching from ISO 100 to ISO 3,200. It's good to have access to such functionality at your fingertips, rather than having to dip into menu screens. It saves time in the long run.
For those who like taking shots in the dark, a low-light mode on the inner dial extends the range up to an equivalent ISO 12,800, as found on mid-range dSLRs. In our experience, however, the results were distinctly shaky.
The other dial on the G12's top plate, located across from the hotshoe for attaching one of Canon's EX-series Speedlite flashes, controls exposure compensation, again incrementally, and running +/- 2EV. All these dials make the G12 a very tactile camera. We think you'll really enjoy getting to grips with it.
The G12 shoots to SD or SDHC cards. Canon has also added Eye-Fi card compatibility for those looking to download shots automatically and wirelessly.
Under the default settings, images can look slightly washed-out and muddy when conditions are dull. In such circumstances, we found ourselves reaching for the 'my colours' menu, which offers a primary-colour-boosting 'vivid' option. This will deliver more accurate colours.
Overall, the G12's image quality is no match for that of an actual dSLR. It also falls short of the kind of picture quality you can get from hybrid cameras, like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2.
Feature-packed and relatively compact, the Canon PowerShot G12 is a decent option if you're seeking a back-up camera for your dSLR. Its image quality isn't as good as a dSLR's, though. If you just want to step up from a basic compact camera, it might prove more sensible to spend a little extra and get an entry-level dSLR or a hybrid camera with interchangeable lenses.
Edited by Charles Kloet