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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Canon G11 Review, One Month In

The Canon Powershot G11, the latest evolution of the G-cam line, represents a marked improvement over its predecessors -- which is really saying something.

It is a point-and-shoot that can take real photos, and quickly has become my near-constant companion. With its hot shoe and easily fudge-able sync speed, it is a great second body for those lighting photographers who also like to travel light.
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On the Street

As the Powershot G line has progressed, Canon has embraced knobs right alongside the menus and submenus. This makes for quick, intuitive operation for an old fart like myself.

It's a capable, multi-purpose still and video camera that doesn't make me feel like an idiot when I use it. And I would take it as my only body on a two-week vacation without a second thought.

The new, articulating viewfinder is surprisingly helpful when street shooting, too. Shooting from the hip -- literally -- is a breeze. Which is a good thing, because like the other Gs before it, the G11's optical viewfinder is pathetic and useless. I actually chose the G7 in part based on that feature and have used it, maybe, twice with the G-cams I have owned since.

The swiveling display screen also is fantastic for shooting video, and/or including yourself in the frame. It adds some thickness to the body, granted. But to my thinking, that also adds a little more stability at lower shutter speeds.


One Big Improvement

The huge knock on the previous G camera was their low performance at high ISOs. The G11 has sacrificed the pixel count in favor of fewer, higher quality pixels. I found the higher ISOs to be much better than my previous G9, and did not miss the extra image size at all.

It's hard to quantify the difference grain and quality, so I will say it in the same way many others have. IMO, it gives you a one- to two-stop improvement in grain.

That is to say, performance at ISO 400 is better than was earlier performance at ISO 200. That seems to be the general consensus on the other reviewers, and I agree with them. For example, the cathedral interior above was shot at ISO 800. (Click on this or any pic in this post to get through to larger sizes if you want to pixel peep.)

Hopefully, the megapixel race is now dead, and camera manufacturers are starting to learn that we care more about quality than quantity. 'Bout damn time.


Kinda Flashy, Too

The hot shoe and manual control, of course, is why so many readers of this site go for the recent Canon G cameras, and the G11 works pretty much the same as the earlier ones did. Which is to say, it works great.

When the flash is turned on, the camera self-limits to 1/500th for synching. But when you turn the flash off the hot shoe is still live, and will technically sync away at any speed.

A few caveats:

First, sticking a recent Canon external flash on the hot shoe will trigger some TTL/etc. communication with the camera (it will run an STE-II trigger in TTL) and that will self-limit to 1/500th.

The trick is to fool the camera by synching in a dumb way -- on-camera (non-Canon) flash, hot shoe to PC adapter, non-Canon TTL cord, or a wireless remote.

Hardwire is best, as there is always some latency involved in a wireless remote that will rob you of a little marginal ultra-high sync speed. With a PW Plus II or a RadioPopper JrX, depending on your flash power setting your max useable synch will be between 1/500th and 1/1000th. The delays introduced by the electronics cost you some sync time.

With a PC cord (adapted with a Universal Translator) I got good synch on modest-power pops right up to 1/2000th. That makes for some daylight-killing speedlights. So if you want the most power out of your speedlight at the highest sync speed, go with a corded sync for one light and slave your others. SB-800s work great for this.

That will get you the most flash energy synched at the highest shutter speeds, by far. Using a corded main flash and a slaved secondary, I was able to get nearly all of the energy of a 1/8 power pop from the slaved flash at 1/2000th of a second. That includes the minor delays by the slave in the equation.

That test tells me that I could hard light, with multiple flash, at reasonable portrait distances at 1/2000th at f/8 at ISO 80. That would be underexposing full-sun ambient by over two stops.

Second caveat is to remember the laws of physics, in that it very much helps prevent your foolishly trying to break them. If a speedlight takes 1/1000th of a second to deliver the energy in a full-power pop, there is no way you are going to squeeze that into 1/2000th of a second shutter opening, ever.

Synch has nothing to do with it at this point -- the pulse is actually longer than your exposure. Rule of thumb: Assuming your camera does the cool overclocked sync thing, as you walk up the shutter speed scale you will be able to sync less powerful pops. It works progressively, until you finally get to a point where you can't synch anything due to various limitations.


Working in manual mode with a single available continuous light wall sconce, this portrait of Beth (a student at San Miguel) was pretty quick and easy. We exposed in manual mode for the tungsten wall lamp, rendering the formerly white room black and orange-ish despite the midday window light.

Then a quick, homemade snoot made with black cinefoil kept the key light (a PW'd SB-800) restricted to Beth's face.

Because we moved Beth a couple of feet away from the wall, that left some room for the key light overspray to travel down behind her and hit the wall at about torso height. This made a neat little separation light that almost looks like a second flash working in the back.

With the Canon G11 and a single SB-800, this was a quick-and-easy lit portrait that could have been made out of a waist pack.


Anyone Else Out There?

Those are my thoughts on the G11, after a few weeks and many photos. If you are using one, I would love to hear your thoughts below, as would anyone else considering taking the plunge.
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:: Canon G11 ($450 - Amazon) ::


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44 Comments:

Blogger Kurt Shoens said...

I love the G11! A few quibbles with this review.

Maximum sync with an external Canon speedlight or ST-E2 is 1/250th. Maximum sync with the built-in flash is 1/2000th.

In my measurements with Cybersyncs, I saw similar losses of flash exposure at full power, 1/2 power, etc. I only started to see an advantage for hard-wired sync at 1/4 power, though.

E-TTL works well on the G11 with some quirks.

For odd mashups like using the G11 with big lights, the 3 stop neutral density filter built into the G11 comes in handy.

Overly-obsessed details in this Flickr Strobist group discussion thread: http://www.flickr.com/groups/strobist/discuss/72157622715290106

December 10, 2009 10:24 PM  
Blogger Daniel Milchev said...

Hello, I don't have G11 yet but I love high speed sync. I'm still using my 1D which has electronic shutter but it's only 4mp. I got inspired from the post and just created Flickr group called High Speed Sync
I can successfully sync @ 1/1600 with Cyber Syncs. Today I used the camera during the day and you can see the results in the new group. Hopefully one day will see 1Ds with custom function that allows unlimited sync speed. But I guess canon will have to change either the sensor or the shutter to accomplish that. My theory is that they don't want to do it because it won't be fool's proof. Since the light duration becomes limitation they have to guarantee that the camera will work with any given flash on the market. What do you guys think?

Thanks to Strobist for another great post.

December 11, 2009 12:14 AM  
Blogger K Brown said...

An interesting review, but I'm slightly confused. Are all the points you mention relating to a G9 or earlier? I have a G10, and am wondering if the step up from a G10 is as unnecessary as I figure.

December 11, 2009 1:55 AM  
Blogger K Brown said...

An interesting review, but I'm slightly confused. Are all the points you mention relating to a G9 or earlier? I have a G10, and am wondering if the step up from a G10 is as unnecessary as I figure.

December 11, 2009 1:56 AM  
Blogger Paolo said...

Hi David, I just read the article on the Dec. issue of National Geographic about the Hadza people in Tanzania and I thought Martin Schoeller's portraits were pretty cool. It would be nice if you could reverse engineer those portraits (with Martin's permission of course) for the people that follow this blog. It would make a prety interesting post, I guess.

Thanks

December 11, 2009 2:32 AM  
Blogger JStrongDesign.com said...

Wait! Aren't you a Nikon guy? First the switch to "big guns", now this? Someone, please help!!!

Actually, joking aside, I seem to recall that you've always had a small Canon to shoot with... do you just not like the Nikons? Please enlighten us on maybe a comparison (w/ the P6000) or something like that. Million thanks.

December 11, 2009 4:53 AM  
Blogger Jeff Geerling said...

I bought the same camera the day it came into St. Louis, and took it with me all around Rome, because I wouldn't have used my larger D90 much (lots and lots of walking!).

I had the G11 strapped to my waist with a tiny camera bag, and I barely felt the thing most of the time. I will be carrying the camera on many more trips, as it's amazing outdoors, and pretty good inside, as long as you stay below ISO 800 (and even there, 4x6 prints are great).

Here's a review of the G11 I posted on my own site (with more pictures).

December 11, 2009 9:39 AM  
Blogger David Porter said...

I am seriously considering a G11. Can anyone confirm if it might work with a Nikon SC-29 cable I have around here to use as David suggests in his article?

December 11, 2009 11:09 AM  
Blogger Thats Not Right said...

I went for the Leica D-Lux 4 for similar reasons. Great low light performance, RAW and flash shoe.

December 11, 2009 11:27 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

David,

Are there any seminars planned in the first half of 2010? I am thinking this would be a great Christmas present for my daughter.

Thanks,
Bill

December 11, 2009 12:19 PM  
Blogger David said...

@ KBrown-

From the G10, G11 adds: Better chip, articulating finder. I upgraded from G9, which was a far easier choice than you have. I tend to skip at least a generation with cams and phones, etc.

David Porter -

I do not have a branded Nikon SC29 cable. Maybe someone else can confirm.

@Bill-

Nothing in the US right now -- only Dubai in early March, and working on a series of one-day's with The FLash Centre in several UK locations in late May: GB, Scotland, etc.

December 11, 2009 1:05 PM  
Blogger Jan Fredrik Leversund said...

Here's a little thing that had me scratching my head at first: The hot shoe on my G11 had such a thick coat of paint that it prevented the camera from triggering my Skyports! After a while I realized what exactly was the problem, and after giving the hot shoe a work over with a kitchen knife, it now fires flawlessly every time.

December 11, 2009 2:06 PM  
Blogger Ty Mattheu said...

Only complaint about the G11 -- I miss the metal construction of the G9 body.

@David re: Dubai -- hope you get your money up front! :)

December 11, 2009 2:22 PM  
OpenID enticingthelight said...

Dave,

I bought the Canon S90 instead, because I wanted a cam to fit in my trouser pocket. It doesn't have a hot shoe, but who shoots strobes anymore???? ;-)

In all seriousness (and on topic), one of the (many) things that has surprised me about the S90 is its onboard flash—the little fella packs a serious punch. And thanks to flash EV comp (+/- 2EV in 1/3 steps) in Av mode, and 3 power settings in M mode, I've successfully used it as either fill or key to great effect.

I'm going to start experimenting using a 2nd strobe triggered optically by the S90. It could be fun...

December 11, 2009 2:25 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I've had a few decades obsession of carrying a camera with me everywhere. There was a point when I even carried my Pentax 6x7cm film camera everywhere.

Over the past 1.5 years I've carried my Nikon D700 everywhere, with 50mm f/1.4 (bicycle commuting, carry around) and with the 24-70mm f/2.8 (backpacking, assignments, etc).

I also have a couple decades obsession with point and shoot cameras. For everyday carry around, mountaineering, backpacking, etc.

Back in the film days, all was cool as long as the camera had a good lens, the Olympus Stylus Epic with 35mm f/2.8 lens for example. I've sold many images for publication and wall art made from my point and shoot cameras.

Then comes the G11, which I purchased on Halloween. I'm amazed at the quality of this little camera. I've played around with using my ancient SB-26 and newer SB-800's in photoslave strobist style. The SB-26 in A mode on hotshoe for fill in strong sunlight.

I still plan to strobist style the G11 with my small lights and also try it out with my big lights, Norman 2000 power packs.

My G11 is a constant companion, helping a lot in the last days of my first Project 365. I'm hoping I can use the G11 in the backcountry for stock images.

I even use the handy clock feature as my "pocket watch" (hold func/set - press power).

Here's a link to my G11 set on Flickr if anybody is interested. You can also look at the Olympus image in the point and shoot collection. Just one image there currently, from the summit of Mt. Shasta that has sold many times.

G11 Set on Flickr

December 11, 2009 2:47 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Hey David...

Came across this behind the scenes/tutorial video today using speedlights that I thought the other strobists in the world might enjoy. Some pretty cool tutorials on his site too...

http://web.me.com/joelgrimes/Joel_Grimes_Photography/Blog/Entries/2009/12/10_Canon_Speedlites_on_location.html

December 11, 2009 7:10 PM  
Blogger K Brown said...

Thanks David.

December 11, 2009 9:04 PM  
Blogger Myron said...

Yep, G11 my new favorite go everywhere camera. It fits in my pocket although I prefer the shoulder strap.

Don't mind and haven't noticed the purported shutter delay.

However, I do acknowledge the common gripe that if I hold the camera vertically with my right hand down, I often accidentally press one of the many buttons. Solution hold it vertically with the left side down, then no problem, and the swivel screen fits nicely in my left palm. Love the flexibility of many camera angles by twisting the swivel screen instead of my old body and back.

The small sensor gives greater depth of field, larger sensors [full frame and APC] give a more narrower depth of field at the same f stop making the G11 great for macro shots but looses some of the isolation by blurring the background in Portrait work.

Of course the built in flash in these small guys won't light like a hot-shoe strobe or off camera flash.

David, I guess if it is ok with a off camera cord then I guessing that one could put an SB right on the hot shoe or will it fry something or some other dysfunction crop up?

December 11, 2009 9:10 PM  
Blogger Myron said...

Just another short compliment on the G11-everybody agrees-The best camera is the one you got with you.

December 11, 2009 9:14 PM  
Blogger Al Marsh said...

Thanks for that excellent G11 review. I am in the process of upgrading to a G11 from a G9 as soon as I find the courage to spend the money.

December 12, 2009 12:02 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

I sold my G10 to purchase a G11. Luckily I was able to sell the G10 for what I paid for it, so I used it for 9 months for free! I miss the more solid feel of the G10. They replaced some metal with plastic or composite on the G11, wish they hadn't. I love the twist screen easy on my neck and back. Definitely my companion camera. Yes the noise level is lower. Ideally I'd have both because I do somewhat miss the extra 4.7mp. Because of overall image quality I feel I made the right choice. Glad to see you and others here back me up on that.

December 12, 2009 2:57 AM  
Blogger Stephen23 said...

certainly wetted my appetite, but would you get a 20"x15" (Noise Ninja) print @ 800 ASA?

December 12, 2009 5:27 AM  
Blogger John Hildebrand Photography said...

Thanks for all this. Right now i am still shooting with the G9 because i was waiting to here more reviews on the camera. I shoot pretty much with my g9 everyday looking forward in now getting the g11

December 12, 2009 12:12 PM  
Blogger jayanth said...

sorry mr. david for asking you this question in this post. i dint know how else i could ask you this.

have you come across any 1 who ve painted their camera bodies in different colors?

i hope you could pls mail me to jayanth_92@yahoo.com

i realy uld like to change the color of my camera.

December 12, 2009 12:44 PM  
Blogger David D. said...

I compared the S90 with the G11 and opted for the S90. I found the optical view finder and the the swivel LCD less useful to me than the S90's size and front control ring when the ring is set to the discrete focal lengths. Also I have no problem synching my off camera strobes with optical triggers by turning the on camera flash to 1/3 power. I am now fabricating a IR cover for the popup flash to allow me to use higher power without effecting exposure. Later this month I will have a Flickr post showing my whole S90 and strobe travel kit.

December 12, 2009 3:19 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

My SX-10IS is a great. It is 10MP, 20X; 28 to 560mm(35mm equiv), small enough to go everywhere with me, large enough for me to hold it steady(it has a great grip where the AA batteries are) and it has a hot shoe. I am finally able to take great flash pictures! Thanks, Dave for all you do.

December 12, 2009 4:14 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I would like to add...

Nikon are you listening? I had to purchase a Canon G11 because Nikon doesn't have a comparable P&S.

http://DougChurchill.com/365

December 12, 2009 4:59 PM  
Blogger Dr. Benny said...

I'm riding through Central and South America on my motorcycle and taking picture with my Canon G11. It's working out great! Beautiful pictures and it's not a big bulky SLR.

December 12, 2009 5:01 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

re: the S90. Have you had any problems with barrel distortion? Some early shots seemed to have a fair amount of distortion.

I currently have a G10. Been happy with that. Some of the same flash stuff applies

December 12, 2009 9:14 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Welcome to the world of Super Compacts. Ricoh has some great super compacts as well.

December 13, 2009 8:23 AM  
Blogger RichardKaufmann said...

I gave up on the G line from Canon, after enjoying the G7 and G9. I've now switched over the Olympus E-P2 (just got mine Friday), and am just now getting to know it.

Why did I switch? Because I'm looking for a better compromise between portability and image quality. I was just never that happy with pictures from the G series, perhaps because I'm spoiled by my 1ds iii. And I was getting very, very tired of the shutter lag.

And what do I think about the E-P2 so far? It's a great camera, with some monumental rough edges. Why does one have to choose between a strobe and the EXCELLENT electric viewfinder? And where are all the 4/3rds lenses? And... the user interface is just weird (at least to a long-time Canon guy), but I think I've tamed it.

And something I really, really like. There's going to be a real fight amongst camera mfgrs to top each other with compatible cameras. I can now switch to the best body without having to swap out lenses! (Mind you, I'm going to wind up with two complete sets, one for Canon Full-Frame, and one for Micro-4/3rds, but hey..)

Bottom line: The combination of lens, sensor, fanatical devotion to RAW-only, and judicious Lightroom tweaking has made me a happy fellow. I can now take decent pictures in situations where my big gun would just be too much to haul. I strongly suggest folks looking for a knockaround camera skip over the G series and go for a Micro-4/3rd camera instead.

December 13, 2009 9:01 AM  
Blogger Paul Tobeck said...

David, glad to hear that you like the idea of smaller, cleaner sensors. I have been expressing this thought for a awhile now. I posted in several forums that I was disappointed with Canons sensor decision on the 7D and applauded them on the G11, and was basically called an idiot by the megapixel hounds.
Nice to know I'm not alone in my thinking!

December 13, 2009 9:49 AM  
Blogger captaindash said...

It comes in a delicious array of colors. Wait, no colors at all. Black, black and black. Or black, for when you're feeling frisky. Unless you are doing macro work at about 6", another (re: ANY) color would not interfere with any exposures. Remember when imacs came out and they were colorful and everyone loved them? Lets have some color, please. I bought a crappier panasonic point and shoot instead of a g11 cuz it was blue (well, and smaller). I'm just sick of black cords, black transmitters, black backpacks, black flashes, black everything. My starting point for bright, colorful photos is a black cam with black lens. Yippee! Baby steps; grey? Grey. Lets start with grey. Just sayin...

December 13, 2009 5:42 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

I can honestly say that I have loved, loved, loved my Canon G9. I purchased the waterproof housing for it and it was amazing for in/underwater photos AND video. That is, until... three days ago, sitting in my studio, I turned the camera on, the lens extended... then locked up and I got a lens failure message. Now I own a brick that Canon will charge $160 to fix. Apparently, there is a class action lawsuit out there regarding this problem. I have loved my G9, but this is really frustrating.

December 13, 2009 7:22 PM  
Blogger R said...

Many of the Gs are great on Paper but I just could not get passed the shutter delay. My wife has a Canon SD880 and I have a Sony DSC-W7 as my Point and shoot. Both are MUCH faster than the G11.
I'm going to look at the S90 next.
If Canon made this camera more responsive, I'd have one.

December 14, 2009 9:59 AM  
Blogger Edward Tsui said...

Very interesting article, particularly about the potentials of high speed strobe usage. I am not familiar with Canon, but can one use the Nikon speedlights on the hotshoe of the G11?

December 17, 2009 8:43 PM  
Blogger neil said...

The camera is indeed everything it has promised to be, with very few shortcomings. Beautiful pictures from a compact camera. I look forward to a long and productive relationship with this camera.

dsi r4

December 18, 2009 11:32 PM  
Blogger jaxxon said...

Awesome news about the flip-out-and-twist LCD! I dropped the G line after many wonderful and happy years from G1-G7. Thank GOD they figured out to put that back in! I might go back to my favorite point-and-shoot after a year of lugging around a heavy D90 and lenses! Thanks for the review.

December 18, 2009 11:35 PM  
Blogger matt said...

er, can it sync an external flash faster than 1/250th or not? I thought you'd just get half a photo of a shutter curtain...

December 22, 2009 5:31 AM  
Blogger TK said...

I would like to provide more information on the high speed flash setting Davie mentioned in this post. I connect a Canon compatible flash on G11. In the M mode of the camera, I can dial the speed up 2000, the camera, however, will overwrite the speed setting down to 250. When I plug a Sunpak 433 flash which doesn't have ETTL on my G11, a speed higher than 250 can be set. So, only non-Canon compatible flash can be set a speed higher than 250, in David's case, a SB 800. To get a right exposure for a high sync speed flash is another matter.

December 22, 2009 4:18 PM  
Blogger neil said...

I bought the G11 for my wife, who wanted an easy-to-use camera with an optical viewfinder and a swing-out LCD that was viewable in bright light.

nintendo dsi r4

December 29, 2009 11:07 PM  
Blogger grubernd said...

big problem.. brand new G11 (ser.no. 053541xxxx) and it has a mechanical flash-detection in the hot-shoe on the left side. so even with the flash set to off as soon as you slide /anything/ into the hotshoe the camera tries to communicate. if it cant it WON'T sync anything!! no nikon sb800, pocketwizard, SCA300 cord, nothing. canon is putting all 3rd-party equipmint out of business. i am highly inclined to carry the camera back because real high-speed sync is one of the reasons i bought it.

June 18, 2010 2:43 PM  
Blogger grubernd said...

doh. i have to correct myself and send out a big apology. turns out my G11 was on continuous shooting and the flashes and powis work fine once the camera is set to Single Shot. now that is a thing one would not expect nor actively look for. and i never stumbled upon this warning before, least i didnt remember it. so.. back to start, everything is fine, i go back to my cave.. :)

June 22, 2010 7:00 AM  
Blogger CH said...

Thank you VERY MUCH grubernd!!! I too thought my G11 Hot Shoe was defective, and was getting ready to send it back to Canon for repair when I read your comment about it being in "Continuous" Shooting mode. I changed it to "Single" and everything works like a charm. I'd never have guessed.. it really isn't intuitive to say the least. Appreciate you sharing your finding.

September 15, 2011 12:59 AM  

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