Peter Burian tests this premium-grade camera with 10MP resolution to determine how it compares to the very popular G10
One of the top rated digicams on the market, the 14.7 megapixel PowerShot G10 was recently replaced by the G11, with lower resolution said to provide superior image quality. The G10 was definitely an ideal second camera for serious photographers. In fact, this is the one that many of the pros carried when we went out for dinners while working at a week-long photo seminar in Dubai. (Also see Jack Neubart’s Canon PowerShot G10 Review here at Photocrati.com)
After testing the G10, I fell in love with that camera and bought one for my own use. While it received rave reviews about its conventional controls and low ISO quality, most test reports complained about its high ISO performance.
In my own review for a Canadian magazine, I made the following comment about the G10: By ISO 800, images made in low light are still very sharp but very grainy although that’s not a problem in 5×7″ prints. At higher ISO, JPEG quality really suffers due to speckling and some smearing of fine detail by Noise Reduction processing. At ISO 800+, slightly better results are possible with Raw capture since Noise Reduction and Sharpening can be set to the optimal level in the converter software.
Most technical experts indicated that the problem was caused by the excessively small pixels (photosites). Apparently the engineers at Canon agreed since the company responded by replacing the G10 with the G11, with substantially lower 10 megapixel resolution provided by a new High Sensitivity sensor. That step made sense of course, since it allowed for larger photosites – with greater light gathering ability – for superior results at high ISO.
In addition to that change, the DIGIC 4 processor was improved and features a Dual Anti-Noise System that’s optimized for the new sensor. Canon claims that the new technical aspects provide an improvement in the signal-to-noise ratio and a 1.7x boost to the saturation signal. That’s said to provide two stops of improvement in high ISO quality over the PowerShot G10. That allowed Canon to add a new ISO 3200 option and a small bonus: a High Sensitivity 2.5 megapixel mode with automatic ISO selection up to 12,800. As a bonus, dynamic range was also increased in order to provide greater highlight and shadow detail.
PowerShot G11 Features
Aside from those modifications, the G11 is virtually identical to the G10 in terms of construction (magnesium alloy shell), lens (28-140mm f/2.8-4.8 equivalent) and controls, including some old-style mechanical, metal dials. The tiny optical viewfinder (with 79% scene coverage) was also retained. The viewfinder is not very bright, and there’s a lot of framing inaccuracy in close-up shots, but it can be useful when bright sun obscures the LCD preview display.
Naturally, the G11 does offer some new amenities, such as an articulating tilt/swivel LCD screen although it’s smaller at 2.7″ versus. 3″. Canon also added a few extra features: Smart AUTO mode, Quick Shot mode (sets AF to continuous and provides quick control screen), White Balance Fine Tuning, HDMI output, a faster flash sync speed (to 1/2000 sec.) plus blink detection in Face Detect AF. Do note however that a few G10 features were omitted: the Auto ISO shift, remote capture support, voice recording and the Super Fine JPG option. I missed only the latter since it would allow the G11 to provide even finer JPEGs with lower compression.
Like its predecessor, the PowerShot G11 offers numerous automatic and manual functions. Interesting features include i-Contrast for automatically lightening dark areas; it’s also available as a post-processing item in Playback mode. The G11 also employs iSAPS: intelligent scene recognition that optimizes focus speed, exposure and white balance in snap shooting. Ten picture styles are available for producing entirely different effects. In the Custom Color mode, you can set a desired level for sharpness, contrast, saturation and skin tones. The LCD display changes to reflect the effect provided by any picture style – and some other camera overrides – a very useful preview feature.
The PowerShot G11 is very versatile particularly when used with one of the compatible flash units or a tele adapter. Surprisingly, Canon does not offer a wide angle conversion lens. Maximum resolution in movie mode is only standard VGA definition, but the videos (at 30fps) are quite nice and smooth. Note too, that the Digital Photo Pro software (for Windows or Mac) is a very useful RAW file converter with all of the essential features for optimizing a photo. At the time of this writing, DPP produced better quality than the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw that was available for CS4.
This is definitely not the fastest camera in its league. Start up takes just under a second and the G10 acquires focus in about a half second at wide angle focal lengths indoors. At telephoto settings that can take up to a full second but it’s faster in bright light. I did miss some candid photo opps at first but solved that by pre-focusing and tripping the shutter at the right instant. There was no apparent shutter lag when focus was pre-set. LCD blackout between frames was also a tad long, making it a bit of a challenge to keep a moving subject well-framed when panning the camera.
When shooting JPEGs in Continuous Drive mode I was able to blast off a long series at 1.1 fps, using a fast (Class 6) SDHC card. Even after a dozen shots, the camera was ready to take another burst within 1.5 seconds. The framing rate slows a bit in RAW or RAW+JPEG capture mode but the camera can still take an “unlimited” number of photos. After taking a shot, the image is displayed on the LCD screen in 1 second in JPEG capture or in 1.5 seconds for a RAW or RAW+JPEG photo.
Low ISO Evaluation
Since a camera with built-in lens is not often used for action photography, sheer speed is rarely the most important criterion. The good news is that at ISO 80 to 200, the PowerShot G11 provided beautiful JPEGs with high definition of intricate detail. Granted, this 10 megapixel camera cannot match the amazing resolution provided by the 14.7 megapixel G10. Even so, technically excellent images look great as 13×17″ prints and should satisfy most viewers.
At any ISO from 80 to 200, the G11 can produce stunning image quality, with high resolution of intricate detail as indicated by the small section of the JPEG. I made a 13×17″ inkjet print from this ISO 100 capture and most viewers assume it was made with a DSLR. The photo below is a small portion of the full JPEG. (f/8; 1/40 sec.; 28m equivalent.) ©2009 Peter K. Burian
The standard picture style (color mode) provided smooth JPEGs with high sharpness, employing edge enhancement to increase the crisp effect. Color saturation was moderately high and pleasing overall, but reds were unusually rich. In fact, skin tones were often too ruddy; I was able to prevent that by switching to the Custom Color mode and setting Red saturation to -2. Contrast was high, a definite benefit on cloudy days in early winter. The automatic level for i-Contrast (dynamic range expansion) lightened shadow areas slightly.
While the G11 can provide excellent shadow detail, I wish that i-Contrast would tone down excessively bright areas. The camera tended to over expose mid-tones and this aggravated the problem of “blown out” highlights, exhibiting little texture or detail. Canon claims that dynamic range is four times greater than with the G10 but frankly, the newer camera did not seem any better in terms of highlight detail. In fact, i-Contrast made the problem slightly worse. In contrasty light, it’s important to avoid overexposure; reducing the Contrast level by -2 (in the Custom Color mode) is also very helpful.
After application of Smart Sharpen in Photoshop CS 4, my best ISO 80 to 200 shots made for very nice 13×17 prints. There’s a bit of digital noise and slight smudging of fine detail but that’s not visible in prints viewed from a normal distance (three or four feet). At ISO 400, the JPEGs still look fine and made very good 11×15″ prints. By comparison, images made with the older G10 at ISO 400 exhibited more visible graininess but higher resolution made the JPEGs suitable for even larger prints.
High ISO Evaluation
Canon’s primary reason for reducing resolution was to improve high ISO performance. That strategy was successful and the G11 definitely provides obvious benefits by ISO 800. At this ISO, the JPEGs are surprisingly smooth, although there’s more smudging of fine detail due to noise reduction processing. Even so, I was able to make excellent letter size prints from my technically-best images after some careful sharpening. By comparison, the G10 produced ISO 800 images that were very grainy; while there was less smudging, all of my friends preferred the smoother prints made from G11 photos.
No camera with a small 7.6 x 5.7 mm sensor produces perfect images at ISO 1600, but the G11 is much better at this level than the G10. Color saturation is very low, but that can be boosted in-camera or with software. While chroma noise and noise reduction artifacts are visible in images viewed on a monitor, letter-size prints made from well-exposed JPEGs – after sharpening – are really quite decent.
The same size prints made from G10 photos are very grainy, although fine lettering – smudged in G11 photos – can be deciphered thanks to the higher resolution. Even so, my friends rated the (ISO 1600) 5×7″ prints from the new G11 as “very nice”.
The G11 offers an ISO 3200 option but that should rarely be needed. Even inside dark cathedrals, I was able to get sharp photos using ISO 1600. While the shutter speeds were quite long, the camera’s image stabilizer is very effective, particularly in the Continuous IS Mode. This feature provided up to a four-stop-benefit in terms of compensating for camera shake. When I braced the G11 against something solid, I was able to get sharp photos at 1/4 second in the 50mm to 60mm equivalent focal length range.
Since ISO 3200 is an important new G11 feature, I did try this level but found serious problems caused by artifacts and chroma noise. The JPEGs are soft and “mushy” due to excessive noise reduction that causes obvious blurring of details; there’s also a significant loss of color saturation and some blotchiness. Dynamic range is also very narrow. Most viewers of my prints considered 4×6″ to be about the largest print size that is still acceptable.
As you might expect, it’s preferable to use RAW capture at high ISO. Unlike the camera, the Digital Photo Pro software offers full control over Noise Reduction. Separate tools are available for chroma and luminance noise making it easy to achieve the optimal effect. For the best results in DPP, set Sharpening to a lower level than the default. Later, after modifying the image as desired in Photoshop or other software, apply a sharpening utility with some expertise for the best possible prints.
The Bottom Line
The PowerShot G11 certainly offers benefits at high ISO over the G10 at ISO 800 and at ISO 1600, and can provide acceptable quality at ISO 3200. While higher sensitivity levels are possible too in a special mode, resolution reduces to 2.5 megapixels and the JPEGs are suitable only for web use.
The G11 would be ideal if Canon had included user-selectable levels control for noise reduction in JPEG capture. While JPEGs look fine especially at ISO 800, the best results at higher ISO call for RAW capture and tweaking with the Digital Photo Pro converter software; since this is a high-end digicam targeting serious shooters, that’s not a major drawback. Experienced photographers often tend to select RAW capture mode — with any camera — for the best quality and the latitude in making non-destructive image adjustments.
But how does the PowerShot G11 compare to the Micro Four Thirds cameras? Models like the Olympus E-P1 or P-2, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 are the strongest competitors. Frankly, they do have an edge in high ISO quality due to their much larger 18 x 13.5mm sensors and oversized photosites. Particularly the Olympus models provide visibly better results at high sensitivities. When testing the E-P1, I found that ISO 800 produced gorgeous 11×15″ prints. Digital noise speckles were more obvious at ISO 1600, but well-exposed images were suitable for very nice 8×10 glossies.
Anyone who will often shoot at high ISO levels would be well served by either of the Olympus Micro Four-Thirds cameras. (The DMC-GF1 is not as impressive at high ISO but produces superb quality at lower sensitivities.) However, the E-P cameras are much larger than the PowerShot G11 particularly when equipped with the 28-84mm equivalent zoom lens. Aside from a size/weight benefit, the G11 is also equipped with an optical viewfinder, unlike the E-P1, E-P2 or the DMC-GF1. The last two of those cameras do accept an electronic viewfinder accessory, but that makes them even less pocketable.
The Canon PowerShot G11 is a very desirable camera in terms of its great versatility, rugged construction, fine image quality and portability. And the built-in 28-140mm lens is impressive in all aspects: high edge-to-edge sharpness, little distortion and minimal chromatic aberration. While it’s not super fast, the G10 provides excellent burst depth even in RAW capture mode. In my estimation, this 10MP PowerShot model will be as successful as its predecessor in attracting long-time photographers due to its classic styling and controls, high resolution articulated LCD and a feature set that targets the experienced shooter.
For full specifications, visit: the PowerShot G11 page on Canon’s website
For pricing information (about $440) and user reviews: check out B&H and Amazon and Adorama
This Post Has 23 Comments
John Bessario28 Dec 2009
Peter quoted from Canadian mag review he wrote for the G10 for, but the quote actually came from the (US-owned) Shutterbug mag review he did for the G10. In that Shutterbug article he compared 3 cameras and he said he preferred the Panasonic LX3 overall to the G10, yet he says here he bought the G10. I wonder why if he prefered the Panny….
Akram Reda28 Dec 2009
Peter, this is a great articale the one thing that I don’t find people talking about is the capacity of the G 11 to be used with the Canon E-TTL flash system. To my understanding, you can fully use it like an EOS cameras with multiple flash units.
thanks for confirming this feature vs. the Olympus and Lumix.
Bill Hansen29 Dec 2009
Very nice, comprehensive review which confirms what several others have written, and adds a few very helpful observations. I especially appreciated your observations on color balance and saturation of the G11. I was surprised to see, in the G11 review, that you felt the *G10* could produce good 11X15 prints from JPEG files at ISO 400. I do think that in a couple of places you wrote “G10” when you intended to write “G11”.
PeterKBurian29 Dec 2009
Akram: Thanks for your note. The G10 and G11 have a hot shoe, so I guess most reviewers assume that everyone knows that they can be used with the Canon EX series flash units. (I use mine with an 580 EX.)
But I don’t believe the cameras can be used for wireless off-camera flash with one OR multiple units **unless you buy the large/expensive wireless transmitter ST-E2 .** (i.e. EOS cameras can also trigger wireless off-camera flash units using an on-camera EX flash unit; I don’t believe this is possible with the G camera; you would need the ST-E2.) See http://www.encyclopedia.com/video/xnew47Y-1uc-canon-powershot-g10-quick-review.aspx
Here’s an interesting article about an entirely different method for off-camera flash …..One of the great things about the G10 is the ability to use it with an external flash or Speedlight via the G10’s hotshoe. You can either mount a Speedlight right on the hotshoe atop the G10, or you can use it as an off camera flash **via a radio trigger and receiver**……
PeterKBurian29 Dec 2009
Bill: Thanks for your kind comment.
You must have read the Review before I fixed it in Edit. Yes, sometimes I said G10 when I meant G11 but I believe it’s all OK now.
PeterKBurian29 Dec 2009
John: Yes, you’re right. I reviewed the three cameras, including the G10, for two magazines: Shutterbug and Canada’s HERE’S HOW. So, it’s a quote from either publication.
I preferred the Lumix LX3 but bought the G10 because of its more versatile zoom lens. I wanted the extra focal lengths in the telephoto range. AND because it’s compatible with my Canon 580 EX flash unit.
JensWende29 Dec 2009
Dear Peter, thanks a lot for this review. My daughter uses a G7 and I bought my first G last year – a G10. First I was impressed about the usability, functionality and picture quality at low ISO. Up to 200 ISO it wasn´t good. I believe, I was one of the first users of the new G11 in Germany – hopeful that the quality will be better. Your review confirmed my experiences – the G11 is very good.
I love shutting in RAW mode and qualify the pictures in DPP. I compared the G11 with the S90 and find more 11 arguments which are better for me: hotshoe, lens area, usability (program modes, ISO, exposure compensation), ND filter, swivel lcd, flexible AF, second “C”-function, quick shot mode, optical viewfinder, macro mode – and I can use my second battery pack from the G10.
PeterKBurian29 Dec 2009
Thanks for your note, Jens. Yes, the G11 is more of a serious photographer’s camera than the S90. And if you shoot in RAW as I suggested, the quality at higher ISO will be fine. Not spectacular but fine.
By the way, as I said in the Review, I got better results with the Canon Digital Photo Pro than I did with Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS 4, using the newest version of Adobe Camera Raw.
I did not try Lightroom.
P.S. I love Germany. I have toured the Rhine and Mosel River area a few times and my wife and I toured part of Bavaria (stayed in Bamberg.) You live in a beautiful country. I had posted a few of my Germany photos at http://www.peterkburian.com
Freundlicher Respekt und beste Wünsche für 2010. Peter
Andy Gray29 Dec 2009
I’ll add my thanks to all those others re your very useful review. For me it really complements the dp review.
The one comment I was both glad and unhappy to see was “In contrasty light, it’s important to avoid overexposure;”. I was somewhat shocked when I viewed some of my first shots the other day to see the overexposed areas – quite a change from my G2 experience. I’ll practice your tip re reducing this problem. Not being that experienced, I presume that PSE 7 can help me also?
PeterKBurian29 Dec 2009
Andy: Thanks for your note; fyi, I live near Toronto. Much colder here.
Well, if you shoot JPEG, you can use Photoshop to improve technical aspects of images.
For example, IMAGE …. ADJUST … SHADOWS/HIGHLIGHTS. Set the Shadow slider to zero and the Highlight slider to about 10 to darken excessively bright areas. Then, set the mid tone contrast to 10.
This can help but it just darkens the highlight areas. ** Excessively bright areas contain little or no detail or texture. And you cannot recover that if the camera’s sensor did not capture it. **
So, for JPEG shooters, it’s essential to avoid excessively bright highlight areas.
If you shoot RAW format instead, it’s less critical … but even then, try to avoid over exposure, and extremely bright highligh areas. (With any camera.) But you can fix minor problems. You can adjust the images — toning down bright highlights for example — in the Canon Digital Photo Pro software. It’s really quite intuitive. Experiment and you’ll find the way to do it.
When done fixing the RAW format photo, convert the photo and Save As TIF. (That’s when the photo is actually processed.) Then, you can do a slight modification if required.
Again, the prevention is much simpler and less time consuming than the cure.
Andy Gray29 Dec 2009
Peter – again, many thanks.
Having found this site, I look forward to enjoying the articles (and hopefully – even with my ineptitude – improving my photography).
JensWende30 Dec 2009
Good morning Peter, thank you very much for your friendly words about my country where my family and I live. You visited some of the nice places we have in germany. I am sure that you found many wonderful motives which you can save on your. Thanks also for your website which I will visit next time. May I wish you and your family a good start in the year 2010. I am in the expectation of more good review. Best regards jens
By the way: yes, the canon dpp-software is much better as many camera users think. Try it! I am using the version 3.7.2. The only function I miss is the optical alignment. Do you have a contact to canon?
PeterKBurian30 Dec 2009
Jens: Thanks for your note.
Yes, I have contacts at Canon and I will mention your comment to them.
Das ganzes Beste,
Thomas1 Jan 2010
…and tell the Canon people also that they should mount a bigger sensor in the next G model!
PeterKBurian1 Jan 2010
Thomas: Well, I can tell them but I doubt they will listen to me.
Rob4 Jan 2010
I was really looking forward to this camera, hoping to upgrade from my old G6. I am very disappointed to find that the G11 (and likely the others back to the G7) no longer stop down the lens for Depth of Field preview that the older G-cams did by pressing the * button for AE lock.
G11’s wicked good at everything else but I really rely on the stopped-down preview for macro and close-up technical work. Kind of a deal-breaker for me, wasting time bracketing apertures, but would still be a great travel camera.
Also disappointed most reviewers neglect to mention the loss of this important photographic feature on what’s otherwise a fine “photographers’ compact.”
Rob4 Jan 2010
ADDENDUM; if you have “ears” at Canon, please opine to them that they should re-enable the stopped-down function with the AE-lock with a firmware update.
That’d make the G11 a very much more appealing photographic tool.
PeterKBurian4 Jan 2010
Rob: I had forgotten that the old G cameras had that feature. I’m not sure it would be possible to add it to the G11 with a firmware update.
OK, I will suggest it to Canon. But don’t hold your breath, unless they get the same request from many other people as well.
david roxburgh15 Jan 2010
If you have contacts at Canon, ask them to improve the viewfinder. It’s the main thing that sets the G series apart form most of the competition, but it’s awful. It should show a higher percentage of the frame and it should be aimed correctly!
PeterKBurian15 Jan 2010
Will do David, but Canon already knows that.
Every Review ever published about the G10 and the G11 have complained about the viewfinder.
I assume that Canon would have provided a better viewfinder on the G11 if it were technically simple/inexpensive to do … AND if it could be done without making the camera larger.
RickyMac31 Jan 2010
all I can say is Sweeeet !
mali k18 Apr 2010
The next best thing I have noticed about this camera is its improved film speed ratings. I have already done a lot of testing with the G-11 and to say that they have improved the speed ratings is a huge understatement especially in the higher film speed settings
Shangoba27 Oct 2010
There’s no denying the G11 is an attractive camera. I really like the interface and ease of use, and the picture quality is certainly good, but the sensitivity needs to be kept to a maximum of ISO 800 if you want to keep the definition. That said, quality at ISO 800 is very good, and makes lowlight operation quite attractive.