Canon PowerShot G10 digital camera

The PowerShot G10 steps up to the enthusiast end of digital camera plate with more than just a few tweaks over its predecessor, the popular PowerShot G9. As you might expect, the G10 is the recipient of a new, higher resolution sensor, with a 14.7 million pixels on a 1/1.7-inch CCD.

The new camera is designed as a professional snapper’s back-up or for enthusiasts requiring DSLR features and usability within a more compact package. To that end the camera fits the bill well. Headline features include a new 5x optical zoom lens, which while it lacks the 6x zoom reach of the G9, has, on balance, a better focal range, with a wider 28mm end to its zoom and a 140mm full zoom: good enough for most snapping tasks.

Lens distortion is commendably low at both ends of the zoom with only slight barrel distortion at the wide zoom to spoil the party; otherwise the lens is crisp as fresh frost on a bowling green. The aperture range still does not meet the F/2 "speeds" available from the earlier G-series models, such as the G6 (or earlier), but the largest F/2.8 aperture gives you a modicum of control over of depth of field, there’s a fastest F/4.5 aperture at full zoom.

Cosmetically, the G10 looks very similar to the G9, but there are some very neat and important control changes to the camera’s handling and ergonomics that make it much nicer to use. For a start, the G9’s large mode dial has been replaced with a combined mode and ISO dial the former piggy backed onto the ISO dial. This is a neat configuration that takes up no more room than the G9’s old mode dial, but allows space over the other side of the top plate and flash hot shoe, for a dedicated exposure compensation dial sat where the G9’s ISO control used to be.

All dials have very positive click stops, offering a reassuring feel in use. This mirrors the camera’s excellent build quality, something that is characteristic of all the "Gs"; the new, more deeply sculpted and rubberised gripping surfaces providing a confident feel to the handling.

As with the G9, image Stabilisation helps keep things steadier in low light or at longer zoom ratios and provides around two stops of extra handhold-ability, so nothing to be sniffed at, and a real bonus since it means you don’t need to tread the waters of higher ISO settings and possible problems with image noise.

Having written that, it’s worth pointing out that the G10 has a sensitivity range of 100 to 1600 (3200 in scene modes) with Canon’s newest version of its image-processing engine, DIGIC 4 at the apex of the image processing system.

DIGIC 4 gives faster processing, better noise reduction and overall improved image performance; DIGIC 4 also powers several new, so called "intelligent" features: i-Contrast is one of note that increases the dynamic range in images to reveal better detail in shadows but crucially, without loosing detail in lighter areas. It works well too and nicely remedies some of the G9’s issues regarding loss of shadow detail.

However, an unfortunate downside is it also highlights any noise within shadows so use with care at higher ISOs. Interestingly, i-Contrast can be left off or simply set to auto mode, so why we cannot have a more precise way of controlling this, particularly in order to address the noise in shadows issues, is a mystery. But you cannot have everything I suppose but given the G10’s near £500 price tag, I feel it’s a valid question.

Another of the G10’s main changes, over the G9, is a new 3-inch LCD, this provides an enhanced 460,000-dot resolution, a vast improvement over the G9’s 230,000-dot screen and a useful example of its benefit is when making focus assessment - particularly in the manual focus mode - it’s now a much easier affair as it provides easier and faster assessment of sharpness.

In terms of control, the aforementioned top plate controls are a joy, the raised mode dial allowing fast changes of shooting mode (manual, aperture priority or full auto to name a few) to swift ISO changes. Ditto the exposure compensation, which can be quickly applied if you suddenly encounter difficult lighting situations.

The shutter release is encompassed within the lens’ zoom control and while on the small side, the lever is very usable, while the shutter release’s dual pressures are well weighted, though the first pressure, to get the camera focusing and metering, is a little too spongy for my liking.

A little bit of ostentation has crept in too; the ISO and exposure compensation index’s have been given their own funky-looking yellow LEDs while the on/off button also has its own green LED, all of which light up attractively, though more importantly, rather usefully in low light, whenever the camera’s switched on.

The back plate is dominated by that new screen but also houses the meat of the camera’s other controls. A very nice optical viewfinder sits centrally above the screen, it’s eyepoint (the distance from the finder’s aperture where you can still see the entire view) is sufficient for viewing while wearing spectacles (something I’m now lumbered with) but has a dioptre adjustment for tweaks if you want to use it without.

The playback and shortcut buttons (I used the latter for fast access to the white balance settings; disappointingly this is one critical feature without a hard button on the body) sit atop the screen either side of the optical viewfinder, the top right corner houses the extremely useful AE/FE lock button, something that when combined with the improved exposure compensation control makes the G10 very responsive to varying lighting conditions indeed.

The AF point control is one of four buttons that surround the camera’s four-way jog control and the rotating control dial that encompasses it. The latter makes swift menu or image scrolling a reality while the former (and more common) control provides similar control features plus access to other setting such as the superb 1cm macro mode, flash settings, manual focus activation and drive modes.

The AF set up is a superb mix of Face Detection AF/AE/FE/WB, a natty Face Select & Track mode and a Face Self-Timer setting that monitors multiple faces in a scene, an improved set of similar focusing options behave much better here than in the parallel-tested IXUS 980IS, which also sports them. The Face detection system in particular performs well on faces in profile and the Face Select & Track is remarkably accurate.

But what’s even better, with Face select on and you half press the shutter button, a magnified view of the detected face appears so that you can quickly check sharpness. A very nice touch indeed. Alternatively, you can leave it up to the camera and even with larger groups where you can watch as the G10’s face detect system selects multiple faces, it seems to work rather well.

Canon’s AiAF focus system is also on hand, but as I’ve found on other recent Canon compact tests, it seems to be a bit too hit and miss, not always able to select the correct or intended area of the scene to be sharp. You can switch focusing across to manually select an AF zone and stick with it though, so this helps circumvent such issues.

The ability to shoot RAW and JPEG files is once again included and this provides even more scope for tinkering and getting shadow or highlight detail out of images later on PC; there’s around two stops of headroom on the RAWs in both the shadow and highlight areas.

Shooting RAW helps if i-Contrast doesn’t cut the mustard; you can more sensitively process the RAWs to pull shadow and highlight detail out and control noise problems more accurately, the downside here of course, is the necessity to post process the images, so it’s another level of workflow added to your photo mill. All the same, it is a fundamental feature for the more enthusiast or pro photographer so great to have on board.

And those images are captured and stored on a single SD or SDHC card stowed under a flap on the G10’s base alongside a blocky-looking NB-7L, 1050-mAh Li-ion battery that provides power and on one change, the cell is still going strong after around 200-shots.

The metering and white balance (WB) are excellent, the metering dealing well with most subjects, although I found it struggled somewhat when dealing with some of the very grey days I had for this test. It seemed to be falling between two stalls unable to decide on metering for the shadows (what shadows?) or highlights. However, centre-weighted and spot metering provides more flexibility if required and helped me overcome such problems.

White balance control is pretty good too but, as is typical with most Canon compacts I’ve reviewed recently, the auto white balance tends to struggle with mixed lighting; switch to the correct WB setting for the lighting and things improve dramatically and I have no complaints once set up properly. And for the even more difficult situation, setting custom white balance settings is very fast too and so you do have complete control at your fingertips.

Verdict

We feel the G10 has received a set of valuable upgrades over the G9, particularly controls on the top plate and there are distinct performance improvements too. Images are very good with very slight softness by default but the lens is a cracker. Although not a fan of ever-increasing pixel counts, here Canon has carried off the G10’s resolution boost well helping to produce a camera that is sure to appeal. Looked at as a whole, the G10 is a worthy addition to the G-series lineage able to produce great images and provide excellent performance.

There is however, a caveat in that I’m not convinced by the price tag. At a quid short of £500, the G10 falls into the price threshold of budget DSLRs and as such it may seem a steep price to pay given the other benefits afforded by a lens interchangeable DSLR.

Okay, so it’s pricey but it is a feature rich, responsive and capable of superb results and it is a distinct improvement over the G9. Canon has just about got the balance right and as such this camera is sure to be a real winner.