First Look: Canon PowerShot G12 review

0 out of 5
£539

For

Build quality, controls at your finger tips, vari-angle display

Against

Price, no 1080p capture

Pocket-lint got some exclusive hands on time with the Canon PowerShot G12 behind closed doors before the global announcement today. We've brought you the news and shown you the camera from every angle, but here's what we garnered from our time with the new high-end compact.

The model we saw was final hardware, but pre-production firmware and as a result we weren't allowed to take any pictures away from our hands-on time.

In the hand it feels just like the PowerShot G11 that we saw launched last year. This is never going to be a small camera and with dimensions of 112.1 x 76.2 x 48.3mm it isn't the sort of camera you can slip into your jeans for a night out. It is pocketable, but more likely to rest comfortably in your jacket pocket. It weighs 401g, so it isn't light either, but that's somewhat acceptable: this camera brings with it some heavy weight specs too.

The major external difference from the G11 is the new control ring on the front. This can be assigned to various functions, such as aperture, shutter speed or white balance. On the model that we had hands on, the front dial was assigned to aperture, whilst the rear control ring was assigned to shutter speed. In manual mode this means you can swiftly change settings and rattle off shots. 

If you are scared of buttons or looking for a minimalist design, then the PowerShot G12 is not the camera for you. Pretty much every available space is given over to a control button, although many settings still reside in Canon's familiar on-screen menu we've seen on their other compacts.

Sitting at the core of the PowerShot G12 is Canon's HS System. Canon pointed out to us that HS neither stands for high speed or high sensitivity, but that it is a system that combines a high sensitivity 10-megapixel sensor with the DIGIC4 processor. The aim is the give better quality, cleaner images at higher ISOs. The logic is that by using a lower megapixel count on the sensor, each pixel is effectively larger and able to capture more light, meaning a higher acceptable ISO shooting and greater dynamic range.

You also get Hybrid IS, a technology that has crossed over from Canon's DLSR lenses, which detects and counters two types of movement, with Canon stating that it should give you up to 4 stops extra handholdability. With an F/2.8 max lens, the question will be whether it performs as well as the faster F/2.0 lens that you'll find on the Panasonic Lumix LX5 in lower light conditions.

Like the Lumix LX5, you get to select the photo aspect with 1:1, 16:9, 3:2 and 4:5 all being offered.

As before there are a collection of dials on the top, with a main shooting dial sitting atop an ISO dial. ISO control has been improved over previous iterations, which Canon tell us is a direct response to user feedback and increased usage of ISO as a factor in capturing images.

ISO control also can be user defined into the auto setting, so you'll be able to set a maximum and make sure the camera doesn't inflate it to a level you aren't happy with, when you really need a longer exposure or additional lighting. That said, there is a low light ISO 12800 (at 2.5MP) shooting option, although we haven't seen what the results will be like.

On the left shoulder of the camera is the exposure compensation dial, so you can, again, easily make changes without having to dive into a menu or press and hold any buttons.

Around the back of the G12 is the 2.8-inch vari-angle 461k-dot display which gives you a full range of shooting positions, making it easier to capture those tricky low or high angle shots. You can also turn the display inwards for protection if you don't want to use it. There is also an optical viewfinder with dioptre correction making it much easier to accurately compose a shot in bright conditions.

One addition which we really like is a digital level display, meaning an end to wonky shots. On the screen it is really easy to track out of the corner of your eye, with the level flashing green in the centre, so you know you have it straight.

The 5x optical zoom lens gives you a range of 28-140mm (in 35mm terms) and is controlled by the small zoom lever that encircles the shutter button on the top of the camera. If we had any complaint, it might be that the zoom lever is a little small, but the plus side is that you're not going to catch it in passing, so zooming becomes more deliberate. We're sure it is something you'd get used to with a little more time with your hands on the camera.

One funky accessory we got our hands on today was the filter adapter (FA-DC58B, £49.99) - see the pictures. There is a detachable barrel ring on the front of the G12 which allows the adapter to slip over the lens and lock into place. It is spring loaded, sitting against the front edge of the lens. As you zoom in and out the adapter moves accordingly, keeping the filter in the right position.

A 58mm screw thread is on the front of this so it will fit any commercially available filters in that size. You'll be able to slap on a polariser or grad filter (or even a whole Cokin system if you wanted) and because the housing doesn't rotate you'll be able to set your polariser and not have to constantly adjust after you focus.

There is a hot shoe on the top of the G12 and we slapped a Canon Speedlite EX-480 II into place and it worked with no problems in a couple of test shots. In a pinch you'll be able to use accessories like this you might already have in your kit bag with the G12.

We weren't able to take away or examine any of the shots we took whilst we had the camera in our hands, but we've seen a sample of the new HDR shooting mode in action. This is a feature we've seen on cameras in the past, but this is the first time we've seen it on a Canon PowerShot. It takes three shots the scene and combines them with the aim of giving you correctly exposed highlights and shadows without losing detail. Obviously as it is taking and combining shots it needs to be kept stable, so using a tripod is recommended. We can't wait to test it out when we get the camera in for a full review.

We had a small play around with video capture and were pleased to see that the G12 now steps up to 720p. We questioned why 1080p wasn't offered like it was in other Canon cameras. The response was that the level of data being processed would require a more powerful processor and make the camera too expensive. Again, we'll have to see how the video comes out in the future when we look a the camera more closely. There is an HDMI for hooking up to your TV to play back your video and images.

Verdict

The Canon PowerShot G12 is packed full of technology and the hardware feels great in the hand. The screen is a real bonus, adding a degree of flexibility that some rivals don't offer you, as well as being an easy way to protect it from scratches as you carry it around.

It was instantly obvious that the new control ring on the front will be the real star of the show, making it even easier to change the settings in minimal time. The PowerShot G12 is large, it is expensive and as such it won't appeal to all, but it also offers a great range of shooting possibilities. It isn't a huge departure from the G11, but a few additional tweaks might appeal to some of those tempted by rivals.

We'll be looking at the Canon PowerShot G12 in more detail when we get it in for a full review - in the meantime, why not check out our hands-on gallery of the camera.