We’ve not come across many – if any – digital camera upgrades that have taken a step back in terms of "specification".
But, on perusing the enthusiast targeted G11’s headline features, when compared with the G10 it appears that is exactly what has happened: 10 megapixels instead of its predecessor’s 14.7, a smaller LCD screen at 2.8-inches rather than 3, battery life at 390 shots from a full charge falling short of its forebear’s 400, and even a reduced burst mode of a lowly 1.1fps rather than 1.3fps.
At least the stabilised optical zoom has stayed the same at 5x, with a broader than average focal range of 28-140mm, making it as well suited to landscapes and group portraits as paparazzi-style close ups.
So what gives? Well, while reducing pixel count, Canon has kept the same size 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor as the G10, the inference being that less pixels crammed into the same space may produce a better performance in terms of reduced noise/grain when shooting in low light and at higher ISO settings.
This theory is born out upon discovering that maximum user selectable ISO has been raised from a previous ISO 1600 to ISO 3200, with a further ISO 12,800 equivalent option now achievable via a low light mode on the camera’s top mounted shooting dial – albeit with resolution dropping to 2.5 megapixels at this expanded setting.
The smaller LCD is also explained away by the fact that it is now of the vari-angle, rotate and twist variety, rather than the G10’s standard fixed display.
This is a boon for those who want to experiment with shooting from creative angles where it would be otherwise impossible to get an eye level with the optical viewfinder directly above – and the manufacturer claims its implementation was the result of customer requests. It can further be folded screen inwards to the body to provide an added degree of protection.
Worry not though, as the overall construction of the G11 is, as expected, reassuringly rock solid with chunky lithium-ion rechargeable battery and optional (yet essential) SD media card inserted. Its ruggedness practically matches that of an entry-level DSLR that you could alternatively buy for this compact’s £569 UK price tag.
Weight without such accessories is a manageable 355g, though its shape – not too dissimilar to Panasonic’s similarly priced rival in the new GF1 – means it is one for slipping into the deep pocket of an overcoat rather than your skinny fit jeans.
Indicating that this camera is aimed at the more advanced user, even if it does feature the usual full auto options, are the array of rangefinder-like dials and controls festooning the top plate.
These allow the manual adjustment of exposure (+/- 2EV), the aforementioned ISO settings, plus the choosing of shooting modes. On the G11 we have the usual program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual modes, plus 17 pre-optimised scene settings and a video mode, though sadly recording in standard definition 640 x 480 pixels rather than the increasingly ubiquitous high definition. The optical zoom can’t be used either when shooting video, which is a pain.
In contrast to the busy top plate, which also throws in a hotshoe for optional flashgun, the G11’s front plate looks rather spare. It’s dominated by lens with automatic cover that slides open on activation as its barrel extends to maximum wide-angle setting in just over a second. A filter thread is provided for the attachment of supplementary lens converters, while a subtly sloping padded ridge to the front provides purchase for the fingers.
Oddly though, we couldn’t find anywhere identifiable to place our thumb at the G11’s back plate when gripping for a handheld shot, leaving it to wander over the operational controls, one of which is the delete button.
Once you’ve lined up a shot via the adequately clear LCD or optical viewfinder above, press the shutter release button encircled by the zoom lever, and, with no noticeable shutter lag, a maximum resolution JPEG is committed to memory within 2-3 seconds.
The camera offers maximum quality, unprocessed RAW file capture too, selectable via a L-shaped toolbar on screen. Take a further shot in this mode and any difference in writing speed is barely noticeable, suggesting operational speed and image quality need not always be separate bedfellows.
So is it really worth spending as much, or more on the G11 than an interchangeable lens camera such as Panasonic’s GF1 or Olympus EP-1, or a full-blown digital SLR with standard APS-C sized sensor?
If the choice is a straight one, arguably not: we’d prefer the ability to swap lenses any day. But everyone’s requirements are different and the G11 does present photographers with a rather neat all-in-one solution, so there will be those thinking "so what that you can’t change the optic in use? What’s there is as much as I need".
It’s worth noting however that despite Canon trumpeting that with the G11 it has greatly improved low light photography, reducing noise and delivering a two-stop advantage, the camera has to first find a subject bright enough to focus on – in spite of its admittedly powerful AF assist lamp.
Even when it does, at maximum ISO 12,800 setting resultant images take on a watercolour effect, detail smudged. However, stick less ambitiously at ISO 3200 on the dial, and you get a result comparable to lesser compacts at ISO 800; much more impressive.
Shooting in less challenging daylight conditions the G11’s focus remains sharp with just a touch of barrel distortion at max wide angle and pixel fringing upon close inspection. We welcomed the ability to add punch to colours via a vivid "My Colours" option, plus apply a neutral density (ND) filter setting to preserve detail in landscapes when shooting images with contrasting dark foregrounds and bright backgrounds.
Taking all of the above into consideration however, unless you regularly shoot in low light and/or low to the ground or over the heads of a crowd whereby that flexible LCD screen might aid composition, sticking with the 14.7 megapixel G10 – identically priced at the time of writing – seems the sensible option.
But for those who do prefer that extra flexibility to "push" the image without resorting to the use of flash, the G11 is a solid contender in every sense.