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Canon PowerShot G9

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CAMERA TEST: CANON POWERSHOT G9
Canon's new top of the line pocket rocket gets some major upgrades, including the return of RAW and a new RAW converter for the total control freaks.
By Jack Howard
September 2007

Canon's PowerShot G9

Put the new 12.1 megapixel Canon PowerShot G9 next to the 10 megapixel PowerShot G7 it replaces. Now stick a piece of gaffer's tape over the model number. You'd be hard-pressed to tell them apart. The two digital cameras are virtually identical on the outside. Same optically stabilized 35-210 f/2.8-4.8 6x zoom lens (35mm equivalent), same hotshoe, similar optical viewfinder, slightly bigger 3-inch wide view LCD, but pretty close to identical all around.

But inside, it's a different story. The G9 marks the return of RAW to this line of cameras, a move that is sure to please the hardcore shooters, along with an interesting new "Adaptive Noise Control" function in the ZoomBrowser (PC)/ImageBrowser (Mac) RAW converter. Not only that, the G9 can brag about 2 million more pixels inside on its 1/1.7 chip. But it doesn't blow the 10 megapixel G7 away in resolution. Instead, it appears the Canon PowerShot G9 uses all those extra pixels for noise smoothing, both in JPEG and RAW capture modes. We had no complaints with the resolution of the G7, which like the G9 uses the Digic III processor, but noise was another issue. The G9 goes a long way towards fixing those issues. It's not perfect -- high ISO shots can still be noisy, but not to the unacceptable extremes we saw with the G7. Add in the adaptive noise control for smoothing RAW data with marginal resolution loss and the G9 emerges as a much improved camera over the G7, though it does carry over a couple of the G7's weak points:

  • Barrel distortion is still a big problem at the 35mm wide angle setting.
  • A burst rate only a slug could love -- especially in RAW (although it does continue to chug along for a long time, and doesn't buffer-lock).
  • Confusing menu-driven options and multi-button/dial configurations that can drive both the Elph and EOS user nuts trying to figure out.
  • Lens barrel intrusion into the optical viewfinder field at wide-angle.
  • Only about 80% coverage with optical viewfinder.

What's Hot

  • Rock-solid build with a classic design
  • RAW capture, plus Adaptive Noise RAW converter
  • Time-lapse movie mode
  • High Resolution video capture
  • Real metal tripod socket
  • Audio recording capabilities
  • High quality panoramic assist mode

What's Not

  • Wide angle distortion results
  • RAW capture lacking from scene modes
  • Sluggish burst rate
  • Menu and button navigation can be confusing
  • No optical zoom during video capture

On the other hand, there are some really cool new features on the new G9:

  • Face detection, including tracking, AutoExposure, and FlashExposure settings.
  • Focus-confirm playback enlarges the area of focus for instant confirmation that a shot is acceptably sharp -- linked to Face Detect -- up to 10x.
  • Panning Image Stabilization mode.
  • RAW, and the Adaptive Noise Control command in ZoomBrowser/ImageBrowser.
  • Bigger, higher-resolution LCD

So what have we got? We've got a great-looking advanced compact camera, with full manual controls and RAW capture that can sync with Canon EX-series hotshoes at 1/250 second (normal sync) plus high-speed sync up to 1/2500 second. It can also shoot in 16:9 aspect ratio, and capture video at up to 640 x 480 px at 30fps or 1024 x 768 px @15fps. The microphone also has a digital wind filter function for outdoor shoots. Oh, and it's not just a still and compact video camera -- the G9 can also be used as a digital audio recorder.

We're not talking 30-second clips here. We're talking a full-on audio recorder. The G9 can record monaural audio for two straight hours at three sampling rates, 11.025kHz, 22.050kHz and 44.100kHz. That's long enough for many press events, interviews, and audio capture for Soundslides multi-media slideshows.

Admittedly there are smaller, more feature-rich audio recorders on the market, but we haven't seen any digital audio recorders that also feature a 12 Megapixel, 6x optically stabilized zoom that also captures high-resolution video before now! That's a pretty good argument to convince photo department heads to buy the G9 "platypus" for everyone on the staff!

There's a lot to love about the PowerShot G9 -- especially the focus-confirm instant playback. If you're grabbing a number of shots in a row, it can slow you down, but for single shots, it is great. It cuts right to the chase, overlaying the instant review with the active focusing areas with those areas enlarged for quick confirmation of sharpness and exposure. It's one of those little things we didn't realize we'd been missing until we had it!

But all the bells and whistles mean nothing if image quality isn't there. Fortunately, it is much better on the PowerShot G9 than it was in the PowerShot G7. So much so that we'd recommend against buying a PowerShot G7 on closeout prices. Instead, spend the extra cash for the PowerShot G9. Our Certified Test results show marked improvements in noise, especially at low and middle ISOs, and with Adaptive Noise cranked way up.

Certified Lab Results Three Ways

Canon's PowerShot G9
Photo by Jack Howard
There's great color and details in this low-key, low ISO scene, with a touch of blown highlights on the left side, where there was direct sun, and a dramatic difference in exposure value from the rest of the scene. RAW converted via ZoomBrowser. Click photo for more field test images from the Canon PowerShot G9.

For our Pop Photo Lab Tests, we captured images in RAW and Large, Superfine JPEG simultaneously. The CR2 files were converted in Canon ZoomBrowser's (called ImageBrowser on Macs) RAW Utility twice: once with Adaptive Noise control set to 0 (none/RAW0), and again with Adaptive Noise control set to 10 (maximum/RAW10). We like what we see! Adaptive Noise, particularly at middle and high ISOs, does a great job in smoothing noise, with only marginal resolution loss (less that 1% at ISOs 80 and 800).

In the lab, at ISOs 80-800, the Canon PowerShot G9 posted very respectable resolution results for a 10 megapixel camera in both JPEG and RAW0 and RAW10 conversions. (Yes, we know, it packs 12 megapixels, but the resolution remains firmly in the midst of the 10 megapixel-class cameras. This is just fine by us, because we'd rather have cleaner images with less noise and slightly less resolution, than noisier-than-all-get out images almost any day of the week!)

We'll tell you this straight-out: Shoot RAW plus JPEG whenever possible with the Canon PowerShot G9. Use Adaptive Noise control in Canon ZoomBrowser, and use it near the highest settings for RAW conversions. At ISO 80 through 200, the JPEG and RAW0 and RAW10 are similar, but at ISOs 400 and 800, the Adaptive Noise Control has a bigger impact.

For example, at ISO 80, JPEG resolution scores Excellent (2150), with Low noise (1.6). RAW0 resolution is Excellent (2150) with Low noise (1.7). RAW10 resolution is Excellent (2100) with Very Low noise (1.5).

At ISO 800, JPEG Resolution is Excellent (1950) but noise is Unacceptable (3.8). RAW0 Resolution is Excellent (1910), but noise is again Unacceptable (3.2). RAW10, on the other hand, drops Resolution negligibly, (Excellent: 1875) but only has Moderate noise (2.6).

Our advice, once again: Shoot RAW plus JPEG whenever possible with the Canon PowerShot G9 for the most control over image quality at capture and in post-processing, especially at middle and high ISOs. (Annoyingly, though, the Scene modes do not support RAW capture. The thinking must be that users that will use Scene modes wouldn't be interested in RAW capture and post-processing. It's an oversight that may be fixable with a firmware upgrade, but don't hold your breath.)

ISO 1600 is another story. Noise is Unacceptable in JPEG (4.3), RAW0 (3.8) and RAW10 (3.1) conversions. Resolution is Very High (JPEG: 1525, RAW0: 1375, RAW10: 1300). We say skip ISO 1600. Use ISO 800 and turn Image Stabilization on, even if it means having to push the exposure a bit in post-processing. Sure, it'll gain some noise being digitally pushed, but you don't lose the resolution. And skip ISO 3200 outright, since it doesn't even capture 2 full megapixels (1600 x 1200 px).

Color accuracy is Excellent in RAW with an Average Delta E of 8.0, ISO 80, Manual White Balance. JPEG color accuracy is Extremely High with an Average Delta E of 8.6, ISO 80, Auto White Balance.

Since it has the identical optics, it's no surprise that the PowerShot G9 matches the G7 in lens distortion, with Visible Barrel distortion (.53%) at 35mm, Imperceptible Pincushion distortion (.05%) at 105mm, and Slight Pincushion distortion (.13%) at 210mm.

Contrast appears slightly low in both RAW and JPEG. Shadow details, especially at High ISOs can show some chromatic noise, especially in JPEG and RAW with low Adaptive Noise settings. The LCD screen is easily viewable at the middle setting, even in bright daylight, although in bright daylight, trust the histogram instead of the LCD for shadow and highlight details, as these can be tough to read in direct sun. At the opposite end of the spectrum, it does appear slightly less noisy in low light than the lower-resolution LCD on the G7, which bordered on painfully noisy for framing a photo in your typically low-lit restaurant.

A Cool Camera Not Without Its Quirks

Canon's PowerShot G9
Photo by Jack Howard
There's very good shadow and highlight detail on this city fountain and just a touch of blown highlights near the sky. ISO 200, JPEG capture. Click photo for more field test images from the Canon PowerShot G9.



What's not to love about a pocketable camera with a 6x Optically Image Stabilized lens, RAW+ JPEG capture with a cool new RAW converter, rock-solid build, full manual controls, spot, average or evaluative metering, advanced Face Detection technologies, EX-series x-sync hotshoe, time-lapse movie mode and more? Nothing fatal, but there are some eccentricities with this camera that have us scratching our heads.

    • To begin with, we don't understand why RAW only works in certain modes such as P, Av, Tv, and Manual, but not Auto or Scene Modes. And we don't understand why RAW + JPEG only allows for Large capture. It would be nice to be able to pick a smaller-sized JPEG, like on the G9's bigger EOS siblings. But overall, we're very happy to see RAW back in the G9, even if it is implemented a little strangely.

 

    • We love being able to use EX-series strobes with the G9, especially with an off-camera cord, but it is frustrating that you can only go with ratios in full manual mode. E-TTL and FE compensation work with Program, Tv and Av mode. But in Manual mode, it's ratios. Again, not a fatal flaw, but it does make creative control a bit more challenging, since you can't just dial back the strobe a stop or so. Instead, you've got to run the tables in your head (or just experiment and check the LCD and re-adjust).

 

    • The PowerShot G9 has no usable internal memory. None. If you forget an SD card, you're out of luck. While many cameras ship with a piddling amount of internal memory, and some other new ones are loading up on internal memory, there's just none here. Not even enough for a single VGA cell-cam sized photo. In a nutshell: don't forget your SD cards!

 

    • "My Colors" image quality adjustments also don't work with Scene Modes, so you can't use Night Snapshot to make a monochrome shot of your sweetheart in some romantic far-flung location in one step. It's possible to convert using the "My Colors" option in Playback, but where's the instant gratification of pre-visualization on the preview screen and during quick review?

 

  • We love the Panorama Assist mode on the Canon PowerShot G9, although some beginners might be confused or frustrated by it. See, unlike a lot of competitors, it doesn't merge and downsample the pano-stitchers in-camera and output a low-resolution. It simply names and labels them differently, and then the full-resolution images can be merged in Canon's Photostitch, for huge, high-quality panoramics that can be printed huge. You can't merge the Pano-assist shots in-camera, so stop looking for this option! But do try this in Photostitch. The results are impressive, and the files are HUGE! Five shots merged together create a 100+ Megabyte merged image.

The Bottom Line

After the disappointing lab results of its predecessor, the Canon PowerShot G7, we were a bit skeptical of the Canon PowerShot G9. Not anymore! In general we like what we see. We like Adaptive Noise RAW conversion. We like a compact camera that syncs with external strobes. We like full manual controls. And we like Scene Assist modes to help beginners get better with their compositions before venturing into the uncharted waters of full manual control. We love the Focus Confirm and face recognition instant playback. We like the high-quality half-camera, half-computer Panoramic capture mode. Overall, we like this camera a lot. However, we're not so impressed with ISO 1600 image quality, nor the mostly useless low-resolution ISO 3200 mode.

Certified Test Results

Canon's PowerShot G9

Specifications

Imaging Sensor

  • Resolution Approx. 12.1 million pixels
  • Recording pixels 4000 x 3000
  • Sensor type Interline Transfer CCD
  • Sensor size 1/1.7-inch type

Lens

  • Focal length 7.4 -- 44mm (equivalent to 35--210mm, in 35mm format)
  • Zoom ratio 6x (optical) / 4x (digital)
  • Lens construction 9 elements in 7 groups (including 1 aspherical lens element)
  • Maximum aperture f/2.8 (W)~ f/4.8 (T)
  • Image Stabilizer system Lens shift type; Approx. 3 stops correction.
    • IS modes: Off, Continuous, Shoot Only, Panning
  • Closest focusing distance Normal -- 1.6 feet
    (Wide) Macro -- .39 inches
  • Autofocus TTL autofocus; nine-point AIAF (camera automatically selects AF point) or single AF point
    • Single AF point: center of frame or FlexiZone (freely move around most of frame)
    • Selectable AF point size: normal, or small
    • Face Detect AF (Up to 35 faces recognized)
    • User can specify a single primary face in a scene via Face Selector Button
  • Manual focus Yes

Image Recording

  • Still image recording 8-bit JPEG; Three compression settings ("Super-Fine", "Fine", and "Normal")
  • RAW file recording
    Canon .CR2 RAW format possible
    • Images can be processed using (included) RAW Image Task software,
      part of Canon’s ZoomBrowser or ImageBrowser programs
  • Movie recording AVI (Image data: Motion JPEG; Audio data: WAVE mono)
  • Data recording format
    DCF (Design rule for Camera Filing system); DPOF ver. 1.1 (Digital Print Order Format)
    EXIF 2.2 compatible
  • Reduced resolution options
    4000 x 2248 (16:9 Widescreen); 3264 x 2448 (Medium 1); 2592 x 1944 (Medium 2);
    1600 x 1200 (Medium 3); 640 x 480 (Small)
  • Sound recording
    1). Up to 60 second sound memo can be recorded for each image
    2). Sound Recorder: camera can be used as "tape recorder";
    up to 12 hours of sound recording possible on 1GB" SD card
  • Storage media Secure Digital (SD); or SD High Capacity (SDHC); or Multi-Media Card (MMC);
    or High Capacity Multi-Media (HC MMCplus) memory cards
  • Format function Normal and low level format

Color space sRGB

  • Red-eye correction Uses Face Detection function to automatically remove red-eye from playback menu option.
    If no face is detected, user can set frame to remove red-eye

Shooting Controls

  • Shooting modes On mode dial: Full Auto, Program, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, Manual,
    two user-defined Custom settings, Stitch Assist, Movie, and Special Scene
    Special Scene Modes: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Night Snapshot, Sports, Indoor,
    Kids & Pets, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, ISO 3200,
    Underwater, Color Accent, Color Swap
  • Shutter speed range 15 seconds ~ 1/2500 sec.
  • Aperture f/2.8 -- f/8.0 (W) / f/4.8 -- f/8.0 (T)
  • "My Colors" mode Full range of settings: Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film,
    Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red,
    and Custom Color (adjustments for contrast, sharpness, and saturation)
  • Noise reduction Available when shutter speed is set between 15 seconds and 1.3 sec.
  • White Balance Three options available:
    Auto; Pre-set White Balance (daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash
    and underwater); two Custom settings (WB off of white object or neutral gray object)
  • Self-timer 2-second delay, 10-second delay, and Custom Timer
    • Custom Timer: user can set delay 0~10, 15, 20 or 30 seconds, and number of shots 1~10
  • Remote shooting Possible, using Canon’s supplied Remote Capture Task software, via USB to computer

Exposure

  • Metering Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot (spot metering at center
    or linked to active AF point), Face Detect AE
    • incorporates face brightness when using Face Detection
    • concentrates metering on faces
  • Auto Exposure Lock Available
  • Program Shift / Safety Shift Available
  • Exposure compensation +/- up to 2 stops, 1/3-stop increments
  • Auto exposure bracketing Available
  • ISO sensitivity Auto, High ISO Auto (uses high ISOs when needed, up to 800);
    or user-set ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 -- ISO set on top-mounted dial
  • Shutter speed range 15 seconds ~ 1/2500 sec.

LCD

  • LCD monitor 3.0-inch (diagonal) TFT LCD monitor (no tilt/swivel); Night Display available
    • Resolution: approx. 230,000 pixels; 100% coverage of actual image
    • Horizontal and vertical grid lines display option
  • Brightness Adjustment 15 Levels available
  • Eye-level viewfinder Optical eye-level, real-image zoom finder; diopter range -3.0~+1
  • Special playback features
    • Enlarged playback (2x~10x) with free scrolling to any part of image
    • Advance or reverse through magnified images is available
    • Organize images in My Category: People, Scenery, Events, Category 1--3 and To Do
    • Image is automatically rotated when camera is in either vertical or horizontal
    • Jump: 10/100 images, shot date, movie, folder and My Category
    • Slide Show: Playback interval 3--10 sec., 15 sec., 30 sec. (3 types available)
    • Transition Effects: 3 types available
    • Movie playback: Normal, Slow Motion, Pause, Editing (portions of clip can be erased)
  • Histogram Real-time shooting histogram available, and playback histogram available
    (overexposure warning available when viewing playback histogram)

Performance

  • Imaging processor DIGIC III
  • Continuous shooting speed Approx. 1.5 shots per second Large/Fine (with AF locked)
    • 0.7 shots per second with continuous AF
  • Camera start-up time Approx. 1.3 seconds
  • Movie Mode
  • Resolution High-resolution: 1024 x 768 at 15 fps
    Standard: 640 x 480 (VGA) at 30 fps/30 fps LP (Long Play); 320 x 240 (QVGA) at 30 fps
    Compact: 160 x 120 (QQVGA) at 15 fps
  • Recording length Up to 4GB or 1 hour per movie clip
  • Features during movie recording • AF lock, AE lock, exposure shift, digital zoom (Standard mode only), MF, grid line display
    • Continuous IS (Image Stabilization), continuous auto focus, auto exposure, WB
    • Mono sound recording: 16-bit, 44.100 kHz (11.025 kHz for 160x120 movies)
    • Long play mode increases compression rate for longer video recording
    • Color Accent / Color Swap available during movie recording
    • Time Lapse movies -- record at 1 fps or 0.5 fps; play back at 15 fps
  • Movie playback On camera’s LCD (with sound); Standard TV monitor using video-out cord;
    or within Macintosh or Windows PC using Apple QuickTime™ software
    • View first frame, previous frame, next frame, and last frame
    • Fast forward, fast rewind, and slow motion (five different slow-motion speeds available in
      addition to standard playback speed
    • No audio during slow-motion playback

Flash

  • Built-in flash Yes
  • Flash modes Automatic firing; Flash On; Flash Off
  • Face Detection Flash Yes, Face Detect FE (Flash Exposure)
  • Manual flash output Yes, 3 steps
  • Slow sync Available (second-curtain sync not available)
  • Flash exposure lock Available
  • Flash output compensation +/- 2 stops in 1/3 stop increments
  • Maximum distance 9.8 ft (W) / 6.6 ft (T); ISO set to Auto
  • Macro flash 1.6 feet
  • Flash sync speed 1/500 sec. (maximum)
  • Compatible accessory Speedlites Any EX-series speedlite (wireless E-TTL possible with compatible flashes,
    and/or Canon ST-E2 wireless transmitter

Computer Interface

  • Direct-connection to computer USB (mini-B); via dedicated Canon USB cable IFC-400PCU (supplied with camera)
    • USB speed: 2.0 Hi-speed
  • Communication Settings PTP (Picture Transfer Protocol) and MTP (Media Transfer Protocol)
    • Certified Windows Vista compatible
  • Computer Controlled Shooting When connected to a computer, shooting operation via the computer is possible with of
    supplied Remote Capture Task Software
  • Video Out to TV monitor Yes, via supplied A/V cable AVC-300 (NTSC or PAL; selectable on camera’s menu)

Direct Printing

  • Compatible printers
    Canon Compact Photo printers -- prints directly to Canon CP and SELPHY printers
    Canon inkjet printers -- prints directly to compatible Direct-print Canon printers
    Third-party inkjet printers -- prints directly to PictBridge-compatible printers
  • Printing features Print with shooting data, image optimizer (face brightener), select paper size,
    ID Photo print (possible on CP printer), Single frame Movie print
    (thumbnail frames from movie can be printed with select Canon CP printers)
  • Print/Share button Yes

Battery and Power

  • Type Rechargeable Canon NB-2LH battery pack (same battery as EOS Digital Rebel XT/XTi)
  • Recording capacity Approx. 240 shots (LCD monitor on, CIPA standard)
  • LCD playback time Approx. 7 hours
  • AC adapter (optional) Canon AC Adapter Kit ACK-DC20
  • Car battery charger (optional) Canon CBC-NB2

Body & Dimensions

  • Dimensions (W x H x D) 4.2 x 2.8 x 1.7 inches; excluding protrusions
  • Weight (w/o battery or SD card) 11.3 oz.

Other

  • Languages 25 languages: English, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian,
    Swedish, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Greek, Polish, Czech,
    Hungarian, Turkish, Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Korean, Thai, Romanian, Ukrainian,
    and Japanese
  • Clock Function Built-in; automatic calendar until year 2037
    • No imprinting of date/time on images, except Postcard direct print mode
      to select Canon printers

All specifications on this document are based on Canon, Inc’s standard test method.
All specifications are preliminary, and subject to change without notice.
Produced by the Technical Information Group ©2007 Canon USA, Inc.


Copyright © 2007 PopPhoto.com, a division of Hachette Filipacchi Media, U.S., Inc.