Canon PowerShot G11

Canon lowers the megapixel count and improves the image quality on this advanced compact camera.

Dec 10, 2009
By Dan Havlik

Canon PowerShot G11

Canon discovers that "less is more" by lowering the number of pixels on the PowerShot G11 while maintaining the G-series' classic build.
When the G11 was announced last August, I interviewed a Canon marketing person about why the company had decided to reduce the number of megapixels in its new flagship PowerShot camera from the previous version. "Less is more," the marketing person explained. Though this made for a great headline—finally a company had recognized that more megapixels weren't the answer!—it wasn't until I tested the G11 that I understood the full ramifications of this quote.

If you read the Canon 7D review in this issue prior to this one, you'll know that I groused about Canon pumping up the pixels in that 18-megapixel DSLR at the expense of image quality in low light. With the G11 which has 10 megapixels compared to its predecessor the 14.7-megapixel G10, Canon's attempted to reduce noise by simply reducing the number of pixels on the same 1/1.7-inch sized chip. While that's all well and good and I admire the company for taking such a bold stand against those who think "more is more," it still hasn't fully solved the problem. In my testing, the G11 was certainly a superior pocket shooter compared to the G10 all the way to ISO 800. After that, both cameras got extremely dodgy with ISO 1600+ images really only suitable for Web usage. What struck me about the G11's images at high ISOs was how aggressive Canon has tuned the camera's anti-noise processing software with much squishing of pixels and smearing of detail. With the G11, it's as if Canon is saying: "Can't you see we're trying really, really hard to get rid of noise?"

Though anti-noise algorithms can help if they're used the right way, as the saying goes : "You can't put lipstick on a pig." Even if you lower the resolution to 10 megapixels, at 1/1.7-inch you're still dealing with an imaging sensor that's about the size of the fingernail on your pinkie. While Canon's rivals including Sigma, Olympus, Leica, and Panasonic have put larger sensors into compact cameras with some success, Canon has so far avoided that conversation. "Less is more," Canon says and while that may be true when it comes to resolution, it's not the case when talking about pixel/sensor size. More is indeed more.

And this is too bad since the G11, as an advanced pocket camera, is still much better designed than what the competition has put up so far. This camera is fast to power on, fast to focus, and fast to capture. The design of the G11 has changed little from the G10 and that's a good thing. Canon's flagship G-series is already something of a classic: sturdy, well balanced, and with delightfully helpful exterior dials for controlling vital settings such as ISO and exposure compensation. (No menu hunting!)

Canon's also brought back the vari-angle LCD on the G11, a 2.8-inch "flip-out" screen that's great for composing over-the-head or down low shots. (Canon dropped the vari-angle screen from the G-series in 2006 and we're happy to see they've listened to photographers' complaints not just about image quality but about functionality.)

The G11 uses the same 28mm-140mm lens with an aperture of f/2.8-f.4.5 as its predecessor and that's a good thing as well as maintaining its RAW and RAW + JPEG shooting modes which are "musts" for pros. Where I really wish Canon had "kept up with the Joneses" though is in offering a high definition (HD) video mode. Instead, the G11 only has a standard def movie mode that can capture 640 x 480 clips at 30 frames per second. How very 2006!

In the end, I'd recommend the Canon PowerShot G11 to any pro who's looking for a quality compact camera to throw in their bag or for a day of casual shooting. While Canon's rivals have made great strides in putting bigger sensors in small cameras, it's still new territory for them and all those much buzzed-about compact cameras come with some caveats. Meanwhile, Canon keeps chugging along with its well-designed G-series cameras. If the company doesn't make a major leap forward with the G11, Canon's improved it enough by lowering the pixel count and adding a vari-angle screen to warrant a thumbs up from me. Now if they would only put a bigger chip and an HD video mode in the follow-up, I'd likely give it two thumbs up.

Canon PowerShot G11

Pros: Canon recognizes that more pixels doesn't necessarily mean better image quality; fast to focus and operate; PowerShot G-series camera design is a classic of simplicity and functionality; vari-angle LCD is back!

Cons: Wish they had put a bigger sized chip in the G11 to improve low-light shooting further; no HD video mode.

Price: $500

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