Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Early impressions of my Canon G9

In an earlier blog I laid out my reasons for choosing the G9 above all the other compact digital cameras around. I have had the G9 for about two months now and here are my first impressions of it.

First off I am pretty impressed with the quality of the images it produces and I have printed photos up to A3 which I am very happy with - I am happy with my purchase decision.

The first thing I did was buy a couple of Sandisk Extreme III 2Gb SD cards and the cheapest 2Gb SD card available at the same shop (a Toshiba) as an emergency spare card, along with a couple of generic spare batteries (£9.99 for two vs. £37.99 each for genuine Canon NB-2LHs); all from the 7dayshop. I have used generic batteries from the 7dayshop for some years and never had a problem - not only are they much cheaper, but they tend to have higher capacity as well; in this case 750mAh vs. 720mAh for the supplied Canon battery.

I don't spend a huge amount of time reading through manuals if I can avoid it, so after a cursory flick through to see if there was anything I really needed to know (which there wasn't) I got on with using the camera. Since I have used Canon cameras for some time most of the controls were reassuringly obvious. I have found, as expected, the separate ISO knob extremely useful as I try to keep the ISO as low as practical with small sensor cameras to keep image noise low. The controls I use most are the flexizone focus control and exposure compensation - both of which have separate buttons to activate and use the 4-way button and rotary control on the back of the camera to adjust.

I nearly always use cameras in Aperture Priority (Av) mode and the G9 has been pretty much permanently set in that mode since I started using it. As is my normal practice I have only used the camera in RAW mode and I am very happy with the RAW conversions that I have done in Lightroom so far.

Parliament Square & Big Ben

I have used it as a general carry anywhere camera so I had it on me when I found myself in Parliament Square late one afternoon when the light was warm and clear. I picked a good shot and processed it from RAW in Lightroom, through CS3 and printed it up to A3 from both Lightroom and Qimage (more about that in a later blog), producing the photo of Big Ben with the London Eye in the background above. At the widest focal length on the G9 and the angle that I was using the camera at to fit the scene into the frame there was considerable perspective distortion, particularly of Big Ben. In a perfect world I would like less barrel distortion wide open as well, but for the type of camera it is I am happy to accept it for its portability. To improve the shot a bit I used PTLens in Photoshop to correct for the lens distortion and perspective a bit - trying not to overdo it and unnaturally "stretch" the image.

100% crop from above photo

I was very impressed with the resulting overall photo, but I was really happy and surprised with the detail that the camera captures at the short end of the camera’s focal length range; equivalent to 35mm. The 100% crop from the Houses of Parliament roof shows what it can pick up – I certainly did not notice the roof ladder when I was looking at the scene. This is exactly the sort of photo I bought the G9 for – a grab shot that I can print to a good size and be happy with.

Wide angle grab shot

One of my reasons for settling on the G9 instead of the Ricoh GX-100 was the longer reach equivalent to 210mm. This came into its own when I was on a walk in the countryside and I looked over a bridge to see a sleek animal getting out of the water – at first I thought it was a cat, but realised that that was unlikely. I ducked out of sight and got the G9 out of my jacket pocket, turned it on and eased my head back over the parapet. The animal was still there so I took a grab shot in case it disappeared then extended the lens to its full length and waited for the creature to show itself again. The light was low and the image stabiliser was essential at the long focal length. I took several shots and was not much the wiser what it was, other than it was like a large weasel or small otter. Back home I downloaded the images – around ten in all before it disappeared. Some were a bit blurred with the creature’s movement but as you can see it showed clearly that it was a Mink; according to Wikipedia, with that white chin patch it might be a European Mink. Anyway I was happy to have the reach, image stabilisation and speed of RAW capture file writing.

Mink with 210mm focal length

So what else have I learnt?
  • It is a little bulky, but very pocketable - jacket pockets rather than trouser or shirt pockets though.

  • Since manufacturers always seem to quote the weight of cameras excluding battery and card I weighed my set up. My G9 with battery, SD card and wrist strap is 376g, against the quoted figure of 320g exc. battery and card.

  • The RAW file writing speed is OK (using the Sandisk Extreme III 2Gb SD); at the top end of acceptable, but very usable. Using a stop watch, with the G9 in single shot mode, I timed the practical time between shots as about 3.5 secs - What I found was that a shot could be taken when the "busy" sign went out on the display, which is before the green flashing LED by the optical viewfinder goes out and just about when the detailed review display comes up (if you have set it to show details information on review). Just keeping your finger on the shutter release does not speed up the time - it just ignores you until you let go and press the release again. By comparison the cheap Toshiba (which, looking the card code up on the web, has a write speed of 3Mb/s versus the Extreme III's 20Mb/s, or 133x) produced times around 5.5 secs. So my practical times are much less than the quoted times for RAW shooting, but for most of my likely uses OK. And for faster times it is worth having a faster card, although the gains are not huge. I think that some of the difference may be in the time the camera takes to focus between shots. Using manual focus the Sandisk times reduced to around 2.5 secs and the Toshiba to 5 secs. So to get quick RAW write times use a fast card and manual focus - auto focus eats up much of the fast card's advantage. But for most shots I will continue to use auto focus. See my update for continuous shooting times.

  • While not blisteringly fast the auto focus has been good enough for me to use in both low'ish light static and slow'ish wildlife photography.

  • There has been some criticism of the shutter lag in manual mode, but I have not used it in that mode and shutter lag has certainly not been a problem for me.

  • I took around a hundred photos the other day and the battery level indicator was still indicating a full battery.

  • The RAW file sizes vary quite considerably – I have seen files from 11Mb up to 19Mb - in all cases much bigger than the RAW files from my Canon 30D, which range from 7Mb to 11Mb, reflecting the difference between the 8.2 mega pixel and 12.2 mega pixel sensors in the two cameras.

  • Around 115 images fit on a 2Gb SD card – I turned off the parallel jpeg recording as I never use them and they just take up more space on the card.

  • I don’t much like the neck strap supplied with the camera as I prefer to keep the camera out of the way in a pocket most of the time, so I bought an Op/Tech quick release wrist strap which I am happy with.

  • I looked at buying a protective pouch for the G9 and decided on the Lowepro D-Pods 30, but the 7dayshop have been out of stock for the month or more since I ordered it; in the meanwhile I found an old HP calculator case in a drawer and it fits fine so I have been using that.

And why, oh why does Canon bother to supply a memory card at all if they are only going to include a tiddly 32Mb SD card – enough for about two RAW photos!


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