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Home / Photography / Performance Cameras

Canon PowerShot G12 Review

By Mike Perlman, Tuesday 28 September 2010
The Big, Bad Canon PowerShot G12 review is here! Check out our full analysis of this monster fixed lens compact, complete with image samples and HD videos.

Canon PowerShot G12 Overview

The Canon PowerShot G12 belongs to an awesome class of digital cameras that specialize in fixed lenses, advanced manual controls, and larger imaging sensors than competing point-and-shoot compacts. This type of camera is the ultimate professional's pocket cam, or the student's first weapon of choice. We happened to really like the new Canon camera on multiple levels. It is one of the most advanced fixed lens cameras on the market, offering enough dials, buttons, and wheels to keep any photographer happy. The G12's manual controls are addictive, menu operation and navigation are a piece of cake, and the camera now flaunts 720p HD video. We had very few gripes about the killer Canon PowerShot G12, though we're certain that the camera will meet its match when we review the Nikon Coolpix P7000 next week. There's also the venerable Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 waiting in the wings as well. Let's see what the G12 has to offer first.

Canon PowerShot G12Canon PowerShot G12Canon PowerShot G12Canon PowerShot G12Canon PowerShot G12

Canon PowerShot G12 Design

2010 brings us a new control dial located in front of the Canon PowerShot G12, which came in handy within a multitude of shootings environments. Aside from a textured, rubberized thumb pad in the back of the camera, the G12 is architecturally identical to last year's PowerShot G11. There's nothing wrong with this, for if you take a gander at the Canon PowerShot G12's omnipotent body construction, few fixed-lens compacts can compete. The Canon PowerShot G12's main competition is the Nikon Coolpix P7000, and we'll do a full comparison in our P7000 review.

But for now, let's bask in the awesomeness that is the Canon PowerShot G12, starting with the camera's topside. Up here, we get an Exposure Compensation dial for knocking around exposure on the fly. We're also treated to a miniature layer cake of useful controls—the bottom dial controls ISO while the smaller diameter top dial dictates the camera shooting mode. We then have a small shutter button/zoom rocker combination, and an on/off switch. We loved this control setup last year on the PowerShot G11, and we love it just as much this year. There's nothing quite like superseding a labyrinthine menu system at the expense of a simple dial flick.

In back, the Canon PowerShot G12 hosts a configuration of four buttons that surround the control dial next to the LCD—Focus Frame toggle, Metering, Display, and Menu. Migrating these controls onto the camera body enables the four-way directional pad to be stocked with two different, independent focus settings—Manual Focus and Macro—while still incorporating Flash and Self-Timer settings. We get an AE Lock button in the top right corner, Playback button beneath the ISO dial, and a Shortcut button in the far left corner. The HDMI and AV/USB terminals are housed by a solid plastic hatch along the side. A Toss a hot shoe on top for Canon Speedlite flash compatibility, and the Canon PowerShot G12 means serious business.

For monitors, the Canon PowerShot G12 offers an optical viewfinder with dioptric adjuster and a 2.8-inch foldout swivel LCD with a 461,000-pixel display. These were the only major hiccups in the PowerShot G12's design. For one, the viewfinder is obstructed by the lens at full wide-angle. It's not a big honking plate of lens in the field of view, but it's enough to affect perspective. Also, we could have used more pixels in the LCD. Give us a nice 920,000-dot display on the G13. In other news, the PowerShot G12 has a lens mount for compatibility with a teleconversion lens. Lastly, the battery and SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot is located in a secure hatch on the bottom of the camera. Despite its few flaws, the Canon PowerShot G12 was one of the most exciting cameras to shoot with, thanks to the camera's stellar design.

Shooting with the Canon PowerShot G12

If it hasn't dawned on you that the Canon PowerShot G12 is geared toward the advanced photographer, it will in this section. The G12 offered oodles of modes, options, and settings that allowed us to shoot efficiently with a primary focus on creativity. One of our favorite features was the camera's Digital Level meter, which monitored when we were holding the camera at a level position. This worked horizontally and vertically, and coupled with the G12's grid guideline, shooting symmetrical scenes became a piece of cake. We also loved the revamped Self-Timer mode that worked in conjunction with the front Control dial, allowing us to customize up to 30 seconds and 10 consecutive shots.

There were some new Scene modes to play with as well. The Canon PowerShot G12 offered the new Super Vivid, Posterize, HDR, and Nostalgic modes. Nostalgic altered the saturation of the image via the front Control dial in real time, and HDR took three images at different exposures, blending them together. We could even use Super Vivid and Posterize in HDR mode as well, but be sure to use a tripod or have a rock steady hand. If we wanted to blend the images later in Photoshop, the G12 offered Exposure Bracketing and Focus Bracketing modes. There was even a DSLR-style Quick Shot mode, which filled the LCD with image information such as White Balance, Image Quality, Exposure Compensation, etc., for adjusting in seconds.

The Canon PowerShot G12 retained the same 5x optical zoom 28mm wide-angle lens this year, but a 24mm wide-angle would have been nice. Also, Canon needs a new Manual Focus system, since the resolution of the LCD screen is still not fine enough to tell when a subject is focused. Luckily, the G12 had excellent AF, and we were able to move the Focus frame and change the size of the box. Canon's Hybrid Optical Image Stabilization worked well in still and video mode, and it's right up there with Panasonic's Mega OIS system. The Neutral Density filter actually allowed us to select wider apertures and slower shutter speeds in most lighting, and was a nice touch to have out in nature.

The Canon PowerShot G12 is best shot in Program AE, Shutter, Aperture, or Manual mode because we got the opportunity to shoot in RAW. When just shooting in JPEG mode, we had a Dynamic Range Correction adjustment, a host of color filters, and the ability to shoot in 4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 1:1, and 4:5. We only got a Shutter Speed that dipped down to 15 seconds, and the Aperture range was a mere f/2.8 – f/8.0, so ISO had to be boosted in very low light. However, we were able to shoot in a Whitman's Sampler of shooting environments, and it seemed like the Canon PowerShot G12 had an answer for nearly every photographic riddle.

Canon PowerShot G12 Still Image Quality

When it came to quality imaging, the Canon PowerShot G12 did not let us down, but we knew what we were getting into after having reviewed G-series models in the past. Furthermore, Canon carried over the 10-megapixel 1/1.7-inch CCD from last year's G11, so much was not changed when it came down to the nitty gritty in the infoSync labs. For this, we understand what Canon is doing, and that's not messing with a good thing. We've always admired the PowerShot G cameras in regards to image quality.

However, it's a double-edged sword, and we feel Canon could have pumped up the jam here even further. What about a larger sensor? New processing. The Canon PowerShot G12 even receives the same Digic 4 processing as last year. So we neutralize with the Canon PowerShot G12—plus one for maintaining great image quality, minus one for not attempting to revamp the imaging system.

Now let's talk photography. The Canon PowerShot G12 never exhibited any surefire evidence leading to a basic, no-frills imaging performance. Therefore, fringing, ghosting, stepping, and dramatic contrasts were never an issue. We found that in bright light, the Canon PowerShot G12 produced images that rivaled entry-level DSLRs and Micro Four Thirds cameras. In low light, the camera exhibited a noticeable amount of noise, but it wasn't off the charts. We did notice that the G12's RAW images exhibited more definition than the JPEGs, but more noise in low light. In bright light, RAW images transcended JPEGs when it came to detail and clarity.

We did a lot of long exposure shooting under faint moonlight, and the Canon PowerShot G12 was able to expose impressively. At ISO 1600, the noise became an issue, so we made sure to keep it below that value. You'll see some ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 images in our samples, and at full resolution, the images cannot be used for more advanced applications. However, for a 1/1.7-inch CCD, the G12's noise population is significantly low. Colors, tonality, gradation, and sharpness are this camera's strengths in shooting environments with decent lighting, and we can safely say that the Canon PowerShot G12's image performance matched the PowerShot G11's.

Processed RAW Shots

Shutter Prio., 1/60, ISO 200, f/5.6

Program AE, 1/60, ISO 100, f/3.5, -2/3 step

Program AE, 1/25, ISO 200, f/2.8

Shutter Prio., 1/125, ISO 200, f/2.8

Program AE, 1/100, ISO 100, f/4.0, -2/3 step

Program AE, 1/25, ISO 200, f/2.8

Manual, 15-second Shutter, ISO 80, f/4.5

Manual, 15-second Shutter, ISO 1600, f/4.5

Manual, 15-second Shutter, ISO 3200, f/8.0

Manual, 15-second Shutter, ISO 1600, f/8.0

Manual, 15-second Shutter, ISO 3200, f/8.0

Manual, 15-second Shutter, ISO 400, f/2.8

Scene Modes and Filters

Pumpkins in Color Accent

Paul Bunyan in HDR Super Vivid

Stephen King's House in Nostalgic

Buoys in Super Vivid

Big Green in HDR Super Vivid

Paul Bunyan in Miniature

Dandelions in Color Accent

Foliage in Super Vivid

Sandy in Posterize

Perpendicular in Posterize

Lovebirds in Auto, ISO 1600

Canon PowerShot G12 Video Quality

The Canon PowerShot G12's 720p 24fps video mode is new, so it appeared that not a whole lot of thought was poured into the shooting mode. The only manual controls we were limited to were White Balance, Manual Focus, and Exposure Compensation. Sure, we could use Macro and apply Color Filters. But we couldn't utilize the 5x optical zoom or focus while filming, and those are two big strikes in our books. We could shoot using the Miniature, Color Accent, and Color Swap modes, the latter two working beautifully. But the Miniature mode's framerate goes haywire when played back via an MOV file, completely rendering the video useless. Audio was okay, though the G12 lacked a mic jack and only offered an internal Wind Filter.

On the plus side, we are getting 720p video from a 1/1.7-inch sensor, so quality is better than any point-and-shoot camera. But, this is not enough to justify the G12 as a hybrid digital still/video camera. It is a start, and for that we'll give the G12 credit.

Bright Light

Low Light

Color Accent Mode

Canon PowerShot G12 Final Answer

It's big, it's bad, and it's still kicking ass in 2010. The Canon PowerShot G12 is an excellent camera to learn on, and it's a great companion to a DSLR-wielding pro. The versatility of a camera like this is outstanding, from the image quality, to the stellar manual controls, down to the power-packed fit and finish of this formidable brick. The Canon PowerShot G12 may not be as portable, offer a high quality LCD resolution, or specialize in an advanced video mode, but it accomplishes the most important thing, and that's the ability to take quality pictures without having to swap out a lens. Sure, we'd spring for a Micro Four Thirds or DSLR any day, but if you're afraid to take the interchangeable lens route, or want a little buddy for your 7D, then the G12 is a great option.

However, the Nikon Coolpix P7000 is just around the corner, ready to strike, and we fear for the G12's well being. We honestly think that the P7000 stands a very good chance against the G12, as well as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, which is this year's advanced fixed lens wildcard. It's definitely worth the wait for our Nikon Coolpix P7000 review, but if you need to pull the trigger now, then go ahead with the Canon PowerShot G12—it's one of the best do-it-all cameras on the market.

Price and Release Date

The Canon PowerShot G12 will be available for $500 in October 2010.
Name Score Price
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 84% $670
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 82% $600
Canon PowerShot G12 80% $500
Olympus E-P2 80%
Olympus E-PL1 80% $600

Name Score Price
Canon PowerShot S95 78% $400
Canon PowerShot SX230 HS 76% $350
Nikon Coolpix S9100 75% $330
Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS 74% $325
Nikon Coolpix S8100 74% $300

Name Score Price
Nikon D7000 89% $1200
Nikon D700 89% $3000
Pentax K-r 88% $800
Canon EOS 5D Mark II 88% $2700
Pentax K-7 87% $1300
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