A First Rate Semi-Pro Camera

by Jeff Dorgay

Published February 2008

It’s just amazing how fast the measuring stick changes. Some say that 50 is the new 30 and with the big 5-0 looming on the horizon, I like the sound of that! To make this more relevant, 12-megapixels (12MP) is the new 8MP and the Canon G9 is the perfect example of this logic, with a 12MP sensor in a very compact form. Retail price for this little jewel is $499, but I have seen a few reputable dealers selling it online for about $420, so a little smart shopping will save enough money for a 4GB memory card!

The G9 fits in the palm of your hand quite nicely and personally reminds me of my old Contax T2 that I used to carry everywhere. Even though they don’t have the ultimate picture quality of a DSLR, compact cameras are a blast because they offer up spontaneity that a big, bulky camera does not. I guarantee you will always get better party pictures with a compact because people always freeze up when they see that big zoom lens on the front of a DSLR!

While you can use the G9 in the standard JPEG modes, with three settings for quality and five for size (small, 2MP, 5MP, 8MP and 12MP), I’m a big advocate of using RAW mode, which the G9 just happens to offer.

Feature Set Makes All The Difference

An all-encompassing set of features makes the G9 a joy to use in any situation and there are a few handy features that aren’t on my DSLR that I’ve grown pretty accustomed to! Image stabilization is only a touch of a button away and when shooting in low light, it allows you to get that shot at 1/30th of a second that would normally slip away.

I’ve actually been using the G9 to shoot live music concerts quite a bit and combining this with the Auto ISO Shift mode is a lifesaver because when you are concentrating on getting an image, the last thing you want to worry about is camera settings. The G9 almost has a “traditional” film camera feel to it, with an ISO dial on the upper left and the mode setting dial on the upper right.

If you are an event photographer, or even a wedding photographer who wants a great second camera, the G9 has a hot shoe that will accommodate any of the Canon Speedlites, giving you a wider range of flash capabilities than just the on-camera flash.

The new PureColor LCD II display on the G9 is not only much brighter than most that I’ve seen; it holds that brightness even at extreme angles. This is one of the biggest differences between the G9 and the A series of Canon PowerShot cameras.

Canon also uses “face recognition” technology in the G9, allowing much better people shots, using the on board microprocessor to key in on critical face elements. I can’t begin to adequately describe the technology behind this feature, but it does work quite well. I took a number of photos of my teenage daughter (that relatively never sits still) and was able to get a much higher percentage of shots with eyes in focus. It even works pretty well on dogs with lighter coats, but if you have a black Labrador, forget it!

Power and Storage

The G9 uses SD cards for image capture and shooting in RAW mode will produce 54 images per gigabyte of storage that you have on hand. (46 if you have RAW+JPEG enabled) With 8GB cards pretty commonplace and not terribly expensive, this offers up a lot of shooting without having to think about running out of memory.

Battery life is claimed to be 240 shots with heavy LCD usage and 600 with the LCD off, but this makes for a pretty tough time composing pictures. I was very excited that this camera uses a rechargeable battery, so it’s easy to keep a spare, charged NB2-LH battery in your other pocket. Typically with moderate LCD usage and keeping image playback to a minimum, I was getting more than 400 shots on a charge.

A very small touch, but one I really appreciated was an integral lens cap. I am the king of lost lens caps, so any time I don’t have to worry about it is good!

Image Quality

All these great features would be meaningless without picture quality and the G9 never fails to deliver. At ISO 80 in bright sunlight (or on a tripod), you will be hard pressed to tell the difference between an 11×17-in. print from the G9 and your favorite DSLR from a year ago. Of course, image quality goes down as ISO goes up, but again the G9 does way better than you’d expect from a compact. When shooting live performances at ISO 800, I was very pleased with the results. The pictures were a little grainy, but still held good contrast and looked better that what I used to get in the old days with ISO 400 Ektachrome film pushed a stop.

Under most circumstances you should be just fine shooting at ISO 200 or 400 without any trouble. Canon claims that you can make a 16×20-in. print from the G9 and I was very impressed from test prints made at ISO 100 and 200. At 400 to 800, they were getting a bit grainy and I wouldn’t go much bigger than 8×10 at 1600, with some pretty severe tints creeping into the shadows. But if you are just viewing on screen or e-mailing photos to friends, you can shoot anywhere on the ISO dial with no problem.

While there are a number of different metering modes, I found the adaptive one to be the “set it and forget it” mode of choice in all but the most contrasty situations, when I switched to spot metering. The +/- button is readily available, but I did not find it necessary most of the time, even when shooting JPEGs; however, this is really where the ability to shoot RAW comes in handy.

Color balance is the other instance where shooting RAW is very handy. You can just shoot away and worry about it in capture, making fine adjustments, as you need them. For those of you who will not shoot RAW, rest assured that the Auto color balance mode as well as the standard presets work very well, providing accurate color.

The G9 features the standard, Program, Aperture and Shutter Priority modes along with manual exposure. Again, with all the flexibility, using manual mode on a compact camera is pretty cumbersome, so I’d avoid this one unless you just want to torture yourself. One thing to keep in mind with this camera is that the minimum aperture setting is only F8, so you cannot get quite the depth of field that you can using a DSLR with traditional lenses. Nature and macro photographers take notice.

The 6x optical zoom offers a range equivalent to that of a 35-210mm zoom lens on a 35mm camera, so it should be pretty handy for almost any situation you can throw at it, with a maximum aperture of f2.8 (wide angle) to f4.8 (telephoto). The shutter ranges from 15 sec to 1/2500th, so you should be able to cover anything from sports to time exposures with ease.

  • Size/Weight: 4.41-in. W x 2.67-in. H x .2.21-in. D, 10.5 oz.
  • Image Sensor: CCD.
  • Maximum resolution: 12.4 MP total, 12.1 MP effective.
  • Zoom: 6x optical, 4x digital.
  • Lens Focal Length: 7.4 u221a261 44mm (35mm equiv. 35-210mm).
  • Focusing capability: 19u221a306 to infinity, normal mode, down to .39u221a306 in macro mode.
  • Display: 3-in. TFT.
  • Manual Exposure Control: Yes.
  • Exposure Metering: Center weighted, adaptive and spot modes.
  • Provided Accessories: Lithium battery pack, charger, neck strap, USB cable, AV cable, 32MB SD card, Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM.
  • Power Source: Rechargeable lithium battery, NB-2LH (addl. batteries, $70 ea.).
  • Warranty: 1 Year.
  • Contact:

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