100 in 100: Canon PowerShot G10 user report
100 Photographic Tips in 100 Days, Part III: Day 68

By Jason Schneider

December 3, 2008

For more tips, go to the 100 in 100 Part III Homepage

TO OUR READERS: With this camera report the Adorama AIRC Learning Center now offers objective image quality lab test results. You can find the Test Lab Report at the end of this article.
-Mason Resnick, Editor


The Canon PowerShot G10 is the latest and most audacious iteration of the G-Series PowerShot line of advanced compact digital cameras that began with the 3-megapixel G1 back in 2000. While the G feature set and performance level have advanced steadily with each succeeding model, the basic concept of a high-performance, state-of-the-art digital compact squarely aimed at serious shooters has remained the same. That’s a good thing, and, as you would expect, the Canon G10 offers several significant upgrades over its much-lauded predecessor, the G9.

Key Features:
  • 14.7 megapixel sensor
  • 28-140mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-4.5 lens
  • Macro focus within 1 inch of lens
  • 3-inch LCD monitor
  • Advanced image processing
  • Auto, manual focus and exposure options
  • Photo effects and shooting modes
  • Optical viewfinder
  • JPEG, RAW capture
System options: Best suited for:
  • Snapshooters, serious photograhers who want portability and control
Approx. $460

New specs for extended range, better performance

First and foremost is the G10’s new lens, a 6.1-30.5mm (28-140mm equivalent) f/2.8-4.5, providing, for the first time in the line, true wide-angle coverage and speed without increasing size of the camera. While the telephoto end has been trimmed compared to the 35-210mm-equivalent lens in the G9, for most shooters having 28mm capability extends the subject range considerably (it’s especially useful for shooting landscapes, indoors, or the family around a table). And you can still get 200mm (well, 196mm) equivalent coverage by mounting the dedicated 1.4X Canon TC-DC58D tele-converter.

A wider zoom range: Less telephoto but more wide angle, starting at 28mm, distinguishes G10 from its predecessors.

Like the G9, the G10 uses a 1/1.7-inch CCD image sensor (the largest size generally found in point-and-shoot cameras) but its megapixel rating has been bumped up to 14.7MP from 12.1MP. Perhaps even more important, the G10 incorporates the same top-of-the-line Digic 4 image processing system as the new EOS 5D Mark II DSLR. This delivers numerous real-world benefits including shorter shutter lag and start-up times, considerably improved responsiveness when shooting continuous bursts (up to 0.7 frames-per sec in RAW), and noticeably better imaging performance at high ISOs. You can see a slight improvement even at ISO 400, but it really becomes evident at the ISO 800 and 1600 settings.

Finally there’s the 3-inch LCD, the same size as the one in the G9, but now displaying a 460,000-pixel image, up from 230,000. The result: An amazingly crisp, bright viewing image that’s much better for composing and reviewing the shot. By pressing the MENU button, selecting the shooting mode (camera icon) menu, scrolling to AF Frame and setting it to Flexizone, the image area in the AF frame will be magnified when you press the shutter release partway in—a very useful feature for assessing details on the fly prior to taking the picture.

Traditional controls and styling

In keeping with the G-series heritage, the PowerShot G10 looks land feels like a “real camera,” with a heft, control array, and styling cues that link it with the classic cameras of the film era—a knurled bayonet cover on the lens surround, milled analog dials and a dedicated E-TTL hot shoe for EX-series Speedlites on top, and an EOS-style control dial surrounding the 4-way toggle switch and Function Set button on the back. In addition to the analog ISO and mode dials present on the G9, the G10 adds a convenient +/-2-stop (in 1/3 step increments) exposure-compensation dial.

There are the usual large, legibly marked manual ISO settings from 80-1600, or you can set the ISO dial to Auto and let the camera select the ISO according to the light level, or HI which will favor higher ISO speeds for faster shutter speeds when action subjects are detected. You can also set the mode dial to SCN (scene), scroll through the usual subject mode options, and select ISO 3200 for shooting without flash in low light. At that setting recording pixels are fixed at the Medium 3 image quality level, or 1600x1200 pixels.

Finding faults: Nothing major

In the G tradition, the G10 has a small separate optical zoom finder that can help you steady the camera against your face when composing the shot, or conserve battery power by turning off the LCD. To its credit, the optical finder shows a clear image and has a diopter control for adjusting it to your individual eyesight. A tiny bit of the lens barrel does obtrude into the bottom left-hand portion of the viewing image when the lens is zoomed all the way wide, but this is a nit-pick.

The real problem with the G10’s optical finder is that it is satisfactory, but not up to the very high standard set by the rest of the camera. It shows the image at only 0.77X magnification (not quite the ticket for accurate composition), has rounded corners (unlike the captured image), and no sight marks, frame lines, or parallax-compensation markings.

So long as I’ m bringing up minor deficits, here are a few more. The G10 does not offer HD movie capability (though it can shoot impressive videos (AVI Motion JPEGS with audio) at 640x480 resolution and 30fps. Unlike some of its high-end point-and-shoot competitors from Nikon and Panasonic, the G10 does not provide built-in GPS geo-tagging, and the only aspect ratio available other than standard 4:3 is Widescreen 16:9 (4416x2480).

Finally, when you set the camera to RAW or RAW + JPEG capture, the effects of “My Color” settings including the very useful Custom Color adjustments to contrast, sharpness, and saturation are temporarily disabled. They are restored when the camera is set to any other capture mode (such as any size JPEG), and other settings (including White Balance) do apply to JPEGs even when the camera is set to RAW + JPEG. Go figure.

About face: This double portrait with flash shows the G10’s face recognition’s ability to get natural, pleasing skintones.

On the plus side, the G10 is the only camera in its class to provide true manual focus capability, a must for many serious shooters. Just press the MF area of the 4-way toggle switch on the back, and presto you’re in manual focus mode, as indicated by an MF icon with green arc-shaped arrows pointing downwards. Now turn the control dial leftward or rightward and a magnified view of whatever is in the AF frame in use is displayed in the center of the LCD and a vertical distance scale (it can be set to feet or meters) appears on the right.

To focus, just turn the dial back and forth until the subject area is sharp, and take the shot. Press the MF switch again or turn off the camera to cancel the MF function. This is a brilliantly convenient execution that makes it easy to focus manually on the fly.

Contrasty subject, i-Contrast off: Low shadow detail in foreground and face.

Same subject, i-Contrast on: Better shadow detail in foreground, better skin tones, and only slightly less detail in overexposed background.

Another great feature that’s new on the G10 is i-Contrast, which is activated by setting this clearly labeled shooting menu mode from Off to Auto. When the camera detects excessive contrast in the scene, such as with a backlit subject, it automatically adjusts the contrast level to deliver a more normal looking tonal range. This works like a charm in capturing realistic pictures in difficult lighting conditions.

The G10 also has an improved Face Detection system that focuses on and tracks faces, and even recognizes faces that are tilted and in profile. It’s the first PowerShot with Servo AF, which provides continuous focus tracking. Both upgrades were made possible by the speed and depth of the Digic 4 image processing system.

I also like the improved optical IS (image stabilization) system, which does a very good job in minimizing the effects of camera shake at slow shutter speeds when set to Continuous, and provides alternative settings of Shoot Only (which turns on the system only when you’re taking a shot), panning, and off. The manual exposure (M) mode (set with the top-mounted mode dial) is likewise much more convenient and intuitive than those in other cameras. Just toggle the 4-sway switch to the left and right to select the shutter speed (15-1/4000 sec) or aperture on the LCD, then turn the control dial to center a moving dash opposite a vertical exposure index to set the proper exposure.

There are many other fascinating features listed in the 305-page English-only version of the G10 manual that I cannot cover in detail here (such as setting the size and placement of the AF zone), but suffice it to say that the camera’s feature set is extremely comprehensive, logical, and commendably user-friendly.

The bottom line: Image quality

Where the Canon PowerShot G10 really excels is sheer image quality, and here its performance can only be described as awesome—noticeably better than the G9 (which is very good indeed) and far better than other digital cameras of comparable size and price. This attests to the G10’s outstanding lens and image processing system that, in combination, deliver a remarkably high level of image quality for a “small sensor” camera. Indeed, there are numerous website postings attesting to the fact that the G10 performs on a par with middle-tier and even prosumer DSLRs with respect to resolution, sharpness, and color differentiation.

One very knowledgeable Brit conducted a fascinating seat-of-the-pants experiment by showing comparable 16x20 enlargements made with the G10 and a Hasselblad with 39-megapixel back to a panel of experienced professional photographers and digital techs. His verdict: The experts could not reliably tell which pictures were made with which camera (though a few did notice the shallower depth of field in the medium-format images.)

Happily, my findings corroborate all these assertions—when I shot a head-and-shoulders portrait at ISO 100 with the camera on a tripod at f/5.6 and blew up the subject’s eye to simulate a 16x20 enlargement on the screen, I was astounded by the detail in the lines of the iris and subtle skin textures.

Results in normal “walk-around” shooting under a wide variety of lighting conditions were equally impressive. Available light shots in tungsten and mixed light turned out very well at the Auto AWB setting, and the built-in flash did an excellent job, delivering accurate skin tones and a reasonably soft, natural look in impromptu close-up portraits.

ISO test target, full of details. Can the G10’s image processor really reduce noise at higher ISO's? Let’s see:

Good detail at ISO 100-400 in this 100% detail.

Image quality at ISO 800 is still OK for a decent 8x10-inch print, but it deteriorates by ISO 1600.

Just because the Canon G10 flat outperforms virtually any other camera of its size and type hardly means you should ditch your DSLR, or for that matter, rush out and buy a G10. Cameras with larger sensors have definite advantages, and while we didn’t perform any side-by-side comparisons, you can rest assured that a Nikon D700 or a Canon EOS 5D Mark II will deliver better overall image quality than the G10 at ISO settings of 1600 and above. And aside from lens interchangeability, a DSLR provides much more flexible depth-of-field control for creative effects, along with a greater aperture range. The real reason the G10 doesn’t stop down farther than f/8 is diffraction, which would unduly compromise image quality at smaller apertures.

Then there is the matter of size and weight. The G10 is on the large end of compact with respect to size, and on the heavy side for a point-and-shoot. If you’re looking for a more compact and considerably lighter high-performance point-and-shoot to carry in your pocket or pocketbook, take a look at the 13.5-megapixel Nikon Coolpix P6000 that also sells for a tad under 500 bucks and has built-in GPS geotagging. However, if the ultimate in image quality and image control is what rings your chimes, the G10 takes top honors—it’s simply the best in its class.

Test Lab Report: Canon G10

All objective test data, based on lab tests of RAW image files, courtesy of DxOMark. Used with permission.

Manufacturer specifications

Sensor type: CCD
Resolution: 4480 x 3348
Sensor photo detectors: 15.00 Mpix
Size: 6 mm x 8 mm
Color filter array: RGB
Pixel pitch: 1.7 µm
Bits per pixel: 12
Focal length multiplier: 4.50
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
ISO latitude: 80 - 1600
Shutter type: Electronic
Fastest - Lowest speed: 1/4000 s - 15 s
Frame rate: 1.3 fps
Live view: yes
Stabilization: Yes

ISO Sensitivity: All actual recorded ISO sensitivity readings were slightly higher than those indicated, but not enough to make it a significant factor.

Image noise: Image noise quality falls short of minimum standard of a signal-to-noise ratio of at least 30db at all speeds except ISO 80, where image quality is acceptable. By ISO 400, signal-to-noise ratio drops to around 20dB, and is unacceptable (18 dB) by ISO 800. However, this image quality is relatively good for a compact camera. We recommend shooting at ISO 200 or lower for best image quality and virtually no visible noise.

Dynamic range: The G10 offers a dynamic range of approximately 9.5 EV at ISO 80. This drops to 9EV--the lowest considered acceptable--by ISO 100. By ISO 200 the dynamic range is below the minimum quality benchmarks and is is as low as 5 stops by the time you get to ISO 1600.

Color depth: This measurement indicates how smooth color gradations are in photos, and in this respect the G10 delivered acceptable results at ISO 80 and 100, and borderline quality through ISO 400. By ISO 800, color depth was unacceptablly thin.

Overall: Based on combined results based on color depth, dynamic range, and low-light ISO performance, the Canon G10's image quality is rated 37.8 (out of a possible 100). While this result is low compared to digital SLRs, it gave good results for a compact camera, and is capable of producing good quality enlargements up to 11x14 and even beyond--as long as you use its lowest ISO settings.

Data interpreted by Mason Resnick.

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