That little Misunderstood PowerShot G9
Yesterday I happened to look at the stats page for this blog and was struck by the fact that, all of a sudden, the Canon PowerShot G9 is responsible for a large proportion of the search engine delivered hits on the blog. The level of those G9 related hits has been growing for some time, but it’s really taken off after this post titled PowerShot G9 Accessories.
The G9 is a funny camera. It’s gotten quite a few lukewarm reviews, like this one from MacWorld which says:
Canon’s G series has converted many a serious film shutterbug to digital photography. Launched in 2000 with the PowerShot G1, the sturdy G line helped establish digital photography as something more than a novelty. But judging from the latest entry, the Canon PowerShot G9, the line may have outlived its usefulness.
Make no mistake—this serious-looking black brick of a camera is capable of producing great images. But the G9 is out of sync with the marketplace, offering few compelling advantages, and some distinct disadvantages compared to cheaper point-and-shoots and comparably priced DSLRs.
[…] On the plus side, the odd little rotating ring on the G9’s main control button makes this one of the few point-and-shoots with a usable manual-focus option.
The G9 falls short in other areas, however. Most recent models similar to this one are superzoom cameras that cover a range from wide-angle to extreme telephoto. The G9’s lens starts out at a relatively modest 35mm and extends to 6x optical zoom, but a mere 4x digital zoom.
Too bad the author (David Becker) doesn’t seem to realize that, by using that ‘odd little rotating ring’ on the back, Canon produced a user interface that managed to meld the point and shoot line with Canon’s digital SLR line. To someone who’s been using a high end digital camera, that ‘odd little rotating ring’ makes the user interface instantly recognizable. I’m stunned to read a review of a camera that mentioned digital zoom except in the context of describing how easy or hard it is to turn the feature off, much less a review that seemed to think that 4x digital zoom is a disappointment.
Another strange passage from Becker’s review:
Add in some odd design and control choices—ISO settings are elevated to a separate rotating knob on the top of the camera, but you’ll need to dig through the menu to alter a basic function like image stabilization—and it’s tough to make a case for the G9’s $500 price tag. You can spend $150 less and get an equally capable point-and-shoot, such as the Samsung NV11 (). Or, you could spend $50 more for a DSLR with all of the above plus a significantly broader aperture range and versatility, which will allow the camera to grow with your skills.
Ok, I just have to disagree that having the ISO setting on a dial on the top of the camera but having to drill through a menu to turn image stabilization on and off is an odd design choice. And saying that you can spend $50 more and end up with a DSLR is sort of missing the point – it’s like saying “Why would you pay $5500 for a Leica M8 when you can buy a DLSR for one tenth the price?”
Ok, enough whining about this particular review, which I will admit is a cherry-picked example of WWW camera review badness. My larger point, here, both in mentioning the stream of G9 related search queries that land on this blog, and in mentioning the stream of bizarre reviews of the G9 is that the G9 is a nice little camera that is at risk of being Seriously Misunderstood.
The G9 is not a camera that appeals to photographers who are just starting out (although I’d claim it would serve handsomely in that role). Those photographers are more likely to buy low end DSLRs, just as Becker suggests. And it’s not a camera that appeals to the point and shoot purchaser, who no sooner would buy a camera because it records in RAW mode than they’d buy a camera that has no built-in flash.
The G9 is a camera that’s probably being bought by folks who already have DSLRs. They’re looking for something small, durable, and reasonably lightweight, with image quality high enough that they don’t look at every frame and wish they’d made it with a better camera. They want a fit-in-the-pocket camera that doesn’t disappoint with respect to image quality. Becker gets this part almost right, saying
The main market for this camera seems to be serious photographers who don’t want the clutter, expense, and weight of a DSLR. But with SLRs hitting price points of $500 and weighing less than a pound, those arguments don’t hold much water anymore. Instead, the G9 is likely to succeed mainly on looks—the styling invokes the classic rangefinder cameras of the pre-digital era—and brand loyalty.
What Becker is missing is that the G9 seems to be a pleasant surprise – a combination of a small, light camera with a decent sensor (perhaps a bit noisy), a pretty good lens, and RAW capture. It’s a camera that appeals to the photographer who not only knows what shutter speed, aperture and ISO are but how they interact, and expect the user interface to allow easy changes to those critical settings even at the expense of hiding control of image stabilization in the menus.
Lately I’ve gotten several requests that I do some sort of serious comparison of image quality between my EOS-5d and the G9, all of them from photographers I know and whose work I hold in high regard. [I have just such a comparison planned, and it’s waiting on delivery of the tripod plate for the G9, which got held up for a bit but should arrive shortly] I’d just point out that if the camera is getting the attention of these folks, it’s not the market mis-read that so many of the reviews that categorized the camera as ‘one of the few point and shoots with a usable manual’. It’s really more a nice, small digital camera with good image quality that happens to have a green ‘auto’ setting as well as the aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual settings. And I’d point out that I have people ask me my opinions about various camera models all the time, but the only other camera I’ve ever had anyone ask me to compare to a high end SLR in terms of image quality was the venerable classic, the Contax T3.