Monday, September 1, 2008

Is the Canon G9 a DSLR replacement, or just another point and shoot?

Click here to read a review on DPReview.com. Photo courtesy of DPReview.com

During the last week of August I finally decided that my kids were old enough to make the pilgrimage down to Disneyland in California. Like most photographers, my immediate thought was of all of the great pictures I could get with those wonderful colors found in a place like Disneyland. Of course, my girlfriend could read my mind and informed me that she would not be a happy camper if I went to Disneyland to take pictures instead of having fun with my kids. She was 100% right so I began to think if there was a way I could still have a great trip, yet get some high quality pictures too.

Initially, I thought I would bring my Canon Rebel XTi with the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens so it would be nice and compact, yet I'd still get super sharp images. I gave up on this idea rather quickly as I didn't like the idea of not having a zoom, and my other L-lens choices weren't a good match (and I couldn't imagine going with an inferior lens on a SLR).

Now I was back to square one and trying to figure out how I could get DSLR quality RAW images when it hit me - the Canon G9 could be the answer to my problem! This image stabilizing camera has 12.1 megapixels, saves in RAW format, is durable, and supposedly has a good lens that supports f/2.8 so this was the solution to my problem.

Now all I need is a Canon G9

Now I needed a G9 and in a hurry, so my friend Luc loaned me his G9 and I was off to Disneyland!

In Disneyland I took many pictures, and immediately I fell in love with the powerful features of this camera. It supports up to ISO 1600 so I could get the picture in just about any condition, and its RAW support meant that I could adjust the white balance and exposure +/- 4 stops after shooting if I didn't get the right results in-camera. I was in business and getting great pictures in no-time.

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Ease of Use

As Peter Parker's Uncle Ben said, "with great power comes great responsibility" and immediately I found myself falling into the DSLR trap with this camera by spending time fiddling with all of the controls while my family waited in frustration for me to get the shot.

With this in mind, I quickly switched my mind set from DSLR photographer to touron so I stopped shooting in Av (aperture priority) and went to P (program mode - let the camera decide) with my only control being the focus mode and the ISO settings. In this mode I found myself generally happy with the results early on when it snagged great shots like this:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

However, I also became very annoyed with this camera's rotating knob that allows you to switch the ISO settings on the top of the camera because every time I'd take it out of my camera case it would get switched to a different ISO setting and sometimes I wouldn't notice. This of course lead me to do boneheaded things like setting the camera to ISO 80 when I should have been at ISO 800. This of course resulted in long exposures and blurry results as was the case in this photo, which otherwise would have been a cool shot:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

That issue aside, I still managed to get plenty of shots that I was quite pleased with (from looking on the G9's display) so I thought I was in good shape.

Gee Ron, these pictures look pretty good, so what's your verdict?

At Disneyland my verdict was that the Canon G9 was an awesome camera, and a legitimate DSLR replacement. Many of the pictures I had taken looked fantastic on its display - like this one:

 Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

so I began to wonder if I really even needed a DSLR which has massive bulk, greater cost, and fewer megapixels (12.1 on the G9 versus 10+ on my DSLR's). The G9 was a complete success and my borrowed version was first on my wishlist of purchases when I returned back to Seattle.

Oh but wait, there's more - the devil is in the details

When I got home I quickly downloaded my pictures on to my drive and into Lightroom 2.0 so I could see the fruits of my labor. I was good and only took about 190 pictures (where if I had my DSLR I probably would have taken about  1000 per day), and I was pretty sure my keeper ratio was pretty high with shots like this:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

However, I was very disappointed when I saw that in digital camera technology - size does matter - pixel size that is. The bottom line is that while the G9 is a great point and shoot camera for sure - way better than any I've seen or used, it simply packs too many pixels into a sensor that is too small with the result being a noisy and soft images. More megapixels aren't always better if your camera can't resolve those pixels properly on an adequately sized sensor so the result of too many pixels for its tiny sensor which means massive noise in shots like this at ISO 800:

Even shots in the daytime like this one seem to be perfect when viewed at a smaller size, but when when you click on the link below to view the original image you'll notice that there's tons of noise even at ISO 200:

But wait Ron, except for those two images above your pictures look pretty darn good

Welcome to the magic of photography post-processing, and in this case in particular - Noise Ninja. With the aid of Lightroom, Photoshop CS3 using some Scott Kelby's 7 Point System techniques, and Noise Ninja I was able to rescue most of my photos so that they would like like this:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

In fact, if you hover over most of the photos previously mentioned in this article you'll see a small version of the unprocessed RAW shots the way they came out of the G9. The net result is that you can get some good shots like this:

 

but you'll have to do some hard work in Photoshop (sorry Lightroom 2.0 alone is insufficient) to make them look like they were taken from a Digital SLR camera. If you do, you'll be rewarded with some decent shots and happy memories of a trip enjoyed with your family instead of a trip with your camera. You'll family will love you for it too, so everyone will leave the trip as happy campers.

Conclusion

If you are reading this article to try to decide if you should pick up a camera like a Canon G9 as a complementary camera for when your DSLR just won't do, then I can tell you that this is a fine DSLR companion to own when family comes before photography.

If you are reading this article trying to decide if you should buy a high-end compact camera instead of a DSLR, then I say heck no - they suck in comparison so go read this article and get a proper camera.

If you are reading this article because you are going to Disneyland or some other family-oriented vacation then I can say without question that this is the camera for the DSLR junkie who has to leave their beloved camera behind. Use it and just plan to spend the extra time you would have spent taking photos in your post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3 when you return home.

NOTE: The above picture was actually taken from the flight out to Disneyland from the plane by my girlfriend Moonhee Kim. It proves three things:

  1. You can get good pics from the plane no matter how crappy the windows look
  2. Any G9 photo can be made to look good in Photoshop
  3. Anybody can take a good picture (Moonhee is not a photographer)

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