I was going to try my hand at writing a detailed review of the G10 and attempt to analyze some comparison shots I had taken with a borrowed G9. I set up the tripod, I jotted down settings, and I arranged some bookshelf clutter to pose as my still-life subjects. The photos are still on the memory cards, likely to be deleted. This is not that comparison review. That review is not coming.
It dawned on me as I was wrapping up the test shoot that what I was doing was completely unnecessary. There are extremely detailed technical reviews of the G10 available here and here as well as on many other photography websites. But not only was it unnecessary from a reinventing-the-wheel standpoint -- and also because the person I had borrowed the G9 from already had the G10 and had simply forgotten he purchased it (I hope to one day be able to forget $400 purchases) -- but because that level of criticism and analysis isn't for me to give.
You see, I had to come to a conclusion about myself as a photographer before I was willing to shell out $400+ for a glorified "point-and-shoot" camera. That conclusion was that I am not ever going to be more than an amateur photographer. Like a lot of people, I used to romanticize the notion of being a photographer. I have some nice equipment, I've studied books, taken a class, and even tried selling my photos at a festival once. And though I do believe I have an eye for composition and possess a better-than-average understanding of the technical aspects of the craft, I can finally admit that I lack the patience and the desire to go out specifically looking to take photos. I let the photos come to me and, when they do, I can take some nice ones. But it's been years since I lugged my tripod and SLR down into a rocky creekbed for a waterfall shot; it's been just as long since I've attached the macro lens and gone to the gardens or tulip farms looking for colorful close-ups. And while it was fun to stake out my area an hour before sunset at Delicate Arch and wait for the best light, it was also a bit boring. And ultimately disappointing since the light never truly matched that of my imagination.
But ultimately, it was travel that sealed the deal. I couldn't stand filling up my limited amount of luggage space with camera gear. I hated being that guy with the big fancy camera hanging off his neck. I hated having to constantly keep an eye on my equipment and being insulated from the places I was visiting because of the camera. That said, I've gone through a bevy of cameras in the Canon Powershot series, from the chunky-but-adequate A-series cameras to the slim-but-disappointing Elph line.
Enter the G10.
Every review on the G10 points out two flaws: it produces a lot of noise at high ISO speeds and, for a compact camera, it's not terribly compact. It's also as pricey as some entry-level Digital SLRs (it actually fetches the equivalent of $600 in some stores I visited in Osaka and Kyoto). I took a chance anyway because though larger than the A630 I was using on biking trips, it was still much smaller than my Canon 20D, especially with my workhorse Tamron f2.8 28-75 lens on it. And as for the whole ISO thing, I seldom shoot above ISO 400 anyway and the camera has a hotshoe that works with my Speedlite 420EX flash. I was apprehensive, I was positive this G10 would let me down in Japan and that I would kick myself for not bringing the 20D, but I bought it, travelled with it, and came back loving it.
Before I begin salivating all over the G10, let me first say that I am not ignorant. The 20D does obviously have a better sensor and that Canon's decision to cram nearly 15 mega-pixels onto the G10's tiny sensor has moved far beyond the point of diminishing returns. The 20D also has a better auto-exposure meter, or so it would seem. And the fact that the G10 can only be stopped down to f8.0 is a bit, shall we say, absurd. Despite these nitpicks, this camera has convinced me to sell my 20D.
The G10 has a number of bells and whistles on it that the G9 doesn't have, and neither does my 20D. I truly came to love having a top-mounted dial for ISO speeds and another for exposure compensation. No more fumbling through menus, just an instantaneous spin of the wheel. I also love the metal case and ergonomics of the camera -- the A630 looks like a toy next to it and even the 20D looks cheap and plasticky in its presence -- and the ability to put it in a coat pocket was a nice surprise. Also, the dial and buttons on the back of the camera are far more user-friendly than on the G9, particularly if you have bigger fingers.
Anyone who is familiar with Canon's controls will feel at home right away with the G10. Though there are a seemingly endless array of settings and options, the camera is very intuitive to use and not the least bit cumbersome in my opinion. There are sure to be features that I don't scratch the surface of for some time, but I've already found myself using some of the whizz-bang technology I previously thought superfluous an unnecessary. A few examples: for starters, the face-detection auto-timer is fantastic. No more sprinting to get into the shot before the timer goes off. The camera counts faces and starts firing once a new one is detected. You can set it to auto-fire as many times as you want before stopping. Another great addition to the camera was the built-in image editing. Normally I wouldn't think to use these too-good-to-be-true features, but the after-the-fact red-eye removal is absolutely fantastic, as is the ability to trim, crop, and adjust the color and saturation. You can save any changes you make as a new file too, so you need not risk destroying the original.
Another feature I never expected to use was the built-in sound recorder. I used it to record notes for certain files, but also to record the full 90 minutes of interviews I had with the developers I was meeting with in Osaka. It sure beats spending a ton of money on a digital recorder! The camera also has a built-in neutral density filter and HDR capability.
Ultimately, a laundry list of features doesn't mean a whole lot if the image quality isn't up to snuff. I've come home from too many trips with far too many disappointing results. For example, nobody has seen any of the shots I had taken on our weeklong trip to Leadville last year because I was shooting the Canon SD750, a camera whose lousy image quality is only matched in crapitude by its abysmal ergonomics. Your mileage may vary.
Everything looks great on the G10's incredibly large and bright LCD, but I was still a bit nervous when it came to actually sorting through the shots and seeing how they fared. I'm happy to say I was more than pleased. I took the camera with me everywhere I went during my week in Japan and not once did I wish I had my 20D with me. The built-in image stabilization allowed me to shoot at lower shutter speeds and still keep the ISO at a noise-less 200 or relatively noise-free 400. The 28mm wide-angle was plenty wide enough for most subjects and I rarely needed to use the flash. I didn't even bring my 420EX.
I actually found myself taking better exposed shots with the G10 than I have in the past with other cameras simply because of the accessibility of the exposure compensation dial and the real-time histogram on the display in combination with the spot-metering button. It's just all so easy to use that if you have the least bit of understanding how the features work, there's really no excuse for not taking great shots. I did switch to fully manual mode a few times, but I left the G10 in shutter-priority mode for the majority of the trip and was very pleased with the results.
As an added bonus, the size of the camera and relatively old-school looks helps it to blend into the crowd. It's not an attention-getter and, as a result, I was able to sneak a number of shots in work settings without anyone noticing. These are two of my favorites from the whole trip, shots I probably couldn't have gotten with a bulky SLR.
I had taken a total of 1100 photos during the week I was in Japan and of those, I put 107 on my Flick'r site. Naturally, being a critical wannabe photographer, I only truly like 6 or 7 of them. But I like them all enough to say with confidence that the G10 is so much more than a "compact" camera and that I hope Canon never stops doing what they're doing with the G-series. I have a number of trips lined up for this year and the G10 will be with me on every one of them. Yes, it'd be nice if the aperture could be set to smaller than f8.0 and I have no idea why the camera even has such a tiny, pointless viewfinder with no interior indicators -- they should do away with it altogether. Yet, aside from those two complaints, I am thrilled with the purchase and would highly recommend it to anyone in the market for a high-end compact camera. It's not for the people who shoot on the green setting or who don't know what shutter-priority means. And if you're unfamiliar with Canon cameras, particularly their SLRs then you should expect a steep learning curve, but it's an effort worth making.
Click here to view the Japan photos, all shot with the Canon G10 in jpeg mode at 15M, Superfine. I didn't shoot in RAW since Photoshop and ACDSee hadn't yet supported RAW for the G10. As of this writing, they now do.
On the other hand, if anyone is in the market for a lightly used Canon 20D with lenses and bag, please contact me with an offer.