The Canon PowerShot G12 is a 10MP point and shoot camera built as a compact camera for the enthusiast photographer. While it’s only a mild upgrade to the Canon PowerShot G11, it does a solid job of improving on an already great design.
Canon G12 Key Features
- 5x optical zoom (28-140mm equivalent)
- Optical Image Stabilization
- ISO 80-3200
- ISO 12800 at 2.5-megapixels
- 2.8-inch articulating LCD
- Hotshoe for external flash
- 720p HD video capture
Handling, Ergonomics and Control
Many of my comments about the Canon G11 apply to the G12 with little left to say. As a result, much of this review is simply a rehash of the overall positive G11 review. However, there are a couple of key additions/refinements to the G12 that make it a more desirable camera.
In the “handling” department, the big addition is a control dial on the front grip of the G12, which is a feature that’s found on Canon DSLRs. I’m a big fan of adding this control dial because it is such a natural control for us DSLR users.
Like its predecessor, when you first pick up the G12, you can feel the difference between it and other point and shoot cameras. It’s a beefy little camera that fits well in hands accustomed to holding DSLRs.
The slightly raised grip on the right side of the camera provides a secure station for your fingers, while the respective thumb rests comfortably between the top-right corner of the LCD and the AE/FE Lock button. There’s also enough real estate on the left side of the camera to use your second hand for support – even if the LCD is open to its widest setting.
The G12 has a total of 3 dials, a zoom switch and two buttons on top – in addition to the new control dial on the front. The dial on the top-left lets you quickly adjust exposure compensation in 1/3-stop increments up to +/- 2EV. Two dials stacked on top of each other on the top-right control ISO settings and image capture modes (e.g., P, Av, Tv, M, etc.).
As noted above, the sensitivity range covers ISO 80-3200, which can all be set from the dial. Additionally, you have the option of putting the camera in Auto ISO mode from the top dial.
The shooting modes that you find on the top dial are akin to those you see on many DSLRs. Your staple Auto, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual modes are all present. Likewise, an abundance of special Scene modes can be accessed by turning the dial to a primary Scene mode and then scrolling through the individual modes using the thumb wheel on the back of the camera. It’s a very straightforward and intuitive process overall.
The on/off switch sits in a recess atop the G12, which makes it flush with the top surface. It’s still easy to press and I think it’s in a practical location.
The rest of the controls can be found on the back side of the G12, including controls for image preview, manual focus, AF point selection AE/FE lock, metering modes, macro mode, flash options, self-timer, menu and display options.
Surrounding the primary round button on the back, which works as a dual purpose quick-select and a 4-way navigation button, is the thumb wheel. This wheel aids in menu navigation and acts as a control for adjusting focus, aperture, shutter speed and more. This scroll wheel is flat out awesome on the G11.
Inside the scroll wheel and 4-way button is a center Func./Set button, which brings up a quick menu of common camera functions. As with the scroll wheel, this is a great use of real estate on the back of the G11 and the menu system is very intuitive.
The battery and SD card slot are located on the bottom of the camera adjacent to the tripod mount, which means no access when attached to a tripod.
One of the features that I love about the Canon G-series is the flash hot shoe, which allows you to use Canon Speedlites and make the most out of TTL metering. Typically, features like this are reserved for DSLRs, but the G-Series from Canon has been a great option for those looking to make the most out of artificial lighting with a compact camera. I don’t normally walk around with a Speedlite attached to my G12; however, I have used and will continue to use one at times when I don’t feel like lugging around my 5D Mark II.
The G12’s articulating LCD is another great feature that transferred over unchanged from the G11. Straight out of the box, this is one of the features of the G12 that makes it such an instant pleasure to use. I am always surprised at how much I use the articulating screen for different angled shots. I find myself taking many more low-angle shots than I normally would – which probably says a lot about the fact that I’m often too lazy to get down on the ground to take the photo I really wanted to take in the first place.
While I didn’t compare the G12 directly to the G11, my understanding is that the image quality is virtually identical. This is still a small sensor camera, so you aren’t going to rival a DSLR in overall image quality – but there are a lot of circumstances where you won’t notice a difference.
The biggest couple of points on the Canon G12 image quality are RAW files and only 10MP. Obviously, for those enthusiasts out there, RAW file image capture is a big deal – especially in such a compact camera. And, I say “only 10MP” as a good thing. With such a tiny image sensor, there’s no need to crowd it with more pixels and introduce unnecessary noise and grain to images.
I took the Canon G12 and 5D Mark II to CES 2011 with the intent of using both to capture images of new products and some tourist-y stuff along the way. I ended up taking exactly 0 photos with the 5D Mark II while I was there. The G12 did everything I needed it to do. While there were some instances where I would have preferred using the 5D Mark II because of its better image quality in low light, that didn’t outweigh the overall benefit of a light and compact package that the G12 delivered.
The G12 does a solid job with photos in almost any lighting scenario. Even low light images are usable throughout the G12’s ISO range with some obvious limitations on print sizes at higher ISOs. In good light and with flash, the G12 really shines. Add a hot shoe flash to bounce light off of a white ceiling indoors and you’ll be amazed at what you can get out of such a small package.
Below are a handful of sample images captured with the Canon G12. I processed these as RAW files in Adobe Lightroom 3. Note that I took the liberty to edit these photos according to my own personal tastes. For those of you who want to pixel peep, I’ll put the G12 head-to-head with the Nikon P7000 at a later date, so you’ll have to wait until then.
Feel free to download any of these sample images for your personal inspection (not for republication). You can get the original files by right-clicking on any of the images and choosing “Save link as…”
ISO 400 – f/4.5 – 1/800s
ISO 80 – f/4 – 1/125s (through plane window)
ISO 80 – f/4 – 1/100s (through plane window)
ISO 1250 – f/2.8 – 1/20s (handheld)
ISO 800 – f/2.8 – 1/60s
ISO 1600 – f/4.5 – 1/15s (handheld)
ISO 1600 – f/3.5 – 1/15s (handheld)
ISO 500 – f/2.8 – 1/50s
ISO 100 – f/8 – 1/50s (strobe triggered via hot shoe radio transmitter)
The Canon G12 offers great image quality for such a compact camera. If you wanted to go up in size just a bit though, you could find a mirrorless camera from Olympus, Panasonic or Sony for just a little more money. You will give up a bit on the compactness and zoom length with most mirrorless cameras landing in the 3x zoom range for kit lenses.
I’ll also point out that the video looks pretty good from the G12; however, the audio recording is a little lacking. As you can see in the quick sample video of Kevin Pereira playing some video game at CES (below), the on-camera mic is very omni-directional (even though it steps up to a stereo mic from the mono G11), which works ok when you are shooting videos in a rather isolated environment. However, when you are in a noisy room like a big family gathering (or CES), you can experience problems picking up the voices of people directly in front of you. Nonetheless, the 720p video capture was what really pushed the G12 over the edge for me to purchase one for myself.
Canon NB-7L battery – The G12 comes with one of these rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; however, if you’re going to be away from power for an extended period, you can pick up spares.
SanDisk Ultra SD Memory Cards – Canon recommends using a Class 4 or higher SD card with the Canon G12 for uninterrupted HD video capture. The Canon G12 is compatible with SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards. I recommend using a SanDisk Ultra II series SDHC or SDXC memory card with the G12 for a balance of speed and affordability. You can read more about the types and speed classes of memory cards available in my reference article, Demystifying SD Cards.
Canon 270EX Speedlite – A basic bounce flash, which is really all you need with the Canon G12.
Canon 430EX II Speedlite – If you want more power and features in you flash, then you could step up to this flash. Note, however, that it will also add some bulk to your setup.
Canon WP-DC34 underwater housing – If you’re into SCUBA or snorkeling, this is a pretty cool little underwater case from Canon that’s rated up to 130?. The really cool thing about this housing is that the front of it acts as a diffuser for the on-camera flash.
Memory card reader – If you don’t own a memory card reader, they make transferring images to your computer a world faster. I highly recommend picking one up with the G12. They’re cheap and big time saver.
In short, the Canon G12 is a great camera. For DSLR users looking for a compact camera to carry when they want to go light, the G12 is a great option – especially for Canon users who already have a Canon Speedlite.
While the Canon G12 is still a point and shoot camera with a small sensor that doesn’t match the quality of some of the mirrorless cameras available today, it still beats those cameras out on portability. And, it doesn’t lag too far behind on image quality. Stick to a reasonable ISO setting, and you’ll get great photos from this camera. The ability to capture RAW image files and 720p HD video makes the G12’s package especially sweet.
The G12 comes with my highest recommendation – I bought one for myself.
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