Canon G12 £420

29th Jul 2011 | 14:00

Canon G12

The Canon G12 offers some interesting improvements over the Canon G11

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Good manual controls; Decent image quality; Small size; Good LCD screen;

Dislike:

Not as good as a DSLR; Softness at higher ISOs;

PowerShot G12: Overview

The latest in its G-series range of high-flying compact cameras, Canon's PowerShot G12 replaces the flagship PowerShot G11 just a little over a year after the latter was released.

The G11 received rave reviews on its launch, and the Canon G12 offers some interesting new features over its predecessor. In our in-depth Canon G12 review we test the articulated screen, ISO range, image quality and more in this latest Canon compact camera.

Update: See our video review below

The king among Canon compact cameras, the top-range PowerShot G series has long been the Holy Grail for those who wanted the manual features of a DSLR but couldn't afford to commit to the larger, more expensive format.

However with prices plunging and basic DSLRs available for around £350, the PowerShot G12 has its work cut out for it.

Bristling with dials and buttons, the Canon G12 is clearly built for photographers who know what they're doing, and its maximum ISO 3200 sensitivity and articulated screen give it an edge over DSLRs. But can its image quality convince?

Canon PowerShot G12: Build quality and handling

PowerShot g12 main

Differences to the outgoing G11 are rather thin on the ground. Externally, the Canon G12 body is about the same as it's ever been, although you won't find us complaining. It's still well-adorned with dials and switches, and while that's intimidating to beginners, for those comfortable using a manual mode it's an absolute godsend.

For instance, on lesser compacts - and even many low-end DSLRs - changing the ISO requires that you give the menu system half a dozen prods. The Canon G12 has a manual ISO dial right on the top, with the mode dial sitting on top of that in a kind of wedding-cake arrangement.

PowerShot g12 top

On the left-hand shoulder there's a dial for adjusting exposure compensation, while the back of the G12 features a secure, solid-feeling jogwheel for scrolling through the menu system.

One addition to the Canon G12 is a dial on the front of the camera, which is designed to be used by your shutter finger to dial in shutter speeds or aperture settings. It's arguably quicker to find and use than the solitary wheel on the back of the G11, as it requires you to move your shooting hand less, and is very useful in manual mode, with the front dial operating shutter speed and the rear wheel changing the aperture.

PowerShot g12 screen

Like the G11, the Canon G12 has a 3in, 461,000-pixel screen, and it remains one of the best examples you could wish to see. It's bright and extremely sharp, which is makes it superb for checking focus and making adjustments to your settings.

PowerShot g12 screen angle

It's so good, in fact, that the presence of a tiny, cramped optical viewfinder above the monitor is a mystery. It's too small to be even moderately helpful: use the LCD instead.

Canon PowerShot G12: Image quality

PowerShot g12 main

Buy a Canon G12 and you'll have spent well over £400, so it's only fair to expect superlative image quality. Like the G11, the PowerShot G12 has a 28-140mm f/2.8-f/8 lens and offers exactly the same ISO range – from 100 to a sky-scraping 3200.

Between ISO 100 and 800 there's precious little difference in our test images. While the Canon G12 is never going to trouble even the cheapest of DSLRs, it's streets ahead of lesser compacts and is roughly on-par with more expensive cameras, such as the micro Four-Thirds Olympus E-PL1.

After ISO 800, our test images begin to soften noticeably, but while our test images taken at ISO 3200 are demonstrably softer and noisier than shots taken at lower settings, there's no argument from us that the Canon G12 is a superb low-light camera.

And, in the event that you find a situation in which high ISOs are undesirable, those with Canon accessories will be pleased to note the hotshoe on top of the camera, which is compatible with all manner of Canon Speedlite and wireless flash transmitters.

Adding to the Canon G12's suitability for low-light performance is the fast lens – f/2.8 not only means you can take pictures in severely reduced light, but it also lends the PowerShot G12 well to nature and macro photography, offering the ability to make use of greatly reduced depth of field.

Our outdoor shots bear out the conclusion that the Canon G12 is capable of some excellent results. It's arguably better at handling chromatic aberration than the G11, with leaves against a high-contrast sky resisting purple fringing extremely well. We also found that the PowerShot G12's lens was sharp throughout the range of available apertures. It's a hugely competent performer.

ISO Test

ISO 800

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 3200

Test images

Test image 1See full-res image

The Canon PowerShot G12 does well in macro mode, offering the ability to make use of greatly reduced depth of field: 1/100sec at f/2.8, ISO 100

Test image 2See full-res image

The Canon G12 is better at handling chromatic aberration than the Canon PowerShot G11: 1/30sec at f/8, ISO 100

Test image 3See full-res image

The Canon G12 boasts a versatile zoom range with the same 28-140mm f/2.8-f/8 lens as its predecessor, the Canon PowerShot G11, which you can see evidenced in this close-up of the building obscured by trees in the centre of the image above: 1/20sec at f/8, ISO 100

Canon PowerShot G12: Video mode

PowerShot g12 main

The list of differences between the Canon G12 and the older G11 is a short one, but a crucial change has been made in how the PowerShot G12 records video. Where the Canon G11 offered only an anachronistic 640 x 480 mode, the Canon G12 gets with the times. You get 1,280 x 720p, 24fps recording, which is a significant step up.

It isn't perfect, though. The Canon PowerShot G12's H.264 recording is good, but video enthusiasts will prefer AVCHD, as offered by Panasonic's high-end compacts. There's also no way to access the Canon G12's formidable manual modes, which is frustrating.

You can't even access the optical zoom while recording – presumably on the grounds that the camera would pick up the noise of the motors. On the plus side, the PowerShot G12's optical image stabilisation works fantastically well, even at the lens's full 140mm zoom.

Canon PowerShot G12: Verdict

Stock image - powershot g12

If you're in the market for a new camera and don't want the bulk of a proper DSLR – or even a smaller mirrorless camera such as the Sony NEX-3 – the G12 fits the bill extremely well. The manual modes and dials on offer, while daunting to beginners, will be hugely appreciated by anyone who's grown frustrated by the mistakes their compact makes in manual mode.

However, although the Canon G12's image quality is as good as it can be for a camera with a 1/1.7in sensor, it still can't match the quality from a DSLR, which is a major problem for photographers.

The difference between the Canon PowerShot G12 and something like the Canon EOS 1000D might not be hugely apparent when images are viewed zoomed out, but start cropping – particularly at higher ISOs – and you'll soon appreciate the benefits of a larger sensor.

And with the likes of the Canon 1000D, around £100 less than the G12, the choice is made muddier still. The 1000D doesn't offer HD video recording and takes longer to configure thanks to fewer body-mounted dials, but it does record better images up to its maximum ISO 1600 sensitivity. The fact that it's compatible with the formidable range of Canon EF and EF-S lenses is another major plus.

If you're rigidly set on buying a compact, the Canon G12 is just about the best you can buy – but keen photographers should carefully consider whether they shouldn't just bag a DSLR instead.

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