Back in the early days of this blog, I mulled over the idea of having a high-end digital compact camera to complement a DSLR that then was delivering very dusty images; that Canon EOS 10D was cleaned since then and comes in for occasional use to this day. That was nearly three years ago and a first generation Ricoh GR Digital was the item that then was catching my eye. At the time, I failed to justify spending that much money on such a thing and ended up acquiring a new Pentax K10D DSLR instead. The question that rattled about my head was this: what was the point of spending DSLR money on a compact camera? Its one that never really went away and comes to mind when you see the prices of interchangeable lens compacts like Olympus’ Pen and equivalent offerings from Panasonic and Ricoh (there, it’s interchangeable lens units rather than actual lenses).
The strongest counterpoint to the cost conundrum is the little matter of size. SLR (film or digital) cameras are sizeable things and there is a place for having something that drops into a pocket. It is that which has propelled me into taking delivery of a Canon PowerShot G11. It may need a good-sized pocket but, unless you are going out with no jacket, it shouldn’t be a problem most of the time. For those shorter sorties when I don’t fancy bringing an SLR out, it well-built and looks the business though some acclimatisation is in order to make the best of the knobs, buttons and menus. Nevertheless, the included manual will help with this process (there’s a paper quick start guide and more detailed documentation on CD).
The camera hasn’t seen extensive use just yet so here are a few early impressions. Firstly, there’s the matter of size: it’s even smaller than the first camera that I ever bought (more than fifteen years ago) and that was a Ricoh 35 mm compact film camera. That comparison is even more striking when you consider the feature sets. The Ricoh was a fixed 35 mm lens affair with things like date and time stamping, ISO choice and a nod towards scenic mode selection. In contrast, the much newer Canon is loaded with the sorts of things that normally are found almost exclusively on SLR’s, starting with its effective 28-140 mm focal length range.
Exposure modes such as manual, aperture priority and shutter priority complement scene-based modes and another for movies (not a concern of mine, it has to be said). As if that weren’t enough, there’s exposure compensation too. It came as a surprise to me to find a form of manual focussing included though it is not as convenient as turning a focussing ring on a lens. You can see the inbuilt flash above but there’s also a hotshoe and a place to attach a tripod too. Settings like white balance and file format are accessed using the Function/Set button with the lever underneath the shutter release button controlling the focal length of the lens. In addition, there’s also image stabilisation and that’s important when you’re using live view to compose a photo. Spot metering and focal point selection are other things that find their way into the package. Some may be excited by other things but exposure and focussing are essential for any photographic efforts.
An optical viewfinder is included and it has dioptre settings too but my first impressions are that live view though the rear screen trumps it and I see no need for such things on SLR’s. That also flips out from the camera body and can be rotated either for self-portraiture or for folding back in on the camera body for use like a non-articulated screen. Another use is with those occasions when the subject means holding the camera in positions that would be impossible with a conventional screen; holding the camera over your head or down low on the ground are the sorts of situations that come to mind.
Of course, there’s more there than those features that I have listed and the specifications on the Canon website are as good a place to start as any. So far, my only testing has been of the cursory checks variety and to make sure that the thing works properly. Still, this has given me more of a feel for the camera and how it operates. As you’d expect, high ISO settings are noisy but a bigger surprise was that the smallest aperture setting is f/8. Being used to SLR’s, I was expecting to get f/16 and its like on there but a spot of internet investigation showed that I should have been taking the size of the sensor into account with my expectations. Any trials so far have been in dull weather so I’d need to use it in a wider variety of conditions before giving it the sort of wider appraisal that you’d find in the likes Outdoor Photography (who liked it, it has to be said). For what it’s worth, I have found no major criticism so far though I cannot see it usurping my SLR’s but that never was the intention anyway.