By Steve Bass | Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 3:09 pm
The stars were in alignment: I needed a small digital camera to stash in my backpack while Judy and I drove 4,000 miles in Utah, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho; meanwhile, the Canon PR rep was on the horn and asking if I’d try their PowerShot G10, a pocket-size camera. I could have played hard to get (PR people love that), but I’m easy.
I took the G10 along for the three weeks Judy and I spent traveling. I took over 500 shots, and dozens of videos, and was pleased with the results. I was happy with lots of the features and I’d almost like to own the G10. (A few problems; more in a second.)
The G10 weighs less than a pound, acts like a digital SLR, and is built like a brick.
But here’s the deal: I have a Nikon D70, a serviceable digital SLR. It’s true the G10 has more features than my four-year-old Nikon, and yes, it fits nicely into my pocket. Yet in these tough times, it’s need versus want, and I can’t justify laying out $450 to own another camera (and no, I don’t have a rich uncle to buy one for me).
However, if you don’t have a digital SLR camera, or have a chintzy, underpowered point-and-shoot or compact camera — and have some disposable cash — you might consider the G10. Here’s why:
The five things the 14.7-megapixel G10 impressed me with the most:
1. The gorgeous images it produces with vivid, true-to-life colors.
2. Its super-bright 3-inch LCD.
3. The basic, but somewhat handy viewfinder.
4. The ability to shoot in RAW and JPEG formats.
5. The gazillion ways I could take photos using the camera’s manual control of the aperture and shutter settings, like an SLR.
On one hand, like most pocket cameras, the G10 lets you snap pictures in automatic mode. So you can hand it to Uncle Harry [who?–ed.] and he’ll point, shoot, and everyone’s happy.
On the other hand, if you have fun experimenting with F-stops and shutter speeds, and diddling with exposure controls, the G10 lets you go hog wild. I dug deep in the manual and found that the G10 has more settings than my SLR. For instance, there’s a handy Exposure Compensation dial–plus and minus two stops in 1/3 increments; there’s also a quick way to adjust ISO sensitivity. (Higher ISO settings let you snap images in low light.)
The camera has built-in image stabilization, terrific after a couple of beers, and the lens range is from a wide-angle 28-mm to 140-mm telephoto, with a 5X optical zoom. The easy-to-use macro feature gave me lots of face time with wildflowers.
Unfortunately, unlike an SLR, the G10 doesn’t accept other lenses. It can, however use a Tele Converter (about $110), a device that increases the telephoto range to 280mm. To use it, you’ll need a kit that includes the converter and a lens adaptor (LA-DC58K). Amazon has it for about $150.
There’s a truckload of neat tricks that help make photo taking a hoot. For instance, the Stitch-Assist gives you a way to string pictures together into a panoramic shot (using the included software). The Face Self-Timer detects everyone in the shot and adjusts the picture to make room for when the photographer comes back in the picture.
If you’re trying to bring out the auteur in yourself (or emulate David Lynch), try the Color Accent feature that turns the image into monochrome except for one single color. I also found some of the camera’s on-the-fly tools useful to have a way to quickly crop a photo or fiddle with the contrast, for instance.
There are a few things I wish Canon would have spent time thinking through before releasing the G10.
* I love taking short videos on a vacation; a 3-minute snippet often gives me a better record of a spot than a bunch of snapshots. And with an 8GB memory card, the G10 can record an hour and a half of video at 640 by 480. The deal breaker is that the zoom doesn’t work while recording. Canon decided that the focus and zoom are fixed and based on the values selected for the first frame. Good grief, but that’s annoying–especially knowing it’s a feature available in Canon’s lower-end pocket cameras. A minor issue–and probably easily fixed by Canon — is that the G10 saves in MOV format rather than AVI.
* I wouldn’t buy a camera without a viewfinder. That’s because in sunlight, even a bright LCD is valueless. (Besides, turning off the LCD saves battery power.) The problem is Canon’s viewfinder isn’t terrific. The specs show it covers only 77 percent of the image–the LCD shows 100 percent–so what I see isn’t exactly what I get.
* Most of the pocket digital cameras I’ve tried are small–around the size of a pack of cigarettes–and lightweight. At 14 ounces (with the battery), the G10’s bulky and heavy. Yeah, I know, there’s lot packed into the camera, but putting it in perspective, it’s a little shy of a pound. My Nikon SLR is a pound and a half.
* The dials aren’t stiff enough. Half the time either the Exposure Control or the other Settings dial was different when I pulled the camera out of my pants pocket.
* The strap is dreadful. It probably cost them 20 cents, and it’s thin and always seems to wrap around itself. I’d much prefer Canon include a wrist strap. But that’s just me being picayune.
In the meantime, I just shipped back the G10 and popped open Adobe Photoshop to start playing with the images.
[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]