Canon PowerShot G9 Digital Camera Review

Product: Canon PowerShot G9 Digital Camera
Manufactured by: Canon US, Canon Canada, Canon UK
Reviewed by: Howard Carson, March 2008
Requires: An interest in serious photography using a compact form factor
MSRP: US$499.99, CDN$549.99, UK£429

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The major PowerShot G7 flaws touted by the pundits were that this marvelous top-of-the line prosumer camera failed to provide several features offered in semi-pro digital SLR cameras costing hundreds of dollars more. The PowerShot G7 didn't offer RAW format the critics complained, and it failed to provide superb low noise performance above 400 ISO. Canon listened to the howling and rancor, then tweaked the design to add some image processing improvements and RAW file saving. The result is the Canon PowerShot G9.

The Canon PowerShot G9 is a 12.1 megapixel digital camera equipped with Canon's DIGIC III image processor, a 6x optical zoom lens and Optical Image Stabilizer (IS). The camera offers a full range of shooting modes (shutter priority, aperture priority, manual, programmed auto, full auto, scene modes, movie mode) and recording modes including JPEG + RAW. Except for the fact that it's blessed with a diopter adjustment, the optical viewfinder is essentially useless at every zoom setting unless it happens to be 12.5mm (equivalent to 50mm on a full frame). Thankfully the viewfinder is completely offset by the 3 inch high-quality PureColor LCD II screen featuring a wide viewing angle, anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings. You also get face detection (the camera automatically picks out, focuses on and adjusts exposure for one or multiple faces in a composition) and primary face selection control. The PowerShot G9 has a standard Canon top-mounted hotshoe which is compatible with the complete range of Canon EOS speedlites.

The Canon PowerShot G9 is identical in every outward respect to its G7 predecessor. The fun begins with some improvements on the inside and ends with a general increase in image quality. If you're wondering how much image quality you can squeeze out of a little camera like this, have a look at this high dynamic range winter photo. The image is as-shot and unretouched, completely noise-free and quite striking at ISO100 and -0.3ev, handheld, IS on. Note the corrosion bubbles just under the surface of the black wrought iron fence, and the enormous amount of contrast between the fading painted black surfaces and the fresh white snow. The midtones are captured well too, with clean, interesting details in the shadows, the dense texture of the split rail fence and the highlights popping off the the ice and snow crystals without being blown out. One example does not tell the tale obviously, but this is a very nice camera indeed.

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Cons: Like it's predecessor, it's as heavy as a small brick. The strict adherence to a classic Rangefinder form factor is all well and good, but there's not quite enough to grab hold of except a very conservative grip bump on the right front—no prominent right-side body bulge like that found on the excellent Canon A-series compacts—so the very first thing you should do after marveling at your brand new PowerShot G9 as it comes out of the box is to attach a good quality neck or wrist strap. The playback button is located on a slightly concave chamfer at the top rear edge of the camera and is difficult to press because it's just at or slightly less than flush with the body surface. You need to poke the playback button with a fingernail to get a positive click, so forget about using it outside while wearing gloves. No ISO limit setting for Auto mode.

Pros: The Canon PowerShot G9 is a modern wonder of digital camera technology. For the price, there's nothing else in its image quality class on the market today except for the Leica D-Lux 3. I like sturdy, substantial buttons and dials that work smoothly and provide positive feedback mainly because on a well-designed camera they provide the surest sort of control over important and frequently used functions. The ISO dial is a perfect example and it's great to have it sitting on the top left of the camera body. Image quality is improved slightly over the G7 which means that mid-to-high ISO noise performance is good enough to make ISO800 genuinely useful (and certainly printable). The retro body and control layout introduced in the G7 is a stroke of genius and I'm glad Canon has kept and enhanced the design. The programmed user interface and LCD combine to make menu navigation easy and fast. Canon has hit a home run with the PowerShot G9. Highly recommended.

Read the full PowerShot G9 review!