The Canon G11: When less is more

Has Canon lost its mind? It recently announced that it will replace the popular G10 digital camera, which boasts 14.7 megapixels and a 3" LCD, with the new G11, which has only 10 megapixels and a 2.8" LCD.

Canon is crazy all right — like a fox. Let me explain.

First, the sensor resolution. Almost 15 megapixels may sound impressive, but packing that many photoreceptors onto a small sensor creates a lot of unwanted image noise, especially at higher ISOs. As a result, the G10 exhibits phenomenal image quality at ISO 80 and 100, but middling quality at 200 and rather poor quality at 400 and higher. So if you want to use the camera in low-light conditions, your options are limited.

Reducing the pixel count from 14.7 million to 10 million should address this problem and help the new G11 produce clean, relatively noise-free images at ISO 400 and possibly higher. Admittedly, a 10 megapixel sensor doesn't offer the same resolution as a 14.7 megapixel sensor, but the differences are smaller than you would expect. In fact, I've used the G10 at its 5 megapixel setting and was still impressed by the image detail — you can blame the (excellent) lens for that.

As for the smaller LCD, Canon has done the smart thing and equipped the G11 with a tilt-and-swivel LCD screen — the LCD on the G10 was static. As a result, Canon has had to make the LCD itself a wee bit smaller. If you've ever used a tilt-and-swivel LCD, I don't have to tell you how much it encourages photographic creativity. You can shoot at ground level, over your head, around corners — you name it — and still see exactly what you're shooting. All without wrenching your neck.

In fact, tilt-and-swivel LCDs were a hallmark of the Canon G series until the G7 model, when Canon — much to the dismay of G-series enthusiasts — decided to go with a static LCD. Canon was criticized for this move, and rightfully so. It has also been criticized for equipping the G10 with such a high-resolution image sensor when a slightly lower-res sensor would produce cleaner images at high ISOs and in lower light.

All of which makes the G11 so important. Because it signals that Canon is willing to listen to its critics and do the right thing.

Just one question: Will those same critics — and the market at large — also do the right thing and embrace a high-end compact camera that dares to drop out of the megapixel wars in the pursuit of a better photographic experience? I certainly hope so, because I think Canon deserves to be rewarded for this move.

The problem is, I bet a lot of people will dismiss the G11 because it doesn't boast the 12, 13, or 14 megapixels of other, cheaper compacts. And that would be, well, crazy.


Malte said...

Hey Paul, interesting article. Do you really think the 'crowd' is still as stupid as a few years ago and is just hunting for megapixels? I hope not! Recently a pal sent me some photos taken with his mobile phone - the file sizes were much larger than those coming from my camera, but the picture quality was insanely low. Megapixel-mania...

hp said...

the real interessting thing is that the senor size didn't change.
So the one big thing you have to check for realy gets great, the pixel density decreases.
you get about the same density as the good "old" Pana LX2 has
look here:

Paul N. Leroux said...

Malte and hp, thanks for your comments.

Malte, I hope you're right -- maybe Canon has reduced the megapixel count in the G11 because the "crowd" has finally caught up with reality.

hp, your link seems broken. Feel free to leave another comment with the correct link.

- Paul

hp said...

hmm, it is no http link, so copy paste should work - at least it does for me.
netherless I'll try my http knowledge, which is rookie state.
G11 spec at dpreview

Paul N. Leroux said...

hp, it isn't your fault -- it looks like Blogger truncated the URL. In any case, thanks for providing the link!

BTW, sorry for taking so long to post your comment; have fixed the problem that is causing the delay.

photographer toronto said...

its looks good, to bad the sensor is still small in the compact cameras. larger sensor with great lens would made my day!

Paul N. Leroux said...

I agree with you, photographer toronto. However, if they put a bigger sensor in the G11, would people buy fewer Canon SLRs? Marketing people in camera companies stay up at night, worrying about stuff like that. :-)