Hands on Impression of the Canononon Gee, Eleven?

The Canon G11. I had recently blogged about how awesome it looked and how it had all the features I wanted… nay… needed in a camera. And how much everyone liked it. And how excited I was to trade in my Nikon D50, the aging six megapixel dinosaur, for it.

Then I actually got it.

I should say right up front… It’s great. It takes awesome pictures. It really is a remarkably powerful little machine, that feels great in the hand and will do things so well you’ll wonder why people spend thousands of dollars on cameras that will essentially give you an image comparable to the G11’s in most situations.

But what you have to understand, is that I’ve been shooting film and digital SLR cameras all but exclusively for years. Like, decades. Like, as long as I’ve been shooting. I have never owned a real point and shoot digital camera before. Yes, I’d shot with point and shoots like my Dad’s Kodaks and Sonys… but even those were run of the mill soccer practice consumer bullshit cameras, and they were designed and built years ago. I was expecting a point and shoot for professionals that wasn’t just newer, but a different level… a different league. I was expecting the shutter lag to be negligible… existent but lightyears beyond the old cameras I remembered using back when digital was still new. I was expecting it to autofocus quickly and handle just as quick.

I was expecting a real tool.

So what’s all this technology done for us? It’s made cameras smaller. It’s made things a lot clearer. But I knew this from DSLR shooting… I was also expecting it to make things faster.

And… well… the thing is slower than my 2002 era Kodak. At least it seems that way. Sure, have the thing in bright sunlight and a clear subject and it won’t lag more than a heartbeat… but forget any kind of action or low light or even complicated scenes… the camera will sit there thinking about what you’re asking it to do, even in the manual modes, even in the quick shot modes, for EVER. The point and shoot delay is long enough to bring annoyance to frustration, and it will flat out miss pictures if anything changes. The autofocus is nothing like a big bright 35mm af system.

Now, I only blame myself for having my expectations so high. I wanted it to make beautiful pictures. I wanted it to have usable ISO. I wanted it to have IS that made zooming handheld pictures a breeze. I wanted it to shoot automatically and nail the exposure. I wanted it to look like a BOSS and feel like a REAL camera, with metal dials and sure clicks when you turn them.

And it does all of this.

Wonderfully, in most situations.

But take it out of those bright, even, static and simple situations and the thing is like shooting with an early point and shoot. It only works when it feels like it. It’s like an artist friend who can follow through on some amazing shit, but takes forever to do it. It’s frustrating as all hell and it makes all the incredible triumphs feel like shit because the second that you’ve been waiting for when someone does something magical and you have your camera in your hand and you can feel the perfect shot in front of you… that’s all going to slip away while you watch a little blinking orange light dance in front of you, no matter how you fiddle with the settings or what you anticipate or anything. You’re going to be sitting there, waiting on this thing to work.

I don’t mean to make a mountain out of a molehill here, but shutter lag is the exhaust port on the photography death star. If a camera can’t take the shot the instant you press the shutter, your dreams will shatter in a fiery explosion in outerspace.

It’s paramount to any photographer. A slow camera is a slow camera, but a lagging shutter means that the camera takes the picture on its terms. That single concept, for me, kills the entire magic behind making a picture.

I’m going to give you an example. Here are two pictures captured with the G11 in the week I’ve had it.

Flutter

Marymoor Velodrome with Samba Bike

Now obviously these are extremely contrasting images…

But I’m very happy… thrilled really… with each of them. The difference is that I don’t feel that I really made the first one. Sure, I took the picture, but I did not think that Hannah’s hand would be moving in the frame when I hit the shutter button… because it wasn’t. She was doing something, sure, but the camera took that picture when it was good and ready. And it did the same for the shot outdoors… but I can’t ever feel like I’m in control of when the picture will actually expose itself to the G11’s sensor because if life is in motion – as it so often is with a small, compact camera – the G11 is going to take just long enough to miss the shot you really want to take, and just long enough to surprise you with the shot you didn’t even know you wanted to take. It completely kills the act of taking a picture.

And now I’m even depressed about my REAL camera, because holding a D700 is like holding a rocket launcher compared to any compact camera. It’s important and serious as fuck and EVERYONE is going to know that… even the people who see a D3000 and think the same thing. That’s just the effect it has. But the D700, you see… is a Camera. The G11… it’s a toy. And it requires patience I don’t have.

So I’ll return with another review of sorts in a few more weeks once I’ve tried to develop that patience that I lack.

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