Canon PowerShot G12 at a glance:

  • 10-million-pixel sensor
  • 28-140mm f/2.8-4.5 lens
  • 2.8in, vari-angle LCD screen
  • Hotshoe
  • 1280×720-pixel HD video capture
  • Street price around £500

Canon PowerShot G12 review – Introduction

Like buses, you can wait ages for a top-end compact camera and then four come along at once. In the past few months we have reviewed the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 (AP 25 September), Samsung EX1 (AP 7 August) and the Nikon Coolpix P7000 (AP 16 October). Now Canon has shown its hand by updating its highly successful PowerShot G series with the new Canon PowerShot G12.

The new camera has the same style of body first seen in the G10, but it uses the 10-million-pixel CMOS sensor of the model it succeeds, the G11.

When the G11 was released, photographers were pleased with Canon’s decision to actually reduce the pixel count from 14.7 million pixels to just 10 million. This helped to keep noise at a manageable level, while still delivering a high enough resolution to produce good-sized prints. With the same 10-million-pixel sensor, it will be interesting to see if there have been any further improvements to the noise suppression in the Canon PowerShot G12.

Aside from the introduction of HD video capture, a new hybrid image-stabilisation system and a tweak to the handling of the camera, there is little that has been changed in the G12 from the G11. The question is whether or not these few new features of the Canon PowerShot G12 make a significant difference to the new model.


Canon Powershot G12As already mentioned, the PowerShot G12 is largely the same as the G11. Like the older camera, the G12 is based around a 10-million-pixel CMOS sensor. This sensor is slightly larger than standard compact camera sensors, measuring 1/1.7in (around 7.6×5.7mm). This allows the photosites to be larger and therefore able to capture more light. However, don’t expect the same image quality as that produced from a far larger APS-C or Four Thirds sensor.

Like Canon’s current DSLRs, the PowerShot G12 makes use of the Digic 4 processor. This can handle images using a sensitivity range of ISO 80-3200, and save them in either JPEG or raw format, or both simultaneously. The raw image format will be good news for enthusiast photographers who will be looking to get the most detail from their images.

One of the camera’s key features is its versatile 28-140mm f/2.8-4.5 lens, which, again, is unchanged from the G11. The focal length makes it an ideal travel compact camera, while the wide f/2.8 aperture means that it performs well in low light. The large aperture also creates a shallow depth of field – something difficult to achieve in many compact cameras.

To help prevent camera shake, optical stabilisation is included in the lens. This comes in the form of Canon’s Hybrid Image Stabilizer, which not only compensates for horizontal and vertical movement, but can also reduce the effects of forward and back movement, which is especially useful when shooting in the camera’s macro mode. The macro mode allows the minimum focusing distance of the lens to be just 1cm, making it ideal for capturing fine details.

Image: The 28-140mm focal length is ideal for most situations, from landscapes to social gatherings. This helps to make the G12 a great travel camera

The PowerShot G series has always been about flexibility and the G12 is no different. Like those that have gone before, this PowerShot model features a full range of manual and automated exposure modes, including aperture and shutter priority. For less confident photographers there is an automatic exposure mode, as well as a variety of scene modes.

The G12’s fastest shutter speed is an impressive 1/4000sec, which is comparable to that of an enthusiast DSLR. For those who prefer far slower shutter speeds, the G12 also comes with an internal -3EV ND filter. This is activated via the camera’s menu system and can help when longer exposure times are required, such as when wanting to blur water, or shoot traffic trails or star trails.

Although the G12 carries few major new features, its specification and features list still makes it one of the most attractive compact cameras for an enthusiast photographer. However, the way the camera handles is equally important.

Features in use: Canon Software Suite

One of the unsung features of Canon DSLR and PowerShot-series cameras is the firm’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software. This comes bundled with the PowerShot G12 and it is about the best proprietary raw-conversion software available.

All the settings that can be applied in-camera to JPEG files can be added to raw files using DPP, including the preset Picture Styles and the Auto Lighting Optimiser settings. Best of all, the software is simple to use, even for those not especially comfortable editing raw images.

For example, you can select to sharpen images using Unsharp mask, which consists of three sliders – Strength, Fineness and Threshold – or you can simply use the Sharpness tool, which uses a single slider to adjust the strength. The results are equally impressive, with converted raw images having a great deal more detail than their in-camera JPEG counterparts.

Noise reduction is also easy to correct using DPP, with a single slider for reducing luminance noise and another for chroma noise. These are especially useful when converting high ISO images as the luminance noise reduction can be kept to a minimum to preserve detail and not introduce smudging. Chroma noise can also be almost entirely reduced using the software.

However, probably the best feature of DPP is its speed. Unlike other bundled raw-conversion software, DPP is extremely fast at applying effects, whereas other packages can take time to catch up with any adjustments. After Adobe Camera Raw, it is my favourite raw-conversion software for usability.

Build and Handling

Canon G12 backMade of magnesium alloy, the Canon PowerShot G12 is very well built and sturdy. It is reassuringly chunky, yet still small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. By making the G12 larger than many other compact cameras, Canon has been able to place buttons and controls for all the most commonly changed settings directly on the body of the camera. It is this feature that has helped cement the G series’ reputation and ensured its popularity among enthusiast photographers.

Of all the controls, the most useful are the exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity dials. These sit on the top-plate and are easy to read. Also helping to adjust the exposure settings is one of the G12’s new features: the front control dial. Just as on a DSLR, this dial sits on the front of the camera’s grip and can be turned while shooting using your forefinger. It allows one of the exposure settings to be changed and, when in aperture-priority mode, it changes the aperture.

The control dial is one of the few additions I felt would really improve the G11 when I reviewed it in AP 14 November 2009, and I am pleased that Canon has listened to the feedback from photographers and introduced it. The G12 is already one of the best compact cameras in terms of handling, and the new control dial makes it even better. In fact, in the way it handles, it’s as close as a compact camera can get to a DSLR.

Otherwise, the handling remains unchanged. The dial on the rear of the camera helps to adjust settings quickly and scroll through captured images, while the centre directional control navigates the menu and moves the AF point. This control also features shortcut buttons to switch the camera to manual focus mode and to adjust the flash settings.

The shooting and main menu screens remain unchanged from previous PowerShot G-series models, and will be familiar to Canon compact and DSLR users alike.

White Balance and Colour

Image: The default colour and contrast settings of the G12 produce good images straight from the camera

Owners of Canon EOS DSLRs will be pleased to learn that the colours produced by the PowerShot G12 look remarkably similar to those rendered by the EOS models. It is likely that the G12 will spend much of its time in AWB mode, and I found that in most lighting conditions this produced pleasing results.

However, when shooting under tungsten lighting, the AWB leaves quite a strong orange colour cast. Switching to the tungsten setting completely removes this colour cast, though – so much so that when photographing a scene with white walls and a tungsten lamp, I had to double-check that I hadn’t taken the image in black & white.

Taking a custom white balance reading is obviously just as clinical. Instead, I found that best results are achieved by adjusting the default tungsten white balance setting to add a hint of amber back into the image.

Like the Canon EOS 60D (tested AP 23 October), I found that even in standard mode the colours produced by the G12 are quite saturated, with green grass still looking good even in the dull light of an overcast day.

Even punchier colours can be gained by switching the My Colours setting to vivid, but if more realistic colours are required, switching the camera to its neutral colour setting will be a better option. For the most part, the G12 can be happily left in its AWB and standard colour settings, and produce JPEG images that are suitable for printing and digital display straight from the camera.


As an occasional replacement for a DSLR, the Canon PowerShot G12 has all the metering modes you could want. The most commonly used one will be the evaluative metering mode, which assesses the brightness across a scene and calculates how to correctly expose the image.

For the most part the evaluative metering mode works extremely well, giving priority to the foreground when there is a bright sky.

Obviously, it may not produce an ideal exposure in very awkward situations, but thankfully the exposure compensation feature has its own dedicated dial. This makes it extremely simple to adjust the exposure by up to ±2EV in 0.3EV increments.

As the combination of evaluative metering and exposure compensation is very good, I only had to use spot or centreweighted metering on a few occasions. By default, spot metering is linked to the centre AF point, although it can be linked to any other selectable AF point, which makes it useful if you are photographing an off-centre subject.

Metering can also be linked to Face Detection AF. When using this feature, the camera will prioritise the metering for any faces in the scene. Again, this is particularly useful in social situations and for travel photographs.


As a compact camera, the PowerShot G12 relies on contrast-detection autofocus, and this remains unchanged from the G11. The AF is fast enough for point-and-shoot photographers and great for holiday pictures and days out, but it isn?t quite as snappy as some of the other contrast-detection AF systems we have seen recently. However, low light is one area in which the AF system performs especially well. The on-screen image brightens when low light is detected, and this amplification in signal obviously helps the camera focus. There is also a blue LED AF assist light, which discreetly comes on, even when the light is only slightly dim, to help the lens focus.

There are enough AF options in the G12 to keep enthusiast photographers happy. There are two different AF point sizes available for selection, with 493 selectable points when it is set to the smaller of the two sizes. To assist the tracking of moving subjects is the AF Tracking mode. This allows a subject to be selected and then tracked around the frame should it or the camera move. I found this works well and should be ideal when photographing children, animals or other similar subjects.

For social situations the Face Detection AF is useful, working in a similar fashion to the AF Tracking mode but detecting faces instead, which it then focuses on and tracks. Again, this was a feature included in previous PowerShot G-series models.

Manual focusing is also possible on the G12, using the scroll dial to focus the lens back and forth. Although a magnified view is displayed in the centre of the screen when in manual focus mode, I found that it was still difficult to ascertain the correct point of focus precisely. For the most part I would say that manual focus is not really beneficial, and the sheer number of AF points and the close 1cm macro mode make it somewhat redundant.

As a walk-around camera, designed for holidays and days out, the AF of the G12 has enough modes to keep enthusiast photographers happy.

Noise, Resolution and Sensitivity

Image: Although JPEG images are very good, the level of detail and sharpness is noticeably better by saving and editing the raw files

As the PowerShot G12 keeps the same 10-million-pixel sensor as its predecessor, the image quality is virtually identical. Our resolution chart shows that the camera is capable of resolving to around 24 when the sensitivity is set to ISO 80 and ISO 100, which is on a par with many 12-million-pixel DSLRs. Although the detail resolution does gradually fall, even at ISO 3200 it is still able to resolve around 18 on the chart.

Image: For a 10-million-pixel camera, the PowerShot G12 captures a high level of detail

In real terms this means images are full of detail at lower sensitivities. However, there is some loss of detail as sensitivities increase due to the effects of noise and noise reduction – for instance, images have a smudged appearance, but also appear to have had edge sharpening applied. This maintains edge fidelity, but larger textured areas lose some detail.

The result of the noise reduction is that while detail is lost, chroma noise is kept to a bare minimum, with just the occasional hint of green or magenta patches in shadow areas. Luminance noise is reduced less and it takes on a speckled appearance. However, given the size of the sensor and the pixel count, it is kept to a minimum and images are still usable even at the highest sensitivities.

Resolution charts: These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured at the long end of the zoom (100mm). We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

Dynamic Range

Combined with evaluative exposure metering, the PowerShot G12 produces images that are full of detail in the highlight and shadow areas. Although highlight details do sometimes burn out, for the most part it is possible to recover it, particularly from raw files.

When shooting at low sensitivities I found images could be brightened by around 4EV and detail recovered from ‘completely black’ shadow areas, although it does introduce some slight luminance noise.

The exact dynamic range figures were unavailable at the time of going to press, but I would estimate that the G12’s dynamic range is the same as that of the G11, which measured around 11EV in our test.

Viewfinder, LCD, Live View and Video

The Canon PowerShot G12 is one of the few compact cameras still to feature an optical viewfinder. Unfortunately, this particular feature is one of the G12’s worst. While it is nice that it has an optical viewfinder, some may think that improvements in LCD screens have rendered the viewfinder on the G-series cameras irrelevant. It is small, suffers chromatic aberrations and the lens appears in the frame when set to its widest focal length. There is also no indication of the current exposure settings or the AF point that is in use. However, many traditionalists prefer an optical viewfinder, particularly when shooting in bright sunlight.

Also, as the G12 is not a reflex camera, the viewfinder doesn’t show the exact image that will be captured so it’s not much use for precise framing. In my opinion, when it comes to releasing the G12’s successor, Canon would be better off taking a leaf out of Fujifilm’s book and using a hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder like the one in the new Fujifilm X100. This would allow digital information to be seen in the optical viewfinder, allowing the best of both worlds.

Measuring 2.8in, the LCD screen of the G12 is slightly smaller than the 3in screens we are used to seeing in current DSLRs and some compact cameras, but this is in order to accommodate the articulation.

Also, with approximately 461,000 dots, it is of a reasonably high resolution given its size and the fact that it is a compact camera. In use, I found the screen bright and clear, and the articulation makes it easy to shoot low-angle images.

The introduction of 1280×720-pixel HD video capture is an inevitable, and welcome, addition to the G series. Video is saved using the H.264 codec with sound recorded in stereo, using two built-in microphones either side of the camera’s hotshoe. The internal microphones are far enough away from the lens that they do not pick up the sound of the lens zooming, but they do pick up the sound of the zoom control springing back into position, so you need to be careful to release this slowly.

Video quality is good, with no signs of sensor wobble. However, most of the exposure settings are fully automated and there is little control over the video settings besides colour control. Focus is locked before the video capture starts.

Our Verdict

While the PowerShot G12 builds on the successful formula set out by the G11, it doesn’t really add anything new. It is perhaps best to think of it as a G11 Mark II, but this is no bad thing – the G11 is an excellent camera, winning AP’s 2010 Enthusiast Compact of the Year award.

The problem is that the G series is now facing a lot more competition, not only from other high-end compact cameras but also from small micro-system models, and it is difficult to see how exactly Canon could improve on the G12. As I said previously, I think it is now time to go back to the drawing board and replace the optical viewfinder with a hybrid electronic version to make the feature far more useful. A more controversial solution would be to remove the viewfinder to make the camera smaller. A higher resolution screen would also be a welcome addition.

As it stands, the Canon PowerShot G12 is a fantastic camera and the HD video capture and new control dial are great. Enthusiast photographers looking for a compact model with the handling and flexibility of a DSLR should look no further than the PowerShot G12.

The competition

P7000The high-end compact market has suddenly become very hotly contested, with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, Samsung EX1 and Nikon Coolpix P7000 all offering competition for the Canon PowerShot G12.

Of these, the most obvious competitor will be the Nikon Coolpix P7000. Like the G12, it features a 10-million-pixel sensor and a maximum sensitivity of ISO 3200. It even looks like the G12.LX5

However, despite producing excellent images it is slow when shooting in raw.

A better alternative is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. It features a 10.1-million-pixel sensor, and is smaller and lighter than both the G12 and P7000.

Although handling isn’t as quick as with the G12, the LX5 is an excellent option for those looking for a pocketable compact camera.