Canon G11. The new professional camera?

(Samples at the bottom!)
So where do I start? How about a list of stuff that a G11 (a $500 compact camera from Canon) can't handle. There's sports, of course. And very fast moving action. (Unless you manually prefocus, and consider one frame per second fast). Then there's anything that requires a super wide angle lens or an extreme telephoto lens. I wouldn't use it for weddings----not super at focusing under very iffy light.

But, if you are a step by step, left brain kind of person who likes to shoot in the streets, loves setting things up carefully. Thinks portraits can be considered and gracious affairs. Loves to shoot things with lots of sharpness and depth of field I can certainly recommend the G11. I've shot close to a thousand frames since I got it a week ago and I've done my share of pixel peeping. I could shoot portraits in the studio with this and portraits out on the street. I could (have) shot some product shots with the little sucker and no one was the wiser.

Let's be honest. Most of us like to do one type of photography and our focus on that genre makes us better at it than the types of photography we do because we're considered "generalists". If we're being frank I'll say that when I shoot for myself, from the old days of film right up to today, I've never wanted to shoot wider than 28mm or longer than about 105mm. My favorite subject is the human face and I don't sneak shots I take portraits with the full collaboration of the subject. Which means I have time to compose and chimp and generally get stuff right. This is the world of the G11. And it's better than anything I've shot except for an M series Leica because the camera tends to just disappear and the whole even becomes a calm walk in the park as opposed to the ominous frippery of a "serious" shoot.

In a studio with a big Octabank plugged into a Profoto air monolight I can use the G11 to make portraits that are wonderful in their own right. If you've been in this business for a while the greater depth of field would give the images away as being the progeny of a small format camera but you wouldn't know it based on quality and color. I'll put it up against a string of Nikons or Olympus cameras I've owned or currently owned. In fact, the instant Live View (no waiting for flopping mirrors) makes it an even more valuable studio portrait camera.

In the street, pre-focused, it's as fast as my Leica M6. In a dimly lit restaurant the combination of a new, clean ISO 400-800 and great IS gives me the opportunity to shoot sharp the way I would have with my previous gen Nikons.

So what's not to like? Well, I guess it's scary for some because it's not a camera that will wow the clients. But then isn't it the photos that are supposed to wow them? I interpreted statements by the APA crowd that we needed to "raise the bar" to mean that we needed to be more creative and more visually advanced than the "proletariat" crowd of "proamateur" photographers. I didn't see the statement as a manifesto to outspend everyone in an "arms race" to the whispery thin heights of ultimate machinery. The air is too rarified up there for most rationale practitioners....and it's time we acknowledged that the equipment "barriers to entry" are largely gone.

I'll go one step further. If you are shooting in good light and you can't make a great image on a G11 (or the previous generation G10) then you aren't as good a photographer as you think you might be...

What I like about the G11:

1. Great form factor. It feels nice in the hand.
2. Wonderful analog feel to the dedicated controls you'll use most often.
3. Great ISO performance up to 400. Very good up to 800.
4. Standard hot shoe allows you to use a range of flashes, from Canon's big guns, to generic single contact flashes to a wide range of radio triggers.
5. Sync speeds of up to 1/2000th (and not just in an "FP" mode.....)
6. Decent battery life.
7. Articulated LCD screen on the back.
8. The snappy look of the "positive film" setting in the color controls.
9. The incredibly sharp, just right focal length range of the lens.
10. Nice standard definition movie performance.
11. RAW file format. (can hardly wait for the Capture One upgrade...)
12. The $500 price tag.

I was an early adopter of digital and I've spent enough on cameras to buy a fairly nice boat but I will say that this little camera blows away the performance we were getting from most SLR's at multiples of this price only a few years ago.

Things I don't like about the G11:

1. The crappy optical viewfinder with the built in parallax distortion.
2. Um......???

Finally, I've included images from a day of shooting around Austin. Your kilometerage will likely vary. And if you just sunk $100,000 in a Leaf Medium Format System I expect you to disagree with me on every point! But that's life. As Jay Maisel would say, "It's hard to take a picture if you don't have a camera with you." And that's the whole point of the G11. It's the camera you will have with you because it works so damn well and it disappears even better.


Anonymous said...

Kirk. You are insane. But sadly, everything you say actually works and everything you've told us......is true. If you can't take a good shot with a G11 you aren't a good photographer. There. It's been said.

Steve said...

Thank you again. Great review.

Ray K said...

Got to hold one in my hands today and was impressed. Use the heck out of my G9 but hate the low light performace, thanks for the nudge Kirk I have really been thinking about one of these. Video Ok on it?

Damen Stephens said...

Wow - you're gonna LOVE the Panasonic GF-1 !!

Anonymous said...

What happened to the Olympus that you just gushed over?

Anonymous said...

I have a hard time believing this thing doesn't have ugly chroma noise in the shadows even at base ISO. I find that stuff icky.

Greg Henry said...

Good review. Interested to know if you actually used a G10 before and base your conclusion of the G11 compared to the G10, or, if it's just as a new G-user altogether?

Either way - again, good review observations. Most people in general, and even most photographers, don't really need all the gear they have for most shoots. This helps prove it.

sitbonzo said...

I love the scooter shot. I have had a canon G7 for a good few years now and it is also a great bit of kit. I have the underwater housing and that makes it a nice tool to have in the bag every day local press work. (kids swimming stories etc) I also find it very handy for descrete press work having the DSLR around my neck at a doorstep with the G7 cupped in my hand underneath has got me the shot more than a few times.

John Ricard said...

I think you should mention the complicated control system of the G11 in the negative column. I have a G10 and I am constantly forgetting how to make simple changes on the camera. My D3x, which costs about 16 times the price of the G10, is far easier to operate.

For example, instead of the G10 having ONE movie mode it has several. Often when I want to shoot a movie, instead of being able to just spin the dial to movie, I have to work the menu controls to make sure I am in the "right" movie mode.

Canon should really make a pro version of the G11 that features easy access to the few features we really need such: WB, Shutter, Aperture, Exposure Compensation, etc.

Daniel Fealko said...


Superb piece, and I love your writing style, but this article may just eventually cost me some money; about $500.

One question though. Do you have a feel for the useful lifetime of this camera? It seems, from your article, that this camera could have a long (in digital years) and useful life as a carry-around camera.

Anonymous said...

Funny you write this now --- because I just bought a D-Lux 4 for the same reasons as you speak of. For the heck of it I tried it out a couple of days ago on a "test" portait with one of my daughters and her friend. I shot it with my norman strobe pack and pocket wizards. Wow it worked and if I may say so it worked very good. One thing about small sensor cameras that I like is that the depth of field is very large ie both girls were in perfect focus from nose to back of hair etc. In this test I used a black backgound so I did not have to worry about throwing the backgournd out of focus.


Kurt Shoens said...

I wanted to get a G11 for my wife's current trip to Vienna. The timing didn't work out so we borrowed a G10. I was pretty impressed with it from an evening of fooling with it, including hooking it up to Canon's wireless flash stuff. Assuming my bride doesn't hate the G10, the G11 should do nicely for both of us.

@John Ricard, the big cameras have more space for controls so they can be easier to manage. I would also like a G-series with minimal (hey!) features and therefore simplified controls. Maybe there is or will be some sort of CHDK hack to do that.

Canon's done a relatively good job with your list of controls with the exception of white balance which is a fiddly menu option.

I mainly wish for a more accurate viewfinder on the Canon G series. I'd really like a good electronic viewfinder like the Panasonic G1.

Nick said...

Interesting review Kurt. I have used and loved the G10 since it was available (and reviewed it for Canon's CPN too). Dynamic range and the VF was my only real issue.

I have been watching the G11 with interest - how about some 100% image views of some of your shots? (Sky / flag / building & rotating doors)?



Eric said...

Kirk - How do you think the ep1 and gf1 affect the g-series as a whole? For another $300 you can get a camera that is not that much bigger (neither is pocketable) and vastly superior high iso and dynamic range, as well as the ability to control depth of field, use a range of lenses (including very fast primes). It seems to me that the large-compact for serious photographers category has already been shaken up and the G11 has missed the boat, even if it would have been a compelling camera just before the m4/3 cameras came out.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

I thought I'd answer a bunch of questions in one reply. Eric, the olympus ep1 is the reason I ended up with the G11. I was waiting to see how I liked the ep1 but the minute I held one I knew it was not for me. The autofocus was way too slow, the screen miserable and the overall hand feel just wasn't there. I can't imagine not having a veiwfinder if you need or want one.

Someone asked about the Olympus I gushed over last week. I still shoot with my Olympus cameras and find them to be great tools. This is a small light camera which has the same relationship to my Olympus SLR's as my M series Leica had to my Nikon film cameras. It comes out when I need a quick, quiet, discreet shooting tool that, with short practice, can become and extension of your hand.

John postulates that the control menus are complex compared to his Nikon D3. I'll admit that, at first blush, the function menu is less than intuitive but a week of shooting the camera dials it all in for me. The only thing I keep forgetting is that the exposure compensation is actually done by an external, analog style dial. I'm always amazed to forget that because it is soooo just right. Much more intuitive that the "push a button then turn a multi-use dial" control you have to navigate on most other cameras.

And back to Eric: I think the g11 is even more logical and compelling after playing with a GF1. To make that camera enjoyable you need to add an optical viewfinder. Or buy the video finder. either way you've got a frankenstein camera and you might as well just buy a good DSLR. But that's just my point of view. Everyone comes to the feel of a camera in a different way.

I like that I don't need any accessories in order to get the most out of a G11. And for the person who asked about chroma noise....I haven't seen any. I've been too busy shooting nice photos to spend time pixel peeping at 100%.

Mayank Bhatnagar said...

Nice review, Kirk, thanks! Mayank

Spiney said...

I was agonizing about selling my G10 to buy the G11. This article closed the deal for me. And I am not a "got to have the latest" kind of guy. My other cameras are a Fuji S2, a Minolta Srt-101, and a Olympus C3000 that I take into coal mines. I just wasn't happy with the noise in the G10 images. I was lucky enough to sell my G10 on Ebay for the same amount I paid for it! So add another $75 bucks and I'll have my G11. I'm so glad I've discovered and now subscribed to your blog. I spent the last 2 nights reading about 3 months worth of articles. Very enjoyable, informative, and approachable writing style. Thank you Kirk.

Anonymous said...

Great write about the G11,Kirk, got myself one a week ago and the images are stunning not to mention the relatively small size of the camera makes it really handy than carrying a DSLR, the articulating screen is a bonus and for the size and price this camera has it all as compared to my large Oly E3.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kurt,

I've been following eagerly reviews for the G11's release and I think you're probably one of the first to give an informed review on the G11. I just purchased mine yesterday and so far am really impressed!! I'm new to the world of photography and get the feel that this little man will be with me for a long time to come - a great bridge to a DSLR if ever I decide to go down that road.

CWM said...

I really like your no-nonsense approach in this article, as well as the other "minimal gear" posts ...a true "breath of fresh air" in such a gear centric industry. While many tout "...it's the photograph, not the camera" ...you are actually putting it into practice on a regular basis and offer up a lot of specifics as to your reactions both positive and negative. Looking forward to more along these lines.

I have been using a Panasonic G1 for the last few months and have found it truly liberating. I have a ridiculous amount of dollars tied up in D-700, 5D Mk II, legacy lenses for both, Leica M, etc. purchased over the last 40 years. The size and WEIGHT of the G1 was so enticing. Now, with the 20mm f/1.7 that I just received last week, I have the digital "go everywhere" camera that works for me. Yes, a little larger than some, but I find smaller cameras too little to work with, as a rule. The lens at f/2.0 is remarkable. Irrespective of which small camera you choose, these are now great tools that provide much of what you need in most situations. I still use the D-700 in super low light, the 5D (2) when I'm shooting fall colors with those great Canon teles and want a large print. However, a larger piece of the "photo pie" is now being shot with the little G1 and my shoulders and back are the happier for it!

Anonymous said...

Good to know you've found your niche camera with the G11. Lord knows its hard enough to make an image, having to fight with a camera just makes it all the more frustrating. When the camera works in a way that's familiar to you, the whole process feels as natural as breathing.

Personally, the G11 isn't a change in the right direction for my preferences. I don't care for swivel screens, and although the improved higher ISO performance is certainly welcome given the pain of noise in the G10, it's not significant enough for me to justify the change. I'm far more interested in the up and coming Canon S90. Far less rugged for sure, but with f/2.0 and the same high ISO performance as the G11 it is ideal as the photographer's pocket companion of choice.

These powerhouse compacts... I swear they're the Leica's of our era. Sure, they're not handmade German masterpieces of craftsmanship and engineering, but the spirit behind these tools is just the same - portable, potent and subtle. A no-nonsense photographic tool.

Peter F. said...

Great review, Kirk. I have the G9 so will not likely buy a G11. But the S90 might be the new pocket cam to replace my non-stabilzing, non-manual, limited features-but-decent-highISO-performance Fuji F20.... Will you be trying out the S90??? I'd love to know how it compares (for you) with G11.

David Ingram said...

Interesting post Kirk, I have found the shutter lag with a previous generation of this camera irritating.

Anonymous said...

"...this little camera blows away the performance we were getting from most SLR's at multiples of this price only a few years ago."

Does this mean the DSLR is a floppy-mirrored, dusty-sensored anachronism of the film era? Is that design approach still relevant? Seems like the evolution of these self-contained compacts is taking photography in a new direction.

I'm a rank amateur, still "blown away" with what a PowerShot A590 will do compared to my old Minolta SRT-202.

Your perspective, please.



Unknown said...

Kirk, splendid review. Though not a pro, I too far prefer for most work the smaller cameras.
The camera you have with you is of far more worth than the one you had to leave behind.
I am glad to hear the hi ISO performance has improved.
I have been tempted by the G10 and now the G11. I adore the user interface.
The only better compact camera in that regard is my Ricoh GRD with its twin control dials.

Anonymous said...

I have a G11 after a 10 & 9.

Also have the d700, all things considered the g11 is the best compact I have ever used on sooo many levels.

Anonymous said...

I Just purchased a G11 yesterday and everything in your artical is correct. Anyone confused what to buy? Dont be this camera is going to be the top dog for a year or two

Anonymous said...

I am consistently amazed at how Kirk cuts through the crap and suggests the perfect solution. I read his blog as the first step in product evaluations. Sometimes I don't even go to the second step.

Anonymous said...

Why in the world would you want to be a professional photographer. Useless hobos. Get a real job.

Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful review, Kirk, and a great community of folks who comment on your blog posts. I have a different perspective to share. I picked-up the G11 and then the S90 in my hand earlier in the week. These are both great cameras but the S90 can actually fit in my pocket. From various tests that I’ve seen, the image quality/high ISO performance from both bodies are virtually identical; however, with the revolutionary front analog wheel on the S90, you can choose to easily control an array of parameters like aperture, ISO, exposure, focus, etc. Although I may regret the odd time that I might want to play with my radio triggers and flashes, which the G11 supports, I can live without the hot shoe because of the very small form factor that the S90 offers.
Look, like many of you, I have a great DSLR and lenses. The S90 is not meant to replace it. My principal criteria are: image quality; ease of access to manual and creative controls (e.g. aperture, shutter speed, ISO, custom white balance even for RAW); and, portability. This camera meets and exceeds all of these requirements. Consistent with your G11 results, I have been extremely pleased with the dynamic range, optical/sensor quality and ease of use of the S90. It’s literally like an extension of my body and, because it’s always with me, I find myself being more adventuresome with my photography—this is perhaps the greatest benefit of a small compact camera.

Unknown said...

Nice review. This is a good camera for the price. It is simple to use and takes clear, crisp pictures. Also, the battery life is good. And the price makes it affordable to take good pictures.

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Anonymous said...

I sure wish I could find a P&S that has full manual controls plus HD Video at 720p minimum.
Does anyone know if such a beast? Is there a hack for 720p out of the G11 or S90?

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Olympus EP2. Do you really need HD? I find the SD in the G11 is really well done. The better the sensor gets the better I like the video...

James XVI said...

Kirk, I'm very glad to have found your blog here and have just signed up to follow. I got a G11 this week and plan to take lots of interior photos, which may require a wider angle than 28mm. I have ordered the Lensmate system which will let me add 58mm or 72mm mount wide-angle, telephoto or macro lenses and filters. This seems to open so many possibilities that I'm a bit overwhelmed with the available choices. Any advice on which wide-angle converter lens and/or filters may be a good choice for interior shots? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

FANTASTIC REVIEW!!! It's not about the toys! It's the image! Do you know of any "pros" who use the G11?



We just love the toys though!