I recently splashed out on a nice little compact point and shoot camera, a Ricoh Capilo GX100. Its great to stuff in your pocket and it does have some manual controls but frankly I was really disappointed with it and with the quality of the images from it. So I was a bit skeptical when my friend Al bought a Canon Powershot G9, but after meeting him and getting a little bit of a chance to play with it I decided that I might give compact cameras another go and get myself a G9.
Today was my first day out with the new G9 which I managed to get with a soft case for well under 300 pounds. Our usual photo haunt with the big Canons is the Oxford Botanical Gardens and the weather this morning was nice enough to get down there. I took the G9 and left the 20D at home (though I did have to take my Leica as a security blanket...just in case I felt I needed a "proper" camera).
The G9 handles beautifully. If you are used to the controls on the Canon EOS range of SLRs you will probably find the G9 intuitive to use. You have all options from auto and program scene modes to aperture and shutter priority to full manual, including manual focus (more on that later). I usually use my 20D in aperture priority mode and so that's where I started with the G9.
The Botanical Gardens is all about the flowers. Fortunately the G9 has a macro mode that supports focusing down to 1cm. Probably the only downside is that the minimum focus distance drops off really rapidly as you zoom in, so to get good macro shots you need to get really close to the subject. On the upside, the G9 has a massive LCD panel (I'm speaking comparitively here...my 20D has an LCD panel that is small in comparison to the G9s!) that is bright and clear and that keeps up with the action with relatively little lag, so its a doddle to take a photo from low down or bent over in some funny position.
The Digic III processor on the G9 results in some great looking JPGs, but the G9 can also record Canon RAW files (great for a control freak like me). Image write speeds for RAW files aren't great, but a 3 or 4 second wait isn't too bad. In RAW the images have a small amount of detectable noise at ISO 100 (the camera will go down to ISO 80), but it is easily removed and the JPGs that the camera produced showed no noticeable noise at all.
The camera has some neat features, including an "ND" filter mode that really helped out in the birght summer sunshine. Auto-bracketing was also useful (though not so great when writing RAW files due to the time between shots). Manual focussing was interesting - when you focus manually, the LCD display shows the centre portion of the image enlarged (pixel-for-pixel I think) making it possible to more accurately see when you are properly focussed. Manual focussing is a bit fiddly because you have to use the dial on the back of the camera, and as we all know flowers never stay still to have their picture taken, but its doable and an interesting feature to have, especially when coupled with the shallow DOF you get from the f/2.8 aperture.
Overall the camera was great fun to use. Its not quite as compact as the GX100, but its small enough to be easy to carry around the neck or on the shoulder, or even in a pocket if you have REALLY BIG pockets. The image quality is the best I've seen from a compact digital. 12.1 MP is more than anyone should ever need really and the 6x zoom lens performs well giving good contrast even when opened up wide.
So this is only my first day with the camera but already its my point-and-shoot favourite. It won't replace my Leica, but it will be coming out and about with me when I can't be bothered with a bigger box around my neck.
If anyone wants to buy a barely used GX100, email me :-)