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  1. #1
    Captain of the Ship Photo-John's Avatar
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    Aug 2001
    Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

    Canon Powershot G6 Review

    The Canon PowerShot G6 is a 7-megapixel, full-featured, compact digital camera. It's Canon's current top-of-the line compact digital camera, if you leave out last year's 8-megapixel PowerShot Pro1. The G6 has a 4x optical zoom lens, full manual controls, a swivel LCD, Canon's DIGIC processor, a flash hot shoe, and the ability to capture RAW files. We bought one for our office camera and have been using it for a few months.

    Price: Approx. $550-600 US

    • Excellent 7-megapixel sensor
    • Flash hot shoe
    • Complete range of exposure controls
    • Swivel LCD
    • Powerful built-in flash
    • Built-in neutral density filter
    • RAW file capture
    • Too big for some people or purposes
    • Easily moved mode dial
    • Conservative wide-angle zoom
    Canon PowerShot G6 Test Images
    Canon PowerShot G6 Studio SamplesISO 50 Sample
    ISO 100 Sample >>
    ISO 200 Sample >>
    ISO 400 Sample >>
    All Canon PowerShot G6 Photos >>
    Post your own Canon PowerShot G6 Review >>
    Discuss the Canon PowerShot G6 >>

    Canon PowerShot G6 Hands-On Review

    Canon PowerShot G6 - Front and back

    This is the fifth camera in the Canon PowerShot G-Series. The G6 has come a long way since its oldest sibling, the 3 megapixel G1, was introduced. I like cameras that are part of a refined series, and Canon's G-Series is very mature. Canon has had plenty of time to refine the physical design, the lens, the image processing, and the features. And the 7-megapixel sensor is a gem. I used a G2 for a couple of years so this camera felt pretty familiar to me when I first used it. The image quality, feel, and features are much better than my old camera, though. It's obvious that the G6 comes from the same family, but it's noticeably faster than its predecessors and the image quality is much, much better.

    Physically, the G6 is on the large end of the compact digital camera spectrum. The size is in keeping with previous PowerShot G-Series cameras, though. It's actually a bit smaller than its predecessors. It's also comparable to other cameras in its class, like the Olympus 7070, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7, Nikon Coolpix 8700, and Casio Exilim Pro EX-P700. But it's not a pocket-sized camera. It's a bit difficult to carry all the time and if you are considering a camera this size, you should also be looking at digital SLRs, because they're not that much bigger. The large size of the G6 does offer some advantages. Bigger cameras tend to fit the hands better and more mass minimizes camera shake. You can count on getting more sharp photos from a larger camera, as there will be noticeably less camera shake. When they get too small, it's hard not to shake.

    The ergonomics of this camera are excellent. As I said, larger size makes a camera more stable. And this camera is not only larger, but really well designed as far as fit goes. The SLR-style grip on the right side is perfect for my hands, with the shutter-release and control dial in exactly the right places. The controls are intuitively positioned and I very quickly found myself using most of them without having to think about where they were. One exception was the aperture control, when in full manual exposure mode. I'm used to having separate controls for shutter and aperture and the G6 uses one dial for both. To toggle between shutter and aperture adjustment, you push down on the dial. This isn't something I would have figured out on my own. I had to read the manual to figure out how to change the aperture manually. That's not really a big deal. Especially considering that was one of the only things I had to look up in the manual.

    Canon PowerShot G6 top view details
      Top view of the G6 with a detail of the shutter release, lens zoom control, and exposure adjustment dial.

    The metal body feels sturdy and substantial in the hands, which is nice. The G6 feels like a serious piece of photo equipment and not a toy. The lens opens easily when the camera is turned on and doesn't lock up if you forget to remove the lens cap, like my old G2 did. The swivel LCD gives you a lot of angle options when you're taking pictures, including shooting over your head, from very low angles, and self-portraits. I believe a swivel LCD should be a standard feature on all high-end compact digital cameras.

    The doors for the AC, USB, battery, and memory card are all solid plastic. I haven't had any problems with them popping open on their own, nor do they feel too delicate. Overall, the camera feels like it's built to last and gives a feeling of polish and quality.

    One thing I've found annoying about the G6 is the mode dial. It's placed well, the modes are indicated clearly, and it's easy to use. But it's too easily turned. Every time I take the camera out of the little case I keep it in, I have to check the dial to make sure I'm in the correct mode. This might not be a problem for people using a different case, or people who work slower than I do. But I've been taking the G6 on mountain bike rides and sometimes I have to take the camera out of the bag and get ready to shoot very quickly. It's a drag when I take the camera out, set up to shoot, and discover it's in the wrong mode. That can be the difference between getting the shot and getting nothing. It would be nice if there was a button to lock the mode dial or if it took more effort to move.

    Canon PowerShot G6 back details
      A closeup of the command dial and the main control buttons on the back panel.

    Canon PowerShot G6 Features

            Key Features:
      • 4x 35-140mm equivalent zoom lens
      • 9 point, selectable autofocus
      • Full manual exposure
      • 2-inch swivel LCD
      • Neutral Density Filter
      • Flash hot shoe
      • Custom exposure modes

    The Lens
    The G6's 4x f/2.0-3.0 (35-140mm equivalent) zoom lens is very good. This is one of the areas where Canon has been able to refine a feature over multiple generations and make it much better. The autofocus works great. There's almost no hunting. It locks right onto the subject and I've had very, very few out-of-focus images. When I have had them, it's been a result of user error or unacceptable lighting. The macro mode is also very, very good. My one complaint is the conservative, wide end of the zoom range. I like wide-angle photography. And for me, 35mm barely qualifies as wide angle. I'm sure a 28-140mm lens would have been much more expensive to manufacture. But I'd rather give a little on the long end and have a camera with a 28-105mm zoom lens.

    There are 12 exposure modes on the easily accessible mode dial. Whether you're a complete point-and-shoot photographer, or a totally manual photographer like myself, the G6 has an exposure mode that will work for you. It's got the completely auto "Green" mode that chooses all settings for you, P "Program" - auto with manual override via exposure compensation, aperture priority (Av) and shutter priority (Tv), and pure manual (M). It also has creative scene modes like landscape and portrait, as well as a panorama mode (Stitch Assist), and Movie mode.

    An important feature that deserves mention is the built-in neutral density filter. Because f/8.0 is the smallest aperture on most compact digital cameras, they require another method for decreasing the amount of light that reaches the sensor. For outdoor photos in bright sunlight, f/8 just won't cut it. The neutral density filter, accessed via the main menu, cuts the amount of light reaching the sensor in half - or one stop. That makes it possible to shoot in very bright sunlight or use slower shutter speeds or larger apertures for creative purposes. It's a feature that wasn't included in my G2 and I'm very happy to have it in the G6. I think it should be a standard feature in all high-end compact digital cameras.

    Canon PowerShot G6 back details
      Detail of the LCD display during capture.

    Canon PowerShot G6 back details
      Main menu detail.

    Canon PowerShot G6 back details
      Detail of the playback display, with histogram.

    One of the things that really impressed me about this camera is the built-in flash. Generally, I could live without the built-in flash on compact digital cameras. They're usually good for about six feet and the exposure is often pretty poor - either blowing out the subject or severely underexposing. The G6 flash is an exception to this rule. The specs say that it's good for about 15 feet - which is excellent for a compact camera. But I have one mountain bike photo where the subject is about 40 feet away from me and still adequately lit by this tiny flash. It's no magazine cover photo. But it works. And that's nice. It means that you may be able to get photos in pretty adverse circumstances. They may not be award winners, but you can have a record. And in normal photo conditions, the flash will produce.

    Even though the built-in flash is excellent for what it is, it doesn't compare to Canon's hot shoe units, like the 550EX or 420EX. One of the things I really like about the Canon G-Series cameras is that they have a flash hot shoe. Being able to use a professional flash makes these cameras very, very powerful. Not only does a bigger flash give you lots of reach - up to 100 feet or more - with the addition of a flash bracket and off-camera synch cord, you can get professional-quality lighting on your subjects. You'll make professional wedding photographers nervous if you show up at a ceremony with your G6 and a good flash on a bracket.

    The main performance considerations with a digital camera are start-up, shutter-lag, flash, battery-life, shot-to-shot time, capture rate, and image quality. Thanks to Canon's DIGIC processor, shutter-lag has been decreased significantly since my G2, as I expected. It hasn't disappeared, but it's not enough to get in the way under most circumstances. I did a rough test, using an electronic stopwatch, and I estimate the time from the moment the shutter is completely depressed until the exposure is completed to be about 0.50 seconds. That's very slow by SLR standards, but respectable for a compact digital camera. Start-up time is about 3 seconds. That's the amount of time it takes for the camera to be ready for an exposure, after you switch it on.

    Using the flash or shooting without pre-focusing slows the reaction time considerably. And while picture-to-picture time has been improved, the G6 is not going to set any records or shoot any high-speed sequences. It's fine for still or relatively slow-moving subjects. And you can capture some action with it if you pre-focus and pan, but don't expect to be competing with professional sports photographers with a G6. Keeping your expectations realistic and understanding what the camera is capable of are the keys to making it work for you.

    Battery life is excellent. I haven't worried about the battery or had a dead battery at an inopportune time once. If you recharge regularly and keep a spare handy, I don't think power is a concern at all. The Canon batteries are expensive. But they're very common as they're also used for some Canon digital SLRs, previous G-Series cameras, and Canon video cameras. Third-party replacement batteries are available for less than the Canon original equipment. They're less expensive, and some of them are also higher capacity.

    Image Quality
    The image quality delivered by the G6's 7- megapixel sensor, 4x optical zoom lens, and DIGIC processor, can only be beat by a digital SLR. I am absolutely amazed by what this sensor/lens combo can deliver. To judge for yourself, check the studio samples. JPEGs shot in the studio at ISO 50 have almost imperceptible noise when viewed at 100%, with excellent resolution. Take a look at the newsprint in the studio test to see what I mean. My guess is that the sensor is challenging the resolving power of the lens at ISO 50. ISO 100 begins to exhibit some noise, but it's not enough to really matter - especially with a 7-megapixel file, where the pixels are so small. At ISO 200 the noise starts to show up, and at ISO 400 it's pretty apparent. But with as much resolution as this camera has, the noise is only going to be a problem with large crops, images with lots of tiny details, or badly exposed photos. If you can keep the ISO at 100 or lower, you can count on wonderfully smooth and snappy images.

    Camera Experience
    I am very, very happy with the G6. We bought it as a company camera to use for tradeshows, event photography, and anything else that comes at the office. I have my own SLR gear that I use for events and my own personal photography. But, under most circumstances, I feel like I'm giving up very little using the G6 instead of my digital SLRs. And because it's smaller, it's easy to bring everywhere with me. That means I have a camera with me when I otherwise might not. Sometimes just having a camera available is the difference between getting the shot and having nothing.

    One thing I really enjoy about the G6 is the macro ability. It doesn't offer the most powerful macro capability. But with the fine Canon lens and excellent sensor, the images captured are very nice. Plus, with 7 megapixels of resolution, you've got plenty of room to crop. I've found myself actually looking for good macro subjects when I have the G6 with me. And when I find something to shoot, it's been easy to take nice macro photos. That's not something you get with an SLR camera. The swivel LCD helps, too. It makes it easier to get creative with angles for macro shots. Anyone who's done any macro work knows how hard it can be to set up a shot. Being able to rotate the LCD to get really low angles is very, very nice.

    The G6 does fall a short for action photography. But so do other high-end compact digital cameras. Even though shutter-lag is better than on past cameras, it's still an issue. I haven't used a non-SLR camera yet that didn't have noticeable shutter-lag. Like I said, it is improved, and using good technique can compensate for it under most circumstances. But you would be wrong if you thought that it wasn't an issue. Take what I say with a grain of salt, since my main business (besides this Web site) is shooting mountain bikes in action, and I'm used to super-fast digital SLRs. My standards are a little different from the average photographer's.

    Usually, I'm a manual exposure photographer. But with the G6 I mostly used the Av (aperture priority) and Tv (shutter priority) modes. This is partly because it took me a while to figure out how to change the aperture in manual mode. But I find I work differently with compact cameras and the Tv and Av modes just felt right when I was using the G6. It took me a little while to get used to the exposure compensation control, accessed via the navigation arrows. But after using it a fww times, it became natural. I wish there was a standard "match needle" light meter indicator in manual mode. Instead, a number indicating your exposure appears in the upper left-hand corner of the LCD when you depress the shutter release. Although it works, it's not how I'm used to checking exposure. Even better would be a live histogram. There is a histogram display available when you review your images. But a live histogram, visible while you're composing, is the absolute best exposure tool. I hope Canon includes that feature in the next version of this camera.

    One of the big selling-points of the Canon G-Series cameras, for me, is the flash hot shoe. Being able to use off-camera flash makes a camera much, much more powerful. Not only can you light larger areas and reach farther with your flash, but you can be more creative and it's easier to avoid redeye. I like to use the G6 with Canon's off-camera shoe cord and the Canon 550EX flash. I can get creative with shadows and avoid the flat look that results from using direct flash. Use a good flash bracket and you can get almost studio-quality portraits with the G6 and a 550EX flash.

    The best thing about the G6 is the image quality. In fact, I think the image quality of the G6 is comparable to 6 megapixel digital SLRs like the Canon Digital Rebel and the Nikon D70. Canon's fast, 4x zoom lens paired with the 7-megapixel sensor makes for a camera with powerful photo potential. The Sony-made sensor is truly wonderful. Just so you know, this sensor is available in a bunch of other flavors, including Sony (because they make it), Olympus, Casio, and others. If you like the image quality but aren't sold on the G6, you should take a look at some of the other cameras that use the same sensor. But be aware that the sensor isn't the whole story. Image quality is a combination of the sensor, the lens, and the camera's processor. The G6 package is a proven combination.

    It's hard to actually find anything bad to say about the G6. My main quibbles are with the traveling mode dial and the 35mm wide end of the zoom lens. But those issues don't make this a bad camera. It's a great camera. For lots of people, it could be their last camera. It's that good. The next step up is a digital SLR.

    If you want pocket-sized digital camera, then the G6 might not be right for you. Take a look at the Canon PowerShot S70 instead. It has most of the same features and the same sensor, but in a much smaller package. The G6 If you want a full-featured digital camera with lots of resolution and excellent image quality without the bulk and expense of a digital SLR, this is a fine choice. If you're on the edge and can't decide whether to buy a G6 or a digital SLR, the real choice is in the flexibility of the system. A digital SLR ultimately gives you speed and a lot more control and options for the long term. But the G6 comes very close and is much more compact package.

    Canon PowerShot G6 and the Canon EOS 10D
      The PowerShot G6 next to the Canon EOS 10D digital SLR.

    Who Should Buy The G6?
    I would recommend the G6 to anyone who's considering buying an entry-level digital SLR but isn't sure about the money, or whether they actually need all the features of an SLR. It's not an SLR replacement. But if you're on the fence, it might be the answer. I'd also recommend it to photographers who want a powerful but compact backup camera that's easy to put in a backpack or keep in the car. I like it for mountain bike rides because it fits in my hydration pack and doesn't weigh much.

    The G6 is a good choice for the family or office where you need one camera to satisfy a bunch of needs and levels of photographic experience. It's got exposure modes and features for almost everyone.

    One group of people I would caution against buying the G6 are aspiring sports photographers. The G6 is a very capable camera. But compared to pro digital SLRs, it's very slow. It makes a fun camera if you consider its limitations and follow the rules. But if it's your only camera and you want to shoot high-speed action, you're only setting yourself up for frustration.

    This camera can do it all. And even if you're planning to buy an SLR soon, you won't regret owning the G6. It easily fits in a glove compartment, briefcase, or messenger bag. And you won't really feel like you're giving up much when you shoot with the G6 instead of an SLR. It's a good compliment to a more professional camera.


    What's In The Box

    G6 box contents
      Contents of the G6 box.

    • PowerShot G6 Body
    • Lens Cap
    • Battery Charger CG-580
    • Neck Strap NS-DC3
    • CompactFlash Card FC-32M
    • Wireless Controller WL-DC100
    • Battery Pack BP-511A
    • Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
    • ArcSoft Camera Suite CD-ROM
    • Interface Cable IFC-400PCU
    • AV Cable AVC-DC300

    Other Resources:
    Discuss this review >>
    Canon PowerShot G6 User Reviews >>
    Write a G6 Review >>
    Canon PowerShot G6 Sample Gallery >>
    Studio Sample Images >>
    Last edited by Photo-John; 06-09-2005 at 06:54 PM.

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