I‘ve had the G3 for a whole week now and I thought to myself, “By the power of the ‘int-er-net’, I can share my one week worth of experience with the world!”. Why not, information is good and some people might find this article useful. If not then they will at least have a difficult time heckling me in person! :)

I’m by no means an expert in photography, but someone who appreciates photos as visual memories and as art. I like to use photography as a creative outlet and as such enjoy discovering new ways to explore the world through pictures. This camera is my first venture into digital photography (not including scanning prints, some PhotoCD imaging, and other Digital cameras I’ve used for work) and I wanted to find a camera that had sharp, fast optics, had an excellent feature set and perhaps could use some accessories that I already own. My main camera for the past 4 years or so has been my trusty Canon Ellan IIe, which I love. Since I’m an existing Canon owner, a large part of my decision to go with the G3 was its ability to use my existing Canon 380EX flash. I really don’t like the flash on most cameras, but I’ve had great results with the 380EX flash unit on my SLR. As it turned out, it works like a charm on the G3. My other considerations for going with the G3 were image quality, resolution, controls, and battery life. The G3 hasn’t disappointed in any of these areas, and for some of the quibbles I have with the G3, the good far outweigh the bad.

As soon as I purchased the camera I gave it a test drive. No manual, no experience, a “let’s see how easy this sucker is to use!” type of trial. The layout of the G3 is very similar to my Elan IIe, minus this whole “digital” thing, which makes it quite logical and somewhat familiar (at least to myself) to use. I was snapping shots, changing settings and using manual mode without much trouble at all. An encouraging start. There are some annoying features defaulted on straight out of the box, like having Autofocus set to “Continuous”. Take that off as fast as you can! Once it’s set to “single” (accessed in the menu screen) it behaves much more like a SLR with Autofocus, press the shutter button half way and it will focus on the centre object of interest, press all the way to take the picture. The camera is fast and responsive, much more so than other digital cameras I’ve used before. Changing ISO modes, resolution, exposure settings are all very quick to access.

The more I use (play :) with the G3, the more I appreciate the layout and general design. Menu access is fast, button layout is well thought out, and commonly used settings are only one to a few clicks away like exposure lock, manual focus, ISO settings, flash adjustment to name a few. The LCD screen is sharp and bright (turn it on in a dark room and it’ll nearly blind you! I removed startup pic I was using after nearly blinding my friend! :) and is very easy to navigate. How’s the construction of the camera? I was surprised at how solid and well put together the G3 feels. The body has a good sturdiness to it and a comfortable weight. The G3 does not feel fragile or toyish, unlike some other cameras I’ve used before. I do have two quibbles about the G3 though. One; the On/Off switch feels suspect in terms of quality compared to everything else. Specifically the small plastic thumb button used to unlock the dial to choose either Shoot mode, or review mode. Two; the eye viewfinder (not the LCD) has the barrel covering a significant portion of the frame at wider lens settings. Additionally, I also wish some settings were displayed in the eye viewfinder like exposure readings. I guess I miss my SLR in that department.

Since this is my fist personal digital camera, I don’t have much experience with custom camera software. Although I’ve read lots of negative things about Canon’s Zoombrowser, I haven’t found it so unwieldy. It does what it’s supposed to do. Could it be improved on? Absolutely, but for downloading your images off of the camera through USB or from a PC card adapter it’s fast. More importantly it gives you options for organizing downloads into folders by photo date, a handy feature. No doubt many other 3rd party programs exist that do this as well if not better, but I don’t find that I need anything more at the moment. Zoombrowser has two weaknesses in my books; a poor image viewer and image editor. I use Photoshop for my editing needs and mplay for image viewing (an image viewer from Sidefx’s Houdini) so I bypass the two weakest points of Zoombrowser. As for the other Canon utilities, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with these applications, but they seem useful. Remote Capture allows you to use you G3 somewhat like a webcam, it can snap photo’s and place them on your PC every 5 seconds, or at larger intervals. Fileviewer allows you to convert Canon’s RAW (.crw) files into tiff or jpeg’s. A very handy tool, as RAW is an uncompressed 12bit file that very few programs read. If you want the equivalent of a digital negative, use this mode. Keep in mind that the file size will be large, and unless you have a roomy CompactFlash card you will be running out of space quickly. The 32MB CF card that the G3 comes with will record only 7 images in RAW mode. With Photostitch, you can create panoramic images stitched together from multiple shots, I plan on trying this soon. More goodies include a driver that allows the G3 (only in USB mode I believe) to be accessed by twain compliant programs like Photoshop, so images can be opened up directly from these programs. Other utilities include a theme changer, so if you don’t like the “theme” your G3 is using for sounds and startup pictures, then select one of many more under “My Camera Settings” in Zoombrowser. This will open up a theme browser that you can use to create custom themes with your own images and sounds.

So what about image quality? Well I haven’t seen anything better. There were 5-megapixel cameras in the same price bracket as the G3, but I felt I was losing much more than what I was gaining with this unit. The optics are sharp, clean, and notably, fast! F2.0 at the widest and F3.0 at the telephoto end! Sweet. ISO settings can be changed from 50, 100, 200, and 400. The grain or “noise” on ISO 50 is beautifully minimal. At 200 and 400 it can get quite obtrusive, but after reading about a program called Neatimage and trying it out on a grainy picture, I couldn’t believe how well it removed the grain while preserving details. I expected a “mushy” picture, or an overly soft one but no! The author must have some magic algorithms in his code. I highly recommend giving the software a try. It has made shooting at 400 a viable option for me in low light conditions. Before I tried Neatimage out I was going to stick to ISO 50 and 100 almost exclusively. I’ve created a grain comparison between the different ISO settings on a separate page, if you’re interested follow this link. As much as I love the optics and resulting image quality that the G3 produces, it’s not perfect. Two years ago I was thinking about buying a digital camera, at the time the Nikon 990 was the king of the hill. Reading reviews on it and other cameras, Chromatic Aberrations or CA were commonplace on seemingly all digital cameras. CA usually shows up on high contrasted areas with lots of light. The CCDs seem to spill bluish/purplish halos around the contrast area. Well two years later and with my very own digital camera I figured the problem would have been figured out by now. Nope. There are ways to minimize this bad-behaviour especially if you use smaller apertures. At f3.5 and below the problem worsens, but only under certain scenarios. I haven’t mastered this yet but feel confident that with more experience I’ll be able to minimize, if not eliminate all together CA from my shots. If that fails, there’s always Photoshop. ;) One area that concerns me is the G3’s ability to capture violet consistently and accurately. I’ve noticed on a few shots now, that certain ranges in the violet spectrum have come out blue rather than purple. Apparently this has been an issue on earlier models as well, but has not been fixed in the G3. Sure one can always colour correct the area in Photoshop, but will anyone ever remember the exact colour after coming home from vacation? Probably not. Note that this phenomenon does not apply to all purples, just a part of violet spectrum. I’m not sure which; all I know is some purples have no problem, while more intense violets seem to go bluish.

Autofocusing on the G3 has been a hit and miss. How bad the AF handles in low light has been talked about quite passionately on the forums of dpreview.com. My own experience however has not been nearly as bad as the comments would lead you to believe. Yes, It could be faster and it could be more accurate. But it is very usable the way it is. I also feel that this is another area more hands-on experience will develop into faster and more reliable focusing results. Switching to manual focus is dead simple, and has been implemented very well. The centre of the viewfinder zooms in, assisting manual focus greatly. Instead of working on a small image trying to make it sharp, the zoomed in section is much easier to read. I’m looking forward it mastering the MF/AF in the future.

Like I said in the first paragraph, flash usually sucks. The onboard flash is there, and will perform as good or badly as other P&S camera flashes. In any of the “Creative” Zone modes you can manually adjust the flash intensity, which is very handy. The flash fires, creates ugly overexposed harsh images like all other onboard flashes. But hey, you can use it! Ahem.. Ok, enough of the onboard flash, I can use my 380EX flash! Yay! Now we’re talking, the whole EX series of flashes kick butt IMO. They’re all E-TTL, the E standing for “Evaluative”. What does that do? Well when you press the shutter release the G3 evaluates the scene, measures the available ambient light and sets the proper exposure. The E-TTL flash will fire a quick preflash. A new exposure is taken with this preflash and compared to the ambient, non-flash exposure settings. The flash intensity and spread is adjusted to give a balanced, well-exposed image. Needless to say the results are great. The G3 also gives you additional flexibility like being able to sink to the first or second shutter curtain; just like my Elan IIe. I was hoping that the 380EXs’ AF assist beam would help the G3 with more accurate/speedier focusing, but the G3 does not seem to take advantage of this assistance.

Other features of note are the movie mode, which is a lot of fun actually. You can set the resolution for either 320×200 or 160×100 running at 15fps for roughly three minutes of video at a time. Audio is recorded too. It’s a lot of fun to record movies at parties or gatherings. Surprise people by showing how stupid they were acting when you use the AV out on the G3 and patch it into a TV. I’ve done this and used the remote that comes with the G3 too, a fun party extra. You can use the built in microphone to add dictation to your pictures, which is neat if not terribly useful. At least you have the choice! For image evaluation you can view full histograms on shots you’ve taken right on the LCD itself, another nice feature.

My camera experience this week had another unwelcome surprise. Earlier this week I noticed my LCD viewfinder had a “dead” pixel. That is a permanent black pixel in the lower left hand side. Although annoying because the camera was brand new, I didn’t much care because it had no affect on functionality or the actual recorded image. It was an LCD problem and not a more serious CCD problem. Well a couple of days ago I noticed a “hot” (white) pixel in a dark shot I took, I got suspicious and then did a slide show of all my shots that night. Well it turns out that the hot pixel was in every shot, just very hard to notice in some pictures. This was not related to the LCD problem, this was the dreaded CCD problem and that I cannot live with. I was now a bit frustrated that a brand new camera had developed two problems within a week. Both barely noticeable, but there nonetheless. I took it back to the camera shop I bought it at and without blinking they exchanged my camera on the spot with a brand new one. So what could have been a pain went smoothly, a very rare experience for me. :) Now I don’t want to scare anyone away from this camera, I probably just got the funny one out of the bunch. I would advice though, that if you’re buying online or from a local store just to make sure the return or exchange policy is good before purchasing. You never know what might develop; it’s much better to be safe than sorry.

So to sum things up, I am extremely pleased with the camera overall. There are some issues but compared to how much this camera does well, they seem somewhat minor. The Canon Powershot G3 takes gorgeous pictures, is very fast, has an intuitive interface for both button/dial layout and LCD menu access, is strong in build quality and ergonomics, has features oozing out the aperture, and has wonderful flash exposure when paired with the Canon EX series flashes. It won’t replace my SLR anytime soon; I plan on eventually replacing my film SLR with a digital SLR once the prices retreat. Where I do think I’ll find the most use from the G3 is as a good main camera, or back-up camera to my SLR, and in spontaneous shooting. By spontaneous what I mean is this. With film cameras, I find that I’m more careful with what I shoot. I spend more time thinking/composing shot than I do with digital cameras.

This is partly because there is a cost involved with expensive films that forces me not to play with shots as much. Going digital frees that hesitation and allows me to capture many candid and playful shots I would not normally take; it is a very liberating feeling.

I recommend this camera to anyone looking for a serious digital camera that will allow you the full flexibility to get the shots you want. From fully manual to fully automagic to everything in between. I’m thrilled by the results I’m getting after just one week. Once I get as comfortable with the G3 as I am with my Elan IIe.. Whoa, it’ll be good times.

Nordin Rahhali

 

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Other G3 Reviews

Digital Photography Review
Digital Camera Resource
Steve’s Digicams
Imaging Resource
MSN Photos

Resources

Digital Photography Review: Forums
G3 Grain/noise comparison between all ISO settings

Mentioned Software

Neatimage: Amazing grain reduction
Photoshop: Need I say anything at all?
mplay: Part of Sidefx’s Houdini toolset

 

More Photos