|Canon PowerShot G1 Review
By: Ted Felix
After having great fun with my Fuji FinePix 1300, I decided it was time to upgrade for real. My goal was to buy a digital camera that I could use for the vast majority of the shooting I used to do with my SLRs. You can read more about how I selected this camera on my Digital Cameras page.
There are lots and lots of reviews of the Canon G1 on the web. My goal is to add my experiences to those, not redo them. You can find a link to a list of the other review sites at the bottom of this page. You'll find them to be very educational though perhaps a little too glowing.
The G1 comes with Canon's ZoomBrowser EX software which downloads the images from the camera onto your computer. ZoomBrowser lets you view your images, check out the camera settings stored in the images (Exif info), and process Canon's RAW file format.
Since I already have image viewing software, and I wasn't planning on using RAW format right away, I found ZoomBrowser to be a bit cumbersome. Downloading images with a USB CF card reader was more than two times faster than downloading through ZoomBrowser (128mb 2:28 vs. 6:55). ZoomBrowser will still work fine with images that were downloaded with a card reader. ZoomBrowser also installed Canon's PhotoRecord Photo Album printing software which didn't interest me. Fortunately uninstalling PhotoRecord didn't hurt anything and freed up 43meg of space.
Note that the G1 does not become a CF Card Reader when plugged into your computer's USB port. You must use Canon's software to download images directly from the camera.
If you want to avoid using ZoomBrowser, there are alternative utilities that can take its place. For file viewing/organizing, ThumbsPlus can't be beat. For Exif information viewing, I suggest Exif Image Viewer by Michal Kowalski (slow, great UI, very customizeable, bit of a learning curve) or ExifReader by Ryuuji Yoshimoto (fast, average UI). There are also utilities for RAW conversion, but I haven't had a chance to check them out yet. To get images off the camera, Canon has an acquire module you can use which can also handle RAW images. Another option would be to buy a CF card reader.
Canon's flash system is a truly painful experience. The color of the internal flash is very unnatural. Fortunately, you can attach an external flash to the hotshoe and get significantly better color. Unfortunately, some G1's don't work correctly with external flash. The internal flash also fires a pre-flash that is quite slow and may cause your subject to be caught blinking.
More details are on my Canon G1 Flash page.
Some G1 users have had problems with non-Canon flash. I've put the details together on my Flash Timing Problem page.
Probably the weakest feature on the G1 is its focusing system. There are no focusing aids to help you determine what is in focus, and the focusing system is full frame contrast detecting. This makes it very tricky to get the camera to focus on a particular portion of the scene.
You can read all about it on my Canon G1 Focus Page.
The G1's LCD preview is a joy to work with. You can see it in low light and you can see it in bright light. In low light the gain on the image is cranked up. It's noisy, but very usable for composition. In bright light the excellent anti-glare coating on the LCD makes it easy to see. Only if you can manage to get the sun to reflect directly off the LCD does it become hard to see. With my Fuji's uncoated LCD, I could never see it on a bright day even though the display is just as bright as the G1's.
Since the G1 sometimes ramps up the gain on the LCD when in preview mode, it isn't always useful in determining proper exposure. Of course, you can always take a shot, and examine the results to make a better exposure determination. When in manual mode and working with flash, the LCD goes black since the aperture will normally be set fairly small and the surroundings will be relatively dark. A half-press of the shutter button will give you a quick glimpse while the auto-focus is working, but if auto-focus is turned off, you'll have to use the viewfinder.
The twist and flip feature of the LCD is indispensible for many situations. However, occasionally you'll come up with a situation where the image is upside-down in the LCD (as an example, open the LCD only slightly without twist while shooting in a portrait orientation). Fortunately this is easily fixed by pressing on the small black button that is under the LCD when it is closed. This will flip the LCD image right-side-up.
Overall, I've found the color on the G1 to be much more difficult to work with when compared to the Fuji FinePix 1300. The culprit is usually a lack of saturation. You can always take saturation away in post-processing, but it is very difficult to add saturation. Setting the G1's saturation to maximum should help, though I haven't had time to try this.
In some lighting situations, skin tones with the G1 are very pale and tend toward the magenta/blue which is very unappealing and difficult to correct. I usually leave the white balance set to "Cloudy" and that helps a little. Then I use levels to significantly warm the image with a blue gamma of around .85 and a blue black point of 15. Usually this also gives a bit of a green tint, so the green channel gets a gamma of .95 to compensate. In the red channel, boost the hue +4 and boost the saturation +5 and the skin tones are much closer to the golden look that they have in "real life". With the Fuji, far less correction is needed: .95 blue gamma (slight warming), red hue +4 (red to gold shift) and red saturation -5 (Fuji's skin tones are very saturated) gives similar results.
Under incandescent light the "Incandescent" setting works fine unless the light levels become very low. The custom white balance feature is very cool, and really does a good job of balancing out a difficult lighting situation. The flash white balance setting is very strange especially when combined with the poor color of the built-in flash.
More on the G1 and white balance on my Filters page.
The G1 only offers spot and center-weighted average metering. With practice it is possible to get quite good at using these. It would have been nice to see a matrix metering mode which tends to be a little bit better than center weighted averaging in many situations.
Here's an exposure trick. If the spot metering square is too big, try digital zoom. Set the digital zoom to 4x (press and hold "Set" while moving the zoom lever), and now you have a super tiny spot metering area. Combine this with full optical zoom and you can meter an extremely small portion of your scene. Don't forget to press "*" to lock your exposure, then turn off the digital zoom.
Kevin Bjorke has done some experiments with exposure on the G1. His article Looking at Powershot Exposures is a very interesting read.
There is precious little data on the performance of the G1 with all the various wide angle and telephoto conversion lenses that are out there for digicams. Fortunately, I've been able to collect a few reviews from some users.
Check out my Canon G1 and Conversion Lenses page for more.
The G1 handles infrared photography pretty well with the entry-level Hoya R72 filter. You can read about my experiences on my Infrared Digital Photography page.
I agree with other reviewers that this is a really great camera. The white balance features and LCD visibility in both low and bright light are very nice.
Downloading images to the computer is a bit slow but can be improved with a USB card reader. The preflash eye blink makes the built-in flash difficult to use when shooting people. The hotshoe makes it easy to solve this problem with an external flash.
To me the biggest issue is the auto-focus system. I'm not sure how much better other cameras are at auto-focus, so I don't really have anything to compare to. As it is, I can work with it, and sometimes even trick it into doing what I really want. Hopefully a firmware upgrade is in the works that will make it a bit more predictable.
It's a great camera, but it could be better. Here are a few improvements I'd like to see.
This review was done with firmware version 126.96.36.199. There is a newer version of the firmware available (188.8.131.52) that may address some of the above issues. Canon's firmware site.
Canon's official firmware fix list:
Firmware version 184.108.40.206 is the latest, and probably the last. In addition to all the previous fixes, 220.127.116.11 prevents the G1 from over-discharging its battery. This sounds like a pretty important fix to me, whereas most of the others are trivial. 11/15/2003 I decided to take the plunge and upgrade from 18.104.22.168 to 22.214.171.124 to prevent over-discharge. I'll report anything interesting here.
The PowerShot G1 Firmware Version 126.96.36.199, in addition to improvements of the firmware update version 188.8.131.52, eliminates the occasional occurrence of unusual brightness or darkness in the LCD panel display when the shutter button is pressed halfway in the Tv mode.
Improvements of previous firmware update (version 184.108.40.206):
A lot of folks wonder what the "reset the date at the end of the month" fix is all about. Well, I finally experienced it. If you have your camera on at midnight when the month changes, the camera will ask you to reset the date the next time you power up or switch to/from play or record, even though it already knows exactly what day it is. A rather esoteric problem, but annoying nonetheless if you happen to encounter it. It plagues the 220.127.116.11 firmware of several of Canon's digicams.
Here's a list of new firmware undocumented fixes reported by users. Most were found on this thread on dpreview.com. Be forwarned, that these reports are probably inaccurate as most users don't perform scientific testing of any sort. The few that do are usually able to refute the validity of these "observations".
Some of these "improvements" have been refuted by someone with access to two Canon G1s.
Pictures of the innards of a G1 posted by koumou on dpreview:
Picture of the nodal point that has been measured for the G1. This is important when doing panoramas. The camera should be rotated around this point to prevent parallax distortions.
Source: Alain's post on dpreview.
"I have a standard Lenmar charger (I don't remember the model number) that doesn't work very well. I can put a depleted battery in it to charge, and after about 5 minutes the amber light changes to green and it stops charging. The batteries charge fine in the camera..."As a result, I cannot recommend the Lenmar BCVL16 (aka BCVL11) charger. Lenmar has a new charger called the Mach1 which may solve this problem. I think I will try and buy an original Canon charger first and see if it performs better with older batteries.
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