The Canon G9 – a modest review…

I have always wanted a rangefinder.

More specifically I have always wanted a small, unobtrusive, quiet, and quick camera to carry around all the time for street photography and whatever other “shots of the moment” I can come across.

Now initially I thought a pocket digicam was the thing for me… certainly a lot cheaper than a Leica, and very small and quiet, but really – pocket cameras are all terrible.

I hate being a camera snob, but really it’s true. They are all brutally slow, full of features & modes that no one really needs, and absent of all the features that a photographer really wants. And don’t get me started on image quality and/or noise. In short, they are consumer oriented electronic gadgets, not made for photographers. Which is fine – most people don’t want or need anything more – but I, and a lot of other photographers do. And woefully our cries have gone unanswered…

Until now… The Canon G9 is certainly not the first camera in it’s line, but I feel it really represents the culmination of a compact camera design FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS. I only got mine yesterday and barely have 100 shots on it but I am already in love. This is a camera obviously designed with the photographer in mind. Just the basic feature set:

– RAW shooting

– IS

– Fully manual controls (implemented extremely well, I might add – using a thumbwheel interface)

– separate ISO knob

– real hotshoe and TTL compatibility with canon’s flashes

should be enough to perk anyone’s interest. Add some pretty decent image quality, especially at 80 or 100 ISO and it makes a pretty compelling package for a camera not much larger than my Treo. (I wouldn’t quite call it “pocketable” but it’s definitely jacket-pocketable, or “large-pocketable”)

The control layout is wonderfully intuitive, with all the controls you want easily accessible without digging through menus (as with most digicams). the dedicated ISO dial is a particularly nice touch. Shutter/aperture, EV comp, focal point selection, AF/MF toggle, WB, raw/jpg, heck – even flash compensation are all accessible with a simple button press and twirl of the thumbwheel. Manual focus is actually usable, making it handle the way you would handle a rangefinder on the street – preset exposure, set hyperfocal distance, and click away. The huge DOF granted by the small sensor actually works to your advantage here, as you have a huge range in setting the hyperfocal.

Operation is snappy, and shutter lag is very acceptable (especially if pre-focused). It even has a built in af-assist beam for low light. I was using it in about the worst conditions imaginable last night (huge room, dark walls, lit pretty much only by candle-light) and while it lagged a bit in focus sometimes it never failed to lock and I was actually impressed by the response overall. AND let’s not forget the hotshoe, so if you need to stick a 430 or 580 ex on it, or even a pockewizard to trigger your off-camera vivitar 285HV – it’s no problem. And since it’s an electronic shutter, you should be able to x-sync up to some ridiculous speed like 1/2000 or something (my SLR can’t do that!)

This camera (at least to me) seems to be squarely aimed at the kind of photographer who would buy a rangefinder. it just *screams* “street shooting” to me (even the styling is obviously rangefinder-esque) yeah it’s a bit grainy at 800 ISO – so what? Tri-X was grainy too, and nobody minded. I personally find the G9’s grain rather unoffensive, and the chroma noise in particular cleans up very well leaving just some tight “grain”-like Lum. noise. (you *are* shooting raw, aren’t you?

Anyway, the G9 is a great camera – and the answer to the prayers of all of us who wanted a non-dumbed-down compact digicam. No, it won’t replace your SLR but it is a *very* capable backup/travel/street camera with pretty much all the features a photographer could want.

But really, the most important thing is that it is an absolute joy to use – and mine will be pretty much living on my hip for the forseeable future!

P.S. I will be posting some sample shots and tests soon – stay tuned!

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