A couple of years ago I was approaching the summit of Crib Goch, one of the Snowdon sub-peaks. The asthma was kicking-in and I had a well packed rucksack that included a DSLR, a 24-70mm f2.8 lens and a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. By the time I had reached the summit, I was fighting for breath and every step a battle of will. Well, that’s what it felt like. I looked at my colleagues who disappearing into the distance on the ridge. I thought to myself “sod this for a laugh”. Upon my return home I started to think about the possibility of a small light weight solution that could deliver superb results when printed at A3.
Research lead me to the Ricoh GX100, a ten megapixel camera with a 24-70mm lens. As I have a rather tight budget I took the risk and purchased one second-hand. The GX100 ticked many boxes, light, small, superb lens, live histogram, easy exposure compensation, good battery life, great handling and more important, RAW shooting. High ISO performance isn’t an issue for landscape photography which is usually the crippling feature of the small compact cameras and for quite understandable technical and commercial reasons.
It was last September that the GX100 saw real action when I took it and my DSLR gear for another jaunt up Snowdon via Crib Goch. The rucksack still weighed a tonne and the DSLR gear stayed out of sight. I took the DSLR gear mainly out of paranoia. The weather was just fantastic and the GX100 performed excellently with only a few caveats. This being the RAW files had a distinct red cast to them. OK, that can be easily rectified by Photoshopping. More importantly the RAW write-to-card speed was pedestrian to say the least. A good 20 seconds or so. OK, you may say, that isn’t too bad. Well, when you take a few hundred pictures you find yourself falling behind your climbing buddies. I found this rather frustrating, or rather you frustrate your mates because they end up saying “Where’s Chris – Oh! There he is, taking another blummin photo”. I do stop and take quite often. Besides that, the performance of the GX100 is quite superb. Really excellent sharpness and resolution from the RAW files. And having a 24mm lens is a real boon for some excellent panoramas. If you can live with the slow RAW write speeds and shoot low ISO stationery subjects, the GX100 may be for you. The Second hand price is good too.
On to the Canon Powershot G11.
A few weeks before that particular Snowdon trip I was at an education trade show and there to my surprise was a Canon stand packed with all sorts of goodies. I could not resist having a play with all sorts of nice things. A Canon EOS 5D, a G10 and a few HD camcorders. It was the G10 that caught my attention and I managed to give it a good go. I was impressed by the design, handling, speed, live histogram, those milled metal knobs (so reminiscent if my Leica IIIc), the exposure compensation dial. As I did happen to have an SD card and took a number of RAW pictures at various ISO with the intent of processing these when I returned home. Upon doing so I was really impressed with the resolution of the G10 and put off by the apparent lack of dynamic range and noise, which was present even at the base ISO. So, understandably, I lost interest in the G10.
Forward to early 2010.
With the GX100 sold on eBay it was time to purchase the replacement. The only real choice was the Canon Powershot G11 and the Panasonic LX3 With the latter having a better review on dpreview.com I decided to go for the G11. What swung it was the aesthetics actually. Fickle, I know! I just loved the strong and powerful design. Also, there is some compatibility with my EOS 40D in terms of colour rendition and accessories.
The Canon Powershot G11 in use.
OK, no anal resolution charts or 100% crops for those rather sad ‘pixel peepers’. Just a ‘normal’ users use. If there is such thing as one. Although I have had the G11 for a few months I bought the thing as a hiking and mountaineering camera. So, when I went to Snowdonia (again) in April, it was the ideal opportunity to put the G11 through it’s paces. Then it was Snowdonia again in July. In fact, on this trip, I was going to take my DSLR gear as well as my Leica M2. As it happens, the weather forecast was, essentially, inclement so say the least. Baptism by Welsh weather then. See below pictures.
I really enjoyed using the G11. I love its design and handling. I really love those rather tactile knobs. The speed is excellent for a compact. It focusses well and the exposure is good. This is what I love about these kinds of camera – the live view histogram. This means you can quickly adjust and maximise exposure BEFORE you take the shot, instead of taking a shot, previewing, adjusting compensation, then taking ‘the’ shot, and so on. Back home on the computer an analysis of the colour, dynamic range and sharpness was very pleasing for a compact. No complaints in that area either. About half of one stop can be recovered from the highlights when shooting in RAW. More data can be recovered from the shadows than from the top end. I did a day’s shooting on one battery, almost 300 RAW files. In comparison with my EOS 40D I would say that ISO800 on the G11 is equivalent to ISO2000 on the EOS 40D. Colour rendition is the same and dynamic range quite close. The G11 does have the advantage of having corner to corner sharpness at f4, and you won’t achieve that with any DSLR. So for landscape photogs it’s ideal. I found the menu system intuitive and easy to use with all the important major functions accessible from the various buttons. Briefly I would like to mention the three features I did not like, the view finder, the rear dial and the size. The view finder really needs to be 100%. I don’t care if it’s small, but, 100% it MUST be (come on Canon, you can do it, you know you really want too). The rear dial is a little too small and plasticy, even for my small fingers. My third slight complaint is that the camera is just about pocketable. I can live with that. But for a camera that I can easily slip into my pocket and go anywhere the G11 is a little clumsy, that is why I have just bought the Canon Powershot S90. All in all, I love my G11 and I would recommend it to anyone who prefers static or slow moving subjects.
My wish list for the G12 would be a 100% view finder. I’m one of these old types who like to have the camera to my face instead of at arms length. I feel more engaged with my subject when the camera is at my eye, whereas I feel removed from my subject when holding the camera at arms length. Of course I would like to see a greater dynamic range and lower noise. A full metal and weather sealed body would be nice and so would a faster auto-focus system. We’ll see. Thanks for reading.