|Canon G5 Review|
The Canon Powershot G5 is one of a handful of impressive compact, 5-megapixel digital cameras. It has sharp optics, a 4x optical zoom with the 35 mm camera equivalent of 35 to 140 mm, a 4x digital zoom (which I do not suggest using), a 2592 x 1944 pixel CCD sensor, a sturdy black body, and an LCD that can contort to just about any position imaginable. The camera is loaded with functionality and, as a result, itís covered with buttons and controls.
My primary camera system is a Nikon F5 35 mm film-based system. As Nikonís top-of-the-line 35 mm system, itís a tough act to follow. But there are times when a large and heavy camera rig is not convenient or appropriate. I wanted a digital camera for hand-held point-and-shoot family use and travel photos, when my big rig isnít necessary. My other goals were to familiarize myself with digital camera controls, use in the field, and post-shooting processing.
I have had absolutely no reluctance to getting into digital technology. After all, I did so with great enthusiasm and satisfaction with music recording as it transformed from analog to digital. I have already been scanning slides and doing digital processing with Photoshop for two years. I have been waiting patiently for price and performance to justify supplementing the F5 film camera with a digital SLR, but I wanted to get my feet wet with a compact digital in the meantime.
The new breed of pocket-size digicams seemed like just the ticket: excellent image quality, good resolution, built-in flash, and decent optics Ė all in an amazingly small package. And the prices are very attractive.
My wife and I took our new G5 to Iceland where we vacationed for 11 days, and drove 2,500 miles. I also took along the F5 and its 25 lbs of accessories for ďartĒ photography. Because of our desire to keep moving and see as much as possible, there were only a handful of times that I set up and used the F5.
Together we shot 60 to 100 images a day with the G5. At the end of each day we downloaded the dayís images to our laptop, reviewed them and deleted about half . Each image took 2-3 seconds to download. We really enjoyed being able to see all of our images the same day, reminisce about the scenes and events, and start the culling process. We decided to defer further deletions and detailed editing until after our return home.
The battery charge lasted between one and two days, and we kept a spare battery on hand. The charger (with a plug adapter) worked fine on local 220V 50Hz power. The 512 MB compact flash card never filled up in a day, even though we used maximum image size and the highest-quality JPEG files.
Problems In The Field
As impressed as I am with the optics, technology, and packaging of the G5, I must report that I found it to be unacceptable in the field. This is not what I expected or wanted to find, but the G5 simply doesnít work for me. I believe that other digital cameras in the same class probably suffer many of the same problems, so this report may be of interest to anyone shopping for such a camera.
The reasons I found the G5 unacceptable, which are detailed below, reflect personal preferences that are the result of my having used top SLRs extensively. The G5 will certainly satisfy the needs of many other users who donít have my high expectations and who are willing to tolerate the shortcomings.
Field problems with the G5 fall into two broad categories: viewing and ergonomics.
I wanted to use two Canon accessories for the G5: a polarizing filter and a secure lens cap. The standard lens cover is retained only by friction and falls off much too easily. How many G5 owners have lost their lens cap?
Strangely, the G5 does not support these simple options as delivered. The camera itself has no filter threads, but instead uses a donut-shaped ring that attaches to the body with a bayonet mount. The ring has no apparent function other than to provide a surface for the friction lens cap to grab.
In order to attach either the secure lens cap or the polarizer, I had to purchase a ďlens adapterĒ for $20. This conical tube about 2 inches long, replaces the donut ring, and attaches to the bodyís bayonet mount. It provides standard 52 mm filter threads on the front for attaching the polarizer or secure lens cap. And once the lens adapter is in place, you can also screw in a big fat 1.75x teleconverter lens, which extends out another 2 inches. But youíll need to remove this lens adapter frequently, for reasons Iíll describe below.
Attaching the bayonet-mounted lens adapter requires that you line up a white dot with a matching white dot on the body. I tried to do this by feel one dark evening when I could not see the dots; the lens adapter went onto the body but simply would not come off. I had to drive 60 miles to the nearest Canon dealer to get the lens adapter removed. They would not tell me how they did it. (Was it Big Boris in the back?)
There is a natural temptation to just want to leave the lens adapter on all the time: it supports the secure lens cap, the polarizer, the teleconverter, and acts as a lens shade.
The problem is that the lens adapter blocks most of the view in the optical viewfinder which is therefore rendered useless. Furthermore, the lens adapter partially blocks the built-in flash, so flash images end up with a dark lower right corner. And of course, these problems are exacerbated if the fat teleconverter is attached.
These conditions forced me to abandon the optical viewfinder and use the LCD for framing. Now a whole new set of problems surfaced. I am a bit far-sighted but itís not convenient to wear reading glasses while doing photography. I could never focus my eyes adequately on the LCD. The neck strap was not long enough to allow me to see the LCD in focus, so I bought a wrist strap. Sunlight and even overcast daylight on the LCD made if very hard to see. We bought a clever accordion-like tube that sticks onto the frame around the LCD and helps block out some of the sun; this helped a bit but did not overcome my inability to focus my eyes on the LCD. Lastly, I missed being able to steady the camera against my eyebrow for hand-held shots.
Overall, I found viewfinding with an LCD to be a most frustrating experience. With the combined ineffectiveness of both the optical viewfinder and the LCD I never framed any G5 image with acceptable precision, and often simply guessed what I was shooting at. Many horizons were tilted and edge details were botched, so I had a lot of time-consuming image cropping and rotating to do later.
After using the large, bright view finder of an SLR for years, I found viewing with the G5 to be unacceptable.
The G5 packs a lot of functionality into a small body with limited surface area. That means there are buttons and dials just about everywhere on the body. I found it to be practically impossible to take the G5 out of its bag without touching some controls. In particular, there is a rotary dial on the top right of the body that is used to select shooting mode (Auto, Landscape, Portrait, etc.). We frequently discovered that this dial had been moved inadvertently to some unintended mode, and later confirmed (upon inspection on the laptop) that this did affect the last several images.
Furthermore, there are easily-bumped buttons on the body that caused menus to pop up on the LCD Ė menus that we never wanted and that were puzzling to remove. Both my wife and I independently concluded that there is no easy way to handle the G5 without occasionally messing up the settings.
I was a bit overwhelmed by the array of small, easy-to-misplace items that must accompany the camera, such as a battery charger, spare battery, spare compact flash card, PCMCIA adapter, and cables galore. Of course, this issue is inherent to digital photography, not to the G5 in particular. Nevertheless, the loss of any of these little parts could bring a happy trip to a quick ending. The travel advantages of a pocket-size camera are somewhat diminished by this collection of mandatory paraphernalia.
After the Trip
Now much wiser about the ways of digital cameras, I went to a local camera store to try out a few other camera models. The Olympus 5050 appeared to have some of the same problems. The Nikon Coolpix 5700, at roughly the same price, seemed like quite an improvement over the Canon G5: it has a through-the-lens electronic viewfinder which solves the viewfinding problem, a wider optical zoom range, and the controls seem more immune from accidental bumping.
But these cameras all felt too small and fiddly. I came to realize I donít mind a little more size and weight in the camera if thatís what it takes for ease of control and comfortable, accurate photography.
I returned the G5 and bought a used Nikon D100 digital SLR, at much greater expense. I also purchased a consumer grade all-purpose 24-135mm zoom lens, which Iíll just leave on the camera for convenient point-and-shoot use by the family (as well as reduced sensor dust). Since the D100ís sensor has a 1.5 factor, the zoom will function like a 36-203mm lens on a 35 mm camera. Iíll also be able to mount my Nikon pro lenses and do some serious shooting. My early reaction to the D100 is that it is an exciting camera that solves virtually all the problems of the G5 Ė all it takes is money.
The new gear hasnít been taken through the paces yet, so stay tuned.
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