After Canon Announced their new G11 and S90 models mid-August we were intrigued. On first blush they looked like two cameras with the same ‘insides’ aimed at two different markets.
Both models feature Canon’s newer Digic 4 processor and the same 10mp image chip. In fact, the image chip is physically about 35% larger than most other compact cameras. RAW shooting is available on both which indicates that they lean more toward the avid photographer set. The S90 with its slick lens ring selection dial and the G11 with the standard array of G-series knobs means that many advanced controls and functions aren’t buried inside push button menus.
So if the G11 and S90 each offer most of the same features why offer both over the counter? Once you have the cameras in-hand and not on paper the reasons become very clear.
Beginning with the S90 ($429.99) we have an ultra-compact camera wrapped around a large imaging chip. Shirt pocket sized and sleek, this is one small camera body. The lens is a very useful 28-105 equivalent. The LCD panel is a large 3 inches offering a clear and bright view (461,000 dots, more than the average compacts but less than most DSLR’s). Operation speed is comparable to other compact cameras in focus, shutter lag and image throughput.
The S90 features a very fast f2.0 lens. Coupled with the new “Dual Anti-Noise System” the camera produces quality images in low light. (The low light image quality was similar to the G11 as noted below).The truly unique feature of the S90 is the control ring wrapped around the base of the lens. This ring can be set to adjust any one selected function: Zoom, ISO, Aperture, Shutter, Focus or Exposure Compensation.
The S90 offers all standard auto exposure modes and manual exposure as well. The camera’s capability to access many advanced modes and features coupled with its better quality images firmly establishes it as a contender for the photographers moving up in the compact ranks or for the DSLR user who wants a walking around camera.
The next camera to look at is the Canon G11 ($499.99). The G-series has had a reputation for high build standards, fast operation and high image quality since its inception. There have been models that have been criticized for not quite hitting the mark, but on the whole the G-series has been class leading in most categories.
The current G11 by the numbers: 10 megapixels, 28-140 equivalent zoom lens, 2.8” swivel / tilt LCD, larger 1/1.7” imaging chip. The G11 body is solid and hefty measuring about 4 1/2 X 3 X 2”. One of the few cameras available that offers an eyelevel viewfinder in addition to the LCD viewfinder.
The G11 is large enough that there is sufficient surface area for knobs and switches. This means that there are fewer excursions through the menu system when the photographer wishes to change settings.
The G11 performance is fast for a compact camera but slower than a DSLR. Focus is good in average light but seems a little slow in dim situations. There is little shutter lag but the focus is just slow enough that shooting a kid’s soccer game was a challenge until I caught on to the camera’s performance curve.
Using the camera set for 3200 ISO created images with some noise in the shadows but more detail than other compact cameras I’ve used in like situations. At 800 ISO and lower I couldn’t find any noise evident in my sample shots. (As noted above, the S90 had similar performance and image quality while shooting at the same ISO).
So, with two cameras to consider which should you choose?
Who will likely want a G11?
1) Moving up from a compact, want controls but none of the DSLR bulk.
2) The DSLR owner who wants compact and will actually use the advanced controls.
3) When build quality is as important as image quality.
Who will likely want an S90?
1) The DSLR owner who wants a party or briefcase camera.
2) The DSLR owner who wants better than average compact camera image quality but realistically doesn’t want to fiddle with controls.
3) The compact owner who wants the described benefits while using full auto modes and doesn’t want a learning curve.
4) When build quality isn’t as important as compact size.
At first glance it’s a tough choice between the cameras. But once in your hands and all points are considered the right choice for your use will be evident. The one factor to keep in mind is that even with all the niceties they are still compact cameras; there is no miracle of engineering here that changes that fact.
As compact cameras, almost any DSLR will outperform them in low light or with fast moving subjects. If you need to shoot indoor sports, motor sports or want to capture stage productions a DSLR with a fast lens is still your best bet.