A semi-professional digital camera released by Canon in April 2000, the PowerShot G1 is a high-end "prosumer" device. It has a 3.34 megapixel 1/1.8-inch CCD, with a top resolution of 2048x1536. The lens has a focal length of 7-21mm (35mm equivalent 34-102mm), giving a 3x optical zoom.
Most importantly, it is not just a point-and-shoot camera like most digital models: Canon give full control over focus, exposure control and compensation, white balance, shutter speed, and even equivalent film speed. However, it also has an excellent automatic mode, with auto-focus and exposure, making the camera ideal for aspiring (but still novice) photographers.
In the Box
The camera is supplied with a 16MB CompactFlash card, a Lithium-Ion battery and charger, a remote-control, and a USB cable to connect the camera to your computer. The CF card is barely large enough for fifteen photographs at full resolution and quality, but the camera is capable of holding CompactFlash Type II devices, and is suited perfectly for an IBM MicroDrive. Canon's BP-511 7.4v 1100mAh battery pack is more than up to the task of powering the G1, and will last far longer than most other digital cameras, especially those design for use with NiMH AA batteries.
Supplied Windows software is the standard Canon fare: PhotoBrowser is used to upload and manage your photos, there is a remote capture tool used to control the camera as if it were a webcam, and most usefully Canon supply a copy of PhotoStitch, a panoramic photo compositor. The G1 is also supported well by the free software Linux tool gphoto, which is capable of almost all communication with the camera, with the exception of remote capture.
Using the Camera
One of the most novel features of the G1 is the flip-out and twist LCD preview screen. The display panel can either be closed and the viewfinder used, turned around so that it can be used on the back of the camera, or moved to the side of the camera and rotated fully around the horizontal axis. This allows the photographer to hold the camera at any angle while still previewing and framing her shot, and even allows you to hold the camera in front of you and take pictures of your nostrils. The display is very high quality and exceptionally bright, making it visible even in direct sunglight.
The top of the camera also has a simple fixed-pixel quartz LCD for information about the mode the camera is in: the size and quality of the shot, battery status, flash setting, ISO film speed equivalent, white balance, shutter speed, aperture f number, and so on. This is useless in low light, but all the information can be optionally duplicated on the rear preview LCD.
The camera has twelve modes for shooting, including five automatic modes with different balances of settings. The auto modes are:
- Auto Mode
- The camera is in point and shoot mode: aim the camera, and press the shutter button half-way to trigger the automatic focus, shutter speed, and aperture settings. If everything seems okay, press the shutter button fully, and the camera takes the picture (along with a cheesy sound effect of a shutter closing).
- Pan Focus Modue
- This mode fixes the focal length to the maximum wide angle setting, in order to decrease the latency from shutter-down to exposure.
- Portrait Mode
- With this setting the aperture is as wide as possible in order to give a classic blurred background/well-defined foreground portrait shot.
- Landscape Mode
- This mode fixes the focal length to infinity, the aperture is set as small as possible, and the fill flash is disabled, all to help take good landscape photos.
- Night Scene Mode
- In this mode, a slow shutter speed is used to capture dark buildings or skies, and a brief fill flash is used to illuminate foreground subjects.
There are also three special feature modes:
- Black and White Mode
- This simply records the photographs in grayscale. A bit of a rip-off for anyone who has a copy of Photoshop.
- Stitch Assist Mode
- This mode helps the photographer line up a series of overlapping exposures, in order to stitch them together using PhotoStitch or similar software later.
- Movie Mode
- More a consumer gimmick setting than anything really useful, this allows you to take 320x240, 30-second long, 15fps MJPEG movies.
Finally, and most usefully, there are four manual modes, with varying degrees of automatic assistance. In all of these modes the photographer may adjust the focus manually, as well as exposure compensation, white balance, flash setting, ISO speed, and various other minor tweaks. The modes are:
- Program AE
- The camera automatically sets the shutter speed and aperture for its metered light setting.
- Tv (Manual Shutter Speed)
- Here you set the shutter speed using the directional pad, and the camera automatically adjusts the aperture. This is useful for taking purposefully arty long exposures when you don't know what you're doing.
- Av (Manual Aperture)
- Similarly to Tv mode, you set the aperture, and the camera adjusts the shutter speed.
- You have full control of the shutter speed and aperture.
The G1 has another great setting, particularly useful for the hobbyist photographer. It can automatically take three pictures for one depression of the shutter, with your chosen deltas added and subtracted from the contrast, flash brightness, white balance, and aperture size. This is a fantastic bonus for people who inconsistently take under- and over-exposed frames, or for the experimental photographer who wants to check out the different settings and what they do.
Overall the G1 has excellent quality for a digital camera. There are the standard CCD problems of fringing and irritating noise, but they are not so bad as to interfere with day-to-day shooting. I've printed many of my photographs on 8x12 and they look fantastic (if I say so myself).
However, if you're looking for SLR quality, you're going to have to pay digital SLR prices ($3000 plus). The camera is suitable for the aspiring amateur or hobbyist, but lacks the image quality and sharpness of a high-end camera.
In October 2001, The G1 was superceded by Canon's Powershot G2: the main non-cosmetic difference being an upgraded 4.0 megapixel CCD, evaluative light metering, selectable focus areas, and a longer maximum exposure time.
The Powershot G2 was discontinued in September 2002, and predictably replaced by the Powershot G3. The G3 features a new lens, with 4x optical zoom and better focus range, and updated firmware, adding new features such as FlexiZone auto focus, aperture from F2.0 to F3.0 (and F8), and a slightly faster maximum shutter speed. Perhaps more importantly, the physical design of the camera has been revised, and it is now much more comfortable to hold and operate.