Review — Canon G12 Camera

Post by blogger | March 27, 2012      

My cheapo but amazing Canon A720 was called by the big photoshopper in the sky. Upgrade ensued with the inevitability of replacing carburation with fuel injection. Now I’m the proud owner of a Canon G12 that’s clunky compared to Canon A-series cams, but has better glass and a better sensor.

Out with the old, in with the new. A720 to left has more zoom at 6X instead of 5X, but nearly everything else is inferior to G12 in one way or another. The size and weight are a joy, however.

Can I make better photos with the G12 talisman hanging from my nicely corn snow tanned neck? Probably, albeit with frustrating limitations due to the ergonomics and really rather simplistic software of the G12.

Simplistic? More than five years ago, Canon approached the pinnacle of point&shoot digicam software in cameras such as their A620. Subsequent cameras have similar feature sets that are intentionally crippled in one way or another so as not to cut sales of higher priced units.

What’s funny about the feature sets, and sad, is that with the now pleistocene A620 you could do nearly anything the current G12 does, though the sensor and dynamic range of the 620 were about as far from that of the 12 as a cave man’s fire is from a nuclear reactor. Thus, “crippled” might be too strong a word, but options in the G12 software are amazingly few for a pretty much pro-level cam. To be fair, perhaps this lack of software features is due to a simplification effort on Canon’s part. In that sense, good, it is indeed easy to learn this rig. Spend a few evenings going though the settings instead of watching Youtube re-runs, and you’ll know just about everything.

Ok, despite all that I like the G12. Mainly because of the following:

1. The flip out LCD is a joy for getting away from the usual camera positions. It was also a joy with the A620, but that’s history.

2.Burst mode is fast enough to shoot skiing with good chance for success. I have never found a usable P&S that shot burst mode worth beans.

3. The G12 color management and dynamic range make shooting snowscapes much easier (and images can be captured in RAW for control that will keep you up all night tweaking the colors of pine needles and your girlfriend’s irises). Overall image quality is, simply, better.

I’m still an advocate of using consumer point&shoot cameras wherever possible in backcountry setting due to their “throw away” nature and small size (Canon A720 still our highest recommend, due to optical viewfinder.
But for someone who’s essentially a professional photographer (me), something with higher quality results is probably smart. For example, even my best composed and Photoshopped shot from my P&S rigs in some cases simply isn’t up to the standard of what a magazine would buy for a fullpage spread. More, due to grain and lack of tonal separations my P&S shots are much less croppable than those of this higher quality unit. Most importantly, why not up the quality of the shots I publish nearly every day on the web?

4. Quality glass makes my shots better with no more effort on my part than with my cheaper rigs.

5. Two custom settings modes (C1, C2) store most of a camera settings, which perfect if you do one type of photography quite a bit (for me, ski shots with manual everything). Yeah, A620 has this, but the A720 does not. (As mentioned above, caveat with this is the “C” options don’t store your ISO, which is a huge drag for normal humans without the editic memory of a hard drive.)

6. Optical viewfinder. While some shooters deplore the “little lookie hole” you usually find as a viewfinder in digicams, they obviously have not tried to use a camera with snow adhering to the LCD, or in light so bright you have to hang a jacket over your head to get anything done. (To be fair, the G12 LCD is remarkably legible in super-bright snowy sunlight, but still not bright enough for facile shot composition. In that case, the optical viewfinder saves the day, big time.

7. HD video is a nice option since that’s pretty much industry standard now for nearly any sort of publishing or presentation.

Disappointments in the G12 firmware include:
– As mentioned above, setting the “Custom” option to store settings won’t store ISO, so remember when you use the C1 or C2 for manual exposure to set your ISO manually each time, or experience all useless exposures despite your slick little effort to create a custom program.

– In manual focus, if you turn off the LCD and turn back on, your focus settings go away. This is a double groaner on par with a bad meal at Taco Bell. You simply don’t expect that kind of inept design in a camera this expensive — one with so much noble ancestry. One solution is to just fold the LCD to the non visible position as this disables all the electronic buttons so you won’t make a mistake. But then you can’t check your shots. My workaround when using manual focus is to shoot a test shot with LCD open. If good, then I make sure I’m still on my focus setting and close the LCD so nothing can get bumped. After that, I trigger on faith, like using a film camera. Primitive, but works.

– Recheargeble battery is another G12 annoyance (for me, anyway). I’ve been spoiled by Canon A-series cams (the A means they use AA batteries). Carry a few AAs in your repair kit for your headlamp, or your radio, or your camera. Simple. Now I get to carry yet-another-electroinc-thingy (spare camera battery, and even another wall charger while traveling).

More, when doing overnight trips I’ll probably have to carry several charged batteries, since in heavy use I only got one measly day of shooting and shot reviewing out of one charge. Using the flash didn’t help. But still, it’s a nice powerful flash that’s fun to use. A camera this heavy and bulky could probably be built to take AA batteries. Shucks. Off I go to Amazon for more proprietary batteries.

– Operate some of the G12 settings with gloves? Fugettaboutit. And don’t cut your fingernails, either. The little fingernail spinny dial surrounding the cursor diamond on the back of the camera is used for just a few things (e.g., scrolling photos in review mode, or changing shutter speed in manual mode). But when you need to do those things, frustration will ensue. Heck, I even have trouble moving the thing with bare hands and short fingernails, without accidentally bumping the flash settings button on the cursor diamond. Conversely, when attempting to use the cursor diamond, it’s easy to accidentally rotate the control ring. Project today is to see if I really need the ring to operate this camera. If not, a dab of epoxy might be the answer. Lock it up — and fugettaboutit.

Worst feature of the G12, the impossible midget control ring.

Worst feature of the G12, the impossible midget control ring.

This incredibly poor control interface appears to be thought up by designers with tiny fingers and longish fingernails, sitting at a desk in a warm well-lit room. What’s even weirder is one of the hallmarks of G series Canon cameras is the big easy control dials for the ISO and exposure compensation. More, many of the G12 functions are flipped using a front dial that’s quite easy to rotate with gloves, but stiff enough not to flip accidentally (at lest not usually). Thus, you can almost hear the Twilight Zone theme song playing in the background as you wonder why-the-heck they added this strange little thingus to an otherwise robust and easily handled manual control set.

Biggest disappointment of the G12 is of course the weight (402 grams, 14.1 oz wet) and bulk. Truth be told, it has been a joy to carry my digicams in a small pouch on the shoulder straps of my packs. No more, now I’ve got a big hulking jingus hanging there like some sort of toxic cleanup worker’s emergency mask pouch. What is annoying is I have no doubt they could strip quite a bit of mass off this thing, but they leave it hefty because it sells better when perceived as beefy. Oh well, we sacrifice for art.

Yes, cameras are complex. Personal preferences cause one to develop lots of opinions. Now you have a few of mine.


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36 Responses to “Review — Canon G12 Camera”

  1. gentle sasquatch March 27th, 2012 9:50 am

    I find the battery life phenomenal. Have you actually run out of juice with the g12? I also have so spare for the g12 but as long as I keep the camera in a pocket closer to my body to keep it relatively warm I would run out of space on the SD card long before the battery.

  2. mt splitski March 27th, 2012 9:52 am

    Awesome review Lou. I have been considering picking one of these up to replace the SLR on days when photography isn’t the main objective. Thanks for the details.

  3. Lou March 27th, 2012 9:55 am

    Gentle, I tortured the thing by doing exactly what I needed for the day. Some fill flash, LCD on brightest setting, lots of burst mode shooting, spending time reviewing shots in-camera. Used up one charge in a day. Can conserve and I’m sure get much better life. But I like to use my tools, not baby them.

    BTW, it’s a lithium battery, keeping it warmer makes very little difference in power. More, keeping the camera close to your body in cold weather can intrude moist air into the camera body and lens elements. Danger.


  4. chris auld March 27th, 2012 10:06 am


    1. Woulda/coulda/shoulda got an S100? The guts of a G series in an even smaller package.
    2. Have you taken a look at CHDK to ease some of your firmware pain?

  5. Rich March 27th, 2012 10:18 am

    Couldn’t agree more about the A620. After mine was stolen, I bought a used A630 on eBay just because the ergonomics are SO good on those A series cameras. The new APSC-sensor, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, however, will put the G12 images to shame. Now that there are no more P&S cameras that use AA batteries, I’ll be using a Sony NEX and build an external AA battery pack with which to run it in the backcountry.

  6. Ray March 27th, 2012 10:22 am

    Hi Lou
    The battery life is amazing. I recently forgot my charger when we went to Hawaii. Took at least 500 photos. One thing i never used the flash much. In the backcountry I had the battery go dead once and that was because I never charged it fo at least a month.
    I think the picture quality is great.

  7. Lou March 27th, 2012 10:26 am

    We have an SD 780 in the stable. Amazing as well, with optical viewfinder! No manual mode, though… but very useful and tempting to carry due to super small size.

  8. wfinley March 27th, 2012 10:27 am

    I’ve had the G11 for a few years now. Only have one battery and it lasts for extended periods of time just fine. I used it for 3 weeks in the AK range last year on one charge and got about 1000 pix. By the end of the trip I still had 2 bars. If you just turn the camera on, take your pix and turn it off it will last a very long time. Viewing and editing on the viewfinder chews up the battery so best to just carry a couple extra cards and leave the editing for when you’re back home.

  9. Gentle Sasquatch March 27th, 2012 10:29 am

    Yeah, I also have the flash turned off by default. I like available light shots before I resort to flash. One thing I did notice thought with the G12 is that the shots have a tendency to blue cast. Easily corrected (most of the time) in post processing but nevertheless. Similar in very cold conditions I think the WB settings get fooled and the shots gravitate towards the blue – like Picasso’s Blue Period 😉

    I also have mine on continuous burst – a must, to catch a decent skiing shot.

    Other than that I do not do much more. 99.9% of the time I have it set to AV (aperture priority), I don’t use the zoom much… I appreciate the F2.8 on the lens, it would be nice with 2.0 but beggers can’t be choosers.

  10. David March 27th, 2012 10:33 am

    I took a pretty serious look at the G12 for a trip to Stelvio next month. I went with an S100 though because of size and reviews. Based on playing with it in the house and what I’ve heard in the shops I have pretty high expectations. I’ll try to give a little feedback after the trip.

  11. Bryce M. March 27th, 2012 11:54 am

    For my point and shoots, I’m a Canon true believer as well (though I’ve probably bought my last camera in this category as the options for compact larger format cameras have radically expanded in recent months). I’ve used my old A710 IS, the G11 (sold), and now the Canon S95 for my mountaineering photography. The A710 had the benefits of being able to handle a surprising amount of moisture without being ruined and AA batteries (almost all of my backpacking electronics run on AAs). Downside, was horrible distortion (easily corrected in Lightroom) and terrible dynamic range resulting in dim photos or blown highlights. The G11 was better, easier to handle with thin gloves, and took great pictures (this one was published in a book of photography, but heavy, not AAs, fiddly controls, etc – same as the G12. Now I use the Canon S95 which has most of the same disadvantages minus the bulk. I’ll still strap on a DSLR carry rig to my chest sometimes when I expect to be able to go slower and take more interesting pictures…

  12. Bryce M. March 27th, 2012 11:55 am
  13. Gentle Sasquatch March 27th, 2012 11:58 am
  14. Andrew March 27th, 2012 12:30 pm

    I’ve been using the Canon G series cameras for a while and have gone from the G7, G9 and now use the G12. I think they are great for what they are – above average point & shooters.

    On the full auto setting, the camera has a long lag time as it is sorting through all of its various scene settings (fireworks, party, snow, beach, etc.), so for auto focus and exposure, I use the “P” mode – same thing, but faster.

    For burst mode, I use the C1 setting with the review turned off which will just about double your frame rate. It still hardly compares to a big DSLR, but I can get about a shot per second, or maybe even a bit faster, with it when shooting jpgs.

  15. Matt Kinney March 27th, 2012 12:46 pm

    I have been using the G12 for about a year and it works ok. Clanky is a good word for it as I wish it was a tad smaller. I went through 2 A7’s before moving on to this camera. I though the A7 was better. The G12 takes very good video, but that function drains batteries quickly. It’s durable as can be expected stored a ski coat pocket so you actually get to it quickly. The telephoto lens is extra long so be careful as lens extension and retraction is slow if you are hustling around for the shot of the day. iPhoto works well with this camera.

    Totally agree with the “midget control” PIA factor at cold temps. Its too sensitive.

  16. Endlessride March 27th, 2012 1:55 pm

    I have a G12 but it doesn’t get taken on tours. I find it too bulky for that. I’ve just bought an S100 and am impressed. As far as I’m concerned it’s as good as the G12, much smaller, much better burst mode, worse battery life.

    Here is a set from last week on the S100

  17. Lou March 27th, 2012 2:37 pm

    I do really wish the G12 was smaller. But the optical viewfinder (with diopter adjustment!) and fold-out LCD are things I really really love and that give me better shots. So, when I’m “working” it is now the work horse. We do have that Canon SD780, which is quite nice, super small but still has optical viewfinder! Lisa also has another A720 that’s still chugging along.

  18. Brian March 27th, 2012 5:32 pm

    I love the G12 – it is my go to Camera when I don’t want to lug along my DSLR and I guess that is why i don’t think it is too bulky. I have been really impressed with it and would highly recommend to anyone. I have a fisheye lens that I can can attach to it which is a big bonus for me.

    Only thing I do not like is the lack of video controls which seems to be addressed with the newer G1X (which looks cool, but even more bulky)

  19. Frank K March 27th, 2012 6:34 pm

    I went from an a640 to a G series and while I miss some things about the 640, I can’t deny that the G takes an overall better photo. Sad how few cameras come with an optical viewfinder these days, which I consider mandatory for shooting in continuous mode (which I use a lot). Like other commenters noted, it’s hard to believe you went through a battery in a day- mine will last hundreds and hundreds of photos.

    I’ve also used the Nikon P7000 quite a bit and consider it equal competition to the G series- it does some things better and some worse.

  20. Caleb Wray March 27th, 2012 10:07 pm

    We own a G series as well and it always make me reflect on how far photo instruments have come and where they are going. I suspect another decade will allow us to take the highest quality of images with something that fits in a shell pocket, thankfully.

  21. tavis March 27th, 2012 11:25 pm

    How does the video on the G12 compare to say your average handheld video cam? I need a vid to capture my soon to be arriving son and I also need a p & s. Can itdso double duty?

  22. skian March 27th, 2012 11:33 pm

    I’ve had a G9 for years. Ace Kvale turned me on to it. It’s bulky but bombproof. I killed a lot of P&S cameras over the years and this still keeps ticking. Looking at a wide angle adapter. Anybody had success with one in particular? Some great tips here from Wild Snow folks. Liking this review! and thread. : )

  23. Lou March 28th, 2012 5:58 am

    Tavis, the video quality is excellent HD, it doesn’t optical zoom while shooting video, only digital zoom, which is disappointing. But if it optical zoomed, you’d get the zoom noise so perhaps that’s just as well. The camera mic picks up a lot of handling noise if you’re hand-holding, best to stick it on a tripod if possible.

  24. Jon March 28th, 2012 12:42 pm

    Thanks for your timing on this review. I have been beating my head debating between the g12 and the s100 for a month now. I finally went with the s100. Decided that the size was worth the lack of view finder. Now I just hope I don’t regret it!


  25. Lou March 28th, 2012 2:33 pm

    Jon, if you haven’t used viewfinder much, you probably won’t miss it… ditto for the fold-in-fold-out LCD. I’ve found the optical viewfinder to be essential for action shots as well as carefully composed landscapes with small features… but each person has different needs. Obviously, most people don’t need or want the optical viewfinder, as very few cameras now have it.

    For what it’s worth, it’s easier for me to brace and hold the camera still when it’s up against my eye, in low light shooting. More, doing pans works much better with the camera held in classic style. Yeah, the camera has IS but that only goes so far.

    In the end, there is a reason why so many people end up with SLRs, and the viewfinder is one big one.

  26. Dan March 28th, 2012 2:42 pm

    Thanks for the timely review,Lou and others for their contributions also. Of course, I am sttill conflicted (G12 vs S100), but at least now have more info for which to be conflicted about.

  27. Jon March 28th, 2012 6:40 pm

    I REALLY wanted the view finder, but in the end decided that the compactness is more of what I wanted in this one. Otherwise I just carry my DSLR.

    Why can’t they make a reasonably featured camera with a viewfinder and AA batteries? I would take a g12/s100 like that in a heartbeat, and pay too much for it to!


  28. Lou March 28th, 2012 8:15 pm

    It’s the total weirdness of the camera industry. They’re running scared from smart phones, and tend to try and push us all to higher price point stuff like DSLR. If they made something like the A720 with a slightly better sensor, faster flash cycling and a few other tiny improvements, they would loose much of their DSLR and faux DSLR sales. Frustrating. I’m 100% certain something like the G12 could be made nearly 2/3 the weight and smaller. Of course, the whole scene changes every 6 months.

    But for true winter backcountry use, the optical viewfinder is key. That is a bottom line. And yeah, one of the best ways to get that is a prosumer DSLR with a nice wide-range zoom, such as setting up a Canon Rebel. I almost went that route. Owned a half dozen film Rebels over the years. Good form factor and weight, fairly featured….

  29. Mark W March 28th, 2012 10:35 pm

    My now dated G9 has similar attributes, and takes good photos, but the weight and bulk foil the ever-lighter backcountry traveler in me. Durability is pretty good. My son dropped it recently onto a hardwood floor with no apparent damage. I’ll chime in on battery also: excellent life. I go sometimes for a couple months without charging it. Sometimes I dream of smaller, lighter Canons or Leicas, but as we all know, the grass is always greener…

  30. stephen March 29th, 2012 2:35 am

    Thanks for your input everyone. I’ve been dithering about this for months.

    At the moment I have a Ricoh GX-8 (which has a veiwfinder) but I’d like more/easier control. I’ve been looking at the S100 (no VF), Olympus XZ1 (optional EVF which I already have for m43), Lumix LX-5 (optional EVF) and Fujifilm X10 (has VF, and manual zoom but some issues and not that small) and the G12 (bulky/heavy). If the S100 had even a crappy VF I’d buy one with little hesitation, but it doesn’t and the removable EVFs on the XZ1 and LX5 make the cameras bulkier ad could become detached/lost.

    Micro 4/3 cameras have all the quality and control things down pat but IMHO are just too big to carry conveniently, and if they’re in the pack I might as well not bother at all. [sigh] So, okay when all the time and effort might be dedicated to photography, but pretty well useless (for me anyway) on most trips, where skiing is what’s important.

    Like Lou, I’m quite sure it’s possible to build something virtually ideal, but nobody does so. 🙁

  31. DiegoZ March 29th, 2012 10:31 am

    Ditto for me that the skiing is what I’m out there for, plus I have zero talent for taking pics so I’m more interested in something that fits in a shell pocket- any recommendations?

  32. Lee Lau March 29th, 2012 3:53 pm

    S100’s LCD is dogshit in bright light. If you ski in trees only then get the S100. If you’re out on glaciers then get the G12. Battery life is 3+ days w/o charge without using too much flash or power-draining functions. Unreal battery life.

    Video quality is decent; not 7D or dedicated videocam quality but better than say Elph etc. Video can zoom in/out.

    G12 can go into jacket pocket of a shell. Or camera bag on waist belt. Agree it could be smaller or lighter but that’s decently accessible for me.

  33. Lou March 29th, 2012 6:19 pm

    Thanks for chiming in Lee. The poor performance of LCDs in super bright light is the gorilla in the room. Holding an LCD out in front of your face and squinting at it is not conducive to good photography…

  34. Joe March 29th, 2012 7:16 pm

    I’ve had my g11 for almost 2 years to the date and have “tested” the hell out of it.

    From a 45mph fall off a motorcycle with minimal damage to wet water falls and a even a slide down an icey chute. Brute for sure. Bulky yes I do agree.

    I have the additioinal lens adapter with a polarizing filter. It greatly improves image quality but adds more buk to the unit. In my search for filters I was almost swayed to go the all aluminum route over the Canon OE plastic but was reminded by a journo that any impact will effect the attachment ring of the camera. Thus ruining a $500+ investment. I went with the plastic adapter and carry the adapter in a seperate pocket then the camera when space is at a premium.

    Another reason to love the Canon verses many others in the pro P&S (Lumix, Nikon, etc. ) is the dedicated lens cover.

    Put it to the test Lou, you wont be disappointed.

  35. Rich March 29th, 2012 9:49 pm

    For a detailed (professional) review of the G12’s big brother on steroids, the GX-1, read all about it at….

  36. Lee Lau March 29th, 2012 11:33 pm

    Gx-1 is 799. Far cry from price of G12 at around 250 or so ( Having said that, it looks like its in a different class (sensor size so better lowlight performance in theory, more fps). But I just can’t get over the price; can get an older Rebel XT body and a basic 18-200 lens. But again then i suppose the slr will be bigger

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