The first thing you notice about the PowerShot G1 is its weight. At 420g, it’s noticeably heavier than an Olympus 3030Z at 305g or a Kodak DC4800 at 320g. The weight comes from the solid build quality – the hinge on the display panel could probably do service on your front door.
The PowerShot G1 comes in at the top end of a slightly confusing range of similarly-styled digital cameras from Canon. The cute Digital Ixus 2.1mp model is small and pocketable, the PowerShot S10 (2.1mp) and S20 (3.34mp) are a bit plasticky and under-featured, while the new PowerShot G1 has more features and a better lens but costs more.
Lens quality matters once you get to 3mp or more. The G1 has a high quality, high-definition zoom with a maximum aperture of f/2 at the wide angle setting – that’s as good as you’ll find in this market. The 3:1 zoom ratio is equivalent to 34-102mm on a 35mm camera (optional adaptors are available for 28 mm and 153 mm). There’s a manual focus button, plus full auto. The only drawback is the modest macro mode, which only focuses to 6cm, though there’s an optional close-up adaptor.
A fast processing chip and buffer memory allow rapid shooting at intervals of 1.8 seconds. The CCD’s sensitivity can be set between ISO 50 and 400 equivalence. The maximum resolution is 2,048-x-1,536 pixels. Images can be saved in various resolutions and compression ratios, plus an unprocessed, uncompressed raw format.
The G1 has a tiny built-in flash, but far more significant is the hot-shoe on top that can interface the camera’s exposure system with most of Canon’s current range of Speedlite sophisticated external flashguns.
Another feature borrowed from the Pro 70 is the LCD display. This is mounted on an ingenious and sturdy hinge that lets you position it anywhere from flush with the camera back, to flipped and rotated to view from the front, top, left side or base of the camera, or finally to clip it into the recessed back with the glass facing inward for protection. There’s also a decently sized optical viewfinder to save battery power, or for when the sun’s too bright for the LCD.
The G1’s user interface is nothing special, with function buttons scattered all over the top and back panels. The use of button combinations is inconsistent between different functions, and your choices are displayed either on the top status LCD or the main preview monitor. The top selector dial gives a choice of programmed, auto, shutter-priority, aperture priority, or full manual operation.
There are seven pre-set modes, including portrait, backlit and B&W. One of these is an overlapping multi-image mode with on-screen positioning guides. This can be set up to take strip images that can be automatically blended together after downloading to form seamless panoramas using the supplied PowerStitch software. Options let you choose vertical or horizontal camera alignments, plus a 2-x-2 overlapping ‘quilt’ that increases the coverage and resolution of the final image by about 2/3. There’s also a 30 second, 15fps 320-x-240 pixel movie recording mode with sound, both of which can be played back by the camera.
Saving options include a choice of resolution and compression, plus a raw mode which lets you download unprocessed images for software-based tweaking.
The battery is a big 7.4v Lithium-ion rechargeable with a very good capacity – the mains adaptor charges the battery while it’s in the camera. A 16MB CompactFlash memory card is included, as are USB, and serial cables, plus a PAL video cable.
Software supplied for Mac OS and Windows includes the Zoombrowser photo album with basic retouch and crop controls, Photorecord for layout and printing, and Photostitch for assembling panoramas and quilts. RemoteCapture allows remote control from Windows only. A copy of Adobe Photoshop LE is bundled.
Image quality is top of the class, and equal to the benchmark Nikon CoolPix 990 and Olympus 3030Z. Reproduction of bright, saturated colours is particularly impressive. If you can’t afford Canon’s new £2,200 D30 digital SLR, this is the next best thing.