Monday, December 28, 2009

G10 vs Taiwan

Cicada skin - I had to rest the camera on the micro ferns of the tree to get a stable shot

As a person who has taken to attempting to capture moments and sights that I wish to share with others in a single frame of visual data, I naturally want a power-packed capturing device that can deal with my every whim and fancy. That is, a camera that can work with my strange capturing angles, not-so-stable hands, sitting on every conceivable type of surface that can support its weight without corroding into a smoking puddle...

Obviously, any half-assed photographer in this day and age would think of a DSLR as his ideal companion. Whatever extra trouble one had to deal with carrying a fundamentally heavier and bulkier camera, carrying multiple lenses on a trip and having to change them as and when a shot requires it, I was prepared to do. Or even better, having a big-arse all-in-one lens that I had to fix on everytime I pulled out the camera, and disassemble everytime I packed it back in. As long as I could jump from having my lens precariously near to a steaming bowl of soup to bringing a brightly-colored bird into frame from 25o metres away in an instant, what's that bit of trouble?

The result of snapping that stupid duck over and over for 5 minutes

But then I thought wow. I may be ready to do all that in a photographer's quest for the perfect shot, but when one is on travel where virtually everything is new, good shots don't wait to be taken. I know I am not ready to deal with multiple lenses (and definitely not ready to try to explain how the portrait lens I loaned rolled down a highway slope into the river), and so a very powerful point-and-shoot camera came to mind. Nicole sealed the deal by recommending that I get the G10 from Canon Singapore.

Which I did. I guess I'm to blame partly for getting it done only the day before I was due to fly off for Taiwan, while I was still working in camp. But I have to say, it takes an awful lack of professionalism to miss out an entire charging pack when sending a review unit to someone. If I hadn't gotten it at the last second from a friend, this review would definitely not have happened.

The challenge which I found quite perversely fun was that I needed to know how to operate this camera intimately by the time I walked out of the immigration checkpoint at Taiwan. I needed to know what it could do, what it could do well and under what conditions, what it simply could not do, and most importantly, what it could not do well under XYZ conditions, and if there was anything doable to make the situation better. That gave me less than 6 hours travelling from Singapore to Taiwan (including a transfer at HK which was more frantic walking than anything else) to consume the relevant parts of the very thick manual.

The very first shot I captured... mistakenly at 2MP.

As expected of a bridge camera, the G10 matches the relatively compact size and ease of operatability of any simple point-and-shoot camera, with the complex options that photographers who know what they want will undoubtedly want in their camera. I say they are complex not because the options are many, but because striking a balance between these few options require knowledge of each individual factor, and how they will work and clash with each other.

Capturing on almost auto settings - Ming Chih Recreation Area

As an amateur photographer more interested in versatility and swift efficient captures of single-opportunity shots, I am quite comfortable leaving most of the settings on auto mode (ISO, white balance, contrasting, anti-shake, aperture, shutter speed). This however is not to be confused as using the auto mode setting on the camera, because the camera's intelligence simply cannot yet be trusted to automatically work out the type of shot I'm going for.

Having used a very basic model of Panasonic Lumix as my usual digital camera, I am disappointed to see that there aren't as many scene settings in the G10. Sure, the potentials of the camera are aimed towards knowledgeable photographers in mind, but scene settings nevertheless provide for a quick jump to the appropriate settings in the quest for that perfect shot. Honestly, I'm starting to tire of going on about grabbing that perfect shot before it disappears forever, but there really is no escape from it. And if general photographers are willing to sacrifice the power of a DSLR for a jack of all trades prosumer camera, then you better make sure that Jack really knows alot of trades.

Foliage scene mode enhances green and produces stunning images as these

And speaking of recording, I was puzzled to find that this camera only records in 4:3 aspect ratio. With the international standard of 3:2 ratios for higher level photography, and the increasingly common use of widescreen monitors nowadays, I would have expected this of a far lesser camera. In fact even my Lumix has it. And I know that it's not because they are not aware of this, because they actually have a 3:2 ratio guide for you to crop your images later. What the hell for? It's more of a burden to me because I get the ratio but I know that the parts beyond the black markings are going to be recorded anyway. So why put it there in the first place?

One thing I'm very thankful for in this camera is the custom settings, marked on the dial as C1 and C2. In these two modes every single detail is at your disposal. You work your way through settings like your focus type (there's Flexizone, where you define your focusing point in every shot - awesome for macro), flash output power, white balance of course, and when you were finished, you save this settings in the mode of your choice, and everytime you turned on the camera or returned to that mode from some other setting, these settings that you have so carefully specified will be returned to you. I was surprised to accidentally learn one day that even the zoom is included in the settings. I had switched the ND filter on for the day, which is what I usually do to get a more vibrant image with less chance of overexposing as long as there is adequate natural light (cloudy sometimes doesn't cut it). I must have zoomed to test that the ND was doing its work, and saved it that way, and when I turned the camera on again later, I was puzzled at first to find the zoom lens stretching almost all the way out. For my needs, what I found useful was to set C2 to be my default photo taking function, and having the exact settings for C1 with the macro function turned on. It's hard to think of more ideal methods for that sought-after jump between near and far.

Flexizone focus in action - point A the sign and point B the strawberry (which was delicious btw)

A bad point I should mention about the macro function is that it cannot handle zoom very well. Yes, macro is supposed to be near and you aren't supposed to zoom, but there's always that particular shot where you can't get too close to your subject so you have to use the zoom to bring it closer. And the shakes the come from zooming in macro aren't pretty at all.

Success using macro + zoom after many frustrated attempts.

Another highlight of the G10 would definitely have to be it's scroll wheel. A firm grip on any camera is fundamental to getting even the simplest of shots, and that really only leaves your thumbs free to manipulate your camera on the fly. The scroll wheel naturally can only run through the various settings of one function at a time (eg ISO, or SCN mode, or shutter speed), but it still manages to solve a big part of this problem. It's abit low on the camera for my thumb to circulate smoothly without shifting the grip of the rest of my hand, but the ideal space for the wheel is taken up by the wonderfully large screen, which I would give priority to any day.

Angled flash = bad images. Sorry cl0udi3 you're still fab to me :P

Speaking of ideal spaces, the biggest image sensor in the world won't be able to prevent the obvious result of a side-installed flash. Subjects taken at sharp angles will be jarringly illuminated from one side. Given the fact that the optical viewfinder is a separate mechanism from the otherwise awesome lens and real honestly seems to serve little more purpose than to make you feel pro, I do feel that the center top of the camera would have served far better as the space to put the flash. Studying the camera as I type, I find that the telescope of the lens shouldn't get in the way of the illumination, but if I'm wrong, do correct me (or else what the hell, make the camera abit higher lah).

Night shots are the real test of any camera's prowess, and it's a pity that the G10 only serves to be half a step up from your average point and shoot. However, the adjustability of ISO up to 3200, shutter speed up to 15 seconds, and aperture up to 8.0 does give the photographer a significant increase in probability of getting a good night shot. On this count I depended more on the luck of getting shots right, as I only have basic knowledge of these factors.

Good nightshot

Awful grainy nightshot

Surprisingly good performance of long exposure... after some serious scrolling

Another point about the G10 that I had a hard time dealing with is the exposure compensation. I find it great that this is about the only setting independent from saving and actually has a whole dial dedicated to it because it is meant to be variant to every shot. But I do think something else is going on in there that I can't control, and the problem is everytime I shoot towards the sky, either the sky gets overexposed and is just a bright mass, with vivid colors of ground objects, or else the light intake is brought down, and the sky is distinguishable with the awful trade off of silhouetted ground objects. Makes for artistic shots sometimes, but definitely not wanted all the time.

Overexposed sky and underexposed foreground

Lastly, the fundamental of startup time. The Sony T10, the Lumix I have, the Olympus that my family had as our very first digital camera in like 2004 or 2005 had great start up times. Any of these cameras could literally match up to a person saying "Power. Focus. Capture." at average reading speed. That's slightly less than 2 seconds. You have to wait for the G10 to power on because you perform the focus, which takes slightly longer, and then capture. That takes almost double the time, something I definitely find undesirable in an otherwise powerful camera.

I've described the shortcomings on the G10 in more detail than its good points. But that does not in any way mean that its bad points outweigh its good points. On the contrary its good points trump the bad points to no end. But bad points deserve to be mapped out in detail so that anyone who intends to purchase one knows full well what they're getting into. I certainly know what I am getting into, and depending on more detailed comparisons in the future, a G10 or G11 will be mine by mid 2010.

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