Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Canon G9 - First thoughts

For some time now, I have been on the look-out for a take-anywhere point-and-shoot camera; something that can be easily slipped into a pocket or rucksack instead of having to lug around a heavier SLR camera just for the sake of a few grab shots.

This is by no means a technical review - just a few initial thoughts and reasonings.

I never did find a camera to fit the bill. Looking at the market, some models offered a nice compact size, but not the spec. Others went the other way, providing more functionality, but at the cost of being physically larger. Trouble is, I wanted something in between - a camera which would allow me to take complete control, at the same time not making me feel as though I may as well have just grabbed an SLR and be done with it.

Thankfully (and finally), it appears that the gap has now been filled. Having heard many good things about Canon's Powershot G9, and having seen some very impressive images produced by it, I took the plunge and am pleased to say that it is now safely lodged as the latest piece of kit to find its way into the GBP arsenal. And from our own initial tests, the results are quite simply incredible.

OK, so we've established the first requirements - quality, funtionality and compactness. The G9 ticks all boxes - it has a 12.1MP sensor, the ability to capture in RAW, complete manual override and connectivity for remote flash operation. It even has a manual focus option - quite unusual for compact cameras, but always well worth having!

The autofocusing itself is fast and exposure metering is incredibly accurate - both working well throughout the full range of the
7.4 - 44.4 mm lens (that's about 35-210mm in 35mm terms). Even shooting right into the sun, the focus doesn't hunt around, instead locking quickly onto the subject, and in low light situations, Canon's Image Stabilisation is a great asset (especially when employing the Macro setting).

Using the G9 almost feels like working with a rangfinder camera (think Leica) in terms of how quickly everything comes to hand and the fact that an optical viewfinder is incorporated (something of a rarity for compacts these days). In truth, I expect this o.v. will receive less attention due to the wonderfully crisp and bright 3" screen on the back. Much as I love the traditional, why would you squint when you don't have to?

Now, I've never been a fan of all the audio add-ons you get with cameras and technology. You know the sort of thing - "Beep! You've turned on the camera. Beep! Welcome to the start-up screen. Beep! Focusing. Beep! Ka-chink! Picture taken. Beep! Image review..." Therefore, my first thought is always to turn off all of these sounds whenever possible. Doing this on the G9 is easy enough and means that operation is virtually silent - ideal for candid photography or when you want to keep a low profile.

The second requirements of a camera were aimed specifically at our web-based activities - i.e. the GBP Blog and website. We will be incorporating extended video content from now on, so if you have any questions about the way we work, what kit we use, how a shoot is co-ordinated etc, just enter your thoughts/comments/questions below and we will address them in future posts.

But getting back to the G9...

As well as capturing high-quality still pictures, the G9 also has the ability to record movies in 640x480 resolution at 30 frames per second - ideal for blogs and podcasts. It was initially a toss-up as to whether we went for a dedicated video camera or sought out a hybrid stills/video unit. Afer all, for our purposes, we weren't looking for High Definition, broadcast-quality footage - just good quality images and clear audio recording.

We've already done a few tests, including time-lapse recording - and again, the results are very promising. Contrast is handled supremely well and focus stays constantly on the ball, even with considerable variation in lighting such as turning lights on/off in quick succession. And in darkened environments, footage remains clear.

So, am I going to be trading in my SLR cameras now that I have the new Canon? Clearly not. But such is the power of the G9 that I will be taking it along as a back-up on shoots, just in case my SLRs fail. Having said that, the quality, user-control and connectivity is all there, and so it would not be an exaggeration to consider doing quick location shoots solely using this little camera and a couple of Speedlights.

RSS In Plain English

At a recent networking meeting, I presented to the group on the topic of RSS Feeds. This post is a follow-up to that morning, and is aimed at anyone who is still unsure, or who needs reminding just what they are missing out on. If you are a regular subscriber to the GBP Blog, then you will already have seen this post where I also brushed on the topic of news feeds.

For anyone already employing the technology, RSS is one of those tools which makes you wonder why you never used it before. For those that don't use it, check out the video by Lee LeFever, below, which explains things in simple terms. No tech talk here, no complicated instructions... just the bits you need to know - in plain english.

Ok, so all this talk of RSS is very exciting, but why should you use it? Well, if you have any interests at all - be they personal or work related - then news feeds will be like a gold mine of information that can inspire you, bail you out at the 11th hour, even give you the edge over a collegue or rival. Doesn't matter what the subject is - photography, gardening, oragami, cheese rolling (yes, there are even feeds relating to this wonderful pastime) - you will find out fresh information that will be relevant to your area of interest.

A quick word of warning: RSS feeds are addictive! They are a bit like our old friend the StumbleUpon add-on for the Firefox web browser - a wonderful resource, but also a wonderful way to see the minutes disappear seemingly without trace ("Just a couple of clicks then I'll get on with that report... Hmm... OK, just another then... Right, this really is the last one then back to work..." Sound familiar?!). But don't let that put you off - RSS is also a great way to fill those otherwise unproductive moments of your day.

To get you started, why not try subscribing to GBP Blog? All you have to do is click on the RSS link at top right, and within just a few seconds you will be set up to receive all the latest posts, real time, as they go live.