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FIELD REPORT: Canon G12

Mosque, Kaolack, Senegal | ©Greg Gross

If you’re more of a casual snap-shooter than a serious photographer, the Canon G12 confronts you with a somewhat steep learning curve for a “consumer-level” camera — but the results it gives you makes the climb worth it.

As regular IBIT readers know, I agonized a lot over my choice of a new travel camera. It had to be full-featured, versatile, reliable — and small enough to fit in a pocket.

Ultimately, I settled on the Canon G12, which got its baptism of fire on my recent trip to West Africa.

So how did it do? A lot better than I did, I’d have to say.

(NOTE: Its official name is the “Canon PowerShot G12,” but hardly anyone refers to it by that name, not even cameria salesmen. To most of the world, it’s just the G12.)

With a zoom range of 28-140mm, its field of view was noticeably wider than the 36-410mm equivalent zoom on my old Panasonic Lumix FZ-30, and a wider field of view was something I’d been wanting.

At the other end of the zoom range, it’s radically shorter, but there were few instances when I found myself really needing the extra “reach” of the FZ-30.

The G12’s controls are easy to use. It also gives you tons of pre-programmed options and all the manual control a photographer wannabe like me could ever want.

The down side: The more a digital device can do, the more you have to learn. The G12 doesn’t even come with a full user’s manual, just a CD. When I printed it out, it was the size of a big-city phone book, more than 200 pages.

Imagine how much easier my camera will be to use — and how much better my pics will be — once I actually know what I’m doing with it!

The lag time between the moment you push the shutter button and the moment the camera captures the image was said to be slightly longer than that of the Nikon P7000, the other camera I was considering. In actual use, though, it was so short that I scarcely noticed it.

As for exposure settings when the camera is in the Auto mode, everything seemed pretty much dead-on, as did many of the pre-set exposure modes I tried out.

The G12 is indeed small enough to fit in a pocket, but better a pants than a shirt pocket. This compact camera has a little heft to it, which actually feels good in your hand. It makes you feel as if you’re using a serious instrument instead of some flimsy digital toy.

That feeling of a solid, well-built machine made itself especially noticed in the heat and dust of the Gambia’s dry season, both of which I could only describe as extreme.

At times, the G12 got so hot under the burning sun that I had to shut it down for short stretches of time and let it cool down in the shade.

(NOTE: That same heat literally cooked the circuitry in my Edirol R-09 digital audio recorder. It’s quite dead.)

Likewise, the dust, which was at times choking, worked its way inside the G12, to the point that the motorized zoom lens actually hesitated and stuttered as it moved in and out.

But it never jammed or froze, and the sensor that controls the G12’s exposure settings shrugged off the dust and came through just fine. All the same, I did take it into a camera repair shop to be cleaned, just to be safe.

I probably will continue to use the FZ-30 on trips, especially when I know I need the close-up power of a super-telephoto lens. But the G12 definitely won me over with its quality of construction, its sturdiness and the caliber of the images it produces.

It will be my primary travel camera from now on.

There are other advanced compact digital cameras out there now that give you the option of interchangeable lenses, an advantage the G12 doesn’t have. I accepted that limitation in return for the compact size and the light weight. You may have a different opinion.

Still, if you’re looking to upgrade your present travel camera without going all-in for one of those hulking, highly priced digital SLRs — or shopping for your first travel camera and want one that you won’t outgrow for years, if ever — the Canon G12 is a good way to bet.

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