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Canon PowerShot G12 Gordon Laing, November 2010

Canon PowerShot G12 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise

Canon PowerShot G12 vs Olympus E-PL1 Real-life resolution

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To compare real-life performance we shot the same scene with the Canon PowerShot G12 and Olympus E-PL1 within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings and lowest sensitivities.

The lenses were adjusted to deliver as close a field-of-view as possible. We tested both cameras at every aperture and selected the sharpest result here.

The image above was taken with the Canon PowerShot G12 at 80 ISO with an exposure of 1/640 and the lens set to 8mm f4; the original file measured 2.82MB. As stated above, we shot this scene with both cameras in Aperture Priority and tried every f-number - the sharpest results were when both were set to f4. The E-PL1 JPEG at 100 ISO measured 6.39MB. The crops are taken from the areas marked with red squares and reproduced below at 100%.

We chose to compare the PowerShot G12 with the Olympus E-PL1 to see how a traditional high-end compact would perform against one of the new breed of mirror-less 'EVIL' compacts which feature DSLR-sized sensors and removable lenses. The G12 is actually roughly the same size as the E-PL1 body, and while adding a lens to the latter obviously makes it bigger, it's not a huge difference. Revealing, even with a lens fitted, the E-PL1 isn't much heavier than the G12. As explained in our main review, EVIL compacts may cost more than traditional models like the G12, but with similar physical dimensions, enthusiasts will definitely be closely comparing them.

Both the PowerShot G12 and E-PL1 share the same 4:3 aspect ratio, allowing direct comparisons to be made. The Olympus packs 12 Megapixels to the Canon's 10, so the latter's crops below show a slightly larger area. So now let's see how a camera with a small sensor and built-in lens compares against one with a much larger sensor and removable lens.

Looking at all four crops, it's obvious how both cameras have adopted quite different approaches to image processing using their default settings. Canon's processing on the G12 is crisp without looking unnatural, while Olympus has gone for a noticeably more contrasty approach with deeper blacks. Which is better in this respect is entirely down to personal preference, and both cameras can be tweaked in either direction if desired. It is however clear how the G12 suffers from a little coloured fringing in the snowy areas on the mountain ridge, which the Olympus avoids - or at least corrects.

In terms of actual detail resolved, there's not much between them. Look carefully and you'll see similar degrees of real-life detail in both sets of crops, so there's no apparent advantage to the bigger sensor and two extra Megapixels of the Olympus - at least in this particular image taken at each camera's lowest sensitivity. Indeed we'd say the more sympathetic processing of the G12 has delivered more fine detail from the in-camera JPEGs, which is most noticeable in the areas of foliage. Ultimately we prefer the natural look of the PowerShot G12 in this example, but again if you adjust their processing settings, there's not much between them.

Scroll down to see a RAW versus JPEG comparison, or to check out the performance across its sensitivity range, head straight to our Canon PowerShot G12 High ISO Noise results. Or if you've seen enough, head straight to our Verdict.

Canon PowerShot G12
Olympus E-PL1 (with M.ZD 14-42mm lens)
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 100 ISO

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Canon PowerShot G12: JPEG versus RAW

We photographed the scene pictured above using the G12's RAW plus Large Fine JPEG mode, allowing us to directly compare images created from exactly the same data. Below are 100% crops taken from the original JPEG file alongside the RAW version, processed with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 3.9 software; we used the default settings, choosing to apply the Unsharp Mask rather than the basic Sharpness. By default, DPP applied Strength, Fineness and Threshold values of 7, 5 and 2 for the G12's RAW image. We initially wanted to boost the sharpness to match the crispness of rivals like the Panasonic Lumix LX5's default JPEGs, but found increasing any of the Unsharp Mask settings from their defaults produced an artificial-looking image. As such what you see below is as sharp as you can get without beginning to look unnatural.

At first glance the results look quite similar with the default settings, but look closely and you'll spot the in-camera JPEG is a tad sharper with the default settings. That said, there's fractionally more noise visible on the JPEG, which has been smoothed out on the processed RAW version. Which is better is down to personal preference, but once again applying more sharpening to the RAW file produced a less desirable result in our view.

We should also note the saturated sky and snowy areas seen in the image above were completely blown-out, and no amount of adjustment to the RAW file retrieved any of this lost highlight detail. This is a disappointment compared to our previous tests with the Panasonic Lumix LX5, which managed to retrieve a fair amount of previously lost highlight detail from its RAW file, given the same composition and exposure. Of course shooting in RAW on the G12 does give you the benefit of easy adjustment of things like the White Balance, not to mention applying Chromatic Aberration correction, but as far as this particular image was concerned, we saw no real improvement in image quality over the in-camera JPEG.

As always though, you may enjoy greater success with different images, settings or even actual RAW converters; the bottom line is while we didn't see a quality benefit to shooting in RAW for this particular composition, it remains a valuable feature to have at your disposal. Now let's look at how the camera performs across its sensitivity range in our Canon PowerShot G12 High ISO Noise results.

Canon PowerShot G12: JPEG
Canon PowerShot G12: RAW
f4, 80 ISO
f4, 80 ISO

Canon PowerShot G12 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise

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