The G9 is a development of the 10-megapixel PowerShot G7. The G9 might look very similar from the outside but it incorporates a series of improvements, which should greatly increase its appeal.
Like the G7, it's a solidly built rectangular camera finished in a tough-feeling black crackle finish. It has a 6x optical zoom offering the equivalent of 35-210mm and has a built-in image stabiliser.
The G9 does boast increased resolution jumping from 10 megapixels to 12. It's not enough to suggest a big leap in picture quality, but it does at least bring it into line with the flagship compacts from other makers. Also new is the 3-inch LCD, which replaces the 2.5-inch screen on the G7.
Again, it might not seem a big jump but, actually, this does make a difference both when composing shots and when playing them back.
In the RAW
The other big change is the inclusion of a RAW mode. The G7 only shot JPEGs, and this does limit its appeal for more serious users.
RAW files not only offer the opportunity to choose white balance and other settings later, they also include extra highlight detail which a good RAW converter (Adobe Lightroom, for example) can exploit to cut down those harsh, blown highlights that spoil many digital photos.
The start-up time is very fast - the lens pops out and the LCD lights up in around a second. Operationally, it's quite quick too. The zooming speed is not bad considering the 6x range, and the AF speed is good too.
It's not quite in the same league as a decent SLR, but there's very little hunting and the green focus confirmation square(s) on the LCD and the focus 'beep' occur at exactly the same time, giving it a positive, precise feel.
The top of the camera has a conventional mode dial, and a second dial at the far left for setting the ISO. This is unusual in a compact because the ISO setting is usually chosen with a button or a menu. These controls feel really firm and positive but, on the rear, things aren't quite so good.
The G9 uses a complicated concentric control device introduced on the G7. It looks like a conventional four-way controller, with a central Set button, but around the outside is a spinning control wheel. You can use this to adjust EV compensation, shutter speed, aperture and other settings, depending on the context.
But is it really that useful? Does it really do things you couldn't do just as effectively with navigation buttons? What it does do is make the existing four-way buttons feel very cramped, and this does slightly mar the feel of the camera as a whole. It's an interesting idea, but for this controller to work properly it needs to be a good deal bigger, and there just isn't the space on the back of the G9 to allow this.
The only other problem is the Playback button, which is heavily recessed just above the LCD display's top right-hand corner, in a slightly concave, bevelled surround. It's not that easy to press. Elsewhere, the controls are laid out in a fashion that's going to be familiar to anyone who's used other Canon compacts.
The menus are used mainly for basic set-up and configuration, and most day-to-day adjustments are made using the Func Set button on the middle of the controller on the back. This calls up a menu running down the left-hand side of the screen with options for the selected tab running along the bottom.
You use this for changing the white balance, picture style, auto-bracket option, flash compensation, metering pattern and image size/quality. It works pretty well, but this is where you might wish the controller was a little larger and easier to operate.
The G9 might technically have the resolution (and more) of a digital SLR, but the sensor is physically much smaller. We've seen many times in the past that smaller sensors produce much more noise and, as a result, cameras use more aggressive in-camera noise-reduction to soften it.
The trouble is that this softens the fine detail, too, and at higher ISOs you're faced either with obtrusive noise or 'smudged' detail (often both). The G7's images were starting to deteriorate noticeably by ISO 400, and the G9 seems pretty similar in this respect. At this ISO, it's easy to see noise in even-toned areas like blue skies, while fine, textured detail is already starting to disappear.
The G9 goes all the way up to ISO 1600 in its normal shooting modes, and there's even an ISO 3200 scene mode, though this operates at reduced resolution. You can still get great shots at these high ISOs, but you have to remember that the image quality does deteriorate much more than it will with a digital SLR at these same settings.
Otherwise, the G9's picture quality is very good. It's possible to see some noise even at ISO 100, but not much. What you do see, though, is crisp, sharp detail. It's going to deliver punchy prints even up to A3 size.
Exposure accuracy is good and the auto white balance appears to work well in different conditions, though the G9 doesn't produce particularly intense colours - you might find yourself having to switch to the Vivid mode to get the levels of saturation you're looking for.
The G9's £429 list price seems steep. You can get a decent 10MP SLR for that, but as we explained at the start, that's not necessarily the point. It is, however, already on sale for £330 if you shop around, making it a lot more appealing.
As an upgrade from a cheaper compact, it's a good buy, as long as you understand that if you compare it to an SLR you're sacrificing some image quality for the sake of compactness. Alternatively, if you're a digital SLR owner looking for a second, portable camera, it's one of the few compacts around that's likely to meet your expectations.