I just spent a week on vacation, taking with me only the Canon G11. Historically, I usually would take a long at least 3-4 pounds of DSLR gear. Previous to this trip, the lightest I have ever traveled was in 2008 taking the Olympus E-3, 14-54 f/2.8-3.5, and 50-200 f/2.8-3.5 lenses (a fairly compact weather sealed professional DSLR system) plus a Canon G9.
Did I miss the DSLR gear? Was I unable to capture the images I desired? Were there any major travel limitations? In short, it was a wise decision to take the G11. In contrast to traveling with a professional grade DSLR system (D300, E-3, 5D, etc.), or even a consumer grade DSLR system (Nikon D60, Rebel, etc.), the G11 was a shear joy to use – especially as it relates to its portability. I could fit in inside a coat pocket or easily hold it all day long without the fatigue of a DLSR system.
Why do many professionals and amateur photographers travel with DSLRs? For the most part, it comes down to image quality. Traditionally, small form factor cameras have had some serious shortcomings as it relates to image quality (IQ), specifically at ISO levels greater than 100-200. The DSLR frees you to use a wider range of ISO’s (easily up to 800-1600 or higher) while maintaining IQ. In 2009, this all changed with he likes of the Canon G11 and then Olympus / Panasonic micro-4/3 camera systems. Now photographers have the ability to travel light with few compromises unless we have very specific needs that only a DSLR can deliver.
SAMPLE IMAGES from the G11 are on their way once I have the chance to get them online in the next few days.
Based on this this vacation with the G11, here are my observations:
- compact, fits in a pocket, in hand (wrist strap helps) or a small bag
- great travel lens of 28-140mm at f/2.8-4.5
- very good auto-focus performance using both single point AF selection and face-detection / track / servo
- The exposure compensation knob is brilliant in a compact camera, I typically used it -1/3 to -1 outdoors and 0 to -1/3 indoors.
- Excellent flash exposure using the 270EX indoors
- Excellent fill flash exposure using the built-in flash outdoors
- Excellent ISO performance up to 400, very good up to 800. I did not miss the performance of a DSLR in exchange for the size and weight.
- Battery life was excellent. It never dipped below about 50% life on any given day. This included shooting for hours outdoors in below freezing temperatures.
- The swivel LCD was a valuable tool to have at my disposal for some images. Even though my E-3 has a swivel LCD, it’s just not as handy to use as it is on the G11 related to the form factor of each camera and the 100% live view of the G11.
- wide end of lens limited to 28mm, although this is better than almost all others compacts and comparable to most DSLRS with a “kit lens”. I do not advise using any “wide” adapters on compacts, this is a personal preference. 24mm would be excellent.
- Limited dynamic range was evident in a few high contrast shots (will demonstrate in upcoming samples). Overall, the DR was not a limitation that detracts from the camera’s use-fullness, rather you just work within its limitations.
- For a “compact camera”, the G11 is a bulky camera but it is still MUCH smaller than a DSLR
- As with all compacts, limited control over depth of field.
- Not weather sealed as are all of my DLSRs and lenses.
Overall, I was thrilled to use the G11 on this week long trip and do not regret leaving the E-3 and lenses at home. This has been a shock to me as I have used either film SLRs or DSLRs as my main tool for more than the past decade. I have always viewed compacts, or anything less than a DSLR, as a limited tool that I would use in an emergency or if a DSLR was absolutely not practical. This is no longer the case.
Moving forward, I see huge benefits in simplification and focusing on the image rather than the gear. Traveling light vs. traveling heavy (DSLR) – all the while still achieving a high degree of IQ. In the future, I can see the micro-4/3 system calling to me with its 4/3 DSLR sensor in a compact body vs. my E-3 or other DSLRs. Whether or not I make that change is yet to be seen.
BOTTOM LINE: The G11 is a excellent travel camera and worthy as a stand alone camera to take or as an adjunct to a DSLR system. I would not hesitate traveling with just the G11 for any future vacation or outing. As always, I do advocate always having a back up with you. For me, the G9 was the back up.