With a depth of 48.3mm and weight of 401g when loaded with SD card and rechargeable lithium ion battery, stylistically the PowerShot G12 is a cross between a foreshortened digital SLR and, courtesy of its trio of top plate control dials, a rangefinder camera - both of which have been placed in a compacter. Here, compatibility with the wireless Eye-Fi card has newly been added. The result is a solid, brick-like compact that rivals Nikon's P7000 for medium range DSLR-class build quality, including a vacant hotshoe for the attachment of a flash or other accessories. While this partly justifies the high-end price tag, we would have preferred a slightly larger and more comfortable handgrip for extra stability than the flattened one provided. Clearly something has been sacrificed to ensure cassette Walkman-sized proportions.
That said, with its slightly crammed looking array of dedicated buttons, wheels and output ports, the G12 is not for the faint hearted and will really only suit those who enjoy getting hands on. That, of course, is the point of a camera like this and in this regard we can have few complaints with all dials and buttons falling easily within reach, while simultaneously pressing one button and turning adjustment dials it a cinch.
A five penny piece-sized shooting mode dial is the G12's nerve centre, and is stiff enough to feel like it might need a lubricating shot of WD40. Again, no bad thing as there's nothing worse than accidentally slipping from one shooting setting to another when fetching the camera out of a bag and not noticing until you've been blazing away for a couple of minutes. This sits atop a second slightly looser dial for setting ISO speeds - again, where the rangefinder comparisons come in - which here range from ISO100 to ISO3200 in 1/3 stop increments. Modest, on the face of it, when the DSLRs offer expanded settings of ISO12800 or even ISO26500, though Low Light shooting mode extends this to a maximum ISO12800 with a resultant resolution drop. In our experience use of this setting handheld produced distinctly shaky results, in every sense.
Still, we liked the time-saving 'to hand' accessibility of these features, which normally at least require a couple of button presses to otherwise access, or at worst, necessitate the 'drilling down' into menu screens. Another case in point is the function/set button, which like on the smaller PowerShot S95, provides users with the ability to swap image aspect ratios on the fly. The default is obviously 4:3, matching that of the provided back screen, with 3:2, widescreen 16:9, 4:5, and even more unusually, 1:1 the other selectable options.
As an alternative, the optical viewfinder provided for shot composition is a little on the small side and required us to squint, so we much preferred using the larger 2.8-inch LCD. This has a respectably high resolution of 461k dots and has the advantage of being angle adjustable. Thus it can be tilted or swivelled for those otherwise impossible to get shots, such as when shooting over the heads of a crowd, or low to the crowd to create a dynamic perspective. When the G12's switched off the LCD can be 'folded' screen inwards to the body, furthering its robust feel.
Among the outwardly fussy bells and whistles we do get point and shoot functionality offered courtesy of the reliably consistent Smart Auto feature, selected from among the 11 creative, custom and fully automatic options. This 'intelligent' auto mode compares and tries to best match conditions at the time with 28 on-board parameters, selecting the most appropriate for an enhanced result. It works well when subject matter becomes more important than manual settings. Otherwise we have the standard program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual shooting settings, plus two custom modes, scene, low light (resolution dropping to 2.5 megapixels to limit noise), video and 'Quick Shot' options.