Although the G12 might be pitched as a reliable back up for an enthusiast's DSLR, operational speed falls short of a lightning fast DSLR proper, and so there are frustrations in swapping from one to the other. Chiefly we felt auto focus could have been a bit quicker to lock on. Squeeze the nipple-like shutter release button halfway and following the briefest of pauses the AF point is highlighted in green accompanied by a bright chirp to indicate the user is clear to take the shot. Admittedly, however, a continuous shooting speed of up to 4.2 frames per second for action shots is better than most entry level DSLRs.
We did enjoy and find creatively useful features such as the G12's High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode, arguably now one of the high-end compact must haves. Shooting any subject against a bright background without falling back on the built in flash - or also accessory shoe in the G12's case - is a challenge for any camera, high or low end. Canon's solution is for the G12 to fire off three shots - exposure bracketing if you like - and then composite the results in-camera to produce one uniformly exposed shot. Inevitably then a flat surface or preferably tripod is needed to prevent blur, but this feature is another that works well in grabbing a shot you might not otherwise have been successful with.
Another feature that proved welcome during the dull days of our test period with flat light and distinctly 'muddy' hues is the G12's 'My Colors' menu, which offers up a saturation boosting 'Vivid' option. By deploying this we found we were getting colours closer to those before our eyes than the camera's rather conservative default factory setting was delivering. We also get a smattering of digital effects filters selectable from the same toolbar, here including the seemingly now ubiquitous tilt and shift lens ape-ing 'Miniature' mode, which narrows the area of the image in focus to a narrow central band to make it appear as if full-size subjects are in fact on a toy town scale.
As the G12 features a 28mm wide angle setting we would expect there to be a degree of barrel distortion present in shots taken and that is true here, with man made structures more noticeably leaning inward. There's a degree of chromatic aberration as well, which we've become accustomed to being eliminated by in camera trickery, but not so here (or at least not so much). Nonetheless, it's a pretty solid overall performance with generally high levels of detail on offer and good sharpness also.
So, whilst overall picture quality is far better than the average point and shoot pocket camera, inevitably it's not a match for a proper DSLR, even though the G12 might cost nearly as much. It also falls short of the quality that can be achieved by 'hybrid' interchangeable lens compact system cameras such as those mentioned in our introduction, retailing for similar. Then again, those cameras are that much larger, don't have the zoom range without very bulky lenses and the entry level models don't offer the same build quality as this camera so it's a fairly balanced situation.
What you're buying into here is a camera that provides the build quality and manual controls of a mid-range DSLR yet remains just about pocketable. It doesn't offer the fast lenses and more compact bodies of some rival high-end compacts but counters this with even great manual control, the option to add lens accessories like filters and a greater zoom range. For our money, though, we would take the faster more compact alternatives.
What's more we wonder, like its arch rival Nikon, how long Canon will be content to go without fielding an interchangeable lens compact system camera, and missing out on gaining its own share of a rapidly expanding market. These cameras offer true DSLR quality in more compact bodies and are a tempting alternative to having both an SLR and high-end compact.