19 August 2009

Happy Canon Day!

Twice a year, in the fall and winter before the trade shows, Canon refreshes its product line. These are of course happy times for Canonistas, and sad times too, since their high expectations can rarely be satisfied.

But today Canon announced six new compact cameras, all on their high end, and there is much to be happy about. I wrote a lot last month about the megapixel race that has eroded compact camera image quality (IQ) and the decline of enthusiast-grade compacts. I also mentioned the Panasonic LX3, with its larger-than-average imaging sensor and impressive IQ, which has had enthusiasts all aflutter. In fact, even though expensive ($530), it has been extremely scarce, due to demand and also, it seems, supply issues. And then Olympus introduced its Pen E-P1, an interchangeable lens compact with a DSLR-sized sensor, which enthusiasts are wild about. Everyone has been expecting and hoping for a response from other makers. That is, more large-sensor compacts that put image quality first.

Canon's G10, its top compact, has been no slouch. It actually has a larger sensor than the Panasonic LX3, but packs in a lot more pixels, too. Even so, I think image quality is comparably good. Neither are DSLR-class.

But Canon has done something today that some pundits said they never would. Responding no doubt to the LX3, they've introduced not one but two new compact cameras with large 1/1.7" sensors like that found in the G10, but with almost a third fewer pixels (10mp vs. 14.7mp). This is a tacit act of repentance by Canon for their megapixel excesses.

The first camera is a G10 replacement, the Canon G11. It differs from its predecessor mainly in its lower pixel count and new twist-out screen. The less-dense sensor, paired with the fast Digic IV processor, is being marketed as a new "High Sensitivity System." Whatever. The camera is a laudable step forward. It does not have the LX3's 24mm wide lens, but it's 28mm wide end is fine and it has a much longer and more useful long end, 140mm vs. the LX3's pathetic 60mm. Overall, I think the G11 will beat it handily.

The second large-sensor compact is a real surprise. Years ago Canon retired its enthusiast-grade Compact S series, though the S70 from 2004 is still considered a very fine camera. Today they introduced a new Canon S90, a worthy successor, with same 10mp 1/1.7" sensor as the G11, a very fast (f/2) 28-105mm lens, RAW support, and a very intriguing lens control ring, in a small and pocketable card-camera format. I absolutely love it, but could wish it were cheaper ($430 list). But enthusiast-grade cameras are always pricey.

Canon also upgraded two of their superzooms, the SX10 IS and SX110 IS, to the SX20 IS and SX120 IS respectively. Mostly just megapixel bumps (boo), but the SX20 also got 720p HD video (yeah). The best news here is this should drive down the price of the SX110 (review) to bargain levels. It will certainly be the best compact superzoom for the money, and with its full manual controls, replaces nicely the high-end A series cameras which Canon killed. There may be an SX110 somewhere in my future.

I'll pass over the two new Digital ELPH models (for all, see Canon's website), but they are good upgrades. For myself, the three main things I want to see in new compacts are better image quality, wider and faster lenses, and bigger, better and higher-res screens. Across these various models, Canon delivered on all three. Now I'm really looking forward to the next Canon Day, probably Sept. 1, when its new DSLRs are announced. If rumor holds, the new 60D/7D will have a full-frame sensor and be priced to compete with the new Nikon D300s (ca. $1800, body only). Stay tuned.

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