The good:Optical viewfinder; articulated LCD; built-in neutral-density filter; very good photo quality for its class.
The bad: Shot-to-shot performance still a little sluggish; some annoying controls.
The bottom line:Relatively unchanged from its predecessor, save the addition of 720p video, the Canon PowerShot G12 remains a very good, more-or-less compact model, designed to please photo enthusiasts.
Practically identical to its predecessor, the G11, the few updates to the Canon PowerShot G12 include 720/24p video capture--a much-needed boost over the outdated VGA movies--now with stereo audio and a Mini-HDMI connector. Like the S95, the G12 also adds an HDR scene mode that combines three shots. Unlike implementations that take advantage of fast BSI sensors, however, it requires the steadiness of a tripod, making it only marginally useful.
As you'd expect, the G12's image quality mirrors that of the G11's. It looks great at the lowest ISO sensitivities, with excellent color and exposure; you can start to see a slight bit of detail degradation starting at ISO 200 that becomes more overt (along with noisy) at ISO 400. ISO 800 is probably the highest usable setting under the most forgiving circumstances. Picky shooters really won't want to go beyond ISO 200.
Unlike the LX5, processing the G12's files as raw doesn't deliver an unambiguous advantage over the JPEGs. The artifacts and colors are a bit different, and you might be able to gain a little sharpness from the raw, but it doesn't gain you any shooting exposure advantages.
The G12 lens is quite sharp. Though it's not terrible, the G12 does display visible barrel distortion at its widest of 28mm as well as a bit of fringing on high-contrast edges, especially close the edges of the frame.
Unsurprisingly, the video looks better than the old VGA offering, and overall is pretty good for shooting short clips; it's certainly worth it compared to a typical mini camcorder. Plus, the articulated LCD, stereo mic, and mic jack add to its video flexibility. But it lacks the ability to zoom while recording, and there are no manual exposure controls save exposure compensation and the built-in neutral-density filter.
The G series' unremarkable performance hasn't changed significantly in generations either, and the field in general still lags behind the LX5. It powers on and shoots in about 2.1 seconds. In bright light, shot lag runs 0.4 second, and in dim light that increases to 0.6 second, shaving about 0.1 second off the G11's time. There's a relatively large 2.2-second gap between sequential JPEGs--2.5 seconds for raw--and adding flash recycle increases that to a ho-hum 2.9 seconds. While its continuous-shooting rate bumps up to 2fps from the G11's 1.1fps, that's still slow enough that you really don't want to count on it for burst shots. Especially if you're used to shooting with a dSLR, the G12 doesn't feel very fast. But part of that's perception; it's certainly zippy enough to catch animals a reasonable percent of the time. The articulated LCD remains big, bright, and useful, and in practice the optical viewfinder feels almost identical to the P7000's.
It retains an almost identical design to the G11, including the usable optical viewfinder and large, easy-to-turn dials. A relatively functional design, I like it save a few caveats. In addition to giving the camera a retro feel, the dials on the G12 are, for the most part, practical and much faster to use than even direct-access buttons, which always require at least some navigation. Though a few ounces lighter than the G11, the G12 remains the heaviest camera in its class. Not the largest, though; that nod goes to the P7000.
On the top of the camera are an exposure compensation dial and an ISO sensitivity dial around the circumference of the mode dial. The latter offers the typical PASM and Auto options, as well as two custom settings slots and some scene program modes.
I've been complaining about the G series' controller, a four-way switch plus Set/Function button, for the past three generations. This makes it four: I love the scroll wheel, but find I tend to accidentally hit one of the Manual focus, macro, self-timer or flash switches when I'm trying to press the middle button. As for the wheel, I frequently press one of the switches while I'm scrolling as well. It's especially difficult to control in cold weather with numb fingers (why am I always testing this camera in winter?). Buttons above and below it control metering, focus area, display options and bring up the menu system. You can also assign a function to the programmable Shortcut button on the upper right, though it limits your choices to options without existing direct controls. Finally, there's a dial on the front below the shutter button. I don't really like the location because in a camera of this size it doesn't fall naturally under any of your fingers; the rear dial on the P7000 feels more natural for this type of configuration.
I'm a big fan of digital levels in cameras, and the G12's implementation is one of the more usable ones. When you hit the level area, the white indicator turns green and expands a bit, making it easy to see so you don't overshoot. Aside from that, the feature set is pretty typical for this type of camera. (For a complete rundown of the G12's features and operation, you can download a PDF version of the manual.)
The Canon PowerShot G12 remains a generally excellent camera that ends up lagging the LX5 overall mostly because of its relatively unchanged--and more sluggish--shot-to-shot performance. It delivers better JPEG photos than that model, but it's also less compact. Trade-offs abound.