Friday, December 25, 2009

7 Days of G7 (6 of 7): Low Light Shooting

I took the G7 as my only camera to the Christmas Eve service last night.  In the past, I've used both my 20D and a Sony Videocamera for the job, but this time, I figured I'd just depend on the G7.

Before I go further, let me explain the conditions -- the church is very, very dark.  For instance, 1/6s at F/4 and ISO 400 is about as good as it gets.  It really is a situation that exposes the limitations of a camera.  Add to that the necessity of reducing noise, and it is really hard to get a camera to work well if flash is not allowed...

My experience with the G7 was mixed.  There were a number of good things:
  • The G7 is super quiet -- I could shoot away without worrying about the click-Ka-CHUNK of the 20D bothering people.
  • The zoom on the G7 along with IS makes a very usable combination, even at very slow shutter speeds.  By doing a minimum of bracing my arms in a sitting position, I was able to get a decent number of keepers around 1/10th or 1/20th.
  • The G7 was quite good at acquiring focus quickly.  I was pleasantly surprised.
  • The built-in video mode was very handy and easy to use, once I figured it out.  The key is to set zoom, acquire focus, then depress the button fully to record.
  • The optical viewfinder is pathetic, but that is made up for with a very good implementation of live-view.  I never missed the optical viewfinder (accept for the cases where I wanted to steady the camera well).
But there were also a number of bad things:
  • Let's face it -- the G7 has a relative large chip for a point and shoot, but it still has pretty abysmal noise performance compared to a dSLR.  Below is a 100% crop from the shot above -- I believe this is ISO400.   
  • You can't shoot at high ISOs in RAW...  I know I am repeating myself, but my 20D is at least serviceable at ISO 1600 and quite good at ISO 800 for web-size images.  The G7 just craps out past ISO 200 and even shooting with RAW you can't save it.  (Disclosure -- I haven't tried RAW on the G7 since it isn't natively supported, but the reviews for it haven't compelled me to install the hack to make it work)
  • You can't zoom during videos (well, you can, but it is only digital zoom).  That is probably because the zoom would be super noisy...
  • You can't autofocus during videos -- this is a big issue.
  • The autofocus light is a light green, VERY directional light that can be quite distracting if you shine it towards, say, your kid, while he's trying to say a line.  If it was possible, I'd love an infrared autofocus light (not sure it is possible with this technology).

Overall, I know there's some things I can tweak in my technique, but I know the G7 is not going to be a good low-light camera for anything but snapshots.  I've heard that the G11 is the first in the G-series that has improved high-ISO performance -- in fact, the G11 at ISO 800 looks better than my G7 at ISO 200! -- and I might look into getting one used sometime down the road.  The G7 will remain for me a beater-camera for snapshots that has some advanced features too.

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