Canon PowerShot G12: Best-of-Breed

Thanks to its easy operation and adroit balance of strong performance, helpful hardware, and fun shooting modes, the 10-megapixel Canon PowerShot G12 ($500 as of January 3, 2011) earned our top pick in a of five advanced point-and-shoot cameras. The G12 received the best overall scores in our image-quality tests--a result that merely scratches the surface of the camera's appeal.

Like the competing (and also excellent) , the 5X optical zoom G12 (28mm to 140mm) offers fast access to ISO and exposure-compensation settings via top-mounted dials, a proprietary hot shoe that supports an external flash, an increasingly rare optical viewfinder that helps preserve battery life, an electronic level to keep shots straight, and a thick-but-sturdy body that can take some roughhousing. In the hardware realm, it matches the P7000 and then outpoints it with one extra: an adjustable 2.8-inch LCD that tilts and swivels to help frame overhead shots, ground-level photos, and self-portraits.

The G12 turned in the best scores of the bunch in PCWorld Labs' subjective tests for image and video quality, with especially impressive marks for exposure quality, color accuracy, and video quality. It was judged superior in all three of those categories, as well as in overall imaging and in video. The camera's battery life is good; according to the Camera & Imaging Products Association (CIPA), which conducts standardized battery testing for all major cameras, the G12 captured 370 shots per charge with its LCD turned on.

At 1.9 inches deep, it's the thickest of the five cameras we looked at, but Canon puts that depth to good use, cramming in fun features to augment the G12's image quality. In addition to an extensive array of manual controls and common scene modes--such as Portrait, Sunset, Landscape, Fisheye, and Low Light--the G12's scene selections include some interesting effects also offered on Canon's lower-end point-and-shoots. The camera's Color Accent and Miniature modes, for instance, are available both for still shots and for video. Color Accent lets you select and isolate a single color in an otherwise black-and-white shot. Miniature mode simulates a tilt-shift lens by blurring the top and bottom of an image and boosting colors, making full-size objects look like scale models.

You also get a full boat of manual controls: aperture priority, shutter priority, and independent control of each of them in Manual mode. And unlike most of the other cameras in our roundup (except the ), the G12 offers a focus bracketing mode that snaps three shots in rapid succession at different focal lengths.

You also get a high-dynamic-range (HDR) scene mode that brings out detail in shadowy scenes and creates otherworldly-looking shots, and an exposure bracketing mode, in case you'd rather compose and combine your own HDR shots.