Vintage Digital is a specific chapter of Measuring Light where tribute is paid to old cameras once outstanding, but long forgotten due to the fast development pace of digital photography.
This time the post you are about to read is not dedicated to a specific camera, but a family of cameras: the Canon G series.
Canon G cameras
Canon G’s were once very important for us enthusiasts. At the turn of the century, we were dealing with the difficult transition from film to digital.
Most of us were film SLR users, but entry-level digital SLRs were non-existent. The few DSLRs available were super expensive and would burn a big hole in your pocket.
Unless you were willing to shell out large amounts of cash, DSLRs were clearly out of reach. Problem was, alternatives were scarce. The market was populated by shitty digital point & shoots hardly to be considered by people who used to shoot with SLRs.
Luckily, some cameras were indeed targeted at enthusiasts and the Canon G series was one of those.
Canon G cameras had a no-nonsense design and the initial ones looked like a brick. They often had a useful zoom, the first ones normally starting with 35mm-ish at the wide end.
From a time when back screens were small, low-resolution and difficult to use, all G cameras came with a rangefinder style optical finder. These were quite basic, providing a small, tunnel like view. Nevertheless, they were useful.
But most importantly, G cameras allowed the user full exposure control and operated like a proper cameras with aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual mode.
In 2003, Canon released the EOS 300D as their first entry-level DSLR, finally with an affordable price: USD$ 900. For years to come, this would be the direction of the camera industry as more entry-level DSLRs were released by both Canon and Nikon.
While most enthusiasts could now transition from film SLR to DSLR and carry over their system lenses, the Canon G series survived and actually consolidated its existence as a portable fixed-lens alternative with solid image quality for serious photographers.
From the G5 (2003) onward, the G series started sporting a black, professional looking body. The G11 you see below, released in 2009, is a good example of the level of matureness achieved by the G series at that point in time. This one was actually owned by my late father. He was looking for a good camera for his casual shots and I recommended the G11 after some research.
Make no mistakes, this is a solid, professional grade camera with excellent build. The black paint applied to the body is actually similar to the one used in Canon’s pro-level DSLRs.
It has a formidable 28-140mm, f/2.8-4.5 image stabilized lens. There are dedicated top dials for EV compensation, ISO and shooting modes. And you can shoot RAW.
The back of the camera features a button layout not very different from Canon DSLRs from that period. Likewise, every feature commonly found in DSLRs is there: AF mode, metering mode, AE lock… There’s even diopter adjustment for the optical viewfinder.
Then there is the grip. It protrudes just enough to provide a comfortable hold and is nicely rubberized. I mean, all in all, this camera meant business and delivered the goods with quality.
After all, Canon G cameras were also meant to be a backup for DSLR owners. Some would feature the same menu systems of the DSLR so that the photographer could feel at home and, in some cases, even shared the same DSLR battery.
With the emergence of mirrorless cameras, the G series lost its appeal. Mirrorless cameras took the concept of portable with good image quality to a whole new level and, simply speaking, the G series was not up to the competition due to its smaller sensor.
On a surprising and somehow desperate move though, Canon launched the G1X (2012) which looked very similar to its predecessors, but had a larger sensor in-between Micro 4/3 and APS-C in size.
It was highly praised by some reviewers, but it looked a bit weird with its large lens attached to a regular G series body. A sort of Frankenstein, perhaps assembled in a rush in Canon’s backyard.
Unfortunately, it was just not attractive enough compared to mirrorless cameras from Olympus, Lumix or Fuji. As time progressed and mirrorless gained momentum, Canon G series simply lost its audience.
While Canon keeps launching G cameras every year, it’s not clear the audience they are targeted for.
Canon G cameras used to have design consistency, evolving over the years with small enhancements and refinements. From the G6 (2006) all the way to the G16 (2013), Canon G’s kept the same rangefinder inspired design. While not particularly elegant, it was nevertheless a recognizable trademark.
But no more. Current G cameras come in all shapes and styles. They can be DSLR inspired (G1 X Mk III), bridge-superzoom (G3 X) or simply small and minimal (G5 X Mk II) aimed at vloggers.
With its resources and know-how, Canon could had kept developing the G series with the prestige it deserves. It could have evolved differently, with more consistency — just like Panasonic did with the Lumix LX series. From a serious, small sensor compact, it evolved all the way into the very respectable LX 100 with a Micro Four Thirds sensor.
Canon could have done the same. Unfortunately it did not.
So what was once a prestigious line of cameras aimed at serious photographers, Canon turned it into a mundane and pedestrian set of cameras aimed at everybody and nobody at all.
Still, we should be thankful for the past contribution of the Canon G series for us enthusiasts, which is certainly a feat worth remembered and celebrated.