Canon G11 with Voigtlander Optical Viewfinder (View Finder 35mm)

12 Nov. 2009 - Oceanside, CA

I have jumped into the G-ship!
See my first images with this combo here. FAQs about this setup at the bottom.

Having shot almost exclusively with a range of Canon DSLRs, I recently outfitted myself with the G11 for daily carry on the street, and as a camera for grab shots while traveling.

Being used to optical viewfinders (and an analog geek) I up-sold myself into purchasing the Voigtlander 35mm viewfinder. According to CameraQuest, it's the best 35mm viewfinder in existence. But then again, they sell the thing.

G11 first impressions:
I knew what I was getting into when I purchased this setup: a small sensor camera mostly for broad daylight, not above ISO 400 for anything serious. (My standards may not be yours.) Since I view this as an alternative to a small film camera with 400 speed film, I accept the amount of graininess as a fun alternative to scanning.

The menu system is decent but could be more refined. Too easy to press buttons accidentally, especially in manual mode! Does anyone know how to disable the metering option while in M mode? I hate that I have to cycle through the metering option when going back and forth between aperture and shutter speed settings in M mode! Also, why can't I see the meter reading when the display is off? It shows me the settings as I change them but not the meter reading. Either I'm ignorant on this, or Canon is. (Note: turns out Canon is ignorant.)

Shutter lag is minimal with forethought and almost non-existent with the right settings. I still capture what I intend, for the most part, but autofocus could be quicker. I have a custom function preset to 2.5 meters at f/4.5, autoISO, in aperture priority for anything requiring instant response, with the lens set roughly equivalent to 32mm. I crop in post.

Voigtlander VF impressions:
Is it worth $160? Depends on who is shooting. I love the experience of an optical viewfinder, and the quality of this one puts my DSLRs to shame. In fact, it's brighter than any I've ever used. The bright lines hover beautifully in space as artfully illumined frame guides. They have an uncanny power to persuade me that every composition falling within their bounds is wonderfully artistic, which only proves that they are not to be trusted.

Is the viewfinder durable, and how does it fit in the shoe?
It was a little loose in the shoe until I put some paper under it as a shim. Now it's snug. Prior to this I managed to drop it from four feet onto concrete. My heart sank expecting broken glass. Nope. Just a microscopic fleck of paint missing from the all-metal housing. I expect that this will outlive my digital cameras and find use on future setups. It's an investment. The finder also came with a wonderful little pouch, really a tiny work of craft with a scripted "V" embellished upon it.

Finder accuracy. Let's not kid ourselves. The alignment of the Voigtlander viewfinder with the G11 is not very accurate at any lens position, but is relatively positive at three or more meters, with the lens set 2 movements from full-wide. I crop to taste in post. If shooting closer than 3 meters, I shoot full wide and crop to my original intention later.

It only takes a moment to crop in LightRoom, and I rarely print larger than 5x7 for personal stuff so it's fine. If I want perfect quality I'll use the 5D. If I want everyday fun, this G11 with viewfinder seems to do it.

Walking the streets with the screen inverted and shooting with the viewfinder is a pleasure! So inconspicuous. It causes me to focus on the next shot, rather than reviewing the last one!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I'll also be posting the first set of images taken with the camera soon.



Q. How can I set my G-series to shoot faster, like snap mode on Ricoh cameras?
A. See this blog post.

Q. What do you estimate the viewfinder magnification is (relative to naked eye)?
A. Hmm.. 50% or more perhaps. That sounds bad but for a wide it is not! It looks much better than the Canon 40D with lens set to 22mm (35 equiv.) and is far brighter, almost like no glass.

Q. Is there an FOV crop like the 78% visibility of the built-in finder?
A. The field of view with external finders is more than 100% because you can see around the projected frame lines. This allows you to anticipate movement into the frame.

Q. Is there parallax correction?
A. The only correction for parallax is manual - that is, myself purposely compensating through experience. I've only been doing it for two days and I'm already getting the hang of it, but YMMV. Think of it as moving to the next level in Tetris: it's harder, but the challenge makes it interesting and rewarding.

Q. Is the bright-line frame 4:3 ratio or is it 3:2 ratio?
A. 3:2. I like this, since shooting in 4:3 gives me room to crop in post for parallax!

Q. Roughly how much visibility is there outlying the bright-line frame (in rough linear or area terms)?
A. The field of view with external finders is more than 100% because you can see around the projected frame lines. This allows you to anticipate movement into the frame. But with this model, the viewfinder is circular. It's not as much as the 28/35 finder but is still more than an SLR. Imagine the 3:2 frame, then draw a circle on the outside that touches all four corners of the guide.

Q. Does the finder disable onboard flash?
A: Yes it does, which I find very annoying! Not that I often use it, but I want the option to bounce it with a business card. I thought of sliding paper between the contacts to block the circuit but haven't tried it yet.

Q. Why not just use the built-in finder? It is free, zooms, has some parallax correction, and is more inconspicuous.
A. Yes, the G11 built-in viewfinder is less money, less obvious, less vulnerable, and may have less parallax. But the built-in finder also has less field of view, less clarity, generates less tactile satisfaction, and to me gives less of a sense of fun. This camera is about fun to me; I have DSLRs for business. The 35mm finder is also useful on other cameras and a treat to look through.

Q. Why use a 35mm external finder instead of a 28mm? Then it would match the G11 lens at full-wide, right?
A. In theory, yes. In practice, no. I nearly bought the 28mm but someone warned me of this: Because any external finder on the G11 suffers from a certain amount of parallax and inaccuracy, using a 35mm finder with a wider lens setting (28-32mm equiv) gives you just enough room to crop without cutting off your original idea. It sounded logical and now i'm finding it makes perfect sense. I'm glad I didn't get the 28mm because there is maybe a 5 or 7% degree of inaccuracy with an external finder, since the G11 was not designed to accommodate it.

Links back to this page are appreciated!



Sebbastian said...

How good is the IQ at ISO 100-200 in daylight, compared to the 40D?
BTW, you have 40D,5D and G11?

Michael Spotts: . said...

Thanks for visiting, Sebbastian.

The G11 image quality is excellent at 80-200 in daylight, at realistic viewing sizes. 100% crops look a little blotchy.

I should have some full res images up soon. In fact, I took all of these images with the G11 under flash light, in JPEG, at medium size:
(view the close-up of the microphone grills at full size.)


Yes, I have a 30D & 40D and G11, but sold the 5D. I am thinking about upgrading to the next full-frame camera, but I'm not that into the 5D MKII.

I love the 40D, though, below 1600.

Sebbastian said...

I have seen the link and yes, G11 takes quite good photos. I wondered how is the IQ on canon's new digicams.
I found out about your blog from dpreview's forum for more than one year ago, although I haven't entered here since this summer...
You have very good photos, I like especially the engagement ones.
I think I've asked you a while ago about your opinion on canon 28 1.8, but I can't remember the answer :D.
How come did you sell the 5D and the canon 50 1.4?

Stratman said...

Hi Michael,

Great post!

Like you, I love the traditional optical viewfinder and the G11 is my first G-series PowerShot. :-) I bought it to complement my Canon EOS 450D (Rebel XSi) when I don't feel like lugging the dSLR and my back pack but want better image quality than my Sony Cyber-shot W150 ultra-compact.

I would never choose a digicam without a backup optical viewfinder, even if it's like peeping through a tunnel (if anyone thinks the G11's viewfinder is small, check out the ones on the Cyber-shots - they're tinier but can be a photographic lifesaver).

I have two questions on the Voigtlander external viewfinder.

a) As it is obviously a fixed non-zoom coupled viewfinder, how do you frame at full telephoto (5x zoom)?

b) Do you find the G11's Quick Shot mode useful for viewfinder-only framing? I sometimes use the QS mode for shoot-and-scoot photography but I dislike the fact that the G11 switches to the power draining continuous AF.

Sorry I don't have the answer to your musings on the metering modes on Manual control...I prefer to use my 450D for manual exposure rather than the G11. On all of the Canon PowerShots I've owned past and present, I use either aperture priority or program.

My G11 is rather new, just got it in late October and have yet to fully experiment with the manual mode settings. On a related note, I've tried my G11 with my Speedlite 270EX and 430EX II flash units.

With the 270EX, the G11 feels just right albeit lacking in flash power and swivel capability. The 430EX II obviously delivered better looking flash images, but due to its weight it makes the G11 top heavy and very awkward to handle with one hand. I often end up accidentally pressing the G11's D-pad controls, messing up the camera settings.

The funny thing is that when I hold the G11 (with the 430EX II on top) with both hands, I instinctively reach the lens barrel with my left hand, thinking that it's a dSLR. :-)

Thanks in advance,


Michael Spotts: . said...

Hello again, Sebbastian. I sold the 5D to finance a long trip back in 2007. There way no other way. I did not sell the 50mm 1.4, it's just broken right now. Auto-focus died.

The 28 1.8 is a nice walk-around lens. On the crop camera, 44mm equiv. can feel constricting at times, but personally I like it more than 50mm equiv. I feel the quality is equal to the 50 1.4, but not as sharp wide open as the 17-40 f/4 L, despite being a zoom.

Now I'm planning a five-month trip, 3 of which to be on a bicycle, which is why I wanted the G11 to go with the 40D.

The video quality is very nice for the resolution size!

PS: Thank you for the kind compliments.

Michael Spotts: . said...

Stratman, welcome!

To answer your questions,

a.) I frame while zoomed by estimate, imagining the crop, but really the 35mm viewfinder is most useful for the 28-35 field. I'm getting used to memorizing the various compensations that have to be made for distance and angle to the subject.

I don't use the quickshot mode since I prefer to have the last say about things ;)

Instead, I have the custom functions set as follows:

Zoomed 2 clicks (32mm?)
Auto Focus - One shot
Manual Mode
ISO 400 (adjust for ambient light)

Zoomed 2 clicks (32mm?)
Manual Focus - 2.5 meters, w/ safety shift
Shutter Priority
IS0 400 ISO 100-400 (adjust for ambient light)

I use C1 for general shooting, and C2 for grab shots where I don't have time or a second chance. At 2.5 meters, with an aperture of f/4-8 in most lighting conditions, there is plenty of depth of field. If I half press the shutter, then auto focus engages with safety shift. This seems to me to be just as fast as quickshot.

I used me 580EX with the G11. Image quality was exceptional (check out the gear set on my flickr) but it is an unwieldy arrangement for sure! I ordered some Cactus radio triggers from gadgetinfinity which should make it more reasonable, camera in one hand, flash in the other.

Hope that helped!


Sebbastian said...

Thanks for the response. The 5 month trip sounds good. I have some friends who are going for one month in Asia (Vietnam, Laos). Where are you heading?

Diogenes said...

Really love your postings! If you don't mind, I'l mention your blog on my own blog. I'm off to check out the G11 at lunch time!
found out about you on dpreview.

Michael Spotts: . said...

Sebbastian, you're welcome. I'm intending to go from California to Maine (driving) then from there to Washington State (driving) and then down to coast to California (bicycle)... so over 10,000 miles, with 3,000 of that by bike.

Asia sounds like an amazing experience, though!

Michael Spotts: . said...

Diogenes, thank you for the compliments, and feel free to mention me anywhere you like. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael;
Wanted to thank you for taking the time to post such a thorough review of the G11. I'm still shooting film w/my Rolleiflex TLR but need a serious snapshot/digital camera; my current Fuji 4MP snapper boasts a shutter lag of @2 seconds LOL! Time to join the 21st century here.. Not sure if the G11 is "stealth" enough (as is the Canon S90), but your review will help me with my decision. Enjoying your blog very much and am impressed by your work!

Best, Mark

Michael Spotts: . said...

You're welcome, Mark!

r4i software said...

Great camera review. It will help me a lot. I am planning to buy one camera on this Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,
I am new to the external viewfinder and digial camera setup.At the risk of sponding stupid let me ask you - how does one actually use this combo. I see a scene which I want to shoot - do I use the viewfinder to visualize and frame he shot, then check the lcd for focus and then shoot? Does the viewfinder and the lcd see the same scene - whats the difference between the lcd and 40mm and the 40mm viefinder?


Michael Doan said...

Thanks for the write up on the optical viewfinder. I was looking to do this for my G10.

Ginger N. said...

Thank you for your review. Have you shot many action shots with this camera yet? I am looking for a camera that will give me good quality shots of my 3 and 1 year old who are constantly on the move, and often in fairly low light conditions (inside the house). I love DSLR quality, but it's not very practical for me since I never have two hands available to take a shot, or time to set one up! I just want to make the most of the shots they give me. I have been using Av Tv and manual controls on my A590IS and enjoy having more control over my shots. I'm sure I'm not the only one in this situation, so if you have any input it will be helpful for more than just me! Thanks again!

Michael Spotts: . said...

Hello, Ginger. Personally, if I was looking for a comact, feature-full camera for use indoors and in lowlight, I would be considering the Samsung EX1. It uses the same sensor as the G11, has dual finger wheels for easy control, and has a maximum aperture of 1.8! Zoomed in, the aperture maxes out as 2.4, which is amazing, since bringing in more light allows for faster shutter speeds to freeze your crazy kids and fight hand-motion blur. The EX1 was not out when I bought the G11, but I would probably have chosen it instead if it were. My two cents.

saye said...

Late pick-up on this interesting discussion. If Michael is still 'on-line', could he please comment on whether he originally considered the 50mm Voigtlander rather than the 35? It seems to me this would make it easier to guesstimate the frame boundaries at the longer focal lengths that I tend to use on outdoor shots with my G11. Your views much appreciated. Thank you

Michael Spotts: . said...

Never considered the 50mm. I tend to shoot wide with P&S cameras. Sorry!

Michael Spotts: . said...

Never considered the 50mm. I tend to shoot wide with P&S cameras. Sorry!