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.