I have used a Konica-Minolta DiMAGE A2, which was a fairly high-end super-zoom camera in 2004, for about 4 years. In the fall of 2007, I purchased a Canon G9. So how much progress has there been in the last 3+ years?
In one way the G9 is a huge step back from the A2: the A2 has a manual zoom ring while the G9 uses a motor that drives the zoom in several discrete steps. This was a major concern to me while deciding on whether or not to buy the G9.
Fortunately, I quickly found the G9 motor zoom to be adequate. Not a joy to use like the A2 but adequate to get the job done. I have lost some pictures because the zoom is too slow (and because the lens has to come out of the body when the camera is turned on), but it has not been as bad as I feared.
I prefer the display of the camera for framing when not handling a (D)SLR, so the electronic viewfinder vs. squinty-hole viewfinder is a non-issue for me.
The speed and ease of use of the menus – while different in concept – is very similar. I can use both just fine. I like the old-style wheels of the A2 very much, but the G9 does just as we with the modern UI.
The ISO wheel on the G9 is a huge leap forward and – if I may ask – why is it not standard on every DSLR on the market?
The speed at which the G9 allows me to review pictures is breathtaking. As opposed to the slow A2, which does not allow me to zoom RAW images, the G9 stores a reduced-resolution thumbnail which I can zoom in to, which is very handy to evaluate the image. The screen of the G9 is much bigger which is a huge plus.
Both cameras provide good image stabilization with the A2 yielding about +2 EV and the G9 about +3 EV.
The auto-focus is much faster and much more reliable on the G9 than the A2. Especially in low light, where the G9 uses a green AF-assist light, the results are much better. There has clearly been some progress here!
Speaking of speed, the A2 can take up to 3 RAW images in a row with very little time between them (I can not say how much but I would guess about 1 second). Then the buffer is full and there is a long wait (about 20 seconds would be my guess) until another picture can be taken. A fast memory card does not seem to help.
The G9 can take only a single picture, but after a second or two it is ready for the next one … until the card is full. Yes, I use fast cards.
In practice, I found myself running into the buffer full wait on the A2 way too often. The G9 way of making me wait slightly longer between images but never for the buffer is clearly better suited to my photography.
In bright light, there is little difference in quality from the 8 MPx A2 and the 12 MPx G9. As ISO increases, noise becomes a problem for both of them. However, as my tests show, noise is much easier to clean up using Noise Ninja with the A2 than the G9. In other words: the old A2 does better in this regard than the new G9. I guess that is the price you pay for stuffing so many pixels into such a small sensor.
The A2 exposes very conservatively to the left of the histogram to prevent blown out highlights. The G9, on the other hand, seems to have a tendency to overexpose. Fortunately, because I shoot RAW, this is easily fixed. The G9 also seems to cope better with difficult lighting situations than the A2.
A lot of things have improved from the A2 to the G9, mostly speed and features that simply did not exist in 2004, like face recognition. Most noticeable, and most important in my opinion, is the increase in speed. Oh, did I mention speed?
Image quality has not really improved all that dramatically. Yes, the pixel count has increased but there is a high price to pay for the small sensor. I wonder what would happen if the sensor in the G9 had only 8 MPx, but was made with modern silicone, like the 12 MPx … ? I guess I’ll never find out. 😉