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Canon G15 Review

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Introduction

After quite a significant waiting period, the Canon G12 has finally been upgraded in the shape of the 12.1 million pixel Canon PowerShot G15, unveiled at Photokina 2012.

At first glance, the Canon G15 looks pretty similar to the Powershot G12, but there are a few significant differences. The most notable of these is the stacked or overlapping dials on the top that enable both the mode dial and the exposure compensation dial to be squeezed on to the right side of the camera’s top plate.

Although these could potentially be a turn-off for novices, they enable more experienced photographers to set the exposure mode and adjust the exposure quickly.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

The lens has also seen a bit of a refresh, being the first Canon compact camera to feature an f/1.8 optic. This maximum aperture reduces to f/2.8 at the telephoto end of the 5x (28-140mm equivalent) zoom lens.

This should make it possible to restrict depth of field more effectively, to separate the subject from the background.

The style of the Canon G series won’t appeal to everyone. They’ve never been the prettiest, with a distinct utilitarian look. The Canon G15 doesn’t do much to change this, with the same basic shape. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the same retro charm that Fuji has managed to give its cameras such as the Fuji FinePix X10 and the Fuji FinePix X100.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

Nevertheless, it’s a sort of no-nonsense design that has found favour with many enthusiast and professional photographers, so it’s easy to see why Canon has stuck with it.

Canon has taken the perhaps unusual decision to remove the articulating screen that was found on the Canon G12 and replace it with a fixed, 3-inch, 920,000 dot version. This does make it a little more pocket friendly than its predecessor, and it could be that Canon is hoping that more serious photographers will plump for its larger Canon G1 X camera.

The Canon G15 was launched at the same time as the Canon S110, which is a much smaller compact camera that also features GPS and Wi-Fi built into the body, along with a touchscreen and an f/2.0 lens. We can’t help but wonder if Canon has spent more time on the PowerShot S110 and provided the PowerShot G series with only minor upgrades.

There have been a lot of premium compact cameras announced this year. The Canon G15 is priced at £549.99/AU$598/US$499 at launch, and it goes head to head with the Panasonic LX7, Sony RX100, Olympus XZ-2 and the Samsung EX2F.

Build quality and handling

With its slightly smaller size than the Canon G12, the Canon G15’s sleeker body can fit more easily into a pocket than its predecessor. Not only does the lack of an articulating screen bring the overall body size down, but the finger grip is also slightly less pronounced.

Despite this, there’s still a good amount of purchase to be had, giving lots of confidence when holding the camera with one hand.

The Canon G15 has clearly been designed with the advanced photographer in mind, as reflected by the number of direct access dials and buttons to change key settings.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

At the top of the camera are two dials, almost stacked on top of each other. The mode dial contains the full automatic, semi-automatic and full manual modes. You’ll also find scene mode, digital filter mode and movie mode on this dial.

There’s also space for two groups of custom settings, which is handy if you find yourself often shooting a particular type of scene, such as low light.

Slightly underneath this dial is the exposure compensation dial, which is a handy addition that can be reached with the thumb when using the camera with one hand.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

To change the aperture or shutter speed (depending on the mode you’re in), a small dial on the grip at the front of the camera is used. Again, this is useful when using one hand, and makes it extremely quick to alter the setting.

On the back of the camera, the four-way directional pad contains a dial around it, which is used in conjunction with other buttons to make changes. For instance, if you first hit the ISO button (up on the directional keypad) you can then use the scroll dial to choose between the values. This is a change from the Canon G12, which had a dedicated ISO dial.

Also on the directional pad are access to focusing types, flash modes and a display button. Direct access to metering can be had via a dedicated button, along with a button for changing the autofocus point, and another for entering the menu system.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

Despite the fact that the Canon G15 doesn’t have a touchscreen – which seems a shame for a camera of this calibre – changing the AF point is still relatively quick.

Simply hit the dedicated button and use either the scroll dial or the four-way buttons to choose your point. If you need to capture a lot of quick action, it’s probably a safer bet to set the focus point to the middle point and focus and recompose.

Zooming in and out of the Canon G15’s 5x optical zoom range is smooth and fluid and is achieved via a switch around the shutter button. A digital zoom is available, but only when you switch off raw format shooting, which is a bit of an annoyance.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

The menu is a fairly standard issue Canon menu, with most things relatively easy to find. However, most of what is needed is found in a sort of quick menu, accessed by hitting the Function button in the middle of the navigational keypad.

In this menu, you’ll find white balance, aspect ratio, bracketing and so on. It’s also here that you’ll find the ability to switch raw format shooting on and off.

It would have been nice if Canon had found room to squeeze an extra, customisable, function button somewhere on the camera so you could set an extra commonly used setting to it.

Performance

The Canon G series is well known for its high quality image output, and the Canon G15, we’re happy to report, is no different.

Images taken straight from the camera show a good level of colour – that is they’re bright and punchy without being overly vibrant. There’s also lots of detail, and the f/1.8 maximum aperture allows for some beautiful shallow depth of field effects to be achieved.

Although the camera is aimed at experienced photographers, leaving it in fully automatic mode also produces good results. On the majority of occasions, the camera is able to accurately guess the scene in front of it, especially when it comes to close-up focusing.

Several of the automatic options within semi-automatic and fully manual mode are good too. For instance, automatic white balance does a fine job of accurately reproducing colours, even in mixed lighting conditions.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

Evaluative metering also works well in the majority of conditions, even when presented with a high-contrast scene.

Shooting at high sensitivities, such as ISO 800, produces images that retain a good level of detail without introducing too much image noise. Since the lens has a maximum aperture of f/1.8, using sensitivities much higher than this will be a relatively rare occasion, but noise control is still good up to around ISO 1600.

After this, the quality does start to deteriorate, but the images should be adequate for small printing or web sizes.

By shooting at a narrow aperture of f/8 we can examine the sharpness of the lens. The good news is that edge to edge sharpness seems to be retained up to the edge of the frame. When you do use a wider aperture, the drop off in focus is smooth and helps to create pleasing effects.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

A large number of modern compact cameras have creative digital filters in a bid to compete with the likes of Instagram on smartphones. The Canon G15 is no different, with a selection of filters available under a specific mode.

These include Fish-Eye, Toy Camera, HDR, Nostalgic and others (see the sample images page for more). Some of the filters are fun to experiment with, though of course some are better than others (probably depending on personal preferences).

It’s a big shame, however, that the filters can’t be used when shooting in raw format, leaving you with a "clean" version of the image should you decide you’re not so keen on the filter effect after all.

The fact that you can’t retain creative control over shutter speeds and aperture when using the filters is also a disappointment.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

Autofocus is quick and accurate in the majority of cases, while close-up focusing can be achieved by activating macro mode from the navigational pad.

With this in use, you can get extremely close, making it particularly useful for nature and flower photography, and giving the Canon G15 the edge over the larger sensored Canon G1 X, which struggles with macro focusing.

The Canon G15 has a fixed screen, which will be a contentious matter for those who miss the flexibility of an articulating device. While you can no longer realistically compose self-portraits with any degree of accuracy, composing from the less awkward angles is still possible, thanks to the good angle of view the screen provides.

It would have perhaps been nice for Canon to produce two versions of the PowerShot G15, one without and one with an articulating screen, for those who desire one. It does work well in bright light though, meaning you don’t very often need to use the viewfinder to compose an image.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

The viewfinder on the G series has always been a bit of an oddity. It’s a direct viewfinder, meaning you are basically looking through a hole in the top of the camera to compose your image.

It does have optics so you can see how the lens zooms in and out, but aside from that there’s no other information (such as autofocus point or selected aperture).

This, coupled with its small size, means it has limited uses, and we found we used it only in the very brightest sunlight, or if you were trying to stabilise the camera when using a slow shutter speed.

Still, it’s nice to have it there for those occasional times you need it, rather than not at all. It’s worth remembering that using a direct viewfinder leaves you liable to parallex error, since the viewfinder doesn’t quite match up to the real view the lens is seeing.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Canon G15, we’ve shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart’s central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 80 the Canon G15 is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Canon PowerShot G15 review

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 80, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 100, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 800, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 3200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 6400, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 12800, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 80, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 100, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 800, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 3200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 6400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Canon PowerShot G15 review

ISO 12800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Canon PowerShot G15 with the Olympus XZ-2, Canon G12 and Panasonic LX7.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Canon PowerShot G15 review

These results show that the Canon G15’s JPEG files have a similar signal to noise ratio to those from the Canon G12 and Panasonic LX7 at lower sensitivities, sitting slightly above them most of the time. But the camera’s performance tails off at ISO 3200 and above, scoring a lower ratio than both cameras then. It beats the Olympus XZ-2 by a considerable amount for most of the sensitivity range, only falling behind at ISO 6400 and 12800.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Canon PowerShot G15 review

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Canon G15 are significantly higher than all the cameras here, next followed by the Olympus XZ-2, then the Panasonic LX7, with the Canon G12 showing the weakest ratio.

JPEG dynamic range

Canon PowerShot G15 review

JPEG results for dynamic range are less impressive than those for signal to noise ratio, with the Canon G15 showing the least dynamic range at lower sensitivity settings, before overtaking the Canon G12 at ISO 400, then falling behind again, then overtaking the G12 and the Olympus XZ-2 at ISO 1600 and above. The Panasonic LX7 beats the G15 at every sensitivity setting but ISO 6400, where the Canon is a fraction better.

Raw dynamic range

Canon PowerShot G15 review

This chart indicates that TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Canon G15 have a greater comparative dynamic range than the JPEG images, producing the first and second best results of all the cameras here, alternating with the Olympus XZ-2 several times. The Canon G12 shows the weakest dynamic range in its raw files, and the Panasonic LX7 is the third best, spiking at ISO 1600 to score a result a whisker ahead of the Canon G15, which dips at that setting.

Sample images

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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The Canon G15 is good at accurately judging the correct exposure, even in scenes with strong contrast between the highlights and shadows.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Its small and sleek size makes the Canon G15 a good option for an everyday backup camera for those times when you don’t want to carry a DSLR, but still want to retain full creative control.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Colours straight from the Canon G15 are bold and punchy without being overly vibrant.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Thanks to the f/1.8 maximum aperture of the lens, attractive shallow depth of field effects can be achieved, with the focus drop off being nice and smooth.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Shooting at high sensitivities such as ISO 800 produces images that still retain lots of detail without introducing too much image noise. Automatic white balance has also done an excellent job here of accurately reproducing the colours.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Macro focusing enables you to get really close to the subject to produce images with plenty of clarity.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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The Canon G15’s 5x optical zoom range gives a good level of flexibility.

Filters

Like many compact cameras currently on the market, the Canon G15 contains lots of digital filters. These can be accessed by turning the mode dial to special effects mode. You can only use filters when shooting JPEG images.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Five different levels of the Nostalgic filter can be used, ranging all the way up to full monochrome. This image is from the middle of the range.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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This is the most ‘extreme’ Nostalgic filter.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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This Fish-Eye filter recreates the effect of using a fisheye lens, and again there are different levels you can choose from. This is from the middle of the range.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Canon PowerShot G15 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Three different options are available for Monochrome – standard black and white, sepia and blue.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Canon PowerShot G15 review

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Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Canon PowerShot G15 review

Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 80

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 100

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 200

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 400

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 800

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 1600

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 3200

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 6400

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 12800

Raw

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 80

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 100

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 200

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 400

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 800

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 1600

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 3200

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 6400

Canon PowerShot G15 review

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ISO 12800

Verdict

Canon has manufactured a high quality compact camera in the shape of the Canon G15. It is capable of producing great images with bags of detail, good punchy colours and pleasing shallow depth of field effects.

However, we can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by the Canon G15. In terms of an upgrade from the Canon G12, there’s not a massive amount of difference here, and of course some will feel put out by the removal of the articulating screen.

We liked

With plenty of direct access buttons and dials, this camera is clearly aimed at the advanced photographer, making changing settings quick and easy.

We disliked

It’s a huge shame that this camera doesn’t have a touchscreen, because this would have elevated it out of the still-great-but-not-that-exciting territory that the G series is stuck in. It’s also a disappointment that digital filters can’t be shot in both raw and JPEG modes, though.

Final verdict

A lot has changed since the Canon G12 was first debuted, and it’s a shame that more excitement couldn’t have been allocated to the Canon G15. For instance, a touchscreen, GPS and Wi-Fi would have been a welcome addition. Instead, it feels a little as if the G series has stagnated a little.

Since the sensor inside the much smaller Canon S110 is exactly the same as in the Canon G15, but it does include some of those exciting optional extras, it’ll be interesting to see how many consumers decide to opt for the much bulkier Canon G15.

By Amy Davies, TechRadar


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