Originally Posted: November 4, 2012
Last Updated: November 30, 2012
The PowerShot G15 ($499) is the latest entry in Canon's long-running series of enthusiast compact cameras. This latest iteration addresses two issues that have plagued recent G-series models: the aperture range of the lens, and focusing performance. While previous models had lenses with a maximum aperture range of F2.8-F4.5, the range on the new PowerShot G15 is a much more impressive F1.8-F2.8. More light through the lens means better photo quality in low light. You'll also have a shallower depth of field to work with, for better background blurring.
The other issue with previous G-series models has been sluggish autofocus performance. Canon has addressed this by improving AF performance by 50% compared to the PowerShot G12. Shutter lag has been reduced, as well.
Unfortunately, Canon giveth, and Canon taketh away. One of the best features on the PowerShot G12 -- its rotating LCD display -- has been replaced by a fixed screen on the G15.
The chart below compares 2010's PowerShot G12 with the new G15:
That's a very nice upgrade, I'd say. If only Canon had retained that rotating LCD that so many G-series owners have to come to enjoy...
Ready to learn more about the PowerShot G15? Keep reading: our review starts right now.
What's in the Box?
I have to say that Canon's bundles have really gone downhill in recent years. First they ditched the included memory card (while not building memory into their cameras), and then it was putting the manual on a CD-ROM. On the G15 they don't even provide a 72 cent USB cable. Here's what you'll find when you crack open the PowerShot G15's box:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel PowerShot G15 digital camera
- NB-10L lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- Neck strap
- CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
- 33 page Quick Start Guide (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
As I mentioned, Canon neither builds memory into their cameras, nor includes a memory card in the box. So, unless you have one already (which you probably do), you'll need to buy yourself an SD, SDHC, or SDXC card right away. You're going to want a 4GB card at the very least, and an 8 or 16GB card if you plan on taking a lot of Full HD videos. I'd recommend a high speed card (Class 6 or higher) for best performance.
The PowerShot G15 uses the same NB-10L lithium-ion battery as its large-sensored sibling, the G1 X. This battery contains 6.8 Wh of energy, which is average for this class. This battery has less juice than the one used on the PowerShot G12, and as a result, battery life is down, but only by 5%. Here's how the PowerShot G15 compares to other enthusiast compact cameras:
Despite dropping a bit since the G12, the PowerShot G12 still has the best battery life of any camera in this group. It's always a good idea to pick up a spare battery, and a genuine NB-10L will set you back around $40.
When it's time to charge the NB-10L, just pop it into the included charger. This charger, which plugs directly into the wall, takes about 110 minutes to refill the battery.
One shouldn't be surprised to hear that the PowerShot G15 supports a host of optional accessories. Here are the most interesting ones:
That's a pretty standard selection of accessories for a G-series camera. If you're into macro photography, then I should point out that both the MR-14EX and MT-24EX ring lites are also supported.
Canon has one of the nicest software bundles out there. You'll first encounter CameraWindow, which will download photos from the camera onto your Mac or PC. The main photo organizing suite is called ImageBrowser EX, which replaces the old ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser twins that came on earlier models. I'm not sure what Canon used to build this software (it feels like Adobe Air), but it definitely doesn't feel like a native application anymore, at least on the Mac side. That said, it'll let you edit your photos in a number of ways, including auto correct, redeye removal, tone curve and level adjustment, and more. It also allows you to edit your videos, including adding transitions and special effects, and save the results as a new movie. Both stills and movies can be shared via e-mail, Facebook. YouTube, or Canon's own Image Gateway service.
For editing RAW images you'll need to use Digital Photography Professional, which is a very capable product. Here you can adjust exposure, highlight and shadow detail, the tone curve, noise reduction, and white balance. There are also tools for reducing lens distortion, vignetting, and purple fringing. If you want to use Photoshop to edit RAW files, you'll have to wait until Adobe releases a version of their Camera Raw plug-in that is compatible with the PowerShot G15.
Also included with the PowerShot G15 is PhotoStitch. PhotoStitch can take photos that you've lined up (manually on the G15), and combine them into a single panoramic image.
As I mentioned earlier, Canon only supplies a 33 page "basic manual" in the box with the G15. It'll get you started, but for more details, you'll need to load up the full manual, which is in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The manuals themselves aren't what I'd call pleasure reading, but they will certainly answer any question you may have about the camera. Instructions for the bundled software is installed onto your Mac or PC.
Design & Features
The PowerShot G15 is a mid-sized, all-black camera whose body is constructed mostly of metal. The camera feels solid in your hands, with no flimsy parts to be found. The G15 doesn't have much of a right hand grip, and the material used on it could be stickier, but I was never concerned about it falling out of my hands. Despite being an enthusiast camera, Canon didn't go overboard with buttons on the G15. The camera has a dedicated exposure compensation dial, though I did find it easy to accidentally turn on, Gone is the ISO dial found on the PowerShot G12, with a direct button taking its place.
The design of the PowerShot G15 has changed a bit compared to its predecessor (the G12). Here's a look:
|The PowerShot G15 (at right) is a giant version of its little brother, the G12|
The biggest difference between the G12 and G15 in the front view is the location of the flash. As you can see, it was built-in on the G12 -- it now pops up on the G15. The grip design is a bit different as well, and the AF-assist lamp switched sides. On the top of the camera you'll see that the dual mode / ISO dial has gone away, with the exposure compensation dial moving into that extra space. The PowerShot G15 is also a lot less "chunky", due to its fixed LCD. Speaking of which, that's the major change on the back of the camera -- gone (once again) is the rotating LCD that made the G-series such a sensation. The only other real change on the back of the camera is the addition of a dedicated movie recording button at the top-right of the photo.
While it's less bulky than its predecessor, the G15 will still struggle to fit into a pocket in your average pair of Levis. Here's how it compares against other premium compacts in terms of size and weight:
The G15 is pretty much right down the middle in terms of both bulk and weight.
Alright, now it's time for a tour of the PowerShot G15. Use the tabs to flip between various views of the camera.
The big story on the PowerShot G15 is undoubtedly its new lens. The lens on 2010's PowerShot G12 had a maximum aperture range of F2.8 - F4.5. On the new PowerShot G15, the range is a much more impressive F1.8 - F2.8. In other words, the G15's lens lets in as much light at its 5X position as the G12's did at 1X! In layman's terms, this means more light is coming through the lens, allowing you to take better photos in low light. The ability to open up the aperture to F1.8 will also produce nicer background blur. The focal range of the lens is 6.1 - 30.5 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 140 mm (the same as on the G12).
While the lens itself isn't threaded, you can remove the ring around it (by pressing the button to its lower-right) and attach either the optional conversion lens or filter adapters.
As you'd expect, the PowerShot G15 has optical image stabilization. This reduces the risk of blurry photos, and also smooths out the shakes in your movies. There are two special movie-only IS modes -- dynamic and powered -- which provide additional shake reduction when recording movies. Also new to the G15 is an Intelligent IS feature, which selects the proper IS mode (e.g. panning, hybrid, tripod, dynamic) based on the situation.
At the upper-right of the photo is the G15's new pop-up flash. This flash, which is released manually, has a working range of 0.5 - 7.0 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 4.5 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). If you want more flash power and a reduced chance of redeye, then you may want to attach an external flash to the hot shoe on the top of the camera.
In-between the flash and lens is the AF-assist lamp, with the optical viewfinder to its left. The AF-assist lamp serves as a focusing aid in low light, and is also used for redeye reduction.
The final item of note on the front of the camera is the front dial (on the grip), which you'll use to adjust exposure.
The good news about the PowerShot G15's LCD is that it's larger and sharper than the one its predecessor. The bad news is that it's now fixed, instead of rotating -- definitely a disappointment to folks who like that feature (which includes me). That issue aside, the screen is bright, very sharp (thanks to its 922,000 pixels), and both outdoor and low light visibility are good.
One thing that hasn't changed on the G15 is the inclusion of an optical viewfinder. The viewfinder is decent-sized, and covers 80% of the frame. As with previous G-series models, you will see part of the lens in the lower-left corner of the viewfinder when you're at full wide-angle. You can adjust the focus on the viewfinder by using the diopter correction knob on its left side.
Moving on to buttons now -- to the left of the viewfinder is the customizable Shortcut button, to which you can assign virtually any menu option. Over on the other side we find the playback button, with the new dedicated movie recording button at the far right.
Moving downward, we have four buttons that surround the four-way controller / scroll wheel combo. The four buttons are for focus point selection, AE/AF lock, entering the adjusting the metering mode, and entering the menu system. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation and reviewing photos, and is also has direct buttons for adjusting the ISO, flash, and focus mode settings, as well as toggling what information is displayed on the LCD. The scroll wheel can be used for adjusting manual exposure settings, menu navigation, and rapidly moving through your photos in playback mode.
Here's the top of the G15 which, as you saw earlier, looks a bit different that the G12. At the far left is the flash release, with the flash itself (closed here) above it.
In the middle of the photo is the hot shoe, which will work best with one of Canon's many Speedlights. You can control a Canon-branded flash using the G15's menu system, and features like AF-assist, redeye reduction, and wireless control (on the top-end models only) are available. If you're using the new 320EX flash, you can also take advantage of its LED lamp for movie recording. Using a non-Canon flash means that you'll probably have to set exposure manually on both the camera and the flash. As far as I can tell, there's no limit to the shutter speeds you can use with an external flash (the built-in flash stops at 1/2000 sec).
Straddling the hot shoe are two small stereo microphones. Continuing to the right, we find the mode dial, with the dedicated exposure compensation dial below it. I'll tell you all about the mode dial options after the tour.
The last things to see here are the power button, with the combination shutter release and zoom controller above that. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.4 seconds. I counted around fifteen steps in the G15's 5X zoom range.
The only thing to see here is the speaker, which is located just below the strap mount. The flash is popped up here, and the lens is at full wide-angle.
While it looks like the ring around the lens can rotate (for zoom or focus), alas, it does not. The only time you'll remove it is when you're attaching the adapter for filters or conversion lenses.
On the opposite side of the camera are its I/O ports, which are protected by a plastic door of average quality. The ports here include an input for a wired remote, a single port for both USB and composite A/V output, and mini-HDMI.
The lens is at the full telephoto position here.
On the bottom of the G15 you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden from view here) and the battery/memory card compartment. The tripod mount is neither centered, nor in-line with the lens. If you've got the camera on a tripod, you won't be able to access the battery or memory card. The door that covers the battery/memory compartment is of average quality.
You can see the NB-10L lithium-ion battery over on the right side of the photo.
When composing photos on its LCD, the G15 offers a live histogram, electronic level, and grid lines (turned off here)
Let's kick off our discussion of the G15's features by talking about the items found on its mode dial. Here's what you'll find on it:
If you're someone who wants a point-and-shoot experience, then just pop the camera into Smart Auto mode. There, the camera will select one of fifty-eight possible scene modes for you, even detecting if you're using a tripod. The G15 can even tell the difference between a smiling and sleeping baby, and will adjust the sound and flash settings accordingly. Speaking of babies, if the camera detects one (or any child for that matter), it'll shoot continuously automatically so you don't miss that special moment.
I want to quickly mention a few of the Creative Filters and Scene Modes on the G15, and will begin with HDR, which stands for high dynamic range. In this mode, the G15 will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value (which you cannot adjust). Those three shots are combined into one, with the end result being a photo with better shadow detail and fewer clipped highlights. Since the camera doesn't take the shots quickly enough for handheld usage (in most cases), you may want to use a tripod. Here's a real world example of HDR for you:
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You don't need to be a photo expert to see how the image quality improves when using HDR. There's less highlight clipping on and around the white columns, and the whole hallway is brighter. While using HDR isn't realistic in every situation (due to the delay between shots), if you're in high contrast situations, it's worth trying.
Some of the notable scene modes on the PowerShot G15 include:
- Smart Shutter: choose from smile detection, or cool wink and face self-timers; smile detection waits until someone in your photo smiles, and then it'll start taking photos; the wink self-timer takes a photo two seconds after someone in the frame winks at the camera; face self-timer takes a photo 2 seconds after a new person (presumably the photographer) enters the frame
- High-speed Burst HQ: the camera takes ten photos in a row at 10 frames/second; do note that the LCD goes black while shooting is in progress, so use the optical viewfinder to track a moving subject; also, the ISO is set to Auto, so images may be noisy
- Handheld Night Scene: the camera takes several exposures and combines them into a single photo, which reduces blur and noise; here's an example, which illustrates that this feature is best suited for small prints
- Stitch Assist: helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panorama (using the bundled software)
White balance fine-tuning
Manual controls include those for shutter speed and aperture, as well as white balance and focus. And, as you'd expect, the PowerShot G15 can produce images in the RAW format. White balance options include two custom slots (for use with a white or gray card) and fine-tuning. You cannot set the color temperature, nor can you bracket for white balance. Speaking of bracketing, you can do that for both exposure and focus.
Moving onto menus now, I want to start with the G15's function menu, which is activated by pressing the center button on the four-way controller. Here are the most interesting options you'll find there:
- DR correction: reduces highlight clipping; choose from off (default), auto, 200%, or 400%; ISO will be boosted as high as 320 in order to make this feature work
- Shadow correction: brightens the dark areas of a photo, with off or auto being the options here
- My Colors: enhance colors or skin tones, take B&W or sepia photos, or manually adjust contrast/sharpness/saturation/RGB/skin tones
- Self-timer: choose from the usual 2 or 10 second times, or use the custom setting and choose the number of shots and delay that you want
- AF frame: choose from face detection (9 faces max), tracking AF, FlexiZone, or center; the FlexiZone feature lets you pick any area in the frame on which you'd like to focus; you can adjust the size of the AF point in by pressing the Menu button while you're positioning the focus point
- ND (neutral density) filter: reduces the amount of light coming through the lens by three stops, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds or larger apertures than you could otherwise
- Still image aspect ratio: select from 4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 1:1, or 4:5
- Image resolution/compression: choose from JPEG, RAW, or RAW+JPEG, with two JPEG qualities (Fine and Super Fine) to choose from; a RAW image is about 18 MB in size, while a Large/Super Fine JPEG is around 5.8 MB
Now I'd like to show you the DR Correction feature in action. There are four settings: off (default), auto, 200%, and 400%. As I mentioned, the camera needs to boost the sensitivity in order for this feature to work, so you'll want to use Auto ISO (with a range that includes ISO 320) if you use this feature. Here's what you can expect from this feature:
|DR correction off
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|Auto DR correction
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|200% DR correction
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|400% DR correction
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While there's no difference between Auto DR and not using the feature at all, that's probably due to how the camera evaluated the scene. By forcing a higher correction setting, I was able to get some pretty powerful results. At the 200% setting the sky is still blown out, but detail starts returning to the floor and the wall on the right side. At 400%, the sky is blue, and almost all of the highlight clipping is gone. While the ISO is set to 320 at the DR 400% setting, I think the improvement in image quality is well worth the extra noise.
|Record options in the main menu. Note the help text at the bottom.||The customizable My Menu|
The rest of the shooting-related options that I want to talk about can be found in the PowerShot G15's main menu. The menus are attractive, easy-to-navigate, and feature an available "hints & tips" feature that describes each option (but take up an extra row in the menus). The notable features here are:
- AF Frame: choose from Face AiAF (detects faces if present, otherwise 9-point auto), FlexiZone (you pick the spot in the frame on which to focus), center, and Tracking AF (select a subject and the camera will keep them in focus as they move around); not all of these options are available in every shooting mode
- Digital zoom: normally I tell people to turn this off, but if you're willing to lower the resolution, you can use it without a reduction in image quality; for example, dropping down to 6 Megapixel gives you 13X of total zoom power; just make sure the zoom indicator on the LCD doesn't enter the "blue" range and you're good to go
- Servo AF: the autofocus system continues to run with the shutter release halfway-pressed, which is helpful for moving subjects
- Continuous AF: here, the AF system is always running, and stops when you halfway-press the shutter release button; will drain your battery
- Flash control: allows you to set the flash strength, slow sync type, and...
- Redeye correction/lamp: choose from digital removal, a "pre-flash" using the AF-assist lamp, or both; these are found in the Flash Settings sub-menu
- ISO auto settings: choose the highest sensitivity that you want the camera to use, as well as how quickly it'll boost it (rate of change = how slow of a shutter speed it'll use)
- Blink detection: the camera will warn you if someone in the frame had their eyes closed
- IS settings: choose from continuous or "shoot only" stabilization, or turn it off entirely
- Face ID settings: the camera can learn who people are, and give them focus priority when they appear in a scene
- Set Dial Functions: choose which exposure settings are adjusted with the front and rear dials
- Set Shortcut button: you can assign almost any camera setting to this button on the rear of the camera
- My Menu: you can store up to five of your favorite menu items onto this separate menu tab (shown above); you can even make the camera go here first, instead of the regular shooting tab
Okay, that's all for stills for now -- how about movies? The PowerShot G15's movie mode has been improved upon since the G12, with the resolution rising from 720p to 1080p. You can record 1920 x 1080 video at 24 frames/second until the file size reaches 4GB, which takes about 15 minutes. Stereo sound is recorded, and you've got full use of the optical zoom (unlike on the PowerShot G12) and image stabilizer. Continuous autofocus will keep your subject in focus when you zoom in and out.
If you don't need to shoot at 1080p, you can also select from 1280 x 720 or 640 x 480 resolutions (both at 30 frames/second), with time limits of 30 and 60 minutes, respectively. The G15 also supports the iFrame codec (designed and poorly marketed by Apple), which is supposed to be easier to edit than the H.264 standard that the camera uses.
Movie recording on the PowerShot G15 is point-and-shoot, with no manual exposure controls to be found. There is a generic exposure adjustment tool that you can bring up by pressing the AE Lock button, but you can't actually set the shutter speed or aperture yourself. The G15 also features an always-handy wind filter. There's no way to take a still image while simultaneously recording a movie.
[Paragraph updated 11/7/12]
Like many cameras, the G15 can record "super slow motion" movies, which are recorded at 120 or 240 frames/second (at 640 x 480 and 320 x 240, respectively). When the movies are played back at normal speed, everything appears to move in slow motion.
I've got a pair of sample movies for you, and both are large downloads. So crank up the bandwidth and enjoy these two samples, both of which were taken at the 1080/24p resolution. The video from the Giants victory parade was shot with the camera held over my head, so it's a little shakier than normal.
Although it would be nice if movies were recorded at 30 frames/second (or higher), you'll probably agree that the G15's video quality is still pretty good.
The PowerShot G15 has a pretty nice playback mode. Some of the notable features here include:
- Movie Digest playback: I told you about this feature earlier; here you can play back the video of the day's events
- Smart Shuffle: a bizarre feature which shows four photos similar to the one you're viewing; well, that's the idea, at least
- My Category: assign a category to a photo, which is then transferred over to the ImageBrowser EX software; if a photo was taken via a scene mode, the camera may have done this automatically
- Photobooks: you can put photos into a "book" containing up to 998 photos; the book structure is transfered to ImageBrowser EX
- i-Contrast: brightens dark areas of your photo
- Redeye correction: digitally remove this annoyance from a photo
- My Colors: apply color effects (vivid, monochrome, sepia, etc) to a photo you've taken
- Rotate/Resize/Crop: gotta have these!
- Erase range of photos: I normally don't mention image deletion features, but the ability to select a range of photos without having to click your way through thumbnails is very handy
- Jump: press the AE/AF lock button to move through photos by date, category, file type, whether they're tagged as a favorite, or be registered face
In terms of movie editing, you can trim unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip, which is definitely handy.
The PowerShot G15 shows just basic information about your photo by default. Pressing "down" on the four-way controller reveals more (including a histogram), and if you press "up", you'll then see a RGB histogram.
The G15 moves very quickly through photos, though you may want to turn off the fancy between-photo transitions for the best performance. If you really want to go quickly. use the rear dial. The dial method also allows you to move through photos by date.
Performance & Photo Quality
One of my big beefs with the PowerShot G12 (and the G1 X for that matter) was its mediocre performance. Thankfully, Canon has addressed that on the G15, promising a 53% reduction in focus times and a 45% reduction in "shooting time lag" (though I'm not sure what they mean by that). The table below summarizes its performance:
While both AF and shutter lag has been reduced on the PowerShot G15, it doesn't mean that it's suddenly a speed demon. As you can see, it's average in nearly all respects.
There are four full resolution burst modes on the PowerShot G15, though one of them (Continuous LV) is for manual focus and fireworks mode only, and will not be included below. That leaves us with regular continuous (locks AE/AF on first shot), continuous AF (adjusts focus and metering between each shot), and High-speed Burst HQ, a scene mode. Here's what kind of performance you can expect for each of those:
First, the good news: the PowerShot G15 can keep shooting until your (high speed) memory card fills up, even with RAW files. There's no waiting for the buffer to clear, either -- you can enter playback mode or the menu right away. The bad news is that the burst rate isn't terribly impressive, especially if RAW images are involved. You can shoot faster using the High-Speed Burst HQ mode, though do note that it's only for JPEGs, limited to ten shots, and the ISO is set to "auto", so images may be noisy.
That does it for numbers, let's move on to some visual tests now!
Our macro test subject is looking very good here. The G15 produced a "smooth" rendition of the figurine, with vivid colors (and more importantly, no color cast under our studio lamps). There's no noise or detail smudging to be found, which is a good thing.
The PowerShot G15 has a pretty standard macro range for the enthusiast compact class. At full wide-angle, you can be just 1 cm away from your subject. The distances stay pretty low through most of the focal range until you get to around 4.5X, at which point the minimum distance jumps to 35 cm. At full telephoto, the minimum focusing distance is 40 cm.
Our night shot is a little special in this review, with many of the buildings lit up in orange, to celebrate the San Francisco Giants' victory in the World Series. The photo quality looks good here, with highlight clipping being the only issue that I could find. With manual control over shutter speed, bringing in enough light is easy (you should be able to get similar results with Smart Auto or scene modes). One of the G15's faults is that it clips highlights frequently, and that's on full display here. The buildings are nice and sharp, and there are no funny color casts here either. Noise is not an issue, and purple fringing is minimal.
Normally I like to show you how the camera performs in low light across its ISO range. Unfortunately, Canon won't let me do that. As on some of their other recent cameras, they lock the ISO at 80 if the shutter speed is below 1 second. That makes sense from an image quality point-of-view, but putting such limitations one of their flagship cameras (especially in "M" mode) is as dumb move on Canon's part. So, the example below picks up at ISO 800:
I was impressed with how well the PowerShot G15 performed at ISO 800 in this night scene. Sure, there's some noise and detail smudging, but it's not bad enough to prevent you from making a mid-sized or perhaps larger print. Detail loss is more noticeable at ISO 1600, so this is a good place to stop if you're shooting JPEGs, or try switching to RAW. I'd probably avoid the ISO 3200 setting in low light unless you're shooting RAW (more on that below), and would skip ISO 6400/12800 altogether.
I will add a RAW vs. JPEG comparison as soon as Adobe releases a version of their Camera Raw plug-in that is compatible with the PowerShot G15.
Straight out of the camera, both redeye reduction features turned on
After a trip through the redeye correction tool in playback mode
The PowerShot G15 tries to eliminate redeye in two ways. First, it'll fire the AF-assist lamp a second or so before the photo is taken, with the goal of shrinking your subject's pupils. I've found that this rarely works. The second part of the removal system is a digital system (which needs to be turned on in the Flash Settings menu), which tries to get rid of whatever shows up in a photo. As you can see, neither of those methods worked. All is not lost, though -- there's a removal tool in playback mode that was able to get rid of the red, so definitely try that if your flash photos have redeye.
There's very little barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the PowerShot G15's 28 - 140 mm lens. That's probably because that Canon, like most manufacturers, is digitally correction for it as you take a photo. The G15's lens is definitely a quality one, with no corner blurring or vignetting to be found.
Okay, now it's time to see how the PowerShot G15 performed across its ISO range in normal light. As usual, I'm using our standard studio test scene, which means that you can compare the results with other cameras I've tested over the years. Remember that the crops below only show a small area of the total scene, so view the full size images too!
Everything looks great through ISO 800, with very little noise or detail loss to be found. Noise finally shows up at ISO 1600, but it's so minor that you can make large prints without a problem at that sensitivity. Noise levels increase at ISO 3200, and this is my recommend stopping point for JPEGs shooters. That's because of the moderate noise levels at ISO 6400, which we may be able to knock back with RAW. I'd avoid ISO 12800 altogether -- once again, I don't know why camera companies even bother putting these unusable sensitivities on their cameras (marketing, most likely).
As I said in the night shot discussion, I cannot perform my RAW vs. JPEG comparison yet, due to the lack of an updated Adobe Camera Raw plug-in. As soon as one becomes available, I will update the review.
Lots of PowerShot G15 buyers are undoubtedly comparing it against the new Nikon Coolpix P7700 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7. So, I decided to put together a comparison of the JPEG image quality at ISO 1600 and 3200 for all three of those cameras. Two quick notes before we go on:
- I used JPEG instead of RAW here because 1) I can't convert G15 RAW images yet and 2) using JPEG at default settings levels the playing field, due to all the variables in RAW conversion
- The colors in the Nikon images are really flat compared to the other two cameras. I guess it doesn't like my studio lamps. Remember that we're comparing noise here, and not color accuracy.
And with those caveats, let's see who came out on top:
It's pretty obvious that the PowerShot G15 was the winner here, at least when using the JPEG format. The other two cameras may be able to match or exceed the image quality of G15 by using RAW, but as I said above, RAW opens up a whole other can of worms. The bottom line here is that the PowerShot G15 produces some very impressive images for a camera with a relatively small sensor.
The PowerShot G15 does so many things right when it comes to image quality that its hard to find much to complain about! Exposure was almost always accurate, so you shouldn't need to bracket your shots. The G15's biggest IQ flaw is that it loves to clip highlights. I am a big fan of the DR correction feature for this very reason, and am willing to accept the increase in noise for the decrease in HL clipping. Colors are really punchy, and sharpness is just how I like it. As you've seen in the various tests above, the G15 keeps noise levels low through ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in low light -- and that's for JPEGs. Purple fringing levels were low, which is another testament to the quality of the G15's lens.
Now it's time for you to evaluate the PowerShot G15's photo quality with your own eyes. Open up our extra large photo gallery, view the images at 100% (and maybe print a few), and then decide if the G15's image quality meets your needs!
The Canon PowerShot G15 is a premium compact camera, sitting one rung lower than its larger-sensored sibling, the PowerShot G1 X. The G15 fixes many of the issues that were found on its predecessor (the PowerShot G12 -- there was no G13 or G14), though some may not forgive Canon for removing their beloved rotating LCD. The G15 is well built camera made mostly of metal, and everything is well put together. The camera is easy to hold (though a larger grip would've been nice), and the controls aren't overwhelming. One of the biggest complaints people had about the G12 was regarding its unremarkable lens. Canon took care of that on the G15, providing users with a fast F1.8-2.8, 5X zoom, with a focal length equivalent to 28 - 140 mm. Naturally, the PowerShot has optical image stabilization, now with the ability to select the correct IS mode automatically. On the back of the camera you'll find a fixed 3-inch LCD display with 922,000 pixels (twice that of the G12) and very good outdoor/low light visibility. While Canon got rid of the rotating LCD on the G15, the optical viewfinder thankfully wasn't also on the chopping block. As with its G-series predecessors, the PowerShot G15 supports a host of accessories, including a tele-conversion lens, external flash, wired remote control, and underwater housing.
I don't think anyone will complain about the feature set on the PowerShot G15. The point-and-shoot crowd will find the camera's Smart Auto mode to be quite capable. It'll select one of fifty-eight scene modes for you, and can even tell the difference between sleeping and smiling babies, adjusting the camera settings appropriately. As with most cameras these days, the G15 also has plenty of special effects, including an HDR mode that'll improve the contrast in your photos. Another handy feature is DR Correction, which will reduce highlight clipping in photos, though they may be a bit noisier as a result. There's no shortage of manual controls either, with exposure, white balance, and focus available to tweak. You can fine-tune white balance, bracket for exposure and focus (but not WB, strangely), and save files in RAW format. Add in customizable buttons and menus and an electronic level, and I think most enthusiasts will be pleased. The G15 can also record movies at 1080/24p with stereo sound, use of the optical zoom, and continuous autofocus. Unfortunately, manual controls are not available in movie mode.
The other area in which critics dinged the PowerShot G12 was with regard to performance. Canon has brought the G15 up to speed, though it's not going to win any awards. The startup speed of 1.4 seconds is about average, as are the new and improved focus times. In low light the G15 seemed to focus a bit quicker than other cameras in its class. I didn't notice any shutter lag, and shot-to-shot times ranged from 2-3 seconds. The PowerShot G15 has a number of burst modes, and I'll focus on two. The standard continuous mode (without LCD blackout) shoots at 0.9 - 1.9 frames/second, with the speed depending on whether RAW images are involved. There's also a High-Speed Burst HQ mode, which takes ten photos in a row at 10 frames/second, but the LCD will be blacked out during shooting, and the ISO is set to "auto", so your photos may be noisy. Despite a slight drop in battery life since the PowerShot G12, the G15 still managed to squeeze out best-in-class numbers.
The photo quality on the PowerShot G15 is impressive, though there is some room for improvement. Its accurate metering system means that you don't have to bracket every shot, unlike on some cameras. That said, the G15 loves to clip highlights, so you may need to use DR correction or RAW to try to reduce some of that. Colors are quite saturated, and subjects are nice and sharp. The camera keeps noise levels low through ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in normal lighting. I found the G15 to produce better quality JPEGs than the Nikon Coolpix P7700 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 at higher sensitivities. The only other photo quality issue I had with the G15 was redeye, though you can remove it by using the tool in playback mode. Purple fringing was not an issue.
Though I'm still a little bitter about the removal of the rotating LCD, I have to say that Canon's PowerShot G15 is a great enthusiast camera. It takes very good photos, has plenty of features for both beginners and enthusiasts, offers good (but not class-leading) responsiveness, and has a huge selection of accessories. As always, there's room for improvement (less highlight clipping and manual controls in movie mode would be nice), but as it stands, the PowerShot G15 is a camera that I can easily recommend.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality, with better-than-average performance at high sensitivities
- Well-designed camera with solid build quality
- Fast F1.8-2.8, 5X optical zoom lens (28 - 140 mm equivalent)
- Optical image stabilization, with new Intelligent IS feature
- Super-sharp 3-inch LCD display (too bad it's a fixed one)
- Optical viewfinder is always a bonus
- Full manual controls, including RAW support
- Smart Auto mode picks a scene mode for you, can even tell when babies are smiling or sleeping
- Tons of scene modes and Creative Filters
- Dynamic range correction and HDR features improve image contrast (though a tripod is recommended for the latter)
- Customizable button, menu, and spots on mode dial
- Dual-axis electronic level
- Built-in neutral density filter
- Records Full HD (1080/24p) video with stereo sound, use of optical zoom, and continuous AF
- Best-in-class battery life
- Lots of available accessories, including conversion lenses, filters, external flash, wired remote, and underwater housing
What I didn't care for:
- Likes to clip highlights (hint: use DR correction)
- Redeye a problem (though removal tool in playback mode helps)
- Rotating LCD will be missed
- ISO fixed at 80 at shutter speeds below 1 second
- Movies are a bit choppy due to 24 fps frame rate; no manual controls available
- Can't access memory card when using a tripod
- Cheapo bundle puts manual on CD-ROM, doesn't even include a USB cable anymore
As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot G15 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our huge photo gallery to see how the PowerShot G15's image quality looks with your own eyes!