Canon PowerShot G15 Review

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.

Canon PowerShot S100 in the hand

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:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot G15 4.2 x 3.0 x 1.6 in. 20.2 cu in. 310 g
Fujifilm X10 4.6 x 2.7 x 2.2 in. 27.3 cu in. 330 g
Nikon Coolpix P7700 4.7 x 2.9 x 2.0 in. 27.3 cu in. 392 g
Olympus Stylus XZ-2 iHS 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.9 in. 21.7 cu in. 346 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 in. 20.6 cu in. 269 g
Samsung EX2F 4.4 x 2.5 x 1.1 in. 12.1 cu in. 286 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 4.0 x 2.4 x 1.4 in. 13.4 cu in. 213 g

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.

Front of the Canon PowerShot G15

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.

Back of the Canon PowerShot G15

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.

Top of the Canon PowerShot G15

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.

Left side of the Canon PowerShot G15

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.

Right side of the Canon PowerShot G15

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:

Option Function
Movie mode While you can record movies in any shooting mode, here's a dedicated mode that previews the scene at a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Creative Filters mode Take photos with special effects, which include high dynamic range (HDR), nostalgic, fisheye, miniature effect, toy camera, soft focus, monochrome, super vivid, poster effect, Color Accent (selective color), and Color Swap.
Special Scene mode Pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, smooth skin, Smart Shutter, High Speed Burst HQ, Handheld Night Scene, underwater, snow, fireworks, and Stitch Assist.
Movie Digest mode In this mode the camera will record a 2-4 second video clip before each still shot. At the end of the day, these clips are compiled into a single 720p video clip.
Smart Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with automatic scene selection. Most menu items are locked up. Auto Drive mode will switch to continuous shooting based on the scene.
Program mode Automatic shooting, but with access to all menu options. A Program Shift feature can be activated by pressing on the AE/AF lock button and then using the rear dial to select from various shutter speed/aperture combinations.
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/4000 sec. If the built-in flash is on, the camera will stop at 1/2000 sec.
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture and the camera picks an appropriate shutter speed. The aperture ranges from F1.8 to F8.0.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself, with the same ranges and restrictions as above.
Custom mode 1/2 Store your favorite camera settings to these two spots on the mode dial.

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:

HDR off
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HDR on
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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.

Function menu

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.

Click to play movie (1920 x 1080, 24 fps, 60.2 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Click to play movie (1920 x 1080, 24 fps, 71.4 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

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.