Canon is back with another G-series expert compact. For 2013, the PowerShot G16 switches the 1/1.7" 12-Megapixel CMOS sensor seen in last year's model for a backlit version with the same basic specs. It also gets Canon's new Digic 6 image processing engine and Wi-Fi connectivity. Will these minor updates be enough to propel Canon's latest PowerShot G to the forefront of the expert compact market? Time to find out.
Taking over as Canon's latest G-series snapper is never going to be easy, especially when the firms seems undecided about whether it's holding out to see what the competition comes up with or whether it should stick doggedly to its previously winning formula. At one time, the Canon PowerShot G was king of the hill in the world of expert compacts. But the market has evolved considerably, notably carried forward by Sony and Fujifilm who have breathed new life into the sector thanks to their thirst for innovation. In fact, you could argue that their seemingly endless hybridisations could end up leaving both beginners and advanced users feeling somewhat lost. But among this recent torrent of technology, the G16 feels like the unswerving eye of the storm. To handle and use, it feels reassuringly familiar. You don't need to make an effort with the G16—it's like falling back into old habits with a reliable lifelong buddy. It feels to have matured rather than aged. There's nothing new, flashy or revolutionary here, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
With each new-generation G, fans of Canon's expert compact no doubt wonder whether this will be the one that finally gets a swivel screen. Sorry, not this time. Canon has once again kept the display firmly fixed in place, probably in the aim of keeping the G16 as compact as possible. That said, we've definitely seen more pocket-friendly cameras. But that's not to say that the screen hasn't improved in other ways. Onscreen colour reproduction is OK, even if it's not 100% perfect (average Delta E = 4.3), but the contrast, gamma and colour temperature are all excellent. The optical viewfinder is still hanging on in there, but it's so tight and imprecise that we wonder if anyone still bothers using it.
At wide-angle (24 mm): the image captured by the G16 (left) and the image seen though the viewfinder (right).
The black lump at the bottom of the frame is the camera lens, which is clearly visible through the viewfinder!
At telephoto (140mm): the image captured by the G16 (left) and the image seen though the viewfinder (right).
The camera's physical interface hasn't changed much, but the programmable "S" button has moved from the left to the right of the viewfinder. Out of the box, this brings up the exposure mode. It can be re-set to the self-timer but, as far as we're concerned, that doesn't make up for the fact that the specific self-timer button seen in the previous model has been ditched. Another faux-pas for user-friendliness is that you have to go into the main menu to select the various autofocus modes (FlexiZone AF, AF Tracking, Face Detection AF) and to switch between single and continuous AF. A switch or a direct-access button would have made a welcome addition for that. Otherwise, the G16 has Canon's usual clear, easy-to-use and nicely designed menus.
In the tradition of Canon's G-series cameras, the PowerShot G16 inherits a robust, bulky and well-built body. But in 2013, that doesn't feel like enough. While there's no need for Canon to go crazy with add-ons and gimmicky extras, it feels like the G16 is missing a little something. It could use some kind of small stand-out feature to really set it apart from competitors.
The effect of a new image processor is usually immediately obvious, making a camera faster, more effective in low light and sometimes more power-hungry too. The Digic 6 brings a real boost to the G16, which starts up in under two seconds, beating Sony's sluggish RX100 Mk II as well as the speedy Panasonic Lumix LX7.
Up to that point, the G16 is very impressive. However, it's a shame to see that you still have to wait over a second and a half between two photos. This puts a bit of a damper on things, reinforcing this camera's feeling of quiet dependability rather than all-out tech-touting show-off. But, hey, we guess we can allow the G16 one get-out-of-jail-free card.
The burst mode, on the other hand, has taken a giant leap forwards to 10 frames per second (JPG)—that's four times faster than the previous model! But for RAW+JPEG that drops to rather less impressive 1.6 frames per second.
On the whole, Canon has made major improvements in this field, which helps the G16 scrape its way to five stars for responsiveness by the skin of its teeth.
Each camera-maker has their own approach to handling sensitivity. Canon tends to favour a subtle, progressive evolution in line with the increasing ISO setting, and the G16 is no exception. Picture quality is good up to 1600 ISO. The image starts to look quite grainy as you reach 1600 ISO—detail begins to get wiped out here, but the colours hold up well. And it's the more or less the same story from 1600 ISO to 12800 ISO, where things really fall apart. The Digic 6 does a decent job and quality is fine for printing shots up to 8" x 12" in size (20 x 30 cm), but the G16 is no game-changer, even with its new backlit sensor.
All in all, the lens is neither excellent nor awful. Just remember to try and keep your subject lined up in the middle of the frame if you really want to get the best out of the G16. Fans of artier compositions will no doubt scoff at that, but they probably won't have waited for the G16 before bagging a pocket companion with a more punchy personality.
The G15 was a bit glitchy in video mode but quality has improved with the G16, which still films in Full HD but at 60 frames per second. Canon clearly had its ears wide open to feedback from G15 users on that front.
Video image quality is really quite good. In fact, it would be excellent if it wasn't for the slight hint of aliasing visible when shooing in our test lab. Still, that won't be a problem in real-life situations. The G16 zooms smoothly in video mode but not especially quickly. It takes almost 10 seconds for the camera to zoom from 24 mm to 120 mm which, for a 5x zoom lens, is really quite lazy. The upside is that this allows the autofocus to lock onto subjects effectively ... so long as they stay relatively still. Note too that switching the mode-selection dial onto video mode automatically ups the digital zoom to 20x (equivalent to 280 mm), which is handy and works well.
Audio quality is a bit of a mixed bag. Voices and general ambiances are reproduced very well—the humming of the little train set and the tinkling of the music box from our video test scene sound very pleasant. However, the G16 has trouble telling left from right, and vice versa. Another problem is that sound quality probably seems so nice because the signal from the mics is amplified a little too much. As a result, you get a whooshy hissing noise in the background of everything. And an extra layer of unwanted noise gets added as soon as the lens moves. This can sound invasive in quieter scenes and is still present in livelier situations ... and that's when filming in our perfectly still, wind-free test lab!
We can't really bemoan the G16 for not allowing aperture changes when filming movies—still, the front settings wheel could easily have served that purpose. On the other hand, we really can't understand why there's no way of taking a still photo while filming video, in spite of the fact that this camera has separate shutter-release and video record buttons. We guess that's just one of life's little mysteries ...