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Canon PowerShot G15 review: Fast lens, fine daylight photos

A fast lens pushes the Canon PowerShot G15 beyond its predecessor, but not quite to the front of the class.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
7 min read

As I tested the Canon PowerShot G15, I kept coming back to the thought that this is the lens that should have been on the G1 X. While the G15 is a fine camera -- sadly, now without its articulated LCD -- the fact remains that it still has a small sensor and isn't that much less expensive than the class-leading Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. It does retain the optical viewfinder that Nikon dropped from the Coolpix P7700, making it, the G1 X, and the Fujifilm X10 the only comparable cameras left with one.

Canon PowerShot G15

Canon PowerShot G15

The Good

In addition to a great, fast lens, the <b>Canon PowerShot G15</b> has a nice, streamlined shooting design and produces very nice photos.

The Bad

It's humbled by a somewhat limited feature set and ho-hum performance.

The Bottom Line

The Canon PowerShot G15 continues the G-series tradition of solid advanced compacts, but doesn't rank as best in class by any particular measure.

Image quality
The G15 maintains the line's excellent photo quality, although it still doesn't quite match that of Sony's RX100. It uses the same sensor and image-processing engine as the Canon PowerShot S110, but the lens makes a huge difference. Out-of-focus areas look far smoother and less processed, and sharp areas don't look quite so crunchy. For JPEGs, images look good up through ISO 200, then artifacts begin to become quite apparent. While there's no hidden depth to raws, with some tweaking you can produce shots as high as ISO 1600 by processing them to better handle the trade-offs of noise and sharpness.

Canon PowerShot G15 photo samples

See all photos

Thankfully, you don't have to resort to the high ISO sensitivities as often because of the excellent lens: it's fast, bright, and reasonably sharp, albeit with some barrel distortion even at the 50mm-equivalent focal length. I won't bother posting an aperture crossover chart, since at its widest the lens stops down to f2.8 at about 96mm-equivalent, which is more than acceptable. The flip side, however, is that it can't narrow to more than f8, which had me enabling the ND filter more than usual in bright light.

Click to download ISO 80

ISO 200
ISO 800

Like many small-sensor cameras, the G15 clips highlights, though you can tweak your settings for more-optimal exposures. The color rendering is pretty good; while daylight white balance is a little cool and the images are a little contrasty, it's better than you get with the S110. But it would help if the camera offered an AdobeRGB setting and if you could use the dynamic range correction and color controls when shooting in raw+JPEG.

Though limited to 24 frames per second and lacking manual controls, the camera produces good video -- saturated and relatively artifact-free (as much as you can get without being able to control shutter speeds) -- that should suffice for most casual shooters.

Editors' note: We recently updated our testing methodology to provide slightly more-real-world performance, so the results aren't necessarily comparable with previous testing. Until we're finished refining our procedures we will not be posting comparative performance charts.

The G15 improves a bit on the G12's performance, though still not enough to consider it "fast." It takes about 2.3 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot, which is relatively typical for this type of camera. The biggest boost is in bright-light autofocus, bringing its shot lag down to 0.2 second; in dim light it remains relatively unchanged at 0.6 second. Image processing remains its weak point, though once again it's not notably slower than most of its competitors: two sequential JPEGs take about 1.9 seconds, rising to 2.6 seconds for raw and 2.9 with flash enabled. Those speed up a hair as you head from wide angle to telephoto. In practice, its autofocus performance remains just a little slower than it needs to be for whip-it-out-and-shoot street photography.

Most cameras in this class are relatively useless for continuous shooting, and the G15 is no different. While there's no limit on the number of shots in a burst, the camera's pretty pokey, at 1fps for JPEGs with autofocus engaged and up to 2fps without AF, or 0.8fps and 1.1fps for raw, respectively.

Battery life among enthusiast compacts is also fairly sad, but the G15 at least sits at the top end of the range. The LCD is bright and sharp enough for manual focus, though a peaking function (edge highlighting) would help.

Design and features
Though the basic shape of the camera remains the same as the G12, Canon made some tweaks and a lot of changes to the control layout. The grip remains relatively shallow but serviceable, and the dial on it feels a little awkward to operate without scrunching your hand.

Notably, Canon turned the flash into a pop-up, requiring the banishment of the ISO sensitivity dial. Instead, the mode dial and exposure compensation dials are stacked but offset from each other on the top right; that's an aesthetically interesting and functionally streamlined change. The shutter button is slightly larger, too.

The mode dial's changed a bit as well. It keeps the usual PASM, auto, and scene modes, movie mode, and two custom settings slots, but gone are the quick-shot and low-light modes; they're replaced by Movie Digest (2- to 4-second clips that are automatically strung together) and Creative Filters modes.

In addition to the dropping of the articulated LCD, on the back the rubberized thumb rest has expanded, with an inset movie record button where the exposure lock button used to be. The record button sits too flush with the thumb rest, however, which makes it quite difficult to engage quickly. The AE lock button replaces the metering button in that easier-to-access location; it, AF area, metering, and menu buttons surround the navigation dial, which contains buttons for ISO sensitivity, focus mode, flash, and display, as well as the Func Set button for pulling up frequently used shooting settings. There's also the shortcut button for one user-defined direct-access control on the top left of the back.

I've complained about the back dial controller in past G series cameras, but either I've finally gotten used to it or Canon has tweaked it for the G15, because it doesn't really bother me anymore. Overall, with the exception of the aforementioned record button, I like the design of the camera and find it delivers a pretty streamlined shooting experience. For the most part, the interface operates cleanly, with the ability to quickly dive down to more-detailed adjustments straight from the quick-settings menu. I find the menu options overly abstruse for this model, though, and the onscreen hints don't help much to differentiate between options like Servo AF and Tracking AF, for example, or why some options are disabled at any particular moment.

  Canon PowerShot G12 Canon PowerShot G15 Canon PowerShot G1 X Fujifilm X10 Nikon Coolpix P7700 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sensor (effective resolution) 10MP CCD 12.1MP CMOS 14.3MP CMOS 12MP EXR CMOS 12.2MP BSI CMOS 20.2MP Exmor CMOS
1/1.7-inch 1/1.7-inch 1.5-inch
(18.7 x 14mm)
2/3-inch 1/1.7-inch 1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Sensitivity range ISO 80 - ISO 3200 ISO 80 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 3200 ISO 80 - ISO 3200/ 6400 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Lens 28 -140mm
28 - 140mm
28 - 112mm
28 - 112mm
28 - 200mm
28 - 100mm
Closest focus (inches) 0.4 0.4 7.9 0.4 0.8 1.9
Burst shooting 1.1fps
frames n/a raw
10 frames
8 JPEG/ n/a raw
6JPEG/ n/a raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder Optical Optical Optical Optical None None
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
25-area Contrast AF
Metering n/a n/a n/a 256 zones n/a n/a
Shutter 15 - 1/4,000 sec 15 - 1/4,000 se 60 - 1/4,000 sec 30 - 1/4,000 sec n/a 30 - 1/2,000 sec; bulb
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
LCD 2.8-inch articulated
461,000 dots
3-inch fixed 922,000 dots 3-inch articulated 922,000 dots 2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch articulated
921,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video (best quality) 720/24p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV Stereo 1080/30p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/ 60p/50p
AVCHD Stereo
Manual iris and shutter in video No No No No Yes Yes
Zoom during movies No Yes Yes Yes Yes
(Auto only)
Mic input No No No No Yes No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 390 shots 350 shots 250 shots 270 shots 330 shots 330 shots
Size (WHD, inches) 4.4 x 3 x 2 4.4 x 3 x 1.6 4.6 x 3.2 x 2.6 4.6 x 2.7 x 2.2 4.7 x 2.9 x 2 4 x 2.4 x 1.4
Weight (ounces) 14.2 12.3 18.8 12.4 13.9 (est) 8.5 (est)
Mfr. price $499.99 $499.99 $799 $599.99 $499.95 $649.99
Availability October 2010 October 2012 February 2012 November 2011 September 2012 July 2012

There are also a couple of things that bugged me. The camera relentlessly reverts to evaluative metering, even when just coming out of standby or playback. (It's possible that this metering behavior was in the G12, too, but I don't remember.) And while the G12 didn't support Adobe RGB, either, I'm getting around to being annoyed by it just now.

The G15 lacks features like GPS and wireless uploading -- though you're not missing much with Canon's implementation, as seen in the S110. And it deserves a ding for the fixed LCD. But it still offers the hot shoe and optical viewfinder. The electronic level now offers forward/backward as well as left/right display, although some of the UI touches that made it easier to use than most implementations are gone. Now it's OK, but still easy to overshoot.

Nominally interesting capabilities include Face ID, in which you can record up to five different views of a face to give them focus priority, and a face self-timer, which waits until you duck into the scene before it snaps a photo. The Super Slow Motion mode shoots up to 30 seconds of video for playback at 120fps or 240fps, but it's really low-resolution -- VGA for 120fps and 320x240 pixels for 240fps. For a complete accounting of the G15's features and operation, you can download a PDF version of the manual.

While there's nothing outstanding about this camera, and it's seemingly fallen from grace as the top choice for dSLR users who want a compact option, it's still a fine camera if you're looking for something better and with more manual controls than a typical point-and-shoot, but can't bring yourself to pay more than $500.

Canon PowerShot G15

Canon PowerShot G15

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Image quality 8