Canon PowerShot G15 review: Fast lens, fine daylight photos

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MSRP: $495.00

The Good In addition to a great, fast lens, the Canon PowerShot G15 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.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 8

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.

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.

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.

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