Canon PowerShot G16 review: Canon ekes out more speed for the G series

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MSRP: $649.99

The Good The Canon PowerShot G16 produces very good photos in bright light, and the fast lens, optical viewfinder, and relatively streamlined design make it nice to use. Plus, it finally delivers solid continuous shooting.

The Bad A mediocre Wi-Fi implementation, no articulated LCD, and lack of manual controls while shooting video are among the ways in which the G16 lags behind the competition. And other cameras deliver better photos in low light.

The Bottom Line While the Canon PowerShot G16 is better than the G15 and remains a nice enthusiast compact, its low-light photo quality disappoints for the money.

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

As a news announcement, Canon's PowerShot G16 enthusiast compact was a bit of a yawner: basically, it gains Wi-Fi and 1080/60p video over its predecessor, the G15. As a camera, though, the G series is slowly improving. Given that it was once one of the cameras that defined the enthusiast category it's sad to see it slip compared with competitors. Like the G15, the G16 has excellent image quality at low ISO sensitivities, but its performance is significantly improved -- still not the fastest option in its class, but no longer the slug it was. Its feature set continues to lag comparatively, but overall the camera remains a nice option for manual-control devotees who don't want to schlep around a dSLR and who still find compact interchangeable-lens cameras a bit too large.

Image quality
The G16's photo quality is about the same as the G15's, though looking back at that review I think it might have gained an extra stop of usability through tweaks in the JPEG processing. While very good for a small-sensor camera, photo quality still doesn't quite match that of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. For JPEGs, images look good up through ISO 400, then artifacts begin to become quite apparent. While there's no great dynamic range or unsuppressed noise in the raw files, with some adjustments you can produce shots as high as ISO 1600 by processing them to better handle the tradeoffs of noise and sharpness. That said, I couldn't get decent prints out of my ISO 1600 shots.

It does have the same excellent lens as the G15, fast, bright, and reasonably sharp, albeit with some barrel distortion even at the 50mm-equivalent focal length. 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 view/download ISO 100

ISO 400
ISO 1600

Like many competitors, the G15 clips highlights, though you can tweak your settings for more optimal exposures. The color rendering is pretty good, though daylight white balance is a little cool and the images a little contrasty. Unfortunately, it still doesn't offer an AdobeRGB setting, nor are there dynamic range correction and color controls when shooting in raw or raw+JPEG.

I was less enthralled with the video this go-round, though it's still fine for typical casual shooting. Canon's upped the top frame rate to 1080/60p and added 1080/30p, but dropped 1080/24p. It still lacks manual controls, and while the video looks saturated there's a lot of aliasing (jaggies) and ringing (haloing) on edges that becomes more noticeable as you zoom in (though it uses optical, not digital, zoom).

As advertised, the G16 is faster than the G15 in many, but not all, ways. It's faster on startup, taking 1.6 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot. But my test results show its shot lag -- the time needed to focus and shoot -- is slower. It's pretty fast in good light at 0.3 second, but in dim light rose from 0.6 second to 0.9 second. The rest looks significantly better, and in line with Canon's claims of about 50 percent improvement. Time between two JPEG shots runs about 0.7 second, but two sequential raw shots runs 1.4 seconds; time between JPEGs with flash enabled rises to about 2.9 seconds. While these times are a welcome improvement over the G15, they're still pretty slow.

I'm not sure why the autofocus slowly drifted completely out in the middle of this long burst.

One of the most noticeable performance bumps comes in continuous shooting, just about 10 frames per second with fixed focus and a still-respectable 5.8fps with continous autofocus. The optical viewfinder, while small, still works effectively in burst situations, with surprisingly accurate framing. However, I did experience the odd drift in continuous autofocus that you see in the three shots above -- it didn't just miss and lock on something else, it would simply stop focusing for a few shots, then drift back in, then out again, in a pretty easy situation. And the continued drawback of the direct-view optical viewfinder is that there's no AF overlay so you're pretty much just pointin' and prayin'.

Design and features
The camera design and layout are nearly identical to its predecessor with only a few tweaks. The grip remains relatively shallow but serviceable, and the dial on it feels a little awkward to operate without scrunching your hand.

The mode dial and exposure compensation dials are stacked but offset from each other on the top right; an aesthetically interesting and functionally streamlined design. The tiny popup flash isn't bad, but I wish it could tilt back to bounce.