If you’re wondering if you missed the G13 and G14, don’t. The Canon PowerShot G15 ($499.99 direct) is actually the successor to the PowerShot G12, a high-end compact camera that is now two years old. The G15 offers numerous upgrades—a 12-megapixel CMOS sensor, a faster lens, and a sharper rear display among them. It’s a better camera than the G12, but it’s not good enough to oust the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 as our Editors’ Choice for high-end compact cameras.
Design and Features
The G15 is one of the few point-and-shoot cameras on the market with an optical viewfinder. Nikon dropped the finder from its latest Coolpix P7700, which leaves the G15 standing alone with the Canon PowerShot G1 X and the Fujifilm X10. An optical finder makes it appealing to a certain niche of photographers, but not all viewfinders are created equal. The G15 and G1 X both have zooming finders that are rather small and dim compared to the big, bright one packed into the X10. If you’re buying on that feature alone, the X10 is the clear winner.
At 3 by 4.2 by 1.6 inches (HWD) and 12.4 ounces, the G15 is larger and heavier than a smaller big-sensor camera like the Canon PowerShot S110, which features the same size 1/1.7-inch CMOS image sensor, but omits the optical finder and hot shoe. The S110 is much easier to slide into your pocket at 2.3 by 3.9 by 1.1 inches (HWD) and only 7 ounces.
The 5x zoom lens covers a 28-140mm equivalent field of view, with a variable aperture that starts at f/1.8 at the wide end and drops to a very reasonable f/2.8 on the telephoto side. It’s faster on both ends than the G12, which starts at f/2.8 and dwindles to f/4.5 when zoomed in. The Sony RX100, which features a larger 1-inch image sensor, starts at f/1.8 but drops to f/4.9 when zoomed in—that camera does better at very high ISO settings, however, which nullifies the G15’s advantage in lens speed.
The rear LCD is 3 inches in size and, unlike the G12 and G1 X, lacks an articulating arm. Despite being fixed, it is very sharp thanks to a 922k-dot resolution, and bright enough for use on sunny days. Physical controls on the G15 are plentiful, a fact that is sure to please demanding photographers. There’s a Mode dial up top, along with a dedicated dial to adjust EV Compensation, the On/Off button, and shutter release. A control wheel is located on the front of the camera, and there’s a dial that doubles as a four-way controller on the back. There are buttons to adjust ISO, macro focusing, flash options, the autofocus area, and the metering mode—other settings are adjusted via a software overlay menu. Missing are wireless connectivity options—there’s no GPS or Wi-Fi built-in. These extras aren’t standard issue on point-and-shoot cameras, but they are becoming more and more common. Canon’s own PowerShot S110 integrates Wi-Fi, and its new full-frame EOS 6D D-SLR offers both Wi-Fi and GPS.
Performance and Conclusions
In terms of speed, it can’t catch a D-SLR, but the G15 keeps up with others in its class. It starts and shoots in 2.3 seconds, can snap a photo every 0.55 second in continuous drive mode, and notches a relatively short 0.2-second shutter lag. It doesn’t have the same slow autofocus that plagued the large-sensor G1 X, which notches a 0.4-second shutter lag, fires off a photo every 0.6 second, and requires 2.5 seconds to start and shoot.
Imatest confirms that the G15 has a sharp lens—it scores 1,918 lines per picture height, better than the 1,800 lines required for a sharp image. Noise is controlled through ISO 1600, and image detail is excellent at this setting even when shooting JPG images—the G15 also supports Raw capture. Images hit 1.8 percent at ISO 3200, just over the 1.5 percent mark—which is what we use to define an image with acceptable noise. Detail isn’t as good at this setting as it is at ISO 1600, but it is useable when lighting conditions call for it. The Sony RX100 does better at higher ISO settings—it keeps noise under control through ISO 6400.
The G15 records QuickTime video in 1080p24, 720p30, or 480p30 quality. The quality is excellent, with sharp detail and accurate colors. Like in other recent Canon cameras, 1080p video is limited to 24 frames per second, which is disappointing. Some point-and-shoots, like the Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS capture ultra-smooth 1080p60 video. The 24fps look is sometimes desirable, especially when trying to achieve a cinematic look, but the option to roll 1080p30 footage would have been nice. In addition to the standard hot shoe, there are mini HDMI, mini USB, and wired remote control ports. The G15 supports all standard SD, SHDC, and SDXC memory cards.
The G15 is a very good, but not great, compact camera. Its image quality and physical control layout are excellent—there’s nothing bad to say about either. But its other strengths have caveats. There’s an optical viewfinder, but it’s not nearly as good as the one packed into the Fujifilm X10. Its rear LCD is extremely sharp, but it doesn’t rotate like that of the Canon G1 X. The lens has a fast aperture throughout, though the camera doesn’t perform as well at higher ISO settings as our Editors’ Choice Sony RX100. But that large-sensor compact is priced higher at $650. If you are looking for a digital compact with an optical viewfinder, your choices are limited. Overall, I prefer the experience of shooting with the Fujifilm X10, but Canon D-SLR owners or owners of previous-generation G cameras will want to consider the G15 for its familiarity and compatibility with Speedlite flashes and other Canon accessories.