Canon PowerShot G16 review

The Canon PowerShot G16 offers an impressive control layout and Wi-Fi, but its underwhelming optical viewfinder disappoints.
Photo of Canon PowerShot G16

On the surface the Canon PowerShot G16 ($549.99 direct) appears to be a near doppleganger of its predecessor, the G15. Aside from a few minor differences in button functions and the model badge the two cameras are identical in shape and function. But underneath the hood is a new image processor that enhances video quality and improves burst shooting speed, and Wi-Fi has been added as well. Despite these improvements, the 12-megapixel G16 can’t oust Sony’s top-end Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II, which manages to squeeze a much larger image sensor into a smaller body, from its place as our Editors’ Choice. That camera manages to squeeze a much larger image sensor into a smaller body. But the RX100 II is quite expensive, and while the G16 will never be considered a budget option, it’s a solid choice if you value a longer zoom lens and more traditional controls.

Design and Features
The G16 maintains the chunky design of its predecessor. It measures 3 by 4.3 by 1.6 inches and weighs in at 12.6 ounces. It’s a little taller and a little thicker than other models in its class, even those with a hot shoe like the Samsung EX2F (2.4 by 4.4 by 1.1 inches, 10.4 ounces). But that’s because the G16 includes a built-in optical viewfinder and a top-mounted exposure compensation dial.

There are only a couple other premium compacts that retain an optical viewfinder. Canon’s own G1 X is one of them, and the Fujifilm X20 is the other. Unfortunately, the viewfinder on the G16 continues to be a disappointment. It delivers a tunnel vision type feel and very rough framing; at close distances, parallax makes it downright useless. The X20 is a dream to use in comparison; that viewfinder is large and bright, and displays basic shooting settings. Like the G16 it doesn’t provide through-the-lens viewing, but it does switch to Live View when you focus on an object at macro distances.

Although I haven’t had the chance to review them yet, both Panasonic and Nikon have recently released cameras of this class with built-in electronic viewfinders. The Panasonic LF1 and Nikon P7800. I had some hands-on time with the P7800 prior to its announcement and found its EVF to be quite sharp, and certainly adequate for a compact camera. A design of that type would be preferable to the substandard optical finder that Canon has continued to use in its G-series. If you want an eye-level finder in a compact camera it’s hard to beat the excellent optical finder in the Fujifilm X20, but an EVF is a good alternative if you prefer through-the-lens viewing. Other cameras of this type, including the Olympus XZ-2, Panasonic LX7, and Sony RX100 II support hot-shoe-mounted external EVFs via an accessory port.

The 12-megapixel image sensor is a 1/1.7-inch design, which is par for the course for high-end compacts. There are a few notable exceptions; the Sony RX100 and RX100 II use 1-inch designs, which are about 2.7 times the size of the G16′s sensor in terms of surface area, and the Fuji X20 and XF1 rock 2/3-inch designs, which only offer a 33 percent size advantage over the 1/1.7-inch class. Those cameras with bigger imagers may make the 1/1.7-inch design sound diminutive, but remember that the G16 and others with the same sensor size boast 50 percent more surface area than standard compact cameras like the Canon PowerShot Elph 330 HS, most of which utilize sensors of the 1/2.3-inch class.

A sesnsor of this size allows for a lens with a fairly robust zoom and wide aperture in a body the size of the G16. It uses a 28-140mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.8-2.8 lens, which covers a wide-angle to telephoto range. The Sony RX100 and RX100 II aren’t as ambitious with the zoom (28-100mm for both) and, while the aperture is a wide f/1.8 at 28mm, it narrows to f/4.9 when zoomed all the way in. That camera has a big advantage in low-light performance and shallow depth of field at its widest angle, but both diminish when zoomed.

To keep demanding shooters happy, Canon has loaded the G16 with physical controls. There’s a front control wheel, and on the top you’ll find a mode dial and exposure compensation dial. Rear controls include physical buttons to control ISO, start movie recording, engage exposure lock, activate macro focusing, adjust the flash output, move the active autofocus point, and to toggle between manual and autofocus operation.  The EV compensation dial is a boon here; the only other cameras in this class that have it are the Pentax MX-1, Fujifilm X20, and the Nikon P7800.

The rear 3-inch display is a fixed design and packs a 922k-dot resolution. It’s quite sharp, with the only real knock being that it doesn’t tilt like the display on the RX100 II or Nikon P7800. There’s an overlay menu available when shooting; it covers a small strip on the left and bottom of the display. It’s quite responsive, and provides quick access to shooting controls that don’t have physical buttons like the drive mode, metering pattern, file format, and white balance.

Like most of Canon’s recent releases, Wi-Fi is built in. The implementation is similar to previous models, with the same improvements that I saw with the PowerShot S120. Gone is the requirement to plug the camera into your computer via USB to set up online services; you’ll still need a computer to set up a Canon Image Gateway account, but it’s possible to tie the G16 to that account over Wi-Fi. Once that’s done you can post directly from the G16 to Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter.

Transferring photos and videos to your smartphone is more straightforward; the free Canon CameraWindow app for iOS or Android makes direct transfer possible, either by connecting your phone to an SSID broadcast by the G16 or by connecting both devices to the same Wi-Fi network. You’ll also be able to print wirelessly to compatible Wi-Fi printers, send images directly to another Canon camera, and transfer images directly to your computer. Canon’s Wi-Fi is one of the better implementations that I’ve seen, but it can’t match Samsung; the EX2F allows you to set up online accounts from within the camera itself, and also supports remote control via your phone or tablet.

Performance and Conclusions
The G16 starts and takes an in-focus image in just under 1.8 seconds, records a minimal 0.1-second shutter lag, and can capture JPG photos continuously at 10 frames per second. Shooting in Raw slows that figure to 1.9fps, and Raw+JPG is limited to 1.6fps. There’s no limit to how many shots you can capture at any of those rates, assuming that you’re using a fast memory card; I was able to hold down the shutter as long as I pleased with a SanDisk 95MBps card with no noticeable slowdown. The Fujifilm X20 is a little bit faster to start and shoot at 1.3 seconds, and matches the 0.1-second shutter lag, but it can’t compete in terms of burst capture. It does manage 9fps, but is limited to 8 Raw or Raw+JPG shots or 11 JPGs at that rate.

I used Imatest to measure the sharpness of the G16′s lens at its widest angle, midpoint, and telephoto extreme. A photo is considered acceptably sharp if it manages to record 1,800 lines per picture height using a center-weighted analysis of our SFRPlus test chart. The G16 betters this throughout its zoom range, scoring 1,972 lines at 28mm, 2,080 lines at 60mm, and 2,060 lines at 140mm. Edge performance is par for the course; edges are a little soft (1,509 lines) at the widest angle, but better at 60mm (1,645 lines) and 140mm (1,786 lines). Stopping the lens down doesn’t drastically change performance through f/4, but if you close it down to f/5.6 or f/8 (the minimum aperture) you’ll notice a loss of image detail due to diffraction. Distortion isn’t an issue; at its widest the G16 shows 1 percent barrel distortion, a figure that’s just barely noticeable in field conditions, and that distortion decreases as you zoom.

The Fujifilm X20′s 28-112mm lens fared a bit better in terms of sharpness. It scored 2,297 lines at 28mm, 2,558 lines at 50mm, and 2,312 lines at 112mm. Edge performance is better as well; 1,746 lines at 28mm, 1,783 lines at 50mm, and 1,855 lines at 112mm. Distortion is just a bit tad more noticeable, with 1.2 percent barrel distortion evident at 28mm, but it’s not an issue when the lens is zoomed in.

Imatest also checks photos for noise, which erases detail and adds unwanted grain when shooting in low light. The G16 keeps JPG noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 800; that’s not the best result I’ve seen, but close examination of images on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display shows that the camera takes a minimal approach to noise reduction: Essentially it sacrifices a good test store in order to eke a bit more detail out of its JPG output. Images at ISO 800 are quite sharp and detailed, but you can start to see noise reduction smudge away some fine lines at ISO 1600. It increases at ISO 3200, and by ISO 6400 the smudging is overwhelming. Shooting in Raw allows you to preserve detail; grain is more evident, but it can be adjusted on a shot-by-shot basis in the Raw converter of your choice. The Sony RX100 II is still the king of high ISO performance in this class; its 1-inch backside illuminated image sensor keeps noise under control through ISO 12800, though I recommend keeping the camera set to ISO 3200 for best results.

The G16 records video at up to 1080p60 quality in MP4 format. The footage is crisp and sharp, with accurate colors. The camera is quick to refocus as the scene changes, and the sound of the lens zooming in and out is just barely audible in the background of the soundtrack.  There’s no mic input, but the camera does have a standard hot shoe, a remote control port, a mini USB port, and a mini HDMI port. An external battery charger is included, and standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.

The Canon PowerShot G16 is a very good camera, and in many ways it’s an improvement over the G15. I was impressed by its wide-aperture lens, built-in Wi-Fi, 10fps burst shooting, and 1080p60 video. But I’m giving it a slightly lower rating than its predecessor, because in the year since the G15′s release the competition has gotten a bit stiffer in the enthusiast compact category. The G16′s viewfinder is behind the times; the Fujifilm X20′s optical finder leaves it in the dust in terms of usefulness, and the Nikon P7800 manages to squeeze a sharp EVF into a form factor that’s quite similar to the G16. If you don’t need a built-in viewfinder, and you can stretch your budget, the Sony RX100 and RX100 II, both of which earned Editors’ Choice accolades, are worthwhile alternatives. They don’t manage to keep a wide aperture when zoomed, but do outperform the Canon in terms of image quality at high ISOs, and capture more detail thanks to larger, higher-resolution image sensors. If you’re at the other end of the spectrum and are looking for a good deal, the Samsung EX2F impressed us at its full price, and is now selling at a steep discount.

Specifications
Dimensions 3 x 4.3 x 1.6 inches
Interface Ports mini USB, mini HDMI, Remote
Sensor Type CMOS
Megapixels 12 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.1 seconds
LCD dots 922000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 12800
Type Compact
GPS No
Optical Zoom 5 x
Boot time 1.8 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 28 mm
Weight 12.6 oz
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Lines Per Picture Height 1972
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization Optical
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 140 mm
Shutter Lag 0.1 seconds
Sensor Size 1/1.7" (7.6 x 5.7mm) mm
Viewfinder Type Optical

Verdict
The Canon PowerShot G16 offers an impressive control layout and Wi-Fi, but its underwhelming optical viewfinder disappoints.
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