Thursday, August 22, 2013

Launch Review: Canon PowerShot G16 First Impressions

It can't be new and exciting all of the time. Sometimes it can only be somewhat new, which is what the Canon PowerShot G16 is in terms of an update over the G15. Same essentially applies to the S120. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Or to malign a phrase: "It's new to you if you didn't have it before."

What's New

  • Digic 6 processor
  • Wi-Fi
  • Faster AF
  • 60 fps 1080p video
  • 9.3 fps burst mode, first 6 shots in burst are at 12.2fps
  • New shooting modes

So what's different? Not much, except for that one spec which should have caught you eye...

Little Things

It's hard to tell from the pictures, but the sides of the camera look slightly more rounded than before. The control layout remains the same except that the shortcut/direct-print button was moved from the left of the camera to over on the thumb rest. Also, no more mention of the S button being a direct-to-print button anymore. It appears that they moved this button to accommodate the addition of the Wi-Fi hardware.

Continuing with the on-again off-again relationship the G-series has with articulating LCD screens, the G16 does not have one. For some reason this always seems to irk G-series aficionados, though it is a bit of a conspicuous missing feature considering how many small enthusiast cameras have been launched in the past year with movable display screens.

60fps video is in keeping with the capabilities of most flat panel TV's sold today. It's excessive for the type of video that these cameras will likely be used for, but not unexpected considering that the TV industry is pushing the specs of consumer video at a time when TV sales are slowing down (everybody has a big screen LCD now).

The press release claims that high ISO sensitivity is improved. You can read that to mean that the noise reduction is either better or more aggressive. When sensors improve from generation to generation, the gains in image quality come at all ISO ranges, not just the high range. However, since this isn't a brand new sensor chip, we're not seeing anything truly meaningful in terms of image quality improvements. On the other hand, the Canon (and Nikon P7700) were/are pretty much state of the art of what 1/1.7" sensors can do.

What's Not New

The sensor and that the lens remain unchanged. For the most part, this is a good thing. Anything more than 12mp on a 1/1.7" sensor is moving up into diminishing returns at best, and the lens at f1.8 - f2.8, 28-140mm equivalent was already excellent. In comparison, the rival Nikon P7700 has a lens of f2-f4, 28-200mm is slower by 1/3 of a stop through most of the zoom range, but with extra length at the long end.

A few thoughts. The Sony DSC-RX100 redefined the compact camera landscape by going to the 1" sensor size. Some my feel let down by the fact that G still uses a "small" sensor (though not the smallest sized used in the mainstream compact market), but you can't change sensor size without redefining the lens characteristics. If you want to go up in sensor size but keep the same sized camera body, the lens will either have to lose zoom range or brightness; usually both. In fact, such a product exists, the PowerShot G1X. It has sensor that's just a bit bigger and m4/3 in a body that's roughly in the ballpark of the G15 size but larger and heftier, but the lens can only go to f2.8-f5.8 28-112mm equivalent.

(However, it's important to keep in mind that the trade off between sensor size and lens size isn't so clear cut. Even though the G15 lens is 1.3 stops brighter at the same focal lengths, the G1 X sensor is roughly six times larger, meaning that it has a 2.5 stop advantage in per frame image noise quality)

Image Quality

If you want to see some official sample shots, follow this link to the Canon-Europe site. Or click here:

These are ostensibly gorgeous sample shots, but bear in mind that they are very well crafted and either shot in controlled lighting environments, or the photographer picked the lighting situation carefully. My overall impression of the G16 image quality is that nothing much has changed. The output still looks consumer friendly, sharp and with punchy colours.

What Matters

The G15 was only capable of maybe 2.2 fps. Going from that to a sustained 9.3fps means that the Digic 6 processor is a substantial improvement in processing bandwidth over the the Digic 5 implementation of the G15.  Or put another way, the old G just plain sucked when it came to operation speed. This was the malaise of the G-series cameras since the G9, the first "G" in the black metal body form that we know today. Quite frankly, it was an obvious point of underachievement in an otherwise excellent series of cameras. Thankfully, AF speed has improved (albeit slowly) throughout the years; most considered the G15 to be an improvement in AF speed over the G12. Once again Canon is claiming an improvement, and if that is so, then the new G should satisfy almost all but the most hardened users.

 Available October 2013, MSRP of $549.99 USD. That's been more or less the introductory G-series price since the G9, meaning that the cameras have actually gone down in price if you account for inflation. If you are so inclined, you could probably find one of the remaining G1 X cameras for the same price. However, the G15 sold in much greater volume, and the G16 will likely continue to do the same. There will be a lot of comparisons to the Sony RX100, but that camera is in another league and costs $100 USD more. The newer RX100ii lists for $250 more, so if you are cross shopping these cameras, you are looknig at two very different beasts. Also, it goes without saying that if you have a G15, the G16 isn't a worthwhile upgrade.

However, if you don't have a enthusiast-compact, my recommendation is that if you are into cameras and have a DSLR system, it's worth it to have a camera like this (I still keep a Panasonic LX5). It's a good compromise between budget and quality, and it's just fun knowing that you can have a serious camera with you wherever you go.

Probably Good For:

  • Somebody who wants a small all-in-one camera with some serious features, but not an interchangeable lens camera
  • Anyone who wants the above but doesn't want to pay for RX100 prices
  • A second and/or vacation camera for a DSLR user who wants something capable but not too expensive if it gets lost or broken.
  • Introducing somebody to the love of serious photography without paying for a serious camera rig. A camera like this would be a terrific way to encourage a youth to follow this road.

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