Hands-On Review: The Canon PowerShot G16


The acclaimed Canon PowerShot G-series of compact point-and-shoot cameras is based on a simple, brilliant concept: to provide serious enthusiasts and demanding pros with an attractive, robust, walk-around camera that delivers performance they can be proud of. The original G1, announced in 2000, set the stage with such class-leading features as a fast zoom lens, RAW capture capability, a zoom optical finder to complement the LCD, and impressive image quality. The Canon PowerShot G16, which debuted in 2013, continues that tradition in a slimmer, lighter form factor and with a full complement of contemporary tech and features. While it’s no longer the latest or most advanced member of the G-series, it is capable of outstanding performance and it may be the best choice for many photographers.

Attractively styled and ergonomically contoured with a built-in mini-grip and thumb rest, the G16 remains noticeably smaller and thinner than previous  G models, and it will slide easily into the front pocket of your jeans. However, it’s solidly constructed and substantial, weighing a tad less than 12.6 ounces, so it’s probably more comfortable to carry on a neck strap. The main controls are conveniently clustered on top, near the shutter release, which has a concentric zoom tab ring—there’s the mode dial and a large, legible +/-3-stop exposure compensation dial that has detents at 1/3-stop intervals, and makes instant exposure corrections a breeze.

Signature Feature

On the back, to the right of the 3.0" 922k-dot LCD, is the usual four-way toggle switch surrounded by a rotary control dial and dedicated buttons for ISO, Menu, AF frame selection, and AE/FE lock or filtering display. Up near the top there’s a red Movie button that lets you Start/Stop video capture at any time in any mode, and an S (shortcut) button for instantly accessing saved settings. Directly above the non-tilting LCD is the G16’s signature feature, an optical zoom viewfinder that has a handy diopter adjustment. It provides a commendably clear viewing image, but with no parallax-compensation marks. It’s great for viewing in brilliant sunshine when LCDs are hard to see, and also for following action, which is a lot easier to do at eye level, but it’s not so great when it comes to composing pictures precisely at close distances. The G16 may well be the last of the breed to incorporate this classic rangefinder feature, so if you like it, bear that in mind.

The G16 incorporates a 12.1MP 1/1.7-inch CMOS image sensor coupled to an advanced DIGIC 6 image processor that work together to form what Canon calls the HS System. Its benefits include reduced noise, allowing a top sensitivity setting of ISO 12800, a maximum full-res burst rate of up to 12.2 fps for 6 shots and 9.3 fps for more than 500 shots (with AF on the first frame only) and Full HD 1080p video capture at a smooth 60 fps. Burst rates are considerably slower (about 5-6 fps) in AF Continuous mode, but still fast enough to capture all but the most extreme action.

Using a relatively small sensor enabled Canon to keep the camera commendably compact while providing a wide-aperture, 5x, 28-140mm-equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens that facilitates creative use of depth of field and bokeh. Limiting the resolution to 12.1MP decreases pixel density, enhancing the camera’s performance at high ISOs, and this is evident in examining both RAW and JPEG images. Based on analyzing my field-test results, images shot at ISO 80-200 exhibited outstanding overall quality, color saturation and accuracy, virtually no noise, and results at ISO 400 and ISO 800 were almost as impressive, showing excellent definition and very low noise levels. The G16 can deliver quite decent image quality up to about ISO 1600 and even at ISO 3200 if you’re not a pixel-peeper, but ISO 6400, and especially ISO 12800, should be used only when the alternative is getting no picture at all.

At least part of this commendable level of imaging performance is attributable to the excellence of the high-speed zoom lens, which delivered crisp flare-free images throughout, at all focal lengths, even at maximum aperture, in all but the most severely backlit lighting situations. Obviously its speed also provides a distinct advantage when shooting in low light, enabling users to shoot wide open in Av mode and select a lower ISO at any given light level. The camera’s real-world optical ability is further enhanced by the inclusion of Intelligent IS image stabilization that automatically selects one of 6 stabilization modes (e.g. Normal, Panning, Macro, and Dynamic which is optimized for shooting video and action) depending on the shooting conditions, to minimize the effects of camera shake. I found that this system worked extremely well overall, and it’s essential when shooting at telephoto settings using shutter speeds of 1/125-second and slower. To turn it off when shooting on a tripod, simply select Tripod mode.

What’s in Focus?

Although the G16 employs a contrast-based AF system that does not include phase-detect (PDAF) or hybrid AF capability, it attains focus quite swiftly and accurately in most shooting situations, due in part to its advanced image processor. The only times the lack of PDAF is noticeable is when shooting extreme action, high-speed bursts, or video where the slight time lag can result in “hunting” at the beginning of the clip, or an occasional out-of-focus frame. One very nice feature is the dual-action shutter button that shows a magnified area of what’s in focus in the AF frame, allowing you to assess and adjust focusing very precisely on the fly, and also to lock focus and recompose. To keep the camera as compact and light as possible, the LCD monitor is not articulated, but it does present a crisp, high-res image that helps considerably when composing or evaluating images.

Like most current digital compacts, the G16 lets you shoot movies at any time. A red Record symbol immediately appears, along with the number of elapsed seconds and, to stop recording, you simply press the movie button again. Basic movies are captured in programmed auto mode with continuous AF, and the only control that remains operational is the zoom control, which zooms more slowly than in still mode to create a smooth and steady zooming effect. In general, this automated system works extremely well, even in low light, but it does not allow exposure control or other adjustments. Select Movie Mode (movie camera icon), and you can adjust the video frame rate and resolution, but not exposure settings. The Hybrid Auto mode can be used to capture a short two- to four-second video clip before capturing a still image, and these clips can be combined to create a video digest of your day. Special Scene Mode (SCN) and Creative Filters Mode (crossed filters icon) let you choose from a wide variety of specific scenes and filter effects—I especially liked Background Defocus, which is great for shooting portraits and close-ups.

Wireless Connectivity and GPS

As befits a contemporary camera aimed at sophisticated shooters, the G16 provides a full range of wireless connectivity options for sharing, sending, and storing images with a variety of smart devices. The Wi-Fi setup also lets you connect to wireless hotspots, send images to another Wi-Fi-enabled camera or a printer, or to the cloud, social networking sites, and other web services via Canon Image Gateway. The free Canon CameraWindow app for iOS and Android devices allows efficient transferring of images and lets you add GPS tagging to images via your smartphone. Setting up the system and establishing the connections takes a while and may not always work the first time, but the process is straightforward and the results are gratifying.

There are many other worthwhile features built into the G16 for serious shooters and emerging enthusiasts. To name a few: it has built-in HDR that automatically merges multiple images into a single image with an extended tonal range, provides a hot shoe on top that works with Canon’s E-TTL II flash metering system, a Dual Axis Electronic Level that can be displayed on the LCD or in the optical finder, and Face Detection with face I.D. registration of specific faces. It also has a reasonably powerful built-in pop-up flash, and a front dial for easy access of frequently used functions, including aperture, shutter speed, step zoom, white balance, i-Contrast, and aspect ratio.

The slim, elegant PowerShot G16 is a heck of a lot of camera for the money. It’s a superb choice for travelers, street photographers and all-around picture taking. And, like all members of the G-series, it can definitely capture images that make serious shooters smile.

1 Comment

I had a hard time parting with my Canon G11 as it had been a pleasure to use and made some very pleasing images. On my first trip to Mt. Rainier Washington the only camera I took was the G11 and along with a Benro Travel Angel tripod and a shutter release the trio performed fantastic. The built in neutral density filter helped capture smooth flowing water and I used the Travel Angel to position the camera on the dash to shoot a nice video traveling the curves of the mountain roads. Later I moved up to a Canon 6D and a 24mm tilt shift lens and on my next trip back to Washington I will bring both the 6D and my new Canon G16 which means I can expect even better performance. As you mentioned this may be the last G series to have a optical viewfinder which can come in handy shooting in bright sun where you can't really rely on the display screen. Also this may be the last to NOT feature a touch screen. The touch focus while shooting video on the new G9 is nice but I prefer the look and feel of a conventional camera. The G16 also takes very smooth handheld video by using intelligent optical stabilization. Overall the features of this camera are amazing, RAW capture, Manual Exposure, Star mode, live Histogram display along with improved focus and imaging processing speed made possible by the DIGIC 6 chip. The best part is the menus use the same layout and structure as most Canon cameras making it easy to find functions even if you haven't used it for a while. I love that! A great great walk around, video blogging or backup camera for a quick shot of a fox that wanders by when your main camera is setup on the tripod waiting for the sun to peek out from behind the mountains. Happy shooting.