Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $449 | Compare prices at 1 resellers
Pros: Durable, good handling, well designed features.
Cons: Lens sharpness, image quality.
Best Uses: Adventures, situations with harsh conditions.
The Canon G16, yes, the 16th iteration of the Canon G-series, comes from a powerful family of point-and-shoot cameras. Like the entire series, the G16 packs a punch while maintaining simplicity, value, and is packed with fancy features, many of which we didn't use. Additionally, we loved the portability of the G16, though it's not quite as small as the Sony RX100 II.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The G16, although it doesn't have the sharpest lens, the farthest zoom, the biggest sensor, or any other outstanding features, provides really solid imagery. There's nothing that makes it underperform, but nothing blew us out of the water, either. It's just a solid little piece of equipment that sports good usability and good image quality.
The sensor's ability fell about in the middle of the pack. Images look pretty good without much cropping or zooming in, but at 100 percent they were a bit mushy. Take a look at the G16 compared to the Best In Class X100s for image quality.
For some folks, the difference is negligible, but for extreme pixel peepers, you'll see what we mean. But don't write off the G16 just yet.
Canon equipped the G16 with a 1/1.7" CMOS sensor that provides 12.1 effective pixels. Additionally, the camera is equipped with the Canon "HS" system, which cleverly stands for "high-sensitivity" and helps the camera perform better in low-light situations. This is covered in the Low-Light Performance section below.
The 6.1-30.5mm f/1.8-2.8 (35mm equiv.) provides a good zoom range — while not as long as the super zooms, it is totally ample. We liked how the lens remains fast through the entire zoom, unlike the RX 100, which drops to a slow f/4.9 at the long end of the range. Though it's fast and has a good zoom range, the lens wasn't really that sharp. While shooting in high contrast situations, the lens had significant aberrations that drove image quality down. Additionally, it doesn't help that the auto modes of the camera frequently pick exposure values that were pretty silly. While some of our tests were locked out on manual exposure and metered with a Sekonic L-358 incident meter, some of our tests were designed to see how these auto modes functioned. The G16 frequently opted for exposure values that would decrease image quality, such as short shutter speeds over higher ISOs, or fast shutter speeds over deep apertures in landscape situations.
At first glance, the G16's files are a little lackluster; they're a tad flat and lack contrast and saturation, but it's a quick fix. One trip through some decently arranged menus and you're off to nicely saturated images, good contrast, and everything else that makes photographers smile. These settings are easily changed and don't have much effect on the overall image quality or the appearance of the image by the time it has been processed.
While this isn't a massive issue, it does limit the camera's overall sharpness, which may or may not be significant enough to you to warrant avoiding the G16. We didn't feel as though it deterred from the success of the camera too significantly, but you might want to pick up a RX100 or a X100s instead.
Low Light Performance
Canon is smart enough to know the drawbacks of small-sensor cameras. It's pretty intuitive really — people don't want to buy cameras with low megapixel counts, so camera companies figure out how to add more megapixels. Since small cameras require small sensors, to add pixels you've got to reduce the size of the pixels. This leads to very small light receptors on the sensor, which naturally captures less light. In order to now bring these small receptors up to standard sensitivity, extra electric current is needed to make the sensor sensitive.
Canon set out to solve this problem with the "HS" (high sensitivity) proprietary technology that helps reduce noise in high ISO situations. It did OK, but Canon said it themselves in their online Product Training Center:
"Even entry-level Digital SLRs will produce images with less noise than what is possible with HS System cameras."
Seeing this you may shout, "But we don't want DSLRs! We're going on adventures!" OK, there are cameras within this category that provide similar sized sensors to DSLRs. The X100s and the Ricoh GR offer an APS-C sensor, which is the same size as intro-level DSLR cameras. These will consistently outperform cameras with smaller sensors, with few exceptions, such as the RX100's back-illuminated sensor that helps deal with low-light effectively.
Despite the small sensor of the G16, the camera performed decently in low light. The benefits of the G16's portability, its functionality, and overall performance outweighed its slightly less than par low-light performance.
Ease of Use
Ricoh GR. Canon equipped the top of the body with a flash, hot-shoe, mode dial, zoom, shutter release, and exposure compensation wheel. We liked having the exposure compensation wheel for quick, on-the-go access to exposure compensation, which made us more comfortable with shooting in a priority mode. Exposure compensation on the fly allowed us to nail exposures, rather than be held at the camera's mercy.
A frequently overlooked aspect of camera design is so simple it's amazing that it's often ignored: how does it feel in your hands? Are you going to drop it on pitch two of a ten-pitch day? The G16 definitely felt the best in our hands out of the whole pack. Credit its thin design, well-placed grip, and small size. We could easily toss it in a jacket pocket and not worry about it, although it is marginally larger than the RX100.
Canon snuck in a small dial right by your pointer finger when you pick the camera up. This dial, in conjunction with the main control dial on the back, made us feel at home. Using this camera in Manual was easy and efficient, reminding us of our DSLRs we left at home while testing these cameras. In addition to the intuitive dials, the back of the camera is simple but has everything you need, including a quick record button and a fast main menu feature. One of the things that made the G16 excel past the competition in usability was the menu setup. The "Func. Set" button found in the center of the control dial allows menu-less access to the most important functions of the camera, all while not cluttering the exterior with functions that are secondary to basic operation. In this menu, you'll find features like color settings, picture styles, bracketing, shooting speed, and tons of other features. With a quick scroll down the left side of the LCD, you can access all of your secondary features. Tertiary features, such as Date and Time and Copyright, are found in a more traditional main menu.
Canon kept the classic G-series styling and included a viewfinder on the camera, which we found pretty much worthless. Looking through it is reminiscent of a Super 8 video camera from the 70s. Since the viewfinder really doesn't bring anything to the camera, we'd like to see it left off in the next iteration, unless it's going to be overhauled. We feel confident that any user of this camera will be using the LCD screen instead, so Canon might as well save some weight, manufacturing cost, and our biggest item: size.
Canon beefed up the video performance on the G16 over its predecessor, but we weren't impressed with the lack of manual controls. The 1080 60p footage is nice; even Canon DSLR users are waiting for this. But really, the ability to manually control the situation was a deal breaker. Even our favorite dial, the exposure compensation wheel, has been rendered useless. Hopefully Canon will hear the cry for manual settings for this camera because otherwise the moderately low compression, small size, and 1080 60p footage would be a great little B-roll camera for DSLR operations looking to add some slow-motion into their pieces.
The Canon G16's equipped flash isn't anything to write home about. It's pretty much your typical pop-up flash with a medium range, small light source size, and on-camera harshness. However, Canon put some DSLR style controls over the little pop-up, including manual flash exposure compensation, second curtain flash, and red-eye features. While none of these features are groundbreaking, we were psyched to use the hot shoe. While other cameras such as the X100s have their own proprietary flash system, the Canon off-camera flash system is widely available. Pocketwizard, a popular off-camera flash trigger company, manufacturers Canon dedicated transmitters and receivers that work flawlessly with the G16. This is essentially limitless. If the time and budget allowed, it's totally possible to run full-sized studio lights and show up with a tiny little point and shoot.
Any situation where weight, size, and durability add up, the G16 will be an ample camera. We loved to have this camera along on expeditions and adventures, but when we had the luxury of size, we opted for the image quality of the X100s. That said, the RX100 is still smaller, and has better image quality, but for more money.
While we had our issues with G16, we found it to hit the nail on the head for value. At $449, it's not the cheapest camera we tested, but its blend of features, ample image quality, portability, and durability made the camera a formidable companion for adventures.
The Canon G16 didn't blow us away in image quality or low-light performance, but its overall blend of features, usability, portability, and value made this camera stick out. In addition to the small size, the versatile zoom range, compatibility with off-camera lighting, and clean operation left us happy with the product.
Other Versions and Accessories
15 previous renditions, from G1-G15 over the past 14 years.
— Tommy Penick
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: December 17, 2013
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