I have always loved small enthusiast cameras like the iconic Rollei 35S and the innovative Contax T2. Before the advent of affordable digital SLRs, little enthusiast point and shoot (P&S) digital cameras were the driving force behind the exponential expansion of the digital imaging revolution. Canon's "G" models have always been aimed squarely at demanding photographers who want a responsive and relatively compact, general-use P&S digital camera with SLR-like performance and dependably excellent image quality. Canon's G series digital cameras are also well known for the loyalty of their users. The new Canon Powershot G16 won't sully that enviable reputation.
Build and Design
The new G16 is Canon's newest flagship point & shoot digicam taking almost all of its features from the Canon G15. At first glance the G16 is identical to its predecessor, but under the hood, there have been a few changes. First, a new 12.1 megapixel (backside illuminated) 1/1.7" CMOS sensor has had a minor upgrade. Next up in the brief chain of differences, is a new DIGIC VI processor. The final difference between the G15 and the G16 is the addition of built-in Wi-Fi capability--which is fast becoming a near ubiquitous camera feature.
When Canon introduced the G series in 2000 it was seen by its designers as the natural digital backup for Canon's pro DSLR and film SLR shooters and it is must be rather comforting to users that the external design of this series has changed very little since the introduction of the G1.
The G16 is a robustly built compact P&S digital camera. It features a rather retro looking rectangular body with slightly rounded corners. This camera is a bit larger and a little heavier than the average compact P&S digicam measuring 4.2"x 3.0"x1.58" and weighing about 12.5 ounces. The G16 fits nicely in a jacket pocket or s small purse, but it isn't likely you'll be able to get it into the back pocket of your Levi's.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Canon G16 could easily be the poster child for well-designed P&S cameras. Ergonomically, this camera was obviously designed by photographers, for photographers. The G16 features a shallow hand grip matched with a back deck thumb-grip for stable and non-fatiguing handling. This camera fits naturally and comfortably into your hands and all controls are logically placed and easily accessed by right-handed shooters.
As a veteran photographer, I know that a well thought out control array makes the shooters job easier. All of the G16's important controls are traditional buttons, switches, knobs, and dials. This allows users to instantly access what they wish to adjust, change, or modify rather than having to search for those options in the menu. A prime example is the top deck exposure compensation dial. With most P&S digital cameras the exposure compensation function is lost in the menu somewhere and after you find and enable this function--you still have to dial in the precise amount of compensation that you need. This method is time consuming and inefficient and could easily cause you to miss an important shot.
The G16 places the exposure compensation dial so that users can directly (and instantly) dial in whatever compensation they feel the image needs by simply shifting their right thumb to the edge of the perfectly placed dial. What isn't included is just as important as what is. You won't find an articulated LCD screen (the G16's screen is fixed) which is only truly useful for macro work and you won't find any touchscreen controls either--the G16 was designed for traditionalist photographers.
The G16's back deck is dominated by the LCD screen and features the majority of this camera's controls, but there is no sense of clutter. I love the placement of the review button (immediately to the right of the optical viewfinder eyepiece) since most P&S digital cameras place this often used control too close to the delete button. This well thought out placement allows photographers to immediately access the image they've just captured without risking accidentally deleting the image or mistakenly changing any exposure parameters. Here's another example of Canon's dedication to photographers--the * button (just above and to the right of the compass switch) permits users to directly access and adjust the aperture and shutter speed--making minor exposure adjustments quick and easy.
Menus and Modes
The G16 features Canon's classic menu system. Some manufacturers use a variety of menu systems, depending on the type of camera and the targeted audience. Canon developed a distinctive (and very logical) menu system early in the game and they use this same basic menu system on all their cameras--varying only the complexity. This design philosophy means that someone graduating from one of Canon's P&S digital cameras to the new "M" camera or a Rebel DSLR is already familiar and comfortable with the menu system. Users select shooting modes via the top deck Mode dial and the one touch (stop/start) movie button. Shooting modes include Auto, Program, Scene, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, and manual exposure modes, plus two custom modes, two mode dial scene modes, and the HD movie mode.
The Canon PowerShot G16 features a 3.0 inch TFT LCD monitor with 922,000 pixel resolution. The G16's LCD screen is bright, sharp, and hue accurate - what you see on the LCD screen when you compose your image is what you record when you push the shutter button. Some folks will complain that the G16's LCD screen doesn't tilt or swivel, but I rarely use articulated screens when this feature is present, so I wasn't upset that the G16's screen is fixed. Canon's LCD anti-glare/anti-reflection coating is first rate making this camera easily usable even in bright outdoor lighting--although glare can still be a problem in some outdoor environments.
The G16 does provide an optical viewfinder. Optical viewfinders on point and shoot cameras are becoming a real rarity and the one on the G16 makes the reason for obliteration glaringly obvious. The real-image zooming unit that graces the G16 is small and rather dim, but it is available if needed and users may find it useful in bright outdoor lighting when the sun falls directly;on the LCD viewfinder and they don't have an extra hand for shielding the screen. The viewfinder in the G16 is the same one that is found on the G15.
This where the rubber meets the road and the G16 rises to the challenge nicely. Basically, I judge cameras on one simple criterion--does the camera do exactly what I want it to do or does it get in my way? The Canon G16 does exactly what you tell it to do and it does it with efficiency and alacrity.
Canon claims the G16's autofocus is almost 50% faster than the G15's AF. I haven't used the G15, so I can't address that claim. However, I found the G16 to be remarkably fast to find and lock focus on my subjects - as fast (or faster) than any P&S digicam that I have ever used. From turning the camera on to first capture is about 2 seconds. The new DIGIC VI processor is responsible for the G16's quickness.
Here's what I mean: the G15 (with the DIGIC V processor) could capture about 2 fps while the new DIGIC VI equipped G16 can capture up to 9.3 fps (JPEG, without continuous AF) and there's no buffer--which means users can, theoretically, keep shooting until their memory card is filled or the battery bites the dust. It also means users will never have to wait for the buffer to clear before they can shoot again. There is no discernible shutter lag in good lighting and exposure is essentially real time. Even in dim light (where the G16 may occasionally hunt for focus) it requires no more than 1.0 to 1.5 seconds to lock focus on and capture your subject.
It appears that all new premium digital cameras must feature Wi-Fi connectivity and the G16 is the first G model to provide this "hot button" feature. Although it's not the most comprehensive Wi-Fi configuration available, the G16 allows users to either connect to their smartphone or tablet via a free app or to their desktop or laptop via a home Wi-Fi network. Personally, I am much more impressed with the new sensor and new processor than I am with the addition of Wi-Fi. I can wait until I get home to download and share my images.
The Canon G16 accepts SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory media and supports both RAW and JPEG formats--so those who like to engage in post exposure image manipulation will be happy. Images can be recorded in 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 4:5, and 1:1 formats, which is pretty neat--especially if you like displaying your favorite images as traditional 8x10 or 11x14 enlargements.
The G16's built-in flash works about as well as any on-board flash is likely to work. It is too close to the lens axis to provide red-eye free supplemental lighting--especially for close portraits, but it can be useful for fill lighting and balancing ambient lighting. What's much more useful is the inclusion of a dedicated hot shoe--which means that Canon external speedlights can used (with all/most features) for supplemental lighting chores.
The Canon G16 features an f1.8-f2.8/6.1mm to 30.5mm (28mm-140mm equivalent) 5x optical zoom lens. This is a very useful focal length range since about 75% of all photos are shot in the moderate wide-angle to short telephoto focal length range and this is the optimal range for street shooters who tend to work fairly close to their subjects. The f1.8 maximum aperture gives the G16 a real advantage over the standard f2.8-f3.5 maximum apertures of the vast majority of P&S digital cameras. The f2.8 minimum aperture is also substantially faster than the f5.6-f5.9 minimum apertures of the vast majority of P&S digital cameras. In addition to the useful focal length range and impressive speed of the G16's 5x zoom--this optic is first rate across the board optically - sharp, bright, and hue accurate.
Video clips produced by the G16 are easily equivalent to video clips produced by consumer level video cameras. Simply think out your video, compose your opening shot and push the red stop/start video button--your video will begin immediately after you push the button, with no lag, and end immediately after you push the button again. Video is recorded at 1920 x 1080i @ 30fps (and other resolutions and frame rates) with stereo audio.
The G16's image files are (like all Canon P&S digital cameras) optimized for bold bright colors and hard-edged but slightly flat contrast. Viewed on my monitor, G16 images look a lot like the Ektachrome slides I shot during an earlier photographic era. Overall, reds are a bit warm, blues are a little brighter than they are in real life, and greens/yellows are impressively vibrant. The G16's images are highly-detailed and surprisingly sharp, although I did have some minor problems (the AF system couldn't seem to lock focus a couple of times) in macro mode and a very small percentage of my close-up shots came out blurry. In bright outdoor lighting, highlight detail was only rarely blown-out, which indicates some very impressive exposure engineering. Shadow detail capture is equally impressive--the best I have seen to date with a P&S digital camera. Image quality is simply amazing for a P&S digicam. It is essentially equivalent to the images produced by the kit lenses of most of the entry-level DSLRs currently available--maybe even better due to the fantastic aperture range.
The G16's ISO range covers ISO 80 to ISO 12800 and obviously the lower the ISO number the better the image quality. The G16 not only produces excellent images in the ISO 80 to ISO 200 range--like most of its competition, it also produces usable images in the ISO 400 to ISO 800 range. In fact the G16's ISO 400 images are almost as good as the ISO 100 images I recorded a dozen years ago with the G2. How is that for a dozen years of technological advances? The G16 is a perfect choice for natural/available light fans and one of the best available choices for low light shooters. The camera features a comprehensive selection of White Balance options including Auto White Balance. The G16's AWB mode is one of the best I have seen. It is consistently and dependably accurate in all but the most extreme lighting scenarios.
For me, the most important considerations when assessing a camera's performance are image quality and the camera's ability to meet the user's needs. The G16 can be viewed as the culmination of a continuously refined single idea--to create a compact, self-contained, precision-engineered camera that functions like a P&S, but also provides lots of user control.
Here's some almost overwhelming evidence to support that contention: the sturdy tried and true body design, the new (backside illuminated CMOS) sensor paired with the 6th generation of the legendary DIGIC processor, and the fast consumer proven 5X zoom from the G15.
Over the past dozen years I have watched the introduction of affordable entry-level DSLRs, Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Compacts, and ultra-zoom P&S digital cameras lead digital camera industry insiders to repeatedly predict the imminent demise of little enthusiast digital cameras like the G16. It hasn't happened and the marketplace is currently inundated with little enthusiast P&S digital cameras like the Samsung EX2F, the Fuji X20, the Sony RX100, and the Nikon P7700. The G16 has a few minor warts, but achieves a promising balance between image quality, capability, and functionality for the price.