Canon G16 Field Test

By Tim Barribeau
Posted: 01/13/2014

6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/1.8, 1/250s, ISO 80

For years, the Canon G-series of digital cameras were the choice for point-and-shoot cameras with professional-level controls. The Canon G16 follows that fine tradition, and brings something that the series has occasionally lacked: speed.

The G16 doesn't offer much that's obviously different from its predecessor, the G15. It has the same resolution, the same lens, and an all but identical body, including the same control layout and hot-shoe. What updates it does have are under the hood: it can now jump on your Wi-Fi network, has a updated sensor, a new DIGIC 6 processor that gives it a much needed speed boost, as well as a number of new firmware features.

The body. Unlike some other high-end compacts on the market, the G-series has never shied away from keeping enough bulk to have plentiful external controls. While they did slim down a touch by removing the articulating LCD a generation or so back, it's still fairly big for a point-and-shoot, and is substantially larger than the likes of the Sony RX100 II, as you can see below.

But what you get from that size is enough space to actually have external controls, rather than just relying on doing everything through menus. That means a mode dial with full PASM, a front control dial, a rear control dial, EV compensation dial, and a dozen or so buttons on the rear of the camera --all without feeling cramped. Add to that enough room for a hot-shoe, optical viewfinder, and a decent sized grip. So while it might not be the slimmest camera around (you're not going to fit it in anything smaller than a coat pocket), it's extremely comfortable to shoot for even extended periods, and very easy to control.

The macro capabilities of the Canon G16 are very impressive, with the ability to autofocus down to 1cm. 6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/1.8, 1/20s, ISO 100

Customization and controls. Customization has always been a strong point of these cameras, and the G16 has options in spades. While you can happily put it into Auto or a scene mode, you'll get the most from it if you are willing to go diving through the menus and options to set it up just how you like.

Beyond just the fact that it has full PASM modes, as well as the capability to shoot RAW, just about every setting, option, and preset has the ability to be tweaked and customized. Some of it is stuff you see pretty regularly, like limiting the ISO range for Auto ISO. Others are more unusual, like being able to reset the two-axes level, if you think it's not keeping your camera perfectly straight.

6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/2.8, 1/640s, ISO 80

But by far, my favorite of the customization options is the fact that you can re-assign the two buttons by the thumb pad on the back of the camera. The shortcut and movie button can both be reconfigured to dynamic range correct, shadow correct, white balance, custom white balance, colors, drive mode, self-timer, AF frame, metering, ND filter, aspect ratio, file type, AF mode, focus peaking, focus lock, digital tele-converter, eco mode, or just to put the display off. Simply pick the ones you'll use the most frequently, and set them up to the rear buttons. You can even go so far as to specify what's displayed on the rear LCD at all times, and the layout of the Function menu. And, once you have everything tweaked to your preference, you can save them to customized shooting modes. Another nice little touch: when in Program Auto, you can set the front dial to zoom between commonly used focal lengths (28, 35, 50, 85, 100, or 140mm equivalents).

How good is the Canon G16's 28-140mm eq. lens?
Click here to see our optical test results.

The LCD itself is very good, with excellent, bright colors and crisp text. The screen is not difficult to see in daylight, although if you get the angle just right you still see noticeable reflections and some glare. The screen also has a wide viewing angle, which makes shooting photos in difficult angles easier even without the added flexibility of a tilting, vari-angle design.

Star Nightscape Mode. 6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/1.8, 6s, ISO 400

The other place you'll see a great number of these controls are the Scene and filter modes. For instance, the "Star" shooting mode can be set for "Star Nightscape", "Star Trails" or "Star Time-Lapse Movie". You can set the Smart Shutter to take a photo when it detects a smile, a few seconds after someone blinks, or after a new face enters frame, and then you can specify how many shots to take. You can even set the HDR, toy camera, fisheye, and analogue film replicating modes to various levels and different types.

Many of these customization options may seem overwhelming, and are often obtuse in their function. For instance, there's a menu item called Safety Shift, which isn't described at all in the camera, but in the manual is explained as "To avoid exposure problems in Tv or Av modes, you can have the camera automatically adjust the shutter speeds or aperture value, even when standard exposure cannot otherwise be obtained". Which is a confusing way of saying it'll automatically adjust to make sure you don't over- or under-expose (I think). Luckily, there's a "hints and tips" option, which does something to explain the settings (or as much as can be done in two lines of text).

It would be nice to see something similar instituted for greyed out menu items. It's not always clear why an option is not allowed to be altered, like how the image review time can't be tweaked if you're in "Continuous Shooting AF" mode, but it's fine if you're in "Continuous Shooting" mode. It's something we saw in the recent Sony RX10, and we'd like to see more of.

Handheld Nightscene Mode. 6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/1.8, 1/4s, ISO 4000

Shooting modes. While the G16 is certainly designed for someone who knows what they're doing with a camera, it also has more than enough modes and special effects, many of which do artful things with combining multiple exposures of the same shot.

The Scene mode setting on the mode dial houses Portrait, Smart Shutter, Star, Handheld Nightscene, Underwater, Snow, and Fireworks modes. I took the Star modes out to shoot at night, but unfortunately was stymied in my attempts by clouds rolling in. But the few images I managed to shoot look pretty impressive, and I managed to get a hint of the capabilities of "Star Trails" mode before the clouds completely blocked the sky.

HDR Mode (set to "Natural" strength). 6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/1.8, 1/60s, ISO 100

The Special Effects mode features 10 different shooting filters, many of which have separate sub-settings. HDR mode isn't just set to various degrees of strength, but rather to Natural, Art Standard, Art Vivid, Art Bold, or Art Embossed, depending on the look you want.

Canon PowerShot G16: Special Effects
HDR (Natural)
Fish Eye
Toy Camera
Soft Focus
Background Defocus

Nostalgic can be set to five different levels of strength, going from slightly washed out, to high-contrast, high-grain black and white. Fisheye can be set to three levels of distortion; Miniature Effect lets you move and change the orientation of the zone of focus; Toy Camera can be set to one of three different color tones; Soft Focus has three different levels of image blurring, from slightly soft to Barbara Walters; Monochrome will take images in cyanotype, sepia, or black and white; Super Vivid pumps up the saturation to mammoth levels; and Poster Effect posterizes the image.

Notice in this crop from the photo above how the Background Defocus mode has trouble with complex shapes; leaving spots of the fine grassy areas in focus and other blurred.

Background Defocus takes two images, and sets a focused subject against a blurred back (it can be set to three levels of strength). As bountiful as these options are, they're of varying degrees of use. Background Defocus, for example, has issues with complex shapes, where it'll leave islands of in focus background if they're surrounded by the main subject, or blur parts of the main subject. And some of the HDR modes are the sort that are well beyond the boundaries of good taste.

Focus peaking. Speaking of focus, a handy new feature offered by the PowerShot G16 is focus peaking during manual focusing, which works in both still and movie modes. With focus peaking enabled, the camera outlines the areas of the image which are in sharp focus, allowing you to fine-tune focus to exactly where you want it. This is particularly useful for macro shots where depth of field can be quite shallow. You can select the color of the outlines from red, blue or yellow, as well as the level (thickness of the lines) from low and high options. The animation on the left shows the blue, high options. There's also a Safety MF mode in which the camera fine-tunes manual focus with a half-press of the shutter button.

Movie modes. The movie modes on the G16 are fun, but less than stellar when it comes to controls -- which are curious given the otherwise extreme level of manual control given by the camera. You can set the video size, white balance, colors, timer, neutral density filter, wind filter, focus mode and image quality -- but ISO, shutter speed and aperture always remain under automatic control, though exposure can be locked and exposure compensation can be adjusted before recording begins.

In addition to offering Full HD (1920x1080) at 60p and 30p, the G16 offers HD (1280x720) and VGA (640x480) modes, both at 30p. Oddly, 720p is not offered at 60fps. The G16 does have a couple of high-speed modes that are fun to play with. You can record video at QVGA (320x240) at 240fps or VGA (640x480) at 120fps. They're interesting, but the video is so low-res that it isn't really usable for anything more than playing around or analyzing golf swings and such.

One area where the G16 does do very well in video is with the image stabilization. If you have even the most vaguely steady of hands, it'll produce an incredibly smooth pan if you move the camera around. Simultaneously, the lens zoom speed has been slowed down while in movie mode, so it's quiet, and gentle.

Optical Zoom Sample Video
1920 x 1080, H.264, Progressive, 60 fps
Download Original (71MB MP4)
Panning Sample Video
1920 x 1080, H.264, Progressive, 60 fps
Download Original (32MB MP4)

Speed demon. By far the thing I found most impressive about the G16 is just how amazingly fast it is. It managed to find focus in even extremely challenging conditions at astonishing speed. Often times, I didn't even have to pause between half-press and full-press of the shutter button, it just latched on to the proper focus, and I took the photo. Even in cases where many other cameras would struggle, like in very dim lighting, it took a slight amount of time longer, but still managed to lock on. With hundreds of photos, I never had it mis-focus once -- even with difficult macro situations.

RAW image, converted in-camera. 6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/4, 1/320s, ISO 80

Not only that, but it's supremely fast to chew through images most of the time. Unlike some other cameras I could mention (Pentax MX-1, I'm looking at you), it processed RAW files very quickly. There was no appreciable delay while shooting RAW in single-shot mode. And while in JPEG mode, it's stupifyingly fast. In continuous mode, it fires off five shots at a blazing 12.5fps, and then slows down to a very fast 9.3fps after that, with no apparent buffer limit. It'll even do AF tracking at almost 6fps.

Just how fast is the Canon G16?
Find out by clicking here to see our performance test results.

Shooting RAW files in burst mode was another story, though. Burst rate fell to a rather sluggish 1.8fps with RAW files, and 1.6fps with RAW+JPEG. Still, that's an improvement over the G15's approximately one frame per second in RAW burst mode.

6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/2.8, 1/400s, ISO 80

Image quality. Image quality is what you'd expect from a high-end point-and-shoot with a 1/1.7-inch type sensor. It's better than most point-and-shoots, but can't really meet the lofty levels of some of Sony and Fujifilm's offerings (or even Canon's with the G1 X). That said, the f/1.8-2.8 lens is fast and sharp, the images are vibrant, and I'd have no trouble using images up to ISO 3200 for web use. We did however notice a slight decline in acuity and fine detail compared to the G15, in both JPEGs and RAW files. Still, image quality was better than average for its class.

View the Canon G16's image quality test results by clicking here.

As is always the problem with point-and-shoots, dynamic range is something of a sticking point, with a slight tendency to clip both highlights and shadows -- which Canon attempts to mitigate with Dynamic Range and Shadow Correction features respectively.

30.5mm (140mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 125

Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi implementation on the G16 is a decidedly mixed bag. When it works, it's fine, but getting to that point is head-scratchingly confusing. Theoretically, the G16 can share images to another camera, a smartphone/tablet, a computer, or the cloud. Unfortunately, neither the manual nor the camera do a good job of explaining how to do it.

For example, to connect to a mobile device, you need to use the Canon CameraWindow app on your smartphone. But the camera doesn't explain that, it just says "Start dedicated app on target device". Once I had that up and running, I managed to transfer files between the two quite readily, but based on reviews on iTunes other people have been less lucky.

Getting it to work with my Mac is likewise black magic. Both on the same network, the camera goes through the stages of connecting, then finds my machine, and then attempts to connect -- all the while, the CameraWindow app says "no camera connected". It took five attempts for the two devices to actually pair, at which point the CameraWindow app could open, and then took an inordinate amount of time to launch -- prompting me to think it had stalled. Unfortunately, it hadn't, so when I interrupted the camera, I lost the connection, and had to start over. Thankfully, I finally got it up and running and could transfer files over. But frankly, it hardly seems worth the trouble. I'm also puzzled by the inclusion of the Camera Setting tool in CameraWindow, which does absolutely nothing.

Editor's Note: We tried the Wi-Fi feature on an iPhone 5S, and the phone had no issue seeing the Wi-Fi network broadcasting from the G16. However, the whole process is not a streamlined as we'd hoped. You have to be in Playback Mode (no remote shooting here), press the AF point selection button that doubles as the Wi-Fi settings/setup button, then choose the smartphone icon to add a new device. Then on the phone, you'll need to go to the appropriate Wi-Fi settings app for your phone's OS and connect to the new Wi-Fi network from the camera. Next, you open the Canon CameraWindow app, and the two will try to communicate with each other, but it will eventually connect. You can then browse and transfer photos and video (but you can't view videos via the app; you'll need to transfer the video to the device first to view it).

Also, the GPS tagging was a bit confusing at first. You can't simply add GPS tags to photos already on the camera with your current GPS location. You must press the Location Log start button, then go shoot some pictures (which, incidentally, forces you to disconnect the camera from the app), then return to the playback mode and undergo the whole device-to-camera app connection process again. Then, once all that's done, you can choose the "add locations to images on camera" option and it will add GPS metadata to all the new photos taken since you enabled the location logging.

6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 125

The downsides. As with everything, the G16 has its downsides. It's on the chunky side, and if you don't know what you're doing, it could easily be overwhelming. While I know that anytime a new camera is announced, there's a cadre of people who claim that it's useless without a viewfinder -- but the OVF on the G16 isn't great. It zooms with the lens, at least, but there's no shooting info. The parallax effect is pretty bad, it has severe chromatic aberrations, and it only has approximately 80% coverage. Plus, those little dots next to the viewfinder? They're not there to automatically turn off the screen when you put your face up to it. Nope, they're status indicators. Still, better than no OVF, especially when you're running low on battery power.

View the Canon G16's viewfinder accuracy test results by clicking here.

The Wi-Fi, as I mentioned earlier, is clunky to set up, though it does a well enough job of transferring files once you get it up and running.

The exposure compensation also seems to handle slightly peculiarly. When you first adjust the dial, it previews the exposure change in the LCD, which makes sense. But once you focus, it then resets the preview back to the default exposure -- even though the actual photo will be over- or under-exposed as chosen. So while your EV dial may be set at -1, the preview on the LCD will be at normal EV, which is bizarre.

While it does have an ND filter (3 stops) for shooting at large apertures in bright light, other cameras like the Pentax MX-1 have an auto setting to have this kick in automatically. We would have liked to see Canon institute something like this.

I also found the battery indicator problematic. Once, it was on two bars of battery life. When I started to shoot on continuous mode, it dropped to a red warning that it was almost dead. After setting the burst mode back to normal, it jumped up to a 2/3rds full charge again, and stayed that way for a day or so. And when it did finally drop to the final 1 bar of charge, it stayed there only briefly before dying entirely.

6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/3.2, 1/800s, ISO 80

Summary. It's no surprise that the Canon G16 continues the legacy of excellence from the rest of the Canon G-series. As with its predecessors, it's easy to handle, has some incredible manual controls, is comfortable in the hand, and takes excellent pictures. And now, it's blazing fast, too, so you're even more likely to capture that special moment. And while its Wi-Fi implementation is far from perfect, it's still a useful upgrade for sharing or printing.

On the flip side, it's still much bulkier than many other cameras out there, but what you really have to weigh is the price. Given that it has an MSRP of $500, that's what you'd pay for an entry-level mirrorless camera kit (or even an entry-level DSLR kit in some cases) -- which can give you better images, especially in low light.

But keep in mind the G16's fast lens is about two stops brighter than a typical mirrorless or DSLR kit lens so you can shoot at correspondingly lower ISOs in the same light. And unlike most kit lenses, it has great macro capabilities, too. The G16's lens is also sharper than many kit lenses (especially wide open), and offers more telephoto reach than most as well.

Of course, the Canon G16 can't really compete with most ILCs in some aspects such as resolution, high ISO noise, dynamic range and the flexibility of an interchangeable lens system, though. After all, it does have a relatively small sensor and fixed lens.

Bottom line, though, the Canon PowerShot G16 is an excellent premium compact and highly recommended if that's what you're looking for.

6.1mm (28mm equiv.), f/2.8, 1/1250s, ISO 80

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