The PowerShot G16 is and always has been about giving enthusiasts what they want from a robust reliable, quality compact camera. Canon may not always have been sure, or at any rate consistent about what that is, but that doesn’t seem to have harmed its popularity in the target market.
On the face of it, the G16 may not look like much of an upgrade over its predecessor. The heart of any camera, the lens and processor combination, remain as before and it doesn’t look all that different from the G15.
But look beneath the surface and there’s plenty to get excited about. First, there’s the new Digic 6 processor, providing faster AF and reducing shutter lag, which makes the G16 a faster surer camera than its predecessor and greatly increases your chances of getting a shot in situations where speed matters. It also provides the G16 with very respectable continuous shooting that outclasses most of its competitors and is a huge advance on the mediocre burst shooting offered by its predecessor.
Built-in Wifi is something you might have expected to see on the G15, so it’s a case of better late than never, but it’s hard to over-estimate the importance of connectivity on a modern camera. Canon’s implementation may not be the best, it lacks the RX100 II’s NFC ‘tap to connect’ feature, there’s no remote shooting option, and it connects with social media indirectly, but it works, and for connected photographers, i.e. most of us, it’s good to have.
Other features like focus peaking, the new Star photography modes, background defocus, improved HDR mode, 1080/60p video and stronger movie stabilisation may have less universal appeal, but will doubtless prove popular. Before my final verdict lets see how the G16 shapes up against two of its closest competitors, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II and Fujifilm X20.
Compared to Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II
Though it’s around 25 percent more expensive, the RX100 II will be one of the main competitors for the G16, aimed at exactly the same market, enthusiast and pro photographers looking for a portable DSLR backup they can rely on and enjoy using. One of the first things that will attract them is the size, the RX100 II really is compact and the G16 looks a little brick-like when placed alongside. Conversely, the G16’s bigger body fits more comfortably in the hand and accommodates more controls, things DSLR users tend to like. It also looks and feels more robust, though neither model is weather-proofed.
On the inside, the RX100 II has a larger sensor, packed with more photosites, producing 20.2 Megapixel images with an aspect ratio of 3:2 compared with 4:3 12.1 Megapixel images from the G16. In my tests, the RX100 II produced better quality images with less noise than the G16.
The G16’s 28-140mm 5x optical zoom has a longer reach than the RX100 II with a 140mm telephoto compared with 100mm on the latter. It also has a brighter lens, though both boast an f1.8 maximum aperture at the wide angle setting, the RX100 II closes down to f4.9 when zoomed in compared to a relatively bright f2.8 on the G16. The G16 can also focus closer and has a background defocus stacking mode.
The RX100 II manages to squeeze a 3 inch, 1.2 milion dot vertically-tilting LCD screen into its compact frame, where the G16 has a fixed 3 inch screen with a slightly lower 922 thousand dot resolution. There’s no arguing that it’s useful to be able to angle the screen and Sony has managed it without adding significantly to the camera’s size. In its favour, the G16 has a built-in optical viewfinder. You can add a superb accessory electronic viewfinder to the RX100 II’s hot shoe, but it adds further to the cost, increases its size and lacks the convenience of a built-in viewfinder. Both models have a hot shoe for an external flash in addition to a built-in flash, but the RX100 II’s Multi inferface shoe allows you to add other accessories like a stereo microphone.
There’s a similar range of shooting modes on offer with both models offering PASM control, fully auto modes with scene detection, a range of scene modes and filter effects. The RX100 II has the popular iSweep panorama as well as 3D modes. The G16’s new improved continuous shooting outpaces the RX100 II’s with close to ten frames per second almost indefinitely compared with a short 13-frame 10fps burst from the RX100 II. The G16 also has focus peaking and some neat astro-photography presets.
Both are also similarly matched for video features, with 1080p60 in addition to a range of other HD modes. The RX100 II offers more encoding options with AVCHD and MPEG4 encoding at a choice of quality settings and it also offers PASM exposure control for movie shooting, which the G16 lacks. In its favour the G16 offers super slow motion modes as well as the fabuluous Hybrid auto, formerly Movie digest mode which takes a short clip before every stills shot you take and assembles them into a movie of the day’s shoting. You can also apply a wider range of filters to movies on the G16 including miniature.
Finally, while both models feature Wifi connectivity, with NFC tap to connect, remote operation via your smartphone and direct upload to social networking sites the Sony RX100 II’s implementation is the better of the two.
Ultimately, the RX100 II is a more compact camera with better picture quality, it makes more of its stacking modes than the G16 and is a better video camera (if you ignore the fact that you can’t disable the digital zoom). But while the G16 may lack its compactness and image quality it provides faster performance and from my perspective at least, better handling. It also costs less, but while price will always be a factor, as is nearly always the case, you’ll need to think carefully about what it is you want from an advanced compact before making a decision.
See my Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II review for more details
Compared to Fujifilm X20
In many ways the Fujifilm X20 is an even closer competitor than the Sony RX100 II for enthusiasts looking at the Canon G16. Both place the emphasis on physical control with the X20’s retro design offering a very similar handling experience to the G16 in a slightly more compact form factor.
The X20 features the same unconventional X-Trans architecture as the X-Series mirrorless compacts including the X-Pro1, but this isn’t an APS-C sized sensor, it’s a 2/3 inch sensor which is slightly larger than the 1/1.7 inch sensor in the G16 with the same 12 Megapixel resolution. The lens is a 4x optical zoom with the same 28mm wide angle as the G16, extending to 112mm equivalent compared with the slightly longer 140mm reach of the G16. The G16 boasts a slightly brighter f1.8 aperture at the wide angle lens setting, compared to f2 on the X20, but they both close to f2.8 when zoomed in, so there’s little practical difference. What does set the lenses apart is that where the G16’s, like most fixed lens compacts, has a powered zoom, the X20’s is manually operated via a lens ring that also acts as an on/off switch – a neat and very practical arrangement, although obviously less easy to adjust smoothly during movie shooting.
Fujifilm has opted for a fixed LCD at a slightly smaller 2.8 inches and lower 460k dot resolution than the 3 inch 922k dot screen on the G16. Fujifilm has also included a viewfinder, but the X20’s Advanced optical viewfinder (that’s not my description of it, it’s actually called that) makes the piece of glass in the G16 look distinctly ordinary. The X20’s viewfinder overlays a wealth of information on the optical view, allowing you to use the screen as an information display. The X20 also has an eye proximity sensor which means there’s no button pressing involved to switch from screen to viewfinder.
Both models offer the traditional PASM shooting modes in addition to Auto modes and effects filters, and both offer a good range of feature modes. The X20 has Advanced filter effects and a very capable Motion panorama feature that produces high resolution and can shoot seamless looping cylindrical panoramas. On the other hand, you can’t apply any of the X20’s filters when shooting movies as you can with the G16 which is generally a better choice for movie shooting with a dedicated movie record button and a wider choice of shoting modes. The X20 has three high speed video modes compared with two on the G16.
Like the Sony RX100 II, the Fujifilm X20’s continuous shooting is limited to short bursts at the faster 9 and 12fps rates, where the G15 can shoot more or less indefinitely at close to 10fps. With phase detect points on the sensor, the X20’s dual AF system allows it to focus very quickly. I didn’t test the two models together, but I’d be surprised if the G16 was as fast. That said, AF speed is one of the main areas of improvement provided by the new Digic 6 processor on the G16 and it’s no slouch, so the X20’s faster AF is only likely to be of significance to you if you do a lot of, say, sports or street photography where a small fraction of a second can make a big difference. And if you’re thinking the X20’s phase detect AF will be an improvement on the G16’s contrast based system for continuous AF in movies, well, in my tests it didn’t work out that way, it turns out the X20’s Dual mode AF is really only an advantage for stills shooting.
Finally, while the G16’s Wifi implementation may not be the best out there, it does allow you to connect you camera to a network or directly to your smartphone and transfer photos to other devices as well as uploading to social networks. Wifi connectivity is something Fujifilm has yet to embrace, so that’s not an option offerred by the X20.
The X20 has a lot going for it, cool retro design, an awesome viewfinder, nice quality images and excellent handling, all in a package that costs less than the PowerShot G16. It’s a strong competitor and will doubtless tempt buyers considering the G16. Those already shooting with a Canon DSLR probably won’t be among them though, and the G16 has other things to recommend it, not least built-in Wifi, long exposure capability including dedicated star shooting modes, fast continuous shooting, manual focus peaking and capable movie modes.
See my Fujifilm X20 review for more details
Canon PowerShot G16 final verdict
The G16 is an easy camera to underestimate, on the face of it, it doesn’t seem like it has a lot to offer one year on from its predecessor and at first glance you’d probably guess that existing G15 owners would hold off for whatever the G17 might have to offer. But I think G15 owners will see it differently, and that means anyone else looking for an advanced compact as a DSLR understudy should probably think likewise and give the G16 some serious consideration.
Yes, the lens and sensor are the same, but while the new Digic 6 proessor may not be a headline-grabbing upgrade it does endow the G16 with some significant advantages over its predecessor which serious photographers won’t be slow to recognise. Faster AF response, shorter shutter lag times and vastly improved continuous shooting are all the kind of improvements that make a real difference to your chances of coming away with more keepers from any photographic encounter. And built-in Wifi makes it all the easier to quickly share those results.
Beyond that, Canon has added some nice features which will doubtless broaden the appeal of the G16. The Star shooting modes are one, and coupled with longer timed exposures of up to 250 seconds increase the potential of the G16 as a tool for night photography of all kinds. Focus peaking has also made manual focusing much easier.
There are things the G16 could do better though: the Wifi is a welcome addition, but there’s clearly room for improvement (such as smartphone remote control), and the optical viewfinder is functional, but ordinary looking compared with newer developments in hybrid and EVF technology finding their way into fixed lens compacts like the Fujifilm X20. And I’ve said it before, but I’m still disappointed not to see a touch screen on the G16, which would have made touch focussing possible and added to the overall handling – after all if the smaller S120 has a touch-screen, why not include one here? And why-oh-why have we found ourselves with yet another upgrade to the DIGIC processor that still doesn’t offer in-camera panoramas?
Then there’s Sony’s RX100 II (and its predecessor) which have really driven the enthusiast compact market, proving you can enjoy the quality of a slightly bigger sensor in a body that’s actually closer to Canon’s S series than the chunky G models; certainly you’ll need to weigh-up these models very closely. All of these things mean the G16 misses out on our top rating, but it remains a very satisfying and capable camera in use, and one I can easily Recommend so long as you understand its limitations, and crucially whether the competition might serve you better.
(relative to 2013 advanced compacts)
17 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20
17 / 20
17 / 20