Canon G15 review

I am often asked the question "What's the best camera to have?" and each time I cast my mind back to my military days when, still wet behind the ears, I asked a very experienced soldier "What's the best rifle in the World?" Silly question? Maybe, but his answer still holds true whenever I give my answer; "The one in your hand when you need it!". Our television screens are filled with adverts which tell us that 'Every day, more photos are taken with the iPhone' and how true that statement is -  they're everywhere! And, let's be honest, in the right hands the iPhone is a very capable photographic tool. As a professional photographer, it is always with you if you find a great location or when recce-ing a venue with a bride & groom as well as documenting your everyday life. Having the ability to share instantly with your friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. is great, but sometimes you just want something more...

Go on, tell me this doesn't look sexy?

In the summer of 2012 my trusted Canon G9 compact died - gone, never to return. It had a good life, shared many family trips and nights out and had even yielded some surprisingly great shots from concerts (where turning up with a DSLR would have resulted in either confiscation or refused entry). Having the ability to take snaps AND take full control with RAW capability in such a small unit was great! It meant that I could relax with friends and family and with the turn of a dial or two, I could produce some very professional looking shots too. I decided not to replace it straight away, and my iPhone took over the role of 'snapshot camera'. Whilst this worked fairly well, I just couldn't handle losing such a powerful tool and I started looking at replacement options. After reviewing the competition, my choice came down to two Canon compacts; the G1X and the G15. A good friend had recently bought a Fuji X20 and showed some very inspirational results. However, the ability to use my existing wireless triggers with the Canon offerings ruled this out. The G1X has a bigger, almost APS-C sized sensor (nearly the same size as most DSLR's) while the G15 has a smaller 1/1.7" sensor. So, the G1X should give better detail with less noise. However, after much searching and reading, I just couldn't get past one HUGE (to me, at least) drawback - the maximum aperture is slow! It starts at f2.8 at the wide end (28mm) and closes very quickly to a painfully slow f5.8 at the tele (112mm) end! In comparison, the G15 starts at f1.8 at 28mm and goes to f2.8 at the tele end (an impressive 140mm equivalent) So, as far as I was concerned, any benefits in lower noise levels were a moot point, as the slower aperture would result in higher ISO's being used to maintain the same shutter speed.
So, a gorgeous new G15 arrived 30 minutes before I headed out to shoot a wedding - talk about bad timing? So, the battery was set on charge and my new companion would have to wait a bit longer before our first 'date'... but BOY was it worth it!
Now, I don't intend this to be an exhaustive list of features - there are plenty of sites which will give you that - merely to tell you the good and bad points I've experienced with it, and to show you some real-life shots (sorry, no colour charts or brick walls here). 
I'll start by pointing out that the G15 is small - it's predecessor, the G12, and the G1X have swivel screens, which add to their bulk and, as I prefer to use the optical finder for most of my shots, this omission wasn't an issue for me. Okay, so there are smaller cameras, but I have fairly large hands and anything smaller would not have been fun to operate. 
All the shots you see here were saved as jpegs. Obviously, using RAW files will let you extract more detail from the shots, but I wanted to show the quality available from the standard jpeg files.
Here are a few shots side by side with the dead G9

The matte finish feels great, although it does tend to pick up dust and marks quite easily.



G15 (Note the 'Quick Record button top right - irrespective of your shooting mode, press this and start shooting a movie)


G15 on the right - the  exposure compensation dial is a very handy tool when shooting in one of the Auto modes.

The flash is now hidden away until you need it - slide the catch and it simply pops up.

I've been using the G15 for a couple of months now and I love it - even more than my old G9! I keep it in my everyday bag, and it slips easily into a coat pocket when out walking the dogs. It gives me a useful range of focal lengths from wide to mid-tele, so anything from landscapes to portraits are covered. It has a great macro facility, which I've had some fun with (I'll be the first to admit, I'm not really a big macro fan) and as well as 1920x1080p movie capability, there's also a great slow-motion movie mode with 240fps and 120fps on tap. In use, I find the quality of 240fps to be nothing to shout about, but 120 is great for making short movies which look just fine on a phone or iPad - not a professional tool but fun nonetheless.

Macro mode

The actual quality is a lot better than this, but putting it on the blog seems to have compressed the life out of it - at least it let's you see what can be done with it though.

Having the ability to up the ISO to a maximum of 12,800 when paired with a 28mm f1.8 lens means that you can keep shooting without flash when the light levels drop. Admittedly, the noise at 12,800 is horrific, but if you absolutely MUST get a shot - you can. Personally, I don't like going much above 2,000 or 3,200. Below are a couple of shots taken at ISO 2000, 1/60 sec and f2.8 (I used the zoom a bit, so preferred setting 2.8 by default so I had no variation in exposure if I zoomed or went wide)

At the other end of the scale, the ISO goes to a low of just 80! So, sunny days with blue skies and big, white clouds look great! Oh, and if you find you want to use that f1.8 and it's too bright - relax, the built-in 3-stop ND filter has got it covered. The auto-ISO function was quite useful at times, and you can set the parameters for a maximum, so you don't get too much noise.
Having the optical viewfinder is a great tool, especially in bright sunlight - although don't expect any exposure data, like the Fuji X20, and at close range you do get some parallax error. I tend to use either Manual or Aperture Priority with spot metering and review a test shot before resorting to the viewfinder. As well as saving battery life, it just feels 'right' to me - similar to using a DSLR.
I tried the G15 with some Off-Camera-Flash (OCF) triggering my Phottix ( Strato II's (attached to the hotshoe - another essential item for me) and firing both speedlites and studio strobes. To be honest, the speedlite shots were just a couple of shots of the kids at home, but the studio shots were taken of an up-and-coming young singer by the name of Rachel Rhienne ( and have been taken on by her management company, so I think that speaks volumes about the quality available from the 12mp sensor.

 Straight out the camera

Shot as a jpeg, desaturated and an s-curve applied.

If I'm honest, I find the Auto White Balance tends to get skin tones a bit too yellow sometimes, easily corrected in post production or by setting it manually though.

On the whole, however, I'm very pleased with the wee G15's performance. It delivers very sharp shots, reasonably good exposures when using the Auto modes and the noise for a compact camera is more than acceptable. It's lightweight, easy to stow in a jacket (or pair of cargo pants) pocket and even finds it's way into my bag at weddings - it's great for candids and the 'Mute' mode means that it doesn't upset anyone if I use it in church (and, as already mentioned, the f1.8 lens - and 4-stop Image Stabilisation - helps with the low light too). It provides me with a great tool for reference shots, my family snaps are significantly better than I get with my iPhone (although it still sees occasional use for sharing pics via Facebook and Instagram). Dynamic range may not be as good as a DSLR, but it's pretty close - certainly as close as any compact I've used - and if the absolute utmost quality is the main thing on your list, you should be looking at a DSLR with some pro-level lenses instead anyway. On top of that, it can be as easy or as complicated to use as you want. These shots were taken by my 6 year old daughter who stood beside me as I shot the 2013 Trooping The Colour in London:

 Admittedly, she already knows her way around a DSLR (regularly using my old EOS 40D and I need to keep an eye on my 7D's), but even my 3 year old has been known to take some decent shots with it.
If you're used to Canon's DSLR's and are looking for a high quality compact as either a back up or to use when your big camera would be too cumbersome or might draw too much attention to you, or you've been using a 'normal' compact for a while and want something which will give you more creative freedom, without the added bulk of a DSLR and a bag full of lenses, the Canon G15 has got to be on your short-list.
I'll leave you with some more sample shots taken in a variety of lighting conditions, and in the sort of situation where most of us will use a compact camera, to let you see what it's capable of producing. If you have any questions which I haven't answered, please feel free to ask away.

Okay, so Mrs KSG might just get a wee bit annoyed at constantly having a camera pointed at her...
Straight from the camera

B&W conversion with contrast upped and vignette applied



Without flash


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