Features (con't)

Both cameras have several methods for improving the exposure in your images. This can be done through the DR Correction feature on the G15, Active D-Lighting on the P7700, or HDR on both cameras.

Canon PowerShot G15: DR Correction

DR Correction offers three settings (in addition to 'off'): Auto, 200%, and 400%. When this feature is active (which it is not at default settings), the G15 reduces exposure by 1 or 2 stops compared to 100%. The camera then boosts the minimum ISO (to 160 or 320, depending on how much correction is applied) to achieve the correct brightness. The result is less highlight clipping, but darker shadows and more noise.

If you want to brighten up the shadows, the PowerShot G15 offers a Shadow Correction feature (which is just 'on' or 'off'), though this too will introduce more noise. Neither DR nor Shadow Correction are available when using the Raw mode.

DR Correct off
ISO 80, 1/160 sec, f/2.8
200% DR Correct
ISO 160, 1/320 sec, f/2.8
400% DR Correct
ISO 320, 1/640 sec, f/2.8

You can see that highlight tone is restored as the amount of DR Correction is increased. This extra tone leads to more detail, though you may see more noise and the effects of noise reduction in your photos. We think it's worth the trade-off.

Canon PowerShot G15: Shadow Correction

Shadow Correction off
ISO 80, 1/160 sec, f/2.8
Shadow Correction on
ISO 80, 1/160 sec, f/2.8

The Shadow Correction feature works as advertised. The G15 applies noise reduction to keep noise from being emphasized, for each DR mode. You can use both DR and Shadow Correction at the same time, if you feel like it.

Nikon Coolpix P7700: Active D-Lighting

Moving on to the Coolpix P7700 now: its Active D-Lighting feature works much like Canon's DR Correction, with a twist. The basic concept is the same, but here the camera intelligently looks at smaller areas of the photo, and adjusts each individually. ADL handles both shadows and highlights, instead of the separate modes for each. The ISO is still effectively boosted (though the camera's EXIF data doesn't report it as such). You can select from low, medium, or high settings, with each reducing exposure by 1/3 stop.

Active D-Lighting off
ISO 80, 1/200 sec, f/2.2
Active D-Lighting low
1/200 sec, f/2.2
Active D-Lighting medium
1/250 sec, f/2.2
Active D-lighting high
1/320 sec, f/2.2

While Active D-Lighting does restore some highlight tone, the results aren't as dramatic as on the Canon. This is probably due to the fact that the G15's DR Correct feature works in full-stop increments, rather than third-stop increments on the P7700. Unlike on the PowerShot G15, the Coolpix P7700 lets you adjust Active D-Lighting in Raw mode.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Modes Compared

The other feature of note is HDR, or high dynamic range (Nikon calls it 'backlighting'). Here, each camera takes a series of three exposures - one normal, a second underexposed, and a third overexposed - and layers them into a single shot with improved contrast. On the PowerShot G15, this feature is totally point-and-shoot. The Coolpix lets you control how strong of an HDR effect there is, with your choice of levels 1 - 3.

Once again, the proof is in the pudding, so here's a comparison of the HDR features:

PowerShot G15
HDR off, ISO 80, 1/500 sec, f/2.8
HDR on, ISO 80, 1/500 sec, f/2.8

As you can see, there's a huge improvement in image quality - with much more balanced tonal distribution- when using the G15's HDR feature. Unlike the DR Correction tool shown above, there's no need to boost the sensitivity with HDR, so noise levels remain low. The big downside of the G15's HDR feature is that it shoots too slowly to handhold the camera - a tripod is required.

Coolpix P7700
HDR off, ISO 80, 1/500 sec, f/2.8 HDR level 1, ISO 80, 1/400 sec, f/2.8 HDR level 2, ISO 80, 1/400 sec, f/2.8 HDR level 3, ISO 80,
1/400 sec, f/2.8

The P7700's HDR feature is far less impressive than the G15's, with results that look like they've been run through a pastel filter.

Fun features

One long-standing Coolpix feature that you won't find on the PowerShot G15 is a time-lapse function, which Nikon calls an interval timer. This feature can be found in the continuous shooting menu, and allows you to take a photo every 30 seconds or 1, 5, or 10 minutes. The total number of photos taken ranges from 600 at the 30 second interval to 30 at the 10 minute setting. Understandably, Nikon strongly recommends the use of the optional AC adapter with this feature.

Every camera these days seems to be replete with special effects, and the G15 and P7700 are no exception. Both cameras have ten effects at their disposal, though the Nikon's are arguably more interesting. Some of the notable effects on the P7700 include zoom exposure, defocus during exposure, and cross process, in addition to things like selective color, miniature effect, and soft focus (which the G15 has, as well).

Canon PowerShot G15
Nikon Coolpix P7700
A selection of the special effects available on the G15 (left) and P7700.
The G15 may not be able to run Instagram, but its Toy Camera mode produces very similar-looking photos. The always entertaining selective color feature has turned everything to black and white - except for blues! Hey look at that!

The G15 and P7700 each have panorama modes, but approach stitching in different ways. The G15 is old school: you have to line up each photo (with a little help from the camera), and then put them together on your Mac or PC using Canon's PhotoStitch software. However, PhotoStitch hasn't changed much over the last decade, and you'll get better results aligning separate exposures in something like Photoshop, instead. The G15 shoots at full resolution in this mode, and the panorama can be as large as you want.

This panorama did not stitch well at all using Canon PhotoStitch. However, using Photoshop CS6's 'Photomerge' feature did the job nicely.

The P7700 can do that too, but it also has a 'sweep panorama' feature, which lets you pan the camera from left to right (or any other direction), with the ability to cover to 180 or 360 degrees. The resulting images aren't huge (1240 x 6400) but they're good enough for most situations. If you want to save the individual images and stitch things together on your computer instead, the P7700 will let you do that, as well.

While the P7700's Easy Panorama feature did a very good job of putting this image together, the resolution isn't high enough for larger-sized prints.

One big difference in the panoramas is that the Coolpix crops the images quite a bit on the top and bottom, and therefore shows a lot less of the scene than the G15. Some may feel that the convenience of the 'sweep panorama' feature is worth the trade-off, though - you might just need to do a bit of experimentation.

Post-capture editing

The two cameras have a similar mix of playback mode features, but a few on the Coolpix P7700 give it an advantage in our opinion. Each camera can brighten shadows and apply special effects or filters to photos. The PowerShot has the ability to remove redeye from a photo, while the Coolpix does not. That said, the P7700 can help you straighten crooked photos - something that can save a trip to your computer.

What really sets the two cameras apart in playback mode is the Coolpix P7700's post-capture Raw processing feature.

The P7700's Raw processing tool lets you adjust white balance, exposure compensation, Picture Control, image quality/size, distortion correction, and D-Lighting, and then save the result as a JPEG.

The downside of the P7700 Raw processing tool is that it takes a second or two to bring up the image, and navigating to the desired image takes a lot of dial-spinning - if you want to adjust multiple images in a session, it can get annoying.

For movies, both the G15 and P7700 allow you to trim unwanted footage from a clip. The Nikon also allows you to grab a frame in a movie and save it as a still image.