Conclusion - Pros

  • Good low-ISO image detail and reliable metering
  • Versatile, sharp and fast 28-140mm F1.8-2.8 lens
  • Good balance between noise reduction and detail retention at higher ISOs
  • Fast and responsive operation
  • Very pocketable format
  • Fast and reliable AF system
  • Very effective Image Stabilization system
  • Excellent 920k dot screen
  • Optical viewfinder useful in very bright light (but is relatively inaccurate, and has no shooting info)
  • Lots of external controls including two control dials and an exposure compensation dial
  • Customizable control dials and Shortcut-button
  • Excellent build quality and body materials
  • Decent battery life

Conclusion - Cons

  • Exposure compensation dial does not work in video mode (but you can set exposure compensation using the AEL button when the mode dial is set to movie)
  • No swivel screen (vs predecessor and some competitors)
  • No automated panorama mode (only stitch-assist)
  • HDR mode only works well with the camera on a tripod
  • Auto ISO only uses up to ISO 1600
  • Matte surface a little prone to scratches

Overall conclusion

A few years ago Canon's G-series was the place to look if you were in the market for a 'serious' compact, but more recently there has been a lot of development in this sector of the market. These days there is an entire range of cameras to choose from - all with slightly different strengths and weaknesses. As a consumer this is fantastic, but it does mean that your buying decision is harder now than it was. You need to honestly assess what's most important to you in your photography and then make the appropriate choice.

If you are looking for a pocketable 'enthusiast' camera the Sony RX100 with its large 1" sensor provides the greatest pixel count, the Panasonic LX7 comes with the fastest lens, and Fujifilm's X10 and XF1 offer the innovative EXR sensor with its impressive dynamic range and high ISO performance options (in 6MP mode). However, if an abundance of external controls, responsive operation, bomb-proof build quality and pocketability are high up on your list of priorities the G15 is definitely worth looking at.

In reality the choice for many buyers will be between the G15 and the Nikon P7700, which with its 28-200mm lens is the only other camera in this class to offer a lens longer than 120mm. That said, at F4 its lens is a stop slower than the G15 at the tele end. The Nikon comes with an articulated screen and a similar level of external control as the G15, but its body is larger than the Canon and lacks an optical finder. We're looking forward to putting the Nikon through our review process and see how the two cameras perform head-to-head, but for now, you can use our image noise and studio scene widgets to compare the cameras' image quality.

Ultimately the competition is fierce in the enthusiast compact sector and no matter what camera you choose you'll have to compromise in some area or another. That said, with its combination of very decent image quality, responsive operation, quick AF, excellent build quality and its versatile and fast lens, the Canon Powershot G15 is a safe bet for most photographers looking for a 'serious' compact.

Image Quality

The Canon Powershot G15 produces very good image detail at lower sensitivities and shows a good balance between noise reduction and detail retention as you go up the ISO scale. Focus and metering are consistently reliable, even in difficult lighting situations.

However, the Canon G15 has a relatively small 1/1.7" CMOS sensor that comes with the limitations we are used to seeing on many small-sensor cameras. Dynamic range in highlights isn't fantastic, and the camera tends to deliver relatively bright midtones, and what this means is that in high-contrast scenes you'll often have to deal with overblown skies and other burnt out image areas. Some of this lost highlight detail can be pulled back in raw conversion, though.

High-ISO noise is well-controlled by the JPEG engine but a lot of fine detail is blurred by noise reduction from ISO 400 upwards, at default NR settings. That said, even the highest ISO settings 6400 and 12800 are usable at modest output sizes. The G15's fast lens also means you can keep the ISO sensitivity lower than on cameras with smaller maximum apertures, which means better image quality, or alternatively use faster shutter speeds - great news if you're shooting moving subjects.

Ultimately the G15 offers very good image quality for the size of its sensor, but if you are in the market for a compact camera and image quality is your highest priority cameras such as the Sony RX100, Canon's own G1 X or slightly larger mirrorless models such as the Panasonic GX1 or Olympus E-PL5 might be a better option. Of course none of these models offer the same combination of a fast and versatile lens, compactness and manual control as the G15.

Handling and Operation

In our review of the Canon Powershot G12 we found the G15's predecessor to be one of the best-handling compact cameras on the market. The new model, with its two customizable control dials, dedicated exposure compensation dial and sensible ergonomics throughout follows right in those footsteps. However, there are a few differences you should be aware of.

In terms of operation and handling the main differences between the G12 and G15 are the increased AF speed and the lack of a swivel-screen and dedicated ISO dial. The AF speed on the G15 is noticeably and measurably snappier than on previous G-series models which, in combination with the responsive overall operation, makes the camera very pleasant to use. While the loss of the ISO dial is a shame, it's compensated by the much better positioning of the exposure compensation control which is very easy to use with your thumb. ISO can still be accessed quite easily via a dedicated hard-button on the multi-controller.

The loss of articulated screen will annoy some people but it's not all bad as it means you get a slimmer camera with a larger screen. The G15 feels indeed more pocketable and compact than its predecessor but there's no doubt that a swivel screen offers more flexibility when shooting from high or low angles.

Overall, despite the removal of the ISO dial the G15, like its predecessor, offers one of the most extensive sets of external controls on any compact camera. It has customizable rear and front control dials and can therefore be operated in an almost DSLR-like fashion. Its compact size in combination with the snappy operation and well thought-out user interface make the G15 a great camera to shoot with.

The final word

The G15 is an evolutionary update from the G12, and on the whole the changes Canon has made look sensible and well-considered. The camera is clearly a well-refined product and a joy to use. It is very quick and responsive in operation, built like a tank and offers the most external controls in its class. Combine that with the fast 28-140mm F1.8-2.8 lens and you've got yourself an ultra-versatile pocketable tool that can be operated almost like a DSLR and earns itself our highest award.

Canon PowerShot G15
Category: Premium Enthusiast Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
The Canon Powershot G15 is a well-refined product and a joy to use. It is very quick and responsive in operation, built like a tank and offers the most external controls in its class. In combination with the fast 28-140mm F1.8-2.8 lens that makes it a very versatile and pocketable photographic tool that offers almost the same degree of control as much larger DSLRs.
Good for
Photographers who want DSLR-like controls and build-quality in a pocketable package
Not so good for
Video shooters or users who cannot live without an articulated screen
Overall score

Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean

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