Is this fish too big?
The G16 is a fish in a pond that's really occupied by just two fish. Together with the Nikon P7800 it's one of a pair of cameras that offer more manual control than the best "consumer" compacts (such as the Sony HX50) stopping just before crossing into system camera territory.
Like the Nikon P7800, the G16 is created as a wholly practical camera and as you can tell from a glance, it's not concerned with fashionable styling. Both are in a constant push-pull struggle in an attempt to balance the amount of hands-on features with the overall bulk. The G16 does well here, offering similar features to the P7800 in what feels like a significantly smaller form.
Canon G16: fast
Compared to other compacts, it's the G16's speed that really marks it out. If you're shooting outdoors during daylight hours, response is almost instant at wide angle settings. There's often no need to depress the shutter halfway to pre-focus. Because you're not constantly having to ask your subjects to "look this way" and "hold that pose" you can work with much more discretion and get far more natural photos as a result.
That level of discretion is aided by the G16's relatively small frame (compared to a DSLR), so it's a camera you can take out when you don't want to draw too much attention to yourself.
The bright lens and speed is also apparent when shooting indoors, where it's possible to maintain high shutter speeds and still get bright, naturual looking results. This is where it begins to feel rather more like a DSLR than a compact.
Pictures taken without a flash at 1/60th second at 800 ISO look sharp, well balanced and have plenty of depth. Noise levels at 800 ISO are impressively low, too. Of course autofocus take a little longer when the AF-assist lamp comes into play but the wait is still minimal.
Zoom and viewfinder
For some, the G16's optical viewfinder will be too small to be of value. And what you see through the viewfinder isn't exactly what you'll get because you're not looking through the lens. There's no impression of focus or depth of field, for example, and no information overlay. At the wide angle you'll see the top of the lens barrel creeping into the frame but as you zoom in, that disappears and the view zooms in sync with the lens.
The viewfinder doesn't add significantly to the overall size of the camera, and in certain situations (such as when there's a lot of glare and sunlight) it can be a useful alternative to framing on the LCD. Framing accuracy is a little out at wide angle settings, with the viewfinder showing less than you'll actually fit into the frame, while at maximum zoom it's pretty much dead-on.
Sensor - 12MP, 1/1.7in, back-illuminated
Lens - f/1.8, 5x optical zoom
Flash - yes
Video - 1080p/60fps
Connectivity - miniHDMI, remote socket, miniUSB, Wi-Fi
Storage - SD, SDHC, SDXC
Dimensions/weight - 109x76x40mm/356g
Fixed LCD screen
There's no tilting display here. The 3in LCD is fixed, which reduces options for shooting at alternative angles but does keep the G16's overall size in check.
It's not a touchscreen either, and that's something we can live with. In fact it's something we welcome, and although to a degree it's a matter of personal preference, we'd suggest that cameras work better without touchscreens so long as there are enough knobs and dials.
Most of the hardware controls work very well in Manual mode. You can use the pleasantly rigid dial on the front to quickly choose a shutter speed from 1/2000th to 250 seconds, and dilate the aperture or alter the ISO with the less tactile dial on the rear.
Manual focus is a more sluggish affair when adjusted with taps or rotations of the rear dial. It's hardly dynamic but if you've got time to set up your shot it works fine.
Flash and extras
This wouldn't be a do-it-all compact without a flash. The G16's little bulb spends most of its time tucked away out of sight, but it can be popped up set to auto, on or slow-synchro for a combination of a longer exposure with a flash to fill in or freeze your subject.
There's also a hot shoe for adding a more powerful flash, and it's also possible to expand your options with a teleconverter lens and filters via a filter adapter.
The G16 isn't the best for video but it's certainly good enough to be taken seriously. It'll go up to 1080p at 60fps, and whether you're in this mode or drop down to 30fps it produces very detailed footage with attractive depth of field effects. It comes unstuck with movement - not so much the movement of your subjects but the camera itself. Panning can appear rather jerky and zooming while filming is achieved in a series of small stages rather than one seamless motion.
You might also notice a slight flickering, which appears to be caused by continuous alterations to the exposure levels. Put it on a tripod and the G16 will yeild beautiful movies.
Wi-Fi and other tricks
The G16's Wi-Fi features are a mixed bag, ranging from seemingly pointless and infuriatingly fiddly to really quite useful. Transferring pictures wirelessly to a computer takes far more time and effort than it would to just plug in the camera via USB or copy directly from the memory card. Via an Android and iOS app you can transfer pictures rather more easily to a phone or tablet, and direct printing to Wi-Fi printers really is a worthwhile addition.
You also get a few creative photography tricks thrown in, such as the star modes that allow you to watch the night sky burn into the screen as it exposes or create stary time-lapse movies. A neutral density filter is also available which lets you take longer exposures in daylight, perhaps for blurring the motion of a waterfall or turning shoppers on a high street into ghostly figures.
Canon G16 review summary
The G16 has the speed and light-gathering power to shine even in basic Auto mode, and with fast, direct access to manual controls it has the skills to justify its considerable girth.
Review by Tony Horgan.