Friday, November 9, 2012

PowerShot Comparison: Canon G12 vs G15 vs s110

Canon PowerShot s110, G15 and G12 Front View
Canon PowerShot s110, G15 and G12

For years I’ve been a fan of the Canon G-series camera and have had reviews on my blog for every version since the G9, but when the s90 came on the scene many Canon faith jumped ship to the smaller and more compact cousin to the G series. I wasn’t impressed with the S series cameras despite their great form factor, so I’ve shunned them in the past. Read on to see why I’ve started to have a change of heart and why my G12 is going up for sale!

Oh, and in case you are wondering there was no G13 or G14 for superstition reasons.

What’s New and What’s Different

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Canon PowerShot s110, G15 and G12 Rear View

The s110 and G15 get upgraded to feature the latest LCD’s and image processors from Canon to give you the best image quality that Canon has offered to date on this series camera. You can learn more about the s110 here and the G15 here on Canon’s website. This article will instead focus on some of my observations as a long-term G series owner and a previous s95 and s100 user. I’ll drill into these details in the following sections.

To help illustrate the high-level differences I’ve take some shots that show these cameras side by side. Sadly, I didn’t have a s100 to include in the mix, but you can visualize how much more compact the G15’s become and how smaller still the s110 remains over its sibling.

Canon PowerShot s110, G15 and G12 Overhead View
Canon PowerShot s110, G15 and G12 Overhead View

G15 vs G12 & G1x

During my testing I actually found the G15 to be much closer to the closer to G1X than it was to the G12 in terms of ergonomics. Fortunately the G15 is much thinner thanks in part to its lack of an articulating LCD that I enjoyed on both the G12 and G1X. Of course the advantage to removing this feature is that it not only makes the camera thinner, it also allowed for a much larger display (3.0 vs 2.8 on the G12). To that end, the rear LCD goes up to 922,000 pixels vs only 461,000 on the G12 so it’s a substantial improvement in image quality. The G1X is on paper the same size and pixel density but for some reason the G15 just feels bigger to me. All said though, I really enjoyed the ability to protect the LCD and move the LCD around with the G12/G1X design, so I’m disappointed to see that feature go away. 

You can see from the pictures what the major differences are so I won’t rehash hall of them here, except to say that I miss the rotating ISO knob up top. However, the addition of a record button is a nice improvement but I’m bummed about losing quick access to the timer as well. For those of you who have a pocket tripod and do macro work with the G series, this is definitely a much less user-friendly macro camera due to the LCD and button changes.

The only other change worth mentioning is the move from a fixed to a popup flash. It’s good that its farther from the lens, but bad because its now a mechanical part that makes it easier to break. This design consistent with other cameras in this class, so I’m not losing much sleep over this one – it’s still painful using the built-in flash, so the hot shoe with a 270EX II or 320EX is your best bet if you use a flash frequently. Fortunately the higher ISO range and performance of the G15 reduces the need to use the flash as often as was required on the G12.

Functionality-wise I found the G12 and G15 to be mostly the same with the biggest feature difference being the Full HD (1920x1080) support added to the G15 and the max ISO jumping from 3200 to 12,800.

s110 vs G15

As I mentioned, I didn’t have a s100 to compare against, so I can only draw from what I have on hand. The biggest differences between the two begin with the obvious – there’s a lot more physical buttons on the G15 which makes it faster to adjust the controls. However, the s110 does add a jog wheel to its lens which gives you quick access to some additional features (which one depends on the role you set for that control). It still features the tiny battery that dies too quickly, and all of its electronic do-dads like Wi-Fi support only serve to drain it even faster than ever. This unit does feel better in my hands than prior s series, and it’s the first defect free s series camera I’ve used for the entire review period (all previous models had some serious issue by the end of the review).

The big WOW feature of the s110 has to be its touch screen which really helps it to overcome its lack of buttons. The ability to touch and focus like an iPhone is awesome and really makes it easier and faster to use than a G15 which oddly enough does not have this super helpful feature.

In the past the s series has always been able to boast the advantage of having a faster lens, but for this generation Canon stepped up and gave the G15 a f/1.8 lens that maxes out at 2.8 when zoomed to 30.5mm as opposed to the f/2.0 lens that maxes out to 5.9 at 26mm on the s110. This is a significant shift from the past and definitely gives a big advantage to the G series – especially in low-light zoom conditions.

I’ve always loved the form factor the s series cameras, but I’ve been disappointed by its usability. However, the G series has lost enough features and the s series has gained enough “exclusive to the s” features (like Wi-Fi) that the gap between them isn’t as tremendous as it once used to be.

Wi-Fi vs Eye-Fi

The addition of integrated Wi-Fi support on s110 was pretty exciting when I first started to review it. Once setup (which is still a bit of a geek experience – even with WPS), it became even more obvious how this is so much more than Eye-Fi. What you end up with is a device on your network that you can pair with your phone, printer, computer and more for an integrated wireless experience. Here’s an example of how my iPhone 5 would see my photos despite the fact that there were no cables between them and the files were still in my camera:

Thanks to this feature you can leverage your phone’s GPS for doing GeoTagging:

I could integrate with Canon’s software on my computer to wirelessly transfer the files to the computer:

Or I could see my device on the network in Lightroom and import files directly with no wires or drive letter assigned (at least on Windows 7):

Overall I was impressed, but then in practice I ended up being disappointed with the performance and ultimately rolling back to Eye-Fi. Eye-Fi seemed to be less of a drain on the batteries and do everything I need without the headache of the camera being locked for certain operations or having to re-pair the camera to the target device. While I liked this feature more than I expected, I’d say it’s only meaningful for those who don’t have an Eye-Fi yet. If you do, I think you’ll still prefer your Eye-Fi (Pro or greater so you can transfer RAW).

Real World Sample Images

100% Crop of a G15 Flower Shot
100% Crop of a G15 Flower Shot
ISO 80, straight out of camera with zero modifications

I should note that these images were taken with the camera default settings which include noise reduction which find to be horribly over aggressive. Setting in-camera noise reduction off or reducing it to Low and then using a product like Noiseware or DFine will give you much better results. Naturally processing from the RAW is even better, but to avoid human error and additional software variables, I use the in-camera JPEG’s for all of my reviews. In practice, I use the RAW’s.

Here’s a link to the G15 gallery, and here’s a few images you’ll find there (originals in the gallery):

ISO 80, straight out of camera with zero modifications

f/4 ISO 100 – I’m impressed – feels like G1X caliber images

f/2 at 1/80 sec ISO 400 – gotta love the P&S depth of field for macros!

ISO 1600 is much improved!

ISO 4000 is destroyed by horrible in-camera noise reduction
For kicks and giggles, go compare this to a similar image at ISO 5000 in my D600 review <g>

Here’s a link to the s110 gallery, and here’s a couple images you’ll find there (originals in the gallery):

f/2 ISO 200 – wow – insane depth of field due to the tiny sensor

ISO 10,000 is usable

NOTE: Some images were at ISO 10,000 due to an accidental ISO change in-camera that I’m still not sure how it happened – especially given how ISO is buried on this camera.

I still have to do my infamous (or dreaded – ha, ha) bookshelf test with all three cameras, and I hope to get more exciting images with these cameras this weekend.


For the Canon faithful I’ll draw some lines in the sand here. For starters, the s110 is much improved over the s95 that I reviewed back when the G12 came out. The touch screen helps it to overcome some of my past gripes, and the Wi-Fi support plus big rear display really up its value beyond just being compact. As a result, I feel a lot more comfortable recommending the s110 as a nice pocketable point and shoot.

The G15 on the other hand has made good progress getting smaller, but I honestly think it’s lost some of the things that made the G12 so great in the process. While it is smaller and lighter, I still don’t think people will consider it any more pocketable (and truth be told if you can fit a G15 in your pocket, you most likely can a G12 too – both fit in my back jeans pocket). It’s also disappointing to not see some of the s110’s features on the G15 which make it feel a bit dated by comparison.

At the end of the day, I still prefer my Fujifilm X10 as my every day point and shoot camera, and I see little value in upgrading it over G12. However, if you are in the market for a camera of this class I think a great deal on a used G12 is a better investment than the G15. Sure, there’s some image quality improvements in the G15, but not enough to warrant the price difference and not really enough to compete with superior cameras like the Sony NEX-7, Fujifilm X10, and the host of micro four thirds in the compact class. As a result, I’d say if you had to pick then go with the s110 or go outside the Canon brand for a camera that offers more bang for the buck. The G15 is just too overpriced for what you can get elsewhere these days.

Where to Buy

B&H loaned me the gear for this article, so I suggest you show them your appreciation by placing your order for a s110 or G15 with them. Click here to order the s110 or click here to order the G15.

Adorama has a kit version of the G15 and a kit version of the black s110 as well as a kit of the white s110.

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B&H loaned me the new gear for this article but the G12 was my personal camera that I paid full price for myself. If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission.

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Dag said...

I recommend you get your hands on the Sony RX100. I had the S100 and was reasonable happy with it, but bought the RX100 a week ago and it is in a completely different league. Not just in image quality, but also in speed, handling and all those other aspects of a camera that determines whether you get the shot or not. For the very first time I find shooting with a pocketable compact an enjoyable experience, and this camera will go with me everywhere. said...


It's on the way. ;-)


patrick dinneen said...

also very interested in the RX100 (will work out how to pay for it later).
it's a shame indeed thtat the G15 lost some external controls- that's 1/2 the selling points of the camera for me. said...

Hi Patrick,

I plan to review the RX100 in December.

I agree with you on the controls too - personally I'd rather stick with G12 than upgrade to the G15 for that one thing. As I said in the article, the s110 seems to be the way to go now since the G15 doesn't have the big external controls and pivot LCD advantage anymore.