Ode to the Canon G15

Dear Canon,

I am not a professional photographer.  Up until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have called myself even a hobbyist.  And yet, here I am, writing a camera review of sorts.

My dad took lots of photos with his Sony video camera, but strictly as documentation of family events.  And my mom, well, her dislike of having her photo taken kept her far away from either end of a camera.  Sure, I enjoyed snapping photos with my phone but that was really about it.  I figured great photographs were limited to super-expensive professional cameras, so I never pursued photography as an art.

But one day I borrowed a Canon PowerShot G16 from my undergraduate library and my life changed.  The Colors!  The Dynamic Range!  And the sheer number of settings!  I had never used a camera like it before, yet, somehow it wasn’t daunting.  It invited me in, and reassured me that manual modes were nothing to be afraid of.

Recognize this from the banner? This dragonfly silhouette remains one of my favorite pictures.

I borrowed a few books on photography basics from the library and learned what Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO sensitivity were.  I learned how to make that awesome blurred background that we all love in portraits by dropping the aperture as low as it went.  I learned how to manually set the shutter speed and do some long-exposure shots.  As an engineer, I found that photography was a perfect mix of technical specifications and a no-right-answers creative outlet.

Shortly thereafter, I bought myself a G15, the previous generation, off eBay for a very reasonable price.

A true companion

The G15 was the perfect beginner camera.  It was relatively small and lightweight, so I carried it with me wherever I went.  The menu layout was super simple to use and the physical dials were right within fingers’ reach.  It shot photos in RAW format, which made me realize just how much information is lost when you convert to JPEG.

My G15 with a small (but crazy powerful) flash and the filter adapter

The lens did an amazing job with close-up macro photos because it could focus on things less than an inch away from the lens.  Not having to worry about different lenses also meant I could focus on composition, that is, how to frame the subject within the picture.  A functional hotshoe at the top of the camera let me start experimenting with flash photography while a 3rd party filter adapter introduced me to ND filters and long-exposures in broad daylight.

The camera was by no means perfect, of course.  I found using the zoom lens to be kinda fuzzy at full zoom.  The viewfinder was marginally useful when I couldn’t see the screen, but what I saw in the viewfinder was rarely what I got as a picture later.  And of course, with such a small sensor, low light performance was … mediocre at best.

The internals of a wooden airplane wing. Notice how the smooth, blurred background moves your attention to the intricate truss in the foreground

But I learned to work around all that and use the camera’s strengths.  I forced the camera to shoot at 1/80s shutter speed in low light, the longest exposure before I noticed the effects camera shake, and fixed exposure on the computer thanks to the great RAW performance.  And the aperture of f/1.81An excellent number that is rarely found in reasonably priced dedicated lenses combined with a miniscule focusing distance made macro shots look amazing.

Reparability

One day I was taking photos at the beach.  A strong gust of wind knocked my tripod over and dumped my beloved camera into the sand.  The retractable lens made a horrible grinding sound before the screen went black displaying only the dreaded words:

Lens Error
Will shut down automatically
Restart camera

But thanks to your camera design, Canon, I was able to completely disassemble the camera and completely clean the lens mechanism of any debris.  Now, I wouldn’t say the camera was easy to repair.  A huge amount of patience is required to coax the tiny intricate parts and ribbon cables to go where they needed to go.  But I cannot thank you enough for using screws instead of glue to hold the camera together.

A Tragic End

I completely disassembled the lens, re-greased all the movements, and let it dry for a week, but the damage was irreversible.

My trip to Hawaii was awesome, and I had only two regrets.  1) I wish I could have gone stargazing on Mauna Kia, and 2) I wish I put my G15 in a waterproof bag before I crossed the final river of the Waimanu Valley backpacking trip.  After two exhausting days of hiking in the rain, mere feet away from the end of the trail, I was crossing the final waist-high river.  And I slipped.  And the part of the backpack holding my beloved camera dropped straight into the water.  It had survived being used in the rain and spending the entire weekend in a rain-soaked camera bag, but total submersion was too much for it.

I disassembled it as much as I could with just my Leatherman screwdriver in an attempt to dry out the circuits, and fully disassembled it when I got home.  While I can now get it to power on, the lens extension goes crazy, probably a bad lens position sensor, and the camera can’t finish booting up, a classic water damage symptom.

With a heavy heart, I pronounced it dead.

Retrospective

Joey grabbed a picture of me taking the photo for the Rub-a-dub-dub, Give Your Computer a Scrub! post. I’m gonna miss you, G15.

I recommend the Canon G152or G16, if you can find one for a decent price to anyone who is interested in Photography and wants to give it a go.  Being stuck with one lens allows you to focus on the effect Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO have on your photo.  More importantly, you learn the strengths and weaknesses of the camera so that when you upgrade someday, you can spend money on the features that matter to you.

Which leads me to the end.  The G15 taught me that I needed a much bigger sensor for better low-light performance,3so I can take pictures of Stars! interchangeable lenses, and most importantly, a small lightweight body for hiking.  And unfortunately, Canon, you don’t offer much that hits my requirements.  I really want to like the EOS M50, but I can’t justify the extra cost over the older Sony a6000.

So thank you Canon.  Thank you for making such a great point-and-shoot camera.  You got me hooked on the world of photography, and I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for you because of it.

tl;dr

The Canon G15, though several years old at this point, remains an excellent way to learn about photography without spending a whole lot of money.

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