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The PowerShot G16: <br class="br_visual" />a perfect travel companion

The PowerShot G16:
a perfect travel companion

© Joel Santos

January 2014

For a man whose heart starts racing at the mention of airline carry-on weights, the PowerShot G16 comes as a blessed relief for Canon Explorer Joel Santos. CPN Editor David Corfield talks to him about how the diminutive compact performed on a recent trip to China, and how it earned a special place in his kitbag as a result...

© Joel Santos

Close-up detail was easily tackled with the G16. Taken on a Canon PowerShot G16; the exposure was 1/125sec at f/2.8, ISO 400.

Travel photographer Joel, a man with a smile that could warm the coldest of hearts, has had his eyes opened. Taking his obsession for weight-saving to a new level, he put the Canon PowerShot G16 (which weighs 356g, including batteries and memory card) to the ultimate test by elevating it to the top of his workflow, and to the top of one of the world’s highest buildings - the Shanghai Tower in Shanghai.

Temporarily eschewing his usual EOS 5D Mark III DSLR for the little compact, he has more than a few nice things to say about Canon’s latest G-series, which punches far above its weight to impressive effect...

“What I love most about it is how much power Canon has packed into such a small package,” he reveals. “I never like not having a camera with me, as I hate the thought of missing a moment. But sometimes I’m just so tired after a full day of travelling and taking photographs with a DSLR and a heavy telephoto lens that I have to take a rest. But now I can carry on working, which is perfect for me as I am obsessive about taking pictures! I will photograph until there is literally no light left. With the G16 it is easy and fast to pick up and use – and the quality is so good. Especially with an f/1.8 maximum aperture on the zoom lens, which is better and faster than previous models. At the top of [one of] the world’s highest buildings I could work in low light easily and quickly.”

Wider aperture, more creative opportunities

Joel enjoyed the creative possibilities offered by the G16 immensely. A technically astute photographer with a keen eye for detail and colour, he used the fast lens creatively to include blur in some of the foregrounds of his scenes.

© Joel Santos

Local food speciality? Dried scorpions on a stick! Taken on a Canon PowerShot G16; the exposure was 1/160sec at f/2.5, ISO 400.

He notes: “Previously it was always a bit harder to be creative with a compact, mainly because of the lens and the lack of control it offered. Canon clearly thought about this when they designed the PowerShot range, making sure that manual control was always possible. And they have gone one step further here, I think, by making the lens really bright and ensuring that the sensor and DIGIC 6 processor are totally optimised for low-noise pictures.”

“When you combine it with the 5x zoom you can blur things, which gives you lots of creative options. It’s much easier to do that with the G16 than it was with previous G series [cameras],” he advises.

Praising the speed of the G16’s focusing, Joel revealed what makes this little camera such a big hitter for travel photography. “It focuses fast and precise, so I could rely on wide apertures to make my photographs. It was pretty sharp at f/1.8 and the Image Stabilizer works very well, too. The great thing about it is that it is truly compact, so I can pull it out of a pocket quickly and have the confidence that it will work the moment I press the button.”

Which brings us neatly onto the matter of controls. Ergonomics were always a design headache when it came to the world of the professional-spec compact. With the need to offer full manual control comes a need for more buttons and dials, but Canon has been clever with the G16, as Joel describes. “That is one of the main positive aspects of the G16; the controls. They are very easy to find with just a thumb and it makes things like exposure compensation really easy to do on the fly – you can work with one hand quite easily.”

Taking it to China was a smart move, as it gave Joel a real chance to test out all aspects of the camera’s design and performance. From its small size to ease-of-use, he found the whole business of picture-taking refreshingly simple, and found himself looking at scenes in a totally new way.

He reveals: “I did a different kind of photography in Shanghai with the G16. It forced me to think about detail and work within short to medium distances with the lens range. It’s the fact that you don’t hold it up to your eyes like you would a DSLR that makes the difference. Even though it does have a viewfinder, I preferred to use the fantastic LCD screen because it was so clear and made composition really easy. The whole mindset changes when you shoot with a compact and I think my pictures reflected that – in a good way.”

Culture shift

Joel’s trip to Shanghai was his first, and it certainly won’t be his last, now that he has a taste of what this remarkable city of contrasts has to offer to a photographer.

© Joel Santos

The G16 was the perfect unobtrusive portrait tool. Taken on a Canon PowerShot G16; the exposure was 1/320sec at f/3.5, ISO 100.

He explains: “I must say I am more of a nature and landscape guy but this city impressed me a lot. There was a really nice feeling about the place. The contrasts between the 21st century and the past are really evident in Shanghai and I loved that. You can see couples in Starbucks that are obsessed with the latest gadgets and using their phones to talk to each other without even looking up, while at the same time there is a real feeling of history and the past. I could easily live there; if you want hi-tech you can have that, and if you want old culture it is there too. There is so much to photograph – I have only just lifted the veil on this place and so want to go back.”

The hi-tech nature of Shanghai, with its incredible buildings and myriad of contrasts, gave the G16 the perfect platform from which to flex it’s hi-tech muscles, too. Boasting WiFi for the first time in a G-series compact, the G16 gave Joel a really useful advantage when it came to his workflow.

“I used the WiFi function a lot, and it was very easy to set up,” he reveals. “I used to it communicate with my iPhone for geotagging my images. Using the Canon CameraWindow App for my iPhone [freely available on iTunes or Android Market], allowed me to use the phone’s GPS functionality to tag my pictures. It was really cool, and it really helped my workflow later when I came to edit.”

“Geotagging is not a gimmick,” Joel points out. “It actually helps me a lot because one of my main concerns is filing my images and being able to retrieve a picture quickly after I have returned from a trip. Most of my work is related to places and, while now I have a good memory for every country I’ve been to, the more trips I make the less I will be able to recall straight away where every shot is located in my filing, which is why keyword searching is so important when you catalogue your images. All cameras should have this feature!”

Perfect for portraits

When he travels, as well as looking for great views Joel is always looking for people. The faces he photographs capture the spirit and the culture of a country and China was full of characters.

© Joel Santos

Looking up from inside the Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai, China. Taken on a Canon PowerShot G16; the exposure was 1/25sec at f/2, ISO 400.

“When you bring out a DSLR with a big lens attached it can make people feel a little shy and intimidated, so the G16 makes the perfect portrait camera because it is not so scary,” he advises. “It is discreet and ideal for portraits where you want to be unseen. People get self-conscious with a DSLR and this is where the G16 wins. The portrait of the lady with the duck was a perfect example: I had the G16 in my hand and I asked if I could photograph her and she was fine about it. She was at ease straight away and it offered me a way to break the ice.”

From people to places, the G16 has found a permanent home in Joel’s kitbag. “I’d definitely use it again, absolutely!” he smiles. “It has a place in my bag now and I’m planning on taking it to my next trip to Iceland and hopefully again to Argentina because I know it will get me some different types of pictures. I also want to see how it performs as a landscape camera.”

Travel, travel, travel... there’s no stopping Joel Santos. Maybe it’s the nature of the Portuguese and their historically itchy feet, or maybe it’s just Joel’s relentless approach to his work that makes him so prolific. He laughs. “I travel as much as I can. I have itchy feet – the Portuguese are a nation of travellers! But when they have too much time away they have a need to come back. I really love my country but there is something that pulls me to be away to be travelling all the time. It’s as much a personal thing as a professional one, and the G16 is my perfect travel companion.”

Biografie: Joel Santos

Joel Santos

Travel, landscape and portrait photographer Joel Santos was born in 1978 in Lisbon, Portugal. He is the author of five best-selling books and is frequently published by photography, travel and corporate magazines all over the world, having featured on more than 30 covers and in hundreds of articles. He teaches photography in all continents and his work has been globally shown in several individual and collective exhibitions. He became a Canon Explorer in mid-2012.


Beautiful morning light on one of Shanghai’s old buildings. Taken on a Canon PowerShot G16; the exposure was 1/200sec at f/1.8, ISO 80.