July 2013

Canon PowerShot G15

This Canon G15 Powershot is the latest in a line of cameras, starting with the G1 a decade and a half ago, which first gave compact digitals a 'serious' status. The high point came a few years ago with the advent of the DX-size sensor when digital single-lens-reflexes began to appear and Canon saw the demand for a compact that would supplement those users who might prefer to carry a compact with them for those unexpected moments, yet still get high quality pictures. The original models came equipped with fast lenses, articulated LCDs, optical viewfinders, the facility to record RAW files and lots of external controls, and were aimed at tempting enthusiasts, who usually shot with 35mm film SLRs, to dip a toe into the brave new waters of digital photography. The G9 became popular with underwater photographers and this has continued right up to the G12, despite the ongoing popularity of smaller cameras like the sibling 'S' series. Then Canon brought out the G1X. This was intended as a supplementary camera for those that had a DSLR and it employed a huge sensor (almost DX-size) for stupendous quality results (for a compact) and was correspondingly more expensive. However, its close-focussing abilities meant that it was not suited for those who wanted to take the sort of macro pictures we like to make underwater.


Now we have the Canon G15, which has reverted to all the features and functions that made the G-series popular with divers in the first place. Superficially, the G12, the G1X and the G15 do look very similar although the G15 is much slimmer than both the others once its lens is retracted. Canon has dispensed with the articulated LCD screen of previous models, something that is on no consequence once the camera is installed in an underwater housing, but it does have a remarkably quick auto-focus and that is something that anyone who has waited for their camera to focus while their subject swims out of shot will appreciate.

In fact the G15 has among the fastest response for all its operations of any compacts now available.

The top dial allows you to select the mode you require. And besides the usual shutter-speed or lens aperture priorities and indeed the ability to hand over total control to the software writers at Canon, there's the all-important 'manual' mode that we underwater photographers need. You can also add a couple of custom settings or control the video options from here.



Once you're in manual mode, the two important controls, shutter speed and lens aperture are controlled from the command dial at the back and the knurled control wheel at the front of the camera. Video shooting (run and stop) is operated by a unique button at the rear while the stills shots are taken by pressing the big button just where you would expect to find it on the top. The built-in flash can be left permanently up and on, and that is how you will need to fire an auxiliary off-board flash (by slave sensor or by fibre-optic cable with a clip on adaptor) should you choose to get one, and you will! In macro mode it provides a satisfyingly sharp image on its sensor at the same size as the subject or even a little bigger.

You can always opt to shoot jpegs processed in the camera but if you shoot RAW files you get complete control of the image later on a home computer equipped with appropriate software. The downside is that there is a delay of a couple of seconds while the camera records the data and you have to wait for it to do this before it takes another shot. The G15 may not have the largest pixel count at 12.1MP nor does it have the fastest lens on any compact camera. That said, if a full range of external controls, responsive operation, ruggedness and portability are high up on your list of priorities, the G15 is definitely worth considering. So how does it measure up for use as an underwater camera? For that it needs to work inside an underwater housing.

Canon WP-DC48 Housing

The G15 dropped into the Canon WP-DC48 underwater housing in a satisfyingly neat manner.

The hinged rear door is held closed on its single user-accessible O-ring by a large cam catch and it's depth-rated to 40m.

The housing is built from heavy-duty clear plastic and appears at first glance to give full access to most of the controls. However, you need to be totally familiar with the workings of the camera because these external control buttons are by and large unmarked. In macro mode, it will focus on subjects that are almost touching the rectangular front glass of the housing.


The immediate problem I encountered was that the all-important front knurled control wheel at the front was not accessed in any way so that the only way to change both shutter speed and lens aperture in while manual mode was to go to the menu and re-assign the rear control dial.



Shooting underwater, the lens aperture is used to control the effect of the flash while the shutter speed is used to adjust the ambient light and the depth of blueness of the water in the background once the front-light exposure has been determined. This meant that operations became too cumbersome to be viable for full control. I was reduced to choosing a shutter speed before I entered the water and selecting the lens opening as I went and changing the power of the flash to suit. Another way to do it is to go in with the lens aperture pre-selected, adjusting the shutter-speed for the ambient light and the ISO for overall exposure. Either way, it does reduce the options for creative photography.

If you use the built-in on-board flash alone, a diffuser is supplied that fits to the front of the housing. On the other hand, if you are using the in-built flash to trigger a more powerful off-board flash, you can adjust its power to a low output so that the camera's battery takes less of a hammering and there's a blanking mask with a fibre-optic dock that fits over it. The Canon WP-DC48 is a relatively inexpensive underwater housing solution for the G15.

Fantasea FG15 Housing

There are several other manufacturers of housings that make one suitable for this camera. I got my hands first of all on an inexpensive one from Fantasea Line. Also made from heavy-duty plastic, the Fantasea Line housing for the G15 looked more robust simply because the front section is opaque and black. It proved slightly larger than the proprietary Canon offering.


Fantasea Line housings are named after an early liveaboard (Fantasea 2) that operated in the Red Sea under the auspices of Howard Rosenstein.

Howard was a true pioneer of the Red Sea and started a diving operation in Na'ama Bay when the Sinai was under occupation of Israel after the six-day war. He can be credited with first putting the wreck on the Dunraven on the map as well as developing many of the dive sites in that area that we now take for granted.

The fact that he knows about diving is revealed in the way this Fantasea Line FG15 housing for the G15 is put together. It's depth-rated to 60m and begs comparison with the Canon proprietary housing.




For a start, that all-important front dial is accessed by a big rotating knob at the top of the housing, as well as all the other controls.

The entire black control buttons are clearly labelled with white lettering or icons that are clearly understood.

There was no head scratching and frantic button pushing while this camera and housing combination were in use.

The knobs are offset from the camera buttons they are required to press, which means they are less cluttered together than they might otherwise be and as they inevitably are on the WP-DC48.

Dropping the camera into position means raising the mode command control of the housing to accommodate it and I first thought that I might have needed to add a little adhesive pad so that it engaged better, but once pushed down by water pressure it was not required. The hinged rear door is sealed by double O-rings, one in the door and one retained in the housing and the door is kept closed by an over-sized rotating cam catch. It all looks very secure from unintentional ingress of water and there's the additional security of an electronic leak detector with sensor patch at the base of the housing, a red LED warning light and audible alarm.

Other details that betray Howard's diving credentials are things like the fact that you can put the in-board flash of the G15 up and down remotely and at will and the fact that the LCD has a deep hood that can be fitted and will shade it from the bright Red Sea sunshine that otherwise makes LCDs of compact cameras almost unviewable. Although both of these housings have rectangular front ports that would seemingly deny the use of option accessory lenses, Fantasea Line offers own-brand close-up, wide-angle and fish-eye adaptor lenses that fit.

The FG15 also comes supplied with a huge diffuser that fits on to its front and allows use of the camera's in-board flash alone.


In total, the Fantasea Line FG15 is a robust and fully usable underwater housing solution for the very able Canon G15 compact camera to make great stills or video clips.

There are more expensive plastic and aluminium housings available for the Canon Powershot G15.

Canon G15 Specs:

  • Prices: Around �400 - �550 according to retailer
  • Sensor: CMOS 1/1.7 inch 12.1MP
  • ISO Range: 80 � 12,800
  • Custom White Balance: Yes
  • RAW recording: Yes
  • Optical Zoom: 5x
  • Manual Focus: Yes
  • LCD Screen: 3 inch
  • Live View: Yes
  • Lens: Max aperture f/1.8 � f/2.8 according to zoom
  • Exposure Compensation: �3 in 1/3 EV steps
  • Flash Modes: Auto, On, Off, Slow Synch, Second Curtain Sync
  • Video Format: H.264 Media
  • Storage: SD/SDHC/SDXC
  • Contact: www.canon.co.uk
  • Star Rating: 9

Housing Prices:

Other makes of housing to consider:

  • Nauticam £800
  • Ikelite £550
  • RecSea £800