Prior to the recent Photokina in Germany there were many rumours about what products Canon might introduce. On the DSLR front, there was much expectation for a new EOS 7D Mark II, and that wish was granted. I think the surprise of the show (simply because nobody was expecting it before-hand) was the the introduction of the PowerShot G7 X. Following the discussions in camera forums after its introduction, it is clear that the high-end compact is an important camera segment and that this camera in particular may have been the most important release by Canon this year.
The high-end compact camera segment sits somewhere below interchangeable mirrorless cameras and above traditional small-sensor point-and-shoots. I have been shooting with Canon S-series cameras for years (S80, S90, S110) and would describe that series as being in the high-end compact segment. They provide full manual control, have fast, wide lenses, and allow you to save raw files. Sony raised the bar several years ago when they introduced the the famous RX100 with it’s large 1 inch-type sensor. I considered the RX100 when I bought my S110 two years ago, but at more than double the price, I wasn’t sure if it was a piece of equipment I wanted to carry with me on canoe trips, backpacking, skiing, or on slightly dodgy travel forays. I went with the S110 and love the pictures and usability of that camera (I also have an EOS M so I have a larger sensor and better lenses when I need them and still in a fairly compact package — no amateur needs a mirrored DSLRs).
When the G7 X was introduced I was immediately intrigued. For the past two or three years the point-and-shoot category has been dying a speedy death due to competition from smartphones. However, for me there will probably always be a place for a quality manual compact camera. Unless the physics of the universe are altered, smartphones will just never a have room for a fast zoom lens and a sensor larger than the head of a pin. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the camera in my iPhone 5 — not to mention the 5S and 6-series — especially with the addition of more manual control in iOS 8.)
The G7X is clearly designed to compete head-to-head with the latest edition of the the RX100 III. The rumour is that it even uses uses the same Sony-built 20.2 megapixel sensor. Couple that large sensor, with an amazing Canon lens with image stabilization, the DiG!C 6 processor with 6-frames per second shooting capability, a tilting screen, and cram all that into a body that is not much larger than the S120, and you are going to have a winner.
Of course I am not the first to review the G7 X, so I won’t cover what others have already said. Instead, I’ll highlight some of the key differences compared to the RX100 (good and bad, based on my very limited hands-on experience) and note some of my favourite features.
The first thing you will notice when handling the the G7 X is that clicky-ness of the large front control ring. While some may enjoy the positive detent action of the ring, forget about using this noise-maker while shooting video. I feel that Canon could have made the click action less aggressive. Based on my experience with the S110, I doubt it will become smoother over time. This may be a deal breaker for some potential buyers. The RX100 front control ring is smooth as butter in comparison. I don’t shoot video, and like other reviewers I prefer some positive detent action in the control ring.
The G7 X does not have an electronic view-finder (EVF). The RX100 does and it seems pretty darn nice. Again, for some buyers this will be the deciding factor. I haven’t looked through a viewfinder in 5 years. I do 90% of my shooting outside (70% of that around water or on snow). While an EVF would be brighter than a naked LCD screen, especially in daylight conditions, squinting through a little hole taking pictures is not my kind of fun, so the EVF is more of a nice-to-have than an important feature for me.
The G7 X screen tilts up 180°. This is great for low angle shots and (god forbid) selfies. I keep wanting it to tilt down too, so I can compose while holding the camera up high, but it doesn’t. I’ll get over it. The RX100 screen tilts both up and down. This is great, though the Canon hinge mechanism is much, much, much simpler and seems less likely to be damaged. The G7 X also has a touchscreen (the RX 100 does not). Try entering a Wifi password with a dial versus the touchscreen keyboard and you’ll realize how valuable this feature is.
The G7 X includes an exposure compensation dial under the mode dial. I love this feature when shooting in aperture or shutter priority modes. The S-series has always had an exposure compensation button which gave one-click access to this feature. The RX100 has a button as well. A dedicated dial is even better though.
By all accounts the Canon lens on the G7 X is fantastic, and my own tests so far confirm this. It has a longer zoom range that the RX100, extending from an equivalent 24 mm to 100 mm. The aperture varies from ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/2.8 depending on the focal length which is nice and fast even at 100 mm. Variable aperture lenses are not all created equal. Sometimes they stop down to smaller apertures fairly early in the zoom range. Not so with the G7 X. I saw a chart, which of course I cannot find now, which compares the maximum equivalent apertures at various focal lengths across the high-end compact segment — the G7 X is the clear winner in this spec compared to the RX100. Couple the zoom range and the fast aperture with image stabilization and the low-noise CMOS sensor and you get great photos even in very low light situations.
Zoom range and maximum aperture
For me the deciding factor when choosing between the RX100 III and the G7 X was Canon’s superior interface usability. Canon’s button and menu system are highly refined. Everything is there when you need it and hidden when you don’t. Button and front control ring functions are highly customizable. Even the icons shown on the settings screen can be moved or hidden (e.g., I never change the compression level so I don’t need to see that setting, ever). While I don’t have a tonne of experience with other camera brands, I have used some that have downright atrocious menu systems. The Rx100 seems very customizable, but Canon is consistently reviewed as having some of the best ergonomics and usability. The touchscreen helps in this regard. And, the fact is, I can pick up any Canon camera and use it’s most basic or most advanced features with out any sort of learning curve. I want shooting to be fun and intuitive. If something is annoying, I won’t use it. End of story.
I can highly recommend the Canon G7 X. You really should also look at the Sony RX100 III. Sony pioneered the 1 inch-type sensor high-end compact segment and it is about time that Canon stepped into the ring. The G7 X and RX100 are both fully-capable manual cameras. If this segment is for you and you are in the market for a new camera, simply buy the one that feels the best in your hands and go out there and shoot something.
Item,Canon PowerShot G7 X
Pros,”wide and fast lens, large sensor, compact body, customizable, touchscreen, ergonomics”
Cons,”aggressive detents in front control dial, lack of EVF”
Summary,”Finally, a competitor to Sony’s venerable Rx100 series, with an even better lens. If you are a serious amateur looking for a compact manual camera, this could be the one. Long live high-end compacts.”
Some sample images taken over the first few days with the G7 X.
Manual this, auto that
I think the portraits, hands, coffee, rocks, and Rocky Mountain Ash leaves were shot in full manual mode with auto-focus. The flower vase was shot in manual mode with manual focus and focus bracketing. The grass and berries were shot full manual with manual focus. The red leaf bush in front of the gold leaf bush was shot with the in-camera HDR mode — some ghosting is visible due to branches moving in the wind.
Most images were shot between 125 and 320 ISO. The coffee and leaves on a wooden table were shot at 1600 ISO. The flower vase was shot at 6400 ISO.
The hands and the first portrait were shot with “cloudy” white-balance. The coffee through to the last portrait were shot with auto white-balance (I would prefer most of them to be a bit warmer). The ash leaves and flower vase were shot with daylight white-balance (even though they were not taken in direct sunlight).
Though I shot RAW+JPEG, these images are all taken straight from the JPEG versions imported into iPhoto (except for the coffee shot which had some manual adjustments applied to recover some shadow detail and tweak the colour balance).