Canon's Powershot G7X is the latest in their G-series of "flagship" compacts.  With the compact camera market having dropped off a cliff in recent years due to smartphones winning out in the "convenient quality" category, it is only in the prosumer domain that compacts still have any tangible market hold.  With manual controls, RAW capabilities and much improved image quality stemming from the larger, more capable sensors, many enthusiasts & professionals still like having a top-notch compact either as backup for their main camera or just to have something compact for everyday use.

Promo image from Canon's site of their G7X 

Promo image from Canon's site of their G7X 

What's in the Box?

A pretty standard package - camera, battery & charger and wrist strap.  Canon have also included "go-faster" red striping round the mode dial & shutter button :)

Usage & Handling

This isn’t the first Canon compact I’ve used, or indeed owned, and Canon are known for being reliable & consistent with their camera controls and general handling. It’s fair to say I found this much easier and more familiar to use than many other cameras I’ve reviewed, partly through experience but in fairness it’s partly because everything is kept simple across their range where possible. I like that the general handling & setup of the cameras feels simple & intuitive and the G7X continues the trend. Buttons are well placed and don't get in the way and menus and interfaces are well laid out with all the most important functions easy to find. It's small and I've got big hands but the controls are just about right on sizing for me, in contrast to most other compacts and many mirrorless options!  While the buttons are fine in general use, the spinny wheel control is, like other compacts, a necessary burden.  Without it, full manual control would be near impossible but the simple fact is the wheel controls on the rear of every single compact I've used are poor.  The G7X's wheel isn't the worst, but I still find them awkward to use.  The rear LCD touchscreen helps though - moving focal points is a breeze and really helps in composition & although by habit I navigate the menus with the d-pad buttons it's nice to have the option to drive it completely from the screen.  Having said that, I do still find that touchscreens are prone to me accidentally hitting it and leading to mild confusion when it isn't focusing where I thought it should be!

One feature I really like is the manual exposure compensation dial.  I find that shooting fully manual on compacts can be quite fiddly so having the ability to shoot in AV mode and rapidly adjust my exposure to suit the scene is hugely beneficial.  

A few minutes before this shot I had the camera setup to shoot the Marina Bay skyline.  Heading home I saw these lights and the jogger - with a flick of my finger I set it to underexpose by 3 stops and get the shot I imagined. Tweaked & processed in Snapseed after transferring the JPG to my phone.

A few minutes before this shot I had the camera setup to shoot the Marina Bay skyline.  Heading home I saw these lights and the jogger - with a flick of my finger I set it to underexpose by 3 stops and get the shot I imagined.

Tweaked & processed in Snapseed after transferring the JPG to my phone.

A fast lens with a versatile zoom range is one of the features that sets the prosumer compacts apart from the rest of the range.  Canon has set the bar high here, with a 24-100mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range and an aperture ranging from f/1.8 at the wide end to f/2.8 at the long end.  This beats the main rival to the Canon G7X - the Sony RX100-3 - in both focal range and also how wide the lens is across the comparable 24-70 zoom range.  Having this range & aperture is really useful in such a small package!  The bokeh is pretty good too, better than you'd expect from such a small sensor!  There's no in-camera image processing options but this doesn't worry me too much.  For mobile processing I'd want to port it over to a tablet or phone and to get the best out of an image it'll need to be pushed through Photoshop anyway; I often think in-camera RAW tweaking is a bit gimmicky and I've never found it reliable or capable enough.  It's an omission compared to competitors but I don't think it's an important one.

I'm not a fan of rear LCD screens as the only way to shoot with a camera and although the G7X has a bright, uncluttered screen, it suffers the same hard-to-see issue as all LCD screens in bright sunlight.  The miniature viewfinder on the RX100-3 definitely gives it the edge here & I also thought the RX100-3's focal length indicator on the zoom display was a useful addition thalt the Canon was missing.  Also, the screen only tilts 180 degrees and doesn't let you tilt downwards which I personally find more useful in a prosumer compact than the ability to take selfies.

Another gripe I had was with the battery life.  It's not dreadful, certainly better than cameras like the X100 series, but I found myself getting between 220 and 280 shots on a charge, though the latter involved lots of nursing and managing the screen brightness.  Buying a second battery will be essential but at least the camera comes with a charger so you can pre-charge ahead of shooting!

Pretty much every camera now also allows for remote image viewing & control via smartphone and the G7X is no exception, packing in wifi & NFC connectivity.  For image viewing and downloading the app is fine but for remote shooting it's a far cry from the EOS app which by comparison is much more useful.  Crappy smartphone apps for non-DSLRs are common across all manufacturers and although that's no excuse, at least it's on a par with its peers.  If I had to choose between the useability of a camera vs the useability of its associated app I'd choose the camera every time but it feels like all of the apps are stuck in a rut.

While it does have a few flaws none of them are show-stoppers.  The most important features in any camera are how easily you can configure it for you to capture your scene - which it does very well indeed - and how it records that scene when you release the shutter.  General usage & handling felt natural and comfortable and rather than have tons of deep, complex menus I found that everything I wanted to tweak had a dedicated button or was on the "quick menu" overlay across the image. Shooting with a compact isn't as fun as with an X100, or as versatile as a DSLR but Canon have done well in making the core shooting experience as painless as possible.

Image Quality

There are always a few key areas I like to check when looking at compacts with their small lens & small sensors - distortion & sharpness for the former and high ISO/long-exposure noise artefacts for the latter.  The image of the three lamposts shows pretty clean results for a high ISO shot with only minimal processing and all noise reduction performed in camera and it still amazes me how good the images from modern compacts can be in low-light.  Distortion, flare, CA and other common optical flaws are barely noticeable in most circumstances and fixable in post-processing in the vast majority of cases.

I was keen to see what the G7X was capable of and I'm really happy to report it's good.  Very, very good in fact.  I've included a host of sample images below and the majority are straight out of camera - where I've processed them, I've done so in a way that I felt suited the image and that other photographers might process them too.  There's no simpler way to say it - the G7X does not disappoint at all in the image quality stakes.  Out of camera JPGs generally need minimal tweaking and the RAW files give plenty of latitude if you do want to tease the best out of any given shot - I found that shooting RAW+JPG was fine from a performance & convenience perspective though the camera did slow down noticeably once the frame buffer filled.  

Check out the images below, I'm sure you'll agree that for a compact, the results are impressive indeed.

As a day-trip to the Singapore Turf Club racecourse, organised by the PSS, came to an end these dark clouds rolled in.  Good dynamic range and punchy colours in this shot.

And I couldn't resist including this shot of the PSS guys waiting for the next race :)

One of the EXTREMELY loud frogs that can keep me awake when they gather outside for their nightly shouting contest!  I used the time-delay shutter function, f/8 and ISO100 so the shutter speed was quite long, over a second.  I boosted the brightness on my iPhone and used it to "light-paint" the frog who obligingly stayed still for his portrait!

This was quite challenging to take with a compact. The AF assist lamp stubbornly refused to help focus lock onto the frog and manual focus was next to useless in the dark conditions - in fact, I rarely find manual focus to be a useful tool on compacts and to that extent the G7X is the same as its competitors.  In the end, using my iPhone to light the frog to let the AF lock on did the trick.

I loved how the camera captured this - it's exactly how I saw it, with the morning mist hanging over the storm drain.

Reds can sometimes be difficult for cameras to render properly and personally I always find it hard to reliably convert RAW files to look realistic.  Here, the G7X has done a superb job straight out of camera with this flower!  The sharpness of the morning rain on the petals is lovely too.

Finding a snake in the wild in Singapore was on "must-see" list.  This is a baby male Wagler's Pit Viper.  Aggressive & rather poisonous so having 100mm of reach with the G7X was definitely appreciated!

Tweaked slightly in Lightroom to correct perspective and boost the oranges.

Tweaked only slightly in Lightroom.

OK this photo might not win any awards but I included it to show how the G7X handled a low-light snapshot and also to show the astonishing spectacle of these dog owners taking their pets for a "walk"...

Gratuitous big sky shot, the dynamic range here is fairly impressive too although unsurprisingly the Sun has burned out top right.

Converted to monochrome & cropped to pano, this was shot at the full 100mm extension with the boats a good kilometre or more away.  At full size the details of the ships on the horizon, the sailors and their yachts are all quite detailed, showing how much leeway the 20 megapixels gives you when cropping your images.

An early morning scene of the beach near Changi.  This is the out-of-camera JPG but I also checked the RAW file - unfortunately the sun has bled through into a number of surrounding pixels.  This is fixable by underexposing or using an ND grad filter, or shooting bracketed exposures and merging to HDR.

A low-light, high ISO image taken in front of Marina Bay Sands.  Taken handheld, it's come out acceptably sharp and high-ISO noise looks pretty good.

Good, clean images in the shadows/blacks when shooting long exposures.  The right-most HDB block actually has a lighthouse built onto the roof!

One peculiar quirk that I found using the G7X was when shooting long exposures in aperture priority mode.  I would deliberate choose a small aperture & low ISO to force a longer shutter speed but the camera would only automatically choose a 1 second shutter.  To get a longer shutter speed I needed to switch it into full manual and use exposure simulation on the rear screen to frame my shot & estimate exposure - even turning on the built in ND filter didn't length the 1 second exposure time in AV mode.  Though the workaround was OK, a 1 second restriction in Av mode was quite peculiar but not unheard of; Samsung's NX series do something similar and the RX100-3 automatically reduces the aperture size at long exposure + high ISO settings.

What is it with me and taking photos of planes?  :)  This is converted using Silver Efex Pro 2 and tweaked in Photoshop

Specifications

  • 20.2 megapixel, 1" sensor
  • 24-100mm (equiv) lens, f/1.8-2.8
  • Integral lens stabilisation
  • 3" LCD screen, ~1 million dots
  • Touch-screen, tiltable from 0-180 degrees
  • 6.5fps burst mode
  • 10cm x 6cm x 4cm, 304g
  • 5472x3648 resolution
  • 1080p movie mode (inc. iFrame format)
  • ISO 125-12800

Conclusion

I'm impressed! The G7X is a very capable camera which is easy to use, produces good quality images and has a solid set of features.  It has its niggles, mostly around the useability of the rear screen, and the life of individual batteries isn't great but none of these are showstoppers.  The most important features are usability & image quality and the G7X delivers in both regards.  If you are looking for a top-end compact camera then the G7X is fantastic.  Highly recommended!

If you're trying to choose between this and the RX100-3 keep an eye on my site - I'll be doing a head-to-head test of both cameras and publishing the results soon!

The G7X is about £449 in the UK or S$799 in Singapore.

Pros

  • Great handling & manual controls (esp. the dedicated exposure compensation dial!)
  • Extremely good image quality for its size
  • Best-in-class lens with impressive focal length range & wide aperture

Cons

  • Rear screen hard to use in bright sunshine, touchscreen lacks a lock & only tilts 180 degrees
  • Manual focus isn't great, especially in low-light conditions
  • Worse-than-average battery life

 

How I Review

Although looking at MTF charts and DxO statistics is an important measure in judging gear quality, I like seeing real-world, hands-on reviews equipment in an environment I could imagine myself using it.  Technical & theoretical attributes are definitely important but I prefer to try to expose kit to a range of different usage situations and see how it holds up.  

 

Thanks to Canon Singapore for the review unit.