Introduction and features
In the past, Canon has had a lot of success with its PowerShot G-series and PowerShot S-series of compact cameras, but in recent times models like the 12.2Mp Canon G16 have started to seem a bit too bulky and ugly. Both it and the sexier PowerShot S120 (which has the same sensor) also lack in the sensor size department when compared with the likes of the Sony RX100 II and Sony RX100 III.
The new Canon PowerShot G7 X gives photographers an alternative option when looking for a small camera as back-up to their SLR. Inside its sleek exterior, which is a pretty close match for the S120′s, is a new 20.2-million-pixel, one-inch back-illuminated sensor and a Digic 6 processing engine. This puts it above the G16 and S120, but below the Canon G1 X Mark II (which has a 1.5-inch, or 18.7×14.0mm, sensor) in the PowerShot range.
As a compact camera, the G7 X has a fixed lens and Canon has plumped for an 8.8-36.8mm optic, which is equivalent to a 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 lens in 35mm terms. This is a nice versatile range that will be appreciated by keen photographers as it allows for cramped interior shots, flattering portraits and a little telephoto reach. The fact that the lens has a nine-blade aperture will also be popular as this should create smoother bokeh (background blur).
The wide maximum aperture is also good news as this allows greater control over depth of field and fast shutter speeds to be used in comparatively low light. There’s also a three-stop Image Stabilization (IS) system to help combat camera shake in low light.
It’s worth noting that the widest aperture is only available at the very shortest focal length – the aperture closes to a still-wide f/2.0 as soon as the focal length is adjusted and it’s not long before it drops to (a still very useful) f/2.8.
As the Canon G7 X is designed to appeal to enthusiast photographers, it’s possible to shoot in manual, aperture priority or shutter priority mode, but there are also automatic options for less experienced photographers. Images may also be saved in raw or JPEG format (or both simultaneously) and sensitivity, aperture and shutter speed may be controlled manually when shooting Full HD video (at up to 60p).
In recognition of the selfie phenomenon the three-inch, 1,040,000-dot LCD screen on the back of the camera can be tipped up through 180 degrees for easy viewing while facing the camera lens. And, like the S120, the G7 X’s screen is also touch-sensitive so you have a choice of using the shortcut buttons or the screen to control the camera. Unfortunately, there’s no viewfinder, so the screen is the only option for composing and reviewing images.
There is, however, Wi-Fi connectivity for wireless transfer and quick image sharing, along with NFC technology to speed up connection to NFC-enabled smartphones and tablets. The camera can also use a smartphone’s GPS system for geotagging images.
As the sensor is comparatively large and is back-illuminated, noise should be controlled well. Consequently, Canon has allowed sensitivity to be set in the ISO 100-12,800 range, with the full range available in auto mode; the maximum continuous shooting rate is 6.5 frames per second (fps) though the focus is set at the start of the sequence. The rate drops to 4.4 fps with continuous autofocusing. Up to 692 images can be shot in a sequence.
Other specification highlights include Creative Shot mode, in which the camera records a sequence of six images that are treated or cropped in a random variety of ways, a small pop-up flash, Star mode for capturing the night sky and star trails automatically, HDR mode for increased dynamic range and Hybrid Auto mode, which captures a snippet of video footage with every still and then creates a movie at the end of the day.
Build and handling
Although it’s a G-series camera the G7 X looks more like the S120 than the G16 or G1 X Mark II – it’s much sleeker in appearance than other G-series models. At 103×60.4×40.4mm and 304g it’s also just a little bigger and heavier than the S120 (100.2x59x29mm and 217g).
The new camera looks and feels like a high quality model, and there are subtle new design flourishes in the form of a flash of red at the base of the shutter release button and a mode dial on the top-plate.
Unlike the S120, the G7 X’s mode dial sits above an exposure compensation dial with settings running in the range +/-3EV. Both are within easy reach of the thumb and forefinger and it means exposure can be adjusted very quickly.
There’s also a control ring around the lens and in the default set-up this is used to set aperture, but it can be quickly changed to adjust sensitivity, manual focus, white balance, focal length, dynamic range, shadow correction and aspect ratio, along with an option selected by the photographer. In the default set-up this is done by pressing the Ring Function (Func.) button and then selecting the option that you want to adjust. The options can be scrolled using the lens ring, the navigation buttons, the scroll wheel around the navigation buttons or by touching the screen. Once the option has been selected, rotating the lens ring adjusts the selected setting. It’s a very quick and easy way of working.
Canon has given the lens ring just the right level of friction. It doesn’t get knocked easily out of place and it has nice positive action. It also clicks as it is rotates to indicate a change has been made, which is useful.
The control layout on the back of the G7 X is the same as the S120′s, and the navigation controls are also shortcut buttons to access the flash and macro shooting options. As mentioned earlier, a high quality scroll wheel surrounds these buttons to speed up menu navigation and setting selection, but selections can also be made with a touch on the screen.
The G7 X feels great in the hand, is small and neat enough to fit in a jacket pocket and has a great control arrangement, so it’s easy to adjust settings quickly. The only real disappointment is the lack of a viewfinder.
The three-inch 1,040,000-dot LCD provides a detailed view, but as with most other screens it suffers from reflections in bright light and this can make composition tricky. I also found the level display hard to see on some occasions as the lines are quite fine and in some lights its difficult to see it change from red to green to indicate that the camera is level. Similarly, the Peaking display in manual exposure mode is hard to see on the screen in bright light.
I’d also prefer the screen to be a vari-angle model as this is more helpful than the tilting type when shooting upright format images from awkward angles. Nevertheless, the tilting bracket seems fairly robust and by default the image flips when the screen is tipped up through 180 degrees for selfie shooting.
On the plus-side, the screen responds promptly to touch and, although fingerprints build-up over time, it seems reasonably resistant to them.
It’s also easy to connect the camera’s Wi-Fi system to a device even without using the NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. Once this is done Canon’s CameraWindow app can be used to view and transfer images, control the camera remotely while viewing the image on the ‘phone screen and add location data. The level of control provided for remote control is limited to adjusting focal length (zoom), setting the self-timer and tripping the shutter, but it makes it easier to take selfies from further away than arm’s length.
Canon has kept the menu of the G7 X fairly simple and it doesn’t usually take long to find the option that you want. There’s a short customisable Function menu which is accessed by pressing the Func/Set button at the centre of the navigation controls and this speeds up making some settings changes. However, it’s a shame that the My Colors options aren’t available when shooting raw files at the same time as JPEGs and it would be nice to be able to combine the fun Creative Shot and HDR modes with the advanced exposure modes and raw file recording.
Performance and verdict
We have been very impressed with Canon’s compact cameras in the past, and the G7 X doesn’t blot Canon’s copybook. Images generally look good straight from the camera, in most cases having correct exposure, pleasant colours and a good level of detail.
Images taken at the lower sensitivity settings look very good indeed, but if you choose to look for it at 100% there is luminance noise visible in images taken at ISO 400 and higher. Areas of very fine detail tend to be rendered as a wash of fairly uniform tone, but at normal viewing sizes the results are very good. I found that images look good up to around ISO 6400, when a little softening and loss of detail becomes apparent in JPEG images. However, even shots taken at IS0 12,800, the highest value available, look pretty good at around 10×8 inches. Those who shoot raw files can choose the balance of noise reduction against detail retention.
Images shot at the longest point of the lens look sharp across the frame, only dipping a little in quality at the corners. Those shot at the widest point of the lens, however, show a more noticeable drop in quality across the frame. At 100% on-screen, coma distortion – the distortion that makes dots look like commas – is apparent in the corners.
The G7X’s general-purpose metering system works well in the majority of situations, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the exposure may shift if the subject under the active AF point is very dark or very bright. This can be problematic in very extreme contrast situations, but the exposure compensation facility is conveniently to hand if adjustment is required.
The large bright areas of a river scene early in the morning with a white overcast sky above also resulted in underexposure of the darker areas, despite positioning the active AF point over a dark part of the scene.
Canon cameras have some of the best automatic white balance systems around and the one in the G7 X copes with most situations very well. As is often the case, images can get rather warm looking when scenes are shot under artificial light. However, this is easily corrected using a Custom white balance setting. This is set by Selecting the white balance and then custom white balance option in the function menu before pressing the Ring Function button while the highlighted area is over a white (or neutral grey) target. It’s actually a simpler process than Canon employs in its SLRs and the company would do well to adopt the approach more widely.
I found the G7 X’s autofocus (AF) system fast and accurate in normal daylight conditions. It also performs pretty well in darker conditions, only becoming indecisive in very low light situations. One frustration, however, is that it’s not possible to control the AF point in fully some of the automatic shooting modes. In Hybrid Auto mode, for example, the initial point can be set with a tap on screen, but the size and location of the AF point varies as the camera moves. In most situations the camera does a good job of selecting the subject, but many would prefer to able to take control.
The results produced in Creative Shot mode are fun and some look very good – but as is the nature of a random effect, some leave you scratching your head and wondering why the crop or treatment has been applied in that way.
The compact camera market is tough at the moment, but that’s great news for the consumer as manufacturers are being pushed to create even better cameras with more features. Consumers are also much better informed these days and many appreciate the benefit of having a physically larger sensor; it creates a stronger signal which means less noise and greater dynamic range, as well as giving more control over depth of field.
The wide maximum aperture also means that safe hand-holding shutter speeds can be used even in relatively low-light (this is backed-up by image stabilisation) and there’s plenty of creative potential.
The G7 X is a great little camera for enthusiasts who want something that they can slip into a jacket pocket to take better images than they can with their smartphone. It looks set to offer strong competition against the Sony RX100 II, although the latter currently holds the edge with its built-in viewfinder (although it’s rather clunky to deploy).
It’s control arrangement is excellent and the lens ring provides a quick way of adjusting key parameters. It’s also great to have an exposure compensation dial. However, if you’re looking for a compact camera with retro controls, the Panasonic LX 100 goes a bit further with the addition of a shutter speed dial, an aspect ratio switch AND an electronic viewfinder.
Although it’s a G-series camera the G7 X is a look sleeker and more attractive than the G16 and G1 X Mark II, it’s much more like the Canon S120. It also feels solidly put together and has an excellent control arrangement.
Importantly, image quality is high and it’s possible to record raw files as well as JPEGs which gives photographers maximum control over the noise control, white balance and colour of their images.
The only significant problem I have with the G7 X is that it doesn’t have a viewfinder. Viewfinders are making a welcome reappearance in compact cameras and although there are many without them, key competing cameras like the Sony RX100 III and Panasonic LX100 have them built-in. While the G7 X’s screen offers a very clear view indoors and in overcast conditions, reflections are an issue in bright light and composition and manual focusing becomes tricky.
Some users may also be disappointed by the lack of a hot-shoe, but there is a small flash built-in.
I think that Canon has produced one of its best compact cameras to date. The 1-inch 20.2Mp sensor, 24-100mm (equivalent) f/1.8-2.8 lens and excellent handling make the Canon G7 X a superb option for someone looking for a pocketable alternative to their SLR or CSC. The only downside is the lack of a viewfinder. It will be interesting to see how the results from the Panasonic LX100 compare to it when we get a review sample in for testing.
Colours look natural straight from the camera.
There’s a good level of detail in this ISO 125 image, and using the maximum aperture has restricted depth of field nicely.
This bright scene required 2/3EV positive exposure compensation when the Evaluative metering was used to get the highlights look as bright as they should.
This shot was taken at the longest point of the lens using an aperture of f/8, and there’s sufficient depth field to cover the whole scene.
The hairs on these courgettes are visible at 100% on-screen.
This shot was taken indoors under fluorescent lights but the automatic white balance system has done a good job and the subtle pink of the roses is rendered well.
Another ISO 125, f/1.8 shot showing the ability to reproduce detail and control depth of field.
Despite being taken at ISO 1250, there’s an impressive level of detail in this image.
Even at ISO 5000 noise is controlled very well and there’s just a little luminance speckling visible at 100%.
At the widest point of the lens the camera can focus at 5cm in front of the lens in Macro mode.
This image was overexposed by 1EV above the Evaluative metering system’s recommendation to give a high key result.
This image would benefit from brightening by 1/3-2/3Ev to bring it a little more to life.
Creative Shot mode
These images show the type of results that are produced in Creative Shot mode. The original composition is shown first.