Review: On holiday with Canon’s Powershot G7X Mark II

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New Atlas spends a bit of time with the enthusiast-focued Canon Powershot G7X Mark II compact camera(Credit: Simon Crisp/New Atlas)

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With a large sensor, a fast zoom lens, and manual controls, the compact Canon Powershot G7X Mark II can be different things to different people. It could be a step up from a smartphone, a versatile vacation shooter, or the chance for enthusiasts to travel light. We recently packed one to take on holiday, to put through its paces. But what did we make of our diminutive travel companion? Read on to find out.

The US$700 Canon Powershot G7X II is one of a fairly recent breed of compact cameras which feature a large sensor and a fast zoom lens. This makes them more versatile than your smartphone, and able to deliver better quality images. They're probably best seen as a step between a smartphone and a bulkier mirrorless or DSLR camera. Other similar devices in this category include the Sony RX100 IV and the Panasonic ZS100, which each have their own merits.

Key features of the G7X II include its 20-megapixel 1-inch CMOS sensor, a 24-100-mm F1.8-F2.8 equivalent lens, an ISO range reaching up to 12,800, and built-in Wi-Fi. However, the original G7X, which was launched in 2014, also looked great on the spec sheet, but was something of a disappointment in person. So we were curious to see how this second generation camera fares.

In the hands, the Canon Powershot G7X II feels very much like a solid bit of kit thanks to its metal construction. While it's small enough to be pocketable, the 319 g (11.3 oz) weight would probably mean you'd be constantly hoiking your pants up, so it's probably best carried in a jacket pocket or bag.

The heft is partially due to the lens which protrudes as you power the camera on, which it does nice and quickly, meaning you're not going to miss too many photo opportunities. Unfortunately, Canon hasn't made any claims about weather sealing, so even though it feels like it should be able to withstand most situations, it's best to treat the G7X II with a bit of care.

Despite its small size, the G7X II manages to pack in controls galore for a compact camera. This is what makes it a good option for both experienced users of interchangeable lens systems who want to travel light, and would-be enthusiasts who want to learn the ropes of photography without getting bogged down by a bigger camera.

We found the various buttons, dials, and rings were accessible and made the camera easy to take control of. That said, if you have the chunky hands of a UFC fighter, or are used to the space afforded by a professional DSLR, you might find the G7X II a tad cramped. We particularly liked the control ring around the lens which can be set to rotate smoothly, or stepped, where it gives tactile feedback.

Around back, there's an LCD touchscreen which can be used to navigate menus. Movement has been increased over the original G7X, and the screen can now be angled down 45 degrees in addition to tilting up 180 degrees. The ability to navigate menus (which will look very familiar to current Canon shooters) with your finger, is also more helpful than we expected it to be. While we wouldn't dare admit it in certain photography circles, we often found ourselves using the touchscreen over the physical controls for some settings.

In addition to the menus familiar to Canon DSLR users, there are simple touchscreen-focused menus which kick in when doing things like setting a scene mode. This sort of intuitive control again makes the point that the G7X II is a good option for those aiming to improve their photography skills, and that it won't be too intimidating for beginners stepping up from a smartphone.

With a big DSLR being our regular camera of choice, using a compact (even a powerful enthusiast one) can sometimes feel a bit of a chore. Not so with the G7X II – it was a fun and easy camera to use, which you certainly want when using the camera on holiday. It's easy to take control of settings when you want to, but if letting someone else take a shot, it's capable (but not at all intimidating) in its more automatic modes.

Even my normally camera-phobic wife (who prefers to shoot exclusively with her smartphone) was willing to use the G7X II, which is quite the recommendation. What seemed to sway her was not only how easy the G7X II can be to use, but the versatility of the zoom lens. It reaches from a wide 24-mm equivalent, similar to what she's used to from a smartphone, up to a 100-mm equivalent telephoto, for zooming in on the action.

This allowed her to keep her toes dry while shooting images of me and my son splashing about in the sea. The 20-megapixel resolution sensor meant that we were able to crop in tighter on a subject, while still retaining good image quality. While we won't go into a detailed analysis of lens sharpness at various focal lengths (many potential buyers of this camera may struggle to stay awake through that) we were suitably impressed for such a small camera.

The variable F1.8-F2-8 maximum aperture, combined with the 1-inch sensor, meant that even at the telephoto end of the focal range, we were able to use it to isolate a subject with some background blur. Showing it's not your typical small camera, this also meant the G7X II didn't need to use the slow shutter speeds that are all too often required by a compact shooting when zoomed in.

With a reasonably snappy 31-point autofocus system, the G7X II is also going to give you more keepers than most compact cameras, though it's obviously not a patch on professional cameras like the 1DX Mark II. It's competent at tracking moving subjects, and was able to keep up as we tracked speed boats and kids running around on a beach. Here the continuous shooting of up to 8 fps (frames per second) was also welcome, though it soon slows down after a second or two as the buffer fills.

Face detection focusing also proved a handy addition in our tests, particularly on occasions when the rear screen was hard to see because of sun glare. Indeed this glare, and the lack of an electronic viewfinder, was our biggest gripe with the camera. While this problem can be negated by trying to angle the screen away from the sun, we'd have preferred an EVF option.

Image quality was great for a compact camera. While it's not intended to deliver DSLR-rivaling photos, the G7X II will be more than enough for many shooting situations, and is leagues ahead of typical compact and smartphone cameras. We shot a combination of JPEG and RAW images, which when processed in Lightroom, or using the in-camera conversion, really showed their quality and dynamic range.

Low light and high ISO performance are other areas in which the G7X II excels for such a small camera, and seems a step up from its predecessor. Though the top ISO setting is 12,800, you are going to want to keep this for times you absolutely need it. Realistically, we were very happy with images shot at up to ISO 1600, after which point you begin to see noise creeping in, and lose color range. By ISO 6400 there is noticeable image noise, as the cropped sections from the image below shows.

When shooting in low light, at longer telephoto lengths, or even when panning, the optical image stabilization can be a big bonus. It saved us having to get out a tripod on a number of occasions, and gave smoother looking video than we'd otherwise have been able to shoot.

On the video front, the camera might lack the 4K modes we'd all have liked to have seen, but still delivers impressive Full HD 1080p footage at 60/50 fps. Combined with the tilt up screen, it's easy to see why so many YouTube vloggers appear to be flocking to the G7X II. It's just a shame there's not a microphone input and headphone output. Audio from the built-in mics is fine for everyday recording most of the time, but runs into problems in noisy situations.

Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity makes it easy to get images from the G7X II onto other devices, or even take control of it with your Android or iOS smartphone. The basic set-up is fairly straightforward, and then just involves hitting the Wi-Fi button on the side of your camera, and connecting the desired device. Selecting and sharing an image using this system is much quicker and easier than some we've used, and remote control features work well, and are good if shooting a selfie while the camera is out of arms reach, or if it's positioned for an angle which leaves it otherwise inaccessible.

Conclusion...

We were quite taken by the G7X II during our time with it. While it won't be replacing a DSLR as our go-to camera of choice, we can certainly see times that it would be preferable to lugging around an interchangeable lens system, or dropping down to relying on a smartphone. It's clear that for a good number of people, this is all the camera they are going to need. It's versatile, offers great image quality, and has the modern connectivity and features that people expect.

You can check out a few more of the shots from our time with the G7X II in the photo gallery. Please note, all images have been lightly post-processed either in-camera or using Adobe Lightroom.

As we mentioned earlier, our biggest gripe with the camera (as with many small shooters) is the lack of an electronic viewfinder, which the Sony RX100 IV still manages to pack. Other niggles include the battery life, which while extended over the original G7X (and able to give 240 shots), still feels all too brief. There's also the lack of 4K video, which the Panasonic ZS100 is capable of, and we would have preferred a hot-shoe over the pop-up flash, but are aware we're probably in the minority on that one.

The $700 Canon G7X Mark II offers a reliable, and fun, user experience which we would whole-heartedly recommend. Indeed, we've already pointed a couple of people toward it. These have including a mother who wanted better images of her kids, but without carrying a mirrorless or DSLR camera, and a photojournalist who needed an inconspicuous but capable camera which would allow him to get pictures back to his picture desk quickly.

Product page: Canon G7X Mark II

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