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Canon PowerShot G7 X review: Canon's G7 X is a swell but slow shooter

This advanced compact's photos look good but it needs to pick up the pace.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

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8 min read

Canon introduces a new sensor size into its product line with the enthusiast-targeted PowerShot G7 X: like Sony's RX series of advanced compacts, the G7 X features a 1-inch BSI (backside illuminated) sensor. At $700 (£580, approximately AU$775) the G7 X is only about $100 less than then its big brother, the G1 X Mark II -- even less in Australia -- and that gap will probably narrow as the months go on.

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7.9

Canon PowerShot G7 X

The Good

The Canon PowerShot G7 X delivers excellent photo quality for its class, along with a fine lens and relatively streamlined shooting design.

The Bad

Its performance and connectivity implemenation don't impress, and some people may miss the hot shoe.

The Bottom Line

The Canon PowerShot G7 X would jump from very good to excellent if it could just pick up the pace.

The G7 X has some features that are welcome in the G X line, most notably a fast 24-100mm f1.8-2.8 lens with a 9-blade aperture and a flip-up touchscreen display. With great photo quality for this class and a streamlined shooting design, the camera fares well against its Sony competitors. Unfortunately, weak performance holds it back.

Image quality

Photos look excellent, and video quality is fine for most casual use. The G7 X uses a 1-inch Sony sensor -- apocryphally the same one as the RX100 III -- and it's interesting to see what the photos looks like paired with a different lens and image-processing software. The answer: a bit sharper with better white balance and more detail in the shadow areas.

Canon PowerShot G7 X photo samples

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Relative sensor sizes

Lori Grunin/CNET

The G7 X's JPEGs look relatively clean through ISO 400, though at ISO 400 you can see the noise reduction kick in little; by ISO 800 noise and detail degradation starts. Still, the JPEGs, depending on scene content, are OK through ISO 3200. Using raw increases that to ISO 6400.

Canon's white balance is generally pretty accurate, though as frequently happens, I had to manually switch it from auto to Cloudy or Shade to get correct colors in those conditions. The defaults tend to push the color saturation a lot more than I like, and unfortunately, the Neutral color setting isn't available when shooting raw or raw+JPEG.

It has a decent tonal range for its class, delivering reasonable highlight detail and only clipping shadows a little. There's also a surprising (for this type of camera) amount of detail recoverable from highlights and shadows in the raw files without introducing artifacts.

Video quality, even in low light, is quite good; a little better than the RX100 II 's but not as good as the XAVC S-codec video out of the RX100 III.

Analysis samples

Note: unless you view the samples at their full 770-pixel width they won't look right.

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JPEGs look clean through ISO 200 and good through ISO 400, where you can see some blurring due to noise reduction. By ISO 800, there's noticeable detail degradation. Lori Grunin/CNET
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You can see smearing at ISO 1600, but depending upon scene content, I found JPEGs usable through ISO 3200 and raw through ISO 6400. Lori Grunin/CNET
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Though it uses (possibly) the same sensor, the G7 X's JPEGs look much sharper than the Sony RX100 III's because the lens is slightly sharper. The noise on unprocessed raw files looks close to identical. (ISO 1600 JPEG) Lori Grunin/CNET
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As usual, Canon's default color settings push the saturation a bit too much, though it's probably pleasing to a lot of people. Lori Grunin/CNET
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Though I don't like what it does to bright, saturated reds, overall the colors are bright and pleasing. Lori Grunin/CNET
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The sharpening in the JPEGs brings out some fine detail, but exacerbates some noise issues. Lori Grunin/CNET

Performance

Note: We recently updated our testing methodology, so the results aren't comparable with previous testing. Where possible, I've retested cameras for comparison.

Unfortunately, the G7 X upholds one of the less admirable traditions of the G series: generally sluggish autofocus performance. Note that we test with continuous autofocus turned off for single shots because in real life leaving it on drains the battery -- I also personally find the constant lens movement irritating -- and the G7 X's battery life is pretty bad to start. The camera has an ECO mode, which turns off the screen almost immediately: too soon and too often. It's telling that the three-bar battery level goes straight from two bars to blinking red with no stops in between.

The only real bright spot in the camera's performance is continuous shooting with autofocus, where it's one of the faster cameras in its class (although we haven't yet tested the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100, which might be faster).

In all other respects the camera's speed ranges from typical to middling. It powers on and shoots in 1.5 seconds, which, alas is about average for this class of cameras. It takes between 0.5- and 0.8-second to lock focus and shoot, depending upon lighting conditions, and runs 1.1 seconds to shoot two sequential JPEGs or 1.4 seconds for raw; using flash raises that to 2.5 seconds.

Autofocus problems plagued me during testing, though. The camera bafflingly failed to focus frequently on single-point AF, for reasons I couldn't discern: well-lit, reasonably high-contrast scenes of unmoving subjects, at a distance within the appropriate focus range for the lens and regardless of the size of the AF area. Sometimes it would indicate trouble, but the image would be in focus. The touch AF comes in handy for moments like this. And the Servo continuous AF works pretty well for moderately moving objects, like a casual cyclist crossing the frame.

As usual, the complete autofocus setting never selected the proper subject; it's really only useful when you want the entire scene in focus, as it selects as many AF areas as possible. Face AiAF works OK for stills, but for movies it can be too easily distracted by other faces moving through the frame.

The tilting touchscreen LCD is nice, but quite reflective, and because you can't tilt it down or turn it, framing scenes in sunlight or even straight down in front of you can be difficult.

Shooting speed

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III 0.3 0.1 0.5 0.5 2.0Canon PowerShot G7 X 0.5 0.8 1.1 2.5 1.5
  • Shutter lag (typical)
  • Shutter lag (dim)
  • Typical shot-to-shot time
  • Raw shot-to-shot time
  • Time to first shot
Note: Seconds (smaller is better)

Typical continuous-shooting speed

Canon PowerShot G7 X 4.6Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III 2.1
Note: Frames per second (larger is better)

Design and features

The G7 X combines much of the good stuff from the company's previous G series models. Unfortunately, one of those things is not a grip. It has the same flush front as the Sony RX100 series, but incorporates a matte texture to make it just a hair less slippery and a bigger thumb grip in the back to give you something to hang onto. In all other respects -- size, weight, balance -- it feels fine.

Its 24-100mm f1.8-2.8 lens is the best we've seen on the G X models, though not quite as long as the G16; it's a lot harder to put a fast, long-zoom lens on a compact with 1-inch sensor compared to the G16 's 1/1.7-inch sensor, however. Like most of today's enthusiast compacts, there's also a ring around the lens that can be mapped to a variety of controls such as aperture, stepped zoom, ISO sensitivity and so on. The ring feels very clicky, which can be disconcerting when using it to manually focus, and if you want to silence/smooth the operation it you can't. The camera does have focus peaking, however, which helps in manual-focus mode.

Sarah Tew/CNET

On the top are two stacked dials, exposure compensation on the bottom and a mode dial on top -- similar to the G16, but concentric rather than offset. The shutter button with zoom switch sits to the left of it. I find the shutter a bit stiff, and occasionally snapped photos while attempting find the correct pressure to prefocus. The popup flash on the left side is OK but doesn't tilt for bouncing.

On the mode dial you'll find the usual manual, semimanual and automatic modes. Among the automatic modes are Canon's Hybrid Auto, which records short clips before each still which it later combines into a movie; an effects bracketing mode that records six variations; and a typical image-effects mode. There's also a single custom-setting slot and a movie-specific mode that allows you to use manual settings. Incorporating Canon's new Digic 6 imaging engine brings it a few new scene modes to Canon: Star Portrait, Star Nightscape and Star Time-Lapse.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For selfies and groupies, Canon adds a few automatic features to use with the flip-up display. The touchscreen gives it an advantage over Sony's implementation, but when the LCD is flipped up it flashes the autofocus assist light as the countdown timer, even if it's disabled -- which is blinding and almost hurts when pointed at your eyes. (I'm still seeing spots.) The face detection, smile detection and wink detection settings all work pretty well, though with that light flashing in my eyes all my selfies have scrunch face.

The touchscreen is really nice for shooting video, and you can silently change shutter speed, aperture and ISO sensitivity while recording in movie mode. In still mode the only touch actions available are focus and shutter.

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Why, Canon, why? Given how little the app does and how it forces you to use CIG to connect to any online services, the amount of privacy you have to give up for the Android app is ludicrous. Lori Grunin/CNET

Canon's connectivity is marginally improved, but still one of the most disappointing around. The improvement? This camera has NFC to launch a connection on devices, and two dedicated buttons for enabling Wi-Fi. The app is still underfeatured, though. Remote shooting controls very few of the camera's functions; it automatically operates in Program mode, and you can basically only zoom, enable flash and set the self-timer. Otherwise, it can browse images on the phone, download images from the camera, and geotag them. If you want to upload directly to places like Facebook or Instagram, you still have to connect via Canon's Image Gateway service.

For a complete overview of the G7 X's features and operation, download the manual.

Conclusion

The G7 X produces better photos than the more expensive G1 X Mark II, and it's more compact than the older model, partly because it lacks a hot shoe. It also delivers better photo quality than its Sony competitors, so if that's your only concern, then go for it. But it's slow, and if you're looking for something that plays well with your online life, this isn't it.

Comparative specifications

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II Canon PowerShot G7 X Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II
Sensor effective resolution 12.8MP HS CMOS 20.2MP HS CMOS 12.8MP MOS 20.2MP Exmor R CMOS
Sensor size 1.5-inch
(18.7 x 14mm)
1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8 mm)
Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13mm)
1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Focal-length multiplier 1.85x 2.7x 2.0x 2.7x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 12800/25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 160 - ISO 12800
Lens (35mm equivalent) 24 - 120mm
f2-3.9
5x
24-100mm
f1.8-2.8
4.2x
24 - 75mm
f1.7-2.8
3.1x
28 - 100mm
f1.8-4.9
3.6x
Closest focus 2.0 in./5 cm 2.0 in./5 cm 2 in./3 cm 1.9 in./5 cm
Burst shooting 3fps
(5.2fps with fixed focus)
n/a
4.4fps
31 JPEG/n/a raw
(6.5fps with fixed focus)
6.5fps
n/a
(40fps with electronic shutter)
2.5fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
12 JPEG/13 raw
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
Optional EVF
Tilting TFT
(EVF-DC1, $299; est £284)
None EVF
0.4 in/10.2 mm
2.764m dots
100% coverage
1.39x/0.7x
Optional
OLED EVF
Tilting
0.5-inch/12.7mm
2.36m dots
100 percent coverage
($350/£380/AU$500)
Hot shoe Yes No Yes Yes
Autofocus 31-area
Contrast AF
31-area
Contrast AF
49-area
Contrast AF
25-area
Contrast AF
Shutter speed 61 - 1/4,000 sec. 250 - 1/2,000 sec. 60 - 1/4,000 sec. (1/16,000 electronic shutter); bulb to 2 minutes 30 - 1/2,000 sec.; bulb
Metering n/a n/a 1,728 zones n/a
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p
MP4 UHD/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps; 1080/60p, 50p AVCHD
1080/60p, 50p, 25p,
24p
Audio Stereo Stereo Stereo Stereo
Manual aperture and shutter in video No Yes n/a Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/29:59 minutes 4GB/29:59 minutes n/a 29 minutes
Optical zoom while recording Yes Yes Yes Yes
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical
LCD 3 in./7.5 cm
Tilting touchscreen
1.04m dots
3 in./7.5 cm
Flip-up touchscreen
1.04m dots
3 in./7.5 cm
Fixed
921,000 dots
3 in./7.5cm
Tilting
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC
Flash Yes Yes Bundled optional Yes
Wireless flash No No No No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 240 shots 210 shots (normal)
310 shots (ECO mode)
300 shots 350 shots
Size (WHD) 4.6 x 3.0 x 2.6 in.
116.3 x 74 x 66.2 mm
4.1 x 2.4 x 1.6 in.
103 x 60.4 x 40.4 mm
4.5 x 2.6 x 2.2 in.
114.8 x 66.2 x 55.0 mm
4.0 x 2.3 x 1.5 in.
101.6 x 58.1 x 38.3 mm
Body operating weight
19.5 oz.
552 g
10.7 oz.
302 g
13.8 oz. (est.)
393 g (est.)
9.9 oz.
280.7 g
Mfr. price

$800
£800
AU$820
$700
£580 (est.)
AU$775 (est.)
$900
£800
AU$1,200
$650
£570
AU$900
Release date (US) April 2014 October 2014 November 2014 July 2013
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7.9

Canon PowerShot G7 X

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 8
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