Canon must have been looking at the immense success of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 prosumer compact series with much envy.
The first RX100 and its successor was Editor's Choice for the Best Compact Prosumer category in the Digital Life Awards 2013 and 2014. And the latest iteration, the RX100 III, is even better.
Canon has come up with an answer with its PowerShot G7 X. So, is this the RX100 killer?
The G7 X packs a 20.2-megapixel 1-inch CMOS image sensor - rumoured to be the same as that of the RX100 III - with Canon's Digic 6 image processor.
But where the RX100 III uses a 24-70mm f/1.8-f/2.8 lens, the G7 X has a longer optical zoom lens, the fast 24-100mm f/1.8-f/2.8 lens.
This is a useful focal range and it is especially convenient to have such a big aperture (f/2.8) at 100mm focal length in a camera only 4cm thick (about the same as the RX100 III) and weighing only 304g.
The G7 X is 14g heavier and lacks the built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) found in the RX100 III. It has no hot shoe, so there is no way you can mount an external EVF.
As a long-time DSLR user, I prefer using an EVF over a display when composing photos. The EVF comes in useful when you work in bright sunlight and the glare hinders your view of the display.
The G7 X's display is touchscreen; not so the RX100 III's. But the touchscreen cannot be tilted downwards. The displays of both can be flipped upwards 180 degrees for easy selfie shots.
But let's see what the G7 X is really made of. The specs do not reveal the composition, but from the touch and feel, I reckon the G7 X is made of metal and plastic. Its build is pretty sturdy and its metallic dials and buttons have a premium feel.
Though the camera lacks a contoured rubberised grip, a small rear thumb rest offers a good comfortable grasp of the camera and you never feel it is about to slip from your hands.
The button layout is immaculate. At the top right sit a Mode dial and an Exposure Compensation dial, both within easy access of your thumb and index finger.
On the back is a clickable dial that allows quick access to Drive, Flash, Macro and Display settings; and a dedicated video recording button just below the thumb rest.
In front, a control ring around the lens lets you adjust aperture. That is the default. But it can be changed to adjust ISO, manual focus, white balance and other settings. In Manual mode, the control ring can be used to adjust aperture size; and the rear dial to change shutter speeds quickly, which is handy.
The control ring and the dials on top of the camera are stiff and unlikely to swivel around by accident. An audible click indicates when they are being adjusted. Overall, the handling is superb.
Start-up takes 1.3sec; shutdown, 1.9sec. It zooms from 24mm to 100mm in 1.7 sec. Shutter lag is minimal.
Using an SD card with a writing speed rated at 25MB per second, the camera captured only two RAW images in 0.9sec before the buffer ran out. But it was able to shoot 14 JPEG images in 2.2sec before it slowed down.
Autofocusing (AF) is fast and accurate in bright sunlight, with almost instant focus lock-on. In dim conditions, it takes about 1sec, with the aid of AF assist light.
Image quality is great, with neutral rendition of colours and crisp details across the entire focal range. Slight softness is expected at f/1.8 aperture, but corner to corner sharpness is generally good at the longer focal length. At the widest, or 24mm, there is a clear drop in sharpness at the corners.
Auto white balance is accurate in most circumstances, though it does look a bit warm under artificial lighting.
Image noise performance is slightly below par for a camera of this class. Some luminance noise is visible at ISO 400, but this is not significant. Even at ISO 1,600, where noise artefacts are clearly visible, there is little loss of details. But avoid using ISO 3,200 or faster speeds.
Video quality is generally good, but it picks up too much wind and ambient audio. AF during video recording is quick and nails the focus in less than 2sec.
Battery life is below average at about 220 stills on a full charge. You should probably have a spare battery or two on hand if taking this camera on vacation.
The Canon PowerShot G7 X is a superb prosumer compact camera with great image quality, intuitive handling and a convenient fast lens. If only it had come two years earlier, it would have been an immediate winner.
This article was first published on Oct 8, 2014.
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