A while back, camera makers decided that people want to zoom in really, really far. More recently, they also realised people want great image quality and advanced controls. (Who'da thought!?) Here are new two cameras that do both. Let's see which is worth your hard-earned dollars.
Sony's RX10 Mark II and the Canon G3X are both what I call premium superzooms. They both have long-range zoom lenses and one-inch sensors, which means much better image quality than your typical dadcam. (Full disclosure: I am a dad.) Why compare these two specific cameras now? They're the most recent premium superzooms on the market, and they have got similar prices.
In the left corner, we have the $1899 Sony RX10 Mark II. In case you're not aware, Sony's original RX10 sort of paved the way for the premium superzoom. The new Mark II has some re-worked guts for extra stopping power. It has a 20 megapixel one-inch sensor, a 24-200mm f/2.8 lens with 8.3x optical zoom, a very good electronic viewfinder, and the ability to shoot 4K video.
In the right corner, the $1099 Canon G3X has a similar 20 megapixel sensor to the Sony. But it has a 24-600mm f/2.8-5.6 lens, which is 25x optical zoom. That's triple the zoom range, and really where Canon hopes to win hearts and minds. It also shoots HD video, but not 4K footage.
At those prices, why not just buy a DSLR?
An entry-level DSLR has better image quality, is far cheaper than $1000, and you can change lenses if you want to. But the logic here is that most people who buy entry-level DSLRs never buy good lenses. They stick with the kit lens with its cheap quality and limited zoom range. A premium super-zoom does everything your average amateur wants to do with a DSLR, but in a more compact, all-in-one package.
Over the past few weeks, I casually toted around these cameras and shot things like landscapes, my kid, and other random crap. Sometimes I brought one cam. Sometimes I brought both. Below are the main areas that I found to really set these two cameras apart.
Before diving in, a quick note about image quality: these two cameras are extremely close in terms of image quality. It's not worth pouring over minute differences because they're so small as to make absolutely no difference for any practical application. Both cams produce beautiful images. Onward!
Above: Canon G3X at 330mm, ISO 125
Above: Sony RX10 Mark II at 200mm, ISO 100
On paper, the biggest difference between Canon and Sony is zoom. How much do you need? The G3X's 600mm range is certainly fun, but that fun has limits.
First, you need to have some level of photography acumen to pull off telephoto shots at that range. You need to know what shutter speeds are safe (auto mode doesn't always do a great job) to avoid blurry pics, and you'll need daylight since the aperture at 600mm goes down to f/5.6. If I wanted to shoot at 600mm in anything but bright daylight, I usually had to bump my ISO up to account for the faster required shutter speeds, and that hurts image quality. Oh, and you can forget about shooting usable video with your bare hands at that zoom level.
Here are shots from each camera at their widest focal length. See the red boxes I've drawn? That's how close you can get if you zoom in all the way.
Above: Canon G3X at 24mm
Above: Sony RX10 Mark II at 24mm
And here are the actual shots when zoomed all the way in.
Above: Canon G3X at 600mm
Above: Sony RX100 Mark II at 200mm
The Sony's 200mm lens won't get you nearly as close as you can get with the Canon, but it has a trick up its sleeve: a constant aperture of f/2.8, when the Canon can only do f/2.8 at its widest focal length. This makes the Sony more versatile in low light. Even though you can't zoom in as far, you're likely to come out with more usable shots when limited to 200mm.
I never actually found myself yearning for more than the Sony's 200mm. Maybe if I was shooting a lot of wildlife.
As I emphasise above, shooting telephoto is hard because camera shake is exaggerated the farther you zoom in. (Try to hold a long stick still with just one hand, compared to a short one.) That's why a camera's stabilisation system is really important. The Sony RX10 II and the Canon G3X both have optical stabilisation, meaning the lens elements move around to compensate for shake. They also have some digital stabilisation.
I compared the two by shooting bursts at 200mm with a slow shutter speed of 1/20, but neither camera rose above the other in any meaningful way. I might give a slight edge to the G3X, but both cameras have great stabilisation in general.
Above: Canon G3X at 100mm, ISO 1600
Above: Sony RX10 II at 24mm, ISO 1600
Electronic viewfinders have become key aspects of modern cameras, providing stability and easier going in bright light, but Canon rarely includes one. The G3X's lack of a viewfinder made it awkward to use given its size and purpose as a long-range shooter. Stability is important with long-range zoom, and holding your eye to a viewfinder provides a point of contact that can help steady your shaky arms.
Honestly, I really didn't like holding the G3X out in front of me trying to shoot telephoto shots. The RX10 Mark II's terrific built-in viewfinder felt easier and more comfortable.
Size / Weight / Ergonomics
The G3X is just a hair smaller, but significantly lighter, than the RX10 II. I found both the grips to be comfortable, but the Canon's feather weight made it easier for me to carry around.
Controls on both cameras are pretty good, though the RX10 II's more robust layout suited me better, especially the aperture ring around the lens that can rotate smoothly for seamless video exposure adjustments. That said, I found myself liking the ease of the touch screen controls of the G3X, which the Sony lacks. The simpler settings will appeal to beginners, no doubt.
The G3X also has a display that can flip up for selfie orientation, but with a larger camera like this it's really awkward to hold that way, so I don't consider that an advantage. Perhaps if you're going to set it on a rock and use the self-timer?
Winner: Sony for advanced users, Canon for beginners
Autofocus speed is essential for pretty much every type of shooting, and the RX10 II comes out handily on top. The Canon always has a noticeable delay before it locks on. For moving subjects especially, this makes all the difference. Sony's tracking and face detection worked better as well. A clear win for Sony.
Above: Canon G3X at 600mm, ISO 250
Above: Sony RX 10 II at 200mm, ISO 125
Another flat-out win for the RX10 II. The Sony really is geared toward high-end video. Its 4K footage is beautiful, and it's just easier to shoot with on account of the viewfinder and aperture ring. You can do great slow motion at 120 fps, and even go up to 1000 fps, but with severely reduced quality. Video isn't important to everyone, but for $1000 and up, a camera should shoot decent quality video. The G3X can't do 4K, but that's not the biggest letdown. The major bummer is that the quality of its HD video is atrocious by modern standards.
For the quick test footage video above, I chose to show how the 1080p of the Canon compared to the 4K of the Sony when scaled down to 108op. The reason for this is because the recommended setting for maximum quality with the RX10 II is 4K, even if you are only displaying your video in 1080p.
- Both cameras have some measure of weather sealing
- Both have ND filters built in for shooting with larger aperture settings in bright light.
- When zooming in quickly during video recording, the buzz of the RX10 II's zoom motor is quite audible in the footage. The G3X is much quieter.
- Both have headphone and microphone jacks for audio recording.
- Battery life is far superior on the Canon G3X. The Sony drains rather quickly.
- Expect some noise even at low ISOs. The images aren't perfect.
- The G3X has slightly more natural colour balance, but nothing most people would notice.
- If you care about burst rate, the Canon has a rate of about 6 fps, and the Sony has a rate of 14 fps.
Above: Canon G3X at 200mm, ISO 125
Above: Sony RX10 II at 200mm, ISO 125
Above: Canon G3X at 380mm, ISO 320
Above: Canon G3X at 600mm, ISO 160
Above: Sony RX10 Mark II at 24mm, ISO 100
Above: Sony RX10 Mark II at 200mm, ISO 100
If I were going to buy one of these cameras today, I would go with the RX10 Mark II. However, I am a photographer who likes more advanced controls and places a great deal of importance on video quality. These two factors, combined with the speedier autofocus system, constant f/2.8 aperture, and built-in viewfinder, make the RX10 II speak to me over the Canon. That said, if you are a beginner, I think you just might prefer the Canon G3X. Its simpler operation, lighter body, and longer zoom range (not to mention lower price) will appeal to those just starting out.
If you're wondering about alternatives aside from our two contenders, there are a couple that are worth mentioning. The only other premium super-zoom on the market is the Panasonic FZ1000. It hasn't been updated in over a year, but with 4K video and a 24-400mm f/2.8-4 lens, it is sort of in between the Sony and Canon. I've used it. It's a solid camera, especially for the going price of around $U900.
Then there are the smaller superzooms. Yes, the dadcams. These are extremely cheap, sometimes $500 or under, and can often zoom to high heaven. The recent Nikon P900 zooms to an incredible equivalent of 1440mm. That's ridiculous. Superzooms like this are cheap and small, but they have tiny sensors that just don't produce great image quality.
If you're looking for beautiful pro quality images, Both the Canon G3X and the Sony RX10 II will give you really great quality to match their high price tags. And they will both give you the key superpower so many people crave: the power of ZOOOOOOOOM.