What makes a great small camera? For some, it must have comfortable controls. For others, it must actually fit comfortably in a pants pocket. We're so picky! Canon's two new high-end compacts have two different beautiful exteriors that almost make me forget their few shortcomings.
What Are They?
The circa-$625 Canon PowerShot G9 X and circa-$865 Canon PowerShot G5 X are two new compact cameras with the same one-inch sensors inside, meaning better image quality than a phone or cheap pocket camera. They both have bright wide-aperture lenses, meaning pro-looking blurry backgrounds — f/1.8-2.8 and a 4.2x zoom on the G5 X and f/2.0-4.9 and a 3x zoom on the G9 X.
Key G9 X specs:
- one-inch sensor
- 28-84mm f/2-4.9 lens
- DIGIC 6 processor
- Almost all touch-screen controls
- Fits in a pants pocket (of a dude at least)
Key G5 X specs:
- one-inch sensor
- 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 lens
- DIGIC 6 processor
- 2.36 million dot electronic viewfinder
- swivelling LCD
- physical controls plus a touch-screen
Little cameras are seeing a bit of a resurgence, and with it comes a market of people who want variety and choice. These two shooters enter a field of Sony RX100s, which vary in price but all have the same general makeup. There are a couple of other options out there, like the Panasonic LX100.
But the two key aspects of these cams: one is very small, and one has a nice built in EVF, are things that hold a big appeal.
What Are They Good At?
Canon really nailed the design on a number of points with this duo of cameras.
Let's start with the G9 X, which is smaller than its most acclaimed competitor, the Sony RX100 series, and nearly the same size as the much loved Canon S-series cameras (currently up to S-120). While the Sony cam is really tiny, I could never quite really stuff the RX100 into my pocket comfortably, but I can with the G9 X, thanks to its thin exterior. There are almost no physical controls aside from an aperture ring around the lens. Everything is done through the capacitive touch-screen. I'll ruminate more on this later.
The G5 X is much bigger, but remains handsome despite the bulkier design. The grip on the side is fantastic for comfort, and something the RX100 series really lacks. It has a bunch of physical controls, all of which make sense. I especially love the wheel on the front of the camera, which falls directly beneath my index finger for adjusting shutter speed in one of the manual modes.
Both cameras take good pictures, but there are differences in image quality despite the fact that they share the same sensor. It comes down to the optics. The G9 X has an f/2-4.9 lens with an 35mm equivalent range of 28-84mm. The G5 X has a better lens at f/1.8-2.8 and an equivalent range of 24-100mm. That's a fair difference and not only in terms of aperture and zoom range. I found that the G5 X took slightly sharper images when examined at full size. The difference in image quality and versatility justifies a lot of the $US300 price jump from the G9 X to G5 X.
Shooting wide-angle with either camera, I was able to get nice blurry backgrounds easily enough. But zooming in with the G9 X means that aperture gets quite small and you lose the separation effect between your subject and its background. The G5 X is simply better for zooming and achieving de-focused backgrounds.
You'll probably see a bit better noise performance out of the latest and priciest one-inch sensor cameras like the Sony RX100 Mark IV. But for most uses, the new Canons do fine.
What Are They Not Good At?
The flip side to that is video. These Canon cams shoot poor quality HD video compared to the great video offerings from Sony and Panasonic pocket cameras. They will do fine for quick home video clips though.
Controlling the two cams is very different. My biggest apprehension about the small G9 X is the lack of controls. There isn't even a directional pad. Nothing! To my surprise, I found the G9 X really easy to control because of the touch interface. Canon has included this on many previous cameras, but because you are forced to use it here, it becomes really easy really fast. It's not the fastest way to change settings, but it's still kind of great.
The G5 X has the same touch interface, but also some actual twisty knobs for more traditional control. You'll need to use them when looking through the electronic viewfinder. This 2.36 million dot viewfinder is the greatest thing about the G5 X. Yes, it adds size, but it's how many people prefer to shoot, and really helps out in bright sunlight. Using it feels like you're more connected to your scene, and feels generally more comfortable than holding the camera out in front of you. The Sony RX100 Mark IV has a viewfinder but it's contained in an awkward pop-out mechanism. My only knock against the G5 X viewfinder is that its refresh rate is slow, making for jittery motion when moving the camera around.
My enthusiasm for these cameras waned a bit once I was faced with rather sluggish autofocus. The =delay before the camera locks onto a subject is small but noticeable if you've used Sony's latest generation RX100, the Mark IV. Panasonic's LX100 compact was also faster.
There are other issues with speed, especially on the G9 X. If you shoot RAW (as you should), it takes an extremely long time for the camera to write a picture to flash memory, even while using really fast SD cards. When choosing RAW plus the best JPG setting, you have to wait a good four seconds after taking a shot before taking another. That really sucks and caused me to miss great moments. Shooting only the best quality JPGs, the delay is about one second, though if you hold down the shutter, you can shoot bursts at almost 6 frames per second. The G5 X is slightly faster writing to memory but still frustratingly slow.
Both cameras have great looks and controls in their own way: great touch controls on the G9 X; great physical controls on the G5 X. Image quality is excellent. But low processing hampers more experienced shooters from firing off RAW shots in succession. Autofocus speed is not on par with the best competition. And video quality isn't very good.
Should You Buy Them?
The best case for the G9 X is that it is the most compact camera with a one-inch sensor out there. That's worth quite a bit, and for $US500, it can hang with the competition. But if performance is really important to you, you simply must pony up the dough for one of the more recent RX100 cameras, or a Panasonic LX100 for roughly $US700.
The G5 X has better ergonomics and controls than the RX100 series, no doubt about it. But again, autofocus and write speed can slow you down. It's a good all-around camera, just not a fantastic one if you demand speedy performance. It's also worth looking at the $US600 Canon G7 X, which sits right in between the G5 X and G 9X on both price and features.. Check out our review here.
Despite the flaws with these new cameras,, it's cool that Canon is offering so many choices for people. If the company could only solve the speed issues, they would have one hell of a lineup.