Canon G7 X Review: If you can’t beat them, join them. Then beat them.
The Canon G7 X came as a surprise. The $699 advanced compact camera is smaller, less expensive, and just plain better than the company’s own G1 X Mark II, which is still less than a year old. It is Canon’s very clear and direct response to Sony’s dominance in this niche with their RX100 series. More surprising, though, is that the G7 X (presumably) uses the exact same, 20MP, 1” sensor as the Sony. So can Canon beat Sony at their own game using (presumably) their own tech? And what’s more, is Canon’s switch to using a non-Canon sensor a sign of things to come?
There is ample reason to be excited for the G7 X. I have always been fond of Canon’s compact cameras; they are well-made and have thoughtfully laid-out controls and menu systems. However, they simply haven’t had a sensor that can compete with the RX100 at that size—the G1 X Mark II is decent, yes, but it’s also rather huge. Sony’s failures, on the other hand, have always been on the user interface side. So the union of a Sony sensor and a Canon camera, as unholy as it sounds, is a really cool idea—but don’t automatically assume Canon has magically created a product that is the best of both worlds.
This sensor has been (presumably) discussed to exhaustion since its unveiling over 2 years ago, so there isn’t much more to say about it. The real standout feature of the G7 X is the lens. If you read my RX100 III review, you may recall that one of my few gripes with the camera was its relatively short zoom range of 24-70mm, although its bright f/1.8-2.8 aperture was commendable. I said at the time that a 24-100mm f/1.8-4, with 70mm still arriving at f/2.8, would be an ideal lens for such a camera. It was literally days later that Canon announced the G7 X, and upped the ante with its 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 lens—beating not only the Sony, but even my own dreamworld prediction of what was possible. Given how much Sony boasted about the engineering that went into their lens to get it to fit into such a small package, it seems a little surprising that Canon is remaining rather modest about their optical accomplishment. Despite the longer zoom, the two cameras are almost identical in size, and the G7 X is just a few grams heavier. Canon appears to be the clear winner here.
However, other reviews have pointed out that the Sony lens is sharper than the Canon, and this is to be expected given the RX100’s shorter zoom range. This may be of importance to photographers looking to get the most out of that 20MP sensor, but most casual users will likely prefer the longer zoom of the Canon.
The design of the G7 X, like all Canon cameras, is utilitarian. It is not pretty, but it feels very solid and none of the control dials are flimsy. Both the lens ring and the rear thumb dial offer satisfying clicks, an improvement over the Sony. Nestled under the mode dial is (thankfully!) a dedicated exposure compensation dial, which big brother G1 X Mark II inexplicably lacks. But there is one quirk in the design: the 3” LCD display, while gorgeous, only articulates up. It does flip completely upside-down for selfies, but is completely useless for high-angle pictures, such as when trying to shoot over crowds at a concert. Pro Photo Supply’s internal research department did determine, however, that you can get around this limitation by holding the camera upside down, using your left thumb, rather than your right index finger, to trip the shutter. So, there’s that…
Another slight disappointment is the lack of an electronic viewfinder. Sony proved that you can include both a pop-up flash and a pop-up 1.4 million-dot EVF in a camera of this size, but Canon decided to forgo the latter. What’s more, there is no hot shoe or any other type of connection that could facilitate the attachment of a separate EVF accessory. Of course, the G7 X is $100 less than the RX100 III, which certainly helps make up for this deficiency. But for those of you who demand a viewfinder, the choice is clear.
Image quality is more or less exactly what you would expect. It’s an excellent sensor and we (presumably) already knew that. I would argue that the benefits of a longer lens outweigh the decrease in sharpness compared to the RX100 III, especially given that most of these images will live online, viewed at a fraction of their native resolution. The 1” sensor doesn’t offer the same depth of field control as the 4/3rds sensor found in Panasonic’s magnificent LX100, but, again, the longer zoom range of the Canon is the trump card here. (That, and the $200 lower price.)
Beyond image quality, the shooting experience itself is a step above the RX100, at least in my opinion. Thanks to an LCD with an aspect ratio that matches the pictures, images are displayed larger on the Canon’s screen compared to the Sony’s, even though both screens are 3 inches. Add to this the simpler user interface and better controls, and I can all but ignore the lack of an EVF and a screen that doesn’t tilt down. For high-speed action, the 6.5 FPS burst rate of the G7 X falls short of the RX100 III’s 10 FPS, but this won’t be an issue for the vast majority of users. The biggest drawback in everyday use may be the battery life, which clocks in at a CIPA-tested 210 exposures—over 100 fewer than the RX100.
Other performance was very good, with imperceptible shutter lag, short blackout time between shots, and more than acceptable autofocus speed in all but the most dimly-lit areas. Being a compact, it’s not as rewarding to use as, say, a Fuji X100t, but for a camera that you can toss in a day bag and not even notice it’s there, it’s fantastic.
Canon has made some great cameras over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever used one that surprised and impressed me the way the G7 X does. However much pride Canon swallowed when deciding to license a Sony sensor, they more than earned back with the delivery of the final product. This is a wonderful little camera that offers great value either as a primary camera for consumers and beginners or as a secondary camera for enthusiasts and professionals.
But the success of the G7 X begs a question perhaps more interesting than the camera itself: will we start to see Sony sensors in other Canon products, namely, in a DSLR? (For the record, my money is still on “no,” but it’s an interesting idea to ponder.)