In 2012, Sony turned the compact camera market on its head with the RX100 (RX100 vs. RX100 III; RX100 vs. G7X), a camera that kept the compact form factor and bright zoom lens of rivals, but which switched in a much, much larger image sensor than was the norm at the time. Followed up by the RX100 II (RX100 II vs. RX100 III; RX100 II vs. G7X) and RX100 III, the series went essentially unchallenged for two whole years, the nearest equivalents from another brand being Canon's much larger G1X (RX100 III vs. G1X; G7X vs. G1X) and G1X Mark II (RX100 III vs. G1X Mark II; G7X vs. G1X Mark II). Now, a direct competitor to the RX100 cameras finally arrives in the form of the Canon G7X.
Of the three RX100-series models, the Canon G7X is closest to Sony's RX100 III, and so it makes most sense to compare directly to that model, which is what we'll be doing here. Which camera belongs in your pocket, and which should you leave on the store shelf? Read on, and find out!
There are three key features that really define cameras in this class: Small body size, large sensor size, and great lens design. Looking at the first two points, though, there's really not a lot to differentiate the Canon G7X and Sony RX100 III from each other.
Both cameras are pretty close to each other in terms of body size and weight. Although the Sony RX100 III is just a fraction smaller and lighter, the difference isn't one you're going to notice in the real world. And both cameras share 20.2-megapixel, backside-illuminated CMOS image sensors that, in all likelihood, are at least closely related to each other. (And a comparison of specs suggests they might even be identical, although Sony does let you go a little lower in sensitivity if you enable ISO expansion, which Canon doesn't allow.)
The lenses, though, are quite different -- even though they occupy about the same volume. Where Sony gives you a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T*-branded 2.9x zoom optic with a 24-70mm equivalent focal length range, Canon offers up a much more generous 4.2x zoom range equivalent to 24-100mm from its own-branded optic. That will get you significantly closer to more distant subjects, and answers one of our main criticisms of the RX100 III in our review of that camera.
What makes this feat all the more impressive is that even though the lens size is the same and the zoom reach greater, the maximum aperture is actually wider than that provided by Sony's optic across most of the zoom range!
Starting at the 24mm-equivalent wide-angle position, both cameras provide a maximum aperture of f/1.8. Zoom to the 28mm position, though, and the RX100 III's aperture falls to f/2.5, while Canon still offers f/2.0. At 35mm, Sony has already dropped all the way to f/2.8, where it will remain until the telephoto position, while Canon has an f/2.2 aperture.
The G7X stops down to f/2.5 by 50mm, and doesn't finally reach f/2.8 until you get to somewhere around 56mm. From there, its aperture remains unchanged all the way to the 100mm-equivalent telephoto, matching Sony's brightness but with significantly more reach.
Of course, aperture is but one part of the puzzle, albeit an important one. (A wider aperture won't just help you capture more light, it will also help you to isolate your subject from the background with depth of field blur.) The other important area to bear in mind is image quality, and here we're still completing our in-depth lab and real-world testing. Watch this space for a judgment just as soon as we're done!
Canon's lens might be impressive -- especially given the size of the camera body -- but Sony counters it with another feature that the G7X lacks altogether. That's the RX100 III's clever pop-up viewfinder, which gives you an alternative to the LCD monitor for framing and reviewing images.
Having a viewfinder won't save you any battery life. It might seem counterintuitive, but these tiny displays typically use significantly more power than a larger LCD panel on the back of the camera. What it will do, though, is give you an option when harsh sunlight makes it too hard to see the rear-panel display. You may also find that you feel more connected to your subject when framing through the viewfinder, and that it's easier to hold the camera steady for a sharp shot at slower shutter speeds.
The RX100 III's viewfinder is also noticeably higher-res than the rear-panel displays of either camera, and while its view is fairly small, it's certainly better than not having a viewfinder at all. When you raise the finder, the camera powers on automatically, but you do need to take a moment to manually extend the eyepiece rearwards before you can use it.
Both cameras have 3.0-inch rear-panel displays, but they differ in design in several key ways. For one thing, their aspect ratios differ. While the Canon G7X opts for a 3:2-aspect display that matches its image sensor, the Sony RX100 III has a 4:3-aspect display. That difference means that although the RX100 III screen has 4% greater surface area, it actually provides 7% less area for the live view image.
Both displays have a screen height of 480 pixels, but Canon's display has 720 pixels width, while the Sony display is just 640 pixels wide. That means 12.5% higher linear resolution for an image viewed full screen on Canon's display.
However, where Sony can move some of the status indications into the unused black bar beneath the live-view image, Canon has no choice but to overlay them all on the live view. The result is that you can't get an unobscured live view feed on the G7X without disabling the overlays altogether, where the RX100 III can still provide basic exposure info alongside the live view feed at all times.
Sony's display also has four subpixels (red, green, blue and white) at every pixel location, where Canon's has just three. The extra white subpixel of the Sony display is used to reduce power consumption for a given brightness level, and also means a brighter image that's more visible under direct sunlight at full power.
Sony also wins in terms of versatility for another reason. While both cameras have tilting displays that can flip upwards a full 180 degrees for selfie shooting, Canon's decision to opt for a simple hinge at the top of the screen means it can't be tilted downwards. Hence both cameras are great for self-portraits or shooting low to the ground, but only the RX100 III makes it easier to frame images over a crowd by tilting the screen downwards 45 degrees.
Although it might not have quite the same versatility of Sony's monitor, that on the Canon G7X has a trick of its own -- touch sensitivity. This makes for a more intuitive user-interface that's reminiscent of what you'd find on your smartphone. You can pinch to zoom images, swipe to pan them or scroll through menus, and tap to make selections.
For our money, though, the most useful feature the touch-screen brings is that you can instantly and silently select a subject on which to focus, anywhere on the screen -- even during movie capture. With the RX100 III, the only way to move the focus point is to page it across the screen horizontally or vertically using the four-way controller.
If you're not a fan of touch-screens, by the way, the Canon G7X provides an option to disable this feature.
Speaking of autofocus, there's another way in which the Canon G7X bests the Sony RX100 III in this area. Although Sony's camera is significantly faster when shooting image bursts with autofocus locked from the first frame -- 10 frames per second, versus the 6.5 fps of the Canon -- the G7X wins by a country mile if autofocus is enabled. (At least, according to manufacturer specifications. We've yet to complete our in-house performance testing, and will update this once we've done so.)
If autofocus is active between frames in the burst, Sony rates the RX100 III as capable of a pedestrian 2.9 frames per second, a figure which matched fairly well with our test results. By contrast, the Canon G7X is manufacturer-rated for a much swifter 4.4 fps with autofocus between frames. For every ten frames the RX100 III can give you with autofocus, the G7X should be able to offer up 15, increasing your chances of hitting the perfect moment by 50%.
Most exposure-related options are pretty similar between these two cameras. Both offer the standard selection of Program, Priority and Manual shooting modes plus a handful of Scene modes, similar metering modes, and the same standard ISO sensitivity range, exposure compensation range and top shutter speed of 1/2,000 second.
There are a few differences to note, though. Perhaps the most important of these is flash range. Although both companies rate their flash range using Auto ISO sensitivity (and each has a different upper limit for sensitivity by default), the difference in flash range is much greater than can be accounted for by ISO sensitivity. We'll have to wait for our real-world flash testing to be sure, but on paper at least, the Sony RX100 III looks to have a noticeably more powerful strobe than does the Canon G7X.
The Canon G7X, though, has a much wider exposure bracketing range. Where Sony's camera is limited to a maximum of three frames with 0.7EV between frames, Canon allows a full +/-2EV between frames. That's going to make the G7X quite a bit more useful to high dynamic range fans who prefer to create their HDR imagery on their computer, rather than in-camera.
Finally, while the fastest shutter speed is identical between the two cameras, the opposite end of the scale behaves rather differently. The Sony RX100 III has a bulb mode for exposures longer than 30 seconds, and if there is a limit, it's not stated. The Canon G7X instead allows you to dial in an exposure time greater than 30 seconds -- up to a maximum of 250 seconds -- but there are only nine steps beyond 30 seconds, so it's not the finest of granularity.
Movie capture is another win for Sony, although the basic features are somewhat similar. Both cameras capture at Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution, and include stereo audio from an internal microphone, complete with wind cut filter function. They also both include focus peaking capability for manual focus.
However, in most other respects Sony's RX100 III bests the Canon G7X for movie capture. For one thing, Canon's camera is limited to Program, Auto, or certain Scene modes for movie capture, while Sony allows Priority and even Manual exposure. The RX100 III also includes a much more generous selection of frame rates, including 120p progressive-scan capture at Full HD, where the G7X is limited to 60p. And we know that Sony's camera uses full-sensor readout for better image quality, whereas Canon hasn't stated whether or not its camera does the same. (And that implies it probably doesn't.)
Add in features like zebra striping, audio levels control and uncompressed HDMI output -- plus the ability to shoot 17-megapixel 16:9-aspect stills during video capture, and it's clear anybody interested in video should be looking at the Sony. We do, however, appreciate that Canon's camera doesn't hide its movie files many folders deep in a somewhat byzantine directory structure, and rather places them right alongside still images in the same folder.
Both of these cameras use near-identically sized 3.6V, 4.5Wh lithium-ion disposable batteries, although at 1,250mAh, Canon rates its capacity as a slight 10mAh higher than does Sony. However, Sony wins the battery life battle by 10 shots even when compared to Canon's ECO mode, with a lifetime of 320 shots.
The Canon G7X, meanwhile, will achieve 310 shots to CIPA testing standards only if the screen is dimmed after just two seconds of inactivity, and turned off altogether after just ten seconds. Switch to more normal power consumption, and battery life plunges to just 210 frames, a full 100 shots (32%) less than the Sony RX100 III.
Clearly, this is one area where there's simply no contest.
If you're not a fan of in-camera charging, though, Canon may win your affections back a bit. We appreciate in-camera charging, but only when a standalone charger is included in the product bundle. The reason for that is pretty simple: Although USB charging can help you travel light and share a charger across multiple devices, it also means you can't charge a spare battery while you're out shooting.
Although Canon hasn't designed the G7X for in-camera charging, the availability of a standalone charger in the product bundle means there's nothing extra to buy. Sony's camera opts for in-camera charging, and a standalone charger is an optional extra that will run you US$30-50 on top of the camera cost, depending on where you buy it.
Canon's decision to opt for a standalone charger is doubly nice because its camera is actually the more affordable of the pair. As of this writing, the Sony RX100 III -- despite having been on the market for longer -- is actually priced a full US$100 more than Canon's camera, at around US$800. That makes the Canon G7X look like quite a deal with its extra zoom reach, brighter lens, and touch control at US$700.
In other respects, these two cameras are very similar, so if you haven't made your decision yet, it's image quality and real-world performance that will likely call it for you. We're working on our Canon G7X review as we speak, so watch this space. We'll update this comparison just as soon as we're done, at which point we'll be able to make a definitive call for our favorite large-sensor zoom compact.
In the meantime, those of you looking for the most zoom reach and the benefits of a touch-screen in a pocket-friendly package will want to pick up the Canon G7X, but those who favor a viewfinder, more versatile LCD monitor, and better video capability would be well advised to put the Sony RX100 III at the top of your list.
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This comparison review, along with the in-progress Canon G7X review and Sony RX100 III review represent hundreds of hours of testing, discussion, writing and editing. So please, support this content by purchasing the G7X or RX100 III (or any other products) through one of the links below.
Cameras with longer battery life can take more photos before exhausting their batteries.
Special note: The measurement standard for battery life stipulates that if a camera has an internal flash, it must be used for 50% of photos taken. For this reason, comparisons of one camera with an internal flash to another without will not be comparable
Maximum effective ISO is an estimate of the highest sensitivity at which a camera can capture excellent quality photos.
Cameras with higher effective ISO will be better choices for indoor photography, night shooting, and indoor sports photography, especially if you intend to make large prints.
You can learn more at our glossary entry.
Maximum effective ISO test data courtesy of DxO Mark.G7X test data on DxO Mark RX100 III test data on DxO Mark
Pocket-friendly design; Popup electronic viewfinder; Bright lens across the zoom range; Great performance with very fast autofocus; Very high resolution gives lots of detail in good light; High ISO noise levels much better than most pocket camera rivals; Wi-Fi wireless networking
Feels a little unbalanced without an accessory grip; Not as much telephoto reach as its siblings; Noise processing is heavier-handed than in earlier models; Quite pricey for a fixed-lens camera
Very compact body fits in a pants pocket; Zoom lens is both brighter and further-reaching than anything offered by its enthusiast compact rivals; Selfie-friendly tilting LCD monitor; Intuitive touch-screen interface; Very good image quality for its class; Wi-Fi connectivity gets photos on your phone
No electronic viewfinder; Soft corners at wide-angle; Flare issues and fringing shooting wide-open; Weak performance when shooting raw files; Tendency to underexpose in low light; Limited battery life