Canon G3X Conclusion

485mm equivalent (178mm), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 400, -1/3 exposure compensation
This image has been resized. Click for original image.

Canon adds yet another entry to the enthusiast long-zoom camp

Here's Canon's answer to not only the Sony RX10-series but also the Panasonic FZ1000. The category for high-powered, enthusiast-grade zoom cameras with 1-inch-type sensors is heating up. Admittedly, this is a rather niche category -- big zoom, big sensor and lots of manual controls  -- but for a while the Sony RX10 was the only game in town. Now three companies populate the growing niche.

Longer zoom, but at the expense of a dimmer aperture range

While the Canon G3X and its competitors share similar 20.2-megapixel 1-inch-type CMOS sensors, the Canon here bests Sony and Panasonic rivals with sheer optical zoom performance thanks to a lens with an impressive 600mm-equivalent reach. The compromise, though, is that the Canon G3X's lens has a dimmer variable aperture, which drops from f/2.8 at wide angle to f/5.6 at full telephoto.

600mm equivalent (220mm), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 160
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In contrast, the Sony RX10-series cameras remains a constant f/2.8 throughout its, albeit more limited, zoom range. The Panasonic FZ1000's lens is longer than the Sony's, but less than the Canon's at 400mm-equivalent, but its aperture stays a bit brighter with an f/2.8-4.0 range. All told, if you're looking for maximum zoom range from a 1-inch sensor camera, the G3X has you covered, but if you care more about low-light shooting or slightly thinner depth of field at telephoto focal lengths, the Sony or Panasonic models might be more up your alley.

Solid image quality, but ho-hum AF speed and slow burst rate

The image quality from the Canon G3X is very good. For a long-zoom camera, the G3X's 24-600mm-eq. lens provides good optical performance, and the PowerShot G3X captures nice images at both low and high ISOs for this class of camera -- especially when using RAW files.

Performance-wise, though, the G3X is unfortunately on the sluggish side in many ways despite the latest DIGIC 6 image processor. While startup time is quick, autofocus is less than stellar, shot-to-shot performance with RAW+JPEG is sluggish, and the continuous burst can be downright frustratingly slow (less than 1fps when shooting RAW). If you shoot JPEGs only and don't have continuous AF between frames, you can get the burst rate up to about 7fps, which outperforms Canon's specs. However, you can easily run into issues with the shallow buffer. If you shoot RAW or RAW+JPEG, the slower burst rates makes the shallow buffer less of an issue -- if at all -- and you can pretty much shoot continuously.

24mm equivalent (8.8mm), f/5.6, 10s, ISO 125, Neutral Density filter
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Solid video specs (60p, clean HDMI, peaking) but still no 4K

On the video side of things, the Canon G3X is relatively well-stocked. The camera offers Full HD video up to 60fps, which is great for fast action, sports and other moving subjects. There is a microphone input, a headphone jack for monitoring audio, focus peaking (which is quite rare on a Canon camera, let alone a PowerShot model), plus the HDMI port supports clean output. What's noticeably lacking, however, is 4K video. And to further take the wind out of its sails, the G3X's autofocus during video is only decent, as it often hunted and at times had trouble maintaining focus at longer focal lengths.

Large & boxy, but grip is comfy & controls are plentiful

Aesthetically, the Canon G3X is far from svelte, though that's par for the course in this class of camera. The G3X is more squared and box-shaped than the Sony and Panasonic rivals, however, like its competitors, the Canon has a substantial handgrip that feels secure and comfortable. The array of external controls, including front and rear dials plus a dedicated exposure compensation dial will make advanced photographers feel at home.

Lack of an EVF with a 600mm-eq. lens is a deal-breaker for some

While the tilting touchscreen LCD is very nice and responsive, the lack of a built-in electronic viewfinder is a major downside to the G3X. With a long-reaching lens, the G3X takes a lot of flack for not having an EVF built in. The camera's image stabilization can only do so much, and while the I.S. is quite good and significantly helps with framing shots at the longer focal lengths, the extra stabilization of a third point of contact from an EVF would be greatly appreciated. The camera is compatible with Canon's ~$230 add-on EVF-DC1 electronic viewfinder, however.

Against stiff competition, the G3X doesn't quite make the cut

All in all, the Canon G3X is an interesting entry into the now-hotly contested large-sensor, long-zoom camera category. The G3X offers great image quality, decent video specs and, most of all, a class-leading amount of optical zoom power. Unfortunately, it drops the ball in performance in a number of key ways. With disappointing AF speed, sluggish cycle times and burst rates with RAW and RAW+JPEG modes, as well as below average battery life and lack of an EVF to name a few, the Canon G3X leaves a lot to be desired.


Pros & Cons

  • Good overall optical performance from the 24-600mm eq. 25x lens
  • Maximum macro magnification ratio available at both wide angle and telephoto
  • Built-in 3-stop ND filter
  • Very good image quality and high ISO performance for a long zoom, particularly from RAW files
  • Excellent dynamic range for its class
  • Pleasing colors with good hue accuracy
  • Good startup time for its class
  • Quick prefocused shutter lag
  • JPEG continuous mode with AF locked managed 7.3fps (faster than Canon's 5.9fps spec), but see Cons related to continuous mode
  • Speedy buffer clearing with a fast card
  • Focus peaking for manual focus in both stills and video modes
  • Shoots 1080/60p video
  • Camera body is comfortable to hold with deep front grip
  • Dust- and rain-resistant construction
  • Nice, crisp LCD screen with responsive touchscreen
  • No built-in EVF
  • Not a constant aperture lens
  • Larger than average macro area
  • High uncorrected geometric distortion at wide angle (though that's not uncommon these days)
  • Moderately high uncorrected chromatic aberration at wide and tele ends
  • Mediocre autofocus speeds
  • Sluggish single-shot cycle time when shooting RAW+JPEG 
  • Continuous mode speed very slow when shooting RAW files (<0.8fps)
  • Shallow buffer when shooting JPEGs at highest speed (9 frames)
  • JPEG continuous mode slows to 3.2fps with servo AF
  • Below average battery life for its class
  • Dreadful Auto and Incandescent white balance indoors under tungsten lighting
  • Weak built-in flash
  • No 4K video unlike competitors
  • Doesn't print as large as Sony & Panasonic rivals at many ISO levels

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