Canon PowerShot G5X Field Test

A viewfinder & more features make this a solid compact camera

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 12/30/2015

24mm equivalent (8.8mm), f/5.6, 1/10s, ISO 125
This image has been modified slightly. Click for original image.


Following 2014's Canon G7X, the Canon PowerShot G5X uses the same image sensor, autofocus system, and processor as the G7X, but makes numerous changes to the camera body that make the G5X more enjoyable to use out in the field. The addition of an electronic viewfinder (a first for a Canon G-series PowerShot camera) and a fully-articulating rear display are particularly nice additions, but there is also a new front grip and more buttons to give photographers additional comfort and control.

Key Features

  • Built-in 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 equivalent lens
  • 20.2-megapixel BSI-CMOS 1"-type sensor
  • 2.36 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder
  • 3" fully-articulating rear touchscreen display
  • ISO range of 125-12,800
  • 1080/60p video recording

Viewfinder and grip make the G5X a nice camera body

The Canon PowerShot G5X is a bit larger than its G7X sibling, but the G5X remains a relatively compact camera. At 13.3 ounces (377 grams), the G5X weighs about 2.7 ounces (75 grams) more than the G7X and is about 0.4 inches wider, 0.6 inches taller, and 0.2 inches deeper. Where the G5X looks the most different from the G7X is on the top of the camera because unlike the G7X, the G5X has an electronic viewfinder. The 2.36-million dot OLED viewfinder is centered above the built-in lens' central axis and adds both bulk and functionality to the new PowerShot compact camera. There is also a small front grip on the G5X, another feature that the the G7X lacks. With the addition of a viewfinder and a front grip, the G5X will not easily fit into a pocket, however.

The 3" rear touchscreen tilts and swivels around a side-mounted axis. The touchscreen works really well and looks good, even in moderately bright light. The G5X also has a wide range of physical controls, including a front dial and an exposure compensation dial. The exposure compensation dial is on the top deck of the camera and can be easily used while looking through the viewfinder, but each one-third stop is close together and it can be difficult to quickly make precise adjustments. The front dial is useful and easy to reach. I do think that the center of the front dial would have been an excellent place to put a function button, but the G5X nonetheless offers an impressive amount of control considering its compact size.

With Wi-Fi and NFC capabilities, as well as connectors for a remote, USB, and HDMI, the G5X is well-connected, although there aren't headphone or microphone jacks. The camera isn't water- or dust-proof, but it does feel well-built and sturdy. The tilting mechanism of the display is strong and there aren't any sensitive electronics in harm's way behind the display. The biggest knock on the otherwise good G5X camera body is that the battery life supports only 210 shots when using the LCD monitor and 215 when using the electronic viewfinder. There is an 'Eco mode' that can improve battery life to around 320 shots when using the LCD display (the display is dimmed and shut off sooner than by default), but a spare battery is still highly recommended.

Dependable sensor delivers fine results

The G5X uses the same 1"-type 20.2-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor that's found in the G7X. It's a good sensor for its size and delivers sharp images with good colors and contrast. JPEG files are much sharper straight from the camera than RAW files. With default Adobe Camera Sharpening applied to RAW files, they still need quite a bit of additional sharpening applied before they have the same clarity as JPEG files straight from the camera.

100% crops of SuperFine JPEG (left) vs RAW (right) files
As you can see above, JPEG images with default sharpening applied in-camera have a lot more clarity than RAW files processed with default sharpening in Adobe Camera Raw. RAW files from the G5X need additional processing to have the same level of detail as JPEG files have straight from the camera.

Recovering shadow and highlight detail is fairly easy with the G5X's RAW files, although you certainly aren't going to be able to capture the same dynamic range you can on many larger sensors.

24mm equivalent (8.8mm), f/3.5, 1s, ISO 125
This image has been modified slightly. Click for original image.

I was impressed by the G5X's color rendition and overall tone, particularly when using the auto white balance setting. When the light was warm, the G5X maintained much of this warmth and captured what I saw rather than attempting to neutralize colors and tones. Overall, it's a solid sensor that performs well in many situations even if it's RAW images need additional processing and don't possess a lot of sharpness or dynamic range.

Useful focal length range, but lens' optical quality is disappointing

The built-in 8.8-36.8mm lens provides a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 24-100mm and an equivalent aperture of 1.8-2.8. The aperture is f/1.8 only at 24mm, f/2.0 at 28mm, f/2.2 at 35mm, f/2.5 at 50mm, and finally the lens' slowest maximum aperture, f/2.8, by 55mm. The lens itself is quite compact, protruding out only slightly further than the viewfinder and front grip when the lens is retracted. Once the lens is opened, it is still quite compact, even when extended to the 100mm equivalent focal length. The lens barrel has a diamond-knurled ring around it that allows additional control, such as changing the aperture when shooting in manual mode.

While the build quality and compact size of the lens is impressive, its optical quality leaves a bit to be desired, unfortunately. When shooting with the lens wide open at either extreme end of the focal length, there are issues. At 24mm, there is a lot of fringing around fine, high-contrast details. At 100mm, the more pressing issue is a loss of corner sharpness. I found that corner sharpness and fringing proved to be somewhat problematic across the entire focal length range. As you can see below, in both the case of fringing and corner sharpness, stopping the lens down helps to reduce the problem. However, stopping down past f/5.6 leads to diffraction and a slight softening to the entire image.

100% crops of JPEG images taken at 24mm showing the purple fringing issues of the G5X's built-in lens: f/1.8 (left) and f/5.6 (right).
Stopping down the lens does help with purple fringing issues around finely-detailed, high-contrast elements in an image, but it doesn't completely alleviate the problem. Fringing issues are a common occurrence with the G5X's built-in lens.
100% corner crops of JPEG images taken at 100mm showing the difference in sharpness when stopping down the built-in lens from f/2.8 (wide open, left) to f/5.6 (right).
Stopping down the lens dramatically increases corner sharpness, which is generally weak when shooting the G5X wide open.

Impressive metering makes the G5X enjoyable to use in the field

With user-friendly controls and a tilting touchscreen, the G5X performs well out in the field. Despite having a compact camera body that doesn't have a large number of buttons, the G5X manages to offer extensive control through its good use of a touchscreen and the Quick Menu button. Located in the center of the navigation buttons, the Quick Menu button brings up a menu on the rear display that provides access to the following settings: AF method, file quality, movie quality, self-timer, neutral density filter, metering mode, ISO speed, white balance, and when recording JPEG files you also have access to My Colors, DR correction, and shadow correction. You can navigate this menu using buttons, but it is much faster to use touch because all of the on-screen buttons are large enough to tap accurately. The menu feels designed around touch, which makes it a fast way to access the most important and most-used camera settings. Beyond this Quick Menu, the full camera menu itself is also well-organized and quick to navigate.

31mm equivalent (11.6mm), f/5.6, 4s, ISO 125, neutral density filter on
This image has been resized. Click for original image.

An electronic viewfinder was a big omission on the G7X, so it is great to see the G5X rectify that. The 0.39" OLED EVF has 2.36 million dots and provides 100% coverage. The EVF is centered above the lens and is a fixed design, rather than the pop-up design seen on some other cameras in this class, most notably the two most recent Sony RX100-series models. The EVF is bright, vibrant, and sharp, but it does suffer from some performance issues. In my experience, the display was slightly sluggish, and it suffered from a stuttering frame rate on occasion. The EVF does not perform well when shooting moving subjects. With that said, having an EVF is great and it is a good EVF most of the time.

The G5X puts its evaluative, center-weighted average, and spot metering options to good use. In good light, the G5X meters both exposure and white balance very well. Its white balance metering is particularly impressive, as it is able to retain the tones from a scene really well using auto white balance. For example, when shooting during the golden hour, the G5X doesn't attempt to neutralize the warmth of the scene but instead does a good job of preserving it. I often see cameras that rob a scene of its natural colors when using auto white balance, so it's great to see the G5X perform well in this regard. Exposure metering is good too, although when shooting in low light the G5X tends to underexpose scenes slightly. The easy-to-reach exposure compensation dial on the top of the camera is particularly useful in these situations, but is otherwise not needed often as the G5X meters well overall.

24mm equivalent, f/4.5, 1/640s, ISO 125, -0.67 exposure compensation
This image has been resized. Click for original image.

The standard exposure modes are all here, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, and program auto. They all work perfectly well, although aperture priority mode can only utilize exposures as slow as one second, which is a bit surprising and means that you need to use manual mode in low light if you want longer exposures. If you hit the one-second shutter speed limit in aperture priority, the shutter speed indication becomes orange on-screen, but the camera will still let you capture an underexposed image.

Also, when shooting in manual mode, the ring around the lens controls aperture, which works well. The G5X's fully automatic mode -- which doesn't capture RAW files by the way -- does a good job. With good metering and decent autofocus performance (more on that in the next section), the G5X can easily capture good images in fully automatic mode.

50mm equivalent (18.6mm), f/4, 1/60s, ISO 200, Auto mode
This image has been resized. Click for original image.

There are also Creative Shot and Scene modes. In Creative Shot mode, you select from a variety of presets, and then the camera captures multiple images with a variety of visual styles. You select the desired preset by using the lens ring and can choose from auto, natural, special, monochrome, and retro. In Scene mode, the G5X allows you to choose between a wide variety of presets, including self portrait, portrait, HDR, miniature effect, monochrome, and super vivid. In scene mode, depending on the chosen preset, you have different camera settings options available. In all cases, you can only record JPEG images, however. One notable omission is any sort of panorama shooting mode, but otherwise the G5X offers a wide variety of special filters and effects.

With great metering performance, a good electronic viewfinder, and many user-friendly controls, the G5X is a fun camera to use. While it is small in stature, the G5X doesn't feel small to use thanks to an effective front grip and a plethora of interesting features.

Decent all-around autofocus, but can struggle with difficult scenes

Autofocus performance with the G5X is pretty good, but it isn't excellent. There aren't a lot of autofocus points, only 31, nor are there a lot of autofocus features or options. The G5X does have touch AF and face detection though, which is really nice. The G5X uses contrast detect autofocus, and this provides accurate autofocus performance in many situations. The autofocus speed is not particularly quick nor sluggish, it is just decent all-around for its class. In low light, the autofocus performance drops off somewhat, but it still works quite well in difficult lighting conditions. I found that autofocus can struggle in difficult situations, such as when photographing a small subject or when your subject is somewhat obstructed. The AF system is not sophisticated enough to deal with those situations in particular, or complex scenes in general.

Its 31 autofocus points can be utilized in one of two ways, either subject tracking or 1-point AF. The fully automatic object and face detect AF does a good job of picking out subjects, provided that they are relatively large and contrast with the scene well. The G5X is hesitant to use only a few autofocus points in this mode, so your subject needs to cover a large portion of the frame for the G5X to do a consistently good job autofocusing. When your subject is small or you just want more control, 1-point AF does a good job. In addition, utilizing the touch screen to tap-to-focus on your subject is great, particularly when using the G5X on a tripod. By tapping the subject, the camera will automatically also try to track it, so you can safely recompose your image without having to reacquire focus.

38mm equivalent (14mm), f/2.5, 1/80s, ISO 3200
This image has been resized. Click for original image.

On the topic of subject tracking, this is an area of weakness for the G5X. Its continuous autofocus performance is not strong as it often fails to maintain focus on a moving subject, and it is simply too slow to adjust much of the time. When a subject is moving fairly slow, the subject tracking does work pretty well, but it is not a camera designed for fast action.

Despite a few shortcomings, the G5X's autofocus performance is generally consistent and dependable. It offers enough options and performance for many applications.

Good shooting speeds with JPEGs, but sluggish with RAW

Although not as fast as some of its competitors, the DIGIC 6-powered G5X is still capable of shooting at up to 7.6fps when recording large super fine JPEG images (without continuous AF), despite Canon's own claim of the G5X being able to shoot at 5.9fps. This frame rate is only for shooting JPEG files, though, because the continuous shooting performance drops to a paltry 0.75fps with just RAW files. When shooting both RAW and large super fine JPEG images, the fps drops further to 0.61fps. The buffer with both RAW and RAW + JPEG file quality is decent, with both being able to capture 20+ frames before slowing down and being able to clear the buffer in around 2 seconds, likely due to the slower burst rates. The buffer depth when shooting JPEG images, however, at the fastest 7.6fps is only around 8 frames, which is disappointing.

24mm equivalent (8.8mm), f/6.3, 13s, ISO 125, neutral density filter on
This image has been resized. Click for original image.

Another area that can be limiting is the G5X's shutter speed, which is capped at 1/2000s. Shooting at f/1.8 with a shutter speed of only 1/2000s can be difficult in bright lighting conditions, so the G5X incorporates a built-in 3-stop neutral density filter to help deal with this. You can set the neutral density filter to off, on, or auto. In addition to being useful for shooting with wide apertures in bright light, I also liked using the neutral density filter for shooting long exposure images of moving water.

24mm equivalent (8.8mm), f/1.8, 0.5s, ISO 1600
This image has been resized. Click for original image.

Pleasing high ISOs for its class & a surprisingly powerful flash

The G5X has a native ISO range of 125-12,800 (with no expanded ISO options). Its overall high ISO performance is pretty good for its sensor size, but not great in absolute terms. When recording JPEG files with default (standard) noise reduction, the G5X captures images with good detail and noise levels up through ISO 1600. At ISO 3200, there is a dramatic loss in detail and images take on a very soft appearance. Further, images start to take on a sort of glow as fine details and lines are softened as the camera tries to eliminate visual noise. JPEG files at ISO 3200 and above stop looking like regular photos and start looking more like photos that have had some sort of painting effect filter applied to them. Surprisingly, JPEG files at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 don't look too different from one another. The level of detail is similar and there is only a bit more visual noise at ISO 6400, so if you are okay with using ISO 3200 JPEG files for a particular purpose, then ISO 6400 files should work well for you too. I wouldn't push the ISO past 1600 if I could avoid it, but I would be comfortable using JPEG files at ISO 3200 and 6400 for small image sizes, such as web viewing.

Canon G5X Noise Reduction Comparison: ISO 6400, 100% crops from JPEG files (click for full images)
Noise Reduction Low
Noise Reduction Standard (default)
Noise Reduction High

Comparing in-camera noise reduction, the default level, 'standard,' is a bit heavy-handed, in my opinion. By turning noise reduction down to 'low,' you do introduce quite a bit more visual noise, but you also end up with much more detailed images. The overall noise pattern is pretty consistent at higher ISOs, and I don't think that it is particularly unpleasant when viewing images at less than 100%. By using default noise reduction, you lose a lot of fine detail in JPEG images at high ISOs. High noise reduction is bad, in my opinion, and makes images look very artificial and ugly.

Canon G5X Noise Comparison 100% Center Crops from RAW images (Click images for full-size files).
RAW files resized in Photoshop with default sharpening and noise reduction turned off.
ISO 125 Full Scene
ISO 125
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 12800

RAW files are quite different. With default noise reduction turned off in Adobe Camera RAW, the G5X's RAW files start to look fairly noisy, particularly in shadow areas, at ISO 800. At ISO 1600, visual noise has increased by a moderate amount and the entire image has moderate levels of color noise. However, the image is still quite detailed and through a bit of noise reduction in post-processing, RAW files at ISO 1600 can look similar to their JPEG counterparts. Reducing the noise levels of RAW files at ISO 3200 in post-processing leads to pretty soft images, in my experience, but they still look a bit better to me than JPEG files at ISO 3200 with default noise reduction applied in-camera.

24mm equivalent (8.8mm), f/2.8, 0.3s, ISO 125, slow-sync flash on
This image has been modified slightly. Click for original image.

The G5X has a built-in flash with a unique, compact, pull-up design. To use the flash, you just grip the plastic ridges on the sides of the front of the viewfinder and pull the flash upwards, there's no release button needed. The flash itself is quite small, although it packs a surprising amount of power for its size. Using auto ISO and a wide focal length, the G5X's flash can provide light up to 23 feet (7m). At the telephoto focal length, this range decreases to 13 feet (4m) due to the change in maximum aperture. The maximum flash sync is 1/2000s with the G5X.

Not a lot of video features, but the performance is good

The G5X doesn't include much in the way of video features or performance above and beyond a fairly standard set of amenities. It can only shoot up to 1080p resolution and 60fps, so 4K video and slow motion video is not available. There are also no microphone or headphone inputs on the camera.

Canon G5X Video Sample #1
1920 x 1080, 60fps , Automatic movie mode with Auto ISO
Download Original (79.8 .MP4 File)

Fortunately, the video performance that the G5X does offer is good. Autofocus, although slightly sluggish at times, is quite accurate, and metering is very good. You can record video in multiple exposure modes, but there's also a dedicated video mode that allows you to choose from standard, short clip, manual, and iFrame movie options. The standard video mode is fully automatic and works well. You can use the touchscreen to select focus and also tap an exposure lock button on the display to lock a particular exposure. The G5X is not able to match some of its competitors in the video department, but it does still provide solid performance.

Canon G5X Video Sample #2
1920 x 1080, 60fps , Automatic movie mode with Auto ISO
Download Original (73.9 .MP4 File)

Canon Camera Connect app does its job well

The Canon Camera Connect app works well and gives you a good means for remotely controlling the G5X. Connecting the camera to my iOS device was simple and required only a few steps on my phone. The camera body itself has a dedicated wireless functionality button on the side of the camera, which brings up the wireless function menu.

Canon Camera Connect application screen shots

Providing good performance and remote control options, the Camera Connect app is a solid wireless remote control application. The real-time viewfinder on the mobile device is steady and detailed enough to be able to determine focus. You can even autofocus the camera without having to capture an image, which is a nice feature. You can't change any exposure modes via the wireless app, unfortunately, and any physical mode changes does on the camera are not reflected in the app. However, bumping or changing dials on the camera, unintentionally or not, does not interrupt the Wi-Fi connection, which is nice.

Canon G5X Field Test Summary

Compact camera offers ample control and provides solid performance for most subjects

What I like:

  • OLED viewfinder, front grip, and plentiful controls without sacrificing its compact size
  • Lens provides a useful focal length range
  • Good quality images

What I dislike:

  • Optical quality lens is a bit disappointing
  • Decent, but not great, autofocus performance
  • Slow continuous RAW shooting
  • No 4K video
66mm equivalent (24.5mm), f/5.6, 3.2s, ISO 125
This image has been resized. Click for original image.

The Canon G5X improves upon the G7X in numerous ways by adding an electronic viewfinder, front grip, and an articulating rear display. Building upon a familiar DIGIC 6 processor and 1"-type 20.2-megapixel BSI-CMOS sensor, the G5X provides good performance with a few shortcomings. RAW image performance is good, although the files don't have a lot of detail or dynamic range. Continuous shooting performance ranges from decent to poor and leaves a lot to be desired. With that said, the G5X does provide good overall performance, and if you want a small, lightweight camera that includes many features, then the G5X may be an excellent option for you.


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