Canon G7X Field Test Part II
Canon G7X Field Test Part II
After sunset, the enthusiast compact head-to-head continues!
By Michael Tomkins | Posted: 05/06/2015
In the first part of my Canon G7X Field Test, I shot with the company's first pants pocket-friendly, large-sensor compact in a three-way head to head with its nearest rivals: The Sony RX100 III and Panasonic LX100. Admittedly, the Panasonic is rather larger than the Canon G7X and Sony RX100-series models, but it's also quite a lot smaller than the only other offerings in the market segment -- the Canon G1 X and G1 X Mark II.
Want to see how all of these cameras compare to the G7X? Read our comparisons below:
- Canon G7X vs. Canon G1 X
- Canon G7X vs. Canon G1 X Mark II
- Canon G7X vs. Panasonic LX100
- Canon G7X vs. Sony RX100 III
In the course of preparing that first report, I found more than a few features I found extremely attractive, especially when compared against the similarly-sized Sony RX100 III. I liked the Canon's controls, and especially its dedicated exposure compensation dial. I was also a fan of its color rendering, and of its JPEG-mode performance, especially with continuous autofocus enabled. And its more powerful zoom lens -- which, amazingly, was also brighter across much of the zoom range than that in the Sony RX100 III -- also struck me as a very nice bonus.
That's not to say that I didn't have any concerns: Image quality in the corners at wide-angle could be pretty dubious thanks to the fact that the lens' image circle didn't cover the entire sensor surface, necessitating stretching to generate the final image. And as I noted in that first report, I also had concerns about flare and reduced contrast well into the image, which was especially noticeable on macros. Performance when shooting raw images was also pretty pedestrian, and the lack of an electronic viewfinder or a better articulation mechanism for the LCD monitor was a bit of a shame.
But first and foremost for me in a comparison of cameras like these was to consider their image quality, and here, my job wasn't yet done. I'd looked at all three cameras in the daytime and approaching sunset, but what of their performance once the sun went down? I headed back to downtown Knoxville in search of the answer, and once again, I brought all three cameras along with me.
(Want to see more on how the LX100 fared? You'll find info on its night-shooting abilities in my Panasonic LX100 Field Test Part II.)
Out and about before the rain comes
Actually managing to get out and shoot turned out to be a bit of a problem, as every time I was free, the heavens decided to open. I finally managed it, though. Spotting a break in the weather, I made a mad dash for my car, tripod and cameras in hand. And while the rain soon returned, I managed to get out long enough for some side-by-side comparisons.
All three cameras were set to their default configuration, with a few exceptions. I opted for Aperture-priority mode with a fixed f/5.6 aperture, figuring that this would give a fair basis for comparison. I also enabled the step zoom function on all three cameras so that I could more quickly bring their focal lengths to parity with each other, and manually dialed in the ISO sensitivity, allowing each camera to select the shutter speed itself for a metered exposure. And since their metering systems might well handle a given subject differently, I set all three cameras to enable exposure bracketing, as well as raw+JPEG storage.
I made my first comparison at ISO 6400 equivalent, shooting the pavilion in Knoxville's Market Square. Comparing the Canon G7X to its rivals, it was clearly a little noisier than the RX100 III, but its grain was reasonably film-like. And with a lower level of noise reduction, it also held onto some detail that the RX100 III had lost. The LX100, meanwhile, turned in the cleanest image of the group, and largely erased its resolution deficit. All three cameras rendered the scene quite warmly, but Canon's result was a touch less so than its rivals.
Switching to FastRawViewer, my raw-file culling app of choice, I took a look at the images before significant processing had taken place. (Of course, FastRawViewer is still performing demosaicing and so forth, but it gets you a lot closer to seeing what's in the raw file than, say, an app like Lightroom or Photoshop would.) Here, too, the Canon G7X showed higher noise levels than its Sony rival. Interestingly, its default contrast was also much greater, with the dark night sky in Sony's version instead rendered as a deep gray.
Stepping up to ISO 12,800 equivalent, the Canon G7X needed a little kick of positive exposure compensation, with the metered image being a bit on the underexposed side. (This would be a trend throughout the rest of my nighttime shooting, with the G7X often turning in a very dark result compared to its rivals, often to a surprising degree. In fact, for some shots it was out by a large enough margin that even my bracketed +0.7EV exposure was still a bit on the dark side.)
All shots are 35mm-equivalent @ f/5.6, ISO 12,800
Again, the Canon G7X turned in a noisier result than did its nearest rival, the RX100 III, but likewise I still preferred this slight graininess to the overprocessed look of shots from the Sony. This time, though, Canon's image showed less fine detail, and had a rather sickly greenish hue. Sony's shot was equally too warm, with the shot from the LX100 probably having the most pleasant color.
Looking at the raw files, noise levels between the two cameras were much closer. While Sony still looked to have a slight edge on detail, it wasn't anywhere near as significant as in the JPEG comparison, suggesting that the Canon G7X hadn't extracted the most from its JPEG conversion. And again, Canon's raw file showed much higher contrast.
Really, though, I thought that ISO 12,800 was simply a step too far for both of the 1"-type sensored cameras. I'd personally stick to ISO 6400 or below for both the Canon G7X and Sony RX100 III, as beyond this point their colors were muted, white balance a bit dubious, and the images started to look a bit too processed for my liking.
Dialing back the sensitivity to ISO 3200 equivalent still gave me hand-holdable shutter speeds with the aperture stopped down a little, so really there's no need to roam so high anyway unless it's really dark or your subject is moving. Again, the Canon G7X underexposed this shot to my tastes -- the image shown above has 0.7EV of positive exposure compensation -- and also got the white balance a tad on the cold side.
But a few seconds of tweaking in Lightroom or Photoshop fixes that quite easily, and again I think the Canon G7X does a better job of balancing noise levels against detail than does the Sony RX100 III. (Although in fairness to the latter, viewed 1:1 it seems there's just a tiny bit of motion blur in its shot.)
With rain on the way -- and frankly, being a little tired of shooting the same image over and over with three cameras, trying to remember to keep settings matched between all three -- I headed home for the night, leaving the remainder of my night shooting for a separate trip.
One more time with feeling
For my final shoot with the Canon G7X, I left the Sony RX100 III at home, opting for a slightly easier to manage pairing of the G7X and Panasonic LX100. (You can see my shots with that camera in our Panasonic LX100 gallery, if you want to make further side-by-side comparisons for yourself.)
Changing gears a little, I started off in Knoxville's Old City district. The bars, nightclubs and coffee shops there can make for some quite interesting subjects, and as I noted in the second Field Test of my Panasonic LX100 review, I quite like the tartan pattern in the logo of one particular bar as it's quite a test of fine detail.
I didn't include the full shot in my gallery because, once again, the G7X had trouble with the city street lights and the result was a rather unattractive green color cast. However, if you want to compare against the LX100's result shot moments earlier, you'll find a 100% crop from the G7X's image above.
You can get a good idea of what the sign looks like up close if you quickly pause this promotional video on YouTube, and make sure you're viewing it at 1080p resolution. I'd say the G7X did a pretty good job, detail-wise, capturing almost all of the fine detail of the diagonal striping in the tartan!
Walking up towards the center of town, I spotted a cute sign for a new hot dog joint, and raised the camera over my head for a snapshot. Lit only by the streetlamps behind my shoulder, a high sensitivity of ISO 5000 equivalent was called for. Once again, the G7X required 0.7EV of exposure compensation to manage the shot above, and once again there was an unattractive, cold cast to the image.
The Panasonic LX100's shot, while a bit warm, was much closer in both exposure and white balance, but the lack of an articulated display on that camera made framing a little trickier. If I'd had the Sony RX100 III with me, its more sophisticated articulation mechanism would have been ideal. The Canon G7X's display, which only tilts upwards, didn't help out with this shot.
(I could, of course, have framed upside down and then flipped the image in post if the camera didn't do so for me. That would've allowed the screen to tilt towards me, but it's a kludge that ruins the ergonomics, forcing you to trip the shutter with your thumb.)
Moving on to Market Square, I took a shot of this bicycle with delightfully retro whitewall tires. Yet again, I had to opt for the +0.7EV bracketed exposure, and found myself wishing I'd bracketed by a full stop. And again, the resulting shot had a slightly cool color cast, although much less so than many of my images from that evening. In terms of detail, though, the Canon G7X did a pretty good job, although the lower-res LX100 actually bested it slightly.
A tendency to underexpose and leave color casts
You've doubtless spotted a trend by now. Throughout my evening's shooting, I found that the Canon G7X tended to underexpose its images and leave cool / green color casts in its images. Fully two-thirds of the images I've selected for my gallery needed positive exposure compensation, and almost a quarter of them had a fairly strong color cast.
And that's the ones I felt most presentable and representative of what the camera can do. Out of the 120 images I shot in low light that evening, probably three quarters were underexposed, sometimes quite dramatically so. Look, for example, at the shot below, which was the metered exposure for its particular scene.
Again, the full-res shot doesn't appear in the gallery because it simply wasn't usable. You can see, though, that the Canon G7X has based its exposure on the very small area of bright lights from the window of the pizza restaurant, the colorful lights over the outdoor seating area, and the spotlight on the archway to the right. Most of the image is greatly underexposed at the expense of those few highlights.
While you can, of course, bring the shadow areas back up if you shoot raw (and put up with the glacially slow frame-rate when doing so), the result would be pretty noisy -- much more so than if the camera had just used a more reasonable exposure to start off with. And it's not that it didn't have latitude to do so: In that particular shot, the camera selected a shutter speed of 1/125 second, when I'd have expected something closer to 1/30th to 1/60th second. (Anything down to 1/80th second wouldn't even have broken the reciprocal rule, which the G7X's image stabilization system is more than capable of allowing you to do.)
Of course, you have access to full manual exposure control, exposure compensation and a bracketing function (or some combination of the above) to get around this problem, and with the G7X, Canon is clearly aiming at more experienced photographers who would likely have the experience to know this. I'm just a bit surprised because I can't remember a recent camera that underexposed this consistently at night, especially not one that had no such problems in the daytime.
Update: I missed sharing my videos!
When I first published this Field Test back in May, it seems I was suffering from brain fade. Although I shot a fair few videos with the Canon G7X during my time with the camera, I somehow missed uploading them, a point which I've only just realized as I'm now finalizing the review. (Sincere apologies for any of you who've been waiting to see what videos from the G7X looked like!)
Unfortunately, in the time between my Field Test going live and the last t's being crossed and i's dotted so we could conclude the review, I managed to misplace the videos I'd shot. (Doubtless they're somewhere in my archives, but at a certain point, it makes no sense to keep hunting when we still have the camera in-house.)
Hence, rather than my own videos which have gone astray, Associate Editor William Brawley popped out with the Canon G7X for me, and shot a new video. You can see it below, along with links to download the original file, straight from the camera. The result pretty much speaks for itself. The lens's power zoom mechanism is impressively quiet, in fact I'd go so far as to say it's almost silent. Image stabilization takes care of the worst of the shakes, and focus shifts smoothly with little noticeable hunting.
See our sample video below, and if you want to see the original file (since YouTube compresses content for quicker playback), click the link beneath for the original file!
Full HD video: This final clip was shot at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels with a rate of 59.940 frames per second. As you can see, the optical zoom remains active during video capture, allowing you to bring your subject a bit closer if you want to focus the viewer's attention.
If you're willing to put up with the limited speed shooting in raw mode (and to nursemaid the camera a little when choosing exposure variables), I wouldn't see either metering or white balance as a showstopper. If you're looking for a point-and-shoot experience that gets you good photos most of the time, and you do much night shooting, I'd probably suggest looking at the Sony RX100 III instead. (Or the Panasonic LX100, should you not need pants-pocket size.)
If you think either of those cameras might be right for you, head over to their reviews and read my Field Tests for the full story: