Canon G9X II Field Test

Good things can come in small packages

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 06/21/2017

25.9mm (71mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1/8s, ISO 125.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
Introduction

The Canon G9X Mark II arrives less than two years after the original G9X, which launched as the world's smallest camera with a 1-inch sensor. Much about the G9X II is the same as its predecessor and that's not a bad thing. There are several new features and improvements to be found in the new pocketable compact camera though including a new, faster processor which leads to improved overall performance.

Key Features and Info

  • Pocketable form factor
  • Built-in 28-84mm equivalent lens with f/2.0-4.9 aperture range
  • 20.2-megapixel 1-inch type sensor
  • ISO 125-12,800 range
  • Continuous shooting at just over 8 frames per second
  • Full HD video at up to 60 frames per second
  • Built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC
  • $529 price, although it has been available for as low as $429
10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/2.0, 1/160s, ISO 125.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image As a note: At least on my calibrated display, the RAW version shows dramatically different colors in Adobe Lightroom. Download the RAW file and see for yourself.

Compact camera offers pocketable form factor, excellent touchscreen interface

The Canon G9X II retains the same very compact form factor as its predecessor. The camera weighs only 7.3 ounces (206 grams) with its battery inserted and has dimensions of 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.2 inches (98 x 51 x 31 millimeters). I have been carrying the camera around in the pockets of my jeans and lightweight jacket with ease. It uses a wrist strap rather than a neck strap, as is typical for a compact camera. The strap is okay, but it would be much better if it had a way to cinch it firmly around your wrist.

With its small size, there are necessarily some compromises. The camera does not have any protruding front grip except for a small rear thumb grip. The front grip could stand to be a bit "stickier," so to speak, but it does its job. The G9X II also lacks a viewfinder of any kind.

In the absence of a viewfinder, you rely solely on the camera's 3-inch rear display, which is bright and sharp, offering 1,040,000 dots (345,600 pixels) of resolution. Given the camera's price point and compact size, it is not surprising that the display does not tilt, but that does occasionally lead to usability issues in bright light. In particularly bright conditions, you can increase the brightness of the display, which does help, but this comes at the cost of battery life.

On the top of the camera, there is a built-in pop-up flash, a playback button, power button, shutter release (with a surrounding zoom lever that toggles left and right) and a mode dial. The mode dial has extensive options, including standard program auto (P), aperture priority (Av), shutter speed priority (Tv) and manual (M) modes. Additional modes include a custom shooting mode, auto, hybrid auto, scene mode and movie recording mode.

The rear of the camera is dominated by the display. Along the right side, there's the small thumb grip and four buttons. The G9X II does not have any directional buttons. Rather than using directional buttons to navigate menus, you can use either the touchscreen or you can use the zoom lever around the shutter button on the top of the camera and the control ring around the lens. The focal length switch changes the menu tab and rotating the lens ring moves up and down a particular tab. It takes a little getting used to, but it works fine and the menus are well-suited for touch navigation if you want to go that route. In fact, the user interface as a whole works very well with the touchscreen, including while shooting and when using the Q Menu.

Speaking of the Q Menu, this shortcut menu is launched with the dedicated "Q/SET" button, and it offers quick access to the following settings: AF area mode, AF drive mode, image quality, drive mode, self-timer, flash mode, white balance, Picture Style, metering mode, focus distance (macro off versus on) and neutral density filter.

The built-in flash is manually released and has a range of 19.7 inches (50 centimeters) to over 19 and a half feet (6 meters) at the wide end of the lens and 19.7 inches (50 centimeters) to nearly eight feet (2.4 meters) at the telephoto end of the lens when using Auto ISO. The max flash sync is 1/2000s thanks to the leaf shutter and the flash has auto, flash on and slow synchro flash modes.

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/2.0, 1/320s, ISO 125. Flash OFF.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/11, 1/60s, ISO 125. Flash ON.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image

Overall, the Canon G9X Mark II camera body feels good and offers nice usability considering its very compact form factor. The touchscreen display does an excellent job serving as the primary means for controlling the camera, and the control ring around the lens works well in a variety of shooting modes.

Shooting Experience: Canon G9X II offers a positive overall shooting experience

Image Quality: 20-megapixel 1-inch sensor delivers good image quality

The Canon G9X II utilizes the same 20.2-megapixel 1-inch type CMOS image sensor as its predecessor. The sensor does not have any sort of sensor-shift image stabilization or on-sensor phase detect pixels, although optical stabilization for the camera is available via the built-in lens.

Image quality and sharpness

Given the G9X II's reliance on the same image sensor as the G9X, it is unsurprising that image quality would be similar. However, the G9X II uses the new DIGIC 7 image processor, which helps to achieve better JPEG image quality in addition to performance gains, which we'll discuss later.

The camera delivers nice-looking JPEG images straight from the camera. There are a variety of Picture Styles you can use, although I found myself tending toward the "Faithful" Picture Style in many situations. RAW images are quite nice too, offering a good amount of flexibility during processing. You can see a few before (JPEG images straight from the camera) and after (processed RAW images) below.

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1s, ISO 125. Resized JPEG image straight from the camera.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1s, ISO 125. Processed RAW image.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1s, ISO 125. Resized JPEG image straight from the camera.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1s, ISO 125. Processed RAW image.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image
ISO Performance

The Canon G9X II has an ISO range of 125 to 12,800, with no expanded ISO range. The camera includes an Auto ISO setting, but there is not a lot of customization available beyond setting a maximum ISO and selecting a rate of change. A minimum shutter speed option would be nice, but the Auto ISO functionality is good considering the class of camera.

Canon G9X II ISO Comparison 100% center crops from highest-quality JPEG images with default camera settings. (Click images for full-size JPEG files, see captions for links to accompanying RAW files).
ISO 125 Full Scene
ISO 125 (RAW)
ISO 200 (RAW)
ISO 400 (RAW)
ISO 800 (RAW)
ISO 1600 (RAW)
ISO 3200 (RAW)
ISO 6400 (RAW)
ISO 12,800 (RAW)

As far as JPEG images at higher ISOs are concerned, I find that quality drops off quite dramatically at ISO 1600, but it remains very usable. There remains a lot of fine detail in files at ISO 1600, but it's a pretty dramatic shift from 800 to 1600 compared to the shift from ISO 400 to 800. At ISO 3200, there is a precipitous drop in fine detail and at ISO 6400 images become blotchy in addition to not being very detailed. ISO 12,800 is likely not usable except for perhaps very small prints or sharing on social media. When viewing the full-size files, take note of the mottling detail in the plastic of the X-Rite color checker in my test scene, as this shows very well how the default in-camera noise reduction changes with ISO. Further, the fine details in the sea glass is a good barometer as well.

Regarding other aspects of in-camera processing, I found that the in-camera sharpening was generally quite good. It adds crispness to the image without causing too many artifacts. Looking at the white millimeter markings in the full-size JPEG files, you can see that there are minimal issues, even with the high-contrast detail. However, even at base ISO, the off-white background displays some visible noise when viewing the file at its full size. This will not appear in scenes with consistent detail throughout the frame, but it could be problematic when shooting a bare blue sky, for example. To avoid this, you can handle RAW processing yourself and use selective sharpening.

Speaking of the RAW files, they are quite dull straight from the camera, as is to be expected. I was a bit surprised at how soft they are, but that indicates that the camera is doing a lot of sharpening to JPEG files, which makes its processing perhaps more impressive. The story is quite similar between RAW and JPEG files as you increase ISO. There is a big jump in visible noise from ISO 800 to 1600, and there is some visible noise even at base ISO. Beyond ISO 800, RAW files will require a careful processing touch to bring out the most in the files.

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1s, ISO 125.
This image has been modified. Click for original image. Click here for RAW image.
Overall

The Canon G9X II can capture very nice images for its camera class and price point. The sensor is good for its size, and the in-camera processing is impressive, thanks in part to the new DIGIC 7 image processor. It's easy to get vibrant, sharp and clean images straight from the camera with the G9X II, but the RAW files are flexible enough to offer enterprising photographers a good starting point when editing images.

Built-in lens: I wish it were wider, but the 28-84mm-eq. zoom lens is pretty good

Click here to see a variety of test images for the built-in lens in our Canon G9X II Gallery.

The Canon G9X II offers a built-in lens with an equivalent focal length of 28-84mm (its actual focal length is 10.2-30.6mm). The 28-84mm lens offers a maximum aperture range of f/2.0-4.9, which is quite fast at the wide end. However, the aperture changes quickly. The maximum aperture changes to f/2.5 just over 30mm (equivalent) and reaches f/4.9 at around the 70mm equivalent focal length.

The lens is decent, although its performance is not excellent across the board. There is quite a bit of sharpness falloff as you move toward the edges, particularly at the wide end of the lens. There is a bit of distortion as well, while vignetting is generally handled well by the camera. Chromatic aberration isn't severe, unless you're working with RAW files, which show a bit more issues than the JPEG images, which have a lot of corrections baked in.

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/2.0, 1/640s, ISO 125.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image. 100% center crop from a RAW file processed with Adobe Camera Raw defaults.

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/2.0, 1/640s, ISO 125.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image. 100% left edge crop from a RAW file processed with Adobe Camera Raw defaults.

With its close focus distance of two inches (5 centimeters), the G9X II can capture decent macro images. I like how close you can get, but optical issues are apparent. There is a considerable amount of sharpness falloff, which can sometimes be beneficial depending on your subject, but is not great overall. Further, there is some blur around high contrast edges that looks strange.

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/2.0, 1/1000s, ISO 125.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image. While the macro performance is not great from an image quality perspective, it is still nice how closely you can focus with the G9X II.

Overall, the built-in lens is decent considering the class of camera and how compact it is when the camera is turned off. However, it would be great if the lens were a bit wider at the wide end and offered more consistent performance across the focal length range. All things considered, though, the G9X II's lens offers acceptable performance.

Autofocus: Performance and speed is good overall, although not perfect

The G9X II offers good, reliable autofocus performance with its 31-point contrast-detect autofocus system. The touchscreen works well with the autofocus system, particularly when using single-point AF. However, the single AF point is sometimes too large when trying to precisely focus, particularly when shooting macro photography.

The camera includes a tracking autofocus mode that incorporates face detection and face select features and also includes touch-to-track AF functionality. Tracking AF work well in my experience; subject tracking is sufficient for slower subjects, but it struggles to keep up with quicker ones.

30.6mm (84mm equiv.), f/4.9, 1/500s, ISO 125.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
Manual Focus

When autofocus isn't sufficient, you can use manual focus as well. To start using manual focus with the G9X II, you have to tap on the AF button when shooting. The camera defaults to a 5x zoom when manually focusing. On-screen arrows are used for adjusting focus and you can also trigger AF while manually focusing to get focus close to where you want it. You can also use the control ring around lens to manually focus. By pressing the menu button, you can initiate focus bracketing, which is handy.

Overall

The Canon G9X II offers generally good autofocus performance. In most situations, autofocus is quick and accurate. When extra precision is needed, it's nice to have access to manual focus.

Metering and Exposure

Exposure and auto white balance metering performance is solid across the majority of shooting situations. The camera has a shutter speed range of 30 seconds to 1/2000s, which is not always quick enough when shooting wide open at f/2.0, but there's a built-in neutral density filter which is set to Auto by default to help slow down your shutter speed in bright shooting conditions. The G9X II offers evaluative, center-weighted, average, spot (linkable to the AF frame) and face detect AE metering modes. When the metering is not delivering desired results, there's +/- 3 EV exposure compensation available as well, which can be adjusted in 1/3 stop intervals.

30.6mm (84mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1/500s, ISO 125.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
Performance: G9X II is powered by faster DIGIC 7 image processor

With its new DIGIC 7 image processor, the Canon G9X II has good overall performance for its class. It can shoot at over 8 frames per second, which is quite quick. Its buffer depths are pretty impressive too, topping over 20 frames for RAW images in our lab, but buffer clearing was slow, which proved problematic in the field. The buffer takes over 20 seconds to clear when shooting RAW and RAW+JPEG images. While buffer depths are improved over the G9X, the G9X II is still a slow camera to clear its buffer. This is frustrating when burst shooting, and the issue is exacerbated because the camera is basically unusable while it is processing files. You cannot view previously-shot images nor is there full access to the menus.

While not an issue, for me personally, during my time with the G9X II, but its built-in flash is very slow to recharge, taking around 10 seconds to recharge after a full power flash. The battery life is also not impressive, at least not with default power management settings, rated for only 235 shots. There's an available ECO mode, which is supposed to improve battery life to 315 shots by dimming the LCD and turning off quicker than normal after being idle. I was often shooting in bright conditions, so the dimmer LCD was an issue, but for some users, the ECO mode could be useful. In either case, a second battery is recommended because the battery life is not sufficient for a full day of shooting.

Shooting modes

With a variety of shooting modes, the Canon G9X II is a versatile compact camera. It has a standard assortment of shooting modes, such as program auto, aperture priority, shutter speed priority and full manual, but it also includes creative-oriented shooting modes such as various scene modes and filters as well as a built-in HDR mode. You can see some of the creative filters in the Canon G9X II Gallery.

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/8.0, 1/200s, ISO 125. HDR.
Click for full-size image.

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/4, 1/800s, ISO 125. Not HDR.
Click for full-size image.

When shooting in an automatic mode or with the automatic Picture Style, the G9X II is said to offer improved scene recognition. I was impressed with its automatic mode in general, and I think the G9X II is well-suited for photographing in a fully automatic mode, semi-automatic and fully manual modes.

Wireless features

Through the use of the Canon Camera Connect application, which I tested with my iPhone, you can connect to the camera, geotag images, transfer files and remotely control the camera. The camera has built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC. The connection process was straightforward, although it was annoying to need to enter a password.

Screenshots from the Canon Camera Connect application.

When remotely controlling the camera, you can control focus, exposure compensation and more. The slider for the focal length didn't entirely fit on my phone's display for some reason, but it's a minor user interface issue that doesn't hinder overall functionality. You can also change the drive mode and focus mode with the app. If you want to change the shooting mode, you must do so physically on the camera, which then requires you to go back to the application's home screen and then back into remote shooting in order for that change to be reflected.

Screenshots from the Canon Camera Connect application.

Overall, the app is functional and offers a good level of control. The ability to quickly scan through images and transfer them to a phone is nice as is the ability to location tag images, but the remote control functionality is not as good as I have experienced with camera/app combinations I've seen with other manufacturers.

Video: Full HD video shooting capabilities are impressive, but lack of 4K is unfortunate

The Canon G9X II doesn't offer 4K UHD video recording, but it is nonetheless a capable compact camera when it comes to video if you're content with Full HD. It can record 1920 x 1080 video at up to 60 frames per second, although you must be in the dedicated video shooting mode to access the 60fps option, otherwise the camera records in 24 or 30fps modes. Speaking of shooting modes, the camera can record when in other modes, such as aperture priority, by simply pressing the dedicated record button.

Canon G9X II Video Compilation
1920 x 1080 video clips recorded at 60 frames per second. Manual mode.
Download Original (195.9MB .MP4 File)

Despite not having 4K UHD recording, the G9X II does not record using the full width of its sensor, as you can see in the still frames below. With its built-in lens already not being very wide, that is rather disappointing. However, on the flip side, you have a bit more reach when recording video than when recording still images.

Still image video frame cropped to 16 x 9.

Frame from a Canon G9X II video. Notice how the frame is less wide than the still frame above.

Video quality itself is pretty good. The Full HD video didn't blow me away, but it is adequate. Similarly adequate is the autofocus system, which while not blazingly fast, is sufficient for recording video of many subjects. Metering performance was good.

Canon G9X II Video Autofocus Test
1920 x 1080 video recorded at 30fps. Recorded at full telephoto focal length with tap to focus utilized.
Download Original (76.6MB .MP4 File)

High ISO video performance is okay, although I would not want to record a lot of low light video with the G9X II.

Canon G9X II Video ISO Test
1920 x 1080 video clips recorded at 30fps. Manual mode. ISO speeds are marked on each clip.
Download Original (50.3MB .MP4 File)

Overall, considering the class of camera and the price point of the Canon G9X II, its video performance and features are quite good. The fact that a camera like this has full manual video recording is impressive. The lack of mic and headphone jacks, while disappointing, is surely to be expected for a small camera like this. For someone looking for a camera which can quickly record decent-looking 1080p video, the G9X II should fit the bill.

Canon G9X II Field Test Part Summary
The Canon G9X II is very capable compact camera
10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/2.0, 1/400s, ISO 400.
This image has been modified. Click for original image. Click here for RAW image.

What I like:

  • Very compact form factor easily slips into a pants or jacket pocket
  • Very good image quality from the 20.2-megapixel 1-inch sensor
  • Good touchscreen control
  • Quick autofocus
  • A solid value

What I dislike:

  • Display can be difficult to use outdoors, especially without tilt capabilities
  • Built-in lens has some issues and it would be great if it were wider
  • Performance is improved, but buffer clearing speeds are problematic during real-world shooting
  • No 4K UHD video recording

The Canon G9X II is an impressive camera in its own right, but it is particularly impressive given its compact size and its price point. It does not offer the best video features in its class, but for the money, you get a lot of camera and the Full HD video quality is decent.

10.2mm (28mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/100s, ISO 125.
This image has been modified. Click for original image. Click here for RAW image.

While there are compromises with regards to its form factor, the touchscreen user interface is so good that I rarely missed extensive physical controls while shooting. The autofocus system is quick, the camera and its DIGIC 7 image processor deliver solid all-around performance for the most part and, most importantly, the G9X II captures nice photos. If you're looking for a capable camera you can easily slip into your pocket but don't want to sacrifice image quality very much, take a long look at the new Canon G9X Mark II.

 



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