Compact cameras are getting bigger, beefier and more advanced as the smartphone revolution takes over the lower-end of the market. We've already seen a handful of superzoom models with a 1-inch sensor at their core, but now it's Canon's turn to step up to the plate with the PowerShot G3 X.
Teased by Canon back in February, the concept of the PowerShot G3 X isn't exactly new - the likes of the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 and Sony Cyber-shot RX10 touch upon the large sensor, large zoom concept in their individual ways too.
However, the Canon is the first camera to pair such a large 1-inch sensor with a 600mm equivalent maximum focal length. That's courtesy of a 25x optical zoom, a 24-600mm f/2.8-5.6 equivalent optic, which is no mean feat at this scale.
That maximum f/2.8 aperture does rapidly fall-off, though, hitting f/5.6 by the time you've extended to around the 180mm equivalent mark (as presented in markings on the lens barrel but, oddly, not displayed on the rear screen).
The G3 X has been crafted in typical Canon compact style. That is, it feels more on the side of PowerShot than it does EOS DSLR (the design teams are separate so that's perhaps no surprise). There's not the weightier metal build of the G1 X MkII to be found in the G3 X, instead an altogether lighter and more plasticky finish.
But that doesn't stop it from being quality showing off various smarts, including dust and drip protection. There's no official IP rating, but Canon claims it can withstand the elements to the same extent its 70D DSLR can. A top feature to squeeze in there for the £799 price tag.
Although speaking about price can be subjective, it's a really important factor at play here: positioned almost identically to the Panasonic FZ1000 (at launch, anyways) and a few hundred pounds less than the just-announced Sony RX10 MkII, this is Canon thinking with consideration.
So can the G3 X offer more than its near competition? Other than the longer lens, not exactly. Indeed, because there's no electronic viewfinder built-in (but you can buy an optional accessory), it offers less as a single package.
So it's more like an advanced compact solution; a product minus some of the DSLR-like details that its competitors bare. For example, the G3 X's zoom is controlled via the toggle around the shutter button rather than via a twist of the lens barrel. We're ok with that, but would rather have the option to control zoom via both functions.
With the optional viewfinder attached we also find the top thumb dial a tiny bit too close to the rear, and therefore away from a reaching finger, while the shutter button sits very flat - not like the angled position you'll find in Canon's EOS DSLR cameras. There is, however, a dedicated exposure compensation dial (albeit minus a lock) that is well positioned for quick adjustment, and the arrangement of d-pad, quick menu and full menu buttons to the rear right-hand side are entirely familiar if you've used a Canon compact before. It all works well and feels right.
The G3 X's autofocus system seems decent too, based on our hands-on time with the product. The rear 3.2-inch LCD screen - which has a massive 1.62m-dot resolution, among the highest we've seen on any camera to date - is responsive to touch and snappy to lock subjects into focus. The image stabiliser aids in keeping the preview nice and steady too, which is an essential feature at the longer focal length equivalents.
But it does feel altogether more Canon PowerShot S120 than a fully comprehensive autofocus system: there's face detection/subject tracking and 1-point auto (positional anywhere around the screen via touch) only. That's your lot. None of the pinpoint autofocus mode as per the Panasonic FZ1000.
Once zoomed to its maximum 600mm equivalent the G3 X's autofocus remains capable, with the caveat of more limited minimum focus distance than the 24mm wide-angle's excellent 5cm close-up - which happens to work a treat. Macro can be selected from within the menus, and will need to be deactivated to keep focus working at pace, as it's an altogether slower mode.
The manual focus ring on the lens is massive and rotates in a silky smooth fashion, which feels great. A single press of the MF button on the lens barrel kicks this into play (otherwise it doesn't do anything, which feels like a missed trick), with zoom magnification applied, along with focus peaking to assist with acquiring accurate focus. All in all, it's a decent manual focus setup arrangement.
Image quality is obviously a considerable reason to opt for the PowerShot G3 X. It's like a turbo-charged superzoom, and while we can't fully assess quality at this pre-production stage, the 20.2-megapixel back-illuminated sensor and DIGIC 6 processor ought to combine for Canon's typically high quality.
Not that, insofar, we've seen any other Canon camera don a 1-inch sensor, so we're certainly interested to see how well its results hold up in the real world. The sensitivity maxes out at a bold ISO 12,800 too, which gives plenty of scope for shooting in low light. And when things get too bright there's a built-in ND (neutral density) filter that slides into place within the lens' construction to cut out three stops of light. As the maximum shutter speed is 1/2000th of a second - which at f/2.8 on a warm summer's day will cause exposure issues - this is a very useful feature.
We're also fond of the screen's tilt-angle mechanism. We'd actually prefer it to be bracketed to the side of the camera for greater versatility, but it works fine in its current format, pulling away easily from the body for overhead, waist-level or even front-facing - daresay selfie - work.
Elsewhere there's built-in Wi-Fi for remote control and sharing files with a smart device, raw capture, 1080p movie mode, and a 920mAh battery to keep the juice flowing for as long as possible (Canon quotes 300-410 shots per charge; or 240 shots with the EVF attached).
Interestingly there's a second button on the side of the lens which pops the camera into an auto framing mode. You can toggle between auto and some video-centric options, such as upper body or face detection, where the camera will identify a subject's form and maintain the zoom and focus based on that selection. Want someone to walk towards the camera, captured from waist and above throughout? That's possible with this mode. Or, at least, it is theoretically: we've not put it through the mill, but think the concept is quite cool for certain applications.
That's the Canon PowerShot G3 X in a nutshell. If you've been waiting for a large sensor, large zoom compact but have found the 200mm and 400mm maximum equivalent focal lengths of the respective Panasonic FZ1000 and Sony RX10 to be too paltry then this Canon steps into its own.
It's a shame there's no viewfinder built-in, and we think some of the controls could be a touch more advanced (twist-to-zoom lens barrel and additional autofocus options, for example), but for its first shot in this beefed-up camera category, the Canon G3 X sure does put the super in superzoom. It's got a style of its own, separates itself from the crowd, and despite some criticisms we can absolutely see there being an audience for this camera.
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