It's all change in the camera market, with the focus on throwaway compacts all but dead in the face of smartphone domination. Canon is well known for its chunky-but-capable compact cameras, with 2013's G16 seemingly representing the end of that range, now moving aside to make way for the equally chunky - but no need to excuse itself - Canon PowerShot G5 X.
The key thing about the G5 X is its larger-than-average 1-inch sensor size, positioning it as the all-in-one camera - it's got a viewfinder in addition to vari-angle LCD screen - for those seeking elevated image quality without the even more considerable size of an interchangeable lens camera.
After a long holiday weekend with the G5 X in tow, we've come to learn whether it's a true must-have prosumer compact or, indeed, whether the days of chunky compacts and numbered now more than ever?
Canon PowerShot G5X review: Design
Size is subjective, really, but we wouldn't go calling the G5 X a dinky compact by any measure. It's been able to squeeze into our coat pocket during the evenings, but its 112 x 76 x 44mm profile makes it quite a wedge to cart about. A bag might be the best place for this camera.
Considering what's on offer, though, it's felt worth carrying the G5 X around. The built-in viewfinder has certainly come in handy when tackling the bright sunlight of Lisbon, which made on-screen images otherwise tricky to see with great accuracy. The finder is centre-aligned in the camera's design, and while the 0.39-inch OLED panel isn't huge, its 2.36-million dot resolution makes for ample detail.
That rear LCD screen also reintroduces the vari-angle bracket - something that was missing from the G16 - and which we've been aplenty to shoot from below eyeline. We've become accustomed to this way of working, with so many cameras adopting such a design (even larger interchangeable lens models, such as our go-to Panasonic Lumix GH4).
Functionality feels like a considered blend of classic and contemporary too. The G5 X dons a familiar array of control buttons - rotational d-pad and function buttons to the rear, paired with a click-action lens control ring to the front - along with a touchscreen to make repositioning the focus point via a quick finger tap nice and easy. In the world of smartphones a camera without a touchscreen feels increasingly dated, so Canon's got the balance right here - avoiding the smaller-scale G9 X's more-or-less touch-only design.
Canon PowerShot G5X review: Lens
The PowerShot G5 X isn't just about that large sensor, though, with its 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 equivalent lens delivering a wide-angle to mid-zoom with fast maximum aperture available throughout.
Such a wide aperture does mean the camera is a bit of a chunk, though, as we've mentioned. This Canon is a lot larger than the diminutive Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV; that's partly down to design, partly down to the more considerable viewfinder (in the Sony it pops-up out of the body).
The point about aperture is an important part of the G5 X's make-up, as paired with the large sensor a wide-open setting, such as f/1.8, can enhance the soft-focus background effect, but also ensure more light can enter the lens - which comes in handy for keeping the ISO sensitivity lower, thus avoiding excess image noise in the results (more on image quality later).
We predominantly shoot in aperture priority mode, using the lens control ring to quickly click between aperture values; a front thumbwheel is also available, although we found its upright positioning to feel somewhat strange in use.
Canon PowerShot G5X review: Performance
As we've long said of compact cameras, the on-sensor autofocus systems aren't quite as speedy as their interchangeable lens cousins.
Canon has stuck to what it knows with the G5 X, keeping things simple, yet capable. An autofocus point can be appointed anywhere around the screen using touch, or selected using the d-pad, while this point's size can be toggled between small and medium using the lens control ring. That's as far as it goes really: set the point, or allow the camera to auto allocate, then shoot freely.
Autofocus speed is ample but not lightning fast, but then accuracy ought to be just as important - and in this latter department we've had no difficulties acquiring focus even in low-light conditions such as a dim-lit Monastery.
We've long been saying that Canon's cameras could do with a more complex set of autofocus options - and perhaps a mode like the pinpoint focus option as found in Panasonic compact system cameras, for example. What's on board the G5 X is fine, it's just not the most advanced or fastest solution out there for a £630 camera.
Close-up focus operates at 5cm-from-subject at the 24mm equivalent setting, dropping to 40cm at the maxed-out 100mm equivalent. You'll need to manually activate the macro mode from its quick allocation d-pad location (where manual focus can also be activated), as the camera won't automatically activate for close focus unless using full auto mode.
The G5 X also has a dedicated +/-3EV exposure compensation dial up top, which is positioned in such a way that it avoids random knocks. It's come in handy for quick exposure adjustment when we've been shooting back-lit statues that need an extra boost, without needing to lose ourselves in the menus forever.
Canon PowerShot G5X review: Battery & Wi-Fi
After two days of shooting on and off, one thing we were pleased about is that there was still some battery life left in the G5 X. It actually outperformed our expectations, as Canon quotes its use at 215 shots per charge. Using the viewfinder is part of the reason its shots-per-charge ratio isn't as high as some other cameras, but we actually found it to be just as long-lasting as the smaller G9 X model.
Which is a savvy in-point to discuss the camera's Wi-Fi connectivity, which is one and the same in both G5 X and G9 X models. Download the Canon Camera Connect application - available for iOS or Android devices - and a tap of the Wi-Fi button to the lower side of the camera (it's an oddly positioned button, we must say) gets things fired up.
This obviously requires a Wi-Fi connection between smart device and camera - which temporarily interferes with any existing Wi-Fi connection you may have - in order to then dig through your on-camera images and save them to your smart device, from which they can be shared. Remote shooting or tacking on GPS data is also possible.
We like that Canon is not dictating where shots have to be shared, giving you have the freedom to Tweet, Instagram, Facebook or whatever from your phone - unlike some other manufacturers that force a sign-in with their own app agenda.
Elsewhere there are various picture effects built-in, 6fps burst shooting, 1080p video capture at 60fps (still no 4K), and also a built-in neutral density (ND) filter that might come in handy for bright days when using the wide-angle maximum f/1.8 aperture.
Canon PowerShot G5X review: Image quality
And so on to the big kahuna: image quality. It's among the primary reasons to consider buying a dedicated camera over and above a smartphone, and the G5 X certainly shows its worth in various ways.
The lowest sensitivity from that 20.2-megapixel 1-inch sensor is ISO 125, which has seen us snap some bright and clear results with plenty of detail. We've noticed that bright sunlight can cause some haloing around subject edges, though, with corrected-for aberrations visible from light-bleed windows and the like.
What the G5 X gets absolutely right that the G9 X doesn't comes down to that maximum aperture: as it's always possible to allow a decent amount of light in, it's easier to maintain a lower ISO sensitivity. Which is useful, because when pushing into ISO 6400 the G5 X loses its way and processes detail out of complex detail areas, without negotiating image noise especially well - as seen from the wide-angle shot of Jeronimo's Monastery shot from the choir balcony (further up the page). A plate of lemon olives also shows little sharpness or differentiation of detail (see associated gallery images).
But that's not to say the G5 X can't cope with low-light, high-sensitivity situations. With ceiling adornments and statues shot at ISO 2000 there's far more retention of detail in our shots. We've been shooting both raw & JPEG, but as Adobe Camera Raw hasn't updated to cater for the G5 X at the time of writing we're unable to load the raw shots at present.
The sensor's size, coupled with wide aperture settings, also helps to enhance shallow depth of field - that blurred background effect, which can help isolate the in-focus subject with greater clarity. It's not going to compete with a yet larger sensor as you might find in a pro camera, but the results are impactful.
Overall the G5 X handles image quality just as well as its other 1-inch sensor competitors. The crucial thing is that the lens offers enough brightness from its aperture range, which is where its little brother G9 X lacks.
On the cusp of 2016 there's an argument that chunky compact cameras have had their day. The Canon G5 X helps to counter that argument with a decent lens and capable 1-inch sensor, yet it doesn't offer a huge amount extra over and above the pocketable Sony RX100 IV either. Well, except a good ladle or two of extra bulk.
So on the one hand, seen as a G16 replacement, the G5 X is everything we could want: it offers better image quality, a vari-angle screen, built-in electronic viewfinder and touchscreen functionality. On the other hand, we'd rather slip a Sony RX100 IV into pocket and somehow justify the extra chunk of money we'd have to wave goodbye to.
But that's not to detract from the G5 X's comprehensive accomplishments. Whether it's the camera for you will come down to whether you find its physical size palatable, as it's certainly a capable bit of kit and worthy of consideration.
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