Canon G5 X field-tested: Is it the best point and shoot ever?

Canon G5 X field-tested: Is it the best point and shoot ever?

Up until now, the choice for best point and shoot was tricky – none of the three leading cameras had everything. The got top marks for image quality and has a good zoom range, but no viewfinder. The sort-of-has a viewfinder (it is a small pop-up), but has a limited zoom range and is a little lower-scoring on image quality. The somewhat older is also a worthy competitor, but its larger size isn’t justified by image quality or features. Canon has finally broken the logjam with its new . This new model adds an excellent Electronic ViewFinder (EVF) and a hot shoe for an add-on flash. There are also some other, smaller, updates to video recording formats and other features, but the EVF and hot shoe are clearly the headline here.

Enter the Canon PowerShot G5 X

The result is that the is the first point and shoot I felt I could try to use instead of a larger camera rig to do “real” photography. In fact, I used it exclusively (aside from some photos I took with my ) for the week I spent covering CES. At about 13 ounces (plus a few more for the handy little Speedlite), it weighed only a fraction of my usual DSLR plus lenses. That said, it is bigger and heavier than its predecessor and its competitors. Almost 3 ounces heavier than the , it is also a little larger. It still fit in the cargo pocket of my pants, but just barely. For me, that tradeoff is completely worth it, as without a serious flash and a viewfinder, it is hard to replace a DSLR or mirrorless with a point and shoot as a primary camera.

Image Quality

Like all of its competitors, the uses a “1-inch format” sensor. Basically, it’s the largest size that fits in a point-and-shoot form factor, but still smaller than the sensor in a micro-four-thirds or the APS-C sensor in a Sony mirrorless. In fact, Sony, Canon, and Panasonic all use very similar (if not identical) Sony sensors. So image quality is a matter of the lens and the camera firmware, at least for JPEGs. For Raw files, much of the firmware processing is moot, as it is replaced by software on your computer. In short, that means all of these model are very close when it comes to image quality, rating between 67 and 71 in terms of overall DxOMark scores (the hasn’t been tested yet, but I expect it to be very close to the 71 points scored by the – maybe a point or two higher).

There was a surprising amount of light on this show car, so I could shoot at ISO 125, but it still wasn’t simple for the camera to capture the range of color.
, 1/60s @ f/5.6, ISO 125

It is hard to believe that this image was shot in tricky lighting, indoors, without flash, at ISO 6400, with a point and shoot – but it was!
, 1/202s @ f/4.5, ISO 6400


I wanted to make sure and freeze the action in the GoPro booth, so I bumped up my shutter speed (and therefore my ISO)
, 1/1002s @ f/2.8, ISO 6400

Overall, I have been very pleased by the images coming out of the G5 X, both the in-camera JPEGs, and the ones I’ve shot Raw and post-processed with Adobe’s software (I’m still waiting for an Optics Pro module for the G5 X, as I’d love to try their PRIME noise reduction on the high-ISO shots). I used the camera to illustrate the 11 articles I wrote from CES, including the images in my . There were times I certainly would have liked to have a longer telephoto, or a wider-wide-angle, and of course my would have allowed me to push ISOs higher for faster shutter speeds or greater depth of field in a few situations, but for online publication, the images were completely acceptable. Clearly I wouldn’t want to do much large-scale printing of the high ISO versions, but that’s to be expected. 

Autofocus, performance, ergonomics and user experience

The G5 X felt very responsive. Recent advances in CMOS sensor technology have allowed non-DSLR cameras to implement phase-detect Autofocus (once the secret sauce of DSLRs) and the difference in focus speed is dramatic. There still isn’t the same sort of precision control you get with dozens of selectable AF points and a thumb joystick on a DSLR, but at least the camera gets to whatever it decides to focus on very quickly. Similarly, the shutter lag was amazingly small for a point and shoot. When pre-focused it measures as low as 22 milliseconds (.022 seconds). Even with Autofocus, benchmarks place it around 1/4 second. In burst mode, the camera can capture up to 7 or 8 JPEGs per second. Unfortunately, Raw mode takes the rate to under one frame per second.

By moving the pop-up flash to the center of the camera (behind the EVF) Canon has made room to split the control dials on the camera into two separate ones on the right and left (instead of two concentric ones). In general, this is great, as it provides an easy to use Exposure Compensation dial right near the shutter button. The only problem is that the dial is too easy to move inadvertently, when putting the camera into your pocket or camera bag, for example. Several times I found myself starting to take wildly over-exposed or under-exposed images as a result. Fortunately the LCD & EVF both show the image after compensation, so usually you’ll notice something is wrong fairly quickly. Other than that glitch, the dials on the camera and a front ring around the lens provide a flexible and powerful interface.

Serious shooters are definitely going to want to take the time to customize the controls. The camera features a good variety of programmable control dials (ring around the lens, small dial near the shutter, and the little ridged ring on the back), but by default they are set to do nothing in many of the advanced shooting modes. In particular, you’ll want to put ISO on one of them (I use the back ring), or needing to fire up the menu system to change ISO may drive you crazy.

The 21MP sensor in the has plenty of resolution for capturing detail in outdoor scenes.

Is the right for you?

If you’re looking for a small, pocket camera to use as a convenience when you don’t want to deal with your DSLR, then I’d still recommend the tiny . It is about the size of a cigarette pack, inexpensive, shoots Raw, and takes good quality images. Conversely if you are looking to replace your DSLR and lenses with a lighter alternative, there are lots of great mirrorless options, including the excellent . But if you want to go further, and replace your rig with a single point-and-shoot, or upgrade your aging point-and-shoot to the latest and greatest, you can’t beat the for features and image quality. At $750, it is also in the same price range as its competitors. Just be prepared for its bulky (for a point-and-shoot) size. If you’re concerned about the larger size, the good news is that Canon has dropped the price on its predecessor, so you can now get the for $600 from B&H.

In many ways, the desert outside Las Vegas is more interesting to me than the city itself.
While I did use my DSLRs for most of my landscape shooting on my drive there and back, I took some quick shots like this one with the .

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Read our field tests of the competition

If you’d like to catch up on our experiences with some alternatives to the , we’ve reviewed and field tested several of them:

Like many cameras with smallish sensors, Depth of FIeld is fairly easy to achieve with the
1/1244s @ f/5, ISO 125

Full Specs of the

Actual: 20.9 Megapixel
Effective: 20.2 Megapixel


Bit Depth

File Formats
Still Images: JPEG, RAW
Movies: MP4, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
Audio: AAC LC

Max Resolution
20.2 MP: 5472 x 3648

Aspect Ratio
1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9

Image Stabilization

EFL: 8.8-36.8mm (35 mm equivalent: 24-100mm)
Aperture: f/1.8 (W) - 2.8 (T)

Optical: 4.2x
Digital: 4x

Focus Range
Wide: 2" (5.08 cm) - Infinity
Telephoto: 1.3' (39.62 cm) - Infinity
Macro: 2" (5.08 cm) - 1.6' (48.77 cm)

ISO Sensitivity
Auto, 125-6400 (Extended Mode: 125-12800)

30 - 1/2000 second,  Bulb Mode
1 - 1/2000 second in  Auto Mode
1/8 - 1/2000 second in  Movie Mode

Exposure Metering
Center-weighted, Evaluative, Spot

Exposure Modes
Modes: Aperture Priority, Auto, Creative Filters, Creative Shot, Custom, Hybrid Auto, Manual, Movie, Program, SCN, Shutter Priority
Compensation: -3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)

Shooting Modes
Background Defocus
Fish-Eye Effect
Handheld Night Scene
Miniature Effect
Poster Effect
Soft Focus
Star Nightscape
Star Portrait
Star Time-Lapse Movie
Star Trails
Super Vivid
Toy Camera Effect

White Balance Modes
Auto, Cloudy, Custom 1, Custom 2, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Shade, Tungsten

Continuous Shooting
Up to 5.9 fps at 20.2 MP frames
Up to 4.4 fps at 20.2 MP frames

Self Timer
10 Sec, 2 Sec

Interval Recording

Remote Control
RS-60E3 (Optional)

Flash Modes
Forced On
Slow Sync

Built-in Flash

Maximum Effective Flash Range
Wide: 1.64 - 22.97' (0.5 - 7 m)
Telephoto: 1.64 - 13.12' (0.5 - 4 m)

External Flash Connection
Hot Shoe

Memory Card Type

Video Recording

1920 x 1080p: 59.94 fps, 29.97 fps, 23.98 fps, 14.985 fps
1280 x 720p: 29.97 fps, 6 fps, 3 fps, 1.5 fps
640 x 480p: 29.97 fps, 6 fps, 3 fps, 1.5 fps

Video Clip Length
Up to 4 GB or 29 Min 59 Sec

Audio Recording
Built-in Mic: With Video, Stereo

Viewfinder Type

Viewfinder Coverage

3.0" LCD Rear Touch Screen Swivel (1,040,000 pixels)

Screen Coverage

HDMI D (Micro), Micro-USB, USB 2.0

Yes, 802.11b/g/n built-in

Operating/Storage Temperature
32 to 104°F (0 to 40°C)
Humidity: 10 - 90%

1x NB-13L Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, 3.6 VDC, 1250 mAh

AC Power Adapter
ACK-DC110 (Optional)

Dimensions (WxHxD)
4.4 x 3.0 x 1.7" / 112.4 x 76.4 x 44.2 mm

13.3 oz / 377 g with battery and memory card

Package Weight
1.95 lb

Box Dimensions (LxWxH)
7.087 x 6.693 x 3.543"