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Canon G9 X review – All the right ingredients

Andrea on March 6, 2016 - 11:24 pm in People

 

Canon PowerShot G9 X handheld

The Canon G9 X is part of a growing trend for compact cameras with 1in sensors and wide-aperture lenses. Together, the sensor size and lens aperture dictate how much light is captured, and this is the single biggest factor for determining image quality. The G9 X’s lens and sensor is equivalent to an f/5.5-13.5 lens on a full-frame camera, which means it’s able to compete with much bulkier SLRs and compact system cameras (CSCs) for image quality.

Five things help it to stand out from the 1in sensor pack. For starters, you’re not forced to settle with boring black. That’s the model that I was sent for review, but I’m much more enamoured by the silver and tan finish.

Canon PowerShot G9 X silver tan

More significantly, this is the slimmest and lightest camera to date to include a 1in sensor. Rival cameras weigh in at around 300g or more and are at least 41mm from front to back, but the G9 X is just 207g and 31mm thick. It’s tremendously useful to have a camera that will slip into jeans pockets or a small handbag, and this one fits much more easily than its competitors. It’s also the most affordable 1in sensor compact with its £374 launch price, although the Canon G7 X and Sony RX100 II is now available for around the same price.

Canon PowerShot G9 X top

There are two trade-offs to the slim design. One is that the lens specifications aren’t quite as impressive as on the G7 X and RX100 series. The lenses on the G7 X and recently announced G7 X Mark II have a 4.2x (24-100mm) zoom and f/1.8-2.8 aperture. The G9 X’s zoom is smaller at 3x (28-84mm), and its aperture is darker at f/2-4.9. The difference isn’t significant for wide-angle shots, but zooming in, the drop from f/2.8 to f/4.9 equates to a third the amount of light. That means the G9 X holds its own for wide-angle shots but isn’t as strong in low light at the long end of the zoom.

See all our top camera picks for 2016

The other trade-off is the limited space for physical controls. This is the first camera I’ve seen in a long time not to include a four-way navigation pad on the back. There’s a mode dial on top and a lens ring on the front but the vast majority of adjustments are made via the touchscreen. That might be a deal-breaker for some but I suspect most people are pretty comfortable with touchscreens these days. It’s generally used well, with a Q menu for the most commonly used settings and simple on-screen controls to assign the lens ring to various exposure- and  focus-related settings. The main menu uses Canon’s usual tabbed lists and requires one tap to select a function and another to see the available values. I’d have like to see a touch-centric redesign, perhaps with a grid of buttons rather than lists, but it works well enough.

Canon PowerShot G9 X back

The petite design means there’s not much to grip onto. The textured areas on the front and back are welcome but even a small ridge on the front would have made it more secure in the hand. This is true of the G9 X’s competitors, too.

There’s no shortage of advanced photographic features, including priority and manual exposure, exposure bracketing and RAW capture. The touchscreen is particularly useful for moving the autofocus point, although I’d like it even more if the screen could tilt. That would inevitably have increased the bulk and weight, though. If you want a tilting screen, go for the G7 X or Sony RX100 series.

Battery life is disappointing at 220 shots but at least it’s better than the G7 X, which only manages 210 shots. I appreciate the ability to charge either with the supplied charger or via USB. The socket is the same type that’s used by Android phones, which cuts down on cable clutter. £49 for an additional battery is pretty extortionate, though.

Canon PowerShot G9 X front

A camera like this doesn’t need lots of tricks up its sleeve. It just needs to take great pictures with minimal effort and no annoying issues. It scrapes a borderline pass for performance. It was a bit slow to switch on and take a photo, but autofocus was impressively quick. I like to fire off two or three photos of a subject so I can choose the best later – particularly when photographing people – and the G9 X is reasonably quick for this at 0.8 seconds between shots. However, it doesn’t bother to refocus or re-evaluate the lighting when shooting in quick succession. When I allowed it enough time to adjust settings, it took 1.8 seconds between shots. That’s a disappointing result but it’s probably not much of an issue in practice. Switching to burst mode, it was impressively quick for JPEGs at 6.8fps. RAW mode wasn’t so successful, only managing 0.9fps and with no live view to help track subjects. Flash photography was slow, too, taking up to 10 seconds between shots.

Video of Canon G9 X video sample

Video mode is not perfect but it’s good enough. Details in its 1080p footage looked a little coarse and the small camera size made it hard to hold steady. It’s worth turning off the digital zoom function in the menu, as it does no favours for video quality (or photo quality for that matter) to zoom beyond the lens’s optical zoom range. Otherwise, though, it’s hard to imagine people being disappointed by video quality.

 

Photo quality is this camera’s main strength. The 1in sensor and wide-aperture lens capture far more light than most compact cameras, and this has a big bearing on image quality, particularly in dimly lit conditions. The G9 X’s lens delivered crisp details throughout its zoom range, and the digital processing did an excellent job of controlling noise and producing flattering colours.

One complaint is that the camera would sometimes inexplicably push the shutter speed up to 1/1,000s, resulting in unnecessarily raised ISO speeds that increased noise levels. I also found that the spot autofocus sometimes seemed to be determined to focus on the background when shooting small subjects such as flowers. Ultimately, though, there were remarkably few duds across my hundreds of test shots.

sample 1 Canon G9 X

^ There’s a hint of noise on fine details, but at normal viewing sizes this wide-angle shot is hard to fault. Focus is excellent from edge to edge. (1/1250s, f/4, ISO 125, 28mm equivalent)

 

 

sample 2 Canon G9 X

^ Focus is just as sharp at the long end of the zoom. (1/800s, f/4.9, ISO 125, 84mm equivalent)

 

 

sample 3 Canon G9 X

^ This high-contrast scene is a tough test for lens defects, but there’s no sign of chromatic aberrations or softness towards the edges. (1/1250s, f/4.9, ISO 125, 84mm equivalent)

 

 

sample 4 Canon G9 X

^ A rare moment of sunshine brings out some lovely rich tones that’s reminiscent of Canon EOS output. (1/800s, f/4.9, ISO 125, 84mm equivalent)

 

 

sample 5 Canon G9 X

^ The 1in sensor helps to deliver crisp, clean details and a shallow depth of field in this macro shot. (1/160s, f/4.5, ISO 125, 56mm equivalent)

 

 

sample 6 Canon G9 X

^ The f/2 lens keeps the ISO speed down for wide-angle shots in low light. Skin and hair textures are clean and detailed as a result. (1/30s, f/2, ISO 400, 28mm equivalent)

 

 

sample 7 Canon G9 X

^ Another fine result, this time under artificial household lighting. (1/20s, f/3.2, ISO 1250, 38mm equivalent)

 

 

sample 8 Canon G9 X

^ Setting the ISO speed manually to 3200 raises the shutter speed to avoid motion blur, and image quality is good enough for sharing online. (1/80s, f/3.2, ISO 3200, 38mm equivalent)

 

 

sample 9 Canon G9 X

^ ISO 5000 is a step too far for skin textures. (1/80s, f/3.5, ISO 5000, 44mm equivalent)

 

 

sample 10 Canon G9 X

^ This subject matter is far more forgiving, and the results look perfectly respectable even at ISO 6400. (1/20s, f/4.9, ISO 6400, 84mm equivalent)

Conclusion

I’d have loved to see better battery life, nippier performance and slightly more to grip onto on the front of the camera. However, the concept is so strong that these drawbacks pale into insignificance. This is a camera that no one could complain is too heavy or bulky, it’s reasonably priced and it takes photos that few other compact cameras can match. Its strongest rivals at this price are the Canon G7 X and Sony RX100 II, and it’s a matter of taste whether you prefer the G9 X’s slimmer design or the G7 X and RX100 II’s tilting screens and marginally superior lens specifications. I suspect that the G9 X will be many people’s top choice.

 

Sensor resolution: 20 megapixels, Sensor size: 1in, Viewfinder: None, LCD screen: 3in (1,040,000 dots), Optical zoom (35mm-equivalent focal lengths): 3x (28-84mm), 35mm-equivalent aperture: f/5.5-13.5, Weight: 207g, Dimensions (HxWxD): 62x101x31mm

Source: Software – ExpertReviews.co.uk

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