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REVIEW: Canon G5 X Mark II – compact convenience

Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II og Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III
CLOSE RELATIVES: Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II (left) is primarily aimed at those who prefer taking still pictures rather than shooting video, while Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III caters to vloggers. (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

Canon still has faith in the market of advanced compact cameras with one-inch image sensors. The company has just renewed its offering. So how good is the Mark II edition of the Canon PowerShot G5 X?

Traditional compact cameras à la Canon Ixus were top-rated at the beginning of this century. However, now they have been pushed out of the market by mobile cameras. The larger compact cameras seem to be doing better.

Those are compact cameras offering more adjustments, not only in the menu system but with more wheels and buttons. They are usually larger, and you cannot expect they will fit inside your pockets. Maybe in the large pocket of a jacket or a coat but not inside a trouser pocket. Besides, you have a mobile there already, don’t you?

In addition to better handling, today’s advanced compact cameras also have much larger image sensors than the classic compact cameras used to have some years ago. We are talking about one-inch image sensors at 13,2 x 8,8 millimeters and a resolution of 20 megapixels. The image quality of such advanced compact cameras is just so much better than the old compact cameras could offer, with their image sensors the size of a small fingernail.

Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II is such a camera. We’ve taken a closer look, including a glance at the sister model, Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III, which Canon launched at the same time. We have also compared it with its predecessor.

That lovely DSLR design

Canon PowerShot G5 X was launched in the fall of 2015. I got a crush on the camera. It appealed to me with its DSLR-inspired design, yet it was still a small and lite camera. I had the chance to bring the test sample that Canon Norway had lent me on a short vacation trip to Paris, and I was very impressed by the pictures when I sorted them trough after my return home. 

Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II
A BLOGGER’S SCREEN: The monitor on the G5 X Mark II can be turned into selfie-mode. (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

I was also impressed by the user-friendliness of the camera. I could hold it and use it almost like a good old mirror reflex camera.

Canon PowerShot G5 X
THE PREDECESSOR: This is how the original G5 X looked – a DSLR-inspired design. (Press photo: Canon)

I was also impressed by the user-friendliness of the camera. I could hold it and use it almost like a good old mirror reflex camera.

I even found a convenient ring around the lens which I could use to adjust the aperture setting. It could be programmed for other functions too. I use aperture preset a lot, so this was a superb solution. But you should avoid using the ring during video capture due to the clicking sounds it makes when you turn the ring.

The camera was so small, lite and compact that I could keep it inside my coat pocket while strolling along the winter streets of Paris. Or hold it in my hand where nobody could to see it. Great for street photography.

Here comes the Mark II

Let’s scroll forward nearly four years up till today. The successor has arrived, the Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II. Much is like before, but there has been one dramatic change: The DSLR-inspired design is gone. That is – the imitation of a viewfinder prism house on the top of the camera is no longer there. Neither is the electronic viewfinder that I liked so much in the original G5 X.

It looks like Canon has tried to adapt the design of the G5 X Mark II to the looks of the before-mentioned sister model, the G7 X. Through three iterations the latter has had a flat top and looks much more compact. Seen from the front both cameras look like they are varieties of the same camera, the only difference being the top color, silver or gray, depending on availability. In Norway, it looks like the G7 X Mark III is available with either a silver-colored or black top-plate whereas the G5 X Mark II is all black. In US ads, I have also seen the G5 X Mark II with a silver top-plate.

Pop-up viewfinder

Looking more closely, we find that there are some essential differences between the two cameras. The most obvious is that the G7 X Mark III does not have an electronic viewfinder, it never had, whereas the G5 X Mark II has not lost its viewfinder after all, although it is initially invisible.

The G5 X viewfinder was previously placed inside a hub right above the lens. Now it has been replaced by a pop-up viewfinder moved to the left side of the camera, seen from behind.

The way I see it, this change has two benefits and one inconvenience.

One of the benefits is that since Canon has moved the viewfinder from the middle of the camera body to the left, the photographer’s nose no longer hits the LCD screen when he or she is taking the pictures, provided of course that the photographer can look through the viewfinder with the right eye. The benefit is lost if the photographer must use the left eye.

Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II
KEEPS THE NOSE AWAY: The electronic viewfinder has been placed all the way to the left, thus preventing the photographer’s nose to hit til LCD screen. (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

The other advantage is that the camera looks much more compact without the viewfinder hub on the top plate. As long as the viewfinder has been pushed into the camera house, that is.

The inconvenience of this solution is that the viewfinder is not immediately available when you put the camera up to your eye. First, you must pull a small handle on the left side of the camera body – still as seen from behind. Then the viewfinder pops up. But that is not all. You must also pull out the rear part of the viewfinder before you can use it.

A few years ago I was reviewing one of the versions of competitor Sony RX100. The camera was the edition of the RX100 with a pop-up viewfinder, with a similar design. Pop it up, then pull it out. I remember I was annoyed that I lost several good shots while I was standing there, fumbling with the viewfinder.

On newer models in the RX100 series, Sony has redesigned the pop-up viewfinder so that you don’t have to use this two-step procedure. It just pops up and is active and ready to be used immediately.

Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II
POP-UP VIEWFINDER: The Canon G5 X Mark II has a pop-up viewfinder with a pull-out module. (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

Therefore I see the Canon solution as a step backward. I don’t know if it is to keep the costs down or if it is some problem with patent rights that have made Canon choose a four-year-old solution, but I am disappointed.

My solution

Luckily there are several ways to avoid the problem. One is to be conscious that if a new scene shows up, quickly and unexpectedly, you should compose the picture on the LCD monitor on the rear of the camera instead of fumbling with the viewfinder.

The other solution is a little more complicated. When I am out strolling along with the G5 X Mark II, I keep the viewfinder popped up and pulled back all the time, even after I turn off the camera. That is possible. When an exciting scene appears in front of me, I turn on the camera. At that point, the electronic viewfinder is ready just as fast as the rest of the camera – and it happens quickly.

My biggest worry is that the viewfinder may be vulnerable to bumps and squeezes while it is being kept popped-up when you are walking around. So I decided to replace the short one-hand carrying strap that comes with the camera with an old traditional camera strap I had at home. Luckily, the camera has two hooks, one on each side, for a carrying strap. In that way, I can carry the camera in a strap around my neck when I am out walking. I have used this procedure only while walking around with the camera hanging on my chest, but in no other situations, to avoid exposing the popped-up viewfinder to any danger.

This trick is working, but it looks a bit obsolete in 2019.

Apart from that, the EVF was a pleasure to use, with a reasonably large viewing image considering how small the camera is. I used the electronic viewfinder during most of the time when I was testing the G5 X Mark II. It probably has something to do with the fact that I don’t like composing pictures on small LCD screens.

If I have to use the screen for this purpose, it better be a somewhat larger monitor, like what you find on mobile phones. They are often five or even more than six inches tall today. I have little interest in the G7 X Mark III because it has no viewfinder at all. Just a three-inch LCD monitor. However, both cameras have good LCD screens, three-inch screens with a high resolution of 1,040,000 pixels.

A final significant difference between the former and the newest generation of G5 X cameras is that the latest model has lost a command wheel on the front, just beneath the shutter button. I feel I miss it. However, a camera buyer who has never used the former generation of this camera probably won’t miss it, because he or she would not know it was there.

I should mention that the capacity of the small battery is somewhat limited. According to Canon, you can expect to take some 180 pictures in one charge when using the electronic viewfinder and 230 if you use the LCD screen only. If you use the G5 X Mark II for travel photography, you should invest in a spare battery.

Good image quality

This article is not a complete camera test, only a report on my first impressions. Therefore, I have not performed any test lab tests of the image quality. But I have used the camera a lot during a couple of weeks, including on a weekend seminar, on walks in the wood, and on a couple of web-related photo projects.

AT DUSK: ISO 250, 21,27 mm, -1 EV, f/4.5, 1/60 sec. (Click for a larger image.) (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

I am delighted with the image quality, although this is a somewhat subjective assessment so far. The sharpness could have been a little better with the aperture wide open, which is f/1.8 in wide-angle mode and f/2.8 in telelens mode. And you don’t have to zoom very far out from full wide-angle before the largest aperture is no longer f/1.8.

You could say the same about the sharpness at the smallest aperture, f/11. However, if you are working within apertures f/4 and f/10, you can expect thack sharp pictures.

Contrast-based autofocus

Thack sharp pictures, yes, provided the autofocus hit the target. It did not always do that during my reviewing of the camera.

There is no Dual-Pixel technology here. These Canon cameras only use contrast-detecting autofocus and no fast phase-detecting autofocus.

A MINI WATERFALL: ISO 250, 42,37 mm, 0 EV, f/8, 1/25 sec. Handheld. (Click for a larger image.) (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

The autofocus some times failed on indoor pictures in low light, especially when there were no eyes on which to lock the focus. On the other hand, I found the eye focusing itself very good, including the ability to track a moving face.

Provided we are talking about single images with eye focus activated and the autofocus set to continuous. This Canon camera is not able to track a target continuously during continuous drive shooting, which may come as a disappointment to parents who wish to take continuous shots of their fast-moving children.

Talking about the continuous shooting: It is impressively high at 30 pictures per second, with no viewfinder or screen black-out.

SHARP TEXT: ISO 250, 44 mm, 0 EV, f/4.5, 1/100 sec. (Click for a larger image.) (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

Several solutions are available for manually moving the focus point in the picture. But none of them are as elegant as they are on several of the bigger Canon cameras I have tried, such as the EOS M5 or the EOS R and RP. On those cameras, you can move the focus point on the touch-sensitive LCD monitor while watching the target in the viewfinder.

You can move the focus point with a finger on the LCD monitor, but only while looking at the target on the LCD screen. You cannot do it while at the same time keeping your eye to the popped-up viewfinder.

If you want to move the focus point manually while looking through the viewfinder, you may instead use a combination of the ring around the lens and the wheel around the multifunction selector on the rear side of the camera. It works OK but is not as simple and elegant as it is on larger Canon cameras.

THE FALL IS COMING: ISO 250, 44 mm, 0 EV, f/2.8, 1/200 sec. (Click for a larger photo.) (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

The built-in ND filter solution – ND means neutral density, in Norwegian we just call it a gray-filter – is excellent and makes it possible to take pictures with a large aperture setting even in sunlight and still maintain a good bokeh in spite of all the light.

Image noise is normally no problem. It starts to be visible at around ISO 6,400, but for pictures meant for the web, you can increase the ISO sensitivity even further without any problems.

Flashlight into the ceiling

Both the new Canon cameras have a built-in flash. It’s not very powerful, but if you are fairly close to your indoor target, you can actually use a finger to pull the flash a little backward, and it will send the flashlight into the ceiling instead of directly into the main subject.
In the past, I used this flash technic a lot in newspaper photography, however, with much larger cameras and flash units. It was fun to make it work with these small cameras. But you cannot use this technic in a large ballroom.

IN THE WOODS: ISO 250, 44 mm, -1 EV, 1/250 sec. (Click for a larger photo.) (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

If you take pictures in Raw mode, you can edit those pictures in-camera. That is convenient if you want to send pictures via mobile transfer before you come home and can edit your pictures on your PC.

The camera supports both ordinary Raw-format files and Canon’s CRaw-format, which is a space-saving format.

By the way, I activated wireless transfer and had the pleasure of finding all the Canon photos on my mobile phone shortly after they were shot. Throughout the years, I have had a lot of bad experience in transferring images from camera to mobile, but Canon seems to have finally made it right, and that is a good thing.

New optics

In spite of all the resemblance, the G5 X MII and the G7 X MIII do not have the same lens. The G5 X MII has a new lens with a focal length stretching from 24 to 120 mm, whereas the G7 X MIII has the same lens as the previous version, which was the same lens that was used in the original G5 X model: a 24 to 100 mm zoom lens. The difference is 5x zoom vs. 4.2x. They are equally fast at f/1.8-f2.8.

Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II og Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III
ALMOST IDENTICAL: With flash, viewfinder, and LCD monitor hidden away, the two PowerShot-models G5X Mark II and G7 X Mark III look almost identical. (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

The improved optics in the G5 X MII can perhaps explain why this camera is more expensive than the G7X MIII, in addition to the extra cost added by the electronic viewfinder, of course.

When taking JPEG pictures and shooting video, you may activate digital zooming in two steps. I am glad this function can be turned off because it does not do anything else than cropping the image. The result is a picture of poorer quality.

Video

It is a pleasure to use the G5 X Mark II to shooting video, including 4K video, which appears to be a no-crop video shot from the image sensor. The image is framed almost exactly the same as if you were taking still pictures. The video image is just very slightly cropped, almost invisibly so.

I edited som 4K clips from the camera on a 32-inch 4K PC monitor and I was very pleased with what I saw, although I have not had a chance to make real comparisons with competitors.

I am not a vlogger. If I were, I would be part of the main target group for the Canon G7 X Mark III, which has gotten a microphone port just because vloggers want to use a real microphone, not only the built-in microphone in the camera. However, although I do not take talk-head selfie videos of myself, I still enjoy doing video shooting in addition to taking still pictures, so I wish Canon would have provided the G5 X Mark II with a microphone port. Canon doesn’t agree and says you cannot have both in cameras at this level. That’s a pity.

Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II
WIFI: This button enables fast wireless connection to the mobile. (Photo: Toralv Østvang)

Talking about video: This kind of consumer cameras usually have some fun effects in addition to what is needed for serious photography work. One such function is that the camera can make small video clips in connection with the pictures you take. Afterward, the camera automatically generates a video of today’s events based on those video clips.

The price

Recommended street price for Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II is approximately NOK 10,000, while the PowerShot G7 X Mark III costs approx. NOK 8,500. US prices: G5 X Mark II approx. $900, G7 X Mark III approx. $750. (B&H, September 2019.)

Final remarks

By moving the electronic viewfinder from a fixed high-level position on top of the camera body to a hidden place inside the camera body when it is not used, Canon has succeeded in making G5 X Mark II a considerably more compact camera than its predecessor, which is a good thing.

However, this is at the cost of a somewhat cumbersome to-step solution of a pop-up viewer which I hope Canon will make more elegant in the next version of the camera.

An improved lens, improved video functionality with good 4K capabilities, a new and a faster Digic 8 processor and an improved stacked one-inch image sensor are all improvements that help to make the new version of the G5 X a better camera.

It is easy to recommend this camera to everybody who wants a compact alternative when you don’t want to drag your large camera bag around, but which still offers more exciting photography options than your mobile phone camera does. Not the least thanks to a lens with a very practical zoom range and speed.

Recommended. The Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II is a camera that provides good value for the money.

Technical data

Sensor photo detectors20.9 megapixels
Effective pixels20.1 megapixels
Max resolution5,472 x 3,648 pixels
Sensor size1-inch, 13.2 x 8.8 mm
Sensor typeBSI-CMOS
ISOISO 125-12,800 (expands to 25,600
Image stabilizationHybrid, optical + digital ("intelligent IS")
Focus points31
Focal length8,8-44 mm equiv. 24-120 mm, f/1.8-f/2.8
Screen size3"
Screen dots1,040,000 pixels
ViewfinderElectronic (EVF)
Viewfinder enlargement0,39x equiv. 35 mm-format
Shutter speed30 sec.-1/2,000 sec. + 30 sec.-1/25.600 sec. electronic shutter
Built-in flashYes
Continuous driveUp to 20 fps + "Raw burst"-mode up to 30 fps (max. 70 pics)
Video formatsMPEG-4, H.264
MicrophoneStereo
SpeakerMono
StorageSD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-1-compatibel
USBUSB 3.1
HDMIMicro-HDMI
Microphone portNo
Headphone portNo
WiFi802.11b/g/n
BluetoothYes
Battery life (CIPA)Approx. 230, with EVF approx.180
Weight (inc. batteries)340 g
Dimensions110.9 x 60.9 x 46 mm
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