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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Canon Powershot G5X Review- A Winning Effort?

Canon Powershot G5X Review- A Winning Effort?
November 2015, Carl Garrard
Canon Powershot G5X Review: Canon's Powershot division has always been one of my favorite makers of digital cameras. The G series line has been supremely successful for them since the new millennia. I've personally owned several G series cameras over the years, and retain one to shoot with always. So without much hesitation I thought I've give the new G5X a try and report my findings here to my readers. A little bit about the camera for those who haven't read up on it- basically this is a G7X with a larger body and grip, built in electronic viewfinder, tilt and swivel screen, and quite a few more external controls added. It's obvious to me the G5X is the result of customer feedback- those wanting an "all in one" compact solution with enough controls and a contained viewfinder to give a near DSLR experience without the weight or hassle of a DSLR system. Much like previous G series cameras, such as the G16, the idea here is to court to serious photographers when they don't want to shoot with the high end equipment, but want the best experience and image quality they can get from a compact Canon product. So how well has Canon done to procure and satisfy this client base?

Canon PowerShot G5 X Current Amazon Prices

Let me start by saying that I've got quite a bit of experience using Powershot G series cameras. My reviews are documented here, and personally I've relied on them as compact source for serious photography for years. Therefore, my expectations of Canon's Powershot division are pretty high- they have set a consistent standard over the years of producing some pretty darn good compact cameras for enthusiasts. Lately, Canon have been releasing what I'd call the next generation of Powershots in several different sizes ranging from ultra compact to larger superzooms. The G5X falls about in the middle of the pack here in terms of size and bulk, but is meant to be a one camera solution, albeit with a limited zoom range.

Do you like how it looks? Does that even matter to you?

If looks won awards, I'm afraid the G5X is not what I'd call a winner. I will admit, it is much more admirable in person- the pictures do not do it justice for whatever reason. It's build quality is impeccable, truly its a higher end camera from packaging to product. That part impressed me right away... everything reeks of quality with gem like/high end watch engineering. Kudos to you here Canon.

Image quality is excellent from the 1" Sony sensor custom ordered to Canon's specifications. Along with its own processor, Canon does a good job extracting almost all of what this sensor can do. However I'm disappointed that there is no lower ISO option than 125, Sony manages to eek out a bit more DR by providing an ISO 80 option in its cameras. That may be a nitpick, and ok it is, however I expect more from an $800.00 premium compact here. Maybe the price has gone down since I published this review, you can check here if you want.

Canon PowerShot G5 X Current Amazon Prices

Overall I have no complaints from an image quality standpoint (yes I had a chance to use Raw too) and I'm not going to split hairs over what this sensor can do versus bigger or even smaller sensors. Fact is, if you can't make good images with this sensor, then it isn't the fault of the sensor or camera- image quality is excellent for such a device. Enough has been said on the net about the sensor in this camera based on the G7X, and a few other models on the market also share it too- so I won't bore you with tons of image quality analysis as a result.

Processed with DPP to taste with Canon's Raw Converter, ISO 5000. Pretty much close to most smaller sensor DSLR's, IQ is not the G5X's weak point.

The lens is pretty well proven to be a very good performer, but a bit below what I've come to expect from Powershot cameras in terms of corner to corner sharpness and control of aberrations. That said, its a versatile 24-100mm equivalent lens with a fast f/1.8-2.8 aperture in a very compact form factor. It's hard to fault the lens really, but I sort of do expect a different lens design than the G7X since it demands a higher premium and, the G5X being a larger camera than the G7X it borrows the lens from.

Features wise, the G5X falls in line with what the G16 had before it. There's really not much more to rave about here, and Canon still insists on not letting the user fine tune/control Jpeg options when simultaneously recording a Raw file. Why Canon? It's been years and years users and reviewers have complained about this so I know you are aware of it. At this point I'm going to call you out- Canon, whoever are making this final decision in Japan- you are flat out being stubborn and stupid about it. Most of your users will only use Jpegs, give them the option to record both with presets. It's not that hard- almost all other manufacturers do it with cameras at this price level.

Jpeg quality (when recorded singularly) is actually decent but that has always been a Canon strong point. Turning NR to low, still yields more noise reduction than I'd like, but the Jpegs look a lot better than most competitors- Canon probably knows that too. Not much to complain about here.

Looks nice from the top right? Yes it does, but that front control wheel is jammed in there and hard to use. For me, I found it uncomfortable to use with a one handed grip.

Handling is where the G5X falls short. Coming from the likes of the G10,12,16 cameras with their excellent handling, excellent grips, well placed controls- the G5X feels cramped, fiddly, and flat out uncomfortable for one handed shooting that I've become so accustomed too on previous G series cameras. It's such a personal issue for me. I must enjoy holding and operating a camera- it simply has to get out of my way and let me do my job. I don't like being forced to use two hands, think too much about where my controls are, or accidentally enter a menu system every time I change the tightness of my grip on the camera. The G10 and G16 cameras for example never gave me issues... I never thought twice about handling, I just enjoyed it.

See the menu button? Falls right under the heel of your palm, and if you squeeze the camera  a bit guess what, yep you go right into the menu system interrupting your work flow. Irritating.

Did they actually test it before giving the green light for production? I wonder, I really wonder.

So as you can see, the G5X disappoints me most in this category. I can see for some users my words are mere fuel for fire... there are those that will not be bothered by the design of the G5X at all, and I understand that handling can be a subjective quality. However this is my review, not theirs, and that's how I feel about this camera. Like I said, I have lofty expectations of the G series cameras, simply because of the precedence Canon  has set before. Handling wise, this does not feel like a G camera to me at all, it feels like a product rushed to the market to keep in competition with other makers so Canon doesn't get behind.

Other less disappointing qualities are its battery life for example. A bigger battery would have been nice here, especially considering it's a bigger camera. Canon clearly cut corners on the lens, sensor, battery, processor, by borrowing it from the G7X. Fine, it cost Canon less to make this camera, but cost the user some conveniences they would have appreciated.

When you rush a job, it's never as good as it could have been- simple as that.

Price can be debated but for what you get I think its pretty well priced  against the competition I guess. Although I'd guess it's probably a bit high though for most buyers, but Sony's RX100 IV is more, for example. When Christmas rolls around, and the MSRP drops, the G5X will probably attract more buyers.

Now with my biggest criticisms aside, I find a lot right about the G5X. Love the viewfinder for example- it's bigger and clearer than I imagined it would be. It has an auto switching sensor, and its a tad sluggish going from LCD to EVF though- regardless, glad it has that.

The menu system is inline with previous Powershots- easy to access and change on the fly. It's well organized and easy on the eyes (love the night shot mode too, clever). It may lack some customization I'd prefer, but I think Canon do a better job than most with their menu systems in general.

I find some tangible and impressive qualities about its button and dial feel, especially the dials- which feel exceptional. Too bad the front dial above the grip is crammed in there though. And the big control ring feels marvelous. Buttons are well sized, but the menu button is too mushy- it would prevent the accidental entry into the menu system if it were less mushy.

Summing up the G5X- it's a love and hate relationship for me. Not what I'm used too with G series cameras- especially the G10 forward, and I'm not going to be the last person to have this opinion I can tell you. There are some brilliant qualities in this camera, and others are not what I'd call up to G series "standards". I wanted it to be a camera that I'd keep and use most of all- but personally I will not.

My reviews are not about endorsing products unless I really think they are worth endorsing, they are about relaying my honest opinion to you. I think the G5X will probably appeal to users on a 50/50 basis- some will like it, some won't. I will say this- at least pick one up and try it out for yourself. Don't rush it though, take your time and shoot with it a bit. The more you do, the better opinion you'll make of it before you buy.

Bottom Line

Canon's G5X is a capable and versatile camera that ticks off many desires for its G series users. While I took issue with its handling quirks, and lack of Jpeg control while recording raw files that ultimately turned me off to it, those issues may not affect some buyers at all. There's a lot to be said for the G5X as a versatile tool at least on paper. And if you don't mind shooting two handed with such a small camera, it might be something you'll enjoy using- that is your call not mine. It's certainly capable of some very good to excellent image quality and even video wise it's pretty darn good. Ultimately I won't recommend it, or not recommend it. I leave that choice to you, but you've heard my personal opinion.

Is it a winning effort? Not when it comes to Powershot G series standards in my opinion- but my standards are very high as a result of Canon's previous offerings in this line.

Be safe, and happy shooting. (Happy Holidays too!)

-Carl Garrard

Canon PowerShot G5 X Current Amazon Prices


  1. I tested one at our local camera store yesterday. I immediately had the same feeling you expressed--ergonomically it did not feel good at all in my hands. I also shoot one handed very often while hiking. Altho my G1x is heavy, it is easy to grip that way. (My M2 with Canon half case with its finger ridge is also easy to handle one handed). Those with different size hands than I will have a different opinion. FWIW

  2. So far the consensus seems to agree with you and I about the G5X. Those with small dainty hands stand a better chance of liking the grip perhaps, I don't know. I have medium sized hands and find it unwieldy. :(

  3. You did not mention the sL setting on the G5X. I never used the RAW + jpg you mention as missing on the G5X , but I find the sL (superfine large jpg) to be excellent, and a wonderful addition to those of us who don't shoot RAW. I am finding the IQ equal to that on n my G1X.

  4. I feel that the G5x packs in a lot of usable direct access function controls: lens ring dial, forefinger front dial, exposure compensation dial, rear thumb dial and included features like swivel touchscreen LCD, eVF, popup flash and hotshoe as well.
    I think its hard to please one size fits all; as others again would complain its not pocketable like the Sony Rx100 series/ Canon Powershot S-series. But having packed all those features with a zoom range of 24-100mm with such a fast lens is no mean feat with increased sensor size (in such a body size). Bear in mind the main body plate of the G5x has shrunk quite a bit from the progressive Gseries ( except the top hump needed to accomodate the eVF)

    I'm curious Garrard - what alternative camera would you have picked for the same body size with all these features packed in ?
    - I can only think of the LX100 (no popupflash, shorter zoom range ,no touch screen) or the RX100 series (despite more compact - shorter zoom, no touch screen, no direct EVcomp.dial, no hotshoe) and both are lacking in usability features

  5. Anon- No I didnt mention the Superfine setting, but most cameras have one including the G16 before it. As I said, Canon's Jpeg engine is fine on its own when you only choose Jpeg to shoot with, and put NR to low...)and adjust the custom color setting). A Jpeg is still a Jpeg though, limited in quality compared to a raw file.


  6. Anon#2- Yes they sort of reduced it's size I suppose but it's also a little heavier and oddly designed/bulky. There aren't many alternatives to the G5X- you've stated them. But a camera should be evaluated on its design regardless, not given a pass just because there aren't many alternatives. Unless I'm reading into your comment too much :).

  7. I climb mountains (sun and snow) and without a viewfinder a camera is useless to me. However, I don't always want to carry 4 kg of DSLR and lens, either. However, when my grandchildren are around I also want a built-in flash. I own a G10, which is excellent at ISO100 not much good at higher values. So far as I can see, the G5X and Sony 100 are the only replacements currently on the market, and the Sony viewfinder and controls are far too fiddly...
    David M.

  8. Hi David, Yep there's really not much of an alternative say less than the Panasonic LX100, RX100's, G7X, and this camera based on your criteria. Users shouldn't have to worry about options though.

  9. Carl, the LX100 has no built-in flash, and the G7X has no view finder. The RX100 has both, but use of the viewfinder requires popping it up and sliding it out. And the UI seems to be very poor. That is why I have kept using the G10 for 6 years. It's only fault is the small sensor, and I have used it on many occasions one-handed with the other hand hanging onto a rock or an ice axe. I am surprised that in 6 years the G5X is the only equivalent replacement for the G10-16 range with a reasonable sized sensor (from any source). David M.

  10. Oh I know Canon touts it as a replacement, all I'm saying is that it could have been implemented better based on the track record of the Powershots division to create excellent handling products- it's really that simple :).

  11. how did you find the AF in terms of speed & accuracy? and general operational speed etc. Thanks

  12. AF speed was slower than the G16's but 'adequate' would be the word. General operational speed adequate as well- for my needs. Nothing amazing however.

  13. When my wife's G10 died, she got a G-16. When a dog chewed my S90 I got an RX100. The RX100 takes great pictures, but even after 16 months, when the G-16 and the RX100 are both on a table, I reach for the G-16 because it feels right. I was hoping that the G-17 would have an EVF, 24-160 optical lens, big sensor, be a bit smaller but feel right. Perhaps I have to wait for the G5X Mark II.

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  15. Thanks for your excellent reviews of this camera and the G16.
    I have a G16 (and G2, G9) and was hoping the G5X would satisfy my desire for a G16 w/touchscreen and 24mm lens. I tried the G5X out several times and it doesn't work for me. I was particularly annoyed by the G5X front dial and I prefer the ability to use Canon's filter adapter with a circular polarizer instead of the control ring around the G5X lens.
    On the plus side, I was impressed with the G5X EVF but, with all it's downsides, I prefer the OVF of the G16 over the EVF on the G5X.

    For now I and satisfied with the G16--it just feels right. I will hope and pray for a "G17" with OVF, touch (don't care about the swivel screen), Digic 7, and 24mm low end. If it ever happens, I will buy several spares. Also plan to buy a Nikon D5500 / 35mm lens for my "big rig"

    Maybe the G5X II will win me over.

    BTW, I hope to convert my G9 or G2 to IR. Do you have any experience / insights with IR on the G series?

  16. Thanks for your insight on this camera.
    I have read that the lens control ring can be turned off. If so, why would you need two hands to operate the G5x?
    Is the other button by the shutter in the way?