Compact cameras with large image sensors typically pack fixed focal length lenses. Think Fujifilm’s X100T or the Leica Q. Meanwhile, cameras with incredibly long zooms are generally paired with smaller sensors. Canon’s PowerShot G3 X falls into a third and much narrower category of advanced compacts: Those with a big sensor and an impressive zoom. Is it enough to stand out from the crowd?
The G3 X packs a 1-inch, 20-megapixel CMOS sensor with a native ISO range of 125-6400, which is expandable to ISO 12,800 in Program mode. On the optics front, it offers a 24-600mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the wide end and f/5.6 at telephoto. This 25X zoom is complimented by an Intelligent Image Stabilization system to automatically combat camera shake in a variety of scenarios.
The G3 X features a 3.2-inch touch screen display that tilts upwards at a 180 degree angle for selfie snaps or down at a 45 degree angle for difficult-to-frame compositions. Shutter speeds reach 1/2000 sec., though unlike a growing number of advanced compacts, the G3 X has no electronic shutter options to push shutter speeds above the mechanical limits. There’s built-in Wi-Fi and NFC for quick pairing with mobile devices, plus an ND filter.
With a 24-600mm lens onboard, the G3 X is far from pocketable, but a prominent handgrip and DSLR-like ergonomics ensure that it’s very comfortable to shoot with. The G3 X is nicely customizable. Several exterior controls, such as the movie shutter, manual focus button and the scroll wheel on the rear of the camera, can be programmed to access desired controls.
At 1.62 pounds with battery and memory card, the G3 X is slightly heavier than the competition, but not egregiously so. Its weatherproof exterior feels well constructed.
Unfortunately, the G3 X doesn’t offer a built-in viewfinder. If you want one, you’ll have to spring for the EVF-DC1 accessory viewfinder—which Canon sells for an eye-popping $300, or about 30 percent of the cost of the camera itself. For the kinds of photographers Canon is courting with the G3 X, the lack of an EVF stings. There is, however, a built-in flash.
Between the 1-inch sensor and RAW photo capture, the G3 X definitely delivers better-than-average results for a compact. The lens doesn’t maintain a constant aperture as you zoom like some other models in this category, stopping down to f/5.6 as you hit 600mm, but images are still sharp at the center through the focal range. The hybrid image stabilization does a remarkable job keeping shake to a minimum at slower shutter speeds and especially as you zoom out to full telephoto. While we spotted some chromatic aberration, it was not a persistent issue.
(We had to zoom in close to find it, but chromatic aberration reared its head on the light pole extending from the building.)
We enjoyed excellent results until ISO 800 while shooting JPEGs. Color remained consistent through to ISO 6400 but image quality degrades with noise artifacts above ISO 800 when viewing at 100 percent. Non-pixel peepers should be pleased with JPEG results through ISO 6400.
We were also pleasantly surprised with the macro capabilities of the camera.
The G3 X clocks in at almost 6 fps when in one-shot AF mode, and drops to a pokey 3.2 fps in AF Servo (or continuous) mode. In terms of sheer shooting speed, the G3 X is not top of the pack. On balance, we found AF performance to be a bit slow for tracking subjects in stills, though we had better luck while shooting video. There’s also a fair amount of focus hunting as you zoom out to the end of the lens, though this is not unusual. Low-light and low-contrast focusing is also on the slower side. On the plus side, the image stabilization system is first rate, keeping our images sharp out to the end of the zoom range.
(The same image above, now at 600mm, handheld.)
Battery life is a CIPA-rated 300 shots, which puts it on the lower end of the endurance spectrum.
The PowerShot G3 X delivers a nearly unprecedented combination of sensor size and zoom reach that almost none of the other advanced compacts on the market can match. It’s a well built camera with solid image quality and great handling. If zoom reach is of paramount concern, the G3 X should be at the top of your shopping list. If it’s not, there are less expensive and more feature-rich options available. Models like the $600 Panasonic LZ300 deliver features like 4K recording, faster shooting and a viewfinder. Sony’s comparably priced RX100 IV doesn’t pack the optical punch, but delivers a similarly sized sensor and hyper-fast shooting speeds, 4K recording with a wealth of movie features and, you guessed it, a viewfinder.
PROS: Comfortable design; large, tilting display; versatile focal length; large image sensor.
CONS: No viewfinder; lacks 4K; slower than competition; pricey; sub-par battery life.