Festival Friendly: The Canon G7 X Mark II at Sasquatch! 2016
Canon G7 X Mark II at Sasquatch! Music Festival
The Sasquatch! Music Festival, which takes place at the Gorge Amphitheater in the town of George in eastern Washington State, is loud, expensive, crowded, beautiful and dirty. Leaving behind the 'expensive' part, that about sums up why this is the fourth year I've attended, and why I've brought a camera (or three) with me each time.
The first year I went, I attended chiefly for the music (i.e., for fun). But having seen friends cover it for college publications 'back in the day,' I decided I had to bring a camera just to document the absolute spectacle of it all. So for that year, I had a friend with a real press pass smuggle my D700 in for me along with a couple of lenses. Ever since, I've been hooked, though with less smuggling - the following two years were all X100 classic all the time (100% kosher with the official rules), though that eventually resulted in some big pieces of dirt stuck in my hybrid viewfinder.
This year, I was hoping to bring the Nikon D5 to further supplement our recent review, but the festival has gotten stricter with its 'big camera' policy (DPR was, shockingly, denied a press pass). And since this was a personal trip more than anything else, I didn't want my expensive festival wristband cut off for breaking some rules. Luckily, the Canon G7 X Mark II had just arrived the day before my departure - with a capable 1"-type CMOS sensor, a fast zoom lens with a useful range and sturdy metal build, what better festival camera could I have brought?
Getting to know the Mark II
Despite my shooting full-frame Nikons for personal work, I've always had a soft spot for Canon compacts (my first digital camera ever was a PowerShot A75). Having extensively used the G5 X (which is, beneath its skin, very similar to the original G7 X), it's clear that the G7 X Mark II is more refining than revolutionizing in a lot of ways. That's not necessarily a criticism.
Sure, the sensor and lens are essentially unchanged from the Mark I to the Mark II; the sub-par continuous autofocus performance still encourages 'Single-AF and recompose' behavior, and the rear controls are still a little fiddly. But even so, Canon has managed to take what was already an engaging compact camera and make it appreciably better.
|The view from Terrace Camping at The Gorge with the G7 X Mark II at maximum zoom. Processed and cropped to taste from Raw. F4 | 1/1250 sec | ISO 125 | 100mm equiv. Photo by Carey Rose|
The 'cons' list of the original G7 X review contains a number of not-insignificant criticisms we had with Canon's first foray into the 1"-sensor compact market. But when I looked at them, and then compared them to the Mark II model, I was pretty surprised.
Specifically, this new model features increased battery life, 8 fps continuous shooting even in Raw, an option for 24p video, smoother menu operation, re-damped front and exposure compensation dials (and the front dial can even be de-clicked, if you like) and in-camera Raw processing. Plus, the more standard Canon GUI has been refined. In all, more than half the previous 'cons' list has been taken care of (with many thanks to the DIGIC 7 processor). That's not too shabby.
What isn't all that eye-catching from a spec sheet or press release point-of-view - yet makes a very real difference in the real world - is the new grip on the front of the Mark II. It adds very little bulk, but does absolute wonders as far as how this camera feels in the hand. I had a thin neck strap on it, but if I just wanted to grab the camera for a quick snap, the grip inspired some confidence.
Perhaps most crucially for this sort of trip was the appreciably increased battery life on the Mark II, plus the new USB charging option. In the past, I've not always been a fan of USB-only charging, but when camping and using communal USB power banks, it made perfect sense and meant that I rarely needed to swap in the second battery I carried with me.
As stated earlier, the 20MP sensor in the G7 X Mark II is the same as its predecessor (and likely the same as that in Sony's RX100 III), which is to say, it's a peach. The Raw files are very malleable, and they respond well to pushes and pulls (though you might need a touch of noise reduction).
Speaking of noise reduction, the default JPEG noise-reduction on the Mark II is a little heavy-handed, though as is typical of Canon cameras (even compacts), the colors are great. As a matter of personal preference, I still like processing out Raws (even when shooting for fun - I'm a nerd), but wirelessly transmitting the above-average JPEGs from the G7 X Mark II to my phone for posting to social media was quick and easy.
|Even at high ISO values, the G7 X Mark II's Raw files retain a fair amount of flexibility. F2.8 | 1/200 sec | ISO 4000 | 100mm equiv. Photo by Carey Rose.|
Lastly, the video mode on this camera might not be 4K, but the image stabilization is incredibly effective, making casual shooting look far nicer than it has any right to.
So while the G7 X Mark II ended up being a near-ideal companion for most of the long weekend, there were still a couple of things I had to keep in mind.
|Press pass - Sasquatch! style. Straight-out-of-camera JPEG - click through to the full-size to see the noise reduction robbing detail on his palm, even at base ISO. F2.8 | 1/400 | ISO 125 | 28mm equiv. Photo by Carey Rose.|
The build quality of the Mark II is very, very good - but there are no claims of weather-sealing. Remember how I said Sasquatch! was dirty? Between high-speed gusts of dusty wind and large quantities of people carrying large quantities of beer, I ended up treating the Mark II pretty carefully. I didn't actually experience any issues with dust (or liquid) intrusion, but like I said - I was being careful.
|Straight-out-of-camera JPEG with some spectacularly rich red tones. F2.8 | 1/400 sec | ISO 125 | 24mm equiv. Photo by Carey Rose.|
And while the tilting touchscreen is very good and very responsive, it can be hard to see in bright sun - especially when it's covered in sunscreen-y fingerprints and dust. At least that new grip means it's easier to hold the camera with one hand and shield the screen with the other.
Lastly, Canon's 'auto lighting enhancer' works a little less effectively than competing models in high-contrast scenes, giving an awful lot of weight to preserving highlight detail at the expense of overall underexposure of your scene - and in JPEGs, that means a potential loss of shadow detail that you can't get back.
|In the G7 X Mark II's dust-filled natural habitat, at least for that weekend.|
The updates Canon has brought to the PowerShot G7 X Mark II cement it, for me, as an impressively engaging photographers' compact. The improvements to overall responsiveness finally make the camera feel as premium in general operation as it feels in your hand. The autofocus performance still doesn't quite match up to the improved burst speed (and the autofocus modes are still a little confusing), but being able to shoot at 8fps will help you catch moments that you might have missed with its predecessors' 1.1fps burst speed in Raw.
The real story for me is that I still brought two other cameras along 'just in case' - a Ricoh GR and my trusty D700 - and I used the G7 X Mark II for over 90% of the photographs I took, with no regrets.
|Until next year. Processed to taste from Raw. F1.8 | 1/60 sec | ISO 4000 | 24mm equiv. Photo by Carey Rose.|
More real-world G7 X Mark II samples from Sasquatch! 2016
Canon G7 X Mark II at Sasquatch Gallery
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