Autofocus, Raw burst and video performance

The G5 X II's autofocus system isn't as sophisticated as the best of its peers, but it performs pretty well - so long as you're not needing to track unpredictable subjects.
Out-of-camera JPEG | ISO 160 | 1/320 sec | F2.8

The G5 X Mark II doesn't have phase detection autofocus, but its contrast detect system is generally fast and reliable. It's not our first choice for shooting fast action thanks to some surprising limitations in its tracking mode, but it's fine for more casual shooting. Its 4K video quality and feature set are alright for non-dedicated video shooters, but neither can match very capable competition put forth by Sony with its RX100-series.

Key takeaways:

  • Canon's autofocus implementation is simple, and face detection is pretty reliable (though there's no eye detection option)
  • You cannot use 'Tracking' with continuous autofocus and shoot bursts: only single shots are possible
  • 30fps Raw burst option is a neat addition
  • Video quality is pretty good, but capture aids and autofocus are lacking
  • No 24p video

The autofocus system

Varying autofocus implementations and dependability have emerged as significant differentiating factors between current cameras on the market. Canon's system on its PowerShot compacts has a few quirks, so we'll briefly dive into how it works.

You get a choice of three autofocus areas. One is called 'Spot AF,' which gives you a small box, one is '1-area' which gives you a larger box, and the final is 'Face + Tracking.' In this mode, the camera automatically determines if a subject is a face, and will then track that around the screen. If no people are present, the camera will determine a point of focus for you in single AF - in Servo AF, the camera resorts to center-point tracking only. If you are using the rear screen to frame your image, you can also tap to track an object of your choosing around the frame - and this tapping will override any faces that are present or wander into your scene.

The biggest drawback is a lack of burst shooting while using 'Face + Tracking' and continuous AF

Beyond that, you have Single AF, which as it sounds like, focuses once, locks and then allows you to fire your shot. You also have Servo AF, which means the camera will continuously attempt to refocus on an object in depth, both towards and away from the camera.

The biggest drawback of the G5 X II - and one that left us scratching our heads a bit - is the lack of any sort of burst shooting while using 'Face + Tracking' and continuous AF. So, if you wanted to tap the face of an animated child and fire off bursts while they run around, well, you can't. You can fire off single shots while the camera tracks and continuously focuses on his or her face around the frame, but this is exactly the sort of situation where burst shooting would come in handy.

Autofocus performance - AF speed test

Our 'straight-on' AF test is meant to evaluate a camera's ability to assess the distance to a rapidly approaching subject and keep it in focus. For this test we shot at the camera's max burst speed of 8 fps with Servo AF at a 120mm equiv. using a single focus area.

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As you can see, the camera did very well here. But the inability to tap on a subject in Servo AF and have the camera track while you fire a burst is a pretty major shortcoming, especially considering the capability of Sony's Real-time Tracking AF in its RX100 VII.


30fps Raw burst

The Raw Burst mode on the G5 X Mark II works really quite well, with a few limitations. First of all, it's handy to be able to assign it to the movie-record button to enable or disable it. The camera doesn't show any major lag while the option is enabled, and after you've taken one Raw burst, you can instantly take another provided you didn't fully fill the buffer. And thanks to a handy buffer meter on the side of the screen, it'll be easy to gauge how much buffer you have remaining.

Pre-burst Post-burst
The 30fps Raw burst mode is also handy for catching the (near) exact moment of the bursting of a curmudgeonly coworker's happy balloon, and provides way better IQ than a high-speed video frame grab.

As with most other cameras that have this feature, autofocus is locked, so it's best for capturing moments that are fleeting, but happen in one spot that you can anticipate - think a golf swing, a cannonball at a pool party, or the finish line of a race.

Another thing to note - the camera saves all the image in a sort of 'wrapper,' with the 'CR3' suffix. To open them on a desktop machine, you'll need to use Canon's Digital Photo Professional software. You can also extract and process individual files from the camera and save them out as JPEGs that way if you prefer.


Video usability and autofocus

In terms of video, the big news for the G5 X Mark II is that it and its G7 X Mark III sibling are capable of shooting 4K video at 30p from the full width of the sensor. They're the first Canon PowerShots capable of doing so, but where Canon giveth, Canon also taketh away.

Gone is any way to shoot at 24p, which more experienced users may prefer for its more 'cinematic' look. There's also no microphone port nor live streaming offered on the G7 X III, whereas these are both found on the G7 X III. At least the lens retains a built-in 3-stop ND filter, so you can more easily shoot at video-appropriate shutter speeds in bright light without having to stop the lens down excessively.

As you can see in the above video, the contrast-detect-only autofocus system just isn't as reliable as Sony's on-sensor phase-detection systems - even with face detection enabled, the camera is reticent to refocus on a close-up face instead of focusing on the background.

Additionally, the G5 X II doesn't have any sort of Log capture to help make the most of the camera's dynamic range, and there are no Zebra warnings to help you judge exposure - which, without Log capture, you'll want to keep a close eye on. Lastly, if you're shooting outdoors, you'll want the display at full brightness, but doing so seems to change the gamma or tone curve of the display, making it harder still to judge your exposure.

So, overall, the G5 X II is a mixed bag for users wanting to shoot a lot of video from a pocket-friendly camera. But for primarily stills shooters who also want to capture the occasional video clip, the G5 X II is still worth a look.

Video quality

Our studio scene clearly shows that the G5 X II simply can't match the Sony RX100 VII's detail capture. This will come down to the way in which the G5 X II samples its sensor for video - this softness is evidence of either line-skipping or pixel binning. Even when you enable digital stabilization on the RX100, which results in a slight crop, its quality still bests the G5 X II without its digital stabilization enabled at all. Enabling the subsequent increasing levels of image stabilization on the Canon soften the footage further. Reducing quality to 1080p doesn't look terribly impressive on the Canon, either.

Stabilization

Here are the different crops the camera uses with each successive level of stabilization.

From our own time with the camera, we recommend sticking with middle 'standard' stabilization option. This combines a digital and lens IS and offers a good level of smoothness without making your footage look to soft. Here's a look at how the three stabilization levels compare:

In general, we found the stabilization to be pretty good, providing broadly smoother footage than Sony's latest RX100 VII, at the expense of some softening of detail.