Conclusion

Pros Cons
  • Well-designed and constructed body
  • Fast lens with longer zoom range than peers
  • Very good image quality
  • Beautiful 2.36M-dot electronic viewfinder
  • Fully articulating 3" touchscreen LCD
  • Three customizable dials, plus dedicated exposure comp dial
  • Built-in ND filter (with Auto functionality)
  • Well-implemented touch features
  • 1080/60p video recording
  • Wi-Fi with good remote capture control
  • Poor battery life
  • Lens is soft wide open, especially near wide-angle
  • Confusing autofocus modes; limited AF tracking capability
  • Unsophisticated Auto ISO system
  • Very slow Raw continuous shooting
  • Noise reduction a little heavy-handed in JPEGs
  • Cluttered rear controls
  • Some useful JPEG features (DR/shadow correction, My Colors) not available when using Raw+JPEG

Overall Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot G5 X is the 'enthusiast' entry in the company's 1"-type camera lineup. In most respects, it's the same camera as the compact G7 X that preceded it, but with an electronic viewfinder, two extra dials and a fully articulating LCD attached. These new features also command a $100 increase in price.

The G5 X carries over the same fast 24-100mm equivalent lens and 20.2MP BSI CMOS sensor from the G7 X, as well as its good image quality, generally snappy performance, 1080/60p video recording, and broad feature set. A few less-desirable things came over from the G7 X, including poor battery life, a rudimentary Auto ISO system, slow Raw continuous shooting and a lens which isn't great wide open.

ISO 125, 1/1250 sec, F4, 30mm equiv. Raw conversion. Photo by Jeff Keller.

At time of publication there really isn't a camera in this class that offers the size, design and number of direct controls as the G5 X. Its closest competitor is the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III, which has an EVF and a similar price tag, but has fewer direct controls in exchange for being pocketable.

Handling

The G5 X is a compact, but not quite pocketable, SLR-style camera. Build quality is very good, giving you the feel that your money has been well spent, and the machined aluminum dials with red accents give the G5 X a classy appearance. Unlike the PowerShot G7 X and Sony's RX100-series cameras, the G5 X has a nice-sized grip that keeps your finger within easy reach of the front control dial. In addition to the front dial, there are two others: one around the lens (which is hard to reach due to the placement of the flash) and another on the back (which is a too small). All three of those dials are customizable, and you can set different functions for each exposure mode, if you wish. A dedicated exposure compensation dial is also available.

While you can't do this for everything, we found that adjusting settings on the camera's 3", fully articulating touchscreen display was pretty easy. You can tap your way through the (customizable) shortcut and shooting menus, select a subject on which to focus, and review photos you've taken with a swipe. The touchscreen also allows for easy rack focusing when shooting video.

"Build quality is very good, giving you the feel that your money has been well spent, and the machined aluminum dials with red accents give the G5 X a classy appearance."

One of the major selling points of the G5 X is its 2.36M-dot electronic viewfinder, whose panel we've seen on many other cameras over the last few years. It's good-sized, bright, and has an excellent refresh rate. A sensor activates the EVF as your eye approaches but, as is often the case, it's easy to 'trip' when shooting at the hip or turning the dial around the lens.

The G5 X has a fun star trail mode (assuming you live somewhere other than Seattle where you can actually see them), plus useful tools for reducing highlight clipping and brightening shadows. One thing that we would've liked to have seen is the ability to use those features when shooting Raw+JPEG, rather than disable them entirely.

ISO 125, 1/100 sec, F4, 84mm equiv. Photo by Jeff Keller.

Those who want the camera to manage the ISO sensitivity might be put off by the simplistic Auto ISO system used by the G5 X. You can set the maximum ISO and the 'rate of change', but not the minimum shutter speed. The rate of change options either choose a very slow shutter speed or an unusually high one, and the way the standard mode performs in Program mode is different that in Aperture priority mode.

Performance is a mixed bag. The G5 X starts up quickly and focuses responsively, and the menus are generally snappy. If you're taking bursts of JPEGs then you get keep firing away at over 6 frames/second (with focus lock on the first shot). Things go way downhill when Raw files are involved, with the frame rate dropping below 1 fps - disappointing given the price of the camera and the fact that Sony's RX100 III is more than six times faster. Something that will affect even more people is the G5 X's poor battery life, officially rated at 210 shots per charge, compared with 360 for the Sony.

Lens and Autofocus Performance

One of the nice things about the G5 X's lens is that, at 24-100mm equivalent, it's longer than what's on the Sony RX100 III/IV and the Panasonic LX100. With a maximum aperture range of F1.8-2.8, it's also well suited to low light photography: the lens stays faster longer than the RX100 III and IV.

ISO 400, 1/30 sec, F1.8, 24mm equiv. Photo by Jeff Keller.

As we experienced with the G7 X, which uses the same lens, the quality of the lens leaves something to be desired, specifically when shot wide open or through the first half of its focal range. While using a smaller aperture improves sharpness, it's not by a large amount. The lens sharpens up 50mm and above and is at its best at F5.6.

For general shooting, the G5 X's autofocus system performs well. It's quick in good and not-so-good light and detects faces with ease. Things get difficult when you try to shoot moving subjects. The first challenge is figuring out the nomenclature that Canon uses. There are two AF methods: face detect + tracking and 1-point. There are also two AF drive modes: one shot and servo.

"For everyday shooting, the face detect + tracking and one shot modes are your best choice."

You'd think that the face detect + tracking mode is what you'd want to use to keep a moving subject in focus during burst shooting, but it doesn't focus during a burst. To do that you'll want to use 1-point and servo, but a) you need to select a single AF point in advance and b) the selected point disappears when shooting, so if your subject moves you have no idea if they're under the AF point or not. The burst rate also drops down to about 4 fps. In our 'bike test' the G5 X delivered a roughly 68% hit rate with a single, centrally-placed subject, which sounds okay, but is easily bested by the Sony RX100 IV (and likely III as well), which also shoots at a faster burst rate.

For everyday shooting, the face detect + tracking and one shot modes are your best choice. The camera will detect and track faces or objects you've tapped on the screen, or use multi-point AF if neither of those conditions are true. While this mode will track subjects, the focus will be locked when you take a photo, so it's for one photo at a time only. Also, be warned that there can be a 2-3 second delay before the camera refocuses on tapped subjects in this mode.

Image and Video Quality

The 20.2MP BSI CMOS sensor is a familiar one, having been used on the PowerShot G7 X as well as the Sony RX100 II and III (the image processor on the Sonys is different, of course). JPEGs have vibrant color but mild noise reduction is visible at base ISO (125). As shown in our studio scene, the G5 X focuses on reducing color noise at very high sensitivities, leaving some luminance noise behind. Still, low contrast details easily get smudged out at higher ISOs.

ISO 800, 1/160 sec, F2.8, Raw conversion. Photo by Jeff Keller.

Thankfully Raw files offer a good amount of latitude for highlight recovery and brightening shadows (see before and after). You can also bring back some detail that was smudged away by noise reduction (see before and after). When viewing Raw images you see that the main image quality issue is lens performance more than anything else.

The G5 X can record 1080/60p video using the H.264 codec, with a bit-rate of around 35MBps. (Unlike two of its peers - the Sony RX100 IV and Panasonic LX100, the G5 X cannot record 4K video.) It offers manual control over exposure, a wind filter and sound attenuator, and easy rack focusing courtesy of its touchscreen. We found video quality to be quite good in both bright sunlight and during a nighttime parade. Videos are slightly soft, but that's better than being over-sharpened - something that cannot be fixed in post-production. A combination of both optical and digital image stabilization makes for very effectively stabilized, smooth video.

The Final Word

The Canon PowerShot G5 X is a stylish, well-built enthusiast compact that in most situations is a pleasure to use. We especially enjoyed its longer-than-average lens, large electronic viewfinder, fully articulating touchscreen LCD, built-in Auto ND filter and numerous customizable control dials. While not best-in-class, Canon's Wi-Fi implementation is still very good. The G5 X produces photos and Full HD videos that are comparable to its peers (read: the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 series) in most situations.

As with the G7 X that preceded it, the G5 X's biggest weaknesses are poor battery life, middling lens quality, and woefully slow Raw continuous shooting. For $800 one would expect to be able to get through a day of shooting without having to carry a spare battery, but that's not the case here. Our view is that if the Sony RX100 III can take 360 shots (versus 210 on the G5 X) using a battery with the same capacity, powering the same 20MP 1"-type sensor, then Canon should be able to do so as well.

"We especially enjoyed its longer-than-average lens, large electronic viewfinder, fully articulating touchscreen LCD, built-in ND filter and numerous customizable control dials."

We found the lens to be soft when shot wide-open and between roughly 24 and 50mm equiv. It's always hard to tell if we have a 'bad copy', but since we've seen it on three cameras (one G5 X and two G7 Xs), we believe our observations are accurate. The sluggish Raw continuous shooting rate and less-than-stellar continuous AF won't affect everyone but, again, this is an $800 camera and an enthusiast would expect better. If Canon could address those few issues, the G5 X would definitely be worthy of a gold award.

ISO 125, 1/320 sec, F4, 100mm equiv. Photo by Jeff Keller.

Finally, let's break down the G5 X alongside its closest competitor, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III. Both cameras have MSRPs of $800 and use the same 20.2MP sensor. Overall, the Sony is the better of the two in terms of performance, lens quality, autofocus and battery life. It's also something you can slip into your pocket. The G5 X is a larger camera with a more 'traditional', higher-resolution EVF that's more comfortable to use. It's also easier to hold, has better ergonomics, a superior (we think) user interface and a touchscreen display, as well as a hot shoe. For those who desire those features - and we think many will - then the G5 X is a good choice. For photographers who care about speed and ultimate image quality, the RX100 III is the way to go.

Scoring

Canon PowerShot G5 X
Category: Enthusiast Large Sensor Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Optics
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The PowerShot G5 X is a well-designed and easy-to-use premium compact that takes good quality photos and videos and offers a nice EVF and LCD on which to compose them. It's subpar battery life, so-so lens and sluggish continuous Raw shooting keep it from being a top choice.
Good for
Those who want good image quality in a small body that has an EVF and many direct controls.
Not so good for
Those who want to shoot all day without a battery change, shoot bursts of Raw images or want to photograph moving subjects.
78%
Overall score

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