Those looking to shoot distant subjects like wildlife face a dilemma. Spend a lot and buy a DSLR/long lens combo that gives good image quality, or opt for a superzoom (often called a bridge camera) that offers a long focal length for affordable cash, but is often compromised on the quality side. Canon’s PowerShot G3 X may offer a middle ground between the two extremes. The superzoom camera offers a top effective focal length of 600mm – enough to get frame-filling images of wildlife from a good distance away – but can it back up this 25x zoom range with decent image quality? What’s more, can it outdo class rivals like the Panasonic FZ1000?
Features & Build
While there’s a lot more to the G3 X than the focal range, there’s no escaping that this is the prime feature to entice potential buyers. The ability to zoom from a wide angle view of 24mm straight through to 600mm is mind boggling. To add some context, our test shot (below) shows how at 600mm, the G3 X could achieve an almost frame-filling shot of a heron. With the lens zoomed back to 24mm, you’ll struggle to even make out the white dot of the bird. Framing up at such a long focal length can often be a challenge, but the G3 X comes with a 5-axis stabilisation system, that allows you to shoot sharp pics with shutter speeds up to 3.5 stops slower than normal. The 600mm focal length helps the G3 X steal a march on its closest rival – the Panasonic FZ1000 – which tops out at 400mm. What’s more, the f/2.8-5.6 lens has a rather special trick up its sleeve, as it has a built-in 3-stop ND filter. That means you can quickly set up a long exposure image without having to mess about getting an optical ND filter out of your bag.
The lens is permanently attached and isn’t small, but it’s not heavy either, and doesn’t upset the balance of the camera. You zoom in and out via a toggle switch around the shutter button and although the zoom action isn’t lightning quick, it’s definitely smooth – an advantage if you are shooting video footage.
The G3 X’s versatile lens is paired with a CMOS 1in sensor. While this is smaller than the APS-C chip found on enthusiast DSLRs, it offers an impressive resolution of 20.2Mp and is driven by a DIGIC 6 processor, also found on Canon’s 50 Mp 5DS/R DSLRs. The build of the G3 X is impressive, too. The chassis is made from magnesium alloy –
a material usually reserved for higher-end DSLRs, and the G3 X’s body is drip and dust proof. There’s no built-in viewfinder (this is available as an optional extra for £199), but the LCD is big (3.2in) so composing shots is easy. It’s not a ‘pocket’ camera, but at 733g it is light enough to carry around all day. The G3 X boasts a modest pop-up flash, but if that isn’t strong enough, there’s also a hotshoe that will take any Canon-compatible flashgun.
Although video features won’t appeal to everyone, the G3 X’s spec is worthy of mention. Footage can be recorded in Full HD with frame rates from 24 to 60p. There are ports for headphones plus an external mic and even a clever star trails time-lapse mode to capture movies of the night sky.
Performance & Handling
The G3 X is an easy camera to use and set up thanks to a simple Menu system and well-thought-out button/dial layout. The Exposure Compensation dial on the right-side of the top-plate is especially useful and allows you to override the camera’s metering in an instant for good exposures in tricky lighting. Only the Wi-Fi button – which allows you to transfer images to a smart device – is awkwardly placed. It’s too small and is directly below the main control dial so is to easy to press accidentally. The AF system is impressive, locking on to subjects quickly and accurately. The only time it was vulnerable was when the lens was zoomed all the way in. Here, it took a moment longer to lock on.
Equally impressive was the continuous shooting rate of 5.9 frames per second. While well below the 10fps of Canon’s 7D MkII DSLR, it’s still fast enough to capture an action sequence. Write times were reasonable, with RAW files taking 2.4secs to record to our test SD card, and JPEGs taking 1.2secs.
The key area of performance is how this camera operates at 600mm and results were good. The stabilisation system does a great job of recording sharp images at full zoom, and it’s easy to hold a subject in the frame long enough to capture shots.
Value for money
With an RRP of £799, the G3 X isn’t a small investment. In fact, you could pick up a brand new Canon 70D with a 18-55mm for around the same amount of money. The G3 X is also £200 more than its nearest rival, the Panasonic FZ1000, which costs £599.
However, it’s worth remembering that to get 600mm with a DSLR, you’d have to shell out at least another £800 on a long telezoom so there’s an instant saving. With the G3 X, there’s no option or need for interchangeable lenses and the build quality and overall spec help to justify the price.
At first glance, the G3 X may look like a quirky superzoom with a 600mm party trick, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a truly versatile camera. To have 600mm from such a diminutive body is amazing and it offers a genuine option for the wildlife fan who can’t quite stretch to a DSLR/long lens combo, or just simply wants a lighter-weight alternative.
The focal length is enough to get frame-filling pics of easily-spooked subjects, and the detail and sharpness are impressive. But the G3 X is also a great everyday camera. Small enough to be taken on your travels, its wide-angle view can be used for landscapes (plus you can use the built-in ND filter to capture longer exposures) and the hotshoe mount means you can even use it in a studio. £799 may seem steep for a superzoom compact, but you get a lot of camera for your money.
- Price: £599 (As of June 2016)
- Resolution: 20.2Mp (5472x3648)
- Format: RAW & JPEG
- Sensor: 1-inch black-illuminated CMOS sensor
- ISO: 125-6400 (125-12,800 expanded)
- Shutter: 30-1/2000sec & Bulb
- AF system: TTL AiAF 31-point system
- Focusing modes: AI Focus, One Shot, Face Detection and MF
- Metering: Evaluative, Spot and Centre-weighted average
- Burst rate: 5.9fps
- Monitor: 3.2in 1620k-dot touchscreen LCD
- Viewfinder: Optional extra
- Pop-up flash: Yes Hotshoe: Yes
- Video: Full HD 1080p @ 60, 50, 30, 25 & 24fps, Star Time-lapse mode
- Write speeds: 2.4secs RAW, 1.2sec Extra Fine JPEG
- Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC & CF
- Weight: 733g (body only)
- Dimensions: (WxHxD) 123.3x76.5x105.3mm
- Visit: www.canon.co.uk
This review was first published in the November 2015 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.