Canon’s latest enthusiast compact offers a compelling combination of a long zoom range and a relatively large 1in sensor. Andy Westlake tests it out
Canon PowerShot G3 X review – Build and handling
With its dustproof and splashproof magnesium-alloy body, the G3 X feels solidly made, and at 733g it’s not overly heavy, especially considering the range of the lens. The camera manages to be smaller than its shorter-zoomed competitors with 1in sensors, at 123.3×76.5×105.3mm, although this is substantially down to the omission of an EVF. In terms of design it’s little more than a box-shaped body, with a handgrip and cylindrical lens barrel added to the front.
The handgrip is covered in thick textured rubber that provides a positive hold, aided by a deep indentation for your second finger and a prominent ‘hook’ for your thumb. There’s not quite so much real estate to wrap your hand around, though, compared to the larger grips on the Panasonic FZ1000 and Sony RX10. The camera’s size and design means that your left hand naturally ends up supporting the lens barrel.
The G3 X has a decent array of controls, mostly positioned for operation by your right hand. The top-plate hosts the power and movie buttons, along with the exposure-mode dial and front electronic dial. The exposure compensation dial is perfectly placed for operation by your thumb, and offers up to 3EV correction in 1/3EV steps, which can also be used in conjunction with auto ISO in manual-exposure mode. A two-speed zoom lever around the shutter button allows reasonably precise composition.
Canon has squeezed plenty of buttons onto the back of the camera, but because the screen takes up so much space they feel rather cramped together.
While the button placement is similar to several other small Canons, including the PowerShot G1 X II and the EOS M3, there’s no consistency in function assignment between these models, so shooting them side by side could be a recipe for confusion.
The rear electronic dial is customisable to operate a range of functions, and I set it to change ISO directly. There’s also a small customisable shortcut button placed under your thumb. The touchscreen provides a quick and responsive interface for changing settings and playing back images, but it’s less useful than most for setting the focus point during normal shooting, simply because the G3 X’s design means you don’t have a hand free to operate it.
The lens barrel has a large, smoothly rotating focus ring, which can be re-assigned to change shutter speed, aperture or ISO. Oddly, though, unlike on the Sony RX10 or Panasonic FZ1000, it can’t be used as a zoom controller.
A button on the side of the barrel engages manual focus, while a second operates Canon’s framing assist function. This is extremely useful if you lose your subject when shooting at telephoto, as pressing it temporarily zooms the lens out to show a much wider view, so you can reacquire your subject and then release it to zoom in again. Given the size of the lens barrel, though, it would have been nice to see a second control ring, as on the G1 X Mark II.
Canon has tweaked the on-screen interface on its PowerShot compacts to more closely resemble that used on its DSLRs, but the changes are purely cosmetic. The menu items and ordering are still rather different, with similar functions given different names. For example, the G3 X has ‘DR correction’ in place of ‘highlight tone priority’, and ‘shadow correct’ rather than ‘auto lighting optimiser’, which could leave EOS users scratching their heads. Other manufacturers have done a much better job of unifying their interfaces between compact and interchangeable-lens cameras.
Unfortunately, I found that the G3 X wasn’t especially easy or pleasant to shoot with using the LCD. In particular, the 600mm equivalent zoom is predictably difficult to use with the rear screen, as it’s hard to hold the camera sufficiently steady to aim it properly and it’s more or less impossible to pan the camera to follow a moving subject. This is especially true when you’re shooting in portrait format and can’t tilt the screen to allow a more stable shooting stance. However, when shooting with the optional EVF-DC1 viewfinder, it’s much easier to use the long telephoto settings. This makes the omission of a built-in EVF all the more baffling.