If you want to snag a Canon G5X Mark II of your own, you can pick one up from Amazon. Using affiliate links helps me keep this site online and free of annoying ads. Thanks!
I’ve been a fan of Canon pocket digital cameras since they first came on the scene in the early 2000s, but it’s no secret that lately smartphones have gotten really, really good. They do raw, they zoom, and they have advanced computational photography tricks that we couldn’t even imagine a few short years ago. Pocket cameras have stepped it up to stay in the game. The new G5X Mark II (that’s a roman numeral 2) is proof of that.
I’ve used the older G7X Mk II for the past few years, and I’ve found it to be a very capable camera. However, there were a few things about it that I wish were better. This year, the G7X line was updated very slightly to Mk III, but the lens stayed the same, the sensor stayed the same, the focus system stayed the same – the only features were related to video. Not terribly exciting for my purposes, and definitely not worth an upgrade. However, the G5X line was completely overhauled to become more of a direct upgrade over G7X Mk II, so I took this camera for a spin to see if it was finally the pocket camera of my dreams.
So what does the G5X Mk II add on paper over the G7X Mk II and III? The G5X adds a pop-up viewfinder, has a brand-new lens, and is nearly the same size as the G7X Mk II. Unfortunately, it also adds a big increase in price.
I’ve shot with the G5X Mk II for several weeks now, taking it everywhere from corporate ad productions in Indiana to a trip through Ireland. After putting it to the test, how does it compare to the G7Xs and Sony RX100s of the world? For that matter, how does it stack up to a modern iPhone? Or an APS-C mirrorless camera? Read on to find out more!
The two biggest upgrades that the G5X Mk II features are a vastly improved lens and excellent ergonomics. First, let’s talk about that lens.
On paper, not much has changed. The focal length is a bit longer, reaching to 120mm (35mm equivalent) rather than the 100mm of the G7X family. The aperture is also roughly the same, starting at f1.8 and staying at a respectable f2.8 at the long end. However, in practice, this lens is a huge improvement.
First, macro capabilities are far better than what the G7X can manage. With my G7X, I was always running into scenarios where the lens couldn’t focus close enough to get my subject. The G5X Mk II is able to focus extremely close, and even better, it’s able to do so on both the wide and long ends of its range.
Second, I didn’t think that there was that big of a difference between 100mm and 120mm equivalent, but that little bit of extra telephoto really comes in handy. I found myself using it quite a bit, and it brought back fond memories of the zoom range of my old Canon S110.
Finally, the G5X Mk II keeps the built-in ND filter. For photography, I haven’t used this much since shutter speeds can get high enough to keep the aperture wide even on a sunny day. However, this is a hugely important feature for video, and necessary to get sane shutter speeds. Unfortunately, as I’ll get into below, this really isn’t a camera for videographers. It’s nice to have though!
I’ve seen some well-done tests floating around online that show absolute lens sharpness in the G5X Mk II is very slightly less than the RX100 VII and G7X Mk III, but don’t lose any sleep over it. The G5X is plenty sharp, much sharper than many of the APS-C mirrorless zooms I’ve tested out over the past few months. You’ll run into sensor limitations long before lens resolution becomes a problem with a one-inch camera like the G5X Mk II.
The G5X Mk II is small, speedy, has a smart layout, and as a result, it’s a delight to operate. As a photographic tool, it works for you rather than against you. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed using Canon pocket cameras, and the G5X Mk II feels like the best one I’ve ever handled.
The camera is grippy, with a little handle on the front that is surprisingly helpful. There are lots of dials and nubbins to play with, and the critical ones like exposure compensation and zoom are helpfully placed where they are easy to access. I spent a lot of time recently testing out the mirrorless Canon M100, which has almost zero controls outside the touchscreen, and I really appreciated having them back on the G5X.
Functionally, these dials are all the same as on the G7X series, which isn’t a bad thing. The only slight difference is the ring around the camera, which is plastic and clicky. The G7X ring is metal and allows you to change it between clicky and smooth modes, so this is an odd step backwards. However, the paint on my metal ring on my G7X has worn off, so the plastic ring might not be a wholly bad thing. Personally, I find it kind of ugly on an otherwise very handsome camera.
Speaking of the G7X, the new G5X Mk II is almost exactly the same size. I’m amazed at how much Canon was able to fit into this tiny package. While not pants-pocketable like the S110 or G9X Mk II, the G5X Mk II fits easily in a backpack, bag, or coat pocket. I put a strap on mine, and I can carry it all day without ever noticing the weight.
However, the biggest improvement over the G7X’s handling is the addition of the viewfinder, which is important enough to merit its own section…
The pop-up viewfinder on the G5X Mk II is a godsend. That it is crammed into a body almost exactly the same size as the G7X Mk II feels like nothing short of a miracle (You can tell by my language that I like it). It’s a two-step process to get it out, requiring you to press down on a lever on the side and pull the viewfinder out, but it’s less of a hassle than it sounds. You can pull it out and get it set without turning the camera on, which is helpful for preserving battery. Once it is out, you can leave it there if you’re going to be shooting for a while.
Best of all, the viewfinder detects when you’re looking into it, intelligently switching between using the back screen and using the viewfinder. I had some reservations with how well this would function in practice, but I am happy to report that it works great. When using the camera, I switched between the two modes on a regular basis, and I didn’t ever have to stop and fiddle with it.
I sometimes struggle with being able to see through viewfinders with my glasses, but I didn’t have any problem with the G5X Mk II. There’s a setting where you can decrease the size of the ‘screen’ in the viewfinder, which is very handy. Decreasing the size of the image means that you don’t have to press your face quite as far into the viewfinder in order to be able to see the edges of the frame.
Of everything the G5X Mk II brings to the table, this is the one that is a bit of a letdown. My primary complaint with the G7X Mk II was its weak contrast-detection autofocus system, and nothing really changes here. It still works fine, but for critical focus needed with an extremely shallow depth of field, it can get frustrating fast. This is a shame, because Sony has demonstrated some real advancements when it comes to autofocus on their RX100 line, and Canon has an excellent dual-pixel autofocus system on their mirrorless EF-M and full frame cameras.
In practice, it works fine most of the time. I don’t trust face detection, but it is there if you want to give it a try. iPhones and other smartphones, with their deep depth of field (a result of a tiny sensor), are much better for catching kids running around. The G5X Mk II feels a little bit better than my G7X Mk II, but it isn’t a revolutionary difference.
The saving grace of the Canon autofocus system is the ability to easily select the focus area using the screen on the back. Just point anywhere on the screen, and the camera will try to hit it. It works just like a smartphone, and it is fast and responsive. However, you might just want to take a few extra shots in case one of them doesn’t quite hit the mark.
My biggest complaint is that when you’re using the viewfinder, there’s no way to move your focus point. You have to switch back to the touchscreen, press a new spot, then return to the viewfinder. I’ve looked all over for a way around this, but haven’t had any luck. Tweet at me if you know a workaround!
Exposure is solid, and if you need to adjust it quickly, there’s a nice exposure compensation dial right at the top. While the dynamic range can’t compare to what computational HDR on smartphones automatically generates, it is still impressive on a per-exposure basis. There is some light bleed between pixels where there is a sudden shift between bright and dark areas, which is a result of the small one-inch sensor size. One-inch sensors are big for compact cameras, but they’re still small compared to their mirrorless full frame and APS-C brethren.
I’ve always worried that the delicate lens retraction systems in a pocket camera would be fragile, but if the G5X Mk II is anything like my G7X Mk II or S110, this thing is a little tank. As long as you don’t drop it while the lens is extended, it should be fine.
My primary worry about the G7X Mk II was the battery door, but it still works after a lot of hard use. The G5X has the same kind of door, so I’m confident it’ll also be fine too. If you use the USB-C port for charging and image transfer, you won’t even have to open it.
Honestly, if you’re planning on using the G5X Mk II to shoot jpegs, you might as well use a smartphone. In a world where iPhones and Pixels have advanced computational photography capabilities, the main advantage of a camera like the G5X Mk II is the power and detail that a raw workflow can provide. Other reviewers have claimed that jpeg processing in the G5X Mk II is better than the (terrible) jpeg processing in the G7X Mk II, but I’ll leave it to them to report on that aspect of the camera.
Now, for what I’m really interested in: raw image quality!
Overall, image detail and sharpness is excellent. The lens, as mentioned above, is fantastic. If you have any trouble with image quality, it’ll probably be a result of the weak autofocus system not hitting the subject perfectly or there simply not being enough light.
Grain levels remain about the same as in the G7X Mk II. Larger sensors are still able to run circles around the one-inch sensor in the G5X Mk II. An APS-C mirrorless camera (like the cheaper M100 or M200) is going to be able to provide a far less grainy image.
When I shoot with a 1-inch sensor, I keep my ISO locked at the lowest possible setting, 125 in this case. I can always increase exposure in post, and I want to keep my grain as low as possible. You can shoot at very, very high ISOs with this camera, but it will get messy fast. Thankfully, the fast lens does a good job of letting you keep ISO low without too much fuss. I shot at dusk, night, and indoors at 125 ISO with no problem.
There is some light bleed between extreme dark and light areas that can sometimes give your images a ‘soft’ look. This is caused by light literally leaking into neighboring pixels. High-end smartphones have gotten remarkably good at a combating this kind of bleed, but it’s common on small sensors in cheap smartphones and pocket cameras. I’ve taken some pictures that show it at its worst on the G5X Mk II, and it really isn’t that distrcating. However, this is another area where larger sensors are simply better because of the laws of physics.
I think the G5X Mk II hits a great balance of image quality. It looks far, far better than smartphone raw or the pocket cameras of yesteryear. Do I wish it could reach the level of APS-C or even full frame? Yes, but I have a feeling we’re going to need some major sensor technology or computational photography breakthroughs to reach that.
Enough talk though, here are a few sample images so you can judge the camera for yourself. All images were processed to taste in Lightroom and exported out as compressed jpegs to play nice with the limited bandwith of my site.
I’ve read a lot of hemming and hawing about battery life, but I had no problem with it. I never once killed it while taking it out on a hike, and if you’re really worried about running out of juice, it’s no problem to pop an extra battery in your pocket. They’re light, easy to swap out, and take up very little room.
In a pleasant change of pace, this camera can charge via USB-C, which is super helpful when trying to consolidate during traveling. You’ll want to test out your specific charger to make sure it works, as the standard is still a bit finicky. But if it does, you might have a single charger that handles your computer, your phone, your Nintendo Switch, and, now, your camera.
If you’re feeling bold, you can find a high-power USB-C portable battery to recharge your G5X Mk II while on the move, but an extra G5X Mk II battery is probably the smarter, easier choice. It uses the same battery as the older G7X Mk II, so you might already have some extras lying around.
Video and Wireless (Or: Things I don’t Care About)
The G5X Mk II is not a great video camera. Not only did Canon kneecap it by removing 24p options (supposedly going to be restored via firmware update, but why remove it in the first place?), but there is no mic jack to record audio with. Honestly, it’s just not what this thing is meant for. I would use an iPhone 11 or a Sony AX-700 for vlogging (and I do!) instead, as both have better video features. For those determined to use a Canon pocket camera for video, the G7X Mk III has settings targeted specifically towards streamers and videographers.
Another thing I completely ignore on cameras like this are the ability to connect to a smartphone through apps. I have no desire to do this, so you should check out other reviewers to find out more about it if you’re curious. This may be an important feature for people who need to get high-quality pictures up on Instagram ASAP, but I don’t mind waiting to get back to a computer.
The G5X Mk II has an upgraded processor, and it shows. Everything handles faster and smoother than the previous-gen G7X Mk II, which was no slouch. The back screen updates quickly, often maintaining a smooth 60p or above. Framerate is fast enough that occasionally you’ll see flickering caused by light sources being slightly out of sync with the ‘video’ of the back screen. It’s nothing to worry about, as it won’t show up in your pictures.
In fact, one of the features enabled by this faster processor confused the hell out of me at first. Now there is no blackout of the screen on the back or in the viewfinder when you hit the shutter, which allows you to keep taking pictures of moving subjects. However, if you’re not used to this feature, you might feel (like me) like the image wasn’t taken. This is hard to describe, and something that wasn’t mentioned in other reviews, but you get used to it quickly. If you don’t keep on hitting the shutter, your photo will pop up a second or two later for review (depending on your settings).
Versus Sony RX100 Series (Mk III, IV, V, VA, VI, VII… do you think they have enough by this point?)
There are officially eight million Sony RX100 variants that are direct competitors to the G5X line, sharing the same type of 1-inch sensor. I would recommend going with one of those cameras if video is your focus (but make sure you get one with a built-in ND filter!), but for photography, nothing beats Canon for my money. Canons are just more fun to use, with better ergonimics. The most recent RX100 VI and VII have a longer zoom range, but it comes at the with a much slower aperture. The raw image quality between the RX100 and Canon G5X/G7X lines are about the same, so both are good options.
Versus Apple iPhone XS/11 and Google Pixel 3
As I’ve documented before, the iPhone camera has gotten really good, especially with raw capture. However, only the main sensor is even remotely competitive. The telephoto on the X/XS/11 Pro has a tiny, noisy sensor. I was curious how the G5X Mk II stacked up, so I shot a detailed comparison you can check out here. When zoomed out, images look fairly similar, but when you look closely, the G5X Mk II is far superior in detail and grain.
Versus G7X and G9X lines
The technical image quality of the G7X Mk II and III is very similar to the G5X Mk II. If money is a factor at all, get one of those cameras. The G5X is simply more fun to use with better ergonomics and a slightly longer zoom range. Sharpness and sensor quality are very similar. Macro is better on the G5X Mk II, but only you know how important that is to you. The G9X line is also floating around out there, which features a much smaller body that has a limited zoom range with a poor aperture. I’d recommend that camera only if pocketability is your number one concern.
Versus Full Frame and APS-C Mirrorless and DSLR Cameras
My dream is that someday these cameras have the same image quality as a full frame or even APS-C camera, but that day is not here yet. My years-old Nikon D750 simply blows this thing out of the water, just like pretty much any other full frame or APS-C camera would. The biggest difference is in grain and detail. A smartphone sensor is going to be grainy even in bright light, the one inch G5X Mk II grain is subtle but always there, and the D750 doesn’t show grain hardly at all. For critical work, you’re still going to need a mirrorless or DSLR APS-C/full frame. Here’s the crazy thing: you can pick up a DSLR or APS-C mirrorless camera (and lenses) for less than what this camera costs. If you’re buying just one camera, and you don’t care how small it is, something like the Nikon D3500 is going to blow the G5X Mk II out of the water.
I love the G5X Mk II because it is fun to use. The pop-up viewfinder lets you shoot in bright conditions, the lens has a crazy range, it’s tiny enough to go everywhere, and the rest of the package is smart and fast. Make no mistake, this is a luxury travel camera for people who want a complete system in the smallest size possible. If weight and space doesn’t matter, you can do much better for less with a DSLR or mirrorless system for the same amount of money.
If money is a concern and you still want something that can travel, the G7X Mk II is a better deal, with nearly the same image quality for hundreds less. However, if you have more to spend, and want a great lightweight camera that can travel, the G5X Mk II has the kind of ergonomics that make you excited to take a picture.
If you want to snag a Canon G5X Mark II of your own, you can pick one up from Amazon. Using affiliate links helps me keep this site online and free of annoying ads. Thanks!
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