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So what’ll it be? D-SLR? Nope, too big and too clunky. Mirrorless? Hmm, not sure I really need interchangeable lenses. Compact then? Nah, those titchy sensors aren’t so good in low light and, besides, I still want a real camera, not a toy. Ah, OK… how about a digital rangefinder camera then? Whaaat? Do you think I’m made of money? Good point.

So that puts the Sony RX1R II out of the picture as well and maybe even the Fujifilm X100F too. Definitely, I want a zoom lens anyway. Right, well…

If you’ve been having a debate along these lines, then Canon reckons it’s created the camera to tick all those boxes. The new PowerShot series flagship is what you’d get if you dropped the EOS 800D, EOS M5 and PowerShot G5X into a blender and mixed thoroughly.

It looks very much like the mirrorless M5 – which mimics the styling of a D-SLR anyway – and has the same ‘APS-C’ size sensor and ‘DiG!C 7’ processor combo that’s currently doing service in a number of Canon ILCs, including the M5, M6, 800D, 77D and 200D. It also has the excellent ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ which delivers imager-based phase-difference detection measurements, plus an EOS-style menu design which contains familiar EOS-type functions such as the ‘Picture Style’ presets, and the ‘Auto Lighting Optimiser’ and ‘Highlight Tone Priority’ (HTP) processing. Like the M5, it has a high-resolution OLED-type EVF that is centrally located and a dial-based external control layout that is complemented by a touchscreen monitor.

Unlike the M5, it has a magnesium alloy bodyshell with weather sealing and, on the inside, sensor-based five-axis image stabilisation for shooting video clips and a ‘Dual Sensing’ system that also involves optical stabilisation to give up to four stops of correction for camera shake. The lens is a zoom equivalent to 24-72mm which is a handy focal range and, being fixed, it’s matched optically to the sensor so there’s no need to worry about in-camera corrections (or dust, for that matter). You’d think today’s camera market already covered all possible configurations, but the PowerShot G1X Mark III is actually currently the only fixed-lens compact camera which combines an ‘APS-C’ sensor and a zoom (with the EVF and weather-sealed metal body making it even more of a unique brew).

Get Serious
Interestingly, Canon makes no reference to its mirrorless cameras in relation to the G1X III and instead prefers to see it as a compact rival to a D-SLR – “D-SLR performance in a compact body” is the tag line – but it’s closer to being a fixed-lens EOS M5 than anything else. The target audience, says Canon, is “serious amateurs” and anybody looking for something to back up their D-SLR… with the emphasis again being on the combination of capabilities and compactness, but also the “D-SLR like shooting”.

The dials for mode selection and exposure compensation are going to be familiar, but less so the arrangement of the front and rear control wheels and the multi-function control ring around the lens which are definitely more from the compact camera world. Setting the lens ring to act as the manual focusing collar will help restore some familiarity, but it can also be assigned to zooming (seamless or stepped), aperture setting, ISO setting, changing the aspect ratio, white balance correction (handy for on-the-fly adjustments), or for engaging the ‘Auto Lighting Optimiser’.

The front and rear control wheels plus a small selection of buttons are multi-functional, but the scope for customisation isn’t as extensive as offered by, for example, Panasonic on many of its Lumix models. As on the EOS M5, there’s a customisable ‘Quick Set’ control screen which displays a series of function tiles down either side of the live view image. These can be navigated conventionally or selected via the G1X III’s touchscreen which is very well implemented and extends to the menu system, status displays, replay and review functions, AF point selection and switching, and shutter release.

Commendably, you can use the touch screen for AF point selection while also using the EVF and even specify a particular area of the panel with a ‘relative’ or ‘absolute’ positioning of your fingertip. The monitor panel itself is adjustable for both tilt and swing while the display can be adjusted for brightness. There’s the option of auto switching between the monitor and EVF, using a proximity sensor in the latter’s eyepiece.

The camera’s EVF looks to be the same 0.39-inch OLED panel as is used in the EOS M5 and which refreshes at 120 fps to minimise lag. It has a resolution of 2.36 megadots and 0.62x magnification which means it’s a bit on the small side, but still quite comfortable to use.

Overall, the G1X III handles well and the ergonomics are good, but if you are a convert from a D-SLR, the power zoom’s lever – which is located around the shutter release – can easily cause you to make accidental triggerings. It takes a delicate touch if you’re not to also inadvertently depress the shutter release in the process of zooming.

Sharpening Tools
As already noted, the sensor is the same 22.3x14.9 mm device Canon is using on a range of interchangeable lens bodies at present, and has a total pixel count of 25.8 million.
The effective pixel count is 24.2 million which gives a maximum image size of 6000x4000 pixels. There’s a choice of four image sizes for JPEG capture with two levels of compression and crops for the 4:3, 16:9 and 1:1 aspect ratios. RAW images are captured in the maximum size only, but with 14-bit colour. The RAW+JPEG capture can be configured for any size JPEG.
An optical low-pass filter is retained to counter moiré effects, and the native sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 100 to 25,600. The single memory card slot is for the SD format with support for UHS-I speed SDHC and SDXC types. Its compartment is in the camera’s base and shared with the battery pack so it isn’t easily accessible (if at all) when the G1X III is mounted on a tripod.

The eight ‘Picture Style’ presets include the Fine Detail mode and an Auto setting which is an adjunct of the camera’s scene recognition capabilities. The adjustable picture parameters also include the newer tweaks for more control over sharpness and which are labelled Strength, Fineness and Threshold. There are also adjustments for colour saturation, hue and contrast, with the latter two replaced in the Monochrome preset with B&W contrast filters and a selection of toning effects. Additionally, up to three ‘Picture Styles’ can be user-defined and saved in-camera.

Canon reverts to PowerShot thinking with the G1X III’s presentation of special effects which are packaged up with subject/scene modes and special shooting modes, giving 17 settings in all that are accessed via the ‘SCN’ position on the main mode dial. The subject/scene modes are Self-Portrait, Portrait, Smooth Skin, Star, Handheld Night Scene, Underwater and Fireworks. The special effects are Grainy B&W, Soft Focus, Fish-Eye, Art Bold, Water Painting, Toy Camera and Miniature. The special shooting modes are Panorama, Panning and HDR. Panoramas are created by panning, and the frames then stitched together in-camera. They can be either horizontal or vertical with a maximum image size of 24,064x2800 pixels or 16,000x4200 pixels respectively.

The panning mode – activated when the shutter button is depressed to the half-way position – determines a subject’s speed and then sets the shutter speed needed to give a blurred background. The HDR mode captures three shots in quick succession, adjusting the exposure for each and then merging them in-camera to give an expanded dynamic range. There is no provision for setting the amount of exposure variation, but there’s a choice of edge effects called Art Standard, Art Vivid, Art Bold and Art Embossed.

If you’re one of the “serious amateurs” that Canon talks about then you’re probably not going to want any of these gimmicks and it’s just as well they’re all in the one place where you don’t ever need to go. The good news is that in terms of being in charge of your camera settings, the G1X III is indeed in the same league as a mid-range D-SLR or mirrorless camera.

Paired Up
As noted previously, the sensor has Canon’s ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ architecture which employs a pair of photodiodes at each pixel point. These are read separately for phase-detection autofocusing and together for imaging, giving a massive 80 percent coverage of the frame which is obviously particularly beneficial when shooting moving subjects. And the faster PDD measurements help with tracking too, as well as reducing response times.

The lens’s minimum focusing distance is ten centimetres at 15mm and 30 centimetres at 45mm. Curiously, the macro mode doesn’t go any closer, but simply restricts the longest distance to 50 centimetres which helps reduce focusing times.

Up to 49 focusing points – arranged in a 7x7 grid – are available for individual selection with the option of a ‘Smooth Zone’ mode which uses a cluster of nine points and automatically selects however many points are required by the subject matter. Additionally, the ‘Smooth Zone’ can be moved around the frame using touch-and-drag control (or the navigator keys) with the autofocusing performed at the same time (and, if preselected, automatic shutter release).

In the single-point mode, the focusing zone can be adjusted to one of two sizes, although even the biggest is still pretty small. Point selection can again be via the touchscreen or conventionally using the navigator wheel. Face recognition AF is also available with the option of adding identification for increased selectivity. A magnified image – either 5x or 10x – is available with both AF and MF operation – and there’s a focus peaking display in a choice of three colours at one of two levels to also help with manual focusing. Switching between single-shot and continuous AF operations has to be done manually, but there’s the option of setting the camera to always autofocus without needing the shutter release button to be first pressed to its half-way position (which makes it even faster).

A little confusingly though, Canon calls this “Continuous AF” – probably because it labels continuous autofocusing – as in the definition accepted by everybody else – as “Servo AF”.
The G1X III can shoot continuously at up to 9.0 fps with the autofocusing fixed to the first frame, and at up to 7.0 fps with frame-by-frame AF adjustment.

Exposure control is based on 256-zone evaluative metering with the options of centre-weighted average or spot measurements, but not the selective area mode that’s offered on all EOS models.

The program and semi-auto exposure control modes are supplemented by an AE lock, up to +/-3.0 EV of compensation and auto bracketing over three frames with up to +/-2.0 EV of adjustment. The shutter’s speed range is 30-1/2000 second with a bulb setting available in the manual mode for longer exposures. Being a leaf-type shutter in the lens, flash sync is possible at any speed which enhances balancing possibilities when shooting in daylight (but only when using the built-in flash). The camera’s flash is neatly integrated into the front of the EVF’s housing and is supplemented with a hotshoe. E-TTL auto flash control is available when one of Canon’s EX series Speedlites is attached.

The automatic white balance correction is supplemented with seven presets (including one for underwater shooting, as a marine housing is available), provision for creating one custom setting and manual colour temperature setting over a range of 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin. There’s fine-tuning, but no auto bracketing for white balance.

On Display
Both the EVF and the monitor can be cycled over three display configurations, including one which has both a dual-axis level indicator and a real-time histogram. Additionally, the histogram can be set to either brightness or RGB channels and one of two sizes. There’s also a selection of three guide grids.

The playback screens can be cycled through five displays (although you can set just one if that’s your preference) which comprise the full image alone or with basic capture info and thumbnails with either just a brightness histogram or also accompanied by the RGB channel graphs, the white balance settings (including fine-tuning) or the ‘Picture Style’ settings.

There’s a choice of thumbnail pages for six, 12, 42 or 110 images, zooming (from 2.0x to 10x) and a slide show with adjustable image display times and a selection of transitions.
Additionally, the slide show can be set to only replay selected images – for example, according to the date of capture, the folder name or a star rating. As noted earlier, the touchscreen is available for browsing via swiping or selecting an image from the thumbnails. The thumb-and-forefinger pinch or spread actions respectively delve deeper into the thumbnails or magnify an image.

A selection of in-camera editing functions can be accessed via a conventional menu or a ‘Quick Set’ menu with, once again, there is the convenience of easy selection via the touch screen. In addition to most of the ‘Creative Filter’ effects, the editing options include resizing, cropping, red-eye correction, photobook set-up and RAW-to-JPEG conversion.

As with the M5, the G1X III has both WiFi and the Smart Bluetooth ‘always on’ connectivity which adds to the wireless control options with your smartphone, including activating WiFi.
When you use WiFi from the camera, there’s the convenience of quick NFC-enabled hook-ups for Android users, and the Canon Camera Connect app allows for extensive remote control capabilities.

Test images captured as JPEG/large/fine files using shutter-priority auto exposure control, auto ISO adjustment and the Fine Detail ‘Picture Style’ preset. Consequently, definition is enhanced to give crisply reproduced fine details and seamlessly smooth tonal gradations. Colour reproduction is excellent and even the trickier shades are well handled. The sharpness and saturation are well maintained all the way to ISO 1600.

Speed And Performance
Loaded with our reference SD memory card – Lexar’s 128 GB SDXC UHS-II/U3 (Speed Class 3) ‘2000x’ device – the PowerShot G1X Mark III fired off a sequence of 26 JPEG/large/fine images in 2.913 seconds which represents a shooting speed of 8.92 fps. This is as close to Canon’s quoted spec as makes no difference and with a slightly longer burst length. The test files had an average size of 10.8 MB. Even with this fast card, the camera still took quite a while to empty the buffer (so clearly anything quicker than UHS-I makes no difference) and essentially locks up while it’s happening.

We’ve applauded Canon’s ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ on previous cameras and it’s equally impressive here, being both extremely fast and very reliable even when tracking subjects moving erratically. It also stays unerringly on-target in low light conditions.

The lens’s optical construction includes a total of four aspherical types (three of them doubled-sided) to correct for distortion and optimise centre-to-corner sharpness. While the zoom is a lot sharper overall at its telephoto end than at the widest-angle focal lengths (although this is still very good), it’s also a lot slower than would be the case with any comparable interchangeable lens, even a kit-level ‘cheapie’. At the effective focal length of 72mm, the maximum aperture has stopped down to just f5.6 which potentially means either using a slower shutter speed or a higher ISO setting (or breaking out the tripod which you may not want to do if you’ve picked the G1X III because you want to travel extra-light). It also limits what you can do with the shallower depth-of-the-field that would otherwise be available with this size of sensor. Essentially it’s the price you pay for having such a compact lens - and a zoom at that - but we suspect many potential users might have been prepared to trade pocketability for a faster maximum aperture range. And while we’re here, the small battery pack also comes at a price… a pretty ordinary range of around 200 shots so, if you are planning to travel with the camera, a spare (or possibly even two) will be an essential additional purchase.

JPEGs exhibit lots of crisply-defined details and look to be subjectively sharper than those delivered by the EOS M5, with accurate colour reproduction and seamlessly smooth tonal gradations. The noise reduction processing appears to better balanced too, effectively banishing any artefacts so that sharpness and saturation hold together very well up to ISO 1600, but are also still more than acceptable at ISO 3200 and 6400. The dynamic range is very good straight out of the camera, but Canon’s ALO processing will help get more out of the shadows without compromising tonality in the highlights. As we’ve found with other recent Canon cameras, the Fine Detail ‘Picture Style’ preset really sharpens things up even more and works especially well with subjects which contain a lot of fine detail.

Making Movies
For travellers who want to supplement their stills with some atmospheric video clips, the PowerShot G1X Mark III will do a good job, but it’s really not the camera for anything more serious. For starters, there’s no 4K recording or features such as a stereo audio input or manual audio level adjustment. On the plus side there’s ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ – which works especially well when shooting video – touch screen control, five-axis image stabilisation, ND filter and a time-lapse function (but, as with the EOS M5, strangely there’s no intervalometer function for shooting full-size stills).

Continuous AF operation is available with face recognition and subject tracking, while exposure control can be either fully automatic – including with auto scene mode selection – or fully manual. Exposure compensation can be applied while shooting. Most of the processing functions for still photography are also available for shooting video, including the ‘Picture Style’ presets, some of the ‘Creative Filter’ special effects and both the ‘Auto Lighting Optimiser’ and ‘Highlight Tone Priority’ processes. The sensitivity and white balance can also be set manually. Manual focusing is assisted by a magnified image and a focus peaking display in a choice of three colours and two intensity levels.

Full HD 1080p video is recorded at either 50 or 25 fps in the MP4 format using MPEG 4 AVC/H.264 compression. HD 720p resolution footage can also be recorded at 25 fps. The NTSC speeds of 60 and 30 fps are also available. The G1X III has built-in stereo microphones – which are actually particularly good quality – and while the sound levels can’t be adjusted manually, there’s both a wind-cut filter and an attenuator. It’s enough, but only just.

The Verdict
Like the EOS M5, the PowerShot G1X III is a bit of a roller-coaster ride of great highs and some lows. Again, Canon has got the fundamentals right in terms of packaging an ‘APS-C’ sensor – especially its brilliant ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ design – into a very compact, but very well-made camera that offers the benefits of weather-proofing. The sensor and its companion processor deliver exceptional AF performance, brilliant image quality (including at high ISO settings) and continuous shooting at 9.0 fps. The EOS-style feature set and menus also enable the G1X III to punch well above its weight. Then there’s the excellent touch controls, wireless connectivity (rivals take note… this is how easy it should be) and OLED viewfinder (plus the various display options).

The lows? Well, it’s expensive for a fixed-lens compact and the same money will buy you the EOS 77D or even Sony’s A77 II, both of which offer a lot more bang for your buck. There are many more mirrorless alternatives, but let’s just note that the Sony A7 with its full-35mm sensor is possibly cheaper if you shop around. The G1X III is also hobbled by its fixed zoom lens and its small battery pack, both of which make you pay in one way or another.

On paper the G1X III looks like a very viable alternative to a D-SLR or mirrorless camera, but this proves to be less than the case in practice… ironically because Canon has possibly concentrated just a little too much on getting the size down without considering all possible ramifications, especially in terms of the lens’s design.

This said, if you really need a pocket-sized camera which delivers ‘big sensor’ performance then the PowerShot G1X III is it. Nothing else delivers the same combination quite as effectively so, as far as the intended objective goes, you’d have to say that Canon has conclusively has met the brief.

Canon Powershot G1X Mark III $1499
Type: Fully automatic, fixed lens digital compact camera.
Lens: Canon 15-45mm f2.8-5.6 (equivalent to 24-72mm). Nine elements in eight groups (including four aspherical types). Power zoom and 4.0x digital zoom.
Dimensions (WxHxD): 115.0x77.9x51.4 mm.
Weight: 375 grams (without battery or memory card).
Price: $1499 (estimated average street price).
Distributor: Canon Australia Pty Ltd, telephone 1800 021 167 or visit www.canon.com.au