We’ve come to expect 1-inch sensors in premium cameras. The sensor size, about four times the surface area compared with a standard point-and-shoot and six times the size of an iPhone sensor, delivers images with a clear advantage over phone snaps, especially in dim light. The Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II ($529.99) is one of the smallest cameras available with a 1-inch sensor. It delivers excellent images, and features a big touch LCD that will appeal to photographers used to using a smartphone, but the lens is rather short, and dim at the telephoto end. It’s a solid option, but our Editors’ Choice in the premium price range remains the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III, which features a brighter lens and EVF.
The G9 X Mark II is a small, pocket-friendly camera. It measures 2.3 by 3.9 by 1.2 inches (HWD) and weighs just 7.3 ounces. Compare that with the RX100 III, which is just a bit larger, at 2.3 by 4.0 by 1.6 inches, and heavier, at 10.2 ounces. Canon sells the G9 X Mark II in black, or in a two-tone silver and brown finish, which is what we received for review.
The zoom is a modest 3x design, similar in range to Sony’s RX100 III, IV, and V, but while the competing models use 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 designs, Canon sacrifices some wide-angle coverage in favor of telephoto reach for the G9 X. Its zoom covers a 28-84mm (full-frame equivalent) field of view, with an aperture that starts at f/2, but narrows to f/4.9 when fully zoomed. It’s a shame Canon didn’t go with a 24-70mm here, as wider angle coverage is more beneficial than a slight bit of advantage in short telephoto reach
The lens protrudes a bit from the body, even when the G9 X is turned off. Canon uses the space to incorporate the G9’s main physical control, a ring that surrounds the lens itself. If you’re shooting in aperture priority (Av) mode it controls the f-stop, and it adjusts the shutter speed in shutter priority (Tv) and the overall brightness of the image (EV) in program (P) mode. If you work in manual (M) mode you can adjust any of the three settings with the ring, you just need to tap the rear screen to tell the camera which value you’d like to adjust.
The On/Off and Play buttons are on the top plate, along with the zoom control and shutter, the Mode dial, and switch that raises the pop-up flash. In addition to the standard P, Av, Tv, and M settings you get a full Auto option, a Custom setting (which saves preferred settings), Scene modes, and Hybrid Auto. Scene Modes give you access to numerous artistic filters—similar to what Canon used to put in its Creative Shot setting, which is absent from the G9 X Mark II. Hybrid Auto captures both an image and a short video clip. Clips and stills shot on the same day are automatically cut together in what Canon calls a Movie Digest, suitable for sharing on social networks.
There are four rear buttons—Info, Menu, Q/Set, and Record. They run in a single column, under the rear thumb rest and to the right of the LCD. Q is the only one that isn’t self-evident in function. It launches an on-screen menu with options to adjust focus, drive, image quality, flash, white balance, metering, and focus range settings, as well as an option to control the in-lens neutral density filter. The ND filter cuts the amount of light passing through the lens, so you shoot stills and video at wide apertures under very bright conditions, or narrow the aperture to shoot longer exposures in daylight hours. You can control it manually, or let the G9 X enable or disable it automatically.
The remainder of the rear is dominated by the 3-inch touch LCD. It’s very sharp, 1,040k dots, and bright. As you’d expect from a premium model, it’s just as responsive as a premium smartphone—you can tap to set a focus point, swipe through images in playback mode, and pinch or double tap to zoom in on details. The camera is a bit too slim to support a tilting display—the next model up in the Canon line, the G7 X Mark II, is a better choice if you want an articulating display.
There’s built-in Wi-Fi, a must for a modern camera. You can use your Android or iOS device as a wireless remote, or transfer images from the camera to your phone for easy sharing on Facebook or Instagram. To start Wi-Fi press the button on the left side of the G9 X, connect to its network on your phone, and launch the Canon Camera Connect app. NFC is included to make pairing easier for Android owners.
The memory card slot, with support for standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC media, is accessible via the bottom, in the same compartment with the battery. Canon includes a wall charger, but you can also charge the battery in the camera itself. There’s a standard micro USB port for this purpose, as well as micro HDMI to connect to a TV.
Performance and Image Quality
We were a bit unhappy with the responsiveness of the original G9 X, especially when shooting in Raw format. The Mark II is a lot snappier. It starts, focuses, and fires in 1.4 seconds and can lock focus in just 0.05-second. That figure can extend to about 0.2-second if the lens needs to move from its close focus distance to infinity, or vice versa, but in most situations you’ll notice very little lag between pressing the shutter and snapping a photo.
Burst shooting is available at a speedy 8.1fps. It can keep that pace for 21 Raw+JPG, 23 Raw, or 39 JPG shots. It’s an ample capture rate for a pocketable camera, and even if you fill up the buffer, you’ll only have to wait about 7 seconds for all of the images to write to memory, assuming you are using a decent SD card like the 95MBps SanDisk we used to test the camera’s speed.
See How We Test Digital Cameras
I used Imatest to check the quality of the G9’s lens. At 28mm f/2 it scores a strong 2,400 lines per picture height on a center-weighted sharpness test, much better than the 1,800 lines we want to see at a bare minimum. Most of the frame is crisp, though the very outer edges are just barely, notching 1,793 lines. Stopping down to f/2.8 bumps edge quality to 1,979 lines, and raises the average score to 2,445 lines.
You don’t get any benefit to shooting at narrower f-stops, other than a large depth of field when focusing close. At f/4 the lens scores 2,368 lines, and it’s still strong at f/5.6 (2,330 lines) and f/8 (2,302 lines). At the minimum f/11 setting the resolution drops to 1,944 lines.
Zooming to the 50mm position reduces the maximum aperture by two stops to f/4. There’s no hit in image quality; the camera manages 2,330 lines, with strong performance right up to the edge of the frame (2,148 lines). You get a modest advantage by stopping down—2,341 lines at f/5.6 and 2,471 lines at f/8—before losing a little bit of clarity at f/11 (2,239 lines).
At 84mm the lens maxes out at f/4.9, and image quality remains strong, 2,519 lines, with edges that approach 2,400 lines. There’s a modest bump in resolution at f/5.6 (2,679 lines) and f/8 (2,718 lines), before the expected drop at f/11 (2,381 lines). This is the only setting at which we see any barrel distortion, about 1.2 percent. It’s a modest amount, just outside our 1 percent threshold. The lens itself is likely creating a lot more, but compact cameras typically apply corrections to images, even Raw files, which are transparent to the photographer.
One of the big advantages of a 1-inch sensor camera over a typical compact or smartphone is low-light performance. The G9 X Mark II boasts a 20MP chip with a BSI design, which gives it a further edge at the high ISO settings the camera will use in dim lighting.
When shooting JPGs it controls noise, curbing it to 1.5 percent through ISO 3200, but a close look at shots from our ISO test scene shows that image quality does take a step back when pushing the camera this far. You’ll get crisper details and less noise if you keep it to ISO 1600 or lower, and the best results at ISO 400 or less. Shooting at the wide end of the range and at f/2 will go a long way to keep the ISO low when shooting under typical indoor lighting.
If you’re a more advanced photographer you may want to enable Raw capture. Like most 1-inch cameras, Raw images take a bit of sharpening work to match JPG shots in crispness; we don’t apply any additional sharpening to the images in our lab test images, however. Raw shots show a good amount of detail, without too much grainy noise, through ISO 3200. Pushing to ISO 6400 does increase the grain, but still nets good results. The top setting, ISO 12800, is very noisy, wiping away details in our ISO test scene.
The G9 X Mark II doesn’t record video in 4K resolution, but it does deliver pretty good 1080p footage at 24 or 30fps, and 720p or 480p video at 30fps. Details are clear, you can tap on the frame to set a focus point or let the G9 focus on its own, and audio is strong when you consider the camera only has a small built-in microphone. Action shooters will be turned off by the lack of 60fps support, but generally speaking the video is quite good.
There is some stiff competition in this space. You can get the older Sony RX100 II for about the same price and enjoy a longer zoom range, but you won’t get a touch screen. The next model up in Canon’s line, the G7 X Mark II, is more expensive, but features an articulating touch LCD and a brighter, longer zoom lens, and is the camera I recommend to casual photographers who want a high-quality compact and don’t mind spending some money to get it. Our Editors’ Choice, the Sony RX100 III, includes a pop-up electronic viewfinder, and an impeccable lens, two features that make it a favorite among photography enthusiasts.
All of these models have something in common with the G9 X Mark II—the same image sensor. Coupled with a good lens, it delivers strong strong, sharp images, even in challenging light, and slides into your pocket with ease. The performance issues that held the original model back have been remedied by a more powerful image processor, which allows the Mark II to rattle off shots at 8.1fps. And a big touch LCD means that photographers who are used to a smartphone will feel right at home. You can spend more on a similar camera with a lens that is brighter throughout its range and with a slightly longer and wider zoom capability, but for casual snappers who don’t want to spend $700 or more, the G9 X Mark II is a solid performer.