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Friday, July 20, 2018

Long Term Review: Canon G7X Mark II

I bought the G7X Mk II as a replacement for the Sony RX100. It was cheaper (a refurbished one with a full warranty cost $450), came with a swivel screen that made selfies easier, and after using high resolution 4K monitors, I discovered that pictures taken with smartphone cameras just aren’t good enough!

One of the problems when touring on a tandem with your young children is major fatigue. I’m not talking about being tired at the end of a long day. That goes without saying. When touring, I like taking pictures while riding. While the absolute quality isn’t the best, I find that there’s a quality you get from cycling photos while riding that you just can’t get when you’re stopped. Plus, when you don’t have to stop, you can more strictly adhere to the adage: “If it looks good, shoot it. If it looks better, shoot it again!” But when you’re working at maximum capacity all the time, your cognitive IQ loses its first digit and your ability to pull out the camera, take a picture, shoot, and put it all in your jersey pocket goes to zero. On a climb, which was previously my favorite time to shoot pictures, I frequently found that it was impossible to shoot at all!

Nevertheless, any doubt that I had that the G7X2 was worth its weight disappeared when we stayed on the Stelvio. The photos produced were superlative, even with the minimal processing I was able to do on the smartphone, and the quality outshines what any smartphone camera I’ve seen do. We even use the selfie flip-screen a lot more often than I would have expected, though frequently the shot would be out of focused, so it's a lot less useful than you might think.

Several weaknesses came to light when using the camera on a bicycle tour. First of all, the mode and exposure compensation dials weren’t stiff enough, and were often tweaked sometimes subtly sometimes not while pulling the camera out of the jersey pocket (most of the time, Lightroom or Photo Mate R3 would make the corrections automatically). Secondly, I’m not at all a fan of using the phone as GPS locator. It would have been one thing if the app was robust enough for a “set it and forget it” setting: I could have simply turned on GPS logging the entire trip and then sync’d the location over the phone every so often. But the app would stop logging every time you sync’d locations, it would stop logging every time you reboot the phone. It’s a real shame that both Sony and Canon opted not to have this feature built directly into their cameras.

Sync’ing the camera wirelessly to the phone enabled downloads of photos directly from the camera into the phone for processing, which saved the weight of carrying dongles for reading the SD card. At random, the photos appeared to be converted from RAW to JPG during the transfer, limiting what processing I could do on the phone, which was already very limited in the first place. I ended up having to do a ton of repeated work at home when in front of the big screen.

I think if I were to design the ideal touring camera, I would basically go for just a fixed 24mm lens, just P,A,T, and M modes with dials that have high stiffness. I would also go for built-in GPS, wireless downloading, and the articulated screen which is great for close/far landscapes and selfies. With that, the camera would be significantly lighter while providing more functionality. But maybe that’s not ambitious enough. My guess is that what I really want is a smart phone with a 1" sensor that shoots RAW and allows for manual control of images rather than the crappy tiny sensors that currently fit in smartphones. Unfortunately, I’m probably the only person in the world who would buy such a device, so I’m not going to hold my breath for such an implementation. Fuji has just announced the XF10, which describes everything I wanted (including an even bigger APS-C sensor) above except for GPS, 24mm lens, GPS, and articulated screen. So close!

Despite the flaws, the Canon G7X MK II is a great camera and worth the weight and price to carry along on a bike tour. Stop shooting with your cell phone camera if you're going to use a 4K monitor. Recommended.

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