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Technical

The story behind the PowerShot G5 X, by the men who made it

The story behind the PowerShot G5 X, by the men who made it

December 2015

The launch of the PowerShot G5 X – with its electronic viewfinder (EVF) plus classic DSLR handling in a compact body – was a significant moment for Canon. In an in-depth interview, CPN discovers the technical challenges faced by the PowerShot development team (below) – Takashi Yoshida, Ryuji Fukute, Kenji Ito, Koki Kitaya, Atsushi Fujita and Yoshikazu Sakagami from the Image Communication Products Operations Department and Yoshihiro Miyazawa from the Design Centre. Together they discuss the technical and design challenges they faced when turning concept into reality...

Members of the PowerShot G5 X development team. From L-R: Takashi Yoshida (Mechanism), Ryuji Fukute (Electronics), Yoshihiro Miyazawa (Design), Kenji Ito (Design Chief), Koki Kitaya (User Interface), Atsushi Fujita (Image Quality) and Yoshikazu Sakagami (Product Planning).

This is the first time a built-in electronic viewfinder has been included in the premium line. What points did you place emphasis on?

KENJI ITO: As the first G-series camera with a built-in electronic viewfinder, we worked hard to make sure that viewfinder clarity and ease-of-use was equal to or better than the EOS 600D, whilst also maintaining a compact size. First of all, a significant effort was put into the optics, not only from a wide angle-of-view, but also making it possible to see clearly right up to the edges. It was also important to ensure that even if your eyes move away from a head-on position, the image could still be seen clearly and accurately.

YOSHIKAZU SAKAGAMI: Installing the electronic viewfinder directly above the lens at the centre of the body was one more point we were very concerned about. I think that this is the natural location for a viewfinder anyway and it was designed so people who normally use SLR cameras can use it without any discomfort. The eye point is quite wide at 22mm, making it possible to see the image even when the eye is some distance away from the viewfinder. There is less chance of your nose touching the camera, for instance, so people who wear glasses will be able to use the viewfinder more comfortably.

KENJI ITO: Another point with this viewfinder is that it is an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) type.

RYUJI FUKUTE: That's right. This time, OLED is used. As an OLED has a higher contrast compared to an LCD, the 2.36 million dot high-resolution screen is breathtakingly beautiful, with excellent responsiveness, plus time lag is suppressed.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) in the PowerShot G5 X offers a near-optical experience.

YOSHIKAZU SAKAGAMI: Compared to an optical viewfinder, it's true that the weak point of an electronic viewfinder is time lag.

RYUJI FUKUTE: Yes, that is correct. Due to this, a 120fps high-speed display mode is included on the G5 X. We worked hard to develop a viewfinder that had as little time lag as possible and I believe that you will really see this quality when you look through it. Visibility is fantastic; there is virtually no time lag at all.

TAKASHI YOSHIDA: I also took a look through it and it certainly has a different impression from electronic viewfinders up until now. I felt that it was extremely beautiful.

YOSHIHIRO MIYAZAWA: As the electronic viewfinder plays a significant role in the appearance of this camera, a lot of thought went into its styling. Firstly, I did not want to give the impression it was simply sitting on top of the body, so by matching the material with the lens parts and lowering the end of the electronic viewfinder behind the end of the lens barrel, it creates a feeling of integration. Also, the flash is included in the front portion of the electronic viewfinder. By eliminating this dead space and making it as small as possible, I believe that the end result is a really nice shape.

Are there any aspects that resemble the EOS optical viewfinder?

KOKI KITAYA: Yes, it was designed in such a way that even people who usually shoot using the viewfinder on EOS DSLR cameras will not experience any discomfort. For example, in Live View, it is possible to concentrate on composition without the shooting information overlapping.

KENJI ITO: On the other hand, with the electronic viewfinder there is scope for things that are not possible with an optical viewfinder.

KOKI KITAYA: That’s true. When holding the camera in the vertical position, for example, display information such as icons automatically switch vertically. So being able to quickly grasp the information, even when in a vertical position, is an appeal point unique to this electronic viewfinder. Additionally, displaying an overlaid histogram while shooting and being able to look through the viewfinder when making movies is also possible only with an electronic viewfinder.

ATSUSHI FUJITA: When shooting movies, it’s great that the MF peaking function works even when using the viewfinder too. As it is possible to shoot movies on the G5 X while manually focusing, you can enjoy reliable focus confirmation while shooting creatively.

In addition to focus peaking, a magnified display during manual focus is also possible when shooting still images; the way images are read from the sensor is changed on the G5 X, which improves the display quality of the magnified area. The image quality is so good that it will be obvious right away. The display up until now was 2x or 4x but it’s now capable of 5x and 10x. Because of this I believe that focusing manually has become dramatically easier.

Superb handling and ergonomics were major considerations when developing the PowerShot G5 X.

The dials have a particularly distinctive appearance. Was this a consideration for a more efficient operation?

KENJI ITO: With the G5 X, we placed emphasis on making comfortable operation possible while looking through the viewfinder. As a result, there are a lot of rotating parts compared to other models. We had many discussions about operability.

TAKASHI YOSHIDA: It is true; this is the first model where we discussed operability many times.

KENJI ITO: In particular, we made many different prototypes to study the shape and position of the main front dial.

TAKASHI YOSHIDA: Yes, that’s right. At first we considered a horizontal type like the existing main dial. However, when looking through the viewfinder – as we pursued what we thought was really the easiest shape and position to operate – we began to wonder if the horizontal type was the best. Then, as a result of repeatedly looking at different types, we came upon the vertical type dial with slanted sides incorporated in the shape. By deciding on this shape and position, I believe that it is an extremely easy dial to operate. And, with this position, the body size can be suppressed mechanically. As a result, this contributed to keeping the height similar to the G7 X, which was a major achievement.

KENJI ITO: In addition, there is the operation load for each dial. While thinking about the use for each one, we had many discussions about making this one light, and this one heavy.

TAKASHI YOSHIDA: It was quite difficult, wasn’t it? I acknowledged that the mode dial with the most risk of mistaken operations should be the heaviest. For example, it is troublesome if you have the camera in a bag and the dial gets turned by accident. On the other hand, I wanted to make the exposure compensation dial light enough so that it could be rotated with just one finger. But, it was necessary to make it so it is not easily operated by accident. Of the three dials, the dial that had the most discussion was the main dial. It is divided between people who want it heavy, and people who want it light. However, regarding the main dial, I would like users to use it quickly and comfortably and with the desire that users do not miss photo opportunities; it was designed to be the lightest dial on the G5 X.

How about the control ring?

KENJI ITO: This time the operation sounds have been significantly changed. New mechanisms were incorporated for something softer.

TAKASHI YOSHIDA: In ceremonious scenes such as weddings, for example, turning the ring makes a loud clicking sound and that would not be very appropriate, so we wanted to achieve sophisticated sounds and high quality sensations in keeping with the G-series.

YOSHIHIRO MIYAZAWA: As an example, the sensation is something like the sound that the rotating bezel of a high quality watch makes.

TAKASHI YOSHIDA: That might be going a bit far, but it really is high quality.

YOSHIKAZU SAKAGAMI: A ring that operates smoothly was an option, but there is something about a nice ‘click’ feeling, and it means you can confirm by sensation that the desired setting value is locked into place. It was my goal that users would be able to sense the change in values with their fingers as well as their ears, so, by retaining the clicking sensation, the result is a relaxing sophisticated sound. So, by retaining that, the result is relaxingly sophisticated.

YOSHIKAZU SAKAGAMI: For the design as well, we made repeated adjustments to achieve comfortable operations. No matter what, it was necessary to position all these buttons and dials on this small body so it would be easy to use. With the grip shape for example, we made repeated detailed adjustments. In order to establish both a good grip and feel plus easy to turn dials, minute adjustments were made where the ridge of the grip comes into contact. The thumb grip is positioned on a slant, ensuring that the exposure compensation dial is easy to turn. And, as it is on a slant, the base of your thumb is raised up. This prevents mistakenly operating the buttons located on the back surface.

KOKI KITAYA: There really is quite an abundance of dials and buttons. And by customising the material of the controls, even greater freedom was attained. For example, when registering the AE lock function, by registering thumb AF to the AE lock button, and registering AF operations (One-shot / Servo AF) to the movie button, it is possible to position AF related operations around the thumb, and you can enjoy shooting with pre-focus.

Image quality is at the heart of Canon performance, and the bright f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens on the PowerShot G5 X is made to exacting standards.

What is image quality like on the G5 X?

YOSHIKAZU SAKAGAMI: On the G5 X, basically we followed the f/1.8 (W) – f/2.8 (T) 24-100mm* 4.2x lens, 1.0-type sensor, and DIGIC 6 processor that were highly rated on the PowerShot G7 X, thus achieving high image quality appropriate to the G-series.

ATSUSHI FUJITA: That's right. We took special care in order to draw out the good points of a device with a 1.0-type sensor and lens with a bright f-value. The same as the G7 X, design and tuning were carried out with consideration for a total balance from wide-angle to telephoto, and from the periphery to the centre, making it possible to achieve a higher level of performance. It also handles high ISO speeds well and background blurring is also very beautiful, so I think that this size in combination with the electronic viewfinder makes it a really easy to use.

* 35mm film equivalent

A vari-angle LCD on the PowerShot G5 X increases the camera’s versatility and offers new creative flexibility for composition.

Why was a vari-angle LCD instead of a tilt type included?

YOSHIKAZU SAKAGAMI: One reason we thought of is because if you can turn the LCD around and close it, when shooting with the viewfinder it makes it possible to concentrate more. This will lessen the risk of it being carelessly bumped, scuffed, or scratched when carrying the camera. Additionally, the vari-angle has the advantage of supporting shooting from a variety of angles. In scenes where it is difficult to shoot while looking through the viewfinder, by using the vari-angle LCD, I think you will be able to enjoy shooting with a high level of freedom in a wider variety of scenes.

KENJI ITO: Essentially, a tilt type would have made it easier to make the body size thinner and not as wide. No matter what, with the vari-angle there is more volume. This gave the people in charge of the mechanism a hard time.

TAKASHI YOSHIDA: Yes, that’s right. A plan for downsizing we had in the works for quite a while was applied here. In fact, there was talk of reusing the LCD from the G1 X, but talking with Mr. Miyazawa, he said that he felt the overall balance would be off. Mr. Miyazawa also designed cameras such as the EOS 5D Mark II, and with clear points of emphasis and consideration for the total balance, he really makes it look good, so he worked hard on this camera too.

YOSHIHIRO MIYAZAWA: Thanks a lot. As you made the mechanism quite a bit thinner and narrower, by shaving off as much as possible from the exterior, I pursued a design that looks slim.

TAKASHI YOSHIDA: I was able to make the outside frame quite a bit thinner, and as it is a touch panel, I think it has somewhat of a high quality LCD feel like a smartphone.

YOSHIKAZU SAKAGAMI: By going with the vari-angle, this also responds to the need for shooting selfies. In order to make shooting selfies even more fun, the selfie mode on the PowerShot N2 was included. This time we included a new feature for controlling the aperture as well. By utilizing a 1.0-type sensor, it is possible to blur the background optically rather than with digital processing.

KOKI KITAYA: Operation is really not difficult at all. It was designed so you can make adjustments by moving the bar on the touch panel. Also, when in selfie mode, as we included a feature that automatically displays the UI vertically when shooting in the vertical position, making shooting selfies easy. In addition, you can also adjust the brightness and smooth skin.

ATSUSHI FUJITA: Up until now smooth skin only had three levels, but it was expanded to five levels this time. You can choose effects that suit your taste even better.

YOSHIKAZU SAKAGAMI: Yes, you’re right. With the G5 X, I think you will be able to enjoy shooting the kind of selfies unique to a premium model.

POWERSHOT G5 X – KEY FEATURES

  • Large, 1.0-type BSI CMOS sensor with 20.2MP
  • DIGIC 6 processor
  • Bright (f/1.8-2.8) 4.2x zoom lens with 9-blade aperture
  • Large (0.39-type), high-resolution (2,360K dots) in-built sRGB OLED EVF
  • Vari-angle 7.5cm (3.0") 3:2 sRGB touchscreen LCD (1,040K dots)
  • Refined and sculpted grip with ergonomically placed controls
  • High quality 35 Mbps Full HD 60p movies in MP4 format
  • Intelligent IS for sharp shots; Advanced 5-axis Dynamic IS
  • Focusing assist with Manual Focus Peaking
  • Touch AF allows effortless transition focus between subjects
  • WiFi connection with NFC support (Dynamic)
  • Remote shooting with manual control via Camera Connect app
  • USB Charging
  • ECO mode