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Technical

Joel Santos on the PowerShot G7 X:<br class="br_visual"/> a pocket-sized powerhouse

Joel Santos on the PowerShot G7 X:
a pocket-sized powerhouse

© Joel Santos

October 2014

When award-winning Portuguese photographer Joel Santos was asked to try out Canon’s latest professional-level compact camera, he didn’t expect to be doing it down a disused mine in Wales. But, as he tells CPN writer Mark Alexander, the new Canon Powershot G7 X proved to be full of surprises...

In a world where first impressions count, appearances can be deceptive. Nowhere is this idea brought to life more than in photography. Indeed, while the job of shooting a glamorous travel location or composing a breath-taking landscape can rely on its own editorial objectivity, the hardware that captures these scenes is often the most deceptive element of all.

The Canon G-series of compacts, for example, has always punched above its weight. Subtle and compact, these diminutive cameras have delivered results far beyond the sum of their parts. Used by photographers to capture candid portraits or unintrusive travel shots, the divide between looks and performance couldn’t be more profound.

The latest camera in the range is no different. The Powershot G7 X has a sleek design that defers attention from what lies beneath. The classic look caught the eye of award-winning photographer Joel Santos who was one of the first Canon Explorers to get his hands on the new compact with its unassuming design.

The Canon PowerShot G7 X includes a fast 4.2x f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens, a large 1.0-type sensor, super-quick 31-point AF and manual exposure control for both stills and movie shooting.

Smaller than any other G-series camera

Like many, Joel’s first instinct was to question the camera’s ability to cut it in the professional world. He reveals: “When they showed me the camera, it was so small I started to wonder if it would be possible to take good images with it. It is smaller than any other G-series camera and I seriously started to doubt it.”

Measuring just 103mm wide, 60mm high and 40mm deep, you can perhaps understand his initial misgivings about the camera but the Powershot G7 X is a pocket-sized powerhouse with all the hallmarks of a handy point-and-shoot model. But don’t let its discreet metal exterior fool you. With an f/1.8-2.8 24-100mm 4.2x zoom lens and 20.2 Megapixel 1.0-type CMOS sensor, the Powershot G7 X packs a heavyweight punch that’s aimed squarely at the needs of professional photographers.

Joel was given a pre-production model to put through its paces during the summer. “I was invited to test the first prototype of the G7 X. I had used G-series cameras before, including the G16, G1X and the G1 X Mark II, but most of the time I use SLRs,” Joel explains. “Sometimes when I go out without my SLR, I feel guilty because I don’t have a camera with me. With the G-series cameras you feel confident you’ll be able to get something because, firstly, they are portable and, secondly, the image quality is excellent.”

To make the test run of the new model more interesting, Joel was briefed to go beneath ground to capture the thrills and spills of the world’s largest subterranean trampoline centre which has been opened under the historic mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog in North-West Wales. With no natural light to speak of, this challenging shoot would stretch the capabilities of most professional cameras, never mind one you could slip in your pocket.

© Joel Santos

A portrait with shallow depth-of-field shot in a former slate mine, which is now the world’s largest subterranean trampoline centre, under the historic mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales. Taken on a Canon PowerShot G7 X without flash; the exposure was 1/20sec at f/2.8, ISO 1600.

A really fast lens

In the darkness of the slate quarry caverns, the challenge was to freeze the action and shoot evocative portraits with smooth bokeh blurs. Much to his surprise, Joel says the shoot was relatively straightforward. “When you have a small camera in your hands, you can get a bit worried but the G7 X really performed. Because you’re using a really fast lens, the autofocus locks on easily. I also tried the full ISO range just to check the image quality. I went up to 1600 when I wanted to freeze motion, but I could also take photos at ISO 200 because the camera’s fast lens made it easy to gather light – even in a cave. I could easily handhold shots at 1/6th of a second. It performed really well, which genuinely surprised me.”

The G7 X’s fast f/1.8-2.8 24-100mm lens allows photographers to choose lower ISO settings in difficult lighting conditions and still take sharp, high-quality images at full zoom with limited noise. Add to that the camera’s enhanced Image Stabilizer (IS) which compensates over five axes, and can be tailored through eight settings, and you can understand the logic of arranging the camera’s first outing in the darkest recesses of a Welsh cave.

“Normally compact cameras don’t react well in certain situations but even inside the cave, where it would have been be easy for a smaller camera to struggle, I had no problems either using the touch screen or focusing manually,” says Joel. “The camera is a combination of excellent glass, a good processor and the 1.0-type CMOS sensor, and it is really easy to use.”

As well as the lightning quick 31-point autofocus system, the PowerShot G7 X has a customisable step control ring on the lens that can be assigned to control the zoom, aperture or shutter speeds for DSLR-style control over settings. A dedicated exposure compensation dial, customisable menus and two user-definable shortcut buttons add to the SLR feel and level of control of the camera.

Simple adjustment of exposure settings

“Depending on your shooting style or the situation you are in, you can use the function ring to adjust mainly the exposure controls. It really makes it easy to adjust settings ‘on-the-fly’,” Joel explains. “You could have 20 different buttons for 20 different settings, but this is a compact camera. For the settings that really matter, you assign them to the control ring which makes life a lot simpler.”

The advanced functionality of this new compact camera means photography can be as complex or as straightforward as you like. For instance, a built-in ND filter can reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor, thereby enabling longer exposures or allowing wider apertures. In landscape photography especially, this is an invaluable and, in the case of the PowerShot G7 X, convenient tool.

“It is really useful,” says Joel. “When you shoot early in the morning and even if you are using the lowest ISO setting with the highest f number to lose light, you could still end up with a 1/30th of a second exposure, which is too fast to blur a waterfall. But, with two touches on the menu screen, the ND filter was enabled and I was able to make a blurred water effect in bright conditions. It was quite easy.”

© Joel Santos

Trampoliners pictured jumping in a former slate mine, which is now the world’s largest subterranean trampoline centre, under the historic mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales. Taken on a Canon PowerShot G7 X without flash; the exposure was 1/15sec at f/2.2, ISO 1600.

Freedom for creativity

He continues: “The camera also has an HDR function, which has different modes, although most of the time I go for the natural option. It works well but, since the G7 X shoots RAW files, you can also bracket your shots and blend them together at home. Depending on the type of photography you’re after, you can go for a direct result using the built-in HDR mode, which can be sent to a smartphone and uploaded to Instagram or Facebook or, if you’re aiming for more professional results, go for [exposure] bracketing and play with the RAW files afterwards.”

Like conventional DSLRs, the PowerShot G7 X can be adapted, tweaked and fine-tuned to cope with different photographic demands, even those found in a former slate mine. WiFi, for instance, gave Joel the option to share pictures and videos to social networking sites while the inclusion of NFC technology improves connectivity with mobile devices. In every way, the PowerShot G7 X is a professional photographer’s tool wrapped up in an impressive, pocket-sized body.

“When you start taking images with it, you can tell it is a really good camera,” Joel concludes. “It makes you shoot more than you would normally because it is so easy to use. It’s lightweight and often effortless. You can go for different kinds of shots that you just wouldn’t make with a digital SLR with all its weight and complexity. You feel free to be creative.”

Biography: Joel Santos

Joel Santos

Joel Santos was born in Lisbon, Portugal, and has travelled the world perfecting his insightful style of travel and landscape photography. His work has been featured on more than 30 magazine covers and showcased in numerous exhibitions. He is the author of five books and was the Editor-in-Chief of ‘O Mundo da Fotografia Digital’, Portugal’s best-selling photography magazine, until 2010. He has a string of national and international photographic awards to his name and often passes on his photographic knowledge by leading photography trips and workshops around the world. He joined Canon Europe’s Ambassadors Programme as an Explorer in July 2012.



Showcase

Trampoliners waving torches in a former slate mine, which is now the world’s largest subterranean trampoline centre, under the historic mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales. Taken on a Canon PowerShot G7 X without flash; the exposure was 1/13sec at f/2, ISO 800.