With sales of compact cameras flailing in recent years, manufacturers started to dig through their bags of tricks to up the ante. Sony was first with the RX100, which housed a one-inch sensor and that took off to a roaring success. Other camera makers started to follow suit.
Canon's PowerShot series has always been a mainstay in its compact line-up, providing mid-level to high-end features in a small package. When it launched the PowerShot G9X in 2015, its claim to fame was that it was the smallest camera with a one-inch sensor. Now, the G9X has its successor, the G9X Mark II.
You'd be disappointed if you are expecting major improvements in the new model.
In fact, the G9X Mark II shares a lot of similar features as its predecessor. The 3x zoom lens, which extends from 24mm to 84mm, remains, as well as the three-inch touchscreen at the rear.
In terms of sensor resolution, there is also no change at 20.2 megapixels. Size-wise, the PowerShot is really compact, comparable to a pack of playing cards in both dimensions and weight.
SENSOR: 20.2-megapixel 1-inch sensor
DISPLAY: 3-inch, fixed capacitive touchscreen
SHOOTING SPEED: Up to 8 fps
WEIGHT: 209g (including battery and memory card)
BATTERY LIFE: 3/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
But, under the hood, the G9X Mark II sports a new image-processing engine, the Digic 7. Think of it as a car getting a new engine.
Digic 7 promises faster and more accurate continuous autofocus performance, improved scene and facial recognition and a speedier burst shooting rate.
Other than having Wi-Fi and NFC, the G9X Mark II also sports Bluetooth connectivity. This can be left activated all the time so that it is connected to your smartphone or tablet. I tried this feature and noticed that, as I was shooting, it was sending the photos over to my device almost instantly.
This makes sharing photos on social-media platforms a breeze.
The Canon compact also has the USB charging feature, which makes it really useful since you can charge the camera via a power bank through the microUSB port. Imagine how useful this is when you're on the road and need to charge the camera's battery urgently.
The three-inch touchscreen takes up most of the real estate on the back of the camera. Like the G9X, the new PowerShot has only four buttons on the rear. Menu navigation and selection are all done via the touchscreen. The capacitive touchscreen is responsive and, like with other smart devices, I could pinch to zoom during playback.
With the new Digic 7 processor, photos shot with high ISO are purportedly cleaner with less noise. The G9X Mark II has a native ISO range of 125 to 12,800. Due to the larger sensor, I found that photos taken at ISO up to 800 were very usable, with little trace of noise. At ISO 1,600, noise started creeping in on the darker tones and, at ISO 3,200, I noticed that details started to get smeared. But what I really appreciate was the quality of the noise - it is monochromatic, which is reminiscent of grains when I shot with high ISO films in the past.
Overall, I found the colour reproduction from the G9X Mark II acceptable, with natural-looking hues and well-rendered tones for the majority of shooting situations. White balance was spot-on for most situations as well. But there were occasions when I tried to shoot in an environment with both cool and warm lighting, and skin tone had an unnatural look to it.
Advanced users will like the in-camera RAW conversion feature, which allows me to make adjustments to certain shooting parameters such as exposure, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. Once converted to JPG files, the photos can then be moved to my iPhone for further processing or sharing.
Video-wise, the PowerShot tops out at full HD (1080p), which is OK for me. But, for the more tech-savvy crowd, the lack of 4K video recording may be a bummer.
The battery is rated at 220 shots but, in my test, I managed to shoot just over 400 photos with it before the battery went flat.
• Verdict: At $669, the G9X Mark II is one of the most affordable compact cameras with a one-inch sensor. This is in comparison with the Sony variance, which costs $1,499 but is aimed at enthusiasts. For users like myself who want a fuss-free mid-tier compact with decent image quality, the G9X Mark II should definitely be considered.
• Leonard Goh is a freelance tech writer