Shooting with the Canon Powershot G3 X

February 22, 2016

Recently, I had the chance to try out the PowerShot G3 X. It’s a real gem of a camera, and yet most people don’t seem to know about it. The G3 X is a point and shoot model – compact enough to toss in a bag, yet delivers excellent image quality. The feature that impresses me the most is a lens that zooms from 24mm to 600mm. Wow! Canon asked me some questions about working with it, so let’s get started.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT. Photographed at f/11, 1/6 second, ISO 125 at 24 mm. I used f/11 to be sure to get a starburst effect with the sun, which occurs at small apertures.

Who would you recommend to use the G3 X?

This camera is for people who are looking for specific features: superior image quality, simplicity, versatility and compactness. The 1-inch, 20.2 Megapixel High-Sensitivity Sensor provides outstanding image quality. The non-interchangeable lens makes it simple to use. Having the versatility of a 24mm to 600mm 25x optical zoom provides incredible range. This is a key feature of the camera. Plus the G3 X is compact, lightweight and not as bulky or heavy as a DSLR. While it is a bit larger than some point and shoot cameras, it’s still small considering the zoom focal length available.

Many times on my photo safari tours, a participant will have a traveling companion who doesn’t want to carry a DLSR. I have recommended a Canon point and shoot camera to them and they have all been very pleased with their photographs. Now I will recommend the G3 X. It is a good choice for photographing at the zoo, on safari, city walkabouts, hiking or traveling.

Left: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT. Photographed at f/8, 1/60 second, ISO 125 at 93 mm.
Right: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT. Photographed at f/8, 1/30 second, ISO 125 at 101 mm.

What made you consider the G3 X initially?

I already have the G1 X and use that for traveling or snorkeling. It has a slightly larger 1.5-inch, 12.8 Megapixel High-Sensitivity CMOS Sensor which can help in low light or high ISO situation. If image quality is your main concern and you still want a compact body, then I would recommend the G1 X Mark II. The lens is a fast 5x optical zoom with a range from 24mm to 120mm. However, if you want the versatility of a 25x zoom lens that ranges from 24mm to 600mm lens, then the G3 X is the ideal camera. Having the zoom lens in a compact package caught my eye and why I use it for traveling, family photographs or a day hike. I also plan to take it as a backup when going on safari in Africa, for other wildlife or landscapes in case something happens to my long lens.

Can the G3 X handle photographing the stars and night sky?

Yes. I love shooting the stars and I am quite impressed that a point and shoot camera can take good photographs of the stars, night sky and the low light of twilight. Twilight is the time after the sun has set or before it rises, but still with some light in the sky.

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA. Photographed at twilight, well after the sunset to get the beautiful blue light. F/7.1, 1.6 seconds, ISO 125 at 24 mm.

The star mode is a fun feature that will automatically set the camera to the appropriate settings and achieve the proper focus. For star trails, I recommend using the star mode because as far as I can tell in manual mode, the noise reduction comes on and it would cause gaps in the star trails.

When using star mode for stars as points of light, the images look good. However, using the RAW file format offers better image quality. I used manual mode and the RAW file format. This allows you to process the file without degrading the image and you can choose how much noise reduction you want to apply.

A good manual exposure for shooting stars as points of light with a new moon is f/2.8, 20 seconds, ISO 3200 at 24mm focal length. Since I wanted RAW files, I did not use the star mode setting on this image. I focused manually and set the focus point to the infinity mark ∞. The camera focuses beyond the infinity mark so don’t just turn the lens’ focus past that point. The resulting image is sharp with this method. You can also manually focus by pressing the manual focus button on the side of the lens and use a loupe while viewing the image for better magnification. Manually adjust the focusing ring on the lens and keep turning until you see a star get into proper focus around the infinity mark.

This camera does a great job with the night sky. However, if that is your main focus, check out the Canon G5 X. It offers an f-stop of f/1.8, which allows for more exposure on a night without the moon. Be mindful that you lose the flexibility of the 25x zoom of the G3 X.

Milky Way at Bryce Canyon National Park, UT. Photographed on manual mode at f/2.8, 15 seconds, ISO 3200, 24mm. A better exposure would be at 20 seconds to allow more exposure and I should have done that.
At Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, most of the cars were going north heading to Monterey. We waited and waited because we wanted to get the red taillights for some car trails. Finally some cars went south! Photographed at f/5.6, 30 seconds, ISO 125 at 24 mm.

What have become your favorite features of the G3 X?

My favorite feature is the 25x zoom lens from 24mm to 600mm. That is a really versatile range. This camera is larger than some point and shoot cameras, including other G series camera, but very small given the 600mm optics. If small size is more important and you want a truly ‘pocket sized’ camera with the same sensor, then I would suggest the PowerShot G9 X .

I have been using the G3 X at 24mm wide-angle for landscapes and architecture. The long focal length is great for shots of the moon, zooming into the details of the landscape, getting a view of a scene that is far away to create a unique perspective, or wildlife. When driving through the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, we saw some big horn sheep. I was able to zoom in to get a quick shot before they got away. Not having to change lenses was helpful for fast shooting.

A young big horn sheep in Badlands National Park, SD. Photographed at f/5.6, 1/640 second, ISO 200 at 240 mm. Since I was hand holding the camera, I turned on the Image Stabilization to help reduce camera shake. The various image stabilization modes are very helpful and do a good job.

Other useful features include: creative filters, image effects such as High Dynamic Range, or making the image look like you shot it with a tilt-shift lens. The Wi-Fi feature allows you to wirelessly connect the camera to another device. You can then transfer images from the camera to a Smartphone, tablet, computer, another camera or a printer. You can even post your images to social networking and media sites – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Google Drive – through CANON iMAGE GATEWAY directly from the G3 X. We did this just after taking a group shot at one of our photo walks.

ND Filter: Another one of my favorite features is the built-in Neutral Density or ND filter. ND filters are grey in color and go over the lens. For this camera, the filter is built-in. You use the ND filter setting in the camera instead of using a traditional filter. The ND filter will reduce the amount of light getting to the sensor, allowing for a slower shutter speed. This creates interesting effects in moving water, such as making ocean waves look misty or river currents look wispy.

To get even slower shutter speeds, you can use an actual ND lens filter or polarizing filter in addition to the built-in ND filter. All of these will help reduce the light for even more wispy water effects.

Notice this example of a waterfall without the ND filter. The water is choppy due to a faster shutter speed. With the ND filter on, the water is smooth and silky because of the slower shutter speed. The filter reduces the exposure by three stops. When using a slow shutter speed, the camera needs to be stabilized on a tripod, grip or solid surface. Use the self-timer feature or a remote shutter to keep the camera steady while taking long exposures.

It is convenient to have this feature built into the camera. To use it, press the Set button, also called the Quick Set menu and use the arrow keys to scroll to the ND filter icon and choose ND ON.

Left: Without ND: A little waterfall at Spearfish Canyon, SD, I did not use an ND filter and the water looks jagged. Photographed at f/6/3, 1/40 second, ISO 125 at 101 mm.
Right: With ND: Here I used the ND filter creating to create a silky water look to the same waterfall. Other than the shutter speed, all settings remained the same. Photographed at f/6.3, .5 second, ISO 125 at 101 mm. Notice the smoother texture of the water.

Another useful feature is the multi-angle viewfinder. Since the DSLR cameras that I typically use don’t have that feature, I have really been enjoying it. It can rotate 180 degrees making it very useful for creating compositions for macro photography, low or high angles or focusing for night photography. The first time I tried focusing at night with the camera, I completely forgot about this feature and had my neck twisted to focus up at a star when I didn’t need to!

Have you used the G3 X for macro photography, and if so what did you think and how did you set it up?

When photographing flowers, I picked a really small flower to see how close I could get. First, I pressed the left arrow button to get the normal or macro icons to come up and then pressed the left arrow again to select the macro function. I handheld the camera while getting closer and closer to the subject until I could not focus any more. I was so surprised with how close I could get: about 2 inches. Then I looked up the specifications and found that the lens focuses as close as 2 inches at wide angle and 1.6 feet (5-50cm) at the telephoto setting. The focusing distance varies as you zoom in. Shooting around  50mm to 100mm worked well by allowing a close focusing distance and a long enough zoom to have less of the of the background included. If you can’t get the subject in good focus, it might be because you’re using too much zoom and are too close to your subject. Try zooming out some and getting closer to the subject instead.

After photographing the flowers, I shot a peacock feather that I got at the farmer’s market. I put it on the coffee table. There was low, soft window light from the overcast day. I didn’t want to raise the ISO for a handheld shot so I put the camera on the tripod. With DSLR cameras, I usually focus manually for very close up subjects. I was surprised how easily the G3 X auto-focuses on the macro setting. It worked great and I did not need to switch to manual focus. After I took the shot, my kitty decided that I must have brought him the feather as a play toy. The feather is now destroyed!

Peacock feather photographed at f/5.6, 1.6 seconds, ISO 125 at 67 mm.

Under what conditions would you use the optional electronic viewfinder?

The first accessory that I ordered for the G3 X was the EVF-DC1 electronic viewfinder. This is so helpful! Viewing an image on the back of the LCD screen is not an easy way for me to make a composition. I am used to creating compositions by looking through the viewfinder. My process for taking a photograph is to look through the viewfinder and walk around to see and create a composition. Then I either take a shot handheld or use a tripod. For landscapes, I almost always put the camera on a tripod.

There is a button on the side of electric viewfinder to press. This allows you to toggle the view between the LCD screen or the viewfinder. By default the electronic viewfinder automatically turns on when you put your eye up to it and turns off the LCD.  I have turned this feature off because sometimes when I am working, my hand covers the sensor, sending the signal to the viewfinder when I don’t want it to. Instead, I press the button to turn the feature on and off as desired.

Whenever the sun is out or there is strong light on the LCD screen, it looks washed out. Using the electronic viewfinder or loupe will let you to view the LCD screen on a sunny day. When creating a composition and the screen is hard to see, using the optional electronic viewfinder will make it easier. This is my “must have” accessory. If I could only get one, this is it!

Yosemite National Park, Tunnel View. Photographed at f/6.3, 14 second, ISO 125 at 24 mm.

Are there other accessories for the G3 X you would use?

Another accessory I use is the lens hood. The lens hood will protect the lens from getting scratched, helps prevent light from hitting the front element of the lens and aids in keeping dust and mist off the lens.

Other important accessories are the filter adapter ring and a polarizer. I didn't have those accessories when photographing with the G3 X, so I used my regular polarizer and held it in front of the lens. That seemed to work fine and you can do that if you already have a polarizer in a larger size. I will use the filter holder and polarizer from now on to make it easier, while keeping my hands free to shoot. Using a polarizer takes images from dull to vibrant whenever there are reflections from foliage or water. It makes your images look professional. I highly recommend using a polarizer for outdoor photography.

Yosemite National Park, CA. I used a polarizer here to help reduce reflections on the rock face, the foliage and the water but I didn’t use the polarizer at full strength because it would completely polarize out the reflection of El Capitan. I turned the polarizer until it looked great. Photographed at f/8, 1/6 second, ISO 125 at 30 mm.

My friends and I were photographing in fog that was so thick that it felt like it was raining from the water falling from the trees. I didn’t have a rain cover for the little G3 X but was happy I was wearing a rain jacket. I thought I would just keep shooting until the camera gave out but it kept working even in the damp environment. I would wipe it off now and again with a pack towel but it got pretty wet during the shoot. The camera’s weather sealing held up well in the light rain.

Mount Tamalpais State Park, CA. Photographed at f 5.6, 1/5 second, ISO 125, 24 mm. I loved watching the fog as it rolled in through the trees.

How extensively have you edited the files or worked with them in post?

I took these photographs in RAW format and not JPEG in order to have the best quality file to work with when processing. I did take some images in both RAW and JPEG formats to compare the results. If you don’t want to process your images, the JPEG files still look really good with a nice amount of contrast.

The RAW files held up extremely well and did great with some adjustments. I did basic adjustments I normally do including contrast, exposure and white balance and chromatic aberration. For this camera, I applied some noise reduction to all images. I printed a 13x20 sized landscape image for a friend. She was there with me when I was photographing the trees. I would print to size 16x24 or larger with the 20.2 megapixels. I was very pleased with the results of the printing. At the size I printed it at, I am not sure anyone could tell it was shot with a point and shoot versus a DSLR.

Overall, I had a fantastic time photographing with this camera. There are lots of choices for point and shoot cameras and it’s all about finding the right camera for you. What is the most important feature for you? Is it a wide aperture for shooting stars, a compact body or a long focal length lens? If you are looking for a high-end point and shoot camera that’s easy to use, has high image quality and a long telephoto zoom, then this is your camera!

Check out some of my tips for shooting with the G3 X on the next page.

Mount Tamalpais State Park, CA. Photographed at f 8, 1/50 second, ISO 125, 124 mm.
Jen Wu’s Advanced Shooting Tips for the G3 X

I am used to shooting with a DSLR full frame camera and the first thing I do with a point and shoot camera is see how I can make it work like a DSLR. Here some ways I used the G3 X to help make photographing easy!

My photographic process:

Unlike a camera with an optical viewfinder, the electronic viewfinder in the G3 X shows you the simulated exposure of the scene.  If the scene is over or under exposed, you will not see it properly and need to correct the exposure to see the image on manual mode. Automatic modes will correct the exposure. In manual mode, correct the exposure and check the histogram. Then create a composition through the viewfinder.

Better Color: Using auto white balance is good but if the color doesn’t look quite right, I recommend switching to one of the preset white balance settings such as shady or cloudy when in twilight or dim light. For sunrise or sunset, I suggest the sunny white balance setting. Press the Set/Quick Set Menu button to access the white balance settings.

Precise Focus: Next, set the focus by moving the focusing point either on the touch screen by dragging the focusing box to the subject or by using the arrow keys to move the focusing box to the subject. After focusing by pressing the shutter button or back focus button, use the self-timer or the remote release to take the image. Doing this reduces camera shake and makes for a sharper image. If using the self-timer, set it to the 2-second delay instead of 10 seconds for less wait time. Press the Set/Quick Set Menu button to access the self-timer.

Charged Battery: Like I do with all cameras, I got an extra battery. The camera plate doesn’t sit in the center of the camera and is off centered covering the battery door and media card slot. To change the battery or the SD card, I had to take off my camera tripod plate that attaches to the tripod ballhead. I suggest a fully charged battery and plenty of space on a media card if you are in a situation where you want to be shooting on a tripod without having to take the time to remove the plate.

Camera and Lens Settings:

Lens Range: The wide-angle at 24mm is a little soft on the corners and edges but that is common on wide-angle lenses. That doesn’t stop me from using it at 24 mm. When viewing the telephoto images from 50mm to 600mm, I was so impressed by the excellent sharpness and detail, even in very far away subjects. I like to use the zoom lens in this range.

Aperture Setting: Another thing to consider is the f/stop choice. The optical resolution of any lens is affected by diffraction. This is when light diffracts, or disperses, when going through a small opening such as through the small aperture of f/11, causing lack of sharpness.

The aperture on the G3 X is f/2.8 to f/11 and the minimum f/stop varies according to the focal length of the lens. I found it to be sharp for most all f/stops but like all lenses, I would not recommend it completely stopped down. For this lens, that is f/11 and I would recommend an aperture from f/2.8 to f/8 to get sharp images. Using wider aperture such as f/5.6 or less will allow for optimal sharpness and resolution.

Badlands National Park, SD. Photographed at f 5.6, 1/80 second, ISO 125, 92 mm.

Back Button Focusing

I recommend using “back button focusing”. This allows you to focus the lens with a button on the back of the camera instead of the shutter button. When using this, the shutter button no longer engages autofocus. You can now lock focus on a subject and recompose without the lens refocusing when you press the shutter button. This works well for all types of photography.

Normally to lock focus, you need to manually focus or press the shutter half and hold when recomposing with the subject to an off center composition. You no longer need to do this.

To use this setup, press the menu button. From the red camera menu tab #2, select “Function Assignment.” If you are used to a more modern Canon DSLR, you will know this menu as “Custom Controls.” I chose to use the S button, but you can use other buttons on the back of the camera too. By default there is no assigned function to the S button making it a good choice. From the Menu Function Assignment choose AFL – Auto Focus Lock. The shutter button will still work like normal when AFL is not used. However, you can now lock focus with the S button and subsequently disable autofocus on the shutter button for the next shot.

To use back button focusing, press the S (shortcut) button to focus and wait until you get a green box to indicate it is in good focus. Now the focusing on the shutter button is disabled and the focus locked until you either take the photograph or press the S button again. Take the photograph with the shutter button or remote release. You will hear a beep when you press this but it is not focusing.

Unlike a DSLR, the shutter button will retain autofocus until you press the back focus button to lock focus. If you don’t press the back focus button, you can still use the shutter button to focus.  

I hope you have fun photographing with the G3 X and find these tips helpful!

Check out more images I shot with the G3 X here: http://www.jenniferwu.com/Nature/Gallery/Canon-G3-X-Image-Gallery/n-W5gRGP

Happy Shooting,
Jennifer

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