Starting the GF700 up from scratch, the camera takes a fraction over four seconds to switch itself on and be ready to shoot, which is fairly standard. Autofocus is limited to a choice of Face Detection, Centre or Wide Centre modes – there are no AF points dotted elsewhere around the screen towards the edges or corners, so you’ll need to employ the focus-recompose technique if you want to set an alternative point of focus away from the centre of the frame.
Autofocus speed is plenty fast enough outdoors in good light, but does take a pretty big hit indoors under less than ideal artificial light, or outdoors in twilight conditions or at night. An orange-tinted AF Assist light is built into the front of the camera body, and this can help out in dim conditions although its range is limited to a few feet at best.
Continuous shooting clocks in at a maximum 10fps at 16MP up to a maximum of 10 consecutive images, which isn’t bad at all. Lowering the resolution down to 8MP or 5MP doesn’t improve on this though with 10fps for 10 consecutive images remaining the fastest the GH700 will go.
Processing times are a bit on the slow side; when the GJH700 is set to Single-shot mode it takes around two seconds for the camera to process images, while in Continuous mode 10 full resolution JPEGs take just under ten seconds to process. In both Single-shot and Continuous modes you are unable to shoot any more images while the buffer is clearing.
Image quality holds up pretty well on the whole, just so long as you’re aware of the camera’s limitations in advance. While the 1/2.3in Sony-made CMOS chip is perfectly capable of producing punchy images with vibrant colour in good, even light, it struggles with high-contrast scenes and when the camera is used at higher sensitivities.
Metering tends to be fairly accurate, at least in even lighting situations, although in high-contrast situations that extend beyond the GH700’s limited dynamic range the camera almost universally tends to expose for shadows at the expense of blown highlight detail. There is an HDR option you can call upon should you wish and while the results are just about acceptable they don’t look particularly natural.
There are also some issues with fine detail, which can appear smudged or “painted on” when images are viewed at larger sizes. This is partly a result of the aforementioned JPEG compression but also (at high ISO settings at least) some fairly aggressive in-camera noise reduction. To be fair to BenQ though, this is a fairly common problem with compact cameras that use small sensors and is certainly not unique to the GH700.
Much more damning than any of the issues highlighted above was the performance of the zoom. We found the lens to be especially soft when used at its telephoto extremes despite the camera’s built-in Optical image Stabilisation (OIS). In fact, we struggled to get any sharp images of distant objects – even when using a tripod and the self-timer, and with the OIS function switched alternatively on and off. In addition, we also found the lens produced noticeable vignetting and quite visible barrel distortion at 28mm.
The BenQ GH700 is a budget 21x superzoom that comes with a Sony-made 16.2MP backlit CMOS sensor and Full HD movie recording. Despite these impressive headline specs, other features are a bit limited and it does feel and operate like a budget camera. Image quality holds up pretty well so long as the light is plentiful and even, although beyond this the GH700 can struggle. The biggest letdown, however, is the poor performance of the lens at its telephoto extreme – at 525mm we struggled to get a sharp image of objects in the distance, which kind of undermines the point of having such a long focal range in the first place.