Does the Canon G1 X redefine the compact camera market? The What Digital Camera Canon PowerShot G1X review takes a look...
Far from resting on the laurels of the small-medium sized compact sensors, Canon has created something close to the company’s APS-C sensor size, as found in the majority of EOS DSLR cameras.
With such a large sensor beating at the camera’s heart the G1 X is aimed squarely at those seeking the very best image quality. But does it match up to that promise, and how does it perform overall?
Canon PowerShot G1 X review – Key specs
1. Large (18.7x14mm) CMOS sensor
2. 14.3-megapixel resolution
3. 4x optical zoom; 28-112mm equivalent
4. 3in, 921k-dot, vari-angle LCD
5. Real-image zoom optical viewfinder
6. Full manual control
7. Raw files
8. 1080p movie mode
Canon PowerShot G1 X review – Features
The G1 X is all about image quality. The large sensor, when compared to a DSLR’s APS-C sensor, is of a similar size. The new sensor has a 4:3 aspect ratio, which makes it less wide than an APS-C equivalent – and that’s where most of the size difference comes from. The G1 X has the same pixel size and structure as the EOS 600D DSLR, and paired up with the latest DIGIC 5 processing system gives it the potential for better-than-DSLR quality. From a compact. Now that’s not something you’ll hear of every day.
A large sensor requires a lens able to produce a large enough image circle of light to produce bright, sharp shots throughout the frame. In the case of the G1 X the 28-112mm f/2.8-5.8 (equiv.) lens is far bulkier than found in most compact cameras. The lens has been constructed using ultra high refractive index Aspherical elements for the utmost quality and the latest Image Stabilizer technology assists in reducing handshake and keeping shots sharp.
On the rear of the camera is a real-image zoom optical viewfinder with dioptre adjustment, below which is a 3in, 921k-dot LCD screen mounted on a side bracket to provide rotation through any given angle. The screen can also be stowed to face into the camera body for added protection.
Full manual control, 14 bit Raw file capture, 1080p HD movie capture and a variety of Scene, Filter and Custom settings also feature alongside Smart Auto mode.
Canon PowerShot G1 X review – Design
Despite the G1 X’s upscaled sensor the camera body itself isn’t significantly different from the PowerShot G12’s size. Instead it’s the lens that’s far more significant. However, neither camera is what could be described as small – not to cite that as a bad thing, as the full-bodied nature of the G1 X means there’s plenty of room for a rubberised grip, rear thumb rest and variety of controls.
The top of the camera employs two dials – a large exposure compensation dial with a smaller mode dial sat on top. Each dial rotates in its own right, has a textured edge and just the right amount of give to stay in place but not to the point of being too difficult to shift. There’s no ISO sensitivity dial to be found, however, as the inclusion of a pop-up flash – necessary to provide reach beyond the sizeable lens – and a hotshoe fitting occupy most of the layout’s remaining space.
The rear of the camera has a d-pad to control ISO, flash, macro/manual focus and display, surrounded by a rotational wheel to cycle through options. Four rear buttons control focus area, AE lock, metering and Menu access.
On the front side of the camera there’s also a thumbwheel that, when used in conjunction with the rear wheel, makes light work of manual control.
The combination of a metal body and stainless steel chassis ensures the camera is one tough cookie that’ll last for years to come.
The G1 X is a well laid out, functional camera. It may look like a bit of a brute, and is less elegant than the likes of the Fujifilm X10, but Canon’s ongoing experience in the camera industry ensures everything feels right to use.
Our one qualm is the lack of a manual zoom or focus ring on the lens itself. There’s a detachable unit surrounding the lens barrel’s base that, as much as it looks like a focus ring, is rigid. Canon missed a trick here.
Canon PowerShot G1 X review – Performance
For the £699 asking price the G1 X’s performance is good, but not staggering. It’s the lack of progression compared to other compacts that disappoints.
The focusing system, for example, is capable but can hesitate while focus-hunting for a subject. We’re talking fractions of a second here, but for the price the camera ought to be those fractions of a second faster than any of the competition, and even better than similar-priced Compact System Cameras. But it’s not.
There are three main focusing types, each a direct port from the PowerShot S100 model: Face AiAF prioritises focus for faces; Tracking AF locks on to a moving subject from the centre-spot of the screen; and FlexiZone allows a single area AF point to be moved around the majority of the screen (though not quite edge-to-edge). To reposition the focus point a dedicated button on the rear of the camera can be used in conjunction with the d-pad, or when used with the menu button it’s possible to select between small and medium area sizes.
Servo AF (continuous autofocus) can be activated from within the menu and is either set to off or on. Once initial focus is found the Servo AF works efficiently, though won’t be able to keep up with fast moving subjects.
Close-up shooting is another feature that the G1 X lacks. The minimum focus distance at the 28mm wideangle setting is 40cm from lens, reduced to 20cm from lens in the Macro mode. As the focal length increases so does this distance setting, to around 110cm from the lens at the 112mm equivalent zoom.
The G1 X’s 3in, vari-angle screen is great in use, which is more than can be said for the optical viewfinder: To the eye it’s small and the parallax error means what is being framed through the viewfinder is different to what the lens is seeing. The field of view is also significantly cut, as around 77% of the final image is visible in the viewfinder’s frame. We’d rather the viewfinder was there rather than not, and the ability to zoom in real-time with the lens is useful, but it’s not a feature that saw much use during real-world testing due to its limitations.
Battery life, too, is around the 250 shots per charge mark. Not quite enough for a serious days shooting.
The G1 X’s burst speed is a lowly 1.9fps, but then this camera isn’t really aimed at sports photographers. A Scene mode does allow six frames to be captured at a 4.5fps burst rate, and these are all cleared within three seconds before the camera is ready to go again. Shooting standalone Raw files and it takes a couple of seconds between one shot before the camera’s ready to go for the next – so, although not lightning fast, this is an improvement compared to the likes of the Canon G12.
The inclusion of a standard TTL hotshoe is one great feature. The camera is compatible with Canon Speedlites, or add a wireless transmitter and it’s possible to control off-camera flash at up to 1/250th second. Using just the built-in flash, the synch speed is a super-fast 1/2000th sec, increased to 1/4000th sec using high-speed sync.
The availability of the fast shutter speed is another benefit to the G1 X as there are few compact cameras out there with the ability to shoot at 1/4000th of a second.
The widest f2.8 aperture setting is available at the 28mm wideangle setting, which dips to f/5.8 at the 112mm focal length. This is decent, and great in combination with the large sensor in order to pronounce shallow depth of field.
A built-in, internal neutral density (ND) filter also offers more control, cutting back on three stops of light when put to use. Another high-spec feature.
As well as stills the camera’s one-touch movie button activates 1080p capture at 24 frames per second, and the zoom is available to use during recording.
Canon PowerShot G1 X review – Image Quality
The G1 X’s large sensor size means it can deliver image quality unlike almost any other compact camera on the market. It more than wipes the floor with standard compacts when it comes to image quality, making up for some of its less-appealing handling characteristics.
Canon G1 X: Tone & Exposure:
In a variety of examples the Canon performed well, carefully measuring exposure of the subject as based on the position of the FlexiZone focus area. This may lead to the odd over-exposed background in some conditions, or blown highlights in other scenes, but the +/-3EV exposure dial on top of the camera means quick adjustment can be made where required.
Canon G1 X: White Balance & Colour:
An area where the Canon, like so many PowerShot cameras, holds its own is with image colour. Not only are shots rich and vibrant straight from camera, the Auto White Balance system does a sterling job when it comes to maintaining blacks and dark tones. It’s rare for a colour cast to cause the camera to slip up, whatever lighting is brought to question.
In-camera effects can be accessed via the main mode dial on top of the camera for the likes of Sepia, Monochrome and other dramatic finishes too.
Canon G1 X: ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise:
Image noise (or the lack thereof) is an area where the G1 X excels. The large sensor really comes into its own here as shots from ISO 100-3200 are all usable with little qualms. That’s not to say that the quality doesn’t deteriorate, of course, as the amount of detail visible from IS0 1600 and above takes a bit of a dip compared to the lower sensitivities.
But even at ISO 6400-12,800 the results are impressive despite the presence of a little colour noise. Overall the shots the G1 X can produce shots that can rival a similar-priced DSLR camera. Now that’s impressive stuff.
Canon G1 X: Sharpness & Detail:
As the G1 X’s lens has been engineered using many of the processes used by the Canon EF lens range, it’s a top quality piece of glass. An inability to close-focus may be its drawback, yet when the subject is within range it’s guaranteed to be super-sharp. The level of detail, again, rivals a DSLR camera.
Canon G1 X: Raw vs JPEG:
The included Digital Photo Professional software opens up the Canon’s .CR2 Raw files and deals with them swiftly – both when presenting, making adjustments and converting.
The difference between Raw and JPEG is more significant than may at first meet the eye. There’s little evidence of distortion or chromatic aberration correction for either file types. But the Raw files visibly retain more detail that will make it the demanding shooter’s format of choice. It’s worth the extra processing time to squeeze that subtle extra detail out of each frame.
Value & Verdict
Canon PowerShot G1 X review – Value
The £699 launch price has set many tongues wagging. It’s an awful lot of money and some £100 more than a 600D with 18-55mm kit lens at the time of writing.
Is it worth it? If DSLR-like image quality is an essential feature in a compact body then yes it is. There’s nothing else out there short of the fixed-focal-length and more expensive Fujifilm X100 that could take on the G1 X for overall image quality. The eminently more affordable Fujifilm X10 – the G1 X’s most direct competitor – has decent enough image quality, but the Canon still has the upper hand in this department.
If the price drops by £100 upon launch in many retailers then the G1 X will be a more attractive prospect to a wider audience. As, and let’s face it, at its current price it’s got a niche market.
Canon PowerShot G1 X review – Verdict
The Canon G1 X’s sensor is the star of the show. The images this camera can produce are exceptional, easily of a DSLR quality – and it’s not often that’s said.
But in use there are issues. The hefty price tag ought to bring a better, more advanced autofocus system, plus the close-focus distance of the lens can be limiting.
The viewfinder, too, is no better than that found in the PowerShot G12. What with electronic viewfinders making headway in other cameras such as the Fujifilm X-S1, the Canon G1 X’s low field-of-view, small and off-set optical viewfinder just doesn’t cut it. But then it does have one, which is more than can be said for almost any other compact.
On the plus side the build is sturdy, the layout functional and everything falls into its right place in use. Find that stride when shooting and the G1 X will have plenty of appeal to candid street snappers, landscape photographers, or those that demand the utmost in image quality. Considering the high £699 price-point the camera’s performance is underwhelming, yet its images are so good that the G1 X is guaranteed to win over a demanding audience. It’s that good.