Anyone watching the emergence of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras will have spent much of the last year patiently waiting for Canon and Nikon to show their hands. Nikon clearly decided such cameras didn't need large sensors, and it appears Canon has concluded they don't need interchangeable lenses. Both these moves make sense for companies wanting dedicated photographers to keep buying DSLRs, but Canon's approach is likely to be of more interest to those enthusiasts.

The Canon PowerShot G1 X may look like the company's existing G-series compacts, but is a very different prospect. It's a large sensor camera with a flexible 28-112mm-equivalent, 4x zoom lens and extensive manual controls. The company says it sees it as a camera for photographers who already have a high end DSLR such as a 5D Mark II/III or 7D, but at a price of $799, we think it'll appeal much more widely than that. After repeated waves of cameras aimed at point-and-shoot upgraders, it's heartening to see a camera really living up to the billing of a 'serious compact.'

The sensor in the G1 X is 18.7 x 14mm, which means it's 20% smaller than the sensors Canon uses in most of its DSLRs. However it's slightly larger than the Four Thirds size used by Olympus and Panasonic, and more than 4x the area of the Fujifilm X10's sensor. Noticeably, its pixel count is also around 20% lower than Canon's 18MP DSLR chip - supporting its assertion that its design is closely related, with the same underlying pixel design. This can only bode well, given the high quality results that cameras such as the EOS 7D can produce.

On top of this the G1 X offers almost all of the extensive external controls that appear on the G12 - a camera that is itself the product of many generations of evolution. The only reservation we have about the G12 is that there's an awful lot of camera for such a small sensor - so the combination of G-series build quality and ergonomics with a sensor to match that capability is extremely promising. The G1 X doesn't replace the G12, but instead supplements it in Canon's lineup, adding a new tier to the G series.

Using a built-in lens, rather than a lens mount, helps keep the size of the package down, and allows Canon to offer a really useful 28-112mm equivalent range. There may be mirrorless cameras that rival the G1 X for size (Panasonic's GX1 with power zoom lens, for example), but none can do so while offering such a flexible zoom range. And, although an aperture range of F2.8-5.8 isn't going to attract low-light enthusiasts, it will offer at least the control over depth-of-field that a DSLR kit lens will give.

Just for DSLR owners?

And that's enough to make us think Canon is being a little modest in suggesting that this is a camera for high-end DSLR owners. Given that few low-end DSLR users ever take the kit lens off their camera, then so long as they're not put off by its 'serious' looks, the G1 X could find a much bigger audience.

With its flip-out 920k dot (VGA) screen, metal construction, optical viewfinder, stabilized lens, twin control dials, customizable shortcut button and exposure compensation dial, it offers a lot to anyone who wants to get involved in the photographic process. Despite trying to create a camera that won't directly compete with its DSLRs, Canon may have inadvertently added to the list of cameras many would-be Rebel buyers will look at instead.

Canon G1 X specification highlights

  • 14MP 1.5" CMOS sensor (18.7 x 14mm)
  • 28-112mm F2.8-5.8 lens
  • Optical viewfinder
  • ISO 100-12,800
  • 3.0", 920,000 dot swivelling LCD
  • Extensive manual control
  • 14-bit Raw shooting
  • 4.5fps continuous shooting (up to 6 frames)
  • 6.8Wh NB-10L battery rated at 250 shots (CIPA standard)
The G1 X's sensor is 20% smaller than in most Canon DSLRs, but that still makes it 16% larger than Four Thirds, more than twice the size of the sensor in Nikon's 1 cameras and over six times the size of the sensors in previous Canon G-series compacts.