Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Very good photo quality
- Fast lens with good focal range, capable of very shallow depth-of-field
- Solid build quality, with two grips to choose from
- Three dial operation: two 'clicky', one smooth
- 3-inch tilting LCD flips up 180 degrees for self-portraits
- Highly customizable (buttons, dials, and menus)
- Built-in neutral density filter
- Can maintain same field-of-view at 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratio
- Good continuous AF in movie mode; touchscreen allows for pull focus
- Comprehensive Wi-Fi features
- Fun 'Starry Skies' modes
Conclusion - Cons
- Considerable shadow noise in Raw
- Abrupt highlight clipping
- Program line's tendency to use wide apertures can lead to unintentional background blur
- Inner lens ring can be frustratingly unresponsive
- AF system can struggle in low contrast / low light situations
- No manual focus or exposure adjustment when recording video
- Unimpressive burst rate while shooting Raw
- Lacks in-camera Raw conversion
- Low resolution video with strong moiré
- Smartphone app has limited functionality
- Wi-Fi difficult to set up
- Poor battery life
The original Canon PowerShot G1 X was a camera that sounded very promising for those in the enthusiast compact market. Its large sensor offered image quality that no other compact camera could compete with, and the useful, high quality lens, fully articulating LCD, and top-notch build quality made it very appealing. Unfortunately, the camera was far from perfect, for a variety of reasons.
Enter the PowerShot G1 X Mark II. It addresses the vast majority of the issues we raised back in 2012, and added features that make it a lot more appealing. The biggest story is the new 24-120mm equivalent F2.0-3.9 lens which, when combined with the 1.5"-type sensor, allows for very shallow depth-of-field. Add in three dial control, multi-aspect capability, and a flip-up LCD, and the G1 X II sounds pretty compelling. Unfortunately, the camera does not live up to its billing.
There aren't many cameras in the G1 X Mark II's class, with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II being the closest match. From the spec sheet, the Mark II's larger sensor and faster lens should produce better image quality, but we discovered that this isn't always the case. That said, if you're a portrait photographer (or anyone that likes shallow depth-of-field), the G1 X II is better than any other compact on the market.
Given its price, one would expect the G1 X Mark II to be well-built, that's exactly what Canon has delivered. The body is made of magnesium alloy, and feels very solid. Ergonomically speaking, the G1 X II is a mixed bag. The camera is easy to hold, with important controls not far away from your fingers. The buttons on the rear plate of the G1 X II are pretty cluttered, though you're unlikely to accidentally bump anything with your thumb. If the built-in grip isn't large enough for those with larger hands, then the optional 'Comfort Grip' might be worth picking up.
There are three dials that can be used to control camera settings: two on the lens and the traditional wheel that surrounds the four-way controller. All three dials can be heavily customized, though in some cases you'll have to press 'up' on the four-way controller to toggle between the settings you've chosen. One especially frustrating thing about the inner lens dial is its lack of responsiveness. While the dial works fine most of the time, it will sometimes be unresponsive after the camera was 'busy', such as exiting a menu or taking a burst of shots, or for no reason at all. The Mark II also locks up for about 1.5 seconds after you halfway-press the shutter release, which can be frustrating.
Canon sacrificed the (mediocre) optical viewfinder and fully articulating LCD from the original G1 X and replaced both with an LCD that can tilt upward 180° and downward 45°. The display has average outdoor visibility (meaning not great), and its touch functionality allows for touch focus/shutter, menu operation, and image playback. If you want to make up for the loss of the optical viewfinder you can pick up Canon's very nice XGA electronic viewfinder, though it'll set you back $300.
Unless you're a videophile, you won't be disappointed with the G1 X II's feature set. It has all the manual exposure controls you'd expect, customizable buttons and menus (in addition to the aforementioned dials), and useful tools like focus peaking. The camera's 'Starry Skies' features are especially cool, giving photographers of all skills the ability to to capture impressive star trails. The Mark II's 1080/30p movie mode is less impressive, and not just for its video quality. While you can adjust the aperture, 'brightness', and focus distance before you hit the record button, everything else is automatic. The G1 X II also has Wi-Fi (with NFC) and is pretty comprehensive once it's set up (which is a tedious process). Photos can be sent to social networking sites, cloud storage, or other devices with relative ease, and the camera can be controlled (in very limited fashion) from a smartphone.
Aside from the responsiveness issues mentioned above, the G1 X Mark II is a decent performer, but could use a little work. Startup times are quick and there's very little lag before and after you take a shot. The autofocus is quick for a compact camera, though it often struggles in low light, to the point where it gives up and displays a yellow box on the LCD. Burst shooting is very snappy when you stick to JPEGs (5.3 fps), but speeds drop precipitously when Raw images are involved (~1.3 fps). The Mark II's battery life of 240 shots per charge (CIPA standard) is unimpressive.
One area in which the G1 X II really shines is image quality. Its 1.5"-type CMOS sensor allows for photos that come very close to what you can get from a consumer or midrange interchangeable lens camera, even at high sensitivities. Its fast F2.0-3.9 lens lets the photographer keep the sensitivity low and also allows for very shallow depth-of-field (not to mention beautiful bokeh) - something normally reserved for interchangeable lens cameras. JPEG quality is quite good - even at high sensitivities - though you may want to consider shooting Raw to get some of that detail back if you're making large prints.
With a larger sensor and faster lens than the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II - which is the Mark II's closest competitor - one would expect vastly superior image quality. As it turns out, that's not the case. The G1 X II's sensor has a high 'noise floor', which is to say that there's a lot of noise and not much detail in the shadows. Thus, if you try to brighten dark areas of a photo, you'll end up with more color noise than you will detail. While using either of the DR Correction tools on the camera do work as advertised, the trade-off is a lot more noise. The point here is that while the G1 X II's sensor is much larger than that of the RX100 II, Sony's much more modern sensor performs much better than the Canon's, to the point where it cancels out that disparity.
While many photographers will never touch program mode, it's worth pointing out that the G1 X II needs to be watched very carefully if you are. The program line appears to have been lifted from Canon's small-sensored cameras, which tries to keep the aperture wide open at all times. On a PowerShot G16, that's fine, but when you have a 1.5"-type sensor, that results in very shallow depth-of-field, which may not be what you want. Our advice: shoot in aperture priority mode or, if you do use program mode, watch the aperture like a hawk and use the 'program shift' feature to quickly increase the F-number.
While the G1 X II's video features are disappointing, the quality is even worse. It could be the camera's aging sensor, or just the way video is sampled, but movies have poor resolution and are loaded with moiré. Sound quality is fine, though there's no audio level adjustment or mic input.
The Final Word
The Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II is an ambitious product that not only addressed many of the shortcomings of its predecessor, but also added a new lens that allows for depth-of-field control just not possible on other enthusiast compacts. The G1 X II produces image quality that bests nearly all compact cameras, and also offers a plethora of customizable controls, three dial operation, a tilting LCD and optical EVF, and a comprehensive Wi-Fi feature. The Mark II is far from perfect though, with unimpressive dynamic range, a poorly-implemented program line, middling movie mode, and lackluster battery life.
The G1 X II is a good camera, but not a great one. For those who want a good ILC companion - or a compact camera that's great for portraits, it's a solid choice. That said, if image quality is your priority and you don't mind losing zoom power and shallow depth-of-field, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II (the closest competitor) is superior in terms of both still and video quality. Things get a bit more complex when comparing the G1 X II with interchangeable lens cameras. In general, ILCs will have better image quality and more dynamic range, but finding a lens even close to the one of the G1 X II will be both expensive and heavy.
When we first laid eyes on the PowerShot G1 X Mark II, it looked very promising. And in many ways, Canon has delivered, especially in the lens department. Unfortunately, our excitement was tempered after spending time with the camera and closely looking at its image quality and responsiveness. While it's a camera worth considering, the G1 X II's flaws keep it from earning our top award.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II
Category: Enthusiast Large Sensor Compact Camera
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The PowerShot G1 X Mark II is an enthusiast compact whose fast lens and large sensor allow it to produce impressive photos in both bright and low light. Its well-built body offers three dials, and numerous controls can be customized. That said, there are numerous improvements that could be made, especially in terms of dynamic range and responsiveness.
Jul 20, 2016
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