Shooting Experience

By Jeff Keller

Canon's PowerShot G1 X Mark II (and what a mouthful that is) is a camera I've been eagerly waiting to get my hands on this year. While its predecessor caught my eye, ultimately I was disappointed by the G1 X's rather clunky design, slow autofocus, lack of any real macro ability, and crummy battery life (among other things). That's why I got pretty excited when I first laid eyes on the G1 X Mark II earlier this year.

The lens is longer (24-120mm equiv.) and faster (F2.0-3.9), and the latter makes the camera pretty compelling when you throw in its 1.5"-type sensor. The autofocus system is much faster according to Canon, and you can finally focus on something remotely close to the camera (5cm).

I liked how the LCD can be pulled away from the back of the camera, as it gives you a bit more flexibility when composing a shot from above. Some folks (such as myself) prefer the fully articulating display on the original G1 X, while others will appreciate the slimmer body that comes along with a tilting screen.

While some may mourn the loss of the optical viewfinder (something I normally like having on my camera), the one on the G1 X wasn't great. The LCD is nice enough (though a bit hard to see outdoors) and, while I wasn't taking any 'selfies' (a word I must admit that I despise), I did like how the screen can be pulled away from the body, instead of just tilting.

The one thing that didn't improve, that really should have, is battery life, which is still miserable for a camera this big (and expensive). Two hundred and forty shots isn't going to get most advanced amateurs through a day of shooting.

The G1 X II's large sensor and fast lens allows for a decent amount of control over depth-of-field (excellent for a compact camera).

ISO 100, 1/1000 sec, f/3.5, 64mm equiv.

So how do I like using the G1 X II? I'd give it a mixed review. The camera can certainly be held with one hand, though I preferred the more solid feel of the 'custom grip'. There are a lot of buttons that surround the thumb rest so you have to be careful, as some buttons can be easy to bump. Speaking of buttons, I found myself scratching my head as to why there are two Wi-Fi-related buttons, and I kept pressing the upper one thinking it was for playback mode.

The pair of dials around the lens are another noteworthy feature. The default setting in Program mode is fine - the inner dial adjusts exposure compensation. In Aperture or Shutter priority mode, the inner dial controls those settings, respectively, but there's no longer direct control over exposure comp. That sent me immediately to the menus, from where I could select one of the other dials (outer or rear) to handle that function. You can also press 'up' on the four-way controller to toggle between the two settings.

Once that was set up, I was pretty happy, but I did notice that the inner dial could be flaky at times. On some occasions, the camera didn't notice that the inner dial had been 'clicked' to the next detent, so you had to turn it another click for it to respond. This is especially a problem when you've had the shutter release button halfway-pressed and release it to change settings - the dial takes a second or so to 'wake up'. We'd argue that this is worse than having a dial that gives no feedback: a dial whose feedback doesn't correlate with its actions.

Something that bothered one of my colleagues was the brief unresponsiveness when you close the Func menu. If you go into the Func menu only to realize that you really wanted to use the main menu, the camera won't respond - leaving you waiting for a menu that isn't going to open. We attribute this to the fancy animations used in the Func menu which are pretty, but ultimately unnecessary.

The G1 X Mark II really did not want to focus in this situation - a problem I've rarely had. ISO 100, 6.0 sec, f/5.6, 120mm equiv.

In nearly all situations, the autofocus system performed admirably. While I wasn't blown away by its speed, I didn't have to wait for it to lock on its subject, except in one situation. In taking the night scene above (which may look familiar to some), the G1 X II absolutely refused to focus. It would just give up, and display the dreaded yellow box, regardless of whether I was using AiAF or single-point focus modes. Having taken this photo hundreds of times with different cameras, this was very unusual.

The solution was simple, though: I moved the focus point to somewhere else in the frame that was even brighter, and the camera focused just fine.

We did have some unusual problems when manually focusing in our studio. If, for example, we took five shots in a row, with one being out-of-focus for no apparent reason. While not something we could replicate every time, it happened way more often than we would've liked.

I was really impressed with just how well the G1 X II performs at high sensitivities. This shot was taken at ISO 8000, and still looks remarkably good.

ISO 8000, 1/800 sec, f/3.9, 77mm equiv.

There isn't much of a wait between shots, except if you turn on either of the DR correction features and the camera needs to use them. This can lead to about a second delay with 'busy' displayed on the LCD. When shooting Raw+JPEG, both of the DR correction features are turned off. The delay between shots is a bit longer than for JPEG, but not unreasonable.

With Raw+JPEG turned on, the burst rate on the G1 X II was just too slow to track this fast-moving subject. ISO 100, 1/1000 sec, f/4.0, 24mm equiv.

While taking in the view during a drive up Mt. Diablo in California, I wanted to capture some action shots of cyclists racing down the hill. I threw the camera into burst mode and the burst rate was unimpressive. After a moment I realized that the G1 X Mark II probably can't shoot at its advertised 5.2 fps rate when using Raw, so I went to JPEG only. Sure enough, the camera performed a whole lot better.

HDR on Standard

Two features worth mentioning are HDR and Wi-Fi. In contrasty situations like the one above, HDR comes in very handy. In the downsized images, the HDR version looks dramatically better than the regular shot. However, zoom in and you'll see that alignment is a bit off, despite the camera using fast shutter speeds.

The remote capture portion of the Canon CameraWindow app is very limited. About the only thing you can do is zoom, set the flash, or turn on the self-timer.

Wi-Fi can be found on nearly all high-end compact cameras these days, and the G1 X II can send photos to your smartphone or to cloud services, social media, photo sharing sites, and e-mail, via a Wi-Fi network. You can also use your mobile device to control the camera (albeit in a limited way), or send location data for geotagging. Some manufacturers do better than others when it comes to setting up Wi-Fi, and Canon is one of the worst. To be brief, the Image Gateway website leaves much to be desired, there are too many steps required, and the camera takes a long time to connect to a network. The bottom line is that Canon's Wi-Fi feature, while comprehensive, could be a lot more user-friendly.