Image Quality

One would expect a camera with a 1.5"-type sensor to have great photo quality, and the Powershot G1 X Mark II delivers on that promise. Photos are sharp (save for some corner blurring that both of our review samples had, in different corners) with a good amount of detail captured. Even at ISO 8000, the camera is still producing great-looking photos - even using the JPEG format. The G1 X II gives you a higher sensitivity limit than things like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II and, as shown in the chart on the intro page, gives you more control over depth-of-field.

The combination of a fast lens and large sensor on the G1 X II allows for impressive background blurring. ISO 100, 1/800 sec, f/3.9, 120mm

Exposure is good most of the time, though the G1 X II does have a strong tendency to clip highlights. Thankfully, you can get some of that back by shooting Raw, you'll see below. Colors are typical of Canon PowerShots, meaning vibrant.

Program Line

One of the issues we ran into with the G1 X II was its program line. If shooting in Program mode - which we understand not every photographer will use - the camera will almost always keep the aperture open. While this works on compact cameras with tons of depth-of-field, that's not the case on the large-sensored G1 X II. If you're taking portraits this is no big deal. However, landscapes can end up not looking as you imagined, with detail becoming blurred unintentionally. There doesn't seem to be an effect on corner blurring or overall sharpness, which is a good thing.

Solutions are pretty straightforward. You can shoot in aperture priority mode, either full-time or when you catch the camera using an undesirable aperture. If you're sticking to Program mode, program shift is an option, though you'll need to set that up by mapping the Shortcut button to handle AE Lock.

Raw Improvements

In terms of fine detail when shooting JPEG, the G1 X II does a pretty good job. While you can do a little better with Raw, the improvement is not as dramatic as on smaller-sensored cameras. Here, have a look:

JPEG, ISO 12800, 1/80 sec, f/3.9, 120mm equiv.
Raw (processed with ACR 8.4.1)

As you can see, our retouched Raw conversion has additional detail, and less false color. Even so, the original JPEG looks pretty darn good for a fixed-lens camera.

One thing we would've really like to have seen is in-camera Raw conversion. While Canon's higher-end DSLRs have this feature, it has not yet trickled down to PowerShots.

Raw Dynamic Range

In recent years, the advances we've seen in sensor development effectively manifest themselves as greater Raw dynamic range, which is perhaps most easily understood as 'processing latitude.' For the most part, these differences in sensor performance are rarely visible in the cameras JPEGs - it's when you start to process the Raws that you see the difference.

There are two examples above, which you can switch between using the pull-down menu at the top of the widget. The first shows a scene with high contrast, with the emphasis on what's outside the window. We pulled up the shadows to see how things look. At first glance, the image looks much improved. Upon further inspect, however, there's a lot of noise, including hard-to-correct pattern noise hiding just below what is visible in the JPEGs.

In this even more extreme example, you'll see that while the brightened version looks okay downsized, in reality there's a lot of chroma noise and not much detail. The aging sensor on the G1 X II has a pretty high noise floor, which means there's not a lot of information beyond what's already in the JPEGs.

Versus the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II

The G1 X II should have a clear advantage over its closest competitor - the Sony RX100 II. A combination of larger sensor and brighter apertures (across most of its lens range) means there should be no competition. And yet: because the Canon uses a sensor that appears to have a lot in common with the 18MP APS-C chip it first introduced in 2009, while the Sony uses the latest BSI CMOS technology, the difference isn't as large as you might expect.

Canon G1 X Mark II Sony RX100 II
Here we shot the two cameras side-by-side, using brightness-matched exposures (base ISO, F10, 1/250th of a second). We then pushed the 'shadows' slider in ACR to reveal information from the deep shadows (around a 4EV push). As you can see, the G1 X II's shadow regions are considerably noisier than the Sony's, and exhibit pattern noise.

If you were to downscale the RX100 II's image to match the G1 X II's, the advantage is even greater.

These examples (and our test scene on the coming pages) suggest that the RX100 II's sensor is so much better than the G1 X II's that it cancels-out much of the dynamic range and high ISO noise advantages that the G1 X II's larger sensor should bring. The G1 X II does still have an aperture advantage, especially at the long end of its zoom. This means there are still occasions where it can use lower ISOs than the Sony, and it can offer much more control over depth-of-field (meaning you can shoot the kind of portrait shown at the top of this page).

Overall, though, the larger sensor in the Canon is much of the reason that the camera is so much less pocketable than the Sony, yet the full benefits of that additional sensor size are not realized: the Canon's image quality advantage isn't proportionate with its greater bulk.

Raw Files for Download