Canon PowerShot G1 X Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Good detail and resolution at low sensitivities
- Excellent high ISO performance, very clean output with good detail
- Compact dimensions for sensor size and lens range
- Intuitive user interface with good number of external controls and customizability
- Excellent build quality with metal body and comfortable rubber grips
- Articulated screen useful for waist-level and high angle shooting
- Very impressive image stabilization system
- Good-quality built-in lens with versatile zoom range
- Optical viewfinder is not great to work with but good to have in very bright light
- Virtually silent shooting
- Built-in 3-stop ND filter
- Efficient CA and distortion correction with only minimal loss of quality at the edges of the frame
- Good bundled raw converter with comprehensive feature set (Digital Photo Pro)
Conclusion - Cons
- Very slow continuous shooting for this class of camera, no control over parameters in High-Speed Burst scene mode
- Comparatively slow AF, slowing down further in macro mode
- Limited close focusing capabilities require frequent switches to macro focus mode
- Built-in zoom lens is relatively slow, especially at the tele-end
- Slightly steep tone curve in the highlights can lead to blown highlights in high contrast scenes
- DR correction, digital filters, noise reduction and other image parameters not available when shooting raw
- Noise reduction not adjustable when shooting Raw+JPEG
- Slightly 'conservative' feature set, no panorama mode or high speed video/stills modes
- Simple video mode, no manual controls or external microphone socket
- Jagged lines and other artifacts in video output
- Below average battery life
- Auto ISO only goes up to ISO 1600
- Not possible to fit filters and a lens hood at the same time
The G1 X is Canon's first, by many nervously anticipated, venture into large-sensor compact cameras and, without a doubt, a particularly interesting addition to the marketplace. The G1 X is a hard camera to categorise though - it combines excellent 'large sensor' image quality across its ISO range with the compact camera convenience of a built-in 28-112mm equivalent zoom range and a relatively small, portable body. In theory, this should make it a compelling proposition for anyone who wants the image quality of an SLR and the compositional flexibility of a 4x zoom in a portable package.
Unlike many compacts (but in keeping with Canon's general design philosophy for its G-series) the G1 X offers a wide range of external controls, an articulated LCD and an optical viewfinder, which makes it not only an attractive second camera for SLR enthusiasts but also a potential alternative to entry-level SLRs or mirrorless system cameras in its own right (especially as most of those cameras are only ever used with their original kit zoom).
However, this being Canon's first large-sensor compact camera it appears the Japanese manufacturer still has some catching-up to do in at least one or two areas. The AF is rather slow, when compared to contemporary mirrorless system cameras, such as the Panasonic GX1 or the latest models of the Olympus PEN series. Combine this with the camera's dead-slow 1.9 frames continuous shooting rate and it's clear that the G1 X is not the tool of choice for any type of photography involving fast moving subjects.
Another limitation of the focus system is its (lack of) close focusing capability. You'll need to get used to switching frequently into Macro mode when shooting close-up portraits or other nearby subjects. At focal lengths of more than 50mm you have to switch to macro mode to focus closer than one meter. This slows the AF down even further.
In terms of feature set the G1 X offers most things a photographer could ask for but gadget lovers are arguably served better elsewhere. There is no built-in panorama mode and while Canon has implemented a number of digital filters, these are only usable when you shoot in JPEG only, so you don't have a raw file of the same image to process in a different way. The video mode is also very simple with no manual controls, slow-motion or control over sound recording.
All in all the the Canon G1 X can be a great photographic tool if it fits your requirements. It captures excellent image quality in almost any light situation and packs a very versatile zoom range into a compact package, eliminating the need for interchangeable lenses. In combination with its abundance of external controls this makes it a good proposition for bulk-conscious travel or landscape photographers.
However, if you prefer the flexibility of an interchangeable lens system, if a large proportion of your photography depends on a fast AF or continuous shooting, if you are planning to shoot creative video or if you like to play with digital effects and helpers in your camera you might want to look at competitors such as the Sony NEX-5N/NEX-7, the latest models in Olympus' PEN range or the Panasonic GX1. If you want an even more portable camera than the G1 X, a premium compact, such as the Fujifilm X10 or Olympus XZ-1, could be an option. Their smaller sensors don't capture the same high ISO image quality as the G1 X but this disadvantage is partly made up for by those cameras' faster lenses.
The G1 X's sensor has a lot in common with the current line of Canon APS-C DSLRs and this shows in the excellent image quality across the ISO range. That said, in terms of image processing and image quality options the G1 X is a PowerShot compact camera, meaning colors are pretty saturated and bright with a contrasty tone curve and occasionally unsubtle sharpening.
The high quality lens contributes to the end result with good performance across the frame and zoom range. At wide-angle there is some softness toward the edges of the frame (probably caused by the camera's distortion correction) but you'll have to zoom in to a large magnification so spot any imperfections. This decreases as you zoom in further until it is hardly noticeable at the tele end of the lens.
At high sensitivities the G1 X sets a new benchmark for compact cameras. You really only need to worry about noise and the effects of noise reduction at ISO 1600 and above where the Canon takes a quite heavy-handed approach towards both chroma and luminance noise. The end result are very clean pictures with slightly smeared low contrast detail. The latter is only really visible at large magnifications and easily rectified with some custom noise reduction in raw conversion. In any case the G1 X's high ISO performance is among the best we've seen from APS-C (or similarly sized sensor) cameras. That said, the G1 X's advantage in terms of sensor and imaging pipeline performance is at least partly offset by its slow lens. Other premium compact cameras, such as the Olympus XZ-1 or the Fujifilm X10, have smaller sensors but can, thanks to their fast lenses, stick to lower ISOs in dim lighting conditions.
Apart from noise reduction, raw conversion also gives you some post-capture flexibility in terms of white balance and other image parameters. The camera has a slight tendency to blow highlights in high contrast scenes and shooting raw gives you the opportunity to recover some of those areas as well but you'll struggle to increase the JPEGs' image detail.
When talking about image quality we definitely have to mention the fact that the G1 X does not allow you to change the JPEG processing when recording raw. You're stuck with the default settings for parameters such as dynamic range enhancement, noise reduction and color modes and other image parameters when shooting raw+JPEG. Depending on how you take photographs this might be a highly irritating limitation (and one which are disappointed to discover in such an otherwise well-specified camera). If you can live with this limitation though you'll find that the G1 X delivers excellent image quality across the ISO range without any nasty surprises.
In terms of both design and handling the G1 X is very similar to previous Canon G-series cameras such as the G12 but there are some differences. The new model sadly loses the G12's ISO sensitivity dial but retains the exposure compensation dial on the top-plate which makes exposure adjustments quicker and more intuitive than on most other cameras in its class. It is also slightly larger with the collapsed lens protruding further from the body. That said, in comparison to mirrorless system cameras, the G1 X arguably offers the better size/zoom range relationship and is ideal if you are in the market for a pocketable imaging tool with an all-round zoom range.
With its weighty body and rubberized grip the camera sits well in the hand and offers external controls for most essential shooting parameters, giving the sense of a tool designed for creative photography. Additional options can be accessed via the Func-menu, Canon's version of the ubiquitous quick menu, which means after the initial setup there's hardly ever a need to dive into the menu system.
The function of the dials and the 'S'-button can be customized and your most frequently used settings and parameters can be saved in the 'MyMenu'-menu and C-modes on the mode dial, allowing for personalized setup of the camera and predefined settings for specific shooting situations.
Despite the intuitive operation the camera comes with a few quirks and peculiarities which, depending on your shooting style and habits, might or might not be relevant to you. Nevertheless you should at least be aware of them. The most important ones are arguably the lens' limited close focusing capability and the slightly sluggish response of the ISO screen. The former means that in varied shooting situations you'll have to switch a lot between Macro and Standard focus modes. The latter can be a little annoying when frequently changing the ISO setting. The animated 'emergence' of the ISO screen looks nice but we'd much rather have it appear instantly.
The Final Word
Overall, the G1 X is an excellent camera for some but not for everyone. If you are aware of its shortcomings, such as the sluggish AF, limited close-focusing capability or lack of manual control in video, and think you can live with them, the Canon gives you great image quality and a versatile zoom range in a small package and without the need to carry a stack of lenses.
Canon deserves some praise for finally matching the G-series' excellent body and UI design with a large sensor and for launching something genuinely different in the otherwise rather uniform mirrorless and compact camera markets. There is some room for improvement for the 2nd generation of this product but for those photographers who can work around its limitations it can be a powerful photographic tool and therefore earns itself our silver award.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Canon PowerShot G1 X
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 G1 X is an excellent camera for some but not for everyone. The camera gives you great image quality and a versatile zoom range in a small package without the need to carry a stack of lenses. However, the sluggish AF, limited close-focusing capability, and lack of manual control in video mode will make some users look elsewhere.
- Canon PowerShot G12 Review
- Olympus XZ-1 Review
- Olympus PEN E-PL3 Review
- Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Review
- Sony Alpha NEX-5N Review
- Fujifilm X10 Preview
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