Operation and Handling

As well as looking a lot like its small-sensor-sibling the G12, the G1 X handles in a fairly similar manner as well. The camera sits well in the hand and offers controls where your fingers naturally fall, giving the sense of a tool designed for creative photography. The G1 X is also very well built, with a metal body, soft rubber surfaces in the grip area and a reassuring weight.

The G1 X features the G-series' signature swivel-and-tilt rear screen, which enables a huge degree of compositional flexibility for such things as low-level or overhead shooting. It also allows discrete waist-level shooting, useful for candids or portraits. Unlike tilt-only screens, it's equally useful for shooting stills in both portrait and landscape orientations. Arguably, this design works better on a G-series camera than it does on Canon's SLRs, as you can adjust the screen with your left hand while operating the camera with your right (as opposed to using your left hand to zoom the lens).

The range of movements means the screen can point directly forward (handy for self-portraits), or vertically up or down. Of course you can also fold the screen flush against the camera body, either with the display facing outwards like on conventional compacts, or inwards to protect against scratches (or avoid covering it in nose grease when using the optical finder).

Despite the unmissable similarities to the G12, the controls of the two cameras are not completely identical. The G1 X loses the G12's excellent ISO sensitivity dial (this is unlikely to be an arbitrary decision - it would have been an aesthetic challenge to create a small dial that offered access to the G1 X's full complement of 23 ISO settings). While G12 upgraders might miss this control they will continue to appreciate the exposure compensation dial underneath the mode dial on the camera's top plate.

Once you get used to the way the GX 1 operates it'll be difficult to go back to a more conventional combined button/dial approach. It is a quick and intuitive way of adjusting your exposure - a good thing, in other words.

The camera's top plate features a very useful exposure compensation dial around the mode dial but unfortunately the G1 X has lost the G-series' physical ISO sensitivity dial...
...instead you get to the ISO setting by pressing the ISO button on the four-way controller. Unfortunately the setting interface feels a little unresponsive which can be frustrating at times.

Essentially the G1 X offers you the ability to quickly and easily change basic shooting parameters such as aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation with the turn of a dial. A direct control for ISO sensitivity is missing though - this parameter is changed by pressing the 'up' direction on the four-way controller on the back of the camera and by then turning the rear dial or pressing the left/right buttons on the controller. Unfortunately Canon seems to have felt the need to animate the menu, so it doesn't just appear - it emerges. Which takes just long enough to make you wish it was a little more responsive.

Most other frequently used options can be accessed via the Func-menu - Canon's version of the now near-ubiquitous quick menu. A press of the four-way controller's center button opens the Func-menu and you can then change white balance, DR correction, MyColors, bracketing, continuous shooting, self-timer, flash compensation, ND-filter, aspect ratio, image size and quality and movie resolution settings using the four-way controller. Once the camera has been set-up to your liking there's hardly a need to dive into the shooting or setup-menus which are accessed via the menu button. For advanced users the G1 X also offers a variety of customization options which are detailed below.

Canon's now-standard Func (function) menu is opened via the center-button of the four-way controller and gives you access to a variety of frequently used parameters that don't have their own dedicated button.

Customization options

Advanced users like having the option to modify a camera UI for their personal shooting style and purposes. The G1 X offers a decent number of customization options which give photographers some flexibility in terms of camera control.

Firstly, Canon allows a respectable degree of customization over the two main control dials, allowing the choice of whether aperture control or shutter speed control is assigned to the front or rear control. If you choose to assign them to the front dial, you then have the choice of which is on the front dial in Manual mode.

If a dial is not used to controller shutter speed or aperture in a particular mode it can be set to offer control over iContrast, Stepped Zooming, White Balance Fine Tune (Amber/Blue axis only) or Aspect Ratio, or left without a function. In Program mode, both dials can be set to any of these options.

In this setting aperture in A-mode and shutter speed in S(Tv)-mode are on the front dial. In M-mode aperture is controlled via the front dial, shutter speed via the rear dial. Here we've switched the dial functions around in M-mode and set the rear dial to control iContrast in A-mode and aspect ratio in Tv-mode. You can also control white balance in M-mode by pressing the metering mode button and the turning the rear dial.

There's also a customizable 'Shortcut' button on the camera's rear left corner that can have one of fifteen settings applied to it, including all those that can be applied to the control dials, plus handy options such as Powered IS, AF Lock (there's already a dedicated AE Lock button), and ND Filter.

The 'S' button can be programmed to control one of fifteen functions including powered IS and the ND-filter.

The 'S' button can be set to operate a wide range of other functions, some more useful than others. The full list of options is detailed in the table below; many of these are readily accessible via the FUNC menu anyway, so we'd be tempted to choose one that isn't:

Shortcut ('S') button options
 • Not assigned
 • i-Contrast*
 • White balance*
 • Custom White Balance 1*
 • Custom White Balance 2*
 • My Colors*
 • Drive Mode*
 • Self Timer*
 • ND filter*
 • Aspect Ratio*
 • File type (RAW / JPEG)*
 • Servo AF
 • Powered IS
 • AF Lock
 • Digital Tele-converter
 • Display Off
 * Also available via FUNC menu

Some SLR users like to decouple autofocus from the shutter button, so they can prefocus then release the shutter with the minimum of delay. On Canon's SLRs this can be done by reprogramming the autoexposure lock ('*') button to operate autofocus. The G1 X, however, is a PowerShot rather than an EOS, which means that the '*' button isn't customisable in any way. However, the 'S' button can help with a workaround, although in a slightly awkward way.

You can set the 'S' button to AutoFocus Lock (AFL), which prevents the camera from refocusing on a second half-press of the shutter button. If you then place the camera in manual focus mode, the 'S' button will behave as AF-ON, and activate then lock AF. We'd consider this perhaps most useful when shooting movies, as it allows you to autofocus on your subject initially, then keep focus locked during recording, But it's too awkwardly-placed on the camera's top-left shoulder to use as a matter of course for stills shooting. It's a pity the AEL button isn't also customizable to operate AF, as it is on many of Canon's SLRs.

In addition, the camera's MyMenu function allows you to compose your own menu within the menu system. It's a good way of putting infrequently but repeatedly used functions in a place where you'll be able to find them the next time you need them. If you have a specific set of parameters that you use for specific shooting situations, for example in a studio-setup, you can save those in the camera's C1 and C2 modes which are accessible via the mode dial.

Frequently used menu-settings can be accumulated in the MyMenu section for easy access.

Specific Handling Issues

The G1 X may be Canon's idea of a second camera for SLR users, but despite its large CMOS sensor it's still a very much a PowerShot. This means that it doesn't behave quite like Canon's EOS SLRs in certain key respects, some of which are outlined below. How much any of these matter to each individual photographer is, of course, a matter of personal priorities; a deal-breaker for one user could be utterly irrelevant to another. We do count them as worth knowing about, though.

Main control dial

Opinion on the camera's main control dial were split amongst reviewers in the office. Some of us did not particularly like the design of the dial, with the horizontal alignment on an angled surface. Others found its operation with the index-finger and the distance to the shutter button quite comfortable. That said, how well the dial works for you is to a large degree subjective and it's arguably worth trying before out before you committ to a purchase.

The main control dial is located on an angled surface on the camera front, below the shutter button. You should verify if this design and alignment works well for you before you buy.

Optical viewfinder

While some of the G1 X's competitors come with a built-in electronic viewfinder or the option to attach an external EVF Canon has opted for the same-style optical viewfinder that we've seen on previous PowerShot G-series generations. Compared to the EVFs mentioned above and the viewfinders of digital SLRs it is very small and not that great to work with. It only covers approximately 80% of the frame and the camera's large lens barrel obstructs the bottom corner of the viewfinder at wide angle, making precise composing of an image almost impossible.

The G1 X's optical viewfinder is certainly preferrable to not having a viewfinder at all but its small size and 80% coverage mean you'll probably only want to use it in emergency situations.

That said, it offers dioptre adjustment and two LEDs to indicate focus and flash status. Neverthless the Canon's optical viewfinder is pretty much an emergency solution for shooting in very bright light or when you're looking for some extra stability by holding the camera up to your eye.

Auto ISO

The high ISO limit in Auto can be customized, but unfortunately the highest available option is ISO 1600. This is slightly disappointing, as it means you can't set the camera to Auto ISO and still get the full benefit of that large sensor. On the positive side, though, you have a choice of three Auto ISO program lines, biasing towards either lower ISOs and slower shutter speeds for static subjects, or higher ISOs and faster shutter speeds when subject movement is anticipated.

Unfortunately the maximum sensitivity in Auto ISO mode is limited to ISO 1600.

Flash exposure metering in manual mode

For reasons known only to Canon, there's no option for TTL flash exposure metering in Manual Exposure mode; instead you have to set the flash output manually. We don't understand this at all; having manual flash control as an option is great, but having it as the only option seems perverse. You do get full TTL flash in Av, Tv and P modes (with flash compensation up to +/- 2EV in 1/3 stop steps), but this won't always allow you to get precisely the results you want

When shooting in M-mode with flash you'll have to manually set the flash output in the Func-menu as no TTL flash metering is available.

Dynamic Range Expansion

Powershots don't share the 'Highlight Tone Priority' option from EOS SLRs that gives a stop extra highlight range, but instead have a related 'DR' mode accessed from the FUNC menu. This has more options - 'DR 200%' gives 1 stop extra in the highlights, 'DR 400%' gives 2 stops, and 'Auto' allows the camera to choose what it thinks is the right option based on the scene. So far so good, but the problem is that this setting is unavailable when shooting RAW, which will make it useless to many G1 X users.

The dynamic range enhancement options in the Func-menu - iContrast and Shadow Correct - are only accessible when shooting JPEG. In raw and raw+JPEG modes this features are always deactivated.

Program Shift

If you want to shoot in P mode and bias the shutter speed/aperture combination on a shot-by-shot basis, you can't simply use the front dial like on Canon's SLRs. Instead you have to press the AEL button then spin the rear dial, which unnecessarily slows down the whole process.