Canon PowerShot G1 X Digital Compact Camera Review

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, November 2012
Manufactured by: Canon Inc.
Requires: An interest in general, street, landscape or travel photography
MSRP: US$699.00, CAN$699.00, 549.95, 699,90

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Description

The Canon PowerShot G1 X is the top-of-the-line, fixed lens compact from Canon. The newly developed 1.5-inch high-sensitivity CMOS sensor is almost as large as the APS-C sized sensors found in digital SLR camera bodies made by Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm, Sony and Leica, with a light-sensitive area that's approximately 6.3 times larger than that of the PowerShot G12 digital camera and the award-winning Fujifilm X-10 and Panasonic Lumix LX7. The new, Canon-developed 14.3 megapixel sensor, combined with a new, image stabilized (IS), 28mm-112mm (4X) f/2.8-5.8 Canon-developed zoom lens and Canon's DIGIC 5 image processor, create what Canon calls the HS System. The PowerShot G1 X also has 14-bit RAW image capabilities, full manual control via SLR-style external buttons, switches and wheels, and a high quality body made out of tough, lightweight metals and very tough polycarbonate. The 3"/7.6cm, Vari-Angle rear LCD folds out and flips to enable both high and low position shooting. The camera body also features some weather sealing, just enough weight to help stabilize handheld photography, and grippy rubber surfaces to aid grip and control. The Canon PowerShot G1 X won the 2012 Technical Image Press Association (TIPA) award for Best Expert Compact Camera.

Features

The Canon PowerShot G1 X is packed with features that are designed to attract everyone from complete novices to photographers with advanced skills.

 

  • DIGIC 5 Image Processor - It's fast, powerful and it's definitely needed in order to process the massive amounts of 14-bit image data coming off the new sensor; it's the same CPU that Canon uses in its advanced digital SLR cameras
  • Canon CMOS Image Sensor - 14.3 megapixels, very high linear resolution, 1.5" (18.7mm x 14mm) sensor which is only a couple of millimeters smaller than the full APS-C sensors that Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon and Sony use in their full-size, digital photo/video SLR camera bodies
  • HS System - HS stands for High Sensitivity, how Canon refers to the technology it has developed to capture high quality photos in low light while keeping digital noise to a minimum; an impressive system that is finding its way into the entire PowerShot line
  • 14-Bit RAW & JPG - All of the color depth and all of the RAW image data found in much more expensive cameras
  • Full HD Video - HD video is showing up everywhere, and even people who never shoot any video turn their noses up at any camera which doesn't have it; the G1 X offers industry standard 24fps (23.976 actual) at 1080p, and 30fps (29.97 actual) at 720p, or Apple iFrame (which is 1280x720 at 30fps), and output files in MOV format (which is H.264 with audio in PCM 2-channel stereo which means you can edit video clips in anything from Apple iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, to MAGIX Movie Edit Pro or all the way up to Adobe Premier
  • Optical Image Stabilizer (IS) and Intelligent IS - We were able to consistently make handheld, sharp photos at 1/30s, which means that for us the IS effectively provides a 3-stop advantage; no doubt some photographers will be able to get consistently sharp handheld shots at 1/15s, but 1/30s in decent light is the best we could do when viewing photos afterward on a calibrated, 24" Dell Ultrasharp monitor; anyway, Canon's IS system works very well
  • UA Lens Technology - Lots of Canon marketing-speak about this feature, but when you boil it all down, it's apparent (in use) that Canon has put a lot of careful design effort into the engineering of the G1 X zoom lens; distortion is very low, aberrations are essentially non-existent, chromatic aberration in particular is non-existent and so on; a very good, sharp, high contrast, color-accurate zoom lens indeed
  • 3"/7.62cm Vari-Angle PureColor Rear LCD - It's the same, high resolution LCD you'll find on the best cameras; the nice part is that this one flips out, tilts and just generally helps frame and compose shots you might not otherwise get with a fixed LCD
  • External Controls - One of the things which has always set the Canon G-series cameras apart from competing models is the set of external controls dials, wheels and buttons on the top plate and the back where you'll find an exposure compensation dial in 1/3 eV increments, concentric shooting mode dial to set Av (aperture priority), Tv (time value/shutter priority), P (programmed, with manual control adjustment), Auto (full automatic just like a point & shoot compact), M (full manual control), C1 and C2 (two separate banks of custom settings that you can setup yourself for specific shooting conditions or subjects), SCN (which is a very powerful mode in which you use the Func/Set button and the rear scroller to select from a variety of special functions and exposures, left-sweep or right-sweep panorama stitching, Movie Digest which automatically shoots and saves a video clip along with each still photo you make, Smart Shutter (which automatically detects faces in your composition to focus on them), High Speed Burst which does a fast burst of six shots with each shutter press, and all the usual exposure presets for different scenes, subjects and lighting conditions), a High Dynamic Range/HDR setting that actually works, and the Movie Mode (in which the Func/Set button and scroll wheel can be used to select standard HD shooting or Apple iFrame); the rear scroller/rocker wheel works well and provides positive stops and accurate selection
  • Wide Dynamic Range - The PowerShot G1 X sensor has all the dynamic range (the range of brightness to darkness captured in a single photo while still retaining visible detail) needed to make terrific photos in a wide variety of difficult lighting conditions; a small camera with a big, well-engineered sensor and powerful processor always provides good results and the G1 X is no exception

There are dozens and dozens of other features and functions in the PowerShot G1 X, but we're not listing them here because they're the same things you'll find in every other high-end/expert compact.

Use

Don't bother trying to use the optical viewfinder. It's junk. It's clear and bright enough, but at anything other than full zoom the lens barrel dominates the view. The optical viewfinder provides no shooting information - nothing at all, not even framing lines. It's just a plain, optical tunnel with a view that is mechanically coupled to the camera's zoom control. The optical viewfinder is useless and a complete disappointment on an otherwise wonderful camera.

The Canon PowerShot G1 X is just like the Fujifilm X-100, the Sony NEX-5 (non-viewfinder) mirrorless system, the Olympus Pen series and other high quality compacts in that it will pay off your careful attention to handheld shooting technique by delivering superb image quality. Elbows against your sides, camera held only far enough away from your face for your eyes to focus clearly on the rear LCD, take a deep breath, exhale, shoot. Canon's IS will do the rest. I've been having a lot of fun shooting with the G1 X, and I've found myself grabbing it first, just to see how well I can do with it before resorting to my Nikon D800 or Canon 5D MKIII. While there's no question that the amazing D800 and 5D MKIII bodies used with almost any intermediate or better Nikon or Canon lens will generally produce technically better and visually more pleasing photos and higher resolution, the little G1 X can also be used to capture wonderful photos. The G1 X offers enough dynamic range to make both its HDR and all of its scene modes work extremely well (including the Fireworks setting which in other compacts usually ends up producing unacceptably noisy or muddy photos).

The camera designers included some thoughtful touches including a live histogram, and a full variety of shooting details in playback mode.

Ergonomically, the PowerShot G1 X is a pleasing handful, with well-positioned controls, versatile flip-out LCD, most controls operable by touch alone, and grip surfaces with enough bulk for a very secure feel in the hand.

During testing, we used the PowerShot G1 X on nature trail hikes, shooting video of feeding birds, making stills of all sorts of subjects, and street shooting in Toronto and Cleveland catching Fall colors, early holiday decorations and plenty of candid portraits. While the G1 X is not a lightning fast camera, its control responses, autofocus and handling are certainly quick and satisfying. It's a wonderful camera to have ready for candids and family photos at home, a great camera to have in a large pocket or a small shoulder bag whenever you're out and about, and an excellent camera to carry when you're traveling.


Value

At a retail list price of $699, and the equivalent in Europe and elsewhere, the camera is overpriced. But it has never sold at full price in any shop or online store. Look for the camera at $649 or less. I've seen it as low as $549 from authorized dealers both in shops and online. That said, Canon has to give us at least the same level of configuration menu control as it provides in its $550-$700 digital SLR bodies. For example, while I like the PowerShot G1 X a lot, I'm also ticked off about the near-total lack of JPG configuration (size only), as well as the truly rudimentary Picture Style controls. Even less expensive Canon Rebel digital SLR bodies offer more control. There's no good reason for this omission. Nonetheless, the image sensor, external physical exposure controls, ergonomics and the lens quality lift the G1 X above its configuration and Picture Style control shortcomings. We rate the Canon PowerShot G1 X a good value.

Cons: The optical viewfinder on the G1 X is one of those things you just have to wonder about. I mean, why did Canon put so much well considered effort into almost every aspect of the camera's usability, build quality, handling and image quality, and then allow the inclusion of an optical viewfinder that isn't much different from the one you can still find on a throwaway, 35mm, single use, film camera? The optical viewfinder on the G1 X is an unmagnified telescope which mechanically zooms as you work the power zoom control lever on the camera. But there is no framing rectangle, no exposure information, no parallax compensation - nothing. It's just an optical tunnel viewfinder. That such a thing is included in an otherwise stellar, large sensor compact camera, is odd to say the least. If the successor to the G1 X shows up late next year with all of the current features but with a hybrid viewfinder of the kind found in the superb Fujifilm X-series cameras, then Canon will truly shake up this entire camera category.

I found some control confusion. A ring-style on/off switch, concentric with the shutter button, is a common configuration on a wide variety of serious cameras. Instead, the G1 X has a ring-style zoom control that is concentric with the shutter button, alongside a separate, flush-mounted on/off button that is awkward or impossible to press while wearing gloves or by almost anyone with larger than average fingers - you have to take off a glove (in cool/cold weather, a pair of LowePro photography gloves with the removable fingertips works mercifully well), or when not wearing gloves angle your finger so that you can press the button with a fingernail. For those who turn their cameras off after each shot, it's something to which they'll have to adjust. I always carry a spare battery for whatever camera I happen to be using, and just let the camera go to sleep on its own so I don't have to remember to turn the thing on and off. The concentric zoom and shutter button arrangement is typical of point & shoot consumer cameras, but not something I expect to see in an advanced compact.

Macro mode is not really all that macro. I can repeatedly get a solid focus lock in macro mode, wide angle, at about 7.5"/19cm from a good subject (that is, a subject with the right kind of detail for the camera to easily get a focus lock), which is better than Canon's published spec of 7.9"/20cm. The problem is that macro magnification is very slight, so it's impossible to fill the image frame with a small subject, which makes macro mode much less useful.

Very few JPG image control settings means that you're left with Canon's baked-in defaults, something I'm not pleased about because the default noise reduction or sharpening results in images that are too smooth. Stick with 14-bit RAW images instead and you'll be very happy.

There's no lens hood included in the box. Canon is notorious for never including a lens hood with any of their lenses or advanced/expert camera systems. The little plastic lens hood will set you back $20-$30 depending on where you shop. At anywhere from $550-$650 (street), Canon should include the lens hood.

Canon has not, unfortunately, optimized control response speed to button presses or to movement of the rear scroll wheel. For example, the lag between a left or right press of the rear scroller when you're going through the selections in SCN mode is quite noticeable and unacceptable in a camera of this type. Look for improvements in an upcoming firmware update I hope. While we're on the subject of controls, there's no way to select an maximum ISO Auto value above 1600. I'd like to be able to set ISO Auto to at least 3200.

Pros: The Canon PowerShot G1 X is capable of delivering image quality that is clearly better than any competing, fixed zoom lens compact. Image quality also rivals that of the stellar, full APS-C size sensors, fixed prime lens cameras such as the Fujifilm X-100, Leica X2 and the Sigma DP2 Merrill. Image quality also bests the Olympus PEN-series. Frankly, at screen resolutions and color depths typical of high-end, 24" computer monitors, it's almost always impossible to tell the difference between images made with any of these top-of-the-range cameras. You need to go larger than a 24" monitor, and at higher screen resolution, in order to see any difference between identical shots made with each camera. Even at print sizes up to and including 13"x19"/A3/B3, the PowerShot G1 X photos hold up extremely well. Prepare to be impressed by the quality of out-of-focus backgrounds - the lens is a real gem. Photography in low light requiring the G1 X to increase ISO is also impressive up to about ISO 3200, after which noise starts to become intrusive - but image quality is very good up to that point and clearly better than most competing compact camera systems. Because of lower noise in low light photography, the G1 X also provides a lot of visible resolution which means that prints will also turn out well.

It's becoming genuinely difficult to find a bad quality, expert compact camera. They're all very good. Despite that good news, the Canon PowerShot G1 X is still a large sensor, high quality zoom lens combination that is very hard to beat right now. It's good enough to be used as a serious backup camera by amateurs, enthusiasts, semi-pros and some professional photographers. If you've got any late model Canon Speedlight external flash it will work in the standard hotshoe on the G1 X. The Canon PowerShot G1 X is a well made camera that can be used for a wide variety of subjects including family, event, travel, some sports, casual and landscape photography. Highly recommended.

KSN Product Rating:


 

 












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