Canon PowerShot G1 X compact camera
CSCs – who needs 'em?
Review Canon’s ever-popular Powershot G-series has a new and exciting addition that promises to expand the line-up rather than just upgrade it. While the new Powershot G1 X keeps some of the looks and features of its predecessor – the G12 – it also departs from previous models in significant ways.
Bigger sensor and a resolution boost: Canon's PowerShot G1 X
The G1 X is in fact the only compact to boast a 14Mp sensor of a size akin to many Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Olympus E-PL3 and the Panasonic G3 and with a pixel density comparable to that of the APS-C sensor employed in Canon’s own entry-level DSLR, the EOS 600D. At 18.7 x 14mm this '1.5in' sensor is about a millimetre bigger all round than an MFT equivalent and has a crop value of 1.85x.
Canon has not yet ventured into interchangeable lenses compacts arena. And for the time being at least, the G1 X represents Canon’s response to the Compact System Cameras (CSC) craze. Noticeable by its absence in this sector, and offering only a fixed zoom lens, the G1 X needs more than its PowerShot G-series fan base to make a lasting impression.
ISO control has been relegated to the back panel
Pricing the G1X at around £700, Canon has made it abundantly clear that the new G release is not only no ordinary compact but has the ambition to position itself into the Compact System Camera market as a competitive alternative. Certainly the specs alone of this compact can support that ambition: an extensive ISO range of 100-12800; a 4x zoom lens with a f/2.8 maximum aperture; an optical viewfinder in addition to the 3in multi-angle 920k LCD screen; Full HD 1920 x 1080 video recording at 24fps; built-in flash and 14-bit RAW file capture.
Retaining the same basic look and layout of the G12, the G1 X is bigger – 116.7 x 80.5 x 64.7mm - and heavier – 534g - than its predecessor. Bulkier than any other compact to allow for the larger sensor, the G1 X is still portable enough, while its all metal body gives it a professional and hard-wearing feel.
A dedicated video recording button has been added
The reason why so many pros love Canon’s G-series is the abundance of well-placed, uncluttered physical controls that give PowerShot G compacts a high degree of manual control. In this respect, the G1 X is a typical Powershot G compact. Apart from the size difference there are only a few layout changes from the G12.
At the front the G1 X gets a deeper, texturised handgrip that feels comfortable and safe, and loses the built-in flash window, now replaced by a pop-up flash unit located on the top plate, where the exposure compensation used to be. Having made space for the flash, the top plate loses the ISO dial around the mode dial, which is swapped for the exposure compensation dial.
The new pop-up flash means a rejig of controls on the top plate
The ISO control is relocated to the back – as the up button of the four-way controller – necessitating a three step process to change settings: a far cry from the G12’s instantaneous ISO dial. The rear of the two models remains very similar, with the G1 X acquiring a direct movie-recording button instead of the asterix aperture/shutter speed button of the G12.
The vary-angle LCD screen – tiltable 180 degrees forward and 90 backwards – and the viewfinder also see an improvement compared to the G12. The LCD screen is 0.2 inches larger and has twice the definition of its elder sibling while the viewfinder slightly expands in size and coverage – around 80% - despite remaining nothing more than an emergency tool for composition, not least because part of the image is physically blocked by the lens.
Interchangeable lenses? Meh
The menu layout and operation of the camera is virtually the same of other Powershots with the Func/Set button calling up a quick and well organised set of on-screen menus to change the parameters of the most frequently used functions. The G1 X features an unusually high level of customisation for a compact. Not only can the front and rear dial swap their aperture/shutter speed function but in semi-manual and automatic modes they can be assigned to a number of user-defined functions.
Other custom options include a Shortcut button that can be assigned to virtually any setting, a MyMenu option and two custom modes on the mode dial.
The new sensor size, pixel density and resolution of the G1 X deliver by far the best image quality seen in a compact. Colours are consistent and natural and there is plenty of detail resolution. Another useful by-product of the larger sensor size is the ability to produce shallower depth of field results, with great benefits for portrait and still life.
The G1 X’s metering and White Balance systems greatly impressed me, as I saw the camera handling even the trickiest of lighting with commendable accuracy. ISO and low-light performance are first class too. Images are virtually noise-free all the way to ISO 3200 with some well-controlled deterioration thereafter – a better claim than some DSLRs.
15.1-60.4mm lens (35mm equivalent: 28-112mm)
Not so close
The overall image quality is definitely helped by the build and optical quality of the 28-112mm zoom lens mounted on the G1 X. The lens suffers only negligible barrel distortion at 28mm and controls chromatic aberrations extremely well. The only complaint I have about the lens is its minimum close focusing distance. The zoom lens has a minimum focusing distance of 35cm in normal mode and a not-so-close 20cm in Macro mode.
Ahh viewfinders, doncha just love 'em?
Other noteworthy features that lend the G1 X a competitive edge are the 3-stop Neutral Density filter that allows you to use slower shutter speeds in equivalent lighting conditions, an HDR scene mode and Canon’s Intelligent Image Stabilisation system that analyses camera movements and distance from the subject to select one of seven different anti-shake options to best suit the scene.
The G1 X also offers a wide range of colour settings and creative filters to make the shooting experience more playful. Unfortunately though Canon has not taken a leaf from its competitors and upgraded its outdated Stitch-Assist panorama mode to the smooth fully automated panorama mode now becoming standard on this class of cameras.
Full HD video capture, but still no external mic input
If image quality is the G1 X’s strongest selling point speed performance certainly isn’t. A bit sluggish in almost every operation, the G1 X can’t quite compete with most CSCs when it comes to continuous shooting and autofocus speed. At a rate of 1.6 fps the G1 X is certainly below its competitors standards but the main problem is the slow and erratic response of its contrast detection autofocus system. Even in optimal lighting conditions the G1 X takes its own sweet time before the AF system locks onto its target, and in low light the delay can be quite unnerving.
The improved HD movie mode delivers some beautifully sharp and smooth footage and lets you use the full focal length of the lens if not all the camera’s manual controls. Sound is good too although it tends to record lens movement quite clearly and there is sadly no option for an external mic despite the hotshoe provided on the top plate.
Battery life was slightly disappointing with the 250 shots per charge not quite stretching to a full day of action.
CSC stop gap or a strategic offering? Either way, the G1 X is a class act
Admittedly, I’m still waiting for Canon to show its hand at the CSC game but should it decide to pass, I start thinking the company might actually be on a wise path. As a DSLR owner, and having tried the G1 X, I have to say that I would be much more tempted to invest into the new PowerShot G-series than into any of the CSCs out there. With the G1 X, Canon has shown that an advanced compact can deliver similar or better image quality than Micro Four Thirds with a zoom range flexible enough to cover most scenes.
Once the novelty of an interchangeable lens compact has worn off wouldn’t most enthusiast photographers be tempted to simply choose between a G1 X-style compact or a DSLR, rather than a Compact System Camera? I certainly feel the proposition is a valid one. As has been the case for years with the G-series, the G1 X would make an excellent back-up compact for DSLR owners as well as an exciting imaging tool for enthusiast photographers. I just wish that Canon would fix some of the performance issues that make this camera less than perfect. ®
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