Canon PowerShot G1 X Full Review
By Jim Keenan, DigitalCameraReview.com Contributor
The Canon G1 X goes boldly where no PowerShot has gone before. It delivers top-notch images with a big 1.5-inch sensor, but the viewfinder and AF acquisition leave something to be desired.
- Excellent images, video
- Very good at high ISO
- Manual controls
- Costs as much as a DSLR
- Slow AF acquisition
- Only 77% VF coverage
Announced at CES 2012 as the new flagship of Canon’s Powershot lineup, the G1 X was “scheduled” to be available in February, but that timeframe has now slipped a bit. For folks anxiously awaiting its arrival, the first week of March now looks like the best possible scenario.
A major cause of the anticipation generated for this new camera is sensor-based – the G1 X carries the largest physically-sized sensor to date in any Powershot digital, a 1.5-inch model sized much closer to a Canon DSLR than its G-series relative, the G12. The 1/1.7-inch sensor in the G12 is one of the largest in all of the compact digital ranks and measures 7.6 x 5.7mm; the G1 X sensor measures 18.7 x 14mm and the APS-C sensor of the Canon 60D 22.3 x 14.9mm.
To put things in perspective, the G1 X sensor has approximately 6.3 times the surface area as that of the G12. In addition, Canon’s UK press release notes that the pixel size and structure of the G1 X sensor is the same as the 60D. Resolution is 14.3 megapixels and the sensor design is CMOS, which suggests that high ISO noise performance should reach new levels, at least for a Powershot digital. The native ISO range for the camera is 100 to 12800 ISO.
The camera features a 4x stabilized zoom lens covering the 28 to 112mm focal range in 35mm equivalents and the standard compact digital automatic and scene shooting modes are accompanied by full manual controls. Here’s a look at that focal range.
Video capability is 1080 HD with stereo sound and there is a built-in pop-up flash with an electronic viewfinder that accompanies the 3.0-inch LCD monitor, which is articulable. Canon’s latest generation DIGIC 5 processor is on board and the camera can record still images in JPEG, RAW, or RAW – JPEG combinations. SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media is compatible; the camera will also accept Eye-Fi memory cards, but Canon will not guarantee the camera will support Eye-Fi functions including wireless transfer.
While Canon’s UK press release describes the camera as “Created for professional and serious photographers…” the company has clearly hedged its bets by including a host of point-and-shoot features targeting a more novice-based audience: face detection autofocus, face select autofocus, automatic smile detection shooting, a wink self-timer, a face self-timer and blink detection. Canon includes a battery pack and charger, USB interface cable, lens cap, neck strap, CD-ROM software and basic printed user’s manual with each camera (a CD-ROM with the complete manual is also included). MSRP on the camera is $800 – higher than two Rebel DSLRs in Canon’s own fleet.
The G1 X measures about 4.6 x 3.17 x 2.55-inches and weighs in at a little over 17 ounces without a battery or memory card, so it won’t be doing much traveling on shooting assignments in a shirt pocket. On the other hand, there’s that big sensor to consider along with the fact the G1 X comes in smaller and lighter than the tiniest Canon DSLR. Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras have gotten their share of attention lately and with the exception of Canon, all of the major camera players have such models in their lineups now. Perhaps this big sensor Powershot is Canon’s answer to the absence of such a “bridge” camera in the lineup, at least for now.
BUILD & DESIGN
At a quick glance, one would be forgiven for mistaking the G1 X for a G12 – there is a strong family resemblance between these relatively large and boxy rectangular compacts. To be sure, the G1 X is a bit larger dimensionally, but it retains a prominent handgrip, protruding lens, viewfinder window, front dial and bi-level camera top with the zoom lever/shutter button and mode dial/exposure compensation dials occupying the lower level. The camera body is metal and finished in matte black paint. Built in Japan, the G1 X seems well put together.
Ergonomics and Controls
When I reviewed the G12 for this website, I found the ergonomics generally pretty good. The G1 X has improved upon the feel of the G12. Notably, the handgrip area on the front of the camera body now features a checkered texture to its rubberized material that promotes an even more secure feel – the thumb rest on the camera back is made of the same material.
The tip of my shooting finger falls naturally to the shutter button and the pad of my thumb to the thumb rest; while the base of the thumb overlies some camera controls, inadvertent activations were no problem. One criticism I had of the G12 was the placement of the camera flash window on the front of the body, making it a candidate to be obscured by fingers of the left hand during two-handed shooting. The pop-up flash on the G1 X pretty much eliminates that concern.
Besides the front dial, viewfinder window and lens there is also a focus assist lamp on the front of the camera – and a possibility for it to be obscured if you let the middle finger of the right hand ride up on the camera during shooting. A consistent, proper grip eliminates this concern.
The right half of the camera top features an on/off button, shutter button/zoom lever, and shooting mode/exposure compensation dials. The slightly raised left half houses a hot shoe, the pop-up flash and a manual deployment button for the flash.
The camera back, as might be expected, is taken up largely by the 3.0-inch monitor; arrayed across the top of the back are a shortcut/direct print button, the electronic viewfinder with its diopter adjustment dial and focus indicator lights, playback button, the thumb rest and a movie button.
Arrayed vertically down the right rear of the camera body are an AF frame selector/single image erase button, AE lock/jump button, menu and metering buttons along with a round control dial incorporating ISO, macro, flash, display, and function set buttons. The ISO, macro, flash and display buttons double as up, left, right, and down toggles, respectively.
Menus and Modes
Internal menus in the G1 X are fairly simple and intuitive. Pushing the menu button brings up access to shooting, setup and “my menu”options. As you might expect, automatic shooting modes offer fewer user inputs than the manual modes. For example the shooting menu in auto offers 14 menu options; in manual controls that number jumped to 24. If you have a captured image displayed on the screen in playback mode, hitting the menu button brings up playback, print setting, and camera setting menus. But there are other menus available that are accessed in a different fashion.
In auto mode, hitting the function set button brings up access to the self-timer, still image aspect ratio, image size/quality and video quality settings; in manual modes the function set button provides access to white balance, my colors palette, dynamic range correction, bracketing, self-timer, flash compensation, a neutral density filter, still image aspect ratio, JPEG or RAW still image format, still image size and quality and video quality.
Canon USA touts the G1 X for “…photography enthusiasts looking for the highest image quality in a compact, point-and-shoot design.” They must be expecting potential customers to all be experienced photographers because the basic “Getting Started” printed manual that comes with the camera consists of little more than information on how to set the date and time, shoot still images or movies, view and erase them. The complete manual found on the CD-ROM is much better, of course, but it runs some 240 pages which gives you an idea of the complexity and features which can be found on the G1 X.
A print version of the complete manual sized about the same as the ‘getting started’ manual would be a valuable tool for folks new to the camera to take into the field – and with an $800 MSRP, Canon should be providing one.
Shooting modes are what you would expect from a camera which is still targeting a mixed market segment in terms of potential users.
- Auto: Fully automatic mode with the camera handling virtually all settings, including white balance, ISO, shutter speed and aperture. The user has a limited variety of inputs restricted primarily to use of the self-timer, still image aspect ratio, still and video image quality.
- Scene: Fully automatic mode with the camera handling virtually all settings; user can select from one of 14 scene specific shooting options and may have some limited additional inputs available depending on the specific scene.
- Image effects: Also known as creative filters, these are automatic modes with the camera handling virtually all settings while the user picks from 10 specific effects including HDR, nostalgic, fisheye effect, miniature effect, toy camera effect, monochrome, super vivid, poster effect, color accent and color swap.
- Custom 1/Custom 2: Allows users to save specific shooting configurations in P, AV, TV or M shooting modes for quick recall – user has a wide variety of settings associated with those modes.
- Program auto: Camera sets shutter speed and aperture, user has a wide variety of settings including white balance, my colors, bracketing, single or continuous shooting modes, self- timer, flash exposure compensation, a neutral density filter, still image aspect ratio, JPEG or RAW image formats, still image size and movie resolution.
- Shutter priority: User sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture and user has wide variety of inputs.
- Aperture priority: User sets aperture, camera sets shutter speed and user has wide variety of inputs.
- Manual: User sets aperture and shutter speed and has wide variety of inputs.
- Movie: Capture video in full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution; HD 1280 x 720 or standard definition 640 x 480 resolutions with stereo sound. Maximum clip length is 4GB or 29 minutes.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor on the G1 X has a 922,000 dot composition and offers approximately 100% image coverage. The monitor can swing horizontally through approximately 180° of travel and rotate through approximately 270° along its long axis. In our studio, measurements the monitor recorded a 569 nit peak brightness level and a 685:1 contrast ratio – both figures are above the 500 nit/500:1 levels that tend to be the threshold for better performing monitors in outdoor lighting conditions. In practice, the monitor could be difficult to use in some bright conditions, but the ability to articulate through a range of motion is a definite advantage to help overcome these situations. The monitor is adjustable for five levels of brightness.
Fortunately, the G1 X is equipped with an electronic viewfinder that can be a major asset when shooting outdoors – dot composition for the viewfinder is not specified, but it is equipped with a diopter adjustment to assist with varying levels of eyesight acuity. Unfortunately, area of coverage for the viewfinder is approximately 77% – not particularly accurate for image composition when precise framing is needed.
Here are two shots taken with image composition based on the monitor and viewfinder images, respectively. In each case, the picture and frame were composed so that they just filled the screen before capture. The image captured using the monitor for composition is an extremely close approximation of that display; the image taken using the viewfinder has a broad expanse of space about the picture and frame that did not appear on that screen.
The sensor and price tag are sized like a DSLR, but the camera carries a Powershot designation and sits at the top of Canon’s compact point-and-shoot pyramid. Which camera will show up when the power button gets turned on?
The G1 X presents a shooting screen and focus point in about 2 seconds after pushing the on button and I was able to get off a first shot in about 3 seconds. There is a start-up image option in the setup menu that is enabled by default which displays a Canon logo before the shooting screen comes up, but disabling this feature does not shorten start up time. Single shot-to-shot times ran about 3 seconds with a 16GB, 95MB/second SDHC UHS-1 memory card. The camera features an “HQ” option in the scene menu that will capture up to 6 full resolution images at a continuous shooting rate of about 4.5 frames per second (fps) – the monitor goes blank during this burst shooting, but the viewfinder is available to help track moving subjects. Write times for these 6 images ran about 3.5 seconds.
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Nikon Coolpix P7100||0.19|
|Fujifilm FinePix X100||0.68|
|Canon G1X||4.5 fps|
|Fujifilm FinePix X100||5.2 fps|
|Olympus X-Z1||2.0 fps|
|Nikon Coolpix P7100||1.2 fps|
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera’s fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). “Frames” notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
The normal full resolution continuous shooting rate (focus and exposure determined by the half push of the start of the burst) is about 1.9 fps and the G1 X was happily humming along at this rate when I called off the experiment at 50 frames. The write time for 25 images captured in this fashion was about 4.5 seconds. Switching to a 16GB class 10 SDHC (30MB/sec) card produced a 5 second write time for 25 images, so there doesn’t appear to be any significant gains to justify the added cost of really high-speed media in the G1 X. The camera also offers a continuous shooting rate of about 0.7 fps while focusing between shots.
Shutter lag came in at 0.01 seconds but AF acquisition time was a not surprising 0.65 seconds – the G1 X seemed a bit pokey during autofocus, even in good lighting conditions. There is an autofocus assist lamp for use in dim conditions.
While shutter lag time is good, the shutter itself has a very light detent at the half push point that initiates focus acquisition. During portions of this review I was also shooting the Panasonic ZS20 and switching between cameras consistently found me taking shots with the Canon prematurely by going right through the half push and initiating capture before AF was acquired.
The Panasonic had a slightly firmer detent at half push and this was enough to throw me off with the Canon. Once the Panasonic review was complete and I was shooting exclusively with the Canon it was a fairly simple matter to adapt to the lighter feeling shutter. Even so, I’d have liked Canon to have put it just a pinch more resistance at the half push point – the G1 X is an easy camera to push past the focus point on.
Stabilization in the G1 X is enabled in the continuous mode by default – the user may set a “shoot only” mode or disable stabilization altogether. There is also a power stabilization mode (enabled by default) that improves stabilization for video capture using the long end of the zoom lens.
Flash range on the G1 X is listed as about 1.6 feet to 23 feet at wide-angle and 3.3 feet 10.2 feet at telephoto (auto ISO). Recycle time is listed as 5 seconds or less with a fully charged battery and I experienced times more the 6 to 6.5 second range with the battery state about 3/4 charged. Here’s a close up shot of Kiwi and another from a distance at Disneyland.
Battery life is listed as approximately 250 shots with the monitor on but about 700 with it off, so if you don’t need precise image composition making use of the viewfinder as much as possible can significantly enhance battery life. Monitor-only shooters will want to have a couple of spare batteries for all-day sessions.
The 4x Canon zoom lens on the G1 X offers a fairly fast f/2.8 maximum aperture at wide-angle but slows appreciably to f/5.8 at the telephoto end. The 28 to 112 mm focal range is not particularly wide or long, so the G1 X will do better as an all-around general-purpose shooter rather than trying to capture subjects requiring significant wide-angle or long telephoto lens performance.
There’s a very slight amount of barrel distortion at wide-angle while the telephoto end of the lens seems fairly distortion free. Corners look a little bit soft at wide-angle while the telephoto end again produced a good performance – sharpness is fairly uniform across the frame. There was a little bit of chromic aberration (purple fringing) at wide-angle in some high-contrast boundary areas, but the effect was very well controlled and required magnifications on the order of 400% to be readily visible. The telephoto end of the zoom was better still with just a few hints of purple here and there, and definitely difficult to pick out. All in all, a very good optical performance by the G1 X lens.
Video quality is quite good with the G1 X, with automatic autofocus and zooming available during video capture. Transition into or out of video capture mode via the one touch dedicated movie button is fairly speedy, with perhaps a 1 second delay before video capture is initiated and far less delay at shutdown. The microphone is wind sensitive but there is a wind cut feature available and during zooming a few noises associated with that process may be recorded.
Because the camera is equipped with a CMOS sensor, rolling shutter effect is a consideration when panning across scenes containing vertical straight lines. The G1 X displayed just a hint of rolling shutter in exaggeratedly fast pans, but overall the camera did a very good job dealing with this phenomenon.
Default image quality out of the G1 X was quite good, with pleasant color reproduction and image sharpness. In the event the default settings don’t meet with your approval the manual shooting modes offer a custom color setting that allows you to modify contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue and skin tones. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, images are output at 180 dpi which is about the minimum for decent quality reprints and well above the 72 dpi setting for most efficient e-mail transmission. Folks planning to print large images or send e-mails will be resizing to produce the best photos or most efficient e-mails. All the images in this review (with the exception of our studio ISO shots) were resized to 300 dpi and sharpened uniformly but minimally in post processing.
The “my colors” color palette available for the folks who stray beyond the automatic shooting mode will be familiar to previous Canon owners -here are the default, vivid, neutral, positive film, sepia and black-and-white variants.
Black & White
As mentioned earlier, the image effects shooting mode offers users the ability to add a variety of effects to images during capture. Here are fisheye and normal views of Tigr.
The G1 X provides features such as intelligent contrast (i-Contrast) that seek to expand the apparent dynamic range of the camera by providing more detail in dark areas while retaining detail in in bright areas. There are dynamic range and shadow correction options but Canon warns of the possibility of increased noise when using these tools. Another one of the image effect options is HDR, or high dynamic range, which takes three image captures in rapid fashion and then combines them into a single image. Using this effect requires the use of a tripod and is not suitable for moving subjects.
The G1 X also provides a bracketing feature that can take three images bracketing for either depth of field or exposure. This can be a helpful tool for users intending to perform tone mapping via post processing on images in order to provide a high dynamic range appearance. Unfortunately, the G1 X does not permit exposure bracketing in the manual shooting mode; exposure bracketing is possible in program, shutter and aperture priority shooting modes. Here are two images captured at Mission San Luis Ray – the first is the HDR image effect combining three images into a single image within the camera while the second is the product of post processing three bracketed exposures in specialized HDR software. Both images are resized to 300 dpi and sharpened uniformly.
G1 X HDR
Auto white balance was used for all the images captured for this review and did a good job with a variety of light, including 3200 degree Kelvin sources. In addition to auto, there are daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent and daylight fluorescent, flash and underwater presets along with two custom settings.
Evaluative metering is the G1 X default and is recommended for most lighting conditions. As is typical the system could at times clip highlights in bright, high contrast scenes. There are center weighted and spot metering options available for the manual shooting modes.
With an unquestionably large sensor by compact point-and-shoot standards and Canon’s latest generation processor technology, even the 14 megapixel resolution of the G1 X offers the promise of fairly decent high ISO noise performance. ISO 100, 200 and 400 proved to be virtually indistinguishable, with perhaps just a few slight hints of graininess in the 400 sample. ISO 800 showed just the slightest deterioration over 400 and 1600 a similar amount of deterioration over 800.
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 3200, 100% crop
ISO 6400, 100% crop
ISO 12800, 100% crop
Quite frankly, a quick glance at ISO 100 to 1600 would find all the settings looking remarkably similar. ISO 3200 shows a bit more deterioration over 1600, but fine details are still remarkably well preserved throughout the frame. The jump from 3200 to 6400 seems to be the tipping point for this sensor/processor combination, as the background grain is more noticeable here and fine details are beginning to show some hints of smudging. ISO 6400, however, is probably still usable for small prints. ISO 12800 suffers from a bit more loss in fine details as well as an increased graininess, but again like 6400, is probably usable for small prints if nothing else will suffice.
Quite simply, the G1 X has by far the best high ISO performance of any Canon compact point-and-shoot camera I’ve ever reviewed. The progression of noise as ISO sensitivities are raised is reminiscent of noise performance I’ve encountered in the latest generation DSLRs such as the Canon 60D and Nikon D7000 – a slow and gradual transition toward graininess and loss of fine details as sensitivities rise rather than a more abrupt deterioration at some point that seem to characterize the earlier generation compacts.
Additional Sample Images
When Canon chose to include a large, almost DSLR-like sensor in the latest flagship point-and-shoot and then combined that with a relatively modest resolution and latest generation processing technology, the writing was on the wall for ISO performance and the G1 X delivers in spades.
But there’s more to image quality than ISO noise levels, and the G1 X also benefits from good optical performance with its zoom lens and a responsive shutter that captures the image when you tell it to. On image quality alone (both still and video) there’s a lot to like in the G1 X and without a doubt, image quality is the G1 X’s strongest selling point. The camera carries a full set of manual controls and enough adjustments to keep even the fussiest shooter happy.
The zoom focal range is unremarkable and matched by any number of other compact point-and-shoots and the autofocus acquisition time was, quite frankly, disappointing in light of the lofty price tag commanded by the G1 X. The viewfinder, while a welcome addition for outdoor shooting conditions in bright light, is virtually useless for precise image composition. The shutter, while responsive at full push, needs a slightly stronger detent at half push to prevent going right through to image capture without acquiring focus.
If you look at the G1 X as a compact point-and-shoot, the price tag will leave you scratching your head as at least two Canon DSLRs carry lower MSRPs. If you look at the G1 X as the “bridge” camera that all those other manufacturers have, but Canon currently lacks, then that monster price tag starts to make a little more sense. Whichever way you choose to look at it, the constant remains that the G1 X produces very good image quality and if that’s what you’re in the market for, this camera is a more than worthy consideration.
- Very good still and video image quality
- Very good high ISO performance
- RAW and JPEG shooting formats
- Manual controls
- Costs as much as Rebel DSLR
- Slow autofocus acquisition time
- Only 77% coverage with viewfinder
Individual Ratings: *
Design/Ease of Use
* Ratings averaged to produce final score