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Canon PowerShot G1 X Review

by Shawn Barnett, and Zig Weidelich

Hands-on Preview posted: 01/09/2012
Image comparison and print quality added: 02/03/2012
Review posted:

Canon G1 X Beauty Shot

Every major camera manufacturer save one has entered the market for compact system cameras, digital cameras with small bodies, mostly larger sensors, and interchangeable lenses, all without a complicated mirror box system. That one hold-out continues to wait, but Canon drops a few hints in the design and choice of sensors with the new flagship of the G-series, the G1 X. With a sensor that's just a little larger than Four Thirds, and just a little smaller than APS-C, the G1 X could be a hint of things to come.

Canon emphasizes that the G1 X does not replace the G12, instead representing the apex of the line. Coming in at a considerably higher price point of $799 MSRP, a full $300 more than the G12, it is indeed a departure.

While it's clearly related to recent G-series cameras, the Canon G1 X is a little more of a commitment than the G12, as well as most compact system cameras. At 18.8 ounces (534g) it weighs more than a pound, noticeably more than the G12's 12.4 ounce weight (351g). It's also larger in all dimensions, measuring 4.6 x 3.2 x 2.5 inches (117 x 81 x 65mm), compared to the G12's 4.4 x 3.0 x 1.9 inches (112 x 76 x 48mm). It goes from an under-two-inch body to a 2.5 inch thick one, or about 17mm thicker, and also gains 5mm in width and height. Much of that thickness, however, is for the lens ring, with the grip sticking out quite a bit less.

It's nice to see the Canon G1 X's substantial knurled grip and similarly knurled control dial perched above it. Even more lovely to behold is the comparatively large lens element. Looks like a lens we could fall in love with. Its 4x zoom covers the equivalent of a 28-112mm zoom lens, and ranges from f/2.8 to f/5.8 from wide to tele.

Canon G1 X Front

The Canon G1 X's optical viewfinder peeks out from beneath the hot shoe, and the Self-timer/AF-Assist Lamp appears just left of that. Below right of the lens is the ring release button, to make room for accessory lenses. Missing from the scene is the G12's embedded flash. That's because they've finally included a pop-up flash, which adds a bit more distance between the flash and lens.

It certainly pops up higher than the Nikon P7100's little pop-up flash. A knurled slider releases the flash; it's not motorized as on the S100, so it won't be popping up into your finger unexpectedly. Because they added the pop-up flash, however, they had to lose a dial, and I'm sure it was a hard decision which one to ditch. The ISO dial lost out, unfortunately, and the Exposure Compensation dial takes its place under the smaller Mode dial. Then it's just the power button (labeled ON/OFF as on the G12), and the Shutter release/Zoom toggle combination.

Also note the recessed metal strap slot, a discrete solution, connecting straps without noisy D-rings as we've seen on so many other compact system cameras. Nice.

Canon G1 X Back

A look at the back of the Canon G1 X tells you that the company is exploring a new direction for the camera line. The organic lines of the Canon G12 are replaced by more edges, bevels, and straight lines. No bezel bulges around the articulating LCD; instead it lies against a flat back. It's a clean look, more utilitarian, probably reducing cost and weight. The LCD itself is a 3-inch size, larger than the G12's 2.8-inch LCD. A substantial knurled thumb rest drives home the new aesthetic, bringing to mind the diamond-plating on the sides of my truck bed, cut to fit, there to serve a purpose more than to look pretty.

The AE-Lock button moves down to make room for the dedicated Movie Record button. AF-point selection and Metering buttons are still given top billing, though, and ISO now appears where Manual Focus used to be. Again, it's a shame about the ISO dial, but this is a workable solution that still gives the creative photographer plenty of control.

 

Canon PowerShot G1 X Live Q&A

Excited by the possibilities of Canon's first large-sensor, fixed-lens compact camera? So were we! That's why we conducted a Q&A session with Chuck Westfall, Technical Advisor with the Professional Engineering & Solutions Division at Canon U.S.A., Inc., live from the show floor at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. The session took place on Monday, January 9th, 2012, so unfortunately it's too late to ask your own questions, but read on--there's every chance somebody else already asked it for you!

 

Canon G1 X Technical Information

Sensor. The Canon PowerShot G1 X is based around a brand-new, Canon-developed CMOS image sensor that's closely related to those featured in some of its EOS-series SLR cameras, but with a slightly smaller size and a narrower aspect ratio. With dimensions of 18.7 x 14mm, it's the largest image sensor ever featured in a Canon PowerShot camera. Compared to a typical Canon APS-C sensor, the new chip is very close to the same height, but with a 4:3 aspect ratio, about 11% narrower than a 3:2 aspect ratio chip would be. Effective resolution is 14.3 megapixels, and we understand that on the pixel level, the new chip has a similar pixel structure to the 18-megapixel CMOS sensor featured in several current Canon SLRs.

Compared to the 1/1.7-inch sensor featured in Canon's previous G-series flagship, the PowerShot G12, the G1 X's sensor has about six times greater surface area, and according to Canon, should yield about nine times greater light sensitivity. That's not the only area where the larger sensor will show an advantage, however. The Canon G1 X should also offer wider dynamic range, and be capable of producing a much shallower depth-of-field, making it easier to isolate your subjects from their backgrounds.

Aspect ratio options other than the native 4:3 include 4:5, 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1.

Processor. Output from the Canon G1 X's new image sensor is processed by a DIGIC 5 image processor, as seen previously in the Canon PowerShot S100 and SX40 HS, which were announced last fall. Compared to previous generations, DIGIC 5 is said to offer improved burst shooting performance and better noise reduction. It also enables better white balance for flash exposures, thanks to an ability to take account of both the flash and ambient light in the scene, and compensate for these separately.

The Canon G1 X has a 14-bit image processing pipeline.

Optics. On the front panel of the Canon PowerShot G1 X is a feature that sets it apart from other large-sensor fixed-lens camera models. Where in the past, we've only seen prime lenses on cameras like this, Canon has gifted the G1 X with a 4x optical zoom lens, covering 35mm-equivalent focal lengths from 28 to 112mm-equivalents. Maximum aperture varies from f/2.8 at wide angle to f/5.8 at telephoto, while the minimum aperture is f/16, and there's a built-in neutral density filter.

The G1 X's lens looks to offer an interesting alternative to system cameras. At 4x optical zoom, it provides more range than is typical of the kit lenses bundled with system cameras, and it does so in a depth of only about 2.5 inches (64.7mm) when retracted, giving it a slight advantage over even the tiny Pentax Q, let alone larger system cameras. Of course, with no way to change lenses, the G1 X is more limiting than a system camera should you wish for a little more at either end of the 4x zoom's range, but arguably the G1 X's lens offers enough range (and a small enough size) to make it an attractive solution as a second camera for an SLR owner.

The Canon G1 X also includes the same Intelligent IS image stabilization system which we saw previously in Canon PowerShot models announced last fall. This now offers six different modes of operation, which take account of different shooting situations such as shooting macro photos, panning to follow action, or shooting with the camera mounted on a tripod, and configures the IS system appropriately. It also provides for a greater range of correction when shooting movies.

It's also possible to attach standard 58mm filters to the Canon G1 X, but unfortunately this requires an optional body adapter that attaches to a bayonet around the base of the lens, under a removable trim piece.

Electronic level

Sensitivity. The Canon PowerShot G1 X offers an ISO sensitivity range of 100 to 12,800 equivalents. As you'd expect given the larger sensor, that's a much wider range than the 80 to 3,200 equivalents offered by the G12, although it doesn't quite reach as far at the lower end of the range. As noted previously, the new DIGIC 5 image processor also plays its part in the G1 X's wider sensitivity range.

Note that where ISO sensitivity was set with a physical dial on the camera's top panel in the G12, that's no longer the case on the G1 X, likely due to the greater number of sensitivity options available, as well as the addition of a pop-up flash on the top deck. ISO sensitivity is now set as a secondary function of the Up Arrow button on the G1 X's rear panel four-way multi controller.

Performance. Canon's DIGIC 5 processor also allows a noticeable increase in the G1 X's burst shooting performance when compared to the G12, at around a manufacturer-rated 4.5 frames per second in High-speed Burst HQ mode. Unfortunately, the burst depth of just six frames means that you'll fill the buffer in just 1.3 seconds or so. By contrast, although the G12 was limited to a rather pedestrian two frames per second, it could keep shooting for as long as ten seconds or more in a single burst. In standard continuous mode, the G1 X is rated at 1.9 frames per second, slowing to 0.7 fps with autofocus.

Focusing. As with almost all mirrorless cameras, the Canon G1 X focuses using contrast detection, which operates on data streamed by the image sensor.

Viewfinder. The Canon G1 X has an optical viewfinder located directly beneath the flash hot shoe, but as a mirrorless camera, the viewfinder has a completely separate optical path. It sights through a small window on the camera's front, above the top right quadrant of the lens, and zooms to roughly match the field of view of the main lens. Like any such arrangement, it will work better with distant subjects, with an increasing degree of parallax error the nearer your subject becomes. Catering to those with less than perfect eyesight, it does have a diopter adjustment function, although the corrective range wasn't available at press time.

Canon G1 X Vari-angle LCD

Display. Although the viewfinder provides a handy backup under bright sunlight or when trying to conserve battery, there's a whole generation of photographers who've been brought up taking their photos at arm's length, and indeed even us curmudgeonly types have pretty-much begrudgingly accepted this shooting style ourselves. Most photographers will likely be doing their shooting on the PowerShot G1 X's LCD panel, then, and so it's good news that Canon has selected a high-res 3.0-inch display with 922,000 dots, whose resolution equates to approximately VGA (640 x 480) pixel resolution, with each pixel comprising separate red, green and blue dots.

The LCD itself is mounted on a tilt / swivel mechanism--Vari-Angle, in Canon parlance--similar to that on the Canon Rebel T3i. This allows for viewing from almost all angles including in front of the camera, even when tripod-mounted. It's a design that's particularly handy for shooting self-portraits, a fairly common use-case for a compact camera, and also makes it easy to shoot low to the ground, or high over your head. As an added bonus, the design allows the LCD to be closed facing inwards towards the camera body, providing a modicum of protection against knocks, scratches and smudges on the panel itself.

Exposure. As you'd expect, the Canon G1 X includes a full complement of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual exposure modes, plus both Auto and Scene modes. There's also a Creative Filters position on the Mode dial, along with two Custom positions that allow the photographers' chosen camera settings to be saved for quick recall.

With ISO sensitivity control now having been moved to the rear panel, the lower ring of the double-decked, "wedding cake"-style dial on the G1 X's top panel is now given over to exposure compensation control, freeing up the space occupied by the G12's separate exposure compensation dial for a popup flash strobe. Exposure compensation is available in 1/3 EV steps, within a +/- 3.0 EV range.

White balance. As mentioned previously, the Canon G1 X includes the company's Multi-area White Balance feature, a function of its DIGIC 5 image processor. This applies only for flash exposures captured in Smart Auto mode, but in these circumstances, allows more natural and accurate white balance. It works by taking account of--and correcting for--flash and ambient light white balance separately.

Flash. The Canon G1 X's flash strobe is positioned at top left of the camera body, adjacent to the full-sized hot shoe. It's a popup flash, but doesn't deploy automatically under any circumstances. Instead, it's released with a mechanical slider located directly behind the flash head itself.

The G1 X's hot shoe, meanwhile, is compatible with Canon's Speedlite flash strobe lineup, as well as other shoe-mounted accessories such as the Macro Twin Lite and Macro Ring Lite.

HDR. To help out in high-contrast shooting situations (or just when you want to use it for effect), the Canon G1 X includes a high dynamic range shooting mode that combines three separate shots into a single output image. The difference in exposure level is not user-adjustable, and Canon doesn't state the step size used by the camera. It doesn't include microalignment capability, though, and hence is of use only with the camera tripod-mounted and shooting relatively static subjects.

Familiar menus

Video. Like almost all large-sensor cameras these days, the Canon PowerShot G1 X offers not only still image capture, but can also record high-def movies. The G1 X's movie mode is accessed via a dedicated position on the Mode dial, and there's also a separate Movie record button on the rear panel, within convenient reach of your right thumb. The G1 X can shoot progressive-scan movies at resolutions up to Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels; 1080p), at a rate of 24 frames per second. Movies include stereo sound, and both optical zoom and continuous autofocus are available during movie capture.

Visit the G1 X Video page for sample clips and more details.

The G1 X also offers an upgraded variant of Canon's Movie Digest function, which first arrived in a number of PowerShot models at the start of 2011. Movie Digest is used to automatically capture up to four seconds of video from immediately before the moment of capture of each still image, by simply buffering video continuously from the moment the shutter button is half-pressed, and then saving the last few seconds of video once the shutter is tripped. The Movie Digest videos are stored by the camera, and at the end of a day's shooting, are automatically stitched together into a single video showing all of the day's clips in sequence. Compared to the Movie Digest function in earlier cameras, it now operates at higher resolution in the Canon G1 X. Last year's models saved Movie Digests at VGA (640 x 480 pixel) standard-definition resolution; this year the G1 X will do so at 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) high-definition resolution.

Connectivity. The Canon G1 X is equipped with a combined AV OUT/USB 2.0 port, a remote terminal for use with an optional RS60-E3 Remote Switch, and a mini HDMI terminal. A USB interface cable is included in the bundle, but the stereo AV and HDMI cables are optional.

Storage. The Canon PowerShot G1 X stores images in either raw or JPEG formats, or in both formats simultaneously. Movies are recorded using H.264 compression, and stored in a .MOV container. Both stills and movies are saved on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types.

Power. The PowerShot G1 X shares its power source with last year's SX40 HS model, accepting a proprietary NB-10L lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. Battery life is manufacturer-rated at 250 shots on a charge, when using the LCD panel to frame images, and with no flash usage. (Note that this cannot be directly compared with CIPA-standard battery life figures for other cameras, which are measured with 50% flash usage.) With the LCD off, as many as 700 shots can be captured on a charge.

 

Canon G1 X Shooter's Report

by Mike Tomkins

Straight out of the camera, I was quite pleased with the G1 X's images. The colors were typically pleasing and quite natural, and there was just enough punch without straying into oversaturation. I did frequently find myself opting for a little negative exposure compensation, though.

When Canon announced the PowerShot G1 X earlier this year, I found myself rather excited. It's been rather a while since I've owned a fixed-lens camera, because--like many folks these days, it seems--I've found that small-sensor models no longer offer a sufficient advantage over my smartphone for throwaway snapshots, yet typically bring a decided disadvantage when it comes to the ease and immediacy of sharing those same images on social networks. Mirrorless cameras thus far haven't offered a sufficient size advantage over my SLR, and the only large-sensor compacts have been hobbled with prime lenses, when I'm a photographer who prefers to zoom with my fingertip, rather than my feet. Hence I've found myself with a large gap in my imaging tools, between a basic smartphone for the snapshots, and an SLR for the more important photos where quality is a must.

On paper at least, the G1 X looked to be a camera I'd long hoped for: a fixed-lens, compact model with a large sensor that gave little away in comparison to typical SLRs and system cameras, but which included a useful zoom range, and did so in a significantly smaller overall package than an interchangeable-lens camera with similar zoom range. The G1 X, it struck me, seemed to have been made specifically to fill the hole in my arsenal. It also looked to offer an interesting alternative for those who didn't want small-sensor image quality, but who also didn't want to deal with the complexity of an interchangeable-lens camera. Until now, that photographer would have bought an SLR or mirrorless model, and then simply attached the kit lens, never to take it off again.

Shots like this one of the American and Bridal Veil falls at Niagara with the light show under way are where the G1 X plays its trump card. Typical fixed-lens compacts fare poorly when you lose daylight; this ISO 400 shot is well after dark, but the little remaining noise would clean up nicely. (Note: I traveled light and had no tripod, so the camera was simply braced against a convenient post.)

Of course, I knew that compromises would have been made to achieve the G1 X's design goals; that had to be the case, or every manufacturer on the market would be offering similar products. My brief for this review, then, was twofold: to decide if this was a camera that could serve as a second camera and daily shooter for the SLR owner, and as a replacement for an interchangeable-lens camera for the photographer stepping up from a point-and-shoot model. Or would the compromises simply be a step too far?

Straight out of the box, the Canon G1 X presented me with my first surprise. It's definitely smaller than an SLR or CSC with equivalent lens and sensor, but it's not as compact as it might appear in the product photos. "Chunky," is the word that springs immediately to mind, and I began to question my belief that it would offer sufficient advantage in terms of bulk over the alternatives. I'm glad to say that a few weeks with the camera, though, my earlier hopes have been borne out. The G1 X has accompanied me on a quite a few day trips, including a long weekend in Niagara Falls and Toronto, where size and weight were at a premium. (I was traveling very light, with only what I could fit in a single carry-on bag.) My SLR, of course, didn't make the grade. While I could've jammed in a typical system camera and kit lens, I'd likely have ended up leaving something else at home to free up a little bulk. The G1 X cut a good balance, and for the most part didn't leave me feeling that I'd lost any photo opportunities on my first visit to both Canada's largest city, and one of North America's best-known landmarks.

The Vari-Angle LCD was often a lifesaver, letting me get shots from unusual angles--here, I had the camera only an inch or so off the ground--without struggling to see what I was framing..

Although it's styling is rather angular, I found the G1 X pretty comfortable to shoot with, and greatly appreciated the inclusion of control dials both front and rear. The vari-angle LCD display was also a great feature, whether I was crouched trying to get a worm's eye view of the CN Tower, or simply wanted reassuring that the LCD panel was safe from harm with the G1 X thrown in a shoulder bag as I ran around town. Simply turn the LCD to face inwards, and nothing can touch it. The overall control layout felt reasonably intuitive as well. I did find the exposure compensation dial much too easy to bump, though, something that almost cost me a series of blown exposures at Niagara. (Fortunately, after the fourth or fifth frame, I realized my mistake--I'd bumped in two thirds of a stop of positive exposure compensation--and quickly backtracked to reshoot the affected images.)

I'd still like to see Canon work on getting the size down, though. My first suggestion would be to simply get rid of the optical viewfinder. The view it provides is tunnel-like, and I found it far too loose to be of anything more than a vague guide to framing. Doubly so at wide angle, when something like an eighth of the frame at bottom left is obscured by the G1 X's own lens. It simply didn't feel like a useful feature, and after some initial experiments with shots that appeared little like what I saw through the viewfinder, I simply stopped using it altogether.

I also felt the G1 X's performance to be something of a disappointment. I'm a full-time raw shooter these days, although when I'm working on reviews, I shoot in raw+JPEG so I can provide both formats. (Note that the JPEGs shot in Canada in this review are raws converted with Canon's Digital Photo Professional though; I needed to economize on card space, since I was away from home.) In addition to shooting all those heavy raws, I also frequently bracket exposures for review purposes, to be sure of a JPEG that's in the ballpark. That is simply not an enjoyable combination with the G1 X, for a number of reasons. The burst rate falls from an already fairly pedestrian two frames per second in JPEG mode to just 1.1 fps as soon as you enable raw mode, and adding raw+JPEG takes you down to just barely over 0.8 fps. Add in a bracketed exposure as well, and you find that the G1 X shoots all three exposures with a single press of the shutter button, and doesn't give any live preview once shooting starts. Holding a camera steady without a tripod for at least 3.6 seconds, without anything except the small, inaccurate viewfinder to rely on is a frustrating experience, to say the least. If you shoot solely in JPEG mode, or you seldom bracket exposures, this will be less of an issue, but it's one to which I'm rather sensitive.

As you zoom towards the tele end, the G1 X's aperture narrows significantly, and you don't get the soft, creamy bokeh you might expect with a larger aperture. The ISO sensitivity also has to ramp up a bit to compensate.

Several points that I think will be of more concern to the average shooter are related to the G1 X's lens. Macro photography is a pretty common need in a compact camera; whether it's the occasional pictures of a pretty flower or interesting bug that you want to show the family, or you're the kind of person who likes to share images of your every meal on Facebook, chances are good that you shoot close-up more than every once in a while. Unfortunately, the G1 X really doesn't get you that close, as you can see in the results of our macro test; anything much smaller than a dinner plate is not going to come anywhere near to filling the width of the frame. Its focusing is also sedate compared to most recent cameras, including mirrorless models that rely on contrast detection AF (as does the G1 X). For relatively static scenes, the slow AF is something you can live with, but coupled with the rather modest burst shooting performance, it can make shooting unpredictable, moving subjects--kids or animals, say--a pretty painful experience.

Also, while you can manage some nice bokeh at wide angle, the G1 X's aperture quickly narrows as you stray even a little way towards telephoto, which quickly reduces its advantage in terms of both shallow depth-of-field and light gathering capability. That's a bit of a shame. And battery life is fairly modest if you use the LCD display for framing, which given the viewfinder's issues, you almost certainly will. (Although with that said, I found it sufficed on my day trips, and with overnight charging. Add an extra battery or two, and you'd likely be fine even with a couple of days away from a power point.)

Noise suppression first starts to be somewhat noticeable at ISO 800, as you can see in the subtler brick patterns in this shot. That said, I was happy shooting at ISO 1,600 frequently, and even the occasional ISO 3,200 shot was very good compared to what you'd expect from cameras with smaller sensors. ISO 6,400 and beyond was a step too far for my tastes, but might help in a pinch.

These complaints aside, though, I really did enjoy shooting with the G1 X, by and large. Macro performance aside, its lens really hit a sweet spot for me, with enough coverage on both ends of the range so as not to feel that I was making a sacrifice. (It actually offers about the same wide angle as the typical 18-55mm kit lens on an APS-C DSLR, and some worthwhile extra reach at the telephoto end.) Better still, despite its relatively compact size, it manages to yield pretty good image quality, with good sharpness across the frame (although the corners are a bit soft at wide angle). Noise handling is also fairly good, and I found myself happy to roam as high as the occasional ISO 3,200 shot, although most of my shooting was at ISO 1,600 or below. (By the time you get to ISO 3,200, you can certainly see the effects of noise reduction in finer details at 1:1 resolution.) In terms of image quality, I felt the G1 X was in a completely different league to small-sensor cameras--as you'd expect, given the sensor size.

And so I come back to the questions I posed myself: does it make a good accompaniment to an SLR or system camera, and can it serve as a replacement for either?

Well, as an SLR owner who's looking for a second camera myself, I believe the answer to the first question is a fairly enthusiastic "Yes"! Certainly, there are things I'd like to see improved in a future model, most notably in terms of size and weight, and performance. I think those shortcomings are easier to overlook when you have an SLR to fall back on, though. When the SLR has to stay at home though, the G1 X can give you results you really can't rival with a small-sensor camera, and you don't feel overly burdened with the G1 X on a neckstrap or in a shoulder bag. I don't think I'd have felt the same with a typical compact system camera, as I'd have needed either a much larger lens, or a couple of lenses to cover the same focal lengths. (And I really did find myself using everything from wide angle to telephoto on a pretty regular basis.) Sure, I could've taken the typical compact travel zoom with me, and had even more zoom range, but I wouldn't have been as happy with the images when I got back home.

Wide Angle (28mm equiv.) Telephoto (112mm equiv.)
I frequently took advantage of the G1 X's entire zoom range, and appreciated the extra reach beyond that offered by the typical SLR or mirrorless kit lens. (Note: These shots were made from the same place, through a plate glass window at the top of the CN Tower. They're indicative of zoom range, not of ultimate image quality. I'm not particularly scared of heights, but didn't much feel like climbing out and washing the windows!)

As a alternative to an interchangeable lens camera for the photographer stepping up from a point-and-shoot, I think the Canon G1 X is a harder sell, though. Here, I think the limited autofocus and burst performance coupled with the limited macro capabilities are too often going to lead to frustration and missed photos. That's fine if you have a better camera you can switch to on those occasions, but if this is your only camera... well, that leaves you in something of a pickle. I think if I were to choose only one camera, I'd have to give the G1 X a pass, and go for a mirrorless camera or a DSLR, even if that brought some extra bulk.

One final note from me: if you read the whole of our review, you'll see that we discovered an issue which we believe to be a light leak, referred to by Canon as the "glow dots" phenomenon. While it's unquestionably repeatable in certain circumstances, as described below, I have to say that it seems unlikely to present an issue in real-world shooting. Certainly, in having captured probably somewhere on the order of a thousand shots or more in my time with the G1 X, I've yet to see the problem once in a real world shot of my own. If you're considering the G1 X, I wouldn't let this issue dissuade you: I'd suggest that you make your decision based on the camera's other merits and shortcomings, which are likely to have a far greater impact on your day-to-day shooting.

 

Canon G1 X Image Quality

The crops below compare the Canon G1 X to the Canon G12 as well the Canon T3i digital SLR, and a couple of Compact System Cameras (Olympus E-P3 and Sony NEX-5N). Though we normally start with ISO 1,600 here, we thought we'd start with base ISO to show the best that each camera can do.

Note that these images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. Each camera was shot with the sharpest lens on hand, though the "point and shoot" cameras we've included here obviously used their fixed lenses.

Canon G1 X versus Canon G12 at base ISO

Canon G1 X at ISO 100
Canon G12 at ISO 80

There's a noticeable difference between the G1 X at the G12, due somewhat to the sensor resolution, but also the resolving power of the lens and larger sensor. Contrast is better, detail is sharper, and you can even see threads in the pink fabric below the red leaf fabric on the G1 X shot.


Canon G1 X versus Canon T3i at base ISO

Canon G1 X at ISO 100
Canon T3i at ISO 100

There's a difference in aspect ratio between the two cameras. The G1 X is 4:3, while the T3i is 3:2. But the G1 X looks a little sharper overall, including in the red leaf swatch.


Canon G1 X versus Nikon J1 at base ISO

Canon G1 X at ISO 100
Nikon J1 at ISO 100

Comparing the 14.3-megapixel Canon G1 X to the 10.1-megapixel Nikon J1 doesn't seem quite fair at base ISO, but what happens as ISO rises is still relevant. At ISO 100, though, the advantage goes to the Canon G1 X.


Canon G1 X versus Olympus E-P3 at base ISO

Canon G1 X at ISO 100
Olympus E-P3 at ISO 200

Compared to the 12-megapixel E-P3, the G1 X looks pretty good, with the E-P3 turning in a much softer red leaf swatch, though the colors of the E-P3 look a little richer overall. Detail in both is pretty good.


Canon G1 X versus Sony NEX-5N at base ISO

Canon G1 X at ISO 100
Sony NEX-5N at ISO 100

We expected a different result pitting the 16-megapixel NEX-5N against the 14.1-megapixel G1 X, but the G1 X looks sharper overall. The rendering of the red swatch is a littler darker on the G1 X, but the detail is pretty accurate and not soft as on the Sony.



Most decent cameras produce very good results at base ISO, so we like to see what they can do at higher settings. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Canon G1 X versus Canon G12 at ISO 1,600

Canon G1 X at ISO 1,600
Canon G12 at ISO 1,600

Raise the ISO to 1,600, and the advantage of the G1 X's larger sensor becomes clear.


Canon G1 X versus Canon T3i at ISO 1,600

Canon G1 X at ISO 1,600
Canon T3i at ISO 1,600

We were told that the pixel pitch of the G1 X's new sensor was similar to the T3i. The different aspect ratios prevent a perfect comparison, but it's still pretty close. The G1 X seems to handle the red swatch a little better, perhaps indicating a new approach to noise processing.


Canon G1 X versus Nikon J1 at ISO 1,600

Canon G1 X at ISO 1,600
Nikon J1 at ISO 1,600

Though the Nikon J1's image is fairly clean for a 10-megapixel sensor, the chroma noise in the shadows and overall softness can't quite stand up to the G1 X's larger sensor approach.


Canon G1 X versus Olympus E-P3 at ISO 1,600

Canon G1 X at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-P3 at ISO 1,600

Sensor size again prevails against the E-P3, with more detail lost to noise processing, particularly in the mosaic and red leaf image.


Canon G1 X versus Sony NEX-5N at ISO 1,600

Canon G1 X at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-5N at ISO 1,600

And despite its higher resolution, the Sony NEX-5N prevails with better noise handling overall, resulting in greater detail than the Canon G1 X. The NEX-5N appears to be applying a little more sharpening to its files, though, with noticeable halos where the G1 X doesn't have much.



Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.

Canon G1 X versus Canon G12 at ISO 3,200

Canon G1 X at ISO 3,200
Canon G12 at ISO 3,200

Though both are pretty soft at ISO 3,200, the G1 X shows that it can be depended upon in low light quite a bit more than the G12.


Canon G1 X versus Canon T3i at ISO 3,200

Canon G1 X at ISO 3,200
Canon T3i at ISO 3,200

Surprisingly the Canon G1 X does a little better than the T3i at ISO 3,200, in almost every aspect.


Canon G1 X versus Nikon J1 at ISO 3,200

Canon G1 X at ISO 3,200
Nikon J1 at ISO 3,200

The Nikon J1 keeps a pretty decent control on noise in most areas, but the G1 X does better overall.


Canon G1 X versus Olympus E-P3 at ISO 3,200

Canon G1 X at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-P3 at ISO 3,200

The Canon G1 X continues to do just a bit better than the E-P3 at ISO 3,200, with the one exception being the Mas Portel label top right, where the high-contrast label unnaturally pops from the background, while the G1 X's image looks more even from element to element in the image.


Canon G1 X versus Sony NEX-5N at ISO 3,200

Canon G1 X at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-5N at ISO 3,200

Sony's approach to noise suppression and sharpening are more evident in these images, with the background of the Mas Portel bottle seeming artificially processed, while label pops almost artificially. The mosaic label looks a lot better on the Sony NEX-5N, and the color tends to pop more on the 5N, while the G1 X looks a little flat.



Detail: Canon G1 X vs. Canon G12, Canon T3i, Nikon J1, Olympus E-P3, and Sony NEX-5N

N/A
Canon
G1 X

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
G12

ISO 80
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
T3i

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
J1

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Olympus
E-P3

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
NEX-5N

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. High-contrast details are often sharper as ISO rises, so they're worth a look as well. Fine detail on the G1 X looks quite good, though it's bested by the T3i and NEX-5N, an outcome we'd expect. As ISO rises, contrast and saturation tend to decrease in the G1 X, while it stays stronger in the T3i, E-P3, and NEX-5N. The J1 and G12 appear to be out of the running for this contest, barely resolving the lines inside the letters even at ISO 100. At ISO 6,400, though the contrast is faded, the G1 X actually does the best at maintaining the lines inside the letters, while they're more of a blur in the T3i and NEX-5N images. Overall, a pretty impressive performance from the G1 X, and a vindication of the concept.

 

Canon G1 X Print Quality

Good 24x36-inch prints at ISO 100 and 200; ISO 800 shots make good 16x20-inch prints; even 12,800 make usable 4x6s!

ISO 100 images are good at 24x36 inches, but perhaps a little "loose." They tighten up at 20x30, looking very good with sharp detail and good color. We need to qualify that, though, because the yellows are uncharacteristically subdued for a Canon camera, something we saw in the crops as well.

ISO 200 shots also look good printed at 24x36.

ISO 400 shots look great at 20x30, with the slightest hint of softening in some textures, but it's only noticeable on close inspection.

ISO 800 images look better at 16x20 inches, with excellent detail and good color. Our red leaf swatch still looks quite good at ISO 800, a nice surprise.

ISO 1,600 images have a more processed look at 16x20, but very little actual chroma or luminance noise is left behind. We prefer 13x19 prints.

ISO 3,200 shots are usable at 11x14, but that processed look has become more pronounced, so we prefer the 8x10-inch prints.

ISO 6,400 images seem a little too loose at 8x10, and the red leaf swatch has sporadic detail, the first time we've seen something other than total blur from a Canon camera. They're much better printed at 5x7.

ISO 12,800 shots are a bit too smudgy and dark for printing at 5x7, but detail looks better at 4x6. I think you'd want to brighten the images a bit, as the darks are really dark at this point.

Overall, the Canon G1 X does well, though not quite as well as SLRs as the ISO rises. An impressive performance nonetheless.

 

Canon G1 X Light Leak

by Shawn Barnett and Dave Etchells

During the normal course of our testing, we discovered an issue with the Canon G1 X, where at high ISO settings and a medium focal length (~50mm equivalent) a bright light source near the center or toward the bottom of the frame will produce a bright artifact in the center and right side of the image.

The cause is likely a light leak or reflection through the lens assembly that makes its way around the shutter, allowing light to fall on the sensor either before or after the shutter opens and closes to make its exposure. Since the effect is most pronounced at 1/4,000 second, it seems that extra light is allowed to fall on the sensor after the shutter has closed to end its exposure, but while the sensor is still powered up to record light.

We sent our images to Canon and they came back with a response, calling the phenomenon "Glow Dots," though what we see does not resemble dots at all. Canon further says, "Due to the limited circumstances under which the PowerShot G1X 'Glow Dots' phenomenon can occur, Canon does not plan to change the camera's specifications or offer repair service for this issue."

We want to note up front that this phenomenon is not very likely to show up in average everyday shooting situations, because most of us don't shoot bright objects at ISO 1,600 to 12,800 at high shutter speeds. But those trying to achieve a special effect or even simply forgetting to change from a high ISO to a lower one when entering bright light might encounter the defect, just as we did.

We first saw the issue in our Far Shot series, as seen below. Look at the top set of windows beneath the City Hall sign, as well as the right window. It's most dramatic in the ISO 12,800 shot:

ISO 1,600, f/8, 1/800 @56mm eq. ISO 3,200, f/8, 1/1,600 @56mm eq.
ISO 6,400, f/11, 1/1,600 @56mm eq. ISO 12,800, f/16, 1/1,600 @56mm eq.

We did some more experimentation, and saw it when a very bright subject, not necessarily a point light source, was in the frame. A light-colored garage door and sunlight bouncing off the concrete driveway provided sufficient light, as did a white car in bright sunlight.

ISO 12,800, f/16, 1/4,000, -3EV @50mm eq. ISO 3,200, f/8, 1/2,500 @62mm eq.
ISO 12,800, f/16, 1/4,000 @50mm eq. ISO 12,800, f/16, 1/4,000 @50mm eq.

In the two garage door shots above, the brightest object in or out of the frame is the sunlit door itself, and the concrete less so. This light is sufficient to show the light leak. Alarmingly, the wispy clouds in this sky shot also revealed the leak. The reflection from the car also captures the leak (note that the sun's reflection in the shot is not the likely cause of the light leak, as we show in the shots below, taken with a very bright (1,200 lumen) LED flashlight).

ISO 12,800, f/16, 1/2,500 @50mm eq. ISO 12,800, f/16, 1/4,000 @50mm eq.
ISO 12,800, f/16, 1/4,000 @50mm eq. ISO 12,800, f/16, 1/2,500 @50mm eq.

The light leak appears when the light source is in the bottom of the frame with the camera is held horizontally, and can appear even if light is directed into the lens from beneath, without the light source itself appearing in the picture. It also occurs when light is coming straight into the lens from the center, at just the right angle, but no light leak occurs when the light source is to the left or the top of the image. It is not visible in live view or during movie recording.

We also determined through considerable experimentation that the light leak comes in through the lens, not through the optical viewfinder, or any other opening in the camera body, as we shined both a high-powered flashlight and sunlight into every possible crevice with the lens covered, and found no evidence of the leak.

Again, the conditions where the light leak is most noticeable is:

Canon, for its part, defines the Glow Dots phenomenon thus:

Glow Dots occur on the condition of "ISO setting higher than ISO1600 (ISO 1600 ~ 12800)" and "Specific Shutter Speed (1-4)".        [Shot by TV Mode]

        Shutter Speed                ISO setting

  1. 1/4000 second and higher than ISO1600
  2. 1/2000 second and Higher than ISO3200
  3. 1/1000 second and Higher than ISO6400
  4. 1/500 second and ISO12800

*** Other conditions ***
- Zoom Range:        The Glow Dots occur only in Middle zoom range. (f=20-40mm). The Glow Dots do "not" occur at the Wide / Tele side.

* This Glow Dots phenomenon will have an extremely low incidence level because the ISO default setting does not increase to more than ISO 1600 other than when set to manual mode.  Due to the limited circumstances under which the PowerShot G1X 'Glow Dots' phenomenon can occur, Canon does not plan to change the camera's specifications or offer repair service for this issue.

Canon also noted that all G1 X models seem to exhibit this behavior.

So what might be happening to cause this? While we can't tell for sure, we think that light is bouncing off the shutter itself after it closes, but while the sensor is still sensitive to light. We think it's happening after the shutter closes, because the effect doesn't appear to be visible at slower shutter speeds: Our hypothesis is that the artifact is being recorded during a very short interval after the main exposure occurs. If the light levels are such as to produce a proper exposure with a shutter speed of, say, 1/60 second, the brief interval during which light from the leak accumulates after the exposure would represent a very small portion of the total exposure time, and so not be noticeable. Further supporting this theory is that the artifact fades relative to the main exposure as you move to lower ISO sensitivities, suggesting that the leak is being recorded for a relatively short, fixed duration.

However it occurs, it's worth reiterating that aside from the FAR shots we captured, we have not seen the phenomenon in any real-world shots as of yet. It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to shoot a bright light source at high ISO with such a fast shutter speed, aside from capturing a test image, as we routinely do. (Perhaps if someone needed both a very fast shutter speed and a tiny aperture to capture fast sports action with high depth of field?) The only time we can imagine it coming up during normal shooting is if you accidentally left the ISO set high and then tried to shoot outdoors in Program or Aperture priority modes – we've done that more than once ourselves. It might also appear when shooting at ISO 1,600 and push-processing a RAW image.

 

In the Box

The Canon PowerShot G1 X ships with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Canon G1 X Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Quite a bit smaller than large-sensor mirrorless or SLR with similar lens
  • Lens is fairly sharp (except corners at wide angle), hits a good sweet spot for zoom range, and bright at wide angle
  • JPEG mode automatically corrects for distortion, aberration
  • Tilt/swivel LCD adds protection, makes framing awkward angles easy
  • Excellent high ISO performance for a compact
  • Large sensor and relatively fast lens allows shallow depth-of-field at wide angle
  • Nice, camera-like interface with lots of external controls, including twin dials
  • Two custom settings groups make it easy to save setups for specific situations
  • Dedicated movie button makes spontaneous video easier (but no crop preview until recording starts, unless in Movie mode)
  • Very good low-light performance
  • Good flash range from built in flash, hot shoe for external strobes
  • Adjustable JPEG noise reduction
  • 14-bit RAW files
  • Fair selection of creative options
  • Maximum aperture falls quickly with zoom
  • Autofocus and burst performance much slower than most compact system cameras, and even many fixed-lens compacts
  • Optical viewfinder is not very useful (small, inaccurate, blocked by lens at wide angle)
  • Exposure compensation dial is far too easy to bump
  • Lack of live view during exposure bracketing makes it difficult not to change framing
  • 4.5 fps burst mode doesn't support RAW, has shallow 6 frame buffer
  • Distortion correction at wide angle makes corners soft with stretching artifacts
  • Lens does not focus closely, making for a very large macro area
  • Light leak issue (aka "glow dots")
  • Dynamic range isn't as good as the sensor size would suggest
  • Auto flash selects slow shutter speeds which can lead to motion blur
  • Below-average battery life with LCD
  • Similar pricing to an entry-level DSLR (but lens is better than a typical SLR kit lens)

 

For several years now I've waited in anticipation, wondering how much longer Canon could ignore the burgeoning compact system camera market, and finally make a splash with a mirrorless model of its own. The Canon PowerShot G1 X is not that camera, but it's exciting for much the same reason that those very first mirrorless models were: It's a brand-new approach from a well-established and respected name in the industry, and it offers a worthwhile size advantage over most competing designs. (It actually goes a bit better even than current compact system cameras as well, when you bear in mind the lens and sensor sizes.) To my mind, the G1 X offers appeal for two distinct markets. Photographers looking to supplement their existing interchangeable-lens camera will likely find it interesting because it's a bit smaller and more travel-friendly, but doesn't sacrifice on image quality with a postage-stamp sized imager, and still makes shallow depth-of-field effects attainable. At the same time, consumers looking to step up from a point and shoot camera to something more capable may find it attractive as an alternative to an SLR or mirrorless camera, if they don't feel the need for an interchangeable-lens design.

Unfortunately, the Canon G1 X is also reminiscent of the early mirrorless cameras in another way. It feels like a first-generation product, one that's not yet had sufficient life for the design to be honed and refined. Once the edges are taken off, a followup will very likely shine. In fact, in the right situation and for the right photographer it already offers an attractive proposition, even bearing in mind the drawbacks. There are definitely some things I'd like to see Canon work on, however. For one thing, it seems like there's a fair opportunity to reduce the size and weight of the G1 X still further, and thereby offer a clearer advantage over SLR and CSC cameras. Although the chunky body is fairly satisfying in terms of control layout (with the exception of the easily-bumped exposure compensation dial, anyway), it just doesn't feel small enough. A prime candidate for space saving is the viewfinder: it's small and inaccurate enough that I found it of very little use, and I'd rather have seen some height shaved off the design, instead.

The Canon G1 X can also feel frustratingly slow, something that leads to missed shots when unexpected opportunities crop up, especially if you're trying to shoot active subjects like kids or pets. It's macro performance could be better, and its battery life is a rather below par. Were those quirks resolved, it'd be so much easier to recommend as a camera for the step-up shooter. Many mirrorless and SLR camera buyers will never change their lens anyway, and for them an integrated design like the G1 X could well be a smarter solution. As is, though, I think it represents a better option for somebody who already has a capable SLR or CSC, which they can rely on for those times when the G1 X isn't up to the job. The shortcomings will likely prove too frustrating for the inexperienced shooter who doesn't have another large-sensor camera option they can rely upon.

The image quality is undeniably in a different class to most fixed-lens cameras, however. Not just that, but as a large-sensor, fixed-lens compact camera with a zoom, the G1 X stands in a class of its own: it genuinely offers something completely different to any other camera on the market. And honestly, quirks or not, I had a lot of fun shooting with it, and found it rewarded my patience with a lot of shots I really liked. I'd have missed a lot of those shots with an SLR or mirrorless camera because the added bulk would've seen them left at home on my desk. Sure, I could probably have gotten something resembling them with a typical compact camera, but the pictures wouldn't have been anywhere near as easy on my eye as those from a large-sensor camera. For that, I think that the Canon G1 X deserves a Dave's Pick, even if some of it's failings mean it's not the ideal camera for everyone.

 

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