At a time when most of the camera-making world is busy building compacts with interchangeable lenses, Canon is bucking the trend with the all-in-one Canon PowerShot G1X and its 14.3MP CMOS sensor.
While the rest of the manufacturing world seems to be focused on making compact system cameras with their interchangeable lenses and electronic viewfinders, Canon has refused to join the throng and instead continues along the well-worn all-in-one compact camera road. Say hello then, to the Canon PowerShot G1X.
If you think you’ve heard that name before you haven’t. But you might have seen the same letters in a different order in the form of the GX1 from Panasonic that, ironically, is a compact system camera!
The Canon PowerShot G1X is a definite step up in class from the much-applauded PowerShot G12. It bears more than a passing resemblance to it too, but Canon is keen to point out that it is not a replacement for the G12, which lives on as a stablemate. What the G1X does is bring a new dimension in sensor size. Its new 14.3MP CMOS sensor is six times larger (in surface area) than the sensor in the G12. This is a significant change and one that suggests image quality is going to be dramatically improved.
Features & handling
The Canon G1X is a chunky and robust compact. This isn’t a camera you are going to slip into a pocket, unless you have a kangaroo pouch in your jacket, but at least you can be assured its solid metal construction will withstand a bit of daily abuse. The 4x lens – that’s 28-112mm in old money – sits proud of the body by approximately 25mm, and you need to add another 10mm if you also include the lens cap. This is a significant change from the G12, where the lens is relatively flat to the camera body.
Being chunky isn’t necessarily an issue though. In fact, since this is a camera that is aimed squarely at DSLR owners who want a second all-in-one solution, being a bit bigger is probably a bonus.
Naturally the biggest talking point is the new sensor. At 18.7x14mm, this CMOS chip is closer in surface area to those used in APS-C sized digital SLRs like the EOS 60D. Perhaps Canon is gambling on the photographer’s preference for image quality over the ability to change lenses.
In the tradition of the G-series compact, this is definitely a manual operation camera. Of course it does have auto modes and focus, but the onus is very much on the photographer to make a lot of the decisions and take control.
We handed this compact to a point-and-shoot owner who’s looking to take the next step up in camera control and the look of panic on their face was obvious. But if you are familiar with Canon DSLRs and associated technical jargon, then manual operation isn’t a major hurdle. Front and rear scroll wheels are in familiar positions and the main control dial sits right on top, next to the shutter button. Around the control dial is a large exposure compensation dial. In the G12 this is on the left of the top-plate while an ISO control is around the control dial.
The change does make some sense. The ISO is now controlled via the rear scroll wheel with a bar appearing in the bottom of the LCD panel. If you use exposure compensation alterations far more frequently than ISO changes, being able to take your finger straight off the shutter button and setting a plus or minus increment quickly and easily to get the exposure perfect is a bonus.
The in-built flash is on the top-plate where it can pop-up enough to be able to fire the flash without the lens getting in the way, and there is a hotshoe too so you can attach a separate flash if required, although the Canon Speedlite 430EX we put on it did make it feel a bit cumbersome.
One of the major disappointments when using this camera is the viewfinder. It’s an optical viewfinder so what you see is what you get (well, approximately 80% of it). The trouble is, at the wider focal lengths some of the view is obscured anyway. To be honest, we chose to use the 3in LCD for composing instead. It’s clear, and twists and turns pretty much any way you want it to, so it does go a long way to making up for the viewfinder’s inadequacies.
This camera was always going to live or die on its image quality and it doesn’t let itself down. Shooting both JPEG and RAW, you have everything you could need for superb results. In fact, image detail was outstanding in our test prints and our controlled ISO shots showed a really significant improvement over the G12 right through the ISO range. But at higher ISOs such as 800 and upwards, the improvement was even more impressive. There was a slight degradation in image quality between ISO 400 and 1600 but you have to look hard to find it. Of course, once you leap up to 3200, 6400 and 12,800 then the quality does slip, but it is still good enough to use.
The ability to shoot at the wide aperture of f/2.8 is often pointless on compacts, since the small sensor size means there is very little drop off in focus anyway. But thanks to the larger sensor size of the G1X, f/2.8 really means that you can isolate your subject from the background, though you’ll only get f/2.8 at the 28mm end of the lens so this isn’t helpful for portraits.
One area of performance that did prove frustrating was its macro setting. The camera just can’t focus closely enough to the subject to make this work effectively. When we tested this against the G12, there was no competition, the G12 just does it better and focuses so much closer. This is obviously due to the larger sensor in the G1X needing a different lens construction, but since the closest focusing point is, at best 20cm, we can’t help thinking that calling it macro is stretching a point!
There’s an interesting battle shaping up between all-in-one compacts like the G1X and compact system cameras. Canon clearly sees a market for its product that is separate from the CSC scrum that’s forming. The G1X is undoubtedly a tremendous camera that delivers an image quality that’s at a very high level thanks to its large sensor. The G-series has a big following and we’re certain this one has moved the quality levels on again.
But is an all-in-one compact a compromise? No camera delivers everything perfectly and with the G1X you get a bit of yin and yang. Would we buy this camera over a CSC? The honest answer is no, we don’t think we would, but we’re certain there are a lot of photographers out there who will prefer the all-in-one approach to that of interchangeable lenses with a compact body. Let the battle commence.
- Street price £269 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Effective resolution 14.3MP
- Sensor type 18.7x14mm high-sensitivity CMOS
- ISO range 100-12,800
- Viewfinder Optical
- Metering Evaluative, centre-weighted & spot
- LCD size 3in 920,000k dots
- Recording formats RAW & JPEG
- Shooting speed 4.5fps (High-speed Burst HQ)
- Video Full HD (1080p)
- Weight 534g
- Visit: www.canon.co.uk
This review was first published in the Spring 2012 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.