Cameras

Canon PowerShot G1 X Digital Camera Review

Canon's new G1 X features a giant 1.5-inch CMOS sensor and the same manual control that we loved on the G12.

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Introduction

Canon's new PowerShot G1 X is highly reminiscent of the popular G12, but will not replace this model in the company's lineup. The G1 X represents the start of an entirely new branch of Canon cameras. The star of this show is gigantic new 1.5-inch CMOS sensor, larger than the Four-Thirds standard and much larger than the G12's 1/1.7-inch CCD.

These specifications come at a steep price though. The G12 will retail for $799.99, and is clearly intended as a compact companion camera for intermediate and advanced photographers.

Video Review

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

Lens & Sensor

It's likely Canon had to reduce the G1 X's zoom ratio in order to accommodate the huge new sensor. Optical zoom is down to 4x, and sadly macro focus distance is worse too. The G1 X can only lock subjects as close as 7.9 inches, to the G12's 0.4 inches. The barrel has great action though, extending and retracting quickly, albeit with quite a bit of audible noise.

Just like the G12, the G1 X features a removable metal ring around the lens, which protects the hardware when it's in place. An optional teleconverter can also be connected here, and exchanged using a mechanical release on the front panel below the lens.

The new 1.5-inch CMOS sensor is head-turning upgrade from the G12. This 14.3 megapixel unit is much larger than the Four Thirds standard, and such a sensor is unheard of in a fixed lens camera. Low light performance should also be significantly better than the G12's CCD.

Viewfinder

The same viewfinder used for the G12 makes a return here. This is an optical viewfinder, another rarity in the fixed-lens market. The finder isn't through-the-lens, but runs on a parallel vector and allows pretty accurate framing to the final image. As the lens zooms in, so does the viewfinder. The edge of the lens barrel is visible in the corner of the viewfinder, since they're so close together, and we were hoping Canon would've come up with a workaround for this since the G12.

Display(s)

The swing-out, rotating LCD screen is a little bit larger than its predecessor's, coming in at a full 3.0 inches with 922,000-dot resolution. This versatile panel is useful for video or tripod work, and the gorgeous picture is quite accurate to the final recorded image.

Connectivity

A sturdy plastic door on the right panel of the chassis houses a standard USB terminal as well as a miniHDMI connector. We also appreciate when manufacturers go with standardized ports instead of proprietary ones, and Canon rarely disappoints.

A hot shoe mount rests directly above the viewfinder, and this will be useful for accessories like high-powered flash.

Image Quality

Image quality was a mixed bag. While the sharpness performance and noise reduction were both very impressive, we were disappointed that color accuracy could've be improved over the G12.

Sharpness

The G1 X offers some of the best sharpness performance we've ever seen from a fixed-lens model, with detail levels sometimes peaking as high as 2500 MTF50's in certain zones, even at the longest focal length. How to did Canon achieve this? Why, by cheating of course.

Edge enhancement is very noticeable in all photos. This will manifest as thick dark bars occurring against high contrast edges. While this effect is sufficient to fool our test, it will negatively impact image quality, and make for less lifelike stills. There is no way to deactivate edge enhancement in the G1 X. More on how we test sharpness.

Science Section 2 Images

Image Stabilization

Turning on the G1 X's continuous image stabilization mode actually worsens sharpness by about 22%. This isn't entirely unheard of, but the G12 did at least have a moderately effective stabilizer. We recommend G1 X users deactivate the feature during general use for the best image quality.

Color

We're disappointed by the color accuracy of the G1 X. This camera returned an error value of 4.15, very high for the above-$500 price range. Some yellows were so far off they turned green, meaning human subjects won't appear as lifelike in shots recorded with this camera. Light blues were also significantly darker than ideal, but at least saturation was nearly perfect. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The G12 also had poor color accuracy, making this result all the more disappointing. We were really hoping Canon would fix one of the few major problems we identified with the G12, but it doesn't look like this will be the case.

Color Modes

The G1 X comes with a variety of color modes, with mainstays like Vivid and Neutral, as well as specifics like Vivid Green and Positive Film. The most accurate mode is always a wildcard with Canon cameras. In this case Vivid Red is the closest. Neutral, surprisingly, is inaccurate and drastically undersaturated. We used the Vivid Red mode for the remainder of our testing.

White Balance

Automatic white balance with fine manual adjustment is supported, and a decent selection of presets have been programmed in, including two fluorescent modes, a flash mode, and a mode for use with an underwater enclosure. Two one-touch custom white balance slots are available.

Noise Reduction

The G1 X does a great job compensating for image noise. At the lowest ISO, our tests recorded an average of only 0.44% noise under normal light, and this figure doesn't cross 1.00% flat until the highest sensitivities. From ISO 100 to 3200, noise increases steadily and predictably, suggesting an even-keeled smoothing algorithm in use across this section of the spectrum. A more aggressive technique seems to kick in after ISO 1600, and noise levels spike thereafter, just as we expect them to. Still, even at ISO 12800, image noise maxes out at an impressive 1.55% More on how we test noise.

Science Section 1 Images_2

Chromatic Aberration

We detected very little chromatic aberration during our time with the G1 X, and this speaks volumes about the quality of Canon lenses. On rare occasions, very light blue or yellow fringing appeared around high contrast edges. This effect was worst at the maximum focal length, but with only a 4x zoom the problem isn't bad at all.

Distortion

Barrel distortion is observable throughout the zoom range and we do appreciate Canon's decision not to compensate for this in software, thus keeping our files as free from alteration as possible. It's also worth mentioning how far Canon has come since the G12. The downgrade to 4x serves the G1 X well, resulting in a roughly 33% decrease in distortion.

Motion

Thanks to the cinematic 24p frame rate, video shot with the G1 X lacked the smoothness of 60p competitors. Thankfully trailing isn't too bad, and there's barely any unsightly digital artifacting. Only a bit of interference is noticeable in gradient shadows, and other than that the image is clean. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video Sharpness

The G1 X records video with fairly poor sharpness compared to the top performers in this test. However the picture is sharper than the G12, and sharper in fact than many close competitors, including the Nikon P7100. We recorded an average of 500 lw/ph horizontally and 650 lw/ph vertically in our test. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Usability

Usability is fun and functional, thanks to plenty of hardware manual controls, an in-depth menu system, and intuitive controls. Most users will be hard-pressed to find techniques that don't exist within the G1 X's software.

Automatic Features

The G1 X features a fully automatic, or "green" mode, and this is really all that inexperienced shooters will need. All functions default to their automatic state, and exposure compensation is locked at 0.0 EV. The main menu does still allow some degree of customization, and the trimmed down Func. menu overlay still offers customization of image or video size and self-timer customization. This mode renders the camera completely beginner-proof, and reliably captures great exposures with nothing more than a simple press of the shutter.

Buttons & Dials

The rear and top panel buttons have been arranged in a highly intuitive way, though some of the symbolic labeling does assume a familiarity with photography. We love how the most commonly used shooting options have receiver their own dedicated buttons, such as program shift, focus area, and metering. These keys surround the excellent directional pad, which doubles as a rotating dial for versatile input and menu navigation. The far off playback and shortcut buttons are raised and angled, which makes it easier to strike them quickly.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The G1 X comes with 14 preset scene modes, varying from mainstays like Portrait and Landscape, to the very useful High-speed Burst HQ mode, to fun extras like Movie Digest and Stitch Assist. Scene modes get their own dedicated position on the mode dial, so these techniques are always close at hand.

Picture effects also get their own stop on the mode dial, and these produce zanier images, with choices like Fish-eye, Miniature Effect, Color Accent, and Poster Effect. This mode is also home to the HDR shooting option.

Canon's excellent menu system is a tab based layout, combined with a quick cross-section overlay activated by the Func. button. The quick menu is highly efficient for adjusting common options...well, quickly. While the main menu controls painlessly with a combination of the zoom lever and rear rotating dial. This is a fantastic menu system.

Instruction Manual

The G1 X's "Getting Started" manual is little more than a pamphlet. It lacks a table of contents and an index, and most users with details questions will find it entirely unhelpful. Thankfully, a sufficiently detailed instruction manual is available on Canon's website.

Handling

A few important ergonomic features aid in the handling of this camera, specifically a knurled and rubberized right handed grip on the face of the camera, and a large rubberized thumb rest in between the playback and video shortcut buttons. Texture goes a long way here, particularly on the thumb rest, which has to rely on surface friction rather than a raised lip on the side.

Handling Photo 1

Unfortunately those important features are largely undone by the body's overall design. The flat right hand grip encourages more palm on the back of the camera, right on top of the button layout. Frequently, you'll finish framing up a shot only to have the menu pop up, or the flash settings to pop up, or something else to pop up and interrupt the process. Very frustrating.

Still, the camera is at least quite stable in hand, so we're awarding a decent score here.

Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

Buttons & Dials

The rear and top panel buttons have been arranged in a highly intuitive way, though some of the symbolic labeling does assume a familiarity with photography. We love how the most commonly used shooting options have receiver their own dedicated buttons, such as program shift, focus area, and metering. These keys surround the excellent directional pad, which doubles as a rotating dial for versatile input and menu navigation. The far off playback and shortcut buttons are raised and angled, which makes it easier to strike them quickly.

Buttons Photo 1

On top, the decision to remove and replace the ISO dial with an exposure compensation dial was a good one. Both this and the adjacent mode dial are sturdy and fun to use, and each are unlikely to turn accidentally. The shutter release, sadly, is just so-so. The stroke is nice and long, but the bottom of the first stage is imprecise and frustrating at first. And of course, just like the G12, the front dial is great for controlling priority modes and many other features.

Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

The swing-out, rotating LCD screen is a little bit larger than its predecessor's, coming in at a full 3.0 inches with 922,000-dot resolution. This versatile panel is useful for video or tripod work, and the gorgeous picture is quite accurate to the final recorded image.

Viewfinder

The same viewfinder used for the G12 makes a return here. This is an optical viewfinder, another rarity in the fixed-lens market. The finder isn't through-the-lens, but runs on a parallel vector and allows pretty accurate framing to the final image. As the lens zooms in, so does the viewfinder. The edge of the lens barrel is visible in the corner of the viewfinder, since they're so close together, and we were hoping Canon would've come up with a workaround for this since the G12.

Image Stabilization

Turning on the G1 X's continuous image stabilization mode actually worsens sharpness by about 22%. This isn't entirely unheard of, but the G12 did at least have a moderately effective stabilizer. We recommend G1 X users deactivate the feature during general use for the best image quality.

Shooting Modes

Full "PASM" shooting is supported on this high-end compact, along with all the versatility this entails. There are also dedicated modes for Scene shooting, picture effects, and video capture. Two custom modes have also been included, and these will store personalized settings for easy access later on.

Manual Controls

Aside from full manual control over shutter and aperture, the G1 X features a very nice hardware exposure compensation dial, which feels very professional and fun to use. Even manual focus, which never really works right on fixed lens models, gets one of the best implementations we've seen so far.

Be aware that although it seems like this camera features a manual ring surrounding the barrel, this is actually a metal accessory adapter locked into place.

Recording Options

Five different aspect ratios are supported: 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 1:1, and 4:5; and each of these allows four different shooting resolutions of varying size. Lossless RAW encoding is supported in 4:3, and the camera is capable of capturing both a RAW and a JPEG shot at the same time. JPEG compression may be set to either Normal or Fine.

Speed and Timing

The G1 X includes a full resolution continuous shooting mode, with a virtually unlimited buffer, as well as a full resolution burst mode that maxes out at 6 shots. The latter of these is relegated to a Scene mode, and cannot be found inside the regular continuous shooting menu.

We clocked the continuous shooting mode at 1.9 frames per second. That's relatively slow, but given the huge sensor, not entirely unsurprising. The full resolution burst mode fared slightly better, achieving speeds of 4.66 frames per second. Again, still not the best we've seen, even from cheaper fixed-lens models. RAW continuous shooting is also supported, but it's even slower than either of these two modes.

The self-timer comes with 10-second and 2-second countdowns, as well as a fully customizable setting that allows the user to specify the number of shots as well as the countdown timer. We always appreciate this detail, since it aids in our testing process so much.

Features

Just looking at the G1 X gives you a sense of the feature-set. All those buttons and dials have to control something, right? From scene modes, to burst shooting, to video, this camera offers plenty of options.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The G1 X comes with 14 preset scene modes, varying from mainstays like Portrait and Landscape, to the very useful High-speed Burst HQ mode, to fun extras like Movie Digest and Stitch Assist. Scene modes get their own dedicated position on the mode dial, so these techniques are always close at hand.

Picture effects also get their own stop on the mode dial, and these produce zanier images, with choices like Fish-eye, Miniature Effect, Color Accent, and Poster Effect. This mode is also home to the HDR shooting option.

Other Features

Lens Accessory Adapter

Surrounding the lens barrel is what looks like a twisting manual ring...but it's not. This is actually a metal placeholder for optional accessories such as a teleconverter. The ring is easily removed via a mechanical release on the front panel, but we left it on in the hopes of providing a measure of protection for our lens assembly.

Recording Options

Videos are recorded in 1080p at a cinematic 24 frames per second, or your choice of 720p or 480p at 30 frames per second. Native iFrame recording, for playback on iOS devices, is also supported. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

White balance, gain, color modes, and even a neutral density filter option are all controlled manually in video mode. While a recording is in progress, optical and digital zoom are both unlocked, though they progress more slowly to reduce mechanical noise. Autofocus during video recording is extremely sluggish, in fact it barely functions at all.

Auto Controls

Video capture is availing in all shooting modes, not just the one dedicated to video, and this includes full auto. Therefore it's possible to completely automate all aspects of video shooting, just like you would for stills.

Conclusion

Rarely do we see such an expensive, specialized camera make its way to the fixed-lens market. At $800, the Canon PowerShot G1 X should appeal exclusively to intermediate and advanced photographers. Photographers who–let's face it–probably own a DSLR already. So the question becomes, does the G1 X succeed as a companion camera, a backup model for situations when size and weight are important?

The dense body is still quite a bit larger than most compact cameras, far too big for a pocket. In terms of portability, we're not sure this model has the form factor those intermediate customers will be looking for. At least the G1 X is lighter than a DSLR, but even so, not by much. At over 500 grams with the battery, this is still a hefty piece of hardware.

But we'd be willing to bet many users will overlook these issues if the tradeoff is superior image quality. To a certain extent, this is the case. The G1 X is one sharp camera, acing our resolution test with one of the highest scores we've seen. Unfortunately this result came with a heavy does of edge enhancement, a software edit that renders shots less attractive, and also fools our test a little bit. We also noticed some problems with color. Perhaps due to this camera's new sensor, the G1 X seems incapable of capturing colors with even an average level of accuracy. This wouldn't matter to a beginner, but the "pro-sumer" target audience may notice human subjects looking less than realistic.

We see the PowerShot G1 X as a miss for Canon. We had a lots of fun shooting with it, and love the shots we were able to capture. But with the $800 price tag, and the explosion of the mirrorless camera, there are too many better, cheaper options available to list. This is a fine camera, but one we cannot recommend.

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