Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II Digital Camera Review
The sequel to Canon's acclaimed G1 X is here, and it's no slouch.
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Canon debuted its high-end G series point-and-shoots way back in 2000 and hasn't changed much over the years. Canon switched things up a bit with the G1 X back in 2012, however, taking the familiar body style and adding a much larger 1.5-inch image sensor. This sensor is bigger than those found in Micro Four Thirds cameras, though smaller than those in entry-level DSLRs like the Canon Rebel T5i. While we were impressed with the G1 X, it was clear that there were improvements to be made.
Canon clearly agreed, and we've been itching to check out the new G1 X Mark II (MSRP $799.99) ever since we first saw it back at CES this year. And in the first time in more than a decade, Canon is beginning to change up its G-series designs. Even though the new G1 X Mark II eschews the familiar viewfinder of its predecessors, Canon has loaded it up with an improved lens, faster autofocus, and slightly faster continuous shooting speed. The test results say the Mark II is definitely an upgrade to its predecessor. But in a world of ever-cheaper, ever-improving mirrorless cameras, is that enough to justify a giant price tag?
Design & Handling
Back to the drawing board
When you first lay hands on the Mark II, you're in for a treat. The grip is well-formed, with a satisfyingly large grip and excellent build quality. While point-and-shoot users may find the camera a little larger than they're used to, the menu system should be simple to acclimate to. Especially if you've owned or used Canon PowerShots in the past, the G1 X Mark II will be similar in function to those cameras, even though that big lens hints at the greater performance pedigree within.
Compared to most point-and-shoots, this is a rather hefty camera, so wave goodbye to any illusions that you had of jamming this thing in your pocket. A jacket pocket, maybe, but that's about it. Furthermore, this thing is heavy. However, it's for good reason: Unlike with the original G1 X's relatively slow lens, the G1 X Mark II has a fast maximum aperture of f/2-3.9. This requires a bit more glass, but it improves autofocus speeds, low light performance, and close focus distance.
Like most point-and-shoots, there's no viewfinder—though all of the G1 X Mark II's predecessors had one, Canon has officially junked it. That's a good move in our book, because the tiny zooming view window on the G series was dreadful. It was only occasionally useful and mostly just took up space. Instead, there's a 3-inch (1,040k-dot) LCD that can fold out or flip 180 degrees to face your subject. It may not sound all that thrilling, but think about this: Being able to change the screen's orientation lets you frame with the camera held at tough angles. It also makes up for the lack of a viewfinder on bright days by letting you angle the LCD away from the sun. It doesn't flip out to the side like some of Canon's Rebel DSLRs, but it's useful nonetheless.
As with previous G-series cameras, the G1 X Mark II walks the line between being simple to operate and offering the kind of complex manual control that more advanced users will want. Thankfully Canon went out of its way to make the camera a bit more forgiving to learn for beginners. For starters, all the controls are laid out on the back and top of the camera much where you would normally find the controls on any other point-and-shoot. The menu also borrows significantly from the rest of Canon's PowerShot lineup, so it'll be familiar to Canon users and easy to learn for total novices.
For advanced shooters, the main addition is the debut of dual control dials around the lens. Add to that full manual shooting, RAW capability, and a built-in hotshoe and you have a camera that can appeal to those who really know what they're doing. However, I will say that the two control dials on the lens are a bit of a curveball—they often change function depending on the mode you're in, but sometimes it's not readily apparent what the function is going to be. For example, putting the camera into aperture priority mode will mean that turning the main control ring on the lens changes the aperture, but if you're popping between scene modes and full auto shooting the functionality is less obvious.
The G1 X Mark II is the definition of a "tweener"
If there's one concept that informs all of the G1 X Mark II's design decisions, it's the desire to strike a balance between the needs of advanced photographers and the usability required by less-experienced shooters. It's something that Canon routinely does exceptionally well, and the G1 X Mark II's predecessor was no exception. Though there are many features found on the G1 X Mark II that are typically found only on higher-end cameras, you don't need to be a pro to take advantage of them.
We've already discussed the lens, but behind every piece of successful glass is a good sensor. In this case, it's a 1.5-inch, 12.5-megapixel CMOS sensor. It's larger than even Micro Four Thirds cameras, and only about 20% smaller than the APS-C sensors found in Canon's Rebel line of DSLRs. Even the acclaimed Sony RX100 II has a smaller sensor, putting the G1 X Mark II in some storied company. There are cheaper competitors with larger sensors, but none combine a large sensor with a zoom lens as good as the one Canon has here.
Additionally, the G1 X Mark II allows you to shoot in RAW—enabling much greater post-processing options if you own image editing software like Lightroom or Photoshop. This is great if you've always been curious about editing techniques, but haven't been able to get the results you want from simply shooting JPEGs. Just be aware that shooting in RAW or RAW + JPEG (we recommend the latter for archival purposes), you'll notice a drop in burst speed as well as how many pictures you can take. It's a small price to pay, but with SDHC memory cards dropping in price so quickly, that's not a huge deal.
Though the new G1 X also includes WiFi, I will say that sharing your shots without a computer is going to be a hassle. Though letting you pair your camera and smartphone with NFC is a big help, the first-time setup is troublesome to say the least. While the G1 X Mark II is undoubtedly a better camera than your phone, using it if you like to constantly upload shots to social media will require you to master a bit of a learning curve.
Otherwise, the G1 X has an excellent combination of modes that will appeal to a very wide range of shooters. Advanced photographers have full manual control with all the usual PASM modes, as well as two custom shooting modes right on the dial. More novice snappers have the benefit of a simple-to-operate camera with full auto, scene modes, and a menu that isn't tear-your-hair-out complicated. While you're paying quite the premium for the hardware, the G1 X at least gives you the tools to put it to good use, regardless of your skill level.
The G1 X makes noise, and not the good kind.
With a large sensor, fast zoom lens, and a hefty price tag, the Canon G1 X Mark II better perform when it counts. Through all of our lab tests we've seen that it can certainly handle its own, with image quality that easily rivals Canon's entry-level DSLRs. Though we can't say definitely how much better this sensor is than the one in the previous G1 X, the improved optics help things dramatically.
In almost all of our lab tests, the G1 X Mark II outperformed its predecessor. The lens captured sharp details very well and Canon took the time to polish up glaring shortcomings of the previous model such as color accuracy and shot-to-shot speed. They're both both dramatically improved, with the camera applying some software enhancements (reducing distortion and noise, primarily) for when the hardware alone isn't up to the task.
That said, in practice this camera has a couple foibles that, while not dealbreakers, are worth pointing out. For example, while still image quality can be great, video is lackluster. Though the G1 X Mark II can record sufficiently detailed, bright video in low light with ease, there are two things you'll notice right away: Low video sharpness, and audible noise from the autofocus motor. Even when trying to capture a relatively still scene, the motor goes back and forth at a constant beat, marring your audio in the absence of a cacophony of babies' cries or other noise. And while the sensor does admirably when it comes to capturing details in bright light, indoor low light video stretches it a bit too thin, resulting in ugly artifacting and a drop in sharpness.
If you're liable to take pictures of pets, wildlife, or other constantly-moving subjects, the shot-to-shot speed is acceptably fast for most applications. Due to the relatively short zoom, you may not want to use the G1 X Mark II for sports matches, but if you get in close you'll find that you can get around 5 frames per second—not bad, and similar to what you'd get with a basic DSLR these days. It's not enough to freeze the ball on the bat every time, but you'll have success some of the time.
I will take the time to point out that while the noise level is typical of a point and shoot, it's extremely high for an $800 camera. Though the option exists to add in noise reduction for high-ISO shots, you do so at the cost of fine detail and contrast. While the example below doesn't take a dramatic hit in image quality, there's a drop in quality after ISO 1600. Are we splitting hairs? Of course, but for $800 the G1 X is a little behind the curve, with several competitors easily handling shots up to ISO 3200.
None of these things should dissuade those looking at the G1 X from picking one up. It's a fine camera. One caveat, however: You may want to pick up a spare battery or two if you're seriously looking at the G1 X Mark II for all-day shooting trips. With a CIPA rating of just 240 shots, you can easily exhaust the battery in just a few hours of serious shooting.
Much more competitive, but the full price is asking a lot.
Considering this camera occupies a very niche role, it's tough to say whether or not it will be a good bet for you. Shooters yearning for more SLR-style controls will probably already have an interchangeable-lens camera body, while point-and-shoot users will probably balk at shelling out $799.99 at launch for a camera that is outpaced by the more-affordable Sony RX-100 II in nearly every metric. It also doesn't help that you can't really put the G1 X Mark II in a pocket, despite Canon's removal of the viewfinder. Yes, it has a bigger sensor than the RX100 II, but the Ricoh GR (MSRP $649.99) has an even bigger APS-C sensor and runs circles around the G1 X Mark II for less money.
However, this is still far from a bad camera—it's just not the best camera for the money. You might find that the combination of a huge sensor, great built-in lens, and tilting LCD is exactly what you're looking for in a point-and-shoot. Certainly the Canon G series hasn't survived for nearly 15 years on good looks alone. It's also important to keep in mind that this camera will probably not keep that gargantuan price tag, and we wouldn't be shocked to see the price to drop into the $600 range by the end of this year.
As we noted in our first impressions of the G1 X Mark II, this camera definitely is an oddball. But despite all its improvements, it's still bigger, bulkier, and more expensive than other point and shoots. With a seemingly limitless supply of cheap, compact, excellent cameras on the market, the G1 X simply isn't the most appealing option at its current price.
If you're in a desperate quest for better image quality than your current point-and-shoot provides, and the G1 X Mark II is in your crosshairs, you may want to consider making the leap to a mirrorless interchangeable lens compact camera like the Sony NEX-5T ($699.99), Samsung NX300 ($749.99) or the point-and-shoot sized Panasonic Lumix GM1 ($749.99). All three of these cameras allow you to accumulate lenses to suit your needs, trounce the G1 X Mark II in image quality, and come in at a lower initial price.
Even if you're averse to an interchangeable lens camera, the Ricoh GR, Sony RX100 II, and Canon PowerShot S120 all provide similar or better quality, similar or more control, and come in at a lower price tag. The G1 X Mark II is a vast improvement over its predecessor, but it feels like a phenomenal $650 camera with an $800 price tag.
By the Numbers
Putting cameras through their paces is what we do best, and the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II gave us something to cut our new lab's teeth on. A 1.5-inch sensor and a 5x f/2-3.9 zoom lens is a great combo, and the numbers support it. All else aside, the G1 X Mark II is a big improvement over its predecessor. Though the G1 X Mark II also outpaces most point-and-shoots, it definitely has some foibles that merit attention if this camera is in your crosshairs.
Color error, managed.
In stark contrast to the shortcomings of the original G1 X, the G1 X Mark II has extremely accurate color reproduction—though it oversaturates them a tiny bit in many of its plentiful color modes. Hitting the "Set" button and toggling the "Off" mode in My Colors will net you a ∆C00 saturation error of 2.23 and an overall color saturation of 107.1%. Though flipping through the other color modes will change the overall color profiles of your images, this mode is the most accurate one. Basically, if you want very accurate colors and don't want to punch things up a bit, just leave the My Colors function off.
I should point out that a "perfectly colored" shot isn't always the best when it comes to artistic filters, so your desired effect may not come with the default color profile. Be sure to mess around with the artistic filters and additional color profiles to expand your shooting horizons. Of course, you can also always shoot in RAW and fix issues later on a computer.
Not as bad as the numbers indicate
In all of our test shots taken at every ISO settings with every permutation of noise reduction the camera offers, the G1 X Mark II never had more than 2% noise. And in all honesty, noise levels under 2% from a point and shoot are perfectly acceptable. That's our usual threshold for quality, above which printing will often come with noticeable artifacting. Even with noise reduction set to "off," the camera stays under this threshold.
Unfortunately, looking at the RAW photos you'll notice that there's always going to be at least a small amount of noise reduction. The only way to completely eliminate NR is to shoot in RAW and develop it after the fact. If you're resigned to shooting JPEGs then the noise ranges from 0.62% to 1.95% at maximum ISO with NR off, with detail preserved through about ISO 3200. Opening the menu and boosting the high-ISO noise reduction will drop your noise levels to 0.42%-0.84% through the ISO range, but at the cost of fine details like pencil strokes or veins in a leaf.
For all practical purposes, the G1X Mark II performs excellently for a point-and-shoot. It is outpaced by DSLRs and cameras with larger APS-C sensors, but it certainly does as well or better than the Sony RX100 II when it comes to keeping noise to a minimum, often preserving more detail.
Sharp as a tack
If you're looking for a sharp camera without having to bother with interchangeable lenses, this is the one you get. Though there's a little tiny bit of softening around the edges of your photos with wide apertures, images are relatively sharp with an average resolution of 1816 line widths per picture height at MTF50. Chromatic aberration and fringing is kept to a minimum, and even distortion is all but eliminated at every focal length. There's certainly more issues in RAW than in JPEG—thanks to some heavy in-camera correction—but it's nothing to be overly concerned with.
You may notice a bit of haloing around hard edges, however. Your eyes aren't playing tricks on you: The camera's software "oversharpens" the image a bit to increase the contrast between areas with black and white. Though it does fool some tests, it won't fool your eyes if it's too aggressive. Generally the G1 X plays it safe here, but if you ramp up the sharpness slider in the menu, you'll begin to see it even in small prints.
Not a camcorder replacement.
If you're shelling out this much coin for a camera, you undoubtedly expect it to be the best things since sliced bread. However while the G1 X Mark II is great for stills, it falls short of that mark when it comes to video. Though this isn't unusual for a point-and-shoot, the G1 X Mark II doesn't do much to buck that trend, falling behind some cheaper competitors.
First, the good: That huge sensor and equally impressive processor enables video with 50 IRE all the way down to 4.5 lux, which is outstanding. If you find yourself wanting to capture video of a birthday celebration or night out, the G1 X can certainly handle that and return an acceptably bright clip.
However, the video quality of that clip may not be all that you're hoping for. In bright light, sharpness maxed out at 600 lw/ph horizontally, and 625 lw/ph vertically. Low light makes matters even worse—sharpness falls to 500 and 550 lw/ph respectively. Not great, but not horrible either. In more practical tests, we noticed that there were some artifacting issues, and the sharpness deficiency leads to some exceptionally blurry lines and frequency interference. Smoothness isn't much of an issue, but blurry 30p video isn't generally what you expect when the camera tells you that it's recording in HD.
One of the big complaints people often have with their smartphone video is that it looks "blurry" in low light. While it may sound like we're saying the G1 X suffers from that, that isn't quite true. Yes, you will lose some definition and detail in low light, but it's still acceptable, if not quite as good as bright light.