Canon PowerShot G1 X
Written by Gordon Laing
The PowerShot G1 X finally marks Canon’s entry into the large sensor compact market, but unlike most of its rivals, it’s avoided an interchangeable lens mount and instead gone for a fixed lens design. Essentially they’ve taken the earlier G12 and squeezed a big sensor inside, which is exactly what many people were asking for. But it’s been a long time coming and there’s pros and cons to Canon’s approach.
On the upside the G1 X’s new 1.5in sensor really does bring the image quality of 18 Megapixel APS-C models like the 7D, 60D, T3i / 600D and T2i / 550D into a much more portable form factor; indeed in my tests it even slightly out-performed these models at the highest sensitivities. This is the news everyone was hoping for: a ‘compact’ PowerShot which can match or even exceed the image quality of an APS-C EOS DSLR. See my G1 X quality pages for a full report.
The much bigger sensor of course requires a completely different lens to service it, but Canon’s done a good job in producing a useful general-purpose 28-112mm range with sharp images across the frame, an f2.8 aperture when zoomed-out and even a handy built-in ND filter. The G1 X also offers a similar degree of physical control enjoyed by previous PowerShot G models, including front and rear dials, a custom shortcut button and dedicated dials for both exposure mode and compensation. The hotshoe continues to exploit the flexibility and power of external flashguns, and the screen still articulates to pretty much any angle, while now sporting a larger and more detailed panel than the G12. The movie mode has been upgraded, and not only offers 1080p at 24fps, but with continuous AF and the ability to optically zoom while filming.
In all these respects the G1 X is a success, delivering on its ambitious goals, but it’s not all good news. The G1 X may have a DSLR-class sensor, but operates more like a basic point-and-shoot when it comes to burst shooting and video options. The absolute fastest shooting speed is 5.3fps (in my tests) but only when using a special scene mode which captures just six frames. If you want to shoot for longer, you’ll need to drop to a hopeless 1.68fps (as measured in my tests) without autofocus. And if you’re into video, don’t go looking for the manual exposures, variable frame rates, movie crop mode or external mic input of a modern Canon DSLR because none of them are present here.
Then there’s the lens which may be slightly longer and brighter at the wide end than a typical DSLR or CSC kit lens, but suffers from a number of limitations which will frustrate many enthusiasts. For starters it’s not possible to achieve very shallow depth-of-field effects, as you can see from the examples on the first page of the review. To be fair, it’s not really any worse than a typical DSLR / CSC kit lens in this respect, but the important difference is you can’t change the lens on the G1 X to something brighter – you’re stuck with it.
Secondly the closest focusing distance is a paltry 20cm with the lens zoomed-out or 85cm when zoomed-in. This not only rules out any kind of meaningful macro-photography, but can even cause issues when photographing or filming anything at close-ish range. This is an aspect where the G1 X is simply outperformed by rivals as while the closest focusing distance of a DSLR / CSC kit lens is also around 20cm, it remains at this distance throughout the focal range, allowing much more useful closeups – plus you can of course swap the lens for a dedicated macro model. Macro is also an area where a traditional point-and-shoot will also out-perform the G1 X: take Canon’s own G12 which may also have a variable closest focusing distance depending on focal length, but starts at just 1cm for much larger macro reproductions.
I was also disappointed to find the G1 X still requires a separate accessory to mount filters, while also forcing you to choose between this or the optional lens hood. The built-in 3-stop ND filter offers some compensation, but an enthusiast-level camera at this price really ought to have a filter thread as standard.
The body itself is also an issue. Sure it’s well-built and enjoys a wealth of manual controls, but it’s a lot bigger in person than you might expect. The styling may look like the earlier PowerShot G12, but it’s scaled-up here to become a significantly heftier camera; indeed it’s revealing to discover the G1 X is actually larger than many CSCs, most notably the Panasonic GX1 when equipped with its 14-42mm Power Zoom lens. To be fair the GX1 doesn’t have a viewfinder nor an articulated screen as standard, but it does have the enormous benefit of an interchangeable lens mount. So while the G1 X is comfortably smaller than any EOS DSLR, you certainly know you’re carrying it around.
As for the G1 X’s optical viewfinder, I’m actually in two minds about it. The same downsides as earlier PowerShot G-series models continue to apply here: the coverage is well below 100%, parallax errors can occur and you’ll still see the lens barrel in the view when zoomed-out. But on the plus-side beyond extending battery life and being easier to shoot in bright light, the optical viewfinder also has the benefit of not blacking out while shooting, which makes tracking action easier. Shame the continuous shooting speed is so appalling.
And then there’s the price which at the time of writing could alternatively buy you an upper entry-level DSLR like the Nikon D5100 or Canon’s own T3i / 600D, or indeed any number of Compact System Cameras, some with change to spare. It’s not a casual purchase by any means.
So before my final verdict, here’s how it compares to a selection of rival models.
Compared to Canon PowerShot G12
Canon will continue to sell the PowerShot G12 alongside the G1 X, and while the sensor is much smaller, it still shares a lot in common with the new model. Both cameras share similar styling with stacks of manual controls, a hotshoe, optical viewfinder, fully-articulated screen, built-in ND filter and a decent-sized grip.
Both cameras also have lens ranges which start at 28mm f2.8, but the G12 zooms a little further to 140mm f4.5, where as the G1 X stops at 112mm and at a slower aperture of f5.8. Thanks to its smaller sensor and shorter actual focal length, the G12 also offers a much closer minimum focusing distance of 1cm compared to 20cm on the G1 X.
The G1 X and G12 look similar from the outside, but place them side-by-side and you’ll realise the latter is actually noticeably smaller and lighter. It also features three dials on the top surface to the G1 X’s two.
The biggest thing in the G1 X’s favour is of course its sensor which boasts over six times the surface area, not to mention four extra Megapixels. Indeed by sharing the same pixel pitch as Canon’s 18 Megapixel APS-C DSLRs like the EOS 7D, the G1 X also shares similar noise and dynamic range performance, which is a big step-up from the small sensor in the G12.
In terms of video, the G1 X features 1080p movies to the G12’s 720p, along with continuous AF and the chance to adjust the optical zoom while filming. Both cameras have articulated screens, but the panel on the G1 X is larger and more detailed (3in / 920k vs 2.8in / 460k). The main continuous shooting speed on both is pretty awful, but in its favour, the G1 X alternatively offers a High-speed Burst HQ mode which can grab up to six frames at 4.5fps. Like other recent Canon compacts, the G1 X also offers an HDR and Handheld Night Scene mode. The longest exposure is also 60 seconds compared to 15 on the G12.
Ultimately the G1 X is a more powerful camera with much higher image quality in low light, but the G12 remains a compelling option for enthusiasts that’s never been more affordable; indeed at the time of writing it was available for half the price of the G1 X. So if you want lots of control, flexible composition, support for RAW and a good general-purpose lens with amazing close-up capabilities, the G12 could be for you.
See my Canon PowerShot G12 review for more details.
Compared to Panasonic Lumix GX1
Panasonic’s Lumix GX1 is one of several mirror-less ILCs which will go up against the G1 X, but for me it’s one of the closest rivals in style. Fit the GX1 with Panasonic’s 14-42mm power zoom lens and it becomes physically surprisingly similar to the G1 X. There are of course many key differences though to weigh-up.
The most important thing in the GX1’s favour is the ability to swap lenses. Based on the Micro Four Thirds standard, it enjoys access to the broadest lens catalogue of any mirror-less ILC including wide, long, macro and portrait options, and thanks to a wealth of adapters you can mount almost any other lens system too. The screen may not be articulated, but it is touch-sensitive and that really comes into its own when pulling-focus while filming video – simply tap at whatever you’d like the camera to refocus on.
The GX1 can also record video right up to the half hour limit for European models and way beyond for other regions: my sample recorded two hours of 1080i non-stop with a 16GB card and fresh charge. Continuous shooting isn’t super-fast, but it remains quicker than the G1 X at 4.2fps or 3fps with live view; there’s also a 20fps mode at reduced resolution. The GX1 additionally offers seven-frame bracketing, an on-screen leveling gauge, a mechanical shutter and longer battery life of 310 shots compared to 250. Finally, the GX1 is actually a little smaller and lighter than the G1 X when it’s fitted with the 14-42mm power zoom kit lens.
That’s a lot in the GX1’s favour, but the G1 X has a number of benefits of its own. It comes with a built-in 4x / 28-112mm motorised zoom with an f2.8 focal ratio at the wide-end, a lens which out-zooms and is slightly brighter than the GX1 kit options; the G1 X lens also offers a built-in ND filter. The screen may not be touch-sensitive, but it is more detailed and fully-articulated. The GX1 may have an accessory port for connecting a powerful optional electronic viewfinder, but the G1 X has an optical viewfinder built-in which may be much simpler, but it’s there as standard while also extending battery life. Both cameras enjoy a wealth of manual control, but the G1 X sports more dials if that’s your thing. As a fully electronic camera, it can also operate in silence.
As for image quality, it’s a close-run thing with both cameras sharing essentially the same resolving power at low sensitivities and the G1 X only taking a lead in noise at the highest ISOs. The price of both cameras is also roughly the same, making them key rivals, although importantly this is for the standard GX1 kit with the larger 14-42mm lens (which has a manual zoom ring). Buy it with the smaller power zoom lens and the kit price costs roughly 20% more.
See my Panasonic GX1 review for more details!
Compared to Nikon V1
The Nikon V1 is another mirror-less ILC which costs roughly the same as the Canon G1 X, but there are considerable differences to weigh-up. Where Canon have targeted the enthusiast market with traditional controls, Nikon have opted for a completely new approach, although under the hood there are also a lot of features on the V1 which will get enthusiasts equally excited.
In its favour, the Nikon V1 is an interchangeable lens camera, allowing you to swap lenses. While the Nikon 1 system is relatively immature, there are already four native lenses along with an adapter which opens-up the entire Nikon F-mount catalogue. The really unique advantage of the V1 over the G1 X and indeed any other ILC to date though is its speed: it boasts 10fps continuous shooting with autofocus for decent burst lengths. Sacrifice AF and you can shoot at 30 or even 60fps. The phase-change AF system means that in good light there’s less AF searching for quicker acquisition and less distracting refocusing during video. You can even capture high resolution still photos while filming Full HD video.
The V1 also features a 3in / 920k monitor and a viewfinder, although the latter is electronic which means it’s 100% accurate and supports a wealth of shooting information and guides. There’s also a handy intervalometer for timelapse photography, an optional mechanical shutter for faster flash synch speeds, slow motion video modes and an external microphone input too. Finally there’s the Nikon 1 system’s unique shooting modes, which personally I could live without, but some may find them a fun way to approach photography.
The major thing in the Canon G1 X’s favour is a larger and higher resolution sensor which will deliver superior quality in low light, along with shallower depth of field effects with the standard lens (although fit the V1 with something else and it’s a different game). It also comes with a built-in 4x / 28-112mm motorised zoom with an f2.8 focal ratio at the wide-end, a lens which out-zooms and is slightly brighter than the V1’s kit options; the G1 X lens also offers a built-in ND filter.
The G1 X shares the same screen size and resolution as the V1, but it’s fully articulated and also matches the shape of its images. Meanwhile the G1 X may have a basic optical rangefinder, but at least it doesn’t draw power, thereby extending the battery life. Both cameras can use external flashguns, but the G1 X has a standard hotshoe and can use any standard Canon Speedlite; it also has a built-in flash which is lacking on the V1. The G1 X is additionally thinner compared to the V1 fitted with the standard 10-30mm kit zoom.
Ultimately it comes down to weighing-up the speed and interchangeable lenses of the V1 against the quality, articulated screen and traditional controls of the G1 X. A tough decision which only you can decide-on, but if you like the concept of the V1 and don’t need a viewfinder, don’t forget there’s the smaller, lighter and cheaper Nikon J1.
Check out my Nikon V1 review for more details.
Canon PowerShot G1 X final verdict
The Canon PowerShot G1 X is very much a camera of two personalities. On the happy side is superb image quality which matches – and in some cases slightly exceeds – what you can expect from Canon’s 18 Megapixel EOS DSLRs, but in a much more portable body with an excellent articulated screen and flash hotshoe. But on the sad side is a fixed lens with terrible macro and little chance for a shallow depth-of-field, coupled with below-average continuous shooting from a camera that costs the same as many upper entry-level DSLRs and CSCs but lacks their interchangeable lens mounts.
As always, you have to weigh-up the pros and cons for yourself. The downsides could be deal-breakers for some, while for others, the image quality alone could sell it. For me, I was frustrated by the modest closest focusing distance and annoyed Canon didn’t take the opportunity to fit an external microphone input or GPS. When shooting alongside CSCs like the Panasonic GX1, I was also reminded of the G1 X’s relative heft, often slow handling and lack of flexibility when it came to lenses.
But then the GX1 doesn’t have a fully articulated screen nor a built-in viewfinder, and once back at home I was always very impressed by the G1 X’s image quality. Indeed this what kept me coming back to the G1 X: Canon really nailed-it with the new sensor.
For me personally the biggest problems are the price and the limitations of the lens. Had the G1 X been cheaper or the lens more capable, or indeed the body smaller, then I’d have been happier, but as it stands you could alternatively buy a CSC with the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, and in many cases quicker shooting, faster handling and a smaller body.
Ultimately though you have to give Canon some credit for finally delivering what people have been requesting for years: a PowerShot G with a DSLR-class sensor and image quality to really match an APS-C EOS DSLR. The G1 X gives you this with good quality video, loads of physical controls, a great articulated screen, flash hotshoe and a built-in lens with a useful general-purpose range. These pluses earn it a Recommended rating, but one with the caveat that you understand the limitations of the fixed lens and continuous shooting.
(relative to 2012 ILCs / CSCs)
17 / 20
18 / 20
14 / 20
15 / 20
15 / 20