Canon PowerShot G1 X: Reinventing the Niche

 
Canon PowerShot G1 X

Canon PowerShot G1 X

The Canon PowerShot G1 X has several tricks up its sleeve, but does it doenough to survive the mirrorless competition? Shridhar Kunte finds out.

Until a few months ago, everyone was waiting with bated breath as to how the two big guns, Nikon and Canon, would respond to the increasing popularity of mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. We have got our answers now. Nikon concentrated on speed, but sacrificed the sensor size. With the all-new PowerShot G1 X, Canon has woken up as well.

I find it interesting how the company has taken a completely different route, as compared to other manufacturers. This is not an interchangeable-lens camera—you cannot change lenses, have access to a moderate amount of zoom, but the sensor inside, is almost as big as that of a DSLR.

Features
When I first looked at the camera I was a bit confused, whether I should describe it as an upgrade of the PowerShot G12 or whether this is an attempt to create a prestigious new category at the top of the famed G series.

I decided to take closer look at the G1 X. The major upgrade, of course, is the sensor. The G1 X is built around a completely new 1.5-inch CMOS sensor. The overall area of the sensor comes very close to an APS-C sized sensor found in cameras like the Canon EOS 60D or Nikon D7000.

Most interestingly, the sensor is larger than the ones found in Micro Four Thirds cameras. With a reasonably conservative resolution of 14MP, it is obvious that Canon has kept low light performance in mind.

The camera has a non-interchangeable 4x zoom lens that covers a very practical focal range of 28–112mm. The lens is quite fast at the wide end, but at the telephoto end, the maximum aperture drops tof/5.8. While this seems disappointing, incorporating a faster lens with such a large sensor would have made the camera even more bulky than what it is. A large sensor requires a large image circle to form, because of this the lens has large diameter than all of the compact cameras.

One feature that is carried forward from G12 is a built-in Neutral Density filter. This allows you to shoot at shutterspeeds that are upto three stops slower than otherwise possible, even in bright light. 

Captured using the Burst mode, the image shows good detail in both shadows and highlights. Exposure: 1/1250sec at f/3.5 (ISO 100). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Captured using the Burst mode, the image shows good detail in both shadows and highlights. Exposure: 1/1250sec at f/3.5 (ISO 100). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Handling
To describe the Canon PowerShot G1 X as a compact camera, one really needs to stretch the definition to its limit. Certainly not ‘compact’, the G1 X is best kept in a separate case while travelling.

While the overall design reminded me of the G12, there are some subtle changes. Missing from the scene is the G12’s embedded flash. The G1 X sports a pop-up flash instead, which adds more distance between the flash and lens—a factor that helps minimise the ‘red eye’ effect. Thankfully, unlike the S100, the flash activation is not motorised, so there is no chance of the flash unexpectedly hitting your finger.

I was happy to see a large exposure compensation dial that sits below the mode dial. Both these dials have distinctly different diameters, so there is no scope for confusion. They also offer quite a bit of resistance, which ensures that these cannot be shifted accidently.

While operating the camera in manual exposure mode the front dial can be programmed to change either aperture or shutterspeed. The other parameter is adjusted by the control dial at the back, but with the large size of the camera, this is not very easy to do.
In real world operation, you need to loosen your right hand grip to access the dial at the back. With a camera of this form factor, I would have preferred if the front dial could be pressed, to toggle between both shutterspeed and aperture.

The tripod socket is not centred from the lens axis and when mounted on a tripod, this makes it very difficult to change the battery or memory card. Panoramas shot on a tripod face a problem due to this, as the camera has two different axis movements. Considering that Canon has been otherwise ambitious with the G1 X, it is disappointing that such details have not been taken care of.
There is only one shortcut button which the user can assign to one particular function. This is really sad as the Canon PowerShot S95, while being priced much lesser, has two shortcut buttons and one customisable Lens Control Ring.

The articulated LCD is something that a lot of photographers will appreciate. Not only does it let you shoot from unusual angles with ease, it also helps protect the LCD. The optical viewfinder is a pointless addition and simply makes life difficult—it is too small, dark and has a lot of parallax.

Performance
The large-sensor decision surely has its merits. An image purist would be extremely happy with the G1 X. In terms of colour saturation, tonality and White Balance accuracy, the camera does a splendid job. The out-of-the-box JPEG images are pleasing and RAW files have far more latitude in terms of colour gradation. The G1 X exhibits excellent dynamic range, far superior to what we have seen in Micro Four Thirds cameras.

The optical quality of the 28-112mm fixed zoom lens shows its class. At the wide end, there is a slight hint of distortion, however, this soon disappears as you extend the zoom. Images show excellent level of sharpness across the frame, with only occasional traces of purple fringing visible. Metering is accurate and consistent in most situations, but since it is linked with the focusing zone, the camera tends to get fooled while shooting scenes that have a lot of contrast.

I was blown away by the way the camera performs at high ISOs. Images captured from ISO 100 to ISO 3200 impressed me a lot. In this ISO range, the G1 X keeps noise almost entirely at bay while retaining plenty of fine detail, even in the shadow areas. The top settings of ISO 6400 and 12,800 do show a steady decline in quality, but even these remain perfectly usable. The overall AF speed of the camera is on the slower side. Under good lighting conditions, it is just above average but in low light, it slows down quite a bit. In this aspect, the G1 X is far behind other mirrorless cameras.

Another objectionable quirk is the minimum focusing distance of the lens. When I was shooting head-and-shoulder portraits at the telephoto end, the camera just refused to focus. To overcome this, one needs to manually activate the Macro mode. The amount of time and effort this wastes, can, at best, irritate you, and at worst, make you miss your shot completely.

The camera shoots at 1.9fps, but you can shoot JPEGs only at 4.5fps in the Burst Scene mode. These images are cleared from the buffer within three seconds and the camera is ready to shoot again. 

The skin tones captured by the G1 X are lifelike and pleasing. Spot metering works well, as seen in this picture where the reading was taken from the subject’s eye. Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

The skin tones captured by the G1 X are lifelike and pleasing. Spot metering works well, as seen in this picture where the reading was taken from the subject’s eye. Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Conclusion
Amongst the leading camera manufacturers, Canon is the only one company staying away from the mirrorless market. Only time will tell for how long the company will sustain this approach. For instance, I would love to see this same superb sensor used in a camera that allows me to change lenses.

Coming back to the camera in question, the Canon PowerShot G1 X has a hefty price tag of Rs 47,995. There are some niggles even at this price point—the sluggish AF and minimum focusing distance issue being the prominent ones. If that affects your style of shooting, you would be better off exploring options like the Nikon 1 V1, Fujifilm X10 or a Micro Four Thirds camera.

But if you are willing to live with these quirks—and you will not mind them if you do not need to shoot fast-moving subjects—there is a lot to appreciate. Most importantly, its image quality stands well above the competition, and is the main reason why the Canon PowerShot G1 X is such an exciting camera. 

The tilt-and-swivel screen is a boon for capturing photographs from unusual angles, especially when you do not want your subject to be conscious of your presence. Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

The tilt-and-swivel screen is a boon for capturing photographs from unusual angles, especially when you do not want your subject to be conscious of your presence. Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Final Ratings
Features
RAW, hot shoe, large sensor, slow lens
16/20

Performance
Excellent dynamic range, great noise control,slow AF, inefficient close focusing distance
36/40

Build Quality
Durable metal body, Very sturdy
14/15

Ergonomics
Tilting LCD, barely any customisation
14/20

Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, wide service network
4/5

OVERALL: 84%
Value For Money: 2.5/5 stars

Who Should Buy It?
Low-light enthusiasts who want a convenient package with a decent zoom range.

Why?
It is not the fastest camera around, but the larger sensor offers better quality than Micro Four Thirds cameras, both in terms of dynamic range and noise performance.

 

Tags: 1.5 inch sensor, 4x zoom, Advanced cmpact camera, Canon PowerShot G1X, Compact camera review, G1 X, hotshoe, large sensor, May 2012, Raw, Shridhar Kunte