DCRP

Canon PowerShot G1 X Review

Performance & Photo Quality

Despite its status as the flagship Canon PowerShot, the G1 X is a very average performer (and sometimes a bit worse than that). The thing that bothered me the most were the camera's autofocus speeds. While other manufacturers recent cameras have very fast AF systems, the G1 X -- like all Canon compacts -- is behind the times. The table below summarizes the camera's overall performance:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares

Startup

1.5 sec Average
Autofocus
(Wide-angle)
0.4 - 0.6 secs Below average
Autofocus
(Telephoto)
~ 1.0 sec Average
Autofocus
(Low light)
~ 1 sec Average
Shutter lag Barely noticeable at slow shutter speeds Average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
~ 2 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW, no flash)
~ 3 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(with flash)
~ 2 secs Above average

Yeah, that's pretty disappointing for a $799 compact camera. If you're shooting action or sports, you might want to find a camera with a more robust autofocus system. If you're not, then the G1 X is probably "good enough".

Does it fare better in terms of continuous shooting speed? There are four full resolution burst modes on the camera, though one of them (Continuous LV) is for manual focus and fireworks mode only, and will not be included below. That leaves us with regular continuous (locks AE/AF on first shot), continuous AF (adjusts focus and metering between each shot), and High-speed Burst HQ, a scene mode. Here's what you can expect from all of those:

Image quality Continuous Continuous AF High-Speed Burst HQ
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 0.9 fps Unlimited @ 0.6 fps N/A
RAW Unlimited @ 1.0 fps Unlimited @ 0.6 fps
Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 1.7 fps Unlimited @ 0.7 fps 6 shots @ 4.7 fps
Tested with a SanDisk Class 10 UHS-I SDHC card

The only mode in which the G1 X is genuinely fast is in its High-Speed Burst HQ scene mode. Do note that most settings are locked up in that mode, with ISO set to Auto. The LCD also blacks out during shooting, so you'll need to use the viewfinder to track a moving subject. Also, while my G1 X kept shooting in the other burst modes, that could be due to my extremely fast memory card -- so your results may vary.

So how does the G1 X's photo quality shape up? Let's take a trip through our standard tests and find out.

I have no complaints about how our macro test photo turned out. Colors look good, without the color casts that often appear under our studio lamps. The subject is nice and sharp, with plenty of detail captured. I looked far and wide for any signs of noise, but couldn't come up with anything.

Earlier in the review I mentioned the G1 X's unusually long focus distances. In macro mode, the closest you can get is 20 cm -- twenty times further than on the PowerShot G12. In regular shooting modes (aside from Auto, where the camera switches into macro mode automatically), the minimum distance is 40 cm. When taking photos of subjects that were relatively close to me, I was often frustrated 1) by the need to switch to macro mode when I normally wouldn't need to, and 2) finding out that I still couldn't lock focus due to the long minimum focus distance in macro mode. One thing's for sure: the G1 X is definitely not for close-up photographers.

Aside from some highlight clipping, our night test scene looks good. We've got good sharpness from edge-to-edge, no funny color casts, and lots of detail. The only beef I have with this image (and the G1 X in general) is some highlight clipping. Purple fringing levels were very low. You can take shots like this using the camera's manual exposure controls, or just let the G1 X figure it out by itself in auto mode.

Now let's use that same night scene to see how the G1 X performs at high sensitivities in low light. If you want to see how the G1 X compares to the G12 in this non-scientific test, click here to open up the G12 review.


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

There's very little difference between the ISO 100, 200, and 400 crops, aside from slight increases in noise. ISO 800 has a bit more noise and noise reduction artifacting, but you can still make large prints at that setting. Detail loss is more obvious at ISO 1600, but it's still good enough for small and midsize prints, and perhaps larger if you shoot RAW (more on that in a second). Details really start to go south at ISO 3200, so I'd save that one for desperation, and shoot RAW if possible. I would avoid the top two sensitivities -- at least if you're using the JPEG format.

Now let's see if we can't make those ISO 3200 and 6400 night photos look a little better. I took the RAW image and converted it with Adobe Camera Raw, applied some noise reduction, and then sharpened things up. Here's how that turned out:

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.7 RC1)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.7 RC1)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

There is definitely something to be gained by shooting RAW on the PowerShot G1 X. At the very least, you get a reduction in highlight clipping. You also get back some detail, which works at ISO 3200, but not so much at ISO 6400. We'll do this test again in a bit using our studio test scene.

The PowerShot G1 X tries to eliminate redeye in two ways. First, it'll fire the AF-assist lamp a second or so before the photo is taken, with the goal of shrinking your subject's pupils. I've found that this rarely works. The second part of the removal system is a digital system (which needs to be turned on in the Flash Settings menu), which tries to get rid of whatever shows up in a photo. Much to my surprise, the two systems did their jobs, producing a photo with very little redeye. If you do run in to any red eyes, then there's also a tool in playback mode with which you can remove it.

There's very little barrel distortion to speak of at the wide end of the G1 X's 28 - 112 mm lens. Corner blurring and vignetting aren't issues, either. Clearly a big part of the price of the G1 X is its high quality lens.

Okay, now it's time to see how the PowerShot G1 X performed across its ISO range in normal light. As usual, I'm using our standard test scene, which means that you can compare the results with other cameras I've tested over the years. Remember that the crops below only show a small area of the total scene, so view the full size images too!


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

Here's where the PowerShot G1 X really struts its stuff. You get buttery smooth images all the way through ISO 1600, with ISO 3200 looking very clean, as well. Try that with a PowerShot G12 (we will in a moment, actually). Things get softer and noisier at ISO 6400, and color saturation drops a bit, as well. ISO 12800 is still usable for small prints, especially if you shoot RAW.

Speaking of which, I'm going to run those ISO 6400 and 12800 photos through my RAW conversion process. Let's see how they look after a quick touch-up:

ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.7 RC1)

RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 12800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.7 RC1)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

There's a nice improvement for both the ISO 6400 and 12800 shots, especially in terms of sharpness, detail, and color. sure, you get a little bit of noise, but it's better than the somewhat mushy JPEGs. I'd say that it's definitely worth shooting RAW at high sensitivities on the G1 X, though you won't need to do so until you reach the highest sensitivities.

So how does the PowerShot G1 X compare to other cameras? Below are ISO 3200 crops from the G1 X and G12, along with the Olympus E-P3 (a Micro Four Thirds camera), and the Canon EOS Rebel T3i (an APS-C digital SLR). Let's see how the G1 X holds up:

ISO 3200

Canon PowerShot G1 X

Canon PowerShot G12

Olympus E-P3

Canon EOS Rebel T3i

The first thing to notice is how the G1 X wipes the floor with its little brother, the PowerShot G12. I'd say that it also handily beats out the Olympus camera, which uses a slightly smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor. At 100%, the G1 X also appears to top the Rebel T3i, but I have a feeling that the two images will look very similar if you downsize the 18 Megapixel images from the Rebel to match the 12 Megapixel resolution of the G1 X.

Overall, I'd say that the PowerShot G1 X lives up to the "portable D-SLR" moniker -- at least in terms of photo quality. It takes photos with vibrant colors and plenty of detail, with very low noise levels (especially in good light). Photos are sharp, yet maintain the "smooth" appearance that owners of Canon D-SLRs will be familiar with. The high quality lens is sharp from one edge of the frame tot he other. The camera's main problem is highlight clipping, which surprised me given its sensor size. The easiest way to deal with this is to use the DR correction feature, though that requires boosting the ISO a bit. Thankfully, the small boost in sensitivity won't make images much noisier, so it's worthy trade-off. I did not find purple fringing to be an issue on the PowerShot G1 X.

Now, it's your turn to evaluate the G1 X's photo quality. Check out our large photo gallery -- maybe printing a few of the images if you'd like -- and then decide if the G1 X's image quality meets your needs!

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