DCRP

Canon PowerShot G1 X Review

Conclusion

The PowerShot G1 X is Canon's flagship compact digital camera, and in most respects, it earns that title. For those looking for a compact camera which can rival that of a D-SLR or interchangeable lens camera, look no further. That said, the G1 X is a large, bulky camera with a slow lens and sluggish performance in several areas. More on that in a minute. The G1 X's design should be familiar to anyone who's used a PowerShot G-series camera in the last several years -- except it's 50% larger. The G1 X is definitely not a pocket camera, but it'll travel well in a bag. Build quality is solid in all areas, as it should be on this $799 camera. The camera is heavy but easy to hold, though I wish that the right hand grip was a bit larger. The G1 X has more than its share of buttons and dials, which may seem intimidating at first, but they save a lot of trips to the menu. The front dial is a nice touch for when you're shooting in the manual exposure modes.

At the heart of the G1 X is its lens/sensor combination. The lens specs are unremarkable: it's a 4X zoom equivalent to 28 - 112 mm, with a maximum aperture range of F2.8 - F5.8. I have to think that the lens would've had to have been even larger than it already is to lower that maximum aperture range. The lens does have a minimum aperture of F16, which maximizes depth-of-field. Something that I didn't care for about the lens is its lengthy minimum focus distance. In regular mode, it's 40 cm, dropping to 20 cm in macro mode. I was often frustrated by having to manually switch between normal and macro AF when shooting subjects that were close to me (though the camera will switch by itself in Auto mode). Naturally, the G1 X has optical image stabilization, and the camera will select the right IS mode for the situation. Behind all those lens elements is the highlight of the G1 X: it's 1.5-inch, 14.3 Megapixel sensor. This sensor is way bigger than what you'll find on a regular compact, and is larger than both the Nikon 1 and Micro Four Thirds system sensors.

On the back of the camera is a beautiful 3-inch LCD that flips to the side and rotates a total of 270 degrees. The screen has 922,000 pixels, so everything is nice and sharp, and its outdoor and low light visibility is quite good. There's also an optical viewfinder that shows 77% of the frame, though do note that part of the view is blocked by the lens at the 1X - 2X zoom positions. The G1X is quite expandable, with support for an external flash, lens hood and filters, underwater housing, and a wired remote

The G1 X's feature set is very similar to that of the PowerShot G12. That means that you get a scene-selecting Smart Auto mode, plenty of scene modes and Creative Filters (special effects), and full manual exposure controls. The G1 X can bracket for both exposure and focus, fine-tune (but not bracket) white balance, and save images in the RAW format. Enthusiasts will also like the customizable button, menu, and spots on the mode dial. Some other handy features are DR Correction and HDR, both of which reduces the G1 X's fairly strong highlight clipping. The former works by boosting the ISO, while the latter combines three different exposures into one, but requires a tripod. There's also an electronic level to help keep your horizons in line. The G1 X has a Full HD movie mode that records at a somewhat choppy 24 frames/second with stereo sound and use of the optical zoom and image stabilizer. Despite the camera's flagship status, movie recording is a point-and-shoot experience, unless a wind filter counts. The video quality, however, is quite good.

Camera performance is not one of the G1 X's strong suits. It starts up quickly enough (1.5 secs), but after that, performance is average at best. The most frustrating part of all this is the autofocus performance, which feels like it's stuck in 2007. I've used cameras costing hundreds less that focus quicker than the G1 X, so Canon really needs to up their game in this department. Expect focus times starting at around half a second, leading up to a second at the telephoto end of the lens, or in low light. Shutter lag was barely noticeable, and only at slow shutter speeds, and shot-to-shot times were respectable. While the G1 X has a high speed (4.7 fps) burst mode, it's limited to just six shots, with the LCD blacked out and ISO boosted. The regular modes can shoot infinitely (or at least until I stopped counting), though at less than 2 frames/sec. Battery life was below average in the "compact camera with a larger-than-average sensor" category.

The area in which the G1 X really shines is in terms of photo quality. Exposure is generally accurate, though the camera clips highlights a lot more than I would've expected. The easiest workaround is to use the DR correction feature -- it'll take care of the vast majority of the highlight clipping, though the ISO will be boosted as high as 400 (which isn't a big deal on the G1 X). You can also use HDR to reduce the highlight clipping, though you'll need a tripod for that. Otherwise, the news is very positive. Colors are nice and vibrant, and the G1 X captures a lot of detail in its photos. Noise levels are low through around ISO 1600 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light, which puts it about on par with APS-C interchangeable lens cameras and D-SLRs. You can reduce noise further by shooting RAW and doing some basic post-processing. Purple fringing was minimal, and happily, so was redeye.

if you've got $800 burning a hole in your pocket and want a semi-compact camera with D-SLR image quality, then look no further than the Canon PowerShot G1 X. It's not for action photography (due to its sluggish focusing and burst modes) nor is it great for close-ups, but for virtually every other situation, the G1 X delivers. I'm hopeful that Canon's next large sensor camera will have a faster lens, snappier performance, and improved battery life, but for now, the G1 X is easily good enough for me to recommend.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality, with low noise until highest ISOs
  • Solid build quality, with lots of dials and direct buttons
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Super high resolution 3-inch rotating LCD display
  • Optical viewfinder is always a nice touch
  • Full manual controls, including RAW support
  • Smart Auto mode picks a scene mode (and the proper IS setting) for you
  • Tons of scene modes and Creative Filters
  • Dynamic range correction and HDR features improve image contrast (though the latter requires a tripod)
  • Customizable button, menu, and spots on mode dial
  • Handy electronic level
  • Built-in neutral density filter
  • Redeye not an issue; if it does become one, a removal tool is available in playback mode
  • Records Full HD (1080/24p) video with stereo sound, use of optical zoom
  • Very expandable, with optional external flash, lens hood and filters, underwater housing, and wired remote

What I didn't care for:

  • Expensive
  • Likes to clip highlights (hint: use DR correction)
  • Lens on the slow side at telephoto end
  • AF performance needs improvement
  • Long minimum focus distances mean frequent switching between normal and macro AF when subjects are close
  • Design annoyances: bulky body, lens visible through viewfinder, can't access memory card slot when using tripod
  • Movies are a bit choppy due to 24 fps frame rate; no manual controls available
  • Unremarkable burst mode
  • Below average battery life
  • Full manual on CD-ROM

Some other compact cameras with larger-than-normal sensors include the Fuji FinePix X10, Nikon Coolpix P7100, Olympus XZ-1, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot G1 X and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.