Canon PowerShot G1 X Review

Design & Features

The PowerShot G1 X is essentially a larger version of the G12. If you've used any of the recent G-series cameras, you'll feel right at home here. The camera is constructed mostly of metal, and it feels very solid in your hand. It would've been nicer had the right hand grip been a bit larger, given the heft of the camera. The G1 X has more than its share of buttons, though thankfully they usually perform just one function. You can tell that the camera is target toward enthusiasts, as there are direct buttons for AF point selection, metering mode, and AE/AF lock, plus a dial for exposure compensation on the top of the camera.

Here are a couple of side-by-side photos of the PowerShot G12 and G1 X:

The PowerShot G1 X (at right) is a giant version of its little brother, the G12

Besides the obvious size differences, you can see that the G1 X now has a pop-up flash (instead of a fixed one), and a slightly larger grip. The top view shows how the dedicated ISO dial has gone the way of the dodo bird on the G1 X, with that function now controlled by the four-way controller. On the back view comparison you can see that some buttons have moved around, with the most notable change being that red-colored movie recording button. The G1 X's LCD is also a bit larger than the one on the G12.

Canon PowerShot S100 in the hand

Above you can see that the G1 X is definitely a "handful". Below is a chart comparing the size and weight of the "larger-than-normal sensor" group that I used in the battery comparison:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot G1 X 4.6 x 3.2 x 2.6 in. 38.3 cu in. 492 g
Canon PowerShot G12 4.4 x 3.0 x 1.9 in. 25.1 cu in. 351 g
Fujifilm X10 4.6 x 2.7 x 2.2 in. 27.3 cu in. 330 g
Nikon Coolpix P7100 4.6 x 3.1 x 1.9 in. 27.1 cu in. 395 g
Olympus XZ-1 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 in. 19.4 cu in. 244 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7 in. 19 cu in. 233 g

The first thing to point out is just how much larger than G1 X is compared to the G12: 50% in terms of volume, and 40% for weight. In fact, the G1 X is the largest and heaviest camera in the group by a large margin. It's definitely not a pocket camera, so plan on slinging it over your shoulder or carrying it in a bag.

Alright, now it's time for a tour of the G1 X. Use the tabs to flip between various views of the camera.

Front of the Canon PowerShot G1 X

The first thing to see here is the G1 X's very large lens. Not in the zoom power sense (it's only 4X), but in terms of bulk. It's simple, really: the G1 X's sensor has a larger surface area, so the lens needs to be big enough to send enough light to it. The lens is certainly unremarkable in the spec department: it has an F2.8-5.8 maximum aperture range, which means that it's quite slow at the telephoto end. The focal range of the lens is 15.1 - 60.4 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 112 mm. If you want to use filters on the camera, you'll have to buy the adapter mentioned in the previous section, which screws right onto the lens.

Something else to point out about the lens is that it's not close-up friendly. In regular shooting mode, the minimum focus distance is 40 cm / 15.6 inches, versus 5 cm / 2 inches on the PowerShot G12 (at full wide-angle on both). In macro mode, the focal range drops to 20 cm / 7.9 inches on the G1 X, as opposed to 1 cm / 0.4 inches on the G12. Unless you're in Auto mode, where the camera switches between normal and macro mode automatically, you may be switching between the two focus settings frequently when taking photos of subjects in close proximity.

This probably goes without saying, but the G1 X features Canon's optical image stabilization system. This helps to reduce the risk of blurry photos, and it smooths out your movies, as well. New to the G1 X is Intelligent IS, which chooses the best IS mode (normal, panning, hybrid, dynamic, powered, tripod) depending on the situation.

By far, the G1 X's biggest feature (no pun intended) is its 1.5" CMOS sensor. I've already told you about how much larger the sensor is than other compact and interchangeable lens cameras, and why this is beneficial. We'll see if the sensor delivers on its promises when we get to the photo quality discussion.

At the top-right of the photo is the G1 X's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 7.0 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 3.1 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). If you want more flash power, you'll want to consider attaching an external flash to the G1 X's hot shoe.

Just above the grip you can see the camera's front dial, a feature which is very rare on compact cameras. To the right of that is the AF-assist lamp, followed by the optical viewfinder.

The last thing to see here is the release for the ring around the lens barrel, which you'll only remove when attaching the adapter for a macro ring flash.

Back of the Canon PowerShot G1 X

As with the G12, the PowerShot G1 X features a rotating LCD display. Unlike its cheaper sibling, the G1 X's display is 3 inches in size, versus 2.8". when flipped out to the side, the screen can rotate a total of 270 degrees, which is handy for shooting over people in front of you, or when the camera is on a tripod. The LCD can also be put in the "traditional" position (shown on the next tab), or closed entirely.

Back of the Canon PowerShot G1 X

Here you can get a good look at the G1 X's 3-inch LCD. This screen has 922,000 pixels, so everything is ridiculously sharp. Outdoor visibility is good (though a few cameras do it better), and in low light the screen brightens up nicely, so you can still see your subject.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. The viewfinder is good-sized, and displays 77% of the frame. One thing to note is that you will see the lens in the lower-left corner of the viewfinder for roughly the first half of the zoom range. Something else I noticed that is that my nose tended to rest against the LCD when using the viewfinder, so keep that cleaning cloth handy. You can adjust the viewfinder focus by using the diopter correction knob on its left side.

Moving on to buttons now -- to the left of the viewfinder is the customizable Shortcut button, to which you can assign virtually any menu option. Over on the other side we find the playback and movie recording buttons.

Diving down below, we have four buttons that surround the four-way controller / scroll wheel combo. The four buttons are for focus point selection, AE/AF lock, entering the menu system, and adjusting the metering mode. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation and reviewing photos, and is also has direct buttons for adjusting the ISO, flash, and focus mode settings, as well as what information is displayed on the LCD. The scroll dial can be used for adjusting manual exposure settings, menu navigation, and photo viewing.

Top of the Canon PowerShot G1 X

Here's the top of the G1 X which, as you saw earlier, looks a bit different that the G12. At the far left is the flash release, with the flash itself (closed here) above it.

In the middle of the photo is the hot shoe, which will work best with one of Canon's many Speedlights. You can control a Canon flash using the G1 X's menu system, and features like AF-assist, wireless control (with the 580EX only), and high speed x-sync are available. If you're using the new 320EX flash, you can also take advantage of its LED lamp for movie recording. Using a non-Canon flash means that you'll probably have to set exposure manually on both the camera and the flash. You're also limited to a x-sync speed of 1/250 sec.

Straddling the hot shoe are two pinhole-size microphones. Continuing to the right, we find the mode dial, with the dedicated exposure compensation dial below it. I'll tell you all about the mode dial options after the tour.

The last things to see here are the power button, with the combination shutter release and zoom controller above that. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.5 seconds. I counted sixteen steps in the camera's 4X zoom range.

Left side of the Canon PowerShot G1 X

The only thing to see here is the speaker, which is located just below the strap mount. The flash is popped up here, and the lens is at full wide-angle.

While it looks like the ring around the lens can rotate (for zoom or focus), alas, it does not. The only time you'll remove it is when you're attaching the adapter for an optional ring flash.

Right side of the Canon PowerShot G1 X

On the opposite side of the camera are its I/O ports, which are protected by a plastic door of good quality. The ports here include USB + A/V output, wired remote input, and mini-HDMI output.

Below those is a port through which you'll feed the power cable for the optional AC adapter.

The lens is at the full telephoto position here.

On the bottom of the G1 X you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden from view here) and the battery/memory card compartment. The tripod mount is neither centered, nor in-line with the lens, and if you've got the camera on a tripod, you won't be able to access the battery or memory card. The door that covers the battery/memory compartment is of average quality.

You can see the NB-10L lithium-ion battery over on the right side of the photo.

When composing photos on its LCD, the G1 X offers a live histogram, electronic level, and grid lines (not shown)

Let's kick off our discussion of the G1 X's features by talking about the items found on its mode dial. Here's what you'll find on it:

Option Function
Movie mode More on this later
Creative Filters mode Take photos with special effects, which include high dynamic range (HDR), nostalgic, fisheye, miniature effect, toy camera, monochrome, super vivid, poster effect, Color Accent (selective color), and Color Swap.
Special Scene mode Pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from Movie Digest, portrait, landscape, kids & pets, sports, Smart Shutter, High-speed Burst HQ, Handheld Night Scene, beach, underwater, foliage, snow, fireworks, and Stitch Assist.
Smart Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with automatic scene and IS mode selection. Camera will also switch between normal and macro mode, which is handy on this camera. Most menu items are locked up.
Program mode Automatic shooting, but with access to all menu options. A Program Shift feature can be activated by pressing on the AE/AF lock button and then using the rear dial to select from various shutter speed/aperture combinations.
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed range is 60 - 1/4000 sec. If the flash is on, the camera will stop at 1/2000 sec.
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture and the camera picks an appropriate shutter speed. Range is F2.8 - F16, which is much wider than on typical compact cameras.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself, with the same ranges and restrictions as above.
Custom mode 1/2 Store your favorite camera settings to these two spots on the mode dial.

If you're someone who wants a point-and-shoot experience, then just pop the camera into Smart Auto mode. There, the camera will select one of thirty-two possible scene modes for you, even detecting if you're using a tripod. Another nice feature of Smart Auto mode is that it will automatically switch between normal and macro focusing, which comes in handier than you'd think. I wish an Auto Macro option was available in all shooting modes!

I want to talk about a few of the Creative Filters and Scene Modes, and will begin with HDR, which stands for high dynamic range. In this mode, the G1 X will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value (which is not adjustable). Those three shots are combined into one, with the end result being a photo with better shadow detail and fewer clipped highlights. Since the camera doesn't take the shots quickly enough for handheld usage, you will need to use a tripod. Here's a real world example for you:

HDR off
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HDR on
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As you can see, the HDR photo is much more pleasant to look at than the original. You can see the details on the ceiling, and highlight clipping is reduced (but not eliminated). If you're in a high contrast situation and have a tripod handy, this feature is well worth using.

Here's a quick rundown of the other Creative Filters and Scene Modes that don't need examples:

  • Movie Digest: in this mode, the camera will record 2-4 seconds worth of video before every still; the results are compiled into a single video comprised of the days events; I don't really understand the point of this feature, but there you go.
  • Smart Shutter: choose from smile detection, or cool wink and face self-timers; smile detection waits until someone in your photo smiles, and then it'll start taking photos; the wink self-timer takes a photo two seconds after someone in the frame winks at the camera; face self-timer takes a photo 2 seconds after a new person (presumably the photographer) enters the frame
  • High-speed Burst HQ: the camera takes six photos in a row at 4.7 frames/second; do note that the LCD goes black while shooting is in progress
  • Handheld Night Scene: the camera takes several exposures and combines them into a single photo, which (hopefully) reduces blur and noise
  • Stitch Assist: helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panorama (using the bundled software)

White balance fine-tuning

Manual controls include those for shutter speed and aperture, as well as white balance and focus. As you'd imagine, the RAW format is also supported. The G1 X can bracket for both exposure and focus, but not for white balance. There are two spots for custom white balance settings, and you can fine-tune it, as well. There is no way to set the color temperature, which is a bit surprising on this high-end camera. Another handy feature is an electronic level (pictured earlier), which works for both landscape and portrait photography.

Function menu

Moving onto menus now, I want to start with the G1 X's function menu, which is activated by pressing the center button on the four-way controller. Here are the most interesting options you'll find there:

  • DR correction (i-Contrast): reduces highlight clipping; choose from off (default), auto, 200%, or 400%; ISO will be boosted as high as 400 in order to make this feature work
  • Shadow correction: brighten the dark areas of a photo, with off or auto being the options here
  • My Colors: enhance colors or skin tones, take B&W or sepia photos, or manually adjust contrast/sharpness/saturation
  • Self-timer: choose from the usual 2 or 10 second times, or use the custom setting and choose the number of shots and delay that you want
  • AF frame: choose from face detection (9 faces max), tracking AF, FlexiZone, or center; the FlexiZone feature lets you pick any area in the frame on which you'd like to focus; you can adjust the size of the AF point in by pressing the Menu button while you're positioning the focus point
  • ND (neutral density) filter: reduces the amount of light coming through the lens by three stops, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds or larger apertures than you could otherwise
  • Still image aspect ratio: select from 4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 1:1, or 4:5
  • Image type: choose from JPEG, RAW, or RAW+JPEG; a RAW image is about 21 MB in size, while a Large/Fine JPEG is around 3.8 MB

Now I'd like to show you the DR Correction feature in action. There are four settings: off (default), auto, 200%, and 400%. As I mentioned, the camera needs to boost the sensitivity in order for this feature to work, so you'll want to use Auto ISO (with a range that goes to at least 400) if you use this feature. Here's what you can expect from this feature:

DR correction off
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Auto DR correction
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200% DR correction
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400% DR correction
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With the DR correction at its default setting -- off -- you can see quite a bit of highlight clipping. That's surprised me, given the size of the G1 X's sensor. With the setting moved to Auto or 200%, the highlight clipping is noticeably reduced. For best results, though, you'll want to use the 400% setting. That boosts the ISO to 400, but on this large-sensored camera, that's not as big of a deal as it would be on a regular compact.

The Shadow Correction feature does just as it sounds. You get a decent (but not overwhelming) boost in shadow detail, and you don't need to crank up the ISO in order to do it. Here's a quick example:

Shadow correction off
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Shadow correction on
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What can I say, other than the Shadow Correction feature does its job, without a noticeable increase in noise. For those of you wondering: yes, you can use both DR and shadow correction at the same time.

Shooting menu, with help info at bottom

The rest of the shooting-related options that I want to talk about can be found in the PowerShot G1 X's main menu. The menus are attractive, easy-to-navigate, and feature an available "hints & tips" feature that describes each option (but take up an extra row in the menus). The notable features here are:

  • Digital zoom: normally I tell people to turn this off, but if you're willing to lower the resolution, you can use it without a reduction in image quality; for example, dropping down to 7 Megapixel gives you 5X of total zoom power
  • Servo AF: the autofocus system continues to run with the shutter release halfway-pressed, which is helpful for moving subjects
  • Continuous AF: similar to the previous item, but the focusing stops when you halfway-press the shutter release button
  • Redeye correction/lamp: choose from digital removal, a "pre-flash" using the AF-assist lamp, or both; these are found in the Flash Settings submenu
  • ISO auto settings: choose the highest sensitivity that you want the camera to use, as well as how quickly it'll boost it (rate of change = how slow of a shutter speed it'll use)
  • Hg lamp correction: here's a new one -- this removes a greenish tint that may occur when shooting scenes lit by mercury lamps
  • Blink detection: the camera will warn you if someone in the frame had their eyes closed
  • IS settings: choose from continuous or "shoot only" stabilization, or turn it off entirely; the Powered IS mode is for shooting at full telephoto, and should be turned off when panning or walking
  • Set Dial Functions: choose which exposure settings are adjusted with the front and rear dials
  • Set Shortcut button: you can assign almost any camera setting to this button on the rear of the camera
  • My Menu: you can store up to five of your favorite menu items onto this separate menu tab; you can even make the camera go here first, instead of the regular shooting tab

Now I'd like to tell you about the PowerShot G1 X's movie mode, which is now capable of Full HD recording. You can record video at 1920 x 1080 at 24 frames/second with stereo sound, until the file size reaches 4GB (which takes about 14 minutes). While filmmakers like the 24 fps frame rate, regular folks may find it a bit choppy. If you don't mind dropping down to 1280 x 720, you can record at 30 frames/second for about 20 minutes. A VGA resolution is also available, with a recording time limit of 30 minutes. You can also use Apple's poorly marketed iFrame codec, which is supposed to be easier to edit.

The camera lets you use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie, though it moves very slowly. The camera focuses continuously, so everything stays in focus. The image stabilizer is also available, which keeps things shake-free. There are no manual controls available in movie mode, unless a wind filter counts. Most of the Creative Filters I told you about earlier can be used for movies, as well as stills.

Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting. Be warned, it's a large download!

Click to play movie (1920 x 1080, 24 fps, 61.6 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Aside from the slight choppiness, the video quality is pretty good!

The PowerShot G1 X has a pretty nice playback mode. Some of the notable features here include:

  • Movie Digest playback: I told you about this feature earlier; here you can play back the VGA-size video of the day's events
  • Smart Shuffle: a bizarre feature which shows four photos similar to the one you're viewing
  • My Category: assign a category to a photo, which is then transferred over to the "Browser" software; if a photo was taken via a scene mode, the camera may have done this automatically
  • i-Contrast: brightens dark areas of your photo
  • Redeye correction: digitally remove this annoyance from a photo
  • My Colors: apply color effects (vivid, monochrome, sepia, etc) to a photo you've taken
  • Jump: move through photos by date, category, file type, whether they're tagged as a favorite, or in groups of 10 or 100
  • Erase range of photos: I normally don't mention image deletion features, but the ability to select a range of photos without having to click your way through thumbnails is very handy

Photo editing functions include the ability to rotate, resize, and crop. Movies can have unwanted footage trimmed off of the beginning or end of a clip, which is always handy.

The PowerShot G1 X shows just basic information about your photo by default. Pressing "down" on the four-way controller reveals more (including a histogram), and if you press "up", you'll then see a RGB histogram.

The G1 X moves very quickly through photos, though you may want to turn off the fancy between-photo transitions for the best performance. If you really want to go quickly. use the rear dial. There you can also jump through photos by date.