Announced at CES 2012 as the new flagship of Canon's Powershot lineup, the G1 X was "scheduled" to be available in February, but that timeframe has now slipped a bit. For folks anxiously awaiting its arrival, the first week of March now looks like the best possible scenario.
A major cause of the anticipation generated for this new camera is sensor-based - the G1 X carries the largest physically-sized sensor to date in any Powershot digital, a 1.5-inch model sized much closer to a Canon DSLR than its G-series relative, the G12. The 1/1.7-inch sensor in the G12 is one of the largest in all of the compact digital ranks and measures 7.6 x 5.7mm; the G1 X sensor measures 18.7 x 14mm and the APS-C sensor of the Canon 60D 22.3 x 14.9mm.
To put things in perspective, the G1 X sensor has approximately 6.3 times the surface area as that of the G12. In addition, Canon's UK press release notes that the pixel size and structure of the G1 X sensor is the same as the 60D. Resolution is 14.3 megapixels and the sensor design is CMOS, which suggests that high ISO noise performance should reach new levels, at least for a Powershot digital. The native ISO range for the camera is 100 to 12800 ISO.
The camera features a 4x stabilized zoom lens covering the 28 to 112mm focal range in 35mm equivalents and the standard compact digital automatic and scene shooting modes are accompanied by full manual controls. Here's a look at that focal range.
Video capability is 1080 HD with stereo sound and there is a built-in pop-up flash with an electronic viewfinder that accompanies the 3.0-inch LCD monitor, which is articulable. Canon's latest generation DIGIC 5 processor is on board and the camera can record still images in JPEG, RAW, or RAW - JPEG combinations. SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media is compatible; the camera will also accept Eye-Fi memory cards, but Canon will not guarantee the camera will support Eye-Fi functions including wireless transfer.
While Canon's UK press release describes the camera as "Created for professional and serious photographers..." the company has clearly hedged its bets by including a host of point-and-shoot features targeting a more novice-based audience: face detection autofocus, face select autofocus, automatic smile detection shooting, a wink self-timer, a face self-timer and blink detection. Canon includes a battery pack and charger, USB interface cable, lens cap, neck strap, CD-ROM software and basic printed user's manual with each camera (a CD-ROM with the complete manual is also included). MSRP on the camera is $800 - higher than two Rebel DSLRs in Canon's own fleet.
The G1 X measures about 4.6 x 3.17 x 2.55-inches and weighs in at a little over 17 ounces without a battery or memory card, so it won't be doing much traveling on shooting assignments in a shirt pocket. On the other hand, there's that big sensor to consider along with the fact the G1 X comes in smaller and lighter than the tiniest Canon DSLR. Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras have gotten their share of attention lately and with the exception of Canon, all of the major camera players have such models in their lineups now. Perhaps this big sensor Powershot is Canon's answer to the absence of such a "bridge" camera in the lineup, at least for now.
Build and Design
At a quick glance, one would be forgiven for mistaking the G1 X for a G12 - there is a strong family resemblance between these relatively large and boxy rectangular compacts. To be sure, the G1 X is a bit larger dimensionally, but it retains a prominent handgrip, protruding lens, viewfinder window, front dial and bi-level camera top with the zoom lever/shutter button and mode dial/exposure compensation dials occupying the lower level. The camera body is metal and finished in matte black paint. Built in Japan, the G1 X seems well put together.
Ergonomics and Controls
When I reviewed the G12 for this website, I found the ergonomics generally pretty good. The G1 X has improved upon the feel of the G12. Notably, the handgrip area on the front of the camera body now features a checkered texture to its rubberized material that promotes an even more secure feel - the thumb rest on the camera back is made of the same material.
The tip of my shooting finger falls naturally to the shutter button and the pad of my thumb to the thumb rest; while the base of the thumb overlies some camera controls, inadvertent activations were no problem. One criticism I had of the G12 was the placement of the camera flash window on the front of the body, making it a candidate to be obscured by fingers of the left hand during two-handed shooting. The pop-up flash on the G1 X pretty much eliminates that concern.
Besides the front dial, viewfinder window and lens there is also a focus assist lamp on the front of the camera - and a possibility for it to be obscured if you let the middle finger of the right hand ride up on the camera during shooting. A consistent, proper grip eliminates this concern.
The right half of the camera top features an on/off button, shutter button/zoom lever, and shooting mode/exposure compensation dials. The slightly raised left half houses a hot shoe, the pop-up flash and a manual deployment button for the flash.
The camera back, as might be expected, is taken up largely by the 3.0-inch monitor; arrayed across the top of the back are a shortcut/direct print button, the electronic viewfinder with its diopter adjustment dial and focus indicator lights, playback button, the thumb rest and a movie button.
Arrayed vertically down the right rear of the camera body are an AF frame selector/single image erase button, AE lock/jump button, menu and metering buttons along with a round control dial incorporating ISO, macro, flash, display, and function set buttons. The ISO, macro, flash and display buttons double as up, left, right, and down toggles, respectively.
Menus and Modes
Internal menus in the G1 X are fairly simple and intuitive. Pushing the menu button brings up access to shooting, setup and "my menu"options. As you might expect, automatic shooting modes offer fewer user inputs than the manual modes. For example the shooting menu in auto offers 14 menu options; in manual controls that number jumped to 24. If you have a captured image displayed on the screen in playback mode, hitting the menu button brings up playback, print setting, and camera setting menus. But there are other menus available that are accessed in a different fashion.
In auto mode, hitting the function set button brings up access to the self-timer, still image aspect ratio, image size/quality and video quality settings; in manual modes the function set button provides access to white balance, my colors palette, dynamic range correction, bracketing, self-timer, flash compensation, a neutral density filter, still image aspect ratio, JPEG or RAW still image format, still image size and quality and video quality.
Canon USA touts the G1 X for "...photography enthusiasts looking for the highest image quality in a compact, point-and-shoot design." They must be expecting potential customers to all be experienced photographers because the basic "Getting Started" printed manual that comes with the camera consists of little more than information on how to set the date and time, shoot still images or movies, view and erase them. The complete manual found on the CD-ROM is much better, of course, but it runs some 240 pages which gives you an idea of the complexity and features which can be found on the G1 X.
A print version of the complete manual sized about the same as the 'getting started' manual would be a valuable tool for folks new to the camera to take into the field - and with an $800 MSRP, Canon should be providing one.
Shooting modes are what you would expect from a camera which is still targeting a mixed market segment in terms of potential users.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor on the G1 X has a 922,000 dot composition and offers approximately 100% image coverage. The monitor can swing horizontally through approximately 180° of travel and rotate through approximately 270° along its long axis. In our studio, measurements the monitor recorded a 569 nit peak brightness level and a 685:1 contrast ratio - both figures are above the 500 nit/500:1 levels that tend to be the threshold for better performing monitors in outdoor lighting conditions. In practice, the monitor could be difficult to use in some bright conditions, but the ability to articulate through a range of motion is a definite advantage to help overcome these situations. The monitor is adjustable for five levels of brightness.
Fortunately, the G1 X is equipped with an electronic viewfinder that can be a major asset when shooting outdoors - dot composition for the viewfinder is not specified, but it is equipped with a diopter adjustment to assist with varying levels of eyesight acuity. Unfortunately, area of coverage for the viewfinder is approximately 77% - not particularly accurate for image composition when precise framing is needed.
Here are two shots taken with image composition based on the monitor and viewfinder images, respectively. In each case, the picture and frame were composed so that they just filled the screen before capture. The image captured using the monitor for composition is an extremely close approximation of that display; the image taken using the viewfinder has a broad expanse of space about the picture and frame that did not appear on that screen.
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