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Canon's new PowerShot G1 X is highly reminiscent of the popular PowerShot G15, yet it represents the start of an entirely new product line. The star of this show is a gigantic new 1.5-inch CMOS sensor, larger than the Micro Four Thirds standard and much bigger than the G15's 1/1.7-inch unit.
These specifications come at a steep price, though: The G1 X retails for $799.99. This Canon is clearly intended as a compact companion for intermediate and advanced photographers. The G1 X sizes everything down but the sensor, but if it can't come close to pocketability, will anyone care?
If you've seen the last-generation PowerShot G12, you've pretty much seen the G1 X. The aesthetic changes are subtle, often small enough to miss even when the two models are lined up side by side. In general, the design of the G1 X has been updated to a more angular appearance for 2012—similar to the new G15, but retaining many of the G12's standout hardware features, including the optical viewfinder and articulating LCD.
It's a little disappointing that Canon stuck with the same tired point-and-shoot viewfinder. The optical finder isn't through-the-lens, which means that it's inaccurate due to parallax error (particularly when focusing up close) and doesn't cover the entire frame. The finder does feature a zooming mechanism—as the lens zooms in, so does the viewfinder—but this hardly replicates the 1:1 reproduction and fine detail that a good electronic viewfinder can achieve. When zoomed in, the most obvious issue is that the lens itself blocks part of the viewfinder's field of view. Why Canon can't find room for an EVF in their $800 budget is beyond us.
As for handling, a few important ergonomic features, specifically a knurled right handed grip on the face of the camera and a large rubberized thumb rest in between the playback and video shortcut, truly enhance the overall feel. Texture goes a long way here, particularly on the thumb rest, which has to rely on surface friction rather than a raised lip on the side. We're also fans of the articulated rear 922k-dot LCD, which provides plenty of flexibility for framing shots at tough angles.
One look at the G1 X gives you a sense of the feature-set. All those buttons and dials must provide plenty of direct control, right? From scene modes, to burst shooting, to video, this camera offers a host of options. Starting with the on-camera controls, you'll find both front and rear control dials, as well as a clever nesting of the mode dial, and an exposure compensation dial. This provides immediate access to most exposure control options, enabling quick shooting adjustments on the fly.
Speaking of the mode dial, twisting it will let you move between the various shooting modes: PASM modes, two user-customizable settings, and full auto, scene, and video modes. The exposure compensation dial underneath is a nice touch, providing quick and easy adjustments to brightness while shooting in any mode other than full manual.
The G1 X strikes a solid balance between meeting the needs of advanced shooters and catering to less experienced point-and-shooters. As such, there are features like in-camera HDR, creative filters, and scene modes counterpointed with 14-bit RAW output, manual modes, and customizable controls. It's an interesting combination, one that gives G1 X users a great deal of room to grow as they learn more about photography.
Much has been made of the Sony RX100 and its 1-inch sensor, but the G1 X beat it to market by several months; clearly, Canon had the foresight to realize that large-sensor compacts were an untapped area of the market. While the G1 X didn't perform as well as Sony's sterling new compact camera, it did offer solid high ISO performance, excellent sharpness, and decent dynamic range.
The G1 X did struggle in a few tests, however. In particular, color fidelity and shot-to-shot speed were disappointing. Poor color accuracy is a surprise, given that Canons are traditionally the strongest performers we see in that category. But hey, make use of those 14-bit RAW files and it's not really a concern.
The shot-to-shot time is a little harder to swallow. While the larger sensor no doubt makes fast readout difficult, the G1 X captures shots at just 1.9 frames per second in its normal continuous burst mode. You can pump it up to 6 fps by using the dedicated burst shooting scene mode, but that's an inconvenience that shouldn't be tolerated on a camera clearly aimed at a more advanced shooter. With other cameras in this class easily firing at up to 10 fps in a burst, the G1 X's showing can only be called poor.
Rarely do we see such an expensive, specialized camera make its way to the fixed-lens market. At $800, the Canon PowerShot G1 X should appeal exclusively to intermediate and advanced photographers, buyers who—let's face it—probably already own a DSLR. So the question becomes, does the G1 X succeed as a companion camera, a lightweight backup for run-and-gun shooting?
The dense body is still quite a bit larger than most compact cameras—far too big for a pocket. In terms of portability, we're not sure this model represents the form factor those intermediate customers will be looking for. At least the G1 X is lighter than a DSLR, but even so, it's not by much. At over 500 grams with the battery, this is still a hefty piece of hardware.
But we'd be willing to bet many users will overlook these issues if the tradeoff is superior image quality, and to a certain extent this is the case. The G1 X is one sharp camera, acing our resolution test with one of the highest scores we've seen. The problem is that the G1 X isn't alone in trying to put a large sensor in a fixed lens camera. The Sony RX100 offers a slightly smaller 1-inch sensor, but provides image quality that outpaces this Canon's in almost every way. That the RX100 is also small enough to fit into your pocket and offers a similar level of control for $150 less is another nail in the G1 X's coffin.
We see the PowerShot G1 X as a miss for Canon. We had lots of fun shooting with it, and we love the shots it captured as well. But an $800 price tag and the ongoing renaissance of mirrorless cameras mean that there are just too many better, cheaper options available. This is a fine camera, but one we can't recommend given the competition.
Canon G1 X Vs. Canon G12
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