With budget compacts killed off by the ever-advancing phone camera, dedicated cameras play a very different role these days. And as everyone wants to lug around a massive lump, mirrorless and DSLR cameras simply won't suit all photographers all of the time.
Which is where the Canon G1 X Mark III comes into play: this small-scale compact - which is a lot smaller than the MkII model - has a DSLR-sized APS-C sensor at its heart. Which is kind of hard to believe, given how small the body is.
As with anything, the playoff between small scale and that large sensor means a compromise with the maximum aperture value: it dips from f/2.8 at the wide-angle 24mm equivalent to f/5.6 at its 72mm equivalent full extension, limiting the amount of light that can enter the camera.
Even so, with such a large sensor at its heart, the G1 X has heaps of potential to produce exceptional images - as we found out after using a pre-production camera ahead of its announcement. So is it a genuine case of big things from this small compact?
What's special about the Canon G1X III?
- Small-scale body: 115.0 x 77.9 x 51.4mm; 398g
- 24-72mm f/2.8-5.6 equivalent lens (3x zoom)
- Lens control ring; front control dial; exp comp dial; full manual controls; hotshoe
- 3-inch 1.04m-dot vari-angle LCD touchscreen
- Built-in 0.39-inch 2.36m-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF)
- Dust- and drip-proof construction
As you can see from our in-hand photos, the G1 X MkIII is a small-scale camera given what's on its inside. The earlier Mark II model had a smaller sensor (1.5-inch), but that was a far larger camera overall.
There's nothing missing from its setup either: with a vari-angle touchscreen and built-in electronic viewfinder, using the camera isn't a million miles away from a mini mirrorless or DSLR camera. Only you can't swap the lens, of course.
And the lens is the G1 X Mark III's weak point, to some degree. It's not that the quality is questionable, it's that in not particularly dim light that maximum aperture value drops to f/5.6 at full extension. We were taking some outdoor shots of statues and that meant having to ramp up the sensitivity to ISO 1600 to obtain a fast enough shutter speed for a sharp photo.
We would also like the lens to move through its available focal length at greater speed. Using the single lens control ring - the G1 X III doesn't have dual lens rings like some earlier Canon cameras - the subtle zoom can be useful for smaller adjustments, but the toggle zoom atop the camera ought to be quicker at jumping between key focal lengths, we feel.
Using the camera is otherwise great. Thanks to a combination of manual control dials and buttons, paired with the touchscreen, it's up to you how you work with the G1 X III. We were dipping into the quick menu, adjusting ISO sensitivity, then using the front control wheel to spin through the aperture range quickly, which feels like a sensible marriage between the worlds of old and new.
Build quality feels second to none; we particularly like that Canon has avoided the cheap looking plastic that's used on many of its DSLR cameras, opting for a metal finish on the G1 X that exudes greater visual and physical quality. It's not too heavy overall either, at sub-400g.
How does the Canon G1 X Mark III perform?
- Dual Pixel AF autofocus (phase-detection pixels built-in to the sensor)
- Dual Sensing image stabilisation (IS) uses gyro and sensor
- 9fps burst shooting / 7fps with continuous autofocus
- Built-in Neutral Density (ND) filter
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth & NFC
Other than the slightly slow lens, the G1 X Mark III is quick in operation. This is thanks to Dual Pixel AF, meaning the sensor has on-surface phase-detection pixels for enhanced autofocus. It's the same feature that appears in Canon's DSLR line-up, when using such cameras in their live preview mode - and it works pretty well.
As a result this G1 X is fairly snappy and capable of locking onto subjects. It's not as super-fast as a Canon DSLR's through-the-viewfinder form of use, however, so don't expect quite that level of precision.
As with all Canon compacts, this also means a simplification of the available focus types. Expect auto with face detection, touch-to-focus, or individual selection of the 45 areas available. It's decent as compacts go, but at this price we'd like to see some more complex autofocus modes, such as a pinpoint option - like you'll get with Panasonic's G-series cameras.
To counteract motion, the G1 X MkIII comes with Dual Sensing image stabilisation, meaning the camera uses a gyro in the lens to provide information to the sensor for optimised processing. There's not a huge amount of data about the specifics of Dual Sensing IS, but having shot handheld at 1/15th second in dark conditions, it certainly shows its worth in keeping things looking sharp.
If you're seeking burst shooting capabilities, then a solid seven frames per second (7fps) burst mode is available with continuous autofocus, increasing to 9fps if you fix the focus. That's pretty high at this level, although continuous autofocus with Dual Pixel AF isn't quite perfect in our view.
There's also a Touch & Drag autofocus feature, which means you can press your eye against the viewfinder and use a finger on the screen to quickly move the autofocus point around. Thanks to the screen's vari-angle feature, it's potentially handy when the screen is protruding to the side (well, so long as you're right-eyed). However, when the screen is in its standard against-camera position, we found our face/nose would move the focus point way too easily - which was annoying to the point that we switched the mode off.
Other great features include a physical built-in neutral density filter, which can be set to auto to come into place, along with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (plus NFC) for quick sharing files via the smartphone app. There's also more control via the app, which adds autofocus control over Wi-Fi.
Does an APS-C sensor mean DSLR-like image quality?
- APS-C size 24.2-megapixel sensor
- Digic 7 processor, ISO 100-25,600 sensitivity
- 1080p video (with Dual IS available)
In terms of quality, Canon is gunning for the G1 X III to deliver the same results as you'd get from the EOS 80D. Given the right conditions, results between the two are close, but the DSLR has far greater potential thanks to interchangeable lenses - which can avoid the "aperture ceiling" that the G1 X III suffers.
That said, even with the aperture pushing up the ISO sensitivity, shots at ISO 6400 still exude plenty of detail, colour and clarity thanks to the large sensor size. We shot the colourful graphics of a retro pinball machine and the result was a step beyond what we had expected - which is the beauty of a sensor so large.
Such a sensor also means greater potential control over shallow depth of field. Shooting stone dog statues, with critical focus, really set apart the eyes from the nose, which is more control than a lesser compact camera would offer.
At the top-end of the sensitivity range ISO 25,600 is available, which isn't the write-off that it may sound. Detail is far "mushier" at this point, but the bookshelf shot we captured still awarded enough detail to the spines' titles for them to be legible. Not a bad job indeed.
Overall, then, image quality is the G1 X III's forte. The limited aperture has a slight knock-on effect, but given the scale of this sensor, being forced to raise the ISO sensitivity isn't as bad as it might sound.
On the video front, it's 1080p capture, which can utilise the Dual Sensing IS for better stabilisation. There's no 4K, but that's not something we expect to see outside of Canon's pro video range for some time.
In the world of compact cameras it's rare to find one with an APS-C sensor - there's the never-been-followed-up Nikon Coolpix A from 2013, or the more recent Ricoh GR - and, until this Canon reared its head, there's never been one with a zoom lens. That in itself makes the G1 X III a milestone camera. And a hugely capable one.
Sure, the aperture limitations from that 24-72mm f/2.8-5.6 equivalent lens are a little bit of an issue, but the large-scale sensor makes such light work of image quality that Canon has a surefire success on its hands here. A rather pricey one, at £1,149, but given that it's out there entirely on its own with no competition gnawing at its heels, we think those who have been seeking such a camera for some time will be thoroughly impressed.
The Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III will be available in November (no specific date just yet), priced £1,149 in the UK.