(Pocket-lint) - Canon’s G1 X looks a lot like the PowerShot G12, but has one crucial difference: a whopping-great 1.5-inch sensor size.
It’s this brand new 14.1-megapixel marvel that takes the G1 X to a whole new level when it comes to image quality. Canon says this new sensor is built around the same technology as the EOS 600D’s, right down to the pixel size, meaning results should be just as good as that from a DSLR.
Lovely (but limited) lens
The 4x optical zoom lens covers a 28-112mm equivalent focal length and offers an f/2.8-5.6 aperture range. It’s nice and bright at the wide-angle setting, and still fairly decent when shooting at the longer end of the zoom. Canon claims the lens benefits from many of the manufacturing processes that go in to making its EF series of lenses. In Laymen’s terms, that ought to mean low distortion and super-sharp final quality.
The lens is controlled using the zoom toggle around the shutter button on top of the camera. It feels just like using any other compact camera in this respect, perhaps almost too much so. At least a manual focus ring, which it doesn’t have, would have elevated the camera to a higher level.
The only real problem the lens poses is its limited close-focus distance. The specs say a 20cm-from-lens Macro mode is available. In practice this may be true, but "Macro" this isn’t. It’s frustrating how far away subjects have to be to gain focus, particularly when increasing the focal length – though this won’t be much of a concern for casual street shots or portraits.
All black and stark lines, the G1 X’s metal frame build feels sturdy in the hand. It’s a chunky camera that, although not ‘elegant’ as such, is well proportioned and arranged.
It’s also rather big. To play devil’s advocate and select the decidedly similar-named Panasonic GX1, it’s clear to see the Canon is the far larger model. It does also have the larger sensor, but it’s questionable if the G1 X can be considered a "compact" compact.
But this is a true photographers’ camera, where functionality takes pride of place. On the top of the camera is a main mode dial, underneath which is a larger exposure compensation dial. Adjacent is a TTL hotshoe and built-in, pop-up flash. There’s no wireless flash control built into the body, but add a transmitter via the hotshoe and wireless flash control is possible.
Controlling the camera in its manual modes is easy, thanks to a front thumbwheel and rear rotational dial. The latter doubles up as a d-pad to control all the key settings such as ISO sensitivity.
Everything feels as though it’s in the right place and is effortless in use.
Capable, yet uninspired
Put to work and the G1 X is capable, albeit a touch uninspired. The autofocus system is much like the 18-month-old G12’s, which feels lazy and dated.
The FlexiZone focus mode allows for a single focus area to be moved around the screen, which is easily accessed using the focus area button on the rear of the camera. Subject tracking and face detection also feature, though a multi-area mode isn’t part of the feature set.
Focus speed is reasonable but not great. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it doesn’t feel like the focus system of a compact camera that costs more than even a mid-range DSLR. The G1 X, at launch, is pricier than a Canon EOS 600D with kit lens. Gasp!
Although, as much as it’s not going to set the world on fire, the focus system will be more than enough for most applications.
It’s almost a tradition that viewfinders in compact cameras are, well, not so good in practice. High hopes were that the G1 X could pull something special out of the bag but, alas, it’s not to be.
The G1 X’s viewfinder is just like that in the G12. The 77 per cent field of view means lots of the final image isn’t visible in preview and, despite zooming, in-tandem, with the lens, the fact the viewfinder is higher than the lens means it doesn’t show exactly the same image that the sensor is seeing (known as parallax error).
It’s fortunate, then, that the 3-inch LCD screen on the rear is of decent quality. It’s mounted on a side bracket and can be rotated through any angle. Although bright sunlight may cause some problems, the reserve viewfinder is there if it becomes an essential.
The 1.5-inch sensor is quite simply sublime. The shots we pulled out of the G1 X are just like those from a DSLR. And we’re not pulling anyone’s leg here. The sensor itself isn’t much smaller than the APS-C sensor in the EOS 600D. The aspect ratio is 4:3 rather than 3:2 so it’s smaller in width, and a little smaller in height overall.
Consider that the G1 X’s sensor is some 6.3-times larger than that in the G12 and it’s easy to see why its sensor pixel size and light-gathering capabilities are far better than almost any other compact.
Despite being a bit of a dog in the handling department, the image quality boosts the G1 X up more than a peg or two. There are few compacts able to compete with the G1 X’s quality, bar the more expensive and fixed-focal-length Fuji X100.
ISO 100-800 shots hold their colour well, have low image noise and are bitingly sharp, thanks to that fantastic lens. We wouldn’t hesitate to use ISO 1600 to 3200 modes for large prints, and there are few compacts that can match the level of detail still visible. Although ISOs 6400 to 12,800 aren’t quite as decent, they’re darn impressive given the high sensitivity.
The inclusion of a 14-bit raw sensor output also makes for tip-top quality with bags of information available for post-production. This alone will be a big sell for serious image-makers.
The G1 X is the king of compact cameras when it comes to image quality. If you’re after a camera that can produce DSLR-quality images then look no further - the G1 X delivers.
However, the overall handling just isn’t that special. Autofocus is good enough, but just doesn’t feel like Canon has injected enough oomph into making the G1 X stand head and shoulders above the competition. Close focusing is also very limited, meaning it’s hard to take maximum advantage of shallow depth or focus on the subject at hand. The viewfinder is also rather naff, so much so that we rarely used it during testing.
Otherwise this well-built, intuitively laid-out, but pricey beast produces among the best image quality that we’ve ever seen from a compact. Trim the price back by some £200 and it would attract a bigger audience. For now it’s for the image-loving elite only.