Canon Powershot G1X Review - Photo Jottings

Canon Powershot G1X Review

Canon Powershot G1X camera review

 

Canon re-invents Sony’s R1 from 2005, but gets it right, at the right time.  Sony produced a wonderful, high quality fixed lens camera with a large sensor and Carl Zeiss 24-120mm (equiv) lens back in 2005 that was meant to appeal to those looking to upgrade to a DSLR, but didn’t want the hassle of picking out lenses that cost even more than the camera.  Well, as we know from history, the trend back then was clearly lower priced DSLR’s, and Sony’s rather high priced R1 never really gained a wide audience.  The performance was good, but not quite as good as the average DSLR, especially high ISO performance.  The R1 was a nice try by Sony; it really was a good camera, with a very sharp lens and a nice zoom range.  However, it was quite large, at least as big as a DSLR with a medium zoom lens, and the price was just too high, (about $1000 then, or $1200 today).  Enter the Canon G1X.

 

Canon decided to revisit the large sensor, fixed lens camera concept, and has come up with a real winner, at the right time, and price!  The Canon G1X is smaller, lighter, less expensive, and is far better performing than the Sony R1, and best yet, it will optically out perform current entry level DSLR cameras with kit lenses!

 

The Canon G1X is a fairly small camera, but it’s not really pocket-able with western cut clothes, although it will easily fit in a coat pocket.  It also has some heft to it, and weights slightly more than the CZ 16-80mm lens.  Build quality is very good, as is the fit and finish.  As of this review, it only comes in a matte black color.  The fixed lens covers a very useful zoom range of 28-112mm (in 135 film format), and is about average in light gathering ability with a range of F/2.8-5.8.

 

Since I’m late in the game in posting this review, and many other sites already cover the camera’s general features, I’ve decided to branch off and concentrate my efforts on the best part of the camera, the lens.  I’ll start off with some samples located at photojottings, then to the specifications, accessories, and random observations.  Make sure you read the random observations section, that’s where you’ll find info that’s not likely to be posted on other sites.  Below that comes the lens section, where I’ll cover the fixed lens as I would any other lens; with distortion patterns, light fall-off, ghosting etc, and a large assortment of test crops at the bottom of the review.

 

Image sample gallery.

 

I  have quite a few test images available, most full sized, and some taken from RAW capture.  Check out the links below, which take you to my new site; photojottings.com.

 

Canon G1X and Sony A580 RAW comps.  A few samples comparing the Canon G1X and Sony A580 using the Sony 35/1.8 SAM and CZ 16-80mm lenses.

 

Sony NEX-C3 and Canon G1X ISO comparison.  Highlights the ‘much better than expected’ high ISO performance, and the very sharp lens of the Canon.

 

Canon G1X full size samples.  Samples from jpeg output with no adjustments.

2012/g1xbox.jpg
Box and contents
2012/g1xps.jpg
Various accessories for the G1X

 

Specifications

 

Model
Price
$799  4-12
Effective megapixels
14.3
LCD monitor
3.0″  922,000 pixels, vari-angle screen.
Lens
15.1mm-60-4mm.  Covers the same area as 28mm-112mm in 135 film format.
Zoom
4x, 28mm-112mm.
Recording media
SD
Image stabilization
Yes, in-lens.
ISO range
100/125/160/200/250/320/400/500/640/800/1000/1250/1600/2000/2500/3200/4000/5000/6400/8000/10000/12800
Manual controls
yes, very customizable, but no kelvin temps or bulb mode.
Flash sync
1/2000 with built-in flash, or 1/4000 using external HSS compatible Canon flash.  Manual says 1/250 with external flash and no HSS, but will sync to 1/320 at full power, and is very useable at 1/400 with a reduced output using aSony HVL-F56AM flash.
Shutter speed
60 sec – 1/4000 sec, depends on shooting mode.
Optical viewfinder
Yes, but covers only 80% of actual view.
Sensor size
18.7mm x 14mm  sub APS-C
AF assist lamp
Yes, Built-in LED.
Timer
10 sec – 2 sec delay, and customizable from 1-15sec, 20-25-30sec, and up to 10 shots.
Flash
Yes, pop-up type.
Movie mode
Yes, full HD and lesser modes.
Power source
Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery Pack NB-10L
Dimensions
4.6″ x 3.25″ x 2.55″  117mm x 82h x 65d
Weight
19.1oz   542g  with battery, lens cap and memory card.
Additional info
Wired remote, macro light adapter, hood, 58mm filter adapter, softcase and underwater adapter all available at the time of review.
Random observations.

 

Build quality is excellent, like many other Powershot cameras.

 

This camera is very quiet when all the beeps are turned off, in fact, you can hardly hear it at all.  It’s even much quieter than the electronic first curtain shutter feature on many DSLRs and some mirrorless cameras.

 

Auto focus is usually spot-on, and seems more accurate, more often than Sony’s NEX system, which seems to totally miss focus occasionally.

 

Image stabilization is very effective.  I’ve never once had a fuzzy image from camera movement, even at full zoom.

 

Battery life is sketchy.  Sometimes you can get more than the advertised shots, sometimes nowhere near that.  Also, the blinking red low battery indicator comes on too soon; I had that happen a couple of times to me, and I still got almost 50 extra shots until it shut off.  luckily, just before the battery is depleted, the camera will save the image and close the lens before shutting down.

 

You can’t input kelvin temps for white balance, you have to pick something close, like the tungsten setting, and trim it to taste.  That works ok, but it takes extra time.

 

The movie button is in a poor position, it’ll turn on when you grasp the camera with your thumb.  Sony’s NEX system has the same problem.  As a side note; the zoom speed is reduced when shooting in movie mode for a smoother look.

 

HDR or high dynamic range mode is for tripod use only, it does not align the images.  It uses three shots, and is not adjustable.  You don’t get a neutral exposed separate image in case the HDR image is blurry, so you’re screwed if you mess this up.  Sony’s HDR technology is way ahead of Canon’s!

 

Dynamic Range correction is a gimmick, it lowers the exposure then brightens the shadows.  Shooting in RAW would be a much better option.

 

Flash sync for external flash use is higher than indicated in the owner’s manual; which states the flash sync is 1/250 with (non HSS) external flash, however, I’ve managed to get 1/320 in manual mode with no noticeable loss of light.  In fact, I got 1/400 with only a slight loss of light.  If you try 1/500, you lose most of your flash power, and the built-in flash will be better at that point using high speed sync.  Minor note; you don’t get your typical dark band across the image when exceeding your flash sync as the camera doesn’t use a focal plane shutter, it uses an in-lens type.  The good thing about the leaf or in-lens shutter is you can exceed your camera’s flash sync, and your radio trigger sync, (PocketWizard, Radiopoppers etc) which is usually around 1/200sec max.  The manual states a compatible Canon external flash will sync to 1/4000, but I wasn’t able to check that out because I don’t have a Canon flash.

 

There’s an accessory wired remote, but it doesn’t support wireless operation, you’ll have to get an aftermarket one that works off the same connector.  I have one on order now, so we’ll see if it actually works.

 

I keep forgetting the exposure compensation dial is on top of the camera and not buried in the menu system!  The dial is damped aggressively, meaning it shouldn’t move accidentally.

 

Manual focusing is not very well implemented.  The magnified view is too small, and you can’t really see if your subject is in focus or not until you take the shot and look at the review.

 

Manual focusing using the distance scale is a big mistake at wide angle between 15.1mm and 18.9mm; meaning if you set the focusing distance to infinity because your subject is a mountain range or building a long ways away, it will probably turn out fuzzy.  Apparently, the lens was designed to focus beyond infinity for certain reasons.  I focused just short of the 5m range at 15.1mm (see test crops farther down the page), and got the sharpest shots of far off subjects.  One would normally think infinity would be the best distance at that very short focal length, but not in this case.  Try your camera out to see if the results are the same.

 

Jpegs right out of the camera are clean and sharp, and there isn’t much to be gained from shooting in RAW.

 

There’s a handy step zoom that will go to common focal lengths (28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm and 112mm), using a custom dial to control it.  It’s handy for testing the lens, but not really handy in everyday situations.  The whole point of the zoom is you aren’t forced to use set lengths.  Of course you can just move the zoom button to change the length even in step zoom mode.

 

The review screen will not show focal lengths for some reason, but it’s embedded in the image.  The screen will show the step zoom length for a second or two after setting it.

 

In bright daylight the LCD shows what looks like overexposed images, but when viewing on a regular computer screen the exposures are very close to optimal.  There’s no highlight blow-out if you’re using exposure compensation and look at the histogram.  Camera jpegs show very little highlight blow-out in auto mode.

 

The electronic level has to be calibrated by the user, otherwise it may not be perfectly level.  It isn’t as well implemented as Sony’s level, but you can’t adjust or calibrate Sony’s level.

 

Panorama or ‘stitched assist image’ mode has to be stitched together back home.  Canon’s software does an OK stitch job, but you’ll get better results in Photoshop.

 

There’s a handy shortcut button on the left side of the camera.  You can set this to many things including WB, timer, neutral density filter IS, drive mode etc.

 

You can review images when magnified and then go back and forth between images in the same area to check for sharpness etc.  Sony omitted this important feature on the expensive NEX-7(!)

 

The timer can be customized for times up to 30 seconds and 10 images.

 

You can set your name and company info to show in the image file, up to 63 characters.

Lens performance section.

 

2012/g1xlens.jpg
Specifications for the built-in lens.
Optical configuration
11 elements in 10 groups, but not super-sure.
Angle of view
75°-19°  measured diagonally
Aperture
6 blades
Full frame and APS-C
Crop factor of 1.85x.  The coverage equals 28-112mm in 135 film format.
Depth of field and focus scales?
Nothing outside, but there’s a distance scale available in manual focus mode.
Min. focus distance, image plane to subject @ max reproduction ratio
About 9″  (230mm)
Min. focus distance, end of lens barrel to subject @ max. reproduction ratio
About 6.25″  (160mm)
Hard stop at infinity focus?
No
Length changes when focusing?
No
Focus ring turns in AF?
No
Filter size
None, but takes a 58mm filter adapter
Filter ring rotates?
No
Distance encoder?
Yes
Max magnification
About 0.08x, or 1:12.5 at wide angle (15.1mm)
Min. F/stop
F/16
Sony teleconverter compatible?
N/A
Length changes when zooming?
Yes
Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)
N/A
Maximum  extended length (my measurements)
N/A
Weight bare (my scale)
N/A
Lens flare/ghosting.  About average control for a zoom lens.  See examples below.
Color fringing (CA).  Above average control at both ends, but the camera will automatically eliminate this, even in RAW.
Bokeh.  You can’t get much blur at the short end.  The long end has a slight ring around the blur.  Look below for sample crops.
Color.   A bit greenish to Sony lenses.
Close up filter.  Works good.
Coma.  A tiny amount in the extreme corners at 15.1mm, F/2.8, but goes away at F/4.
Regular filters N/A
Filter size is 58mm.  The extra cost adapter allow you to use 58mm filters.
Distortion.  Distortion is corrected in-camera between 15.1mm-18.9mm, even in RAW.  You see mild to moderate barrel distortion through most of the zoom.  Check out the cropped samples below.
Distortion examples directly below.
2012/g1x28mmdis.jpg
15.1mm, (28mm)
2012/g1x35mmdis.jpg
18.9mm, (35mm)
2012/g1x50mmdis.jpg
26.8mm, (50mm)
2012/g1x85mmdis.jpg
46.1mm, (85mm)
2012/g1x112mmdis.jpg
60.4mm, (112mm)

 

Images showing camera distortion correction at wide angle.

 

2012/g1xdisproto.jpg
15.1mm, corrected in camera
2012/g1xdisnoproto.jpg
15.1mm, uncorrected from DNG file
Distortion is corrected in-camera, with some barrel distortion left in.  It’s fairly easy to correct with lens distortion sliders.  If you by-pass the camera/lens protocol, you can see what the camera is really capturing at the widest setting, (bottom image).
Light fall-off.
           15.1mm F/2.8
             15.1mm F/4
2012/gx1vig28.jpg
2012/g1xvig40.jpg

 

Light fall-off is corrected in-camera, and is not an issue at any aperture or focal length.

 

 

Aperture/focal length guide.

 

Maximum aperture
          F/2.8
       F/3.2
       F/3.5
       F/4
       F/4.5
       F/5
       F/5.6
       F/5.8
Range
15.1
16.9mm
18.9mm
21.3mm
25.8-28.2mm
31.3mm-39.6
44-57.4mm
60.4mm
This guide is just for kicks, it’s not useful to the average photographer.  You may get slightly different numbers if you want to spend all day firing off shots and moving the zoom button in tiny increments.  I didn’t want to do that.
Bokeh crops next.
           15.1mm F/2.8
             15.1mm F/4
2012/g1xbokshort28.jpg
2012/g1xbokshort40.jpg
           60.4mm F/5.8
             60.4mm F/8
2012/g1xboklong58.jpg
2012/g1xboklong80.jpg

 

Bokeh or background highlight blur is hard to get at 15.1mm, but if you focus on something really close, the blur behind the subject is not very smooth, nor is it at longer focal lengths.

 

Flare and ghosting.
           15.1mm F/5.6 
             15.1mm F/5.6
2012/g1xgst1.jpg
2012/g1xgst3.jpg

 

Overall, the Canon G1X does a decent job at reducing flare and ghosting.  I see a very small green dot at the wide end, and sometimes larger colored blobs and flare striations depending on the sun location in the sky, and within the image, see right image below the horizon.  At the long end, you’ll see some washed out areas with the sun inside the frame, although that’s typical of zooms like this.

Let’s check out the close focus capabilities of this lens.

Check out the 100% cropped portion of the full image.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87″x 1.0″ or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a somewhat short 6.25″ (160mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.
This lens has a poor reproduction size of 0.08x, so don’t plan on any super close insect shots.  You can use a 58mm close-up filter which provides good results.  As a side note; the “1996” on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.
2012/g1xmacc599.jpg
As close as you can get. F/5.6. No larger image

 

 

 

Now for the conclusion.

 

As I alluded to at the top of the review, Canon has brilliantly achieved what Sony tried so hard to do in 2005, and that is to make a large sensor, fixed lens camera that provides the same image quality of a DSLR, at the same price point or less.  However, Canon had a design constraint that Sony never had to deal with; small size.  Today, there are many small mirrrorless camera systems out there with great image quality, like the Panasonic/Olympus 4/3, Samsung, and Sony NEX, plus the smaller sensor Nikon 1 system that isn’t quite as good as a DSLR, especially at high sensitivities.

 

Unfortunately, the mirrorless designs out now have lenses that are almost as big as the cameras, or bigger!  The portability of these systems is seriously compromised when adding the lenses—whoops!  More pancake lenses please!  The Canon G1X fixes the size and lens issues, thereby eliminating any need to go out and buy more lenses for your interchangeable lens camera so you can take better pictures, or so one thinks…

 

With all the good stuff covered, there are some negatives to report.  The first and probably most important issue is AF, it uses the typically slow process of contrast detect, unlike the fast phase detect focusing you get on all DSLRs.  For fast low-light sports action, you’re going to need to bring your DSLR.  On a minor but obvious note; the zoom range of the lens is very reasonable, but if you want a longer zoom, or to go wider than 28mm, you’ll need to keep your DSLR or mirrorless.  Currently there are no lens converters for this camera.

 

The best features of the G1X are the small size, high quality lens, and high ISO performance.  Now you really can get a small camera that matches, (or exceeds) the image quality of an entry level DSLR.  The Canon G1X will appeal to those looking for a small back-up for their DLSRs, and people looking for a camera that takes great pictures with no fuss, so they can concentrate their efforts on light and composition, which is 90% of great photos.

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Sample crops from the centers, mid-sections and corners.

 

15.1mm, (28mm).

 

          Center
          Mid-section
             Corner
F/2.8
2012/g1x28ctr28.jpg
2012/g1x28mid28.jpg
2012/g1x28corner28.jpg
F/4
2012/g1x28ctr40.jpg
2012/g1x28mid40.jpg
2012/g1x28corner40.jpg
F/5.6
2012/g1x28ctr56.jpg
2012/g1x28mid56.jpg
2012/g1x28corner56.jpg
F/8
2012/g1x28ctr80.jpg
2012/g1x28mid80.jpg
2012/g1x28corner80.jpg
F/11
2012/g1x28ctr11.jpg
2012/g1x28mid11.jpg
2012/g1x28corner11.jpg

 

18.9mm, (35mm).

          Center
          Mid-section
             Corner
F/3.5
2012/g1x35ctrf35.jpg
2012/g1x35midf35.jpg
2012/g1x35cornerf35.jpg
F/5.6
2012/g1x35ctrf56.jpg
2012/g1x35midf56.jpg
2012/g1x35cornerf56.jpg
F/8
2012/g1x35ctrf80.jpg
2012/g1x35midf80.jpg
2012/g1x35cornerf80.jpg
F/11
2012/g1x35ctrf11.jpg
2012/g1x35midf11.jpg
2012/g1x35cornerf11.jpg

 

26.8mm, (50mm).

          Center
          Mid-section
             Corner
F/4.5
2012/g1x26ctrf45.jpg
2012/g1x26midf45.jpg
2012/g1x26cornerf45.jpg
F/5.6
2012/g1x26ctrf56.jpg
2012/g1x26midf56.jpg
2012/g1x26cornerf56.jpg
F/8
2012/g1x26ctrf80.jpg
2012/g1x26midf80.jpg
2012/g1x26cornerf80.jpg
F/11
2012/g1x26ctrf11.jpg
2012/g1x26midf11.jpg
2012/g1x26cornerf11.jpg

 

46.1mm, (85mm).

          Center
          Mid-section
             Corner
F/5.6
2012/g1x46ctrf56.jpg
2012/g1x46midf56.jpg
2012/g1x46cornerf56.jpg
F/8
2012/g1x46ctrf80.jpg
2012/g1x46midf80.jpg
2012/g1x46cornerf80.jpg
F/11
2012/g1x46ctrf11.jpg
2012/g1x46midf11.jpg
2012/g1x46cornerf11.jpg

 

60.4mm, (112mm).

          Center
          Mid-section
             Corner
F/5.8
2012/g1x60ctrf58.jpg
2012/g1x60midf58.jpg
2012/g1x60cornerf58.jpg
F/8
2012/g1x60ctrf80.jpg
2012/g1x60midf80.jpg
2012/g1x60cornerf80.jpg
F/11
2012/g1x60ctrf11.jpg
2012/g1x60midf11.jpg
2012/g1x60cornerf11.jpg

 

If you’re thinking the sides of the images look a little soft at the wider lengths, you’d be wrong.  The sides are pretty sharp, but the centers are super sharp!!  I noticed this in the ISO comp I linked to at the top of the page.  At longer lengths, there isn’t such a dramatic difference.  It looks like the sharpest apertures for landscape images would be about F/4-5.6 at the short end, and F/5.6-8 at the long end.  In reality, there’s no reason to stop down the lens unless focusing on something close for depth of field issues.

 

That’s it for the review, if you’d like to help out the site, please visit B&H Photo if you’re thinking of purchasing the Canon Powershot G1X.

 

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