Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II Review

Canon’s PowerShot G series has been one of the most successful enthusiast compact lines, but in the face of competition from all corners, is the Canon G1 X Mark II worthy of the enthusiast pocket?

When Canon first introduced the PowerShot G1 X back in 2012, it was met with a little confusion; it wasn’t clear exactly who the camera was aimed at and it had its fair share of problems. The premium segment of the compact camera market has shifted significantly since that model was released, and where once Canon was king, it is Sony, with its extremely popular RX100 series, that seems to dominate this arena. There’s also a fair amount of competition from the likes of Panasonic, Nikon and Fujifilm, who each have interesting premium compact propositions in their line-ups; Canon’s current answer to these is the PowerShot G1 X Mark II.

Key Features

Canon has taken its time replacing the G1 X, but a number of notable improvements have been made. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the sensor, with the same 1.5in, 12.8MP CMOS unit as before present here. Just shy of the APS-C size as found in many DSLRs, this sensor is also significantly larger than Sony’s 1in sensor found in the RX100 range, as well as those found in Micro Four Thirds Compact System Cameras.

The lens, however, has changed. The camera offers a 5x optical zoom lens, with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 24-120mm f/2-3.9 (compared with its predecessor’s 28-112mm f/2.8-5.9 optic). ZoomPlus – Canon’s term for a form of digital zoom technology – is also included, which boosts the zoom up to 10x while claiming to maintain a high standard of image quality. Standard digital zoom is also available, giving a combined zoom ratio of 20x.

There’s also been an improvement to the lens’s minimum focusing distance. The previous G1 X could only manage to focus as close as 30cm, whereas the Mark II has a much more useful minimum focusing distance of just 5cm. Canon’s latest-generation DIGIC 6 processor has also been added to the camera. Canon has also rethought how images are composed using the G1 X Mark II, with the removal of the optical viewfinder. There’s nothing in its place, but you can buy an additional external electronic viewfinder if you like. Whereas the G1 X’s screen was fully articulating, here you’ll find a tilting 1,037k-dot device, though touch sensitivity has now been added. The screen tilts to face all the way forwards, making it useful for self-portraits.

Wi-Fi and NFC (Near Field Communication) connectivity has been added, and the good news here is that Canon has updated its apps for iOS and Android devices to allow you to take remote control of the camera. The G1 X Mark II boasts a maximum burst shooting rate of 5.2 frames per second (JPEG), which Canon claims the camera can handle until the memory card is full, thanks to the DIGIC 6 processor. If you want to include autofocus, that rate slows to 3fps, again until the memory card becomes full.

There’s quite a lot on hand here for the creative photographer. Hybrid Auto, for example, which can be found on quite a few Canon compact cameras, creates a short video before each image is taken, amalgamating them all at the end of the day to create a movie of the day’s events. It’s a particularly nice feature when you’re shooting a holiday or an occasion such as a wedding. You’ll also find Creative Shot, which takes five images and applies random digital filter effects and crops to each one, as well as capturing a standard original. You can also find different filter effects that can be applied to individual photos in the Creative Filters mode.

Design and Handling

Canon has made a few design changes from the original G1 X for this new model, which result in a sleeker appearance. Probably the first thing you’ll notice about it is how heavy and bulky it is when compared with other premium compacts, but that’s not too surprising when you consider the size of the sensor housed within the body.

A chunky grip can be found on the front, making the camera feel very secure in the hand, while a textured coating and a slight recess in the grip make it sit comfortably – especially when you’re using the camera one-handed. Anybody used to using Canon DSLRs will be familiar with a lot of the buttons and the way the G1 X Mark II works (incidentally, the G1 X II does seem like a natural second camera for those photographers). For instance, on top of the camera is a mode dial for switching between the camera’s various exposure modes. Here you’ll find the usual set of semi-automatic and manual options (such as aperture priority and shutter priority), along with a couple of custom slots, a fully automatic mode, scene modes and the creative options.

The playback button is also found on the top plate. In practice, this can be a little awkward to reach and seems a bit incongruous when most playback buttons are found on the back of a camera, but it’s something you get used to after a while. You also find a zoom switch located around the shutter release; this is sturdy, while the zoom itself also has a nice fluid movement, with a brief pause before entering digital zoom (useful if you want to only use optical zoom). When shooting in Raw format, or simultaneous Raw+JPEG, only optical zoom will be available. Switching to JPEG allows you to use both optical and digital zoom.

Moving on to the back of the camera, you’ll find a scrolling dial that doubles up as a four-way navigational pad. Each of the directional keys is assigned to a specific function; the left button controls focusing type (macro or infinity); the up button accesses exposure compensation controls; down accesses sensitivity (ISO) settings and right accesses flash settings. The scrolling dial is used when navigating through the menu or while in playback.

Pressing the function button in the centre of the navigation pad reveals a sort of quick menu, giving you access to the most commonly used settings. Changing the autofocus point requires either a tap of a dedicated button on the back of the camera followed by the directional keys or the scrolling dial to get to the point you need or, much more simply, a quick tap on the touch-sensitive screen. You can also set the screen to fire off the shutter release with a touch, which is handy when you’re shooting from an awkward angle.

To change aperture and shutter speed while shooting in semi-automatic or manual modes, you use a couple of dials around the lens itself. By default, the larger ring around the base of the lens controls these parameters and you press the exposure-compensation button to switch between shutter speed and aperture when working in manual mode. You can, however, customise the way that the control rings work, although without quite the variety of choice as you can as on other models, such as those in the Sony RX100 series. You can assign the rear dial to control aperture and the front dial to control shutter speed, or customise the scrolling dial on the rear of the camera to access white balance.

There’s also a customisable shortcut key found near the thumb grip. This can be set to one of 24 different settings, such as ND filter on/off or switching between Raw and JPEG formats. A dedicated button is available for accessing the Wi-Fi functionality, too, although if you have an NFC-enabled device, you won’t need to use this as simply tapping the two devices together should form a connection. You’ll be prompted to download the Canon Camera Window app if you don’t already have it, but if you already have this it should load automatically. If, however, you have something like an iPad or iPhone, you’ll need to connect to the camera manually.

Canon has upgraded the app to allow remote shooting, which allows the camera to be controlled from a smart device. While this is useful for self-portraits, group shots and so on, it’s a little disappointing that you can’t use it to control different settings on the camera, such as aperture. You can also download images from the camera ready to share to social networking sites and the like from your smartphone or tablet through the app.

Performance

It’s great to see Canon has improved the autofocusing system from the previous G1 X, in a number of ways. Speeds are generally very quick, dipping a little in low light, although the AF-assist lamp does help in darker conditions. It’s now possible to shoot as close from 5cm from the subject and, while this isn’t as close as many other compacts can manage, it’s a vast improvement on the 30cm distance that was previously offered.

The display is bright and clear without suffering too badly from glare or reflection. Furthermore, as you can tilt it, moving it out of the way of any bright lights isn’t too difficult. It’s not much of a hardship to lose the optical viewfinder from the G1 X but it would, perhaps, have been nice to see an integrated electronic viewfinder make an appearance. The optional EVF-DC1 viewfinder is great but this is obviously an additional expense.

The promised 5.2 fps shooting (without AF) really delivers but it’s worth noting that these speeds apply to JPEG shooting only. When shooting with a Class 10 SDHC card, the camera simply carries on shooting until the card is full – and if you have a high-capacity card, that will probably be a very long time indeed. When shooting simultaneous Raw+JPEG files, you can shoot around 7-8 images before the buffer gets full. Therefore, if you’re shooting some fast-moving action, it’s best to switch to JPEG only.

Image Quality

Photographs directly from the G1 X Mark II have beautifully saturated colours typical of Canon cameras, perhaps erring slightly towards pleasing warm tones. While you can alter the colours via the MyColors setting, this is only available when shooting in JPEG. Detail is also rendered extremely well, with the lens capable of delivering some very sharp images. It’s here that you’ll probably notice the difference between a camera like this with a large sensor and something with a much smaller device, like the Sony RX100 III. Examining images at 100% reveals that detail is kept very well across the frame, being excellent at normal print and web sizes alike.

Canon is proud of the improvements it has made to low-light shooting, facilitated by the DIGIC 6 processor. Looking at images shot at a high sensitivity such as ISO 3200, it’s easy to see why. Images are very clean, with an impressively low amount of noise creeping in, while noise reduction is kept to a minimum and detail remains high. Looking at mid-range sensitivities such as ISO 800 or 1600, noise is barely there at all, aside from the odd speck of chroma noise here and there when examining images at 100%.

Shooting in the Raw format gives you the ability to add your own noise reduction in post-production software, such as the supplied Digital Photo Professional or Adobe Photoshop. It’s here where you can see how much reduction has been applied by the camera when comparing JPEG and Raw images; if you’re concerned with keeping detail and don’t mind a little extra noise to begin with, it’s advisable to work with the Raw format. The G1 X Mark II’s metering system copes very well to produce accurate exposures, meaning it’s pretty rare you need to dial in exposure compensation. Similarly, the camera’s automatic white-balance system is a great performer, faring well when faced with artificial or mixed lighting conditions.

One of the most significant improvements Canon has made to the G1 X II from its predecessor is its zoom, with its 5x optical zoom covering a 24-120mm range in 35mm-equivalent terms and easily beating the 3.6x optical zoom offered by the Sony RX100 III. Image quality at the telephoto end of the lens is great, while the maximum aperture rising only to f/3.9 here allows you to achieve shallow depth of field while fully zoomed. There’s also a digital zoom available and, while quality is a little diminished when using this, it’s certainly useful to have if that 120mm isn’t quite enough reach.

It’s fun to experiment with the different Creative Filters available. There are some great filters applied in the Creative Shot mode, but it’s a shame you can’t take more control over which filters are applied, though. Those found in the separate Creative Filters mode are starting to look a little dated now, having been around in Canon compacts for some time.

Verdict

The Canon PowerShot G1 X II is a great choice for those looking for a backup camera for their DSLR, or just something versatile without the size of a CSC or DSLR. Images are nicely saturated, and with plenty of detail, and it’s great to see improvements to low-light shooting and close-focusing performance from the camera’s predecessor. There are some excellent extras on display here too, such as the touch-sensitive screen and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, all of which make using the camera a breeze. Ultimately, this is a great reworking of the original G1 X to make it a more serious contender in the premium sector of the market. If you’re looking for fantastic image quality in a portable package, you won’t go too far wrong with the Mark II.

Pros:

  • Large sensor (for a compact camera)
  • Tilting, touch-sensitive screen
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC which allows for remote shooting
  • Customisable control rings
  • Full manual control

Cons:

  • No built-in viewfinder
  • Bulkier than some other premium compacts
  • Limited functionality when shooting in Raw format (ie can’t shoot with Creative Filters)

Key Specifications:

  • 1.5in, 12.8MP CMOS sensor
  • 24-120mm f/2-3.9
  • ISO 100-12,800
  • DIGIC 6 processor
  • Full 1080p video recording at 30fps
  • 31-point, Face Detection or Touch AF with Object and Face Select and Track
  • No inbuilt viewfinder, optional (additional purchase) EVF-DC1
  • 3in, titalble LCD touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
  • Continuous shooting at 5.2fps until card is full (JPEG only), 3fps with AF until card is full (JPEG only)
  • 558g (including battery and memory card)
  • 116.3 x 74.0 x 66.2mm