A Viewfinder Darkly

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Canon PowerShot G1 X Compact Digital Camera Review

February 9 2012

by Philip Northeast

The PowerShot G1 X is Canon’s answer to interchangeable lens cameras, and contends for best compact camera with quality images from a pocket sized camera.

Canon have resisted the temptation to join the rush to interchangeable lens cameras, instead they offer cameras such as the G1 X. Although the G1 X may be an outflanking manoeuvre before the main thrust with their own interchangeable lens compact camera.

PowerShot G1 X

Canon PowerShot G1 X

The styling theme of Canon’s G1 X evokes memories of classic rangefinder compact cameras from the film era.  Canon’s first cameras were highly regarded rangefinder film cameras, so they are referencing their roots. This is a reminder that Canon are a traditional camera maker and legitimatises their use of the styling, it is not a gimmick.

The Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILC) may have stylish compact camera bodies but the lenses are usually DSLR style designs that dominate the size of the package.  Where image quality is more important than compact design. While DSLR lenses are getting more compact, they are nowhere near as compact as the collapsible designs in compact digital cameras.

In the digital photography era, modern compact cameras are very good. They all have sophisticated exposure and auto focus systems, and now record High Definition video.  A range of metering and scene modes helps photographers take reasonable photos under a wide range of lighting conditions.

The G1 X shares these capabilities with other compact cameras but justifies its premium price tag of around $US800 with a larger digital sensor.  This is not a cheap alternative to a DSLR, the G1X is a premium priced compact camera where convenience and an easy to carry shape are much more important than in DSLR design.

What sets the Canon G1X apart from ordinary compact cameras is its optical viewfinder. The viewfinder is not used for focusing, as in traditional rangefinder compact camera, instead the G1X uses an electronic auto focus system.  The optical viewfinder is better than an electronic screen for composing photos in bright light and by holding the camera to use the viewfinder offers more stability than using the LCD screen.

 Sensor 

The DxOMark test confirms the PowerShot G1X is a good camera particularly in areas of low noise and colour reproduction. Megapixels are more than enough and a performance indicator the megapixel count is only one of many factors.  Anything above 6 megapixels is capable of producing quality enlargements, so the G1X’s 14.5 megapixels is excellent. The sensor’s high resolution allows scope for cropping in post processing, yet still produces quality photos.

The G1X’s sensor approaches the size of a an APS- C DSLR sensor,  and is slightly larger than the four thirds sensor in the Olympus and Panasonic interchangeable lens cameras and DSLRs.

The G1X’s sensor is considerably larger than the sensor in the PowerShot S100 with a sensor size common in compact cameras.

Sensor Size Comparison

Canon PowerShot G1X 14 x18.7 mm
Nikon 1 J1  8.8 x 13.2 mm
Canon PowerShot S100 5.5 x 7.5 mm
Canon Rebel T3 (1100D) 14.9 x 22.3 mm
Olympus EP3 13.0 x 17.3 mm

The DxOMark test summary shows the Canon PowerShot G1X clearly out performs the other  compact camera, the very capable Canon PowerShot S100 and the new Nikon J1 representing the interchangeable lens cameras.

DxOMark Comparison  G1X, Nikon J1, Canon S100

DxOMark summary Comparison G1X, Nikon J1, Canon S100


 

The surprise is the relatively poor dynamic range of the G1X. Is a measure of the sensors ability to record light levels from dark shadows to bright highlights. At the limit of dynamic range there is a loss of detail the shadows are all black or the highlights are all white. The dynamic range performance is more critical at low ISO settings.

DxOMark dynamic range compare G1X, Nikon J1 and Canon S100

DxOMark dynamic range comparison G1X, Nikon J1 and Canon S100

Digital cameras still lack the dynamic range flexibility of print films ability to record the extremes from light to dark in bright light. Canons DSLRs struggle in this area, and so does the G1X even being beaten by the PowerShot S100, that has a good dynamic range at the ISO setting where photographers need it most.  Normally larger sensors perform better than smaller sensors, but the S100’s dynamic range performance is exceptional for a compact camera.

 

DxOMark  noise

DxOMark noise comparison G1X, Nikon J1 and Canon S100

The image noise tests returns to normality with the results in order of sensor size, giving the Canon G1X a clear advantage, especially in low light conditions where higher ISO settings are needed.

Low image noise is  handy in a compact camera enabling photographers to carry the minimum amount of  equipment. The G1X has a standard hot shoe for a larger external flash for special occasions.  The G1X has flash exposure compensation to help blend light from the popup flash when it has to be used, along with second curtain sync and slow speed sync.

The PowerShot G1X has similar performance to Canon’s entry level DSLR the Rebel T3, mainly losing out in the image noise area.  The DLSR with an 18-55mm kit lens is cheaper than the G1X where there is a premium paid for compact size.

DxOMark DSLR comparison summary

DxOMark comparing the G1X to Canon T3 DSLR summary

 

LENS

The Canon G1X has a permanently attached zoom lens that covers a focal length range in 35mm equivalent terms from wide angle at 28 mm to a handy telephoto at 112 mm. This zoom range will handle anything but extreme photographic genres.

This lens is designed as part of a compact camera so it retracts when the camera is turned off making the G1X  a carry everywhere camera

 Body size

G1X 116.84 x 81.28 x 63.50 mm
 Nikon J1 106 x 61 x 29.8 +61mm = 90.8mm

The Nikon J1’s sleek styling gives it a more compact body than the G1X, until you attach a lens. In the body size table taking into account the length of the kit lens at 61mm gives a more realistic indication of the suitability of the G1X as a pocket camera compared to the interchangeable lens cameras.

Summary 

In an era when many people are content with the quality of the snapshots from their camera phones, an everyday compact camera needs to offer something extra to encourage people to  carrying a camera, as well as their phone.  They need to be compact yet produce outstanding image quality. The DxOMark sensor tests show the Canon PowerShot G1X has the potential to meet this challenge.

 

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