First Look at the Canon G1x

Green River Overlook

I’ve always been one to try and have a camera with me.  Recently the point and shoot category has been getting significant pressure as camera phones have improved.  For me at this point in time, the 8mp camera in my iPhone 4s (along with the software behind it) is pretty amazing and for quick shots, especially those destined on for the web, it works very well.  Nokia just introduced a phone with a 41mp camera, and it’s remarkably good.  The main rational behind the high pixel count is to enable digital zooming – since zooming is something which camera phones have trouble with.  The camera also does “pixel binning” combining 4 pixels to create one pixel in the final image.  This technique isn’t new, but a well proven way to lower noise and improve image quality in low light.  You end up with a 10mp camera with pretty stunning results.  Certainly a potential sign of what’s coming in camera phones. (there are other technologies in the works for these amazing miniature cameras as well).

In October of 2009 I did an article comparing the noise of several different cameras, two of which were the Canon G10 and s90.  Because they used the same sensor the results were virtually identical.  At the time I made this comment about the future of the G series … “To me it appears Canon should face the music and realize the logical step now would be to increase the sensor size .. yes a completely new camera design.” (here’s my article from back then)

Mesa Arch
While waiting for the sun to reach the bottom of Mesa Arch I snapped a quick shot. Too much dynamic range, but much better than I thought. Unfortunately I hadn't gotten around to figuring out the built in HDR or bracketing yet (which is pretty good).

THE DECLINE OF THE POINT AND SHOOT – WHAT’S A COMPANY TO DO?

The result of all this is a fairly  rapid decline in the point and shoot category.  New features such as video (or gimmicks such as smile detection) keep showing up, but even iPhone video is pretty amazing. Once camera phones solve the zoom problem, point and shoots are probably doomed.

So with advances in camera phones and the point and shoot category rapidly losing market share, along with the pressure from Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony with their mirrorless EVF  offerings putting pressure on the lower end (and even upper end) dSLR’s, both Nikon and Canon were compelled to offer something new.  While they haven’t given up on the point and shoot category, they have both just introduced their “answer”,  but each company has taken remarkably opposite paths.   The only thing in common is both have shunned the micro 4/3rds standard.  Nikon basically mirrored the micro 4/3rds cameras with EVF and interchangeable lenses.  However they opted for a sensor even smaller than micro 4/3rds … to me and many others a odd decision.  The advantage is the interchangeable lenses are smaller, so the entire system is quite small. The smaller file sizes also makes it easier to get enough processing power in the minuscule body.  One disadvantage is the sensor is only 10mp and because of it’s size, the sensel sizes on the sensor are pretty small.  It’s a solid sensor design and delivers good performance, but it remains to be seen how much appeal it will have even to Nikon users.  Like all of these systems it’s also a little pricey compared to even high end point and shoots, especially once you buy a second lens. To me it seems the Nikon V1 and J1 are designed to compete with the pressure they are feeling from Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic with their interchangeable lens EVF cameras rather than the decline of the point and shoots.

While waiting to hit into a green when I was playing golf, I noticed this 150 yard marker with a cool pattern on it.

Canon has chosen a different path – different from any other company.  Rather than a new system, they actually managed to squeeze an APS-C sensor into a G series body.  While slightly larger, they have opted to created a cross between a dSLR and a point and shoot. The compromise here is the lens … not much point in interchangeable lenses, since they’d have to be about the same size as dSLR lenses. The solution was a newly designed permanent zoom lens – which of course also makes it more like a point and shoot.  Finally, rather then an electronic eye level viewfinder, they opted to stay with the same optical one, I assume to keep it small as well as keeping the cost down, and perhap believing most just use the live view on the LCD. That’s quite a few tradeoffs to achieve the main goal of keeping it a G series camera.

Frequent readers may recall I enjoyed and spoke highly of the Lumix GF1 system, and now am delighted with my NEX 5 (soon to be 7) system, so this camera really didn’t have much appeal to me personally. Since Pixels needed someone to review it and offer some thoughts , I decided to take one to St. George for the weekend to do a review for the store.

I BOUGHT ONE!

So it may come as a surprise when I returned from St. George, I bought my own G1x. Why?  It just happens to be a perfect fit for one of my needs.  More on that later.

On the recent Pixels photo excursion to Monument Valley (which was awesome btw)  I had a decent chance to give it a try. I’m not a DP review kind of guy, it’s more about what my goals are and what my in field experience is.  You can read all that stuff on other sites.  Bottom line, the G1x is a 14mp dSLR sensor point and shoot nearly identical to the G12.  The sensor technology is very advanced, and being an APC-c size sensor it offers tremendous advantages over the minuscule sensors in normal point and shoots.  The end result is image quality that surpasses any point and shoot, especially when printing decent size prints. It offers terrific noise performance at higher ISO’s.  So the choice of a larger sensor makes sense, but the choice of non-interchangable lenses is puzzling – unless you consider the original goal of beating a point and shoot.

 

So what made me decide to purchase one?  My main shooting gear is a PhaseOne IQ180 medium format system.  When packing that gear around I really don’t ever take the Sony system.  I find myself using my Sony on occasions where I’m scouting a location, or when I’m pursuing something other than photography but wanting to make sure I have a decent camera in case an opportunity turns up. So my problem is while hiking to a location I often see something I think would make a nice image and want to be able to make a decent size print, but I don’t want to haul all the main gear out because I might not make it to my main location.  The G1x can hang around my neck and is always on the ready while I hike.  I can also get a tripod mount for it and mount it on the quick release of my tripod head.  Additionally the G1x does 1080p 24fps video, which I do sometimes to document my travels. The built in mike is a little weak to pick up anything but the person shooting, so I may have to find some type of system to augment that.

So how good is the image quality?  Pretty impressive.  At 14mp and being an APS-c sensor we’re talking quality similar to Canon’s Rebel or 60D bodies. The files are clean, very workable in Lightroom, and should print up just great.  I see more dynamic range in the files, and can really get some nice results. I enjoyed being able to snap some images while waiting for the light or just happening on something interesting while hiking around. When I was at Green River Overlook, I snapped a few quick shots while I scouted for a possible place to setup for the evening light, and then compared them when deciding which one or two locations I preferred.

Most of the camera functions are quite accessible and easy to use.  Once I had everything setup I found I could move from various shooting modes quickly.  I appreciate an exposure compensation dial and used it to dial in and fine tune exposures frequently.  Most of the buttons and knobs are pretty easy to use but a couple of things could use some improving (to me anyway).  The thumb wheel is also a 4 way button, and I found myself pressing it while trying to turn it, ending up on a different screen.  I also accidentally hit the direct video button to shoot video a couple of times.  Neither are a big deal, more like annoyances.  The eye level finder seems better than the one I remember on the G10 I had, and while not great I found it was decently useful.  Easy to setup for a quick shot and pretty easy to see framing, although it seems it only shows about 90% of the field of view.  The LCD is crisp, can be very bright and easy to see, and articulates well enough to make it useful.

The lens itself seems very sharp with good contrast.  The zoom range seems limited, it just didn’t seem to go wide enough or zoom in as close as I would like sometimes.  Canon’s goal was high optical quality and in a lens this small perhaps one of the tradeoffs.  The other trade off was the macro function … it really isn’t much of a macro, and is perhaps the only real disappointment.  At it’s widest setting the camera will focus down to about 8″ – not real close and a very wide field of view.  If you try to zoom in the closest focus distance increases.  At full zoom you have to be about 3 feet away.  Bottom line, it really doesn’t do macro.  There are two bayonet mounts, so i assume some macro attachments as well as other add ons are coming.

Noticed this little sand dune while driving in St. George, so I stopped and grabbed a couple of images.

Overall it’s a great little camera, with image quality rivaling a dSLR.  It won’t quite fit in my pocket, but my iPhone handles those duties quite well.  The G1x will be a part of my standard shooting gear so I won’t miss those quick little opportunities while out and about. I think Canon has actually found a niche that it fills very nicely.  If you have a limited budget and just can’t afford an interchangeable lens system, but still want dSLR quality in your files this is a perfect choice. If you need a second small camera just to make sure you have something good with you while jogging or out riding around, or just hiking for exercise this might be the best option out there.  If you travel on business frequently and don’t take your camera gear with you, the G1x is probably the perfect companion on those trips.

So while not for everyone, don’t dismiss it until you check it out. I almost made that mistake. 🙂

 

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