The PowerShot G1 X is the king of Canon's point-and-shoot cameras. It's the latest in a long and distinguished line of high-end semi-pro devices in chunky, sturdy bodies.
It's about as no-nonsense as you can get, with few concessions made to aesthetics in the push to put as many settings as possible within easy, immediate reach. It largely does away with the need to trawl menus and helps you get your best shot as quickly as possible.
It is, in short, a serious camera for serious photographers that proves pretty conclusively that great photography has nothing to do with whether or not you own a dSLR. It can be yours for around £700.
Build and design
You'll almost certainly choose the G1 X on account of its specs, but that's rather missing the point. The real advantage is the way it's been built. The 3-inch display folds out from the back and rotates through 270 degrees. You can fold it back on itself to sit facing out from the body like a regular pocket camera, and tilt it around corners -- or forwards and backwards -- to frame precisely the shot you're after. There's also an optical viewfinder if you prefer working that way. They're becoming something of a rarity these days.
The regular scene mode dial is set within a larger dial to handle exposure compensation (+/-3EV in 1/3 EV steps), which lets you tweak exposure without having to hold a button or navigate the menus.
The optical zoom is only 4x, but it's still equivalent to 28-112mm on a 35mm camera, which is better than most dSLR starter kit lenses. Maximum aperture is a bright f/2.8 at wide angle and f/5.8 at full telephoto. The really clever stuff goes on behind this though.
The sensor is 18.7x14mm, which is just slightly smaller than the APS-C chips Canon uses in its consumer dSLRs. These run to 22.2x14.8mm. In the 550D and 600D they accommodate 18 megapixels, but in the G1 X, this resolution has been trimmed slightly to 14.3 megapixels. So the pixel density is almost identical, allowing for photosites of equivalent size that will deliver similar quality.
Furthermore, because the G1 X will save its output in RAW format (as well as, or instead of, JPEG), it retains the same level of information from the sensor as a dSLR. This gives you far more flexibility when it comes to editing your shots, allowing you to change white balance and exposure in post-production.
Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to 60 seconds, while sensitivity tops out at a massive ISO 12,800, having kicked off at ISO 100. Combine the longest exposure with the lowest sensitivity -- and, if necessary, the in-built neutral density filter -- and you can expect to shoot some beautiful night-time scenes.
It's compatible with a whole range of EOS accessories for dSLRs, including transmitters, fire remote flashes and Canon's Speedlite hotshoe-attached flashes. The ring surrounding the lens also unscrews so you can attach filters, adaptors and a lens hood.
It's highly customisable too. As well as two positions in which to save your own custom settings on the shooting mode selector, you can change the functions of the front and back wheels, assign a feature to the shortcut button that sits beside the viewfinder, and build a custom menu within the firmware containing only your most used controls.
As you'd hope from a camera so tightly packed with high-end hardware, the G1 X output is first class. Colours are a close match for the originals, there's plenty of detail in the results and illumination is uniform across the frame.
Its macro range was the only disappointment. It won't take you any closer than 20cm in wide angle and 85cm at full telephoto. However, that's not to say it's best forgotten.
It can still effectively separate your subject from its surroundings. Despite the long minimum focusing distance, it can isolate a very thin slice of your subject and throw the surrounding area into an attractive blur.
More conventional shots were impressive and the colours reproduced in my tests had a very neutral appearance. They were bright and accurate without being pushed to the point where they became saccharin.
This is true across the full gamut. Below, the G1 X hasn't sacrificed the comparatively dull loggia at the centre of this frame when compensating for the more vivid foliage and reflected sky in the pool. Sensitivity here is set at ISO 200, and the results are very clean, without grain.
Even at ISO 800 -- a point by which many cameras would be showing significant noise in their shots -- the G1 X's details remained sharp. Flat surfaces and gradual changes in tone were smooth and undappled.
There's very little variation in the sharpness of the image across the frame. The edges and corners, where you might expect to see problems, rival the centre of the frame for sharpness.
The glass was extremely efficient when it came to accurately focusing each wavelength of visible light on the same part of the sensor. Any camera that gets this even slightly wrong introduces unwanted pink or turquoise fringing -- called chromatic aberration -- into the image. No such problem here.
The G1 X shoots HD video at 1920x1080-pixel resolution, 24 frames per second, or 1280x720 at 30fps. It can also drop to 640x480 at 30fps if you want to use the footage on websites, which don't require the highest possible quality.
Results in these tests were impressive. Colours and detail were on a par with those achieved in the stills tests. Even without wind noise suppression active, the soundtrack was very cleanly recorded and the zoom lens action was quiet enough not to be heard.
However, the G1 X microphone is small and set back on the top of the chassis, sitting behind the pop-up flash. Even with the flash seated out of the way, it has trouble picking up distant sounds when zoomed, where the Fujifilm FinePix HS30 EXR did not.
Canon has yet to produce an interchangeable-lens compact -- a so-called compact system camera -- along the lines of the Panasonic Lumix GX1 and GF5, or the Nikon 1 J1 and V1. On the basis of the PowerShot G line's continued strength, and the showing put in by the G1 X, you have to question whether it will ever feel the need to.
The PowerShot G1 X looks great on paper and lives up to every expectation when you take it out in the field. Images are sharp and clean, even at high sensitivity, with colours that accurately reflect the original scene. The inclusion of a RAW shooting mode extends its already impressive flexibility to your post-production options.
Despite the £700 price tag, don't make the mistake of thinking it's overpriced. It has all the specs and features of a compact system camera or consumer dSLR except for the interchangeable lens. In that respect, the price is spot on.