Canon is the last big camera maker without a mirrorless system camera. Strong rumos have suggested that Canon is going to introduce such a camera maybe already during this month but latest before Photokina in September.
Canon has an interesting camera at the top of their point and shoot camera line: PowerShot G1 X. Namely, its sensor size is slightly bigger than that of mFT-sensor. Maybe Canon is going to keep this sensor size only for this camera, but rather I expect them using the same sensor size also in their upcoming mirrorless system camera. This was my reason to test and see what kind of camera Canon has built around this sensor in G1 X.
Today Canon introduced also a new APS-C size DSLR, EOS 650D (aka Rebel T4i) which has two new (for Canon) main features which naturally will be implemented in their mirrorless system. These are phase detecting elements in sensor and stepping motor for AF inside lens.
G1 X is styled like other cameras in Canon´s PowerShot G series. It looks like a somewhat grown up version of G12 up to its controls and operation. My wife noticed G1 X first on a table when she arrived home from work. Her immediate comment was: "You have a new camera. Doesn´t it look old fashioned". It was so surprising that I started to laugh. She is used to seeing cameras around and she can always pick up one when she needs. So, I was surprised that she even noticed G1 X, and it is not actually flattering for Canon why she noticed it. Canon is of course familiar to her as she has used Canon DSLRs. Yes, this camera is no masterpiece of design but it is a lot better in your hands than how it looks like on table.
G1 X sensor size is 18.7x14mm which puts it between mFT (m4/3) (17.2x13 mm) and APS-C (22.2x14.7 mm) sensors. It has 14.3 megapixels, a 4:3 aspect ratio and is actually very close to mFT by size. Sensor technology is the same as in Canon DSLR cameras (much alike EOS 7D and 60D).
Size comparison between sensors of various mirrorless cameras. Canon and Leica have fixed lenses, the others have interchangeable lenses. Sony has also a point and shoot camera with 1 inch sensor and Fuji, of course, APS-C size cameras.
G1 X in use
G1 X really feels familiar if you have used latest PowerShot G cameras. It is the newest link in a chain of cameras based mostly on physical controls. The biggest difference in size between G1 X and G12 is that G1 X is some 2 centimeters deeper, when lens is retracted and power is off. Bigger sensor requires naturally bigger lens. This effect of sensor size is even more emphasized by the shortening of longest relative focal length. It is now 112 mm (relative to 35mm size) while G12 has 140mm.
Like said G1 X feels good in hand. Well balanced, well made and controls are where they should be. I used also this camera mostly at aperture mode. Aperture is set with the wheel above grip and exposure (correction) is set using the bigger (lower) dial next to shutter button. Above it is the dial for exposure modes. Focal length is set by powerzoom switch in front of shutter button, and using it is just as vague as with all these rocking switches. I would have preferred a Canon S series solution with control ring at the base of the lens. Actually I tried first to find some functionality in the gripped ring at the base of lens before I noticed that it is just a cosmetic cover for accessory bayonet.
ISO speed (or Auto-ISO) is set by ISO button in 4-way switch at the back of camera. It shows (animated and not too fast) an ISO scale in LCD monitor and you choose what you want with the left and right buttons of 4-way switch. Sadly you can't get into shooting mode by touching shutter button (which is the normal Canon style) but you must confirm your choice with FUNC. SET button in the middle of 4-way switch.
The same button shows quick menu for most shooting settings in monitor and there is practically no need to go into deeper menus after configuring the camera.
Canon offers configurability for the wheel above grip and 4-way switch. Additionally there is a shortcut button (S) in camera´s upper left backside corner, where you can set one of 15 different settings or functions. Half of these are also available through FUNC button. Using this shortcut button requires stopping shooting because of its peculiar position, and I could not figure out any productive use for it in my way of shooting. Actually, after experimenting settings, I could not find any better configuration for any option within the limits and possibilities of this camera than Canon´s default!
Most of all I missed thumb focusing but such is not possible with G1 X. Button marked * at the back of camera is for locking exposure. It gives you the mandatory possibility of separating focusing and exposure setting apart and leaving focusing for half way pressed shutter button. Surely this is the second best solution and when given just this option one can adapt here.
G1 X has an optical, zooming viewfinder, typical for this series. It has also diopter correction. Too bad, you are looking at a very small image and what you see is according to Canon only some 80% of what will be seein in the final picture. Optical viewfinder shows no information at all. Next to eyepiece there are LED-lights for focus lock and flash status but they do not help much. Actually I can not imagine any use for this kind of viewfinder other than following a moving subject because for those subjects the backside monitor is useless. There I could even think positively that leeway in viewfinder helps keeping the moving subject better inside picture.
I tried to frame this image (width 140cm, aspect ratio 4:3) as exactly as I could with G1 X optical vewfinder. Final image shows this much more of the view, and the difference stays practically the same at every focal lenght. How an earth did Canon figure out that 80%?
While speaking of moving subject we come to the biggest single negative aspect in G1 X. This camera is unusable for me for shooting any moving subjects. LCD monitor has so slow refreshing rate that I could not follow a walking person at a few meters distance with camera set for continuous shooting. Also, when shooting RAW and using AF your image capture rate slows down to markedly under one image per second. I did not measure exactly but I would say that it is closer to one image per two seconds than one image per second.
For stationary subjects autofocusing is mostly good and exact but relatively slow if compared to Olympus E-P3 and other mFT camera introduced around that time or later.
Canon´s Digic V processor is good for many things and G1 X feels fast for example when powering up. Still, with issues like shutter delay, AF speed, image rate and live view Canon has some work to do compared to present mirrorless systems. Here it must be mentioned that G1 X has a fully automatic High-Speed Burst mode for JPEG shooting which gives you 4.5 images per second for up to 6 images. Even so, the best way to shoot moving subjects with G1 X is to pre-set focusing and other settings and try to take one succesfull image per situation. I expect the new features introduced with EOS 650D to help Canon to catch up with AF speed.
G1 X has a lens which starts from F2.8 at widest focal length and (speaking with 35mm terms) it zooms from 28mm to 112mm. These are very usable numbers for most casual shooting at least for me. Lens speed goes down quite fast when focal length grows and it reaches F4.0 at (latest) 21mm and F5.6 immediately after 40mm. I would consider this lens to be quite good while thinking about it´s construction, size in retracted position and zoom range. Absolutely thinking it is just a pretty ordinary kit zoom lens. Lens corrections are easily made by automatic lens profile correction in Lightroom 4 and what might be left can just as easily be corrected manually. This lens has it´s sweet spot at apertures F5.6 to F8. This lens shows quite well the compromise you have to do when choosing a camera like this or a camera with interchangeable lenses. This one is small with a nice zoom range. With a system camera you can have far better lenses but you have to pay more and end up with a bigger camera (system).
Test frames were set like this in the whole image area.
G1 X has an optical image stabilization system inside lens. My standard ten shot cumulative blurring test was shot at 53mm focal length. For me the OIS system in G1 X gives a little more than one full stop benefit. Effectiveness of stabilization depends on your shooting technique and what kind of shaking you cause.
Testing RAW ISO speeds
Of course it is somewhat difficult to compare G1 X sensor to other cameras because this fixed lens has its own effect on sharpness and contrast. (This test was shot close to 35mm focal length.) Even so, G1 X showed exactly what I was expecting of a Canon CMOS camera. I have used almost every Canon DSLR camera but the latest three (1D X, 5D MkIII and 650D). Image files showed all typical Canon traits when I tweaked them in Lightroom. Canon´s sensor development is slightly behind of Sony and Nikon/Aptina and practically at the same level with Panasonic. This test chart can be compared to similar chart with Olympus E-M5 and E-P3, while you have to remember that Olympuses had a lot better lens for their test. G1 X is better than E-P3 but loses to E-M5. A totally different question is where and when these differencies can be seen in everyday images. They can not be seen while looking at images normally on screen or as prints up to A3.
My Sample gallery has a bunch of examples from normal shooting situations with Canon PowerShot G1 X.
I liked the feel of the camera in hand as it is one of the best of all P&S cameras I have tried. I did not like to shoot with G1 X because of its sluggishness, it´s an ordinary point and shoot camera in this respect. The lens was what I expected, there is so many compromises to be made in a design like this. While it is quite an achievement as such those compromises can be seen in test shots. The sensor was also in line with expectations, good enough but not the best. PowerShot G1X is a solid performer for casual shooting if you need not to be fast.
Many moons ago I was involved in Canon Europe´s professional round table discussions. One of the regular wishes from professionals there was a photographer´s compact camera. At that time I would have been very happy if Canon would have replied with G1 X. But now the bar has been raised by the competition. Usability and responsitivity. Let´s see how Canon´s new technology performs in practice in the form of EOS 650D and then we know pretty well how Canon´s first mirrorless camera will perform.