HandlingThe PowerShot G1 X is a bulky and heavy camera. Clocking up no less than 530 g on the scales, you'll certainly know you've been using this snapper all day. The general design is in line with other G-series models, with a classic look that's sober and serious. G-series cameras have a certain style and a certain status, and the latest model is certainly no exception.
Build quality is good in the G1 X. The camera feels sturdy and reassuring to handle (its bulk and weight help on that front) and the various controls work well with no wobbles or other signs of poor assembly when you press or move them. Given the camera's weight, though, we didn't find the little grip handle deep enough to keep firm hold of the body.
The swivel LCD is as handy as ever for lining up shots at unusual angles, such as at ground level (which can be useful for macro shots) or over the top of a crowd of people. Although screen definition is an excellent 920,000 dots, colours aren't reproduced particularly accurately and images often look overexposed. Our lab test results confirmed this, as the gamma (grey scale) completely collapses towards the higher end of the scale. Plus, with a DeltaE 94 reading of 11.2, colour fidelity leaves a lot to be desired. Given that the G1 X is high-end camera, we think a touchscreen could have made a nice addition to help with things like selecting focusing zones.
Like any expert compact worth its salt, the Canon G1 X interface is loaded with all kinds of practical controls and buttons. You'll no doubt be pleased to hear that there are two settings control wheels for quickly changing various settings (one on the front of the camera under your index finger plus the click-round wheel around the four-way controller). However, to make way for the new control layout and a pop-up flash, the ISO settings control dial has been ditched. There are therefore just two dials on the camera—one for choosing the exposure mode (two custom modes and a P mode that still isn't flexible) and another for exposure correction. A video record button has made an appearance too—something that's notably absent from other models in Canon's G series. The only customisable control is the S button, which can be assigned one of around ten different options.
Like in most Canon cameras, the graphic user interface is simple, effective and very well designed. While there's still no sign of a full and easy-to-understand in-context help function, some advanced settings are simplified thanks to a shortcut menu system. For example, when you're setting the ISO sensitivity, pressing the menu button takes you straight to related ISO options (e.g. defining the auto range etc.).
Unfortunately, the optical viewfinder is very similar to the one seen in the G12 (see inset), which lacks accuracy. The G1 X can, however, be loaded with several SLR-style accessories (Speedlite flashes, 58 mm filters) and can be used at depths of up to 40 metres underwater with Canon's special waterproof housing.
ResponsivenessThe Canon G1 X is a little disappointing in this field. Although our test results weren't exactly bad, we've come to expect better from an expert compact. Start-up takes over two seconds and the photo-to-photo turnaround time is just too long. The standard burst mode struggles to reach 2 fps but you can switch to an extra mode to reach 5 fps for 6 frames. The autofocus does a decent enough job, but we've seen other, not-so-expert compacts do better.
Picture QualityThe real star feature of the G1 X has got to be its all-new large-format CMOS sensor. Although the sensor resolution is 'only' 14 Megapixels, that's largely sufficient for most kinds of photography. What's more, given the sensor's size, the G1 X should be able to handle noise particularly well at high ISO settings.
The ISO test results are pretty impressive, as there's no sign of noise until 400 ISO or even 800 ISO. In fact, you have to push up to 1600 ISO to see the first signs of smoothing. That said, 1600 ISO is still perfectly usable, which is exceptional for a compact camera! From then on, quality degrades progressively and detail starts to get lost, but, on the whole, pictures hold up pretty well right up to 6400 ISO. You're probably better off forgetting about the 12800 ISO setting, however.
The G1 X has a stabilised 4x zoom lens with an aperture that's just about OK at f/2.8-5.8. Seeing as this is a top-of-the-range model, some people were hoping to see a faster, L-series style lens (Canon's professional lenses) in this snapper, but that's clearly not the case. Although it's no L-series heavyweight, the G1 X zoom lens does a good job, giving generally sharp results with just a very slight haze around the edges of wide-angle shots. At telephoto settings, quality becomes more consistent across the frame. Although it's no match for the exceptional performances of the fixed-focus lens used in the Fujifilm X100, the G1 X still has one of the best lenses out there right now. Chromatic aberration is controlled well and distortion is no doubt corrected on the fly.