Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II at a glance:

  • 12.8-million-pixel CMOS sensor (13.1-million-pixel in 4:3 aspect)
  • 5x optical zoom (24-120mm) f/2-3.9
  • ISO 100-12,800
  • DIGIC 6 image-processing engine
  • 3in tilting touchscreen, (1.04 million dots)
  • Street price £749

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – Introduction

Rewind to the year of the millennium and it was the PowerShot G1 that sparked the creation of Canon’s G series – a camera out to appeal to photographers who desired more sophisticated control than your average point-and-shoot compact without the cumbersomeness of a heavy DSLR. It came with a 3.3-million-pixel, 1/1.8in CCD sensor and a 3x optical zoom lens that was equivalent to 34-102mm, but the G1 was soon overshadowed by the PowerShot G2, G3 and G5 (there was no G4 model as Japanese firms avoid this number).

Fourteen years down the line, Canon is continuing to develop its range of flagship compact models that have picked up such high acclaim from prosumer photography enthusiasts for more than a decade. Perhaps most interesting has been the manufacturer’s decision to continue developing its line of G-series models equipped with relatively small 1/1.7in sensors, while at the same time producing a premium model in the range with a larger 1.5in (18.7x14mm) sensor capable of challenging the level of detail resolved by other premium compacts and CSCs using micro four thirds and APS-C-sized sensors.

The first model in this new direction for Canon was the G1 X. Two years on and we have the G1 X Mark II – a camera that has it all to do if it is to answer some of the concerns that were raised when we reviewed the original G1 X in 2012.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – Features

The G1 X had a number of flaws, including a rather hesitant focus system, a limited close-focusing distance for macro photography and an optical viewfinder that was little or no better than the kind we’d been used to seeing on previous G-series models. However, where it did pull out the stops was its sensor, so it’s no surprise to find that its successor’s 1.5in-type CMOS chip is the same physical size (18.7x14mm), working out at 16% larger than a micro four thirds chip and only 20% smaller than Canon’s APS-C-sized sensors.

The size of the G1 X Mark II’s sensor places it slap bang between the 1in sensor found in the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II and the APS-C chip used in Fujifilm’s X100S fixed-lens compact. While the 12.8-million-pixel resolution may seem a bit of a comedown from the original G1 X, the new sensor configuration means the pixels on the sensor are larger, allowing for greater light-gathering capabilities and a sensitivity ceiling of ISO 12,800. What’s more, by being able to adapt and capture images using the full width of the image circle of the lens, regardless of which ratio is being used, a maximum resolution of 13.1 million pixels is achievable when the aspect ratio is switched to 4:3 from its 3:2 (12.8-million-pixel) default setting.

Canon’s most advanced DIGIC 6 image processor has also been used to improve performance, produce less image noise and reduce shooting lag by as much as 56%. In addition, Canon has replaced the G1 X’s 4x zoom lens (28-112mm) with a 5x zoom optic (24-120mm), making it superior to its predecessor at both ends of the focal length. The larger optic also allows it to be faster and boast an impressive maximum aperture of f/2 that closes to f/3.9 at full telephoto. Furthermore, the G1 X Mark II addresses the risk of camera shake and blur by implementing Canon’s tried and tested Intelligent Image Stabilizer (IS) technology, and any close focusing concerns are put to rest by having the option to focus within 5cm – a significant improvement on the G1 X that can only shoot from 20cm.

Also improved is the AiAF system, which more than triples the G1 X’s nine AF points to an altogether more impressive 31 that tie in with the camera’s single, continuous, servo AF/AE and touch AF modes. The latter is the giveaway that the G1 X Mark II supports touch functionality via its 3in, 1.04-million-dot display, and users can expect the same intuitiveness and sensitivity response as that found on Canon’s touchscreen DSLRs such as the EOS 100D. Whereas the original G1 X had a vari-angle screen that could be pulled out to the side and rotated, the G1 X Mark II’s display is the tilt-angle type. While it can still flip out to aid low-level and high-angle shooting, it doesn’t offer quite the same level of manoeuvrability, although it still provides the option to be flipped to shoot self-portraits at arm’s length.

The G1 X Mark II looks slimmer than the G1 X due to the absence of a viewfinder. The G1 X Mark II is the first model in the G-series range not to feature a built-in viewfinder, and rather than attempting to improve the G1 X’s optical variety, Canon has decided to axe it altogether and give the user the choice of whether or not a viewfinder is a necessity by offering an optional clip-on electronic viewfinder (see EVF-DC1).

Other features to note include a pop-up flash that’s concealed within the top-plate, a built-in 3-stop ND filter that can be used to create longer shutter speeds or wide apertures in bright light, not forgetting full manual control and 14-bit raw support. With Wi-Fi connectivity now expected by today’s standards, the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II provides Wi-Fi and NFC to sync images with mobile devices running Canon’s CameraWindow app. Alternatively, wireless remote control of the camera can be taken, provided the mobile device that it’s paired with remains within a 5m range.

Image: The built-in ND filter allows users to set a shutter speed up to 3 stops slower than would otherwise be possible, which is great for turning flowing water silky smooth

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – EVF-DC1

Viewfinders on Canon G-series cameras have traditionally been of the optical type, but due to their small size they’ve often suffered from parallax error, whereby what is framed through the viewfinder is different to what the lens is actually seeing. The field of view has also typically been way below the 100% coverage you’d expect. One example is the original G1 X’s optical viewfinder that showed approximately 73% coverage at wideangle and 74% coverage at full telephoto – not an accurate view, but perhaps better than none at all.

The removal of a viewfinder altogether on the G1 X Mark II is a bold move, but one Canon has had the foresight to make in an attempt to keep up with the competition and the likes of Sony, which offers the EV1MK electronic viewfinder with a resolution of 2.36 million dots for premium compact models such as the RX100 II.

The Canon EVF-DC1 for the G1 X Mark II is designed to attach to the accessory port on the hotshoe. It translates a 100% field of view of what the sensor sees, which is a vast improvement over the optical coverage, and offers the flexibility for it to be tilted up by 90°. The 2.3-million-dot resolution delivers an incredibly sharp image and faithful colour, and as well as complementing the G1 X Mark II’s touchscreen it doubles as a way of composing and reviewing images in high-contrast conditions.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – Build and handling

In an effort to give the camera a premium look and feel, a stainless-steel chassis and aluminium exterior have been used, which makes the G1 X Mark II 24g heavier than the previous model. Pick it up and the body strikes you as being reasonably sturdy and robust, but it’s the new handgrip that transforms the handling. It allows you to curl your fingers around the body to get a more secure hold and it uses the same rubber grip that appears at the rear where the thumb rests beside the screen. Our only gripe about the grip is the way it isn’t integral to the design and is bolted to the body, suggesting it was an afterthought. From certain angles, especially from underneath, it has a rather disappointing finish.

The larger lens has two dual-control rings around the barrel, which can be customised to offer independent control of the most commonly used settings in different shooting modes. With the front control ring being as smooth as it is, it wouldn’t take much to knock it and accidently adjust the exposure. It is set up to control exposure compensation when the camera’s focusing mode isn’t set to manual focus, and we did accidently knock it a couple of times while out shooting. The rear control ring is easy to operate with the thumb and index finger when the camera is supported in the left hand, but it could do with being a touch smoother. The position of the mode dial is well placed on the corner of the body for control with the thumb and the general layout of buttons will be familiar to those who’ve used a PowerShot G-series model before. The only criticism regarding button placement concerns the playback and Wi-Fi buttons. The latter sits just above the thumb rest and was accidently pressed numerous times, while the placement of the playback button on the top-plate doesn’t feel like the best place for it. We’d much prefer to see it at the back of the camera, ideally where the MF button is found.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – Metering

When photographing outdoor scenes, the camera has a bias towards ensuring images appear brighter rather than darker, so to preserve detail and prevent clipped highlights in bright areas, such as the sky, I found myself dialling in around -1EV to -2EV at times to compensate. With evaluative mode selected, metering is tied to the active AF point, and despite there not being a button on the body dedicated to adjusting the metering mode, evaluative, centreweighted and spot are easy to find from the quick menu that’s loaded from the func.set button. The histogram loads at the same time as the rule of thirds grid and virtual horizon indicator, offering a live visual representation of whether the highlights or shadows are at risk of being of being clipped.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – Autofocus

Image: The improved focusing distance allows you to focus on subjects as close as 5cm. However, when set to f/2, the camera did create a dreamy and hazy appearance around the point of focus 

When I reviewed the original G1 X, I remember cursing the autofocus system at times as it hunted and hesitated in use. Thankfully, Canon has addressed the issue on the G1 X Mark II by incorporating a new 31-point AiAF system that’s accurate and more responsive. However, this can’t compete with the same split-second lock-on speeds offered by some of the very latest hybrid AF systems, and the focusing speed is a fraction slower at full telephoto than at its wideangle setting. Focusing in low-light conditions is helped by the bright-white AF-assist beam, but with this switched off I found that it didn’t affect the acquisition speed greatly and the performance against low-contrast subjects devoid of detail remained relatively quick. Only in the most extreme low-light conditions did the lens show signs of hunting back and forth before focus was acquired.

The camera’s ability to focus within 5cm with its macro mode enabled makes it good for capturing detailed close-ups, but you will need to bear in mind that this is only available when the lens is set to its widest setting. With the aperture opened to f/2, we also noticed that our macro shots had a rather soft and dreamy feel to them. Touch AF functionality, combined with the highly sensitive touchscreen, greatly improves the speed at which the AF target is moved across the frame. Set to continuous AF, focusing between near and far subjects is extremely smooth and doesn’t jump as you tap focus – making it possible to achieve fluid focusing transitions when shooting HD video.

Switched to manual focus, the front control ring provides precise control with a visual gauge displaying focusing distance at the side of the screen. A feature that ties in well with focusing manually is the focus-peaking mode, which displays the point of highest contrast by outlining the relevant area in a choice of red, yellow or blue. Combining the two transforms manual focusing and helps users to achieve sharper results much more easily.

Image: The G1 X Mark II’s new lens allows the camera to shoot wider and zoom closer than was previously possible with the original G1 X

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – Dynamic range

Image: Those faced with challenging lighting conditions may want to use the camera’s HDR mode. This helps to produce images with a wider dynamic range – most noticeable in shadow areas

The dynamic range readout from the sensor is incredibly good, falling only slightly short of the 12EV value we associate with cameras that allow a high level of detail to be preserved from the darkest and lightest areas in an image. This impressive range drops off slightly beyond ISO 400 to a value of 10.19EV, but it remains a respectable result given that it’s up there with readouts from cameras with larger APS-C-sized sensors such as the Canon EOS 1200D.

As expected, the dynamic range decreases as the sensitivity is increased and a readout of 6.22EV was attained at the maximum ISO 12,800 setting – fractionally behind the result you could expect from an entry-level DSLR. For those who would like to shoot images with an even wider dynamic range, an HDR mode is also available from the creative modes. We found it rather frustrating, though, having to wait until the task bar disappeared off the screen before the mode could be changed using the lens control ring nearest the body.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

The drop in effective pixel resolution hasn’t had a detrimental effect in the level of detail the 1.5in-type CMOS sensor can resolve. Shooting in the default 3:2 aspect (12.8 million pixels), the camera can just about resolve 26 lines per millimetre (lpmm), which is the same readout as when we tested the original G1 X. Detail drops off slightly to 24lpmm at ISO 400, but even at ISO 6400 the chip resolves detail to around 20lpmm, which is impressive given its compact status. However, detail drops off considerably at ISO 12,800, so this sensitivity setting should be avoided.

An inspection of high ISO JPEG images revealed the importance of shooting in raw. Although the sharpening applied to JPEGs isn’t overly aggressive, shots at higher sensitivities are smoothed out so fine detail is compromised. To test the claimed improved light-gathering capability, we compared JPEGs and raw files of the same scene taken on the original G1 X and the Mark II. Our comparison revealed truth in the claim, with the G1 X Mark II showing fractionally less luminance noise in JPEG and raw files at ISO 6400 and 12,800 – most obviously in the darkest shadows.

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured with the lens set to an equivalent setting of 50mm . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – White balance and colour

Leaving the G1 X Mark II set to AWB produced an accurate white balance performance, with reliable results recorded both indoors and out. Colours are punchy and are a true reflection of the scene as I remember them. Reds, greens and blues are superbly represented in bright sunlight, and in overcast conditions where there’s typically a distinct lack of colour tones images remained neutral and lifelike. Back on the computer, images rarely needed any work with the temperature and saturation sliders, and while there is the option to shoot in black & white and enhance colour in-camera from the creative modes, there are no options to add more contrast or choose from a number of mono-contrast treatments such as infrared.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – Viewfinder, LCD and video

The touch functionality of the G1 X Mark II makes navigation of the menu a breeze, but the way the screen protrudes from the body, even when it’s pushed back, means it’s not attractive to look at from the rear. Flipped out, the display feels rather flimsy. When it’s tilted by 180° and the camera is held at arm’s length, the raised profile of the hotshoe also obscures the exposure settings at the bottom – which is not ideal when you’re attempting to shoot a self-portrait.

More complimentary things can be said about the EVF, which, although not cheap, is an accessory most users will want to consider. There’s a reassuring click as the small electronic pins make contact with the accessory port, and just like most EVFs, the same screen information appears in the viewfinder – unless the display button is used to overlay a rule of thirds grid and present the histogram in the top right corner of the display. The near-instant switch from screen to EVF is courtesy of a highly sensitive eye sensor, and although there’s a fraction of a second delay when pulling the camera away and returning to the screen, it’s not a cause for concern.

The movie-rec button can be used to start high-definition video recording in any manual-shooting mode, with a maximum frame rate of 30fps. Moving subjects are recorded very well and the zoom control in video mode benefits from being purposely slowed down to encourage smoother results. There’s the option to shoot movies in mono or with a sepia tone too, and the five-axis enhanced dynamic IS system makes it easy to record judder-free videos when the camera is handheld as opposed to being locked off on a tripod or similar support. Missing a mic port, users are limited to the camera’s in-built microphone, but listening to our footage revealed perfectly reasonable audio when the wind filter was set to auto.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – The competition

The Canon G1 X Mark II’s direct rival is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II. The G1 X Mark II offers some key advantages in the way it benefits from a touchscreen and a wideangle lens, plus the larger 1.5in sensor should see it resolve fractionally more detail from its images.  However, as well as the RX100 II being able to shoot twice as fast as the G1 X Mark II in continuous mode at up to 10fps, it’s around 50% lighter and 40% thinner, making it a true trouser-pocket-sized compact. Added to this, the RX100 II boasts a higher-resolution screen, longer battery life and faster f/1.8 maximum aperture, not to mention the difference in price that stood at £180 cheaper at the time of writing.

Fujifilm’s X100S is another rival and comes with a larger APS-C-sized sensor. It does have a fixed lens, however, so it won’t be as versatile for those feel a zoom is necessary. With a beautiful tactile feel, it currently works out at £120 more expensive than the G1 X Mark II.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – Our verdict

At the beginning of this review I questioned whether the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II is a better camera than the G1 X, and I’m glad to report it is. A lot of this comes down to its improved optics, but it’s not as revolutionary as one might expect. Battery life is still rather poor at around 240 shots per charge, the screen and handgrip aren’t as refined as other parts of the body, and then there’s the price. For £749 you get good image quality, but it is overpriced for what it is – made more so by adding the viewfinder, which takes it close to a four-figure sum. This is a price above what many will be happy to pay for a premium compact and it’s not a camera I’d strictly associate with the word ‘premium’ for the way it feels in the hand. Overall, while the G1 X Mark II is an improvement, it is some way off providing the perfect blend of advanced features and premium build quality in a size that fits the pocket and at a price most will be prepared to pay.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review – Key features

Pop-up flash
The G1 X Mark II’s pop-up flash is activated using a small button at the side of the body just below the camera-strap lug. The camera provides three levels of manual flash adjustment, but is also compatible with E-TTL and EX-series Speedlites.
Zoom control
The zoom is controlled using the zoom switch located around the shutter button. Switching the camera from stills to video mode slows down the speed at which the zoom operates for smoother zooming transitions.
Mode dial
The mode dial is positioned right where you want it – on the corner of the body where it can be easily accessed and controlled with the thumb. It notches positively into place with each turn, meaning it won’t be knocked unintentionally.
Wi-Fi functionality
The G1 X Mark II paired up with the Canon Camera Window app on our iPhone with no hesitation. Our only gripe with the Wi-Fi is the positioning of the Wi-Fi button, which was accidentally knocked several times in use, thus slowing down the shooting process.
The 3in touchscreen is incredibly responsive and only requires the lightest of touches to navigate the menu or adjust settings. It makes the camera more intuitive to set up, especially when it comes to focusing.
The G1 X Mark II should be complimented for its excellent menu system. Settings are broken down into three categories and for times when you want to access commonly used camera settings, the func.set button should be used.

Hands-on review

In addition to the launch of the recently announced EOS 1200D, Canon’s successor to the PowerShot G1 X has arrived in the form of the G1 X Mark II. Incorporating the same 1.5-inch CMOS sensor from its predecessor, it boasts a 12.8MP resolution (13.1MP in the 4:3 aspect), with the surface area of the sensor working out at more than twice as large as conventional 1.0-type sensors found in competitor models and approximately 20% smaller than APS-C sized sensors.

Ahead of the new sensor lies the G1 X Mark II’s stand out feature – its new 5x optical zoom lens. Providing a variable aperture of f/2.0-3.9 and working out to be equivalent to 24-120mm in film terms, it’s the dual customisable control rings on the barrel that partly contribute to the G1 X Mark II’s bulkier stature. Another contributing factor is the chunky, protruding handgrip and while this does look somewhat like an afterthought, it plays a huge part in making the camera feel more comfortable and better balanced in the hand when you compare it to the original G1 X. Being a fairly bulky compact, it might be possible to squeeze it into a sizeable jacket pocket, but it certainly won’t fit any trouser pocket.

With regard to autofocus, the G1 X Mark II implements an improved AiAF system with a greater array of 31 AF points spanning the frame compared to the G1 X’s nine. Using the camera for the first time in the confines of a dark meeting room revealed a spritely lock-on speed and only a couple of miss focused attempts were noted. Our brief hands on also allowed us to explore its closer focusing capabilities and we’re pleased to report it showed little sign of difficulty focusing on subjects from 5cm.

The inclusion of the latest generation DIGIC 6 image processor is claimed by Canon to deliver cleaner, less noisy JPEG images as well as MP4 movies shot in low-light – something we’re looking forward to testing as soon as our review sample arrives. The other benefit of the new processor is a 56% reduction in shooting lag and the camera did give the sense its more responsive than the G1 X when going about its business.

The addition of the 3-inch tiltable touchscreen at the rear has helped to transform the operation of the G1 X Mark II, but like most tilting displays it doesn’t sit flush to back of the camera and protrudes by a few millimeters. Being the capacitive type it’s on par with the responsiveness of the best smartphones, needing only the softest of touches to reposition the AF point, adjust shooting settings or navigate the uncomplicated menu system.

Having lost its optical viewfinder, Canon hopes to make amends by offering an electronic alternative to its users that clips onto the hotshoe. The 2.3-million-dot resolution is up there with the best EVF’s on the market and the way it tilts by 90degrees will be welcomed by those who prefer to look down into a viewfinder than straight ahead. The Achilles’ heel of the EVF though is its price. It adds £199 to the G1 X Mark II’s already expensive asking price and makes it a particularly expensive proposition by compact terms.

The addition of Wi-fi and NFC helps to bring the G1 X Mark II up to date and we look forward to testing the camera’s remote functionality in connection with Canon’s CameraWindow app.