Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II review: Canon's high-end compact falls a little short

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.4
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 6.0
  • Image quality: 8.0
Review Date:

The Good With a couple of exceptions, the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II is very well designed with a functional shooting layout.

The Bad The camera is relatively slow and given the price, the photo quality should be better. Also, the grip isn't big enough to maintain a solid hold.

The Bottom Line The Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II has some solid capabilities and a standout lens, but the overall experience just doesn't live up to its price.

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I'm not sure why Canon dubbed this PowerShot G1 X a "Mark II." It's a completely different camera than its predecessor: a significantly redesigned body, new sensor, and wider-aperture lens. Basically, everything that matters. With the PowerShot G1 X, Canon made the poor choice of coupling a great sensor with a relatively narrow-aperture lens. The Mark II incorporates a faster, wider, and longer 24-120mm f/2-3.9 lens which offers closer focus capability. It uses a lower-resolution version of its 1.5-inch CMOS sensor and a new autofocus system, swaps out the articulated LCD for a selfie-friendly tilting version, and drops the optical viewfinder for an optional electronic one.

But while some of those updates mark a change for the better -- most notably, the increased lens flexibility -- the results aren't quite as great as I expected. For the most part, I like the camera for street shooting, but some irritating performance lags and not-as-great-as-I-expected image quality makes it disappointing given its $800 USD (£800/AU$1,000) price.

Relative sensor sizes for enthusiast compacts
The Canon G1 X models have relatively large sensors, even bigger than Micro Four Thirds.

Image quality

I have really mixed feelings about the G1XM2's photo quality -- it's better than very good, but not quite excellent. One of the goals of dropping the resolution is to allow for larger pixels, which in turn facilitates a better dynamic range. But it only drops its effective resolution in order to be able to preserve resolution across aspect ratios -- there's no significant increase in pixel pitch -- so you don't don't see any improvement over the G1 X, and you're losing some detail because of the drop to 12.8 effective megapixels.

It still produces very nice photos. They're sharp -- they frequently look oversharpened, actually -- in the area of focus, and the colors are saturated with only slight hue shifts. And as long as you look at them at small sizes, they look great. The lens is quite good, sharp without much fringing or distortion, and round out-of-focus highlights.

But the tonal range isn't very broad. There's little detail that you can recover in blown-out highlights, and there's surprising clipping in dark areas. When looking at the images at 100 percent, the JPEG processing appears, well, the only word I can think of is sloppy: as low as ISO 100 I can get better results over the default settings, which seem to swallow detail in some areas and oversharpen in others. Even printed at 18 x 12 you can see it, and printing tends to hide some JPEG faults (though it exacerbates others, like tonal range).

That said, while they're not quite as good as the RX100 II's, they're very good viewed at 100 percent up to ISO 3200, depending on scene content, and at ISO 6400 at about 50 percent. And note that all the JPEGs were shot at the camera's Super Fine compression setting, not the default Fine.

Video will suit people who aren't terribly picky about their video quality; the color and exposure are fine, but there's tons of artifacts on edges in the scene, and you have no control over shutter speed or frame rate -- the only choice is 30p -- which might help.

Analysis samples

canon-powershot-g1-x-mark-ii-low-iso-770.png
The sensor's relatively low resolution makes it difficult to resolve details that aren't in the precise area of focus. The JPEGs show artifacts as low as ISO 100. (Unless you view the samples at their full 770-pixel width, they won't look right.) Lori Grunin/CNET

canon-powershot-g1-x-mark-ii-high-iso-770.png
While these test shots don't look very good, I found in practice that the camera produced more usable shots at midrange ISO sensitivities. Lori Grunin/CNET

canon-powershot-g1-x-mark-ii-highlight-recovery-770.png
You can recover detail in some blown-out highlights, but overall the tonal range isn't terrific. Lori Grunin/CNET

canon-powershot-g1-x-mark-ii-color-770.png
Canon's default colors push the saturation and contrast a bit, but the neutral option looks a little too flat. Lori Grunin/CNET

canon-powershot-g1-x-mark-ii-800rj-770.png
Canon's noise processing leaves yellow splotches in patterned areas like these in midrange ISO sensitivity images. (ISO 800) Lori Grunin/CNET

Performance

By the time I got to the lab testing, I knew the G1XM2 was slow -- and the testing confirmed my gut feeling. The lens may have a fast aperture, but it doesn't move that quickly, and I occasionally missed shots waiting for the autofocus to lock. I don't have direct comparison numbers for the G1 X (that was tested using older methodology), but I can say generally that it's slower in some aspects -- notably shot lag -- but faster at shot-to-shot and continuous-shooting performance.

It takes almost 1.6 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot, which is actually on the fast side for enthusiast-compact cameras -- they tend to be a sluggish bunch overall. Time to focus and shoot in good light runs just under 0.8-second; that's really slow, given that most of the competition is at 0.4-second or better. And occasionally, even in good light, the lens would ratchet a little before locking, which would result in missed shots.

Focusing and shooting in dim light is exceptionally slow, at 1.3 seconds. In practice, it's even more frustrating. Much of the time in low-contrast conditions I'd get the "can't focus" icon, sometimes for reasons that I couldn't figure out.

On the upside, the focusing system doesn't hunt a lot from shot to shot, even if you turn off the default continuous autofocus setting. (I hate leaving a camera in C-AF mode since it eats up battery life, and the lens makes noise as it constantly moves.) It takes about 1 second for two consecutive JPEGs and 1.3 seconds for consecutive raws -- that jumps to about 2 seconds with flash enabled. While that isn't particularly fast, it is better than its predecessor.

As for continuous shooting, it maintains 3fps JPEG and 0.8fps raw for more than 20 frames with autofocus enabled. That's fairly typical.

The auto-autofocus system -- Canon's AiAF -- generally works OK, mostly because it errs on the side of picking tons of focus areas and doesn't really grab faces unless they're more-or-less facing you. Frequently, though, it behaves like most full-auto AF, and focuses on whatever's nearest. The continuous autofocus does a pretty good job with subjects moving toward you, but the tracking autofocus, which you need for subjects passing through the frame, only works with touch AF.

Though I vastly prefer using an eye-level viewfinder, the G1 X Mark II's LCD performs well in sunlight, so if you don't want to add another $300 or so to the price of the camera, you don't really have to. The touch screen feels responsive, and you can use it for navigating though your quick-access settings -- though you still have to pull them up via the Func button -- navigating and zooming during playback, and touch focus and touch shutter.

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