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

Typical continuous-shooting speed

Fujifilm X20
6.3
Canon PowerShot G16
5.8
Nikon Coolpix P7700
3.3
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II
3.1
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II
3.0

Note:

In frames per second; longer bars indicate faster performance

Design and features

canon-g1x-product-photos06.jpg
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The two rings on the lens are one of the high points of the G1XM2's design. Sarah Tew

The camera's design is more streamlined and conventional than the G1 X, and if it weren't for the slight grip I probably wouldn't have any problem with it. It's heavier than its predecessor, but the bigger problem is the small, rubberized grip is simply insufficient for holding it. While it's not that big a problem if you shoot "properly" -- bracing it under the lens with your left hand -- I do a lot of impromptu single-handed shooting, and it doesn't feel very secure.

Even if you always use two hands, I find I fumble a little more than usual, and accidentally change settings. Most notably, my thumb drags over the AF-frame button followed by the dial, and the next thing I know the AF frame has scooted across the screen. Canon offers an optional grip, the GR-DC1A ($30, £n/a, AU$65), but seriously -- the camera is already $800. And it's not like the camera is particularly svelte, so why the skimpy grip?

If it weren't for the performance and the grip, I'd really like it for street photography. There are two rings on the lens -- one clicky and one smooth, which you can program for various context-sensitive operations. For instance, you can set one for stepped zoom and the other for shutter speed in shutter-priority mode, but use one for exposure compensation in aperture-priority mode. I say "can" but the camera does really limit you on the options you can attach to the outermost, smooth-rolling ring.

Using the clicky inner ring for stepped zoom is very nice, though. Thanks to the incorporation of focus peaking, which highlights in-focus edges, the manual focus operates smoothly. Even better, the lens has a built-in lens cover and still retains a bayonet mount. It's the little things that make the experience.

Speaking of little things, a note to tripod users and sling-strap devotees: the mount is close enough to the battery/SD card compartment that you can't swap either while mounted.

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The tilting flash is a big plus. Sarah Tew/CNET

On the top of the camera, a tilting pop-up flash replaces the small fixed version of the G1 X. Major plus. To the right of the hot shoe, a solo, 360-degree mode dial replaces the stacked exposure compensation and directional dial. In addition to the the usual manual, semimanual and automatic modes, there are two custom settings slots and a movie mode.

It's got full auto (Canon calls it "Smart Auto, but it doesn't seem any smarter than stupid Auto) and there's a Hybrid Auto mode from lower-end models which records short movie clips that it combines with a stills to create a Digest; a filter bracketing mode called Creative Shot; and an individual-filter Image Effects shooting mode.

In the back, the M2 drops the optical viewfinder in favor of an optional tilting EVF (which I didn't get to test) and trades the articulated LCD for a tilting touch-screen version that can flip up 180 degrees for the inevitable selfies. In selfie orientation it has a wink self-timer. You can turn also on smile detection, but that's available only in program scene mode.

Next to the LCD, the rubberized thumb rest has a nice ridge, but the movie record and custom shortcut button are flat and difficult to feel. Below that are the manual focus toggle and AF-area buttons, and the typical navigation dial plus exposure compensation, macro, flash, and ISO buttons. Finally, display options and menu buttons sit beneath that.

Comparative specifications

Canon PowerShot G1 X Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II Ricoh GR Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Sensor (effective resolution) 14.3MP HS CMOS 12.8MP HS CMOS 16.2MP CMOS 20.2MP Exmor R CMOS
Sensor size 1.5-inch
18.7 x 14mm
1.5-inch
18.7 x 14mm
APS-C
23.7 x 15.7mm
1-inch
13.2 x 8.8mm
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 80 (exp)/ISO 125 - ISO 12800
Lens
(35mm-equivalent)
28 - 112mm
f2.8-5.8
4x
24 - 120mm
f2-3.9
5x
28mm
f2.8
1x
24 - 70mm
f1.8-2.8
2.9x
Closest focus 7.9 in/20 cm 2.0 in/5 cm 3.9 in/10 cm 1.9 in/5 cm
Continuous shooting 4.5fps
6 JPEG
3fps
(5.2fps with fixed focus)
n/a
4fps
4 raw/ unlimited JPEG
2.5fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
n/a
Viewfinder Optical Optional
EVF
Tilting TFT
(EVF-DC1, $299, est £284)
Optional
Reverse Galilean
(est $250 USD)
OLED EVF
0.4-inch/10.2mm
1.44m dots
100 percent coverage
Autofocus 9-area
contrast AF
31-area
contrast AF
190-point hybrid AF 25-area contrast AF
Metering n/a n/a n/a n/a
Shutter 60 - 1/4,000 sec 60 - 1/4,000 sec 300 - 1/4,000 sec; bulb; time 30 - 1/2,000 sec; bulb
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes No
LCD 3 in/7.5 cm
Articulated
922,000 dots
3 in/7.5 cm
Tilting touch screen
1.04m dots
3 in/7.5cm
Fixed
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
3 in/7.5cm
Tilting
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
Image stabilization Optical Optical None Optical
Video
(best quality)
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/24p
Stereo
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p
Stereo
Motion JPEG AVI
1080/30p/25p/24p
Stereo
XAVC S
1080/60p/30p/25p/24p; 720/120p
Stereo
Manual iris and shutter in video No No Yes Yes
Optical zoom while recording Yes n/a n/a Yes
External mic support No No No No
Wireless connectivity None Wi-Fi, NFC None Wi-Fi, NFC
Battery life (CIPA rating) 250 shots 240 shots 290 shots 320 shots (LCD);
230 shots (Viewfinder)
Dimensions (WHD) 4.6 x 3.2 x 2.6 inches
116.7 x 80.5 x 64.7mm
4.6 x 3.0 2.6 inches
116.3 x 74 x 66.2 mm
4.6 x 2.4 x 1.4 inches
116.8 x 61.0 x 35.6 mm
4.0 x 2.3 x 1.6 inches
101.6 x 58.1 x 41 mm
Weight (ounces) 18.8 oz
533 g
19.5 oz
552 g
8.6 oz (est)
245 g (est)
10.2 oz (est)
290 g (est)
Mfr. Price $650
£400
n/a
$800
£800
AU$1,000
$750
£550
AU$850
$800
n/a
AU$1,100
Availability February 2012 April 2014 May 2013 June 2014

Above the thumb rest is a tiny, hard-to-feel button that initiates a search for Wi-Fi access points. Unlike other cameras that incorporate NFC to streamline connecting devices, and sometimes even allow for one-tap photos transfers (at least on non-Apple platforms), it's almost completely useless here. It doesn't autoconnect your camera to your mobile device, it only initiates a launch of Canon CameraWindow software, or download if it's not yet installed.

Canon's Mobile Device Connect button lets you specify a smartphone or computer in advance that you'll connect to at the push of a button. Press it and it turns on the camera's Wi-Fi, at which point you have to open your mobile device's wireless settings and select the camera. Opening the Camera Window app completes the process.

You can send photos and movies directly to mobile devices for viewing, editing, and uploading, or use the Wi-Fi to sync your mobile's GPS to geotag your photos. You can also wirelessly send images directly to a photo printer or back them up to a PC on the same network that the camera is connected to.

However, I'd ignore the direct uploading to social networks, unless you want to surrender your personal information to Canon for essentially no return; Canon requires you to sign up and register all the social-networking accounts you plan to share to with its Canon Image Gateway service.

CameraWindow's weak remote shooting capabilities are also somewhat disappointing for a camera in this price class, likely because this is a PowerShot -- EOS gets all the good stuff. It essentially just lets you control the zoom, self-timer, shutter release, and flash (assuming you manually popped it up) for shooting stills.

Other notable features include multi-aspect shooting -- switching from 3:2 (the default) to 4:3 preserves the field of view. There's also a Star Trails mode, which is impossible to test in New York City, for obvious reasons. For a complete accounting of its features and operation, download the PowerShot G1 X Mark II's manual.

Conclusion

At this price, it's hard to make the call, but overall you're probably better off comparison shopping a little. For instance, if you're planning to spring for the EVF, you might to consider the the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 with its even-better lens and which is priced close to what the G1XM2 plus EVF would cost.

Or go in another direction and get a similarly sized interchangeable-lens model like the Olympus OM-D E-M10 or Sony Alpha A6000 , which will give you better photo quality, though it will cost more if you go for a better lens than the kit.

While I haven't yet tested the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Mark III, it offers a superior feature set for the money, and while Sony's contrast autofocus system tends to be slow and irritating, the G1XM2's isn't winning any races either. The RX100M3 doesn't have as flexible a lens, though.

I had high hopes for the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II -- and it's a fine camera -- but in comparison to the competition its flaws hold it back a bit too much.

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