Canon’s G-series has long been a go-to model for pros and enthusiasts looking for a camera to carry when they’re not using a DSLR. But these days, interchangeable-lens compacts have captured the imagination of many such shooters.
In response, Canon has served up the 14.3MP PowerShot G1 X ($800, street)—a fixed-lens camera with a large 1.5-inch CMOS sensor. At 18.7x14mm, the G1 X’s sensor is larger than the one found in Micro Four Thirds ILCs, but smaller than the APS-C-sized sensors used in Samsung’s NX and Sony’s NEX cameras. Add to that 1920x1080p24 video capture, an articulating 3-inch 921K-dot LCD screen, and a 4X zoom, and you’ve got a package that may be compelling enough to make people wonder if an ILC is really necessary. Our lab tests reinforce that idea, showing that you can get very impressive images from a fixed-lens camera. Ultimately, the decision will come down to whether or not you want swappable lenses.
In the Test Lab
Since we usually use a 50mm lens for our lab tests (or a kit lens in the case of ILCs), we performed our lab tests of the G1 X with the lens zoomed to an equivalent of 50mm. The only exception was the image stabilization test, which we shot with the lens zoomed to its farthest telephoto setting, a 112mm equivalent.
That said, the G1 X turned in wonderful results in our lab tests. Overall Image Quality earned an Extremely High rating at ISO 100 and ISO 200, while Canon’s delicate hand at noise reduction caused it to drop to a Very High rating at ISO 400 and ISO 800.
Resolution at ISO 100 measured 2310 lines per picture height for an Extremely High rating. The camera holds most of this resolution up to ISO 800, where it yielded 2300 lines. At ISO 1600, where Canon turns up luminance noise reduction significantly, it drops to 2220 lines. At its top sensitivity of ISO 12,800, the G1 X showed 1710 lines.
Compare these results to those of the Olympus Pen E-P3, which managed 2240 lines with its 12.3MP Four Thirds-sized sensor at its lowest sensitivity of ISO 200, and you will see that the G1 X really can compete with ILCs. And compare the G1 X to Canon’s own PowerShot S100, a 12.1MP compact whose sensor has about one-sixth the area of the G1 X’s, and you really see a difference. At its best, the S100 served up 2100 lines, but, at its top setting of ISO 6400, lost a big chunk to land at 1300 lines.
We got unusual results in our standard noise test, which uses TIFFs generated from RAW files processed at the manufacturer’s default noise-reduction settings. It seems as though Canon tries to hold on to resolution as much as possible through ISO 1600 by delaying heavy noise reduction until it’s absolutely necessary. Noise increases from Extremely Low at ISO 100 to Moderately Low at ISO 800, only to fall back to a Low rating at ISO 1600, before rising again. We were impressed that Canon kept the noise at acceptable levels all the way up to ISO 6400, and, at ISO 12,800, held it to 3.1—only a hair above our 3.0 cutoff for an Unacceptable rating.
But when we tested JPEGs captured simultaneously with the RAWs, they told a different story. In this case, noise remained Low or better all the way up to ISO 3200, remained acceptable at ISO 6400, but landed squarely in Unacceptable territory at ISO 12,800 with a 3.6. Of course, as you might expect, resolution took a bigger hit at some ISOs, thanks to more aggressive noise reduction, but JPEG shooters should feel comfortable turning the sensitivity up on this camera well beyond what you would with a typical compact.
Color accuracy just barely earned an Excellent rating with an Average Delta E of 8.0 in our test. If this result had been even slightly worse, it would have pulled the overall image quality down one notch in the ratings.