Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II camera

Canon has made significant changes to the body of the G1X, but are they for the better?

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Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II
  • Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II
  • Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II
  • Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II

Pros

  • F/2.0-f/3.9 lens with 5x optical zoom
  • Simple to understand menu system
  • Very good image quality

Cons

  • Heavy for a compact
  • Balance isn't great
  • Button layout could be better

Bottom Line

Canon's PowerShot G1X Mark II is a substantial compact camera that can't easily fit in your pocket. It's a good shooter, though, and it gives you the choice to either take advantage of its extensive scene modes, or to wrestle with the exposure settings yourself using priority and manual modes. We like its performance, but think its physical design makes it awkward to use.

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Canon's PowerShot G1X Mark II camera has received a makeover like no other when you compare it to the original G1X. The body has been tweaked to accommodate a bigger lens fixture, and the overall balance of the camera has changed dramatically. It feels solid in its construction, and it's a top shooter, but at the same time there are aspects of the design that can make it uncomfortable to use.

What the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II represents is a high-quality shooter in the form of a fixed-lens camera. Its sensor has 12.8 megapixels (the original model had 14), images are processed using a Digic 6 chip, and overall the camera can produce magnificent-looking images. Its lens, which is conspicuous whether the camera is on or off, has a wide angle of 24mm, and a zoom rate of 5x allows it reach up to a useful 150mm. Importantly, the f-stop starts at f/2.0 for the wide angle and stops down to f/3.9 when zoomed in all the way. It's an improved lens over the original G1X, which was a 4x zoomer with an f/2.8 aperture.

This all makes the G1X Mark II a handy camera for a majority of situations; it can be used for landscapes, portraits, macros, and even some plane spotting if you find the right spotting location. For action, we clocked its burst mode at around 5 frames per second.

Since it's a compact camera with a versatile lens, it can be taken with you wherever you want go quite easily, though not as easily as other compact cameras that don't have such a high emphasis on image quality. At the end of the day, that's what this camera is all about; it's designed to pack an excellent image-capturing ability in a relatively small package so that you can leave your digital SLR behind.

The physical design

All of that is well and good, but the physical design of the G1X Mark II is a step in a different direction compared to the original model, and many other advanced compact cameras on the market. The lens barrel is the point of emphasis on the camera's body, with thick control rings making it protrude up to 30mm when the camera is switched off, and the lens extending to about 60mm when the camera is switched on.

How the camera looks when it's switched on.
How the camera looks when it's switched on.

The lens design gives the camera a heft towards the left side, and it's a heavy compact camera overall (552g). Heavy cameras are generally a good thing as they can provide better stability for handheld shots, but the G1X Mark II isn't well enough balanced to accommodate the weight of the lens. The handgrip is too shallow; during our trial, we felt like the camera could too easily slip out of our hands when we carried it with one hand and without a strap. A more substantial grip would give the camera a better overall balance and make it more comfortable to use.

Other aspects of the physical design could also be better. In particular, the button placement left us a little frustrated. There is a Wi-Fi shortcut button placed just above the thumb rest, and we pressed this many times by accident. The playback button is placed at the top of the camera, and we often went hunting for this after taking a shot. At the very least, we think these two buttons should have been swapped, but we're still not keen on having a button located so close to the thumb rest.

The play button is at the top, and we don't think that's an ideal place for it.
The play button is at the top, and we don't think that's an ideal place for it.

To the right of the thumb rest you can find a video recording button and a shortcut button. The placement of these buttons is also uncomfortable, especially if you're after one-handed operation (you might have to use your left hand to hold the camera as you press these buttons). Again, a deeper, more substantial grip would make these easier to use. The good thing is, these shortcut buttons can be customised to put more settings at your fingertips. You can choose to assign things such as white balance, metering, and drive mode among many other settings.

The two control rings around the lens barrel can also be customised, so you can use the outer one for manual focus, and the inner one for exposure adjustment or zooming (though the zoom rocker under the shutter button is a more comfortable option). When shooting in manual mode, you have to use one of the control rings for either the aperture or the shutter adjustment, and the thumb control ring on the rear of the camera for the other exposure adjustment. On our camera, the thumb ring was for aperture size, and the ring around the lens for the shutter speed.

We aren't fans of using the control ring for changing exposure settings and think that Canon should have made it possible to switch between aperture and shutter using the rear thumb ring only (we couldn't find a way to set this in the menu), or it should have kept the control dial for the index finger like the one that was present on the original G1X. By having to use the lens ring, it means the stability of your shot can be compromised as your left hand needs to be used to change settings. It all depends on how you end up holding the camera.

What we like

Though we might not sound too keen on this camera, we just think that its physical layout could be better. Apart from that, there are lots of things to like about it: the image quality, the speed, the customisable function buttons, the rear screen, and the little pop-up flash. The pop-up flash isn't fixed in position, which means you can use your finger to angle it up or down while taking a shot in a bid to bounce light rather than have it hit your subject directly.

The 3in screen has a dual-hinge system that allows it to be angled for low-down and high-up shots, and it can even flip upwards 180 degrees to provide a view for selfies. The best part about it, though, is that all changes made to the exposure are reflected on the screen in real-time. The bad part is that if you're outdoors on a bright day, you might have a hard time seeing the screen. An electronic viewfinder is optional (EVF-DC1).

The two hinges that support the LCD screen.
The two hinges that support the LCD screen.

Capacitive touch is supported, and this means that you can touch any part of the screen to pick your focus point, and you can even set it to take a picture with a single tap. Manual focus can be selected at the press of a button, and the ring on the lens barrel used to adjust the focus. When manually focusing, the image is magnified so that you can more clearly see the part you want to bring in focus, and focus peaking is also supported so that you can easily distinguish the focus plane — it's represented by a shimmering outline.

One other aspect of this camera that's a bright spot is its menu system. It's one of the clearest and simplest on the market, and Canon has made an effort to include text descriptions for each menu item, which appear at the bottom of the screen rather than as pop-ups as you cycle through each item. A Quick menu can bring up common functions, and this can be customised so that only the ones you regularly use will appear.

We also didn't think we'd say this, but the Wi-Fi function worked easily for us using the Canon CW app — well, the connection aspect of it at least. We connected our phone to the camera's own Wi-Fi network directly, and through our existing wireless network, and both methods worked perfectly. Once we launched the app and authorised our phone on the camera (we used a Samsung Galaxy S5), we were able to see images as well as use the phone as a viewfinder. Remote viewfinder functions include zoom and timer, but not exposure. However, we couldn't figure out how to select and transfer images.

Final thoughts

The bottom line is this: the Canon Powershot G1X Mark II is a great camera to sink your teeth into if you want an advanced compact camera that can take high quality images and you don't care for the ability to change lenses. It does well in auto mode and has an ability to auto-select scenes, but you can also take the reigns and change exposure manually through the buttons and control rings. We just wish that it had a more substantial handgrip and some different button and dial placements.

Sample Images

Here are some sample shots that we took with the PowerShot G1X Mark II. We used manual mode most of the time, and all are JPEGs straight out of the camera unless otherwise stated in the image caption.

Since the sensor is 12.8 megapixels, you won't want to crop your photos too closely, so frame them as perfectly as you can. While the image quality is high, definition is lost when viewing images at their native size — they look just fine when viewed at the size of a typical Full HD screen. No chromatic aberration was noticeable in our shots. There is some lens distortion at the widest angle.

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Exposing for the shaded area while trying to not to over-expose the bright spots. The HDR treatment using multiple exposures would work well here and the camera actually has an HDR pre-set on the mode dial (as well as plenty of other scene modes) that can be used.
Exposing for the shaded area while trying to not to over-expose the bright spots. The HDR treatment using multiple exposures would work well here and the camera actually has an HDR pre-set on the mode dial (as well as plenty of other scene modes) that can be used.

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We tried to go for some midday motion blur here, using the smallest aperture of f/16 and hand-holding the camera at a shutter speed of 1/15sec.
We tried to go for some midday motion blur here, using the smallest aperture of f/16 and hand-holding the camera at a shutter speed of 1/15sec.

A shot in direct sunlight.
A shot in direct sunlight.

We like the way the lens renders the background at wide apertures. This one was shot with f/3.2.
We like the way the lens renders the background at wide apertures. This one was shot with f/3.2.

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A 100 per cent crop of the previous image so that you can see the clarity at the pixel level. The ISO was 100, the aperture was f/3.2 and the shutter was 1/1250sec.
A 100 per cent crop of the previous image so that you can see the clarity at the pixel level. The ISO was 100, the aperture was f/3.2 and the shutter was 1/1250sec.

Sunset.
Sunset.

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A crop of the previous shot showing the writing on the extinguisher at the pixel level.
A crop of the previous shot showing the writing on the extinguisher at the pixel level.

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