Canon PowerShot G1 X: new king of fixed-lens cameras?

Canon's new G-series camera has a sensor size you'd normally find in a DSLR

It was going to be hard for any camera, G-series successor or otherwise, to top the Canon PowerShot G12. However, Canon may have just shot the moon with the new PowerShot G1 X.

Instead of announcing a compact interchangeable-lens camera at CES 2012 - Canon remains the only big-name camera maker that isn't playing in that sandbox - the company just announced a serious fixed-lens model to be reckoned with. The new G1 X looks a lot like the PowerShot G12 from the outside, but there are major changes lurking inside its body

The PowerShot G1 X retains many of the features that made the G12 stand out in the realm of premium compacts, but the game-changer is its large sensor, which is tucked behind a 4X-optical-zoom lens. It brings a lot to the table in terms of video, depth-of-field effects, and low-light capabilities.

All that should add up to a stellar performer - and at $800, it had better be.

Canon PowerShot GX 1: Huge Sensor, Zoom Lens, and Manual Controls

The 14.3-megapixel Canon PowerShot G1 X will not replace the PowerShot G12, but it does take over the title as the highest-end model in Canon's PowerShot line. The camera offers a 4X-optical-zoom lens (28mm to 112mm, F2.8 to F16), which distinguishes it from the larger-sensored, wider-apertured, and much higher-priced Fujifilm X100 fixed-focal-length camera.

According to Canon, the camera's newly designed CMOS sensor measures 18.7mm by 14mm. That's a bigger size than the sensor found in the Micro Four Thirds system cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, and just a bit smaller than the APS-C sensors found in Canon and Nikon's DSLRs and interchangeable-lens cameras from Fujifilm, Samsung, and Sony.

The new sensor is six times the size of the sensor found in the PowerShot G12, a camera that takes excellent photos in its own right. Canon says that the new PowerShot G1 X's sensor has the same pixel density as the company's 18-megapixel APS-C DSLR sensor.

The G1 X also follows Canon's recent trend of shifting to CMOS sensors across its PowerShot lineup. The PowerShot G12 offered a CCD sensor, and the PowerShot G1 X's CMOS imager gives it comparative benefits such the 1080p video mode and faster continuous shooting.

The PowerShot G1 X improves its video spec over the G12 by shooting 1080p video at 24fps, which makes it the only camera in its class other than the smaller-sensored Fujifilm X10 to reach that video resolution. The camera is also able to autofocus continuously while shooting video, its 14-bit RAW-shooting mode is also an upgrade over the G12's 12-bit RAW mode, and the G1 X gets the next-generation Digic 5 image processor, as well.

Canon says the new sensor/processor combo allows the PowerShot G1 X to achieve a very shallow depth of field at wide-angle, shoot sharper low-light images, and improve performance in the areas of color fidelity and white balance. The G1 X is able to shoot 6 frames per second at full resolution, and ISO settings range up to 12,800.

Aesthetically, it looks very similar to the PowerShot G12, but its bulkier-than-most frame is even bigger now: 2.5 inches deep, 3.2 inches tall, and 4.5 inches wide, as compared to the G12's 1.9-by-3.0-by-4.4-inch frame. That puts it outside the realm of "pocketable," but it's likely to have the full range of beginner-friendly features that made the G12 a good fit for novice photographers as well as seasoned shooters.

Battery life has taken a hit, as it's rated for 220 shots per charge with the LCD screen on. Other notable changes include a pop-up flash instead of a front-mounted flash, an exposure-control dial mounted on the top of the camera (the G1 X's ISO controls have been moved to the back of the camera), and a dedicated video-record button.

Welcome holdovers include the full range of manual controls, as well as some of the creative HS system modes found in Canon's HS System PowerShot cameras. There's an increasingly rare optical viewfinder above the lens, a full-size hot shoe that's compatible with the company's Speedlite and macro flashes, a built-in neutral density filter, and an articulating 3-inch LCD screen. Canon says the latter feature has been upgraded as compared to the one found on the G12, and is the same tilt-and-swivel display found in the Canon EOS Rebel T3i.

Due in February for $800, the GX 1 is also significantly more expensive than the PowerShot G12 ($500) and other top-notch competitors such as the Nikon Coolpix P7100 ($500), Panasonic Lumix LX5 ($400), and Fujifilm X10 ($600). It has the same asking price as many entry-level DSLRs, but given the PowerShot G series' pedigree in terms of image quality and performance, it might actually be worth it for many photographers.

[For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2012.]

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