It is said that the third time is the charm, can a camera make it a second time around? Read the Canon G1x mkii review to find out why it is one of the best street photography cameras.
What to expect from this review
When I review a camera, I use it for real. Yeah sure, I'll show you and allow you to download full size samples and all, but in order to review a camera, I make it mine first. So throughout the review there will be photographs made and processed my way, along with more “straight” images for you to see what the camera is capable of on it's own.
Frankly, I'm no camera geek, so don't expect anything like DXO's crazy testing, I'm a camera user (aka a photographer), so do expect images and how the camera helps you (or hinders you) to make them 🙂
The camera was supplied by B&H camera. Now, I used to like these people, but now I'm a huge fan. When a camera seller asks you to review a camera, there's always the chance for you to be censored, they wouldn't want you to badmouth a product, right?
Well, not B&H. When they sent me the camera they told me to tell it like it is, good or bad, just be truthful. My friends, I've been burned more than once by sleazy business practices, and it's stores like B&H that remind me that there's still businesses that have VALUES. Amen anyone? No? Yes? Ok let's get that review rollin'.
Canon G1x mk II review
What's so special about the G1x mkII?
The compact camera market has mostly been targetted towards consumers, the cameras mainly being automatic cameras. The premium compact camera market has been targetted torwards more serious users an pro photographers who do not want to lug around their normal, larger cameras. There's many premium compacts, but one of the most long standing ones is the Canon G series. We are up to G16 and there's bound to be more. These babies have been photographer favorites for the longest time.
The other guy behind Inspired Eye (besides me!!!), Don Springer likes to tell this story: One day while he was riding his motorcycle , he dropped his Canon G9 while the bike was going fast (If you are a cop: He wasn't over the limit for the record!!!) and after spewing out some non-PG words, he went back and picked it up. Screen was cracked but the camera was, and still is kicking strong.
But, the sensors on these cameras have always been, well, small. 1/1.7-inch to be exact. One day, one of the engineer guys at Canon had a great idea to share with his colleagues, here's a dramatization(*) of the account:
– Guys, I ate too way much last night before sleeping and I had a genius idea when I woke up. How many Canon G's do we have under our belt?
– Instead of making another one….What if we tried to cram a Large sensor inside a G body?
– Woah!!! Killer! Great idea! That's why you are the lead engineer!
– That's right, now get to work!
*While Canon will deny this conversation ever happened, the NSA begs to differ
That camera was the Canon G1x. In a nutshell, it's a Canon G camera, but with a large sensor:
Canon G1x differences
On paper that was a killer concept. The sensor is large, larger than mu43 sensors and smaller than APSC sensor cameras. Check the free photography course for a refresher on Sensor sizes.
But there was a problem, and here's the dramatization (*) of what happened:
– Guys, who had that great idea for putting a larger sensor in a G body?
– You! You're the best!
– Yeah. But the G1x's AF was too slow, and had a few other problems. So now, we're going to create a G1x mark II, which keeps the same concept, make the camera better looking and improve on everything. Who's the man?
– You are!
– Of course I am, now get back to work!
*While Canon will deny this conversation ever happened, the NSA begs to differ.
Hence the G1x Mark II was born. Sexier, improved AF, and a few other changes, here they are compared:
The first G1x on the left had it's inspiration from the Canon G line of cameras, the MKII, on the left looks more “mirrorless” than the original. There's no integrated viewfinder, and it drops the front dial. There's now Wifi and a touchscreen.
The MkII drops 1 megapixel (G1x->14.2 || mkII-> 13.1) but has a longer zoom (G1x-> 28-112 || mkII -> 24-120) and a faster lens (G1x-> 2.8-5.8 || mkII -> 2-3.9) and a shorter distance (from 20cm to 5cm) for macro mode.
In a nutshell, the MkII drops the utilitarian looks and improves on many aspects of the original. But that's on paper. Will the NSA have to listen in to check if the engineers missed the mark and have to create an MkIII? Let's find out….
The Canon G1x size-wise is like an mu43 camera with a lens attached. It really looks like you can detach the lens but you can't. It's much bigger than a compact camera, and not quite pocketable. But if you are like my friend Don, and you would change your wardrobe for the sake of having a larger camera in your cargo pants, than it is “pocketable”.
Jeansters like me can forget it. It's not bulky though, and since it provides a lot of features in a compact body, it's really a good size for what it offers.
The camera's first handling is like a handshake, it's that lasting first impression. The G1x didn't disappoint in that area. It doesn't look like a tank, it looks like something fashionable, you'd take it out for casual occasions.
When you handle the camera, you feel that it means business, it's got the guts and mojo inside. The way the grip and the back thumb rest are laid out, the camera is mean to be handled like a compact camera and not a DSLR with a large front grip.
The lens is cool, it has two dials, the first is to (electronically) focus the camera (by default), and the second is to change other settings like Aperture and Shutter speed. The focus ring is smooth, and the control dial is step with good resistance. So you will be able to know how much you turn the dial (it has a tak tak tak step thing) and it's not hard nor too easy to turn, it's really good.
In the thumb-rest area, there's the video record button. If you remember how Sony got heat because the Nex7 users accidentally pressed their video button a lot, you shouldn't worry because the video record is after the thumb rest, so there's no way you will be pressing that thing accidentally.
In the settings you can select what the front ring, the other step ring, the back dial, the shortcut button (below the video button) and even what the video button does. YES. YES and YES. AND you can even select how you want your controls for other modes. So you can assign the dials and all for different functions depending on if you are on Aperture priority, Manual, Shutter Priority, etc.
(Technical talk, click here if you don't understand what I'm talking about). The front dial (the focus ring by default) can be assigned to change the shutter speed or aperture. There's a dedicated Manual Focus button, if you press it, it will override whatever is assign to it to manual focus. Press it again and you are back to whatever you assigned to it.
You can use the second control ring on the lens for Shutter Speed, ISO, Step zoom and other less essential controls like White Balance. You can assign a series of 3 functions that you will rotate trough with the up button. It's dumb but you can't set it to Aperture directly, you have to set it to Shutter Speed + Aperture, and before you shoot, you push up and then it becomes an aperture ring.
Likewise for the dial on the back, you can set up the same controls as above, but it's only one function, you can't cycle through. The shortcut button can be assigned to way too many things to list through, a few notables is White Balance, Drive mode, AF, AE Lock, or you can just turn it off.
The movie record button can be assigned to the same as above, or you can turn it off.
I used the back ring for ISO, the complete front for Shutter Speed and the other ring for Aperture. In a nutshell: It's a JOY to use. There's nothing more important than these 3 controls because they are what control your exposure, and having them at your fingertip like that is essential. If you are a manual shooter like me, the G1x's got it down.
The way the camera is controlled makes this the kind of camera that gets out of your way when making images. It dissapears and it doesn't hinder you. It will require a simple 3-5min setup to make it work the way you want at first but afterwards, it's ON. Those front lens dials are really a great way to work.
If you are an automatic shooter, than yes, this can be a one handed camera, but for folks who want control, it's a two handed camera.
There's a dedicated Wi-Fi button that is on top of the thumb rest, ready for your wi-fyin' and Instagramin'. I won't be talking about the Wi-Fi because you get it. You can transfer images directly to your phone or computer. It's a cool feature and you know what it means, no need to spend time on it.
The flash pops up and with your index finger you can even bounce the flash a bit. If that's not enough, the camera has a normal hot-shoe for your regular speedlights and strobist needs.
Speaking of flipping. the LCD has so many positions that Canon should write a book called LCD Camera Sutra or something.
It extends from the camera and you can put it up or down. You can put the camera higher than your field of view and then flip it down and still see what you are shooting. Impressive stuff
The Zoom range
With the Canon G1x you can get from 24mm:
All the way to 120mm:
Let's do that again, from 24mm (wide angle):
To 120mm (telephoto):
I can hear it, it's NOT f/2 throughout the zoom range. I know I know. If we negate the f/3.9 and take it as an f/4 lens. It's only 2 stops from f/2. Look, it's pretty much a feat to cram such a large sensor in the camera and have a nice zoom range, so it's really a good place to be in my opinion if it's 120mm at f/4.
When it comes to the wide angle part, there's distortion going on (fixable in Lightroom), just look at the white wall on the left, second image up. I like perspective distortion, makes things larger than life, but only you know what your needs-wants are.
Bokeh – Selfie
The camera's LCD can flip up completely, meaning this can become a selfie camera. Couple that with the Wi-fi and you can create selfie jealousy on Instagram. As you can see the G1x can also Bokeh enough.
Ah, the BIG one. I usually brush this off by saying “Any camera is good enough”. But this camera has very high expectations on it because of it's sensor size. So, does it give you DSLR/Mirrorless-like image quality? Or does it give you smaller camera-like quality? I'll show you some straight images to decide for yourself and then make a few comments.
Palm tree: ISO100
Click here to download ALL and play around
Here's the G1X mkII at various ISOs:
Click the image above for 100% view. For me, I'm comfortable to around ISO800…. Click here to download ALL and play around.
So…what do I think of the G1X's image quality? Let's get something out of the way first: You'll be able to make great images with it. Duh. Back to the question, when I use it, for me it's more reminiscent of my Olympus Pens than my APSC cameras. It's great Image Quality, but it won't replace your DSLR (Nor was it intended to). It's quite the perfect sidekick tough 🙂
If you are serious about photography but do not want the stuff associated with DLSRs, Mirrorlesses and lenses, this camera might fit the bill real well.
You need to press a button in order to get into the macro mode. The only thing to really remember in my opinion is that the camera has a macro mode and not super-macro. So you can get very close but not -it's almost touching the lens- close. In a nutshell, here's my hands and an addicting coffee from a certain coffee shop:
Here's how close I could get:
P.S: If you want some heavenly coffee at Starbucks and feel bad for all the carbs, ask for a Skinny Mocha!!!
One thing, careful when you are in macro mode, sometimes it gets very hazy depending on certain conditions:
Fringes too (look at the coffee cup borders). Just pay attention to that and slightly change your angle if that happens.
Processing G1x files
The RAW files coming out of the G1X are sort of bipolar when it comes to editing them. In the two examples below, I maxed out the shadows on the left.
The RAWs are good, you'll just need to know what the camera can handle. Sometimes you can go overboard, sometimes you can't. The image on the bottom for example, I believed was going to be junk turned out to be great 🙂
The camera has very good image stabilization, even more impressive when you are in video mode. I've tested the stabilization here:
Look the the line on the left as an indicator of movement. Things get shaky at half a second when you are not moving, which is pretty darn good. If you think that the zoom's 3.9 is a bit too slow, I think this more than makes up for it.
The screen – viewfinder
The screen, while bright and nice, is not the highest resolution and crispest around. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing what's actually in focus if it's close enough. It's overall a bit fluffy. Using the optional viewfinder is better. The screen cannot be turned into BW. Yep beats me. The only way to turn it into black and white is to put it in JPG only mode. It will not let you put it in BW even if you are in RAW+JPG mode. That's very much odd in my opinion. The viewfinder is very nice. It's not THE highest resolution but more than ample enough for prolonged viewfinder shooting.
I like putting it up and look into it face down. It will not fall off since you have to press a button in order to release it. When the viewfinder is up and the screen is flipped up, the screen sensors might pick it up and turn the screen off (and the viewfinder on). So if you have the screen up, it's better to put the viewfinder off too. The viewfinder is well designed and looks part of the camera. There's one too many viewfinders that look like afterthoughts….
Being a touchscreen, you can do the smart-phone thing and press to make the image. Nifty if you put the camera someplace that your finger can't reach!
Ok, the biggest problem with the first G1X is the fact that the autofocus was so slow. That's not the case for the G1X, the AF is normal and it occasionally focus hunts in lower light but it's not the end of the world. There's a dedicated Manual Focus button and a AF-MF mode where you can autofocus and then fine tune with MF after a half press.
There's also a mode where you can Manual Focus and then half press for AF to fine tune the focus. Really cool stuff in my opinion. In MF, you can always have a zoom so that you can see your focusing action. There's even a focus peaking mode! You can change the color and strength. Unexpected but cool. It's not going to scream at you if it's peaked, it's more of a gentler and softer focus peaking. It's even better when it's zoomed in and peaked.
Here's a sample video straight from the camera:
Shows the stabilization capabilities too as I was walking. There's some jello effect when the camera moves too fast. It's good for the occasional video, not if you are a pro.
Integrated ND Filter
The G1x is equipped with an integrated ND filter that cuts down the light. Look, I live in Florida, and if you know anything about Florida it's that it's SUNNY. That ND cuts light by 3 stops, so out in a very sunny day in a very sunny state, I was able to get 1/13th of a second at f/16. Under certain conditions that can be very good for landscape shooters!
Canon G1x Street Photography Settings
How does the camera perform in the streets? Like a dream really. Unfortunately the G1x does not have a hyperfocal scale, but it does have an indicator of where you are focused. Here's the way I set it up for street:
I pull the LCD out and put the camera aound my chest area, I use it as a sort of Twin Lens Reflex. With the lens at 24mm, I put my aperture at f/8 and put my ISO at around 200-400 (I'm in Florida, remember?). I put the camera in manual focus mode and focus at 1 meter (It's not really precise, only a few distances are marked). Anything from half a meter to infinity will be in focus.
The lens dials really come alive during that time, you just go out for some street photography, your finger is on the ring to change your shutter speed, you just focus on making images and adjusting your shutter speed as the light changes. It's a killer street setup, easy to use.
Without a doubt, resisting the temptation to compare, the Canon G1x is a great camera. It gets out of your way and gives you the controls to make nice images. The biggest problem is the fact that Canon is not alone in the camera arena, and this camera is priced at $799.
It's for all intents and purposes a great camera, but it's possible to find other options at that same price point. It's a great light travel camera that would fit all travel needs and performs VERY well in the streets. It's a fun camera with some quirks that can output some very nice images. It's a nice step up from your P&S or a nice companion to a larger camera.
During our time together, I've grown fond of the Canon G1x and it shall be missed. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting
About the author:
[userpro template=card user=f8admin]