2.29.2012

The Canon G1X. The "Nice Guy" camera.


Edit: Attention new visitors from DP Review.  Let it go.  It's not God's gift to the camera world.

Not every camera has a compelling value proposition.  I am still searching for the irrefutable, single driving reason why someone would want or need the new Canon G1X.  The only thing I can think of is something mentioned by my photographer friend, Paul.  He mentioned that it's a good camera for someone who doesn't want to get sucked into the endless lens buying, and then body buying, that seems to plague the owners of system cameras...  So, not buying more gear is the compelling reason to buy this camera?  Does that make sense?

I'm not going to talk about image quality in this non-review.  Coming to grips with new cameras and their relationship with existing raw converters and the eccentricities of their menus takes time and practice and I'm not willing to expend the time and practice on every new camera that comes down the pike.  If you came here expecting an exhaustive and breathless review that dissects every menu item on this camera, and its performance under mindless duress,  then you have come to the wrong place and you should cut your loses and run away.  I am going to talk about wacky design choices and convoluted implementations by camera companies....

The G1X has a bigger chip than the earlier G series cameras.  And Canon reworked their basic G series body by giving it steroids and making it larger. I am okay with that because it's very comfortable to hold and the buttons and dials are big enough to please just about anyone. But the camera just doesn't work for me.  I am not a "hater" of the G series and have owned the G2, the G9, G10 and G11.  The things I could tolerate on sub $500 cameras (G12 is currently around $400 on Amazon) seem like a crazy oversight on a camera that costs nearly twice as much.

First off, while the chip may be noise free to a zillion ISO the camera is crippled with a lens that runs out of f-stop as it gets longer.  I may be spoiled by wonderful fast lenses like the 45mm 1.8 on a Panasonic or an Olympus Pen camera but giving me f5.6 on the long end is a non-starter.  I don't care about getting more photons into the system nearly as much as I care about taking advantage of the 6x increase in chip size over the G12 in order to render more stuff in the background out of focus.  Wouldn't it be nice if the lens was a 35mm to 70mm (full frame equivalence) f2.8 all the way through?  Wouldn't it be nice to sell the lens based on insanely good image quality rather than making it a slow jack-of-all-focal-length-trades?


Another facet of their Oxymoronic design is the inclusion of one of the worst optical finders ever created (and I'm thinking all the way back to cameras from the 1950's...) on a camera in 2012.  How much more would it have cost them to ditch the tunnel vision, K-mart special finder assembly and add a decent EVF?  I hate to bring the Panasonic G3 up again after this week's furor but in the G3 we have a camera with a nice EVF, a sensor with more resolution that's almost as big (geometrically) as the sensor in the GX1 and can be had with a decent lens for around $600.  $200 less than the G1X.  Much more usable finder.  Amazingly better.  

And while we're on the subject of that miserable OVF let's talk about the visual discomfort you'll live with because of the two function lights just to the right of the eyepiece.  Actually, on the eyepiece. As you compose you'll be blasted with focus confirmation LED's millimeters from your eye.  Tragic design.  Why couldn't those lights be included inside the finder?  Because it's the same finder they've pressed into service since the G2 of 2001.... Cost savings at its most gruesome.


The pop-up flash is there for all the people who think differently from me. And they must be legion.  But it also seems Oxymoronic sitting there next to a fully functional hot shoe.... 

note the two lights next to the eye hole.

Two nice things about the camera are the distribution of controls and the ample space for fingers and thumbs.  As my friend and I sat down and played with the camera I took a few shots of him.  I will not include them because they were not good.  The camera had a tendency to overexpose.  Yes, I could dial in minus 1.3 stops of exposure compensation but when I picked up my camera and shot it in aperture preferred auto the exposure, without compensation, was right on the money.


If you've read this far I'll remind you again that I haven't played with any of the raw files.  The images may be insanely good.  The camera, in spite of egregiously obvious cost cutting, may be destined to become a cult camera as the G cameras have always been. But I'll take a pass on this one.

Let me do that con/pro thing I see everywhere on the web.

Cons:

*Aperture small exactly at the focal length where I want large.
*OVF is an unmitigated disaster.
*Vestigial pop-up flash.
*Initial questions about exposure accuracy.

Pros:

*Husky, heavy construction (except around viewfinder).
*Big, comfortable and logical external controls.
*Big sensor.  (just slightly bigger than m4:3rds.  Nowhere as big as a standard APS-C).

Note to pocket photographers:  This camera will make an unsightly bulge in your Casual Dockers(tm).

My recommendation? I don't have one.  But if you only want to own one camera at least you won't be tempted to buy more lenses for this one...... 

Finally,  I'd feel guilty putting a link to Amazon for this one. Sadly, ethics are sabotaging my plan for extreme wealth building....


Added: 3/16/2012:  Think I'm being to negative about this camera?  See what Michael Reichman has to say on his website:  http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/canon_g1x_field_report.shtml

29 comments:

John Krumm said...

So Canon stopped giving you limo rides? : )

I agree it's kind of an oddball camera. Most likely a place-holder while they prepare a real mirror-less system with the new sensor. I bet they would sell more, or at least get better reviews, if they put a fixed fast prime on it, like Fuji, and then priced it at $699 (and of course gave it a better viewfinder).

Aboud Dweck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aboud Dweck said...

typo alert - reposting

I was waiting for the G1x to debut because I am the guy with the big mitts and little controls drive me nuts. When I heard it wasn't going to be available until the end of March I bought a used GH2 and a couple of lenses. Yes, it does put me on the system track, but there is no need for half a dozen lenses as with my other cameras. I approached the camera with some hesitation, mostly because of the EVF, but it works well unless one is tracking a subject in low light. The GH2 looks particularly goofy on my Gitzo Giant tripod, but I like the way it handles so far. Thanks Kirk, for the brief review, I no have no doubts that I made the right decision.

Aboud
www.everything-foto.blogspot.com

janneman said...

A few years ago I would have killed fort a camera like this, but now I am looking at all the mirrorless designs, and more hesitant. I must admit, the reduction of controls compared to the earlier G-models does not help. But it still seems to make quite a nice daily camera, and I am still undecided. The big question for me is 'one for everything' (I would prefer interchangeable lenses on that) of a (smaller) second camera for casual but good work.

As for the OVF, looking at the extra costs on mirror less designs, I would estimate that an nice EVF would easily drive up the price bij 250 or more (Difference J1-V1, or hot shoe EVF's from Panasonic, Olympus and Sony). It would push the price towards a grant...

Will said...

If a fixed-lens compact is at all desirable, you can do no better in my opinion than the Fuji X10. Fast lens, larger-than-average (but still 1/4 the area of a m43) sensor, and a rather usable OVF. But where the camera really shines is its ergonomics. It feels like a camera should. I was all ready to grab one of the smaller Pens when I picked up the Fuji and all of the controls fell right into place for me. Added to this, the innovative sensor design can offer some incredibly high quality images in a wide variety of situations, and Fuji's film heritage shines through with the pleasant renditions it gives. In m y first 700 shots, I've had no instances of the dreaded orbs people seem so up in arms about on other sites. Its been a constant and happy companion for nearly a month now, and I couldn't be happier.

Not that you seemed keen on the very idea of a fixed-lens compact, but this is a great one.

Carlo Santin said...

I really like the idea of this type of camera, but the price makes absolutely no sense for what you are getting. I recently purchased a Nikon P7100, with an equally useless viewfinder, but I use it with the flip screen down at 90 degrees, shoot waist level, and often square. It's a small sensor camera with a lot of features and manual controls, very affordable ($350 brand new), and pretty nice image quality. It fits nicely in my coat pocket. These cameras do make a lot of sense for a lot of people. I bought the little Nikon precisely because I didn't want to get into another system, buying lenses and filters etc all over again. I think Canon missed the mark with this one though, but not by much. A good viewfinder and a faster lens and they are pretty much there, at the price of this current camera.

mayamocha said...

Hi Will, I've had the X10 for a few months and one of the great features is the ergonomics - it just feels right in my hands. The sturdy body means it just sits my purse until I want to use it. Which also means I always have it with me. That said, I don't think I'd expect it to be reviewed here.
It's funny though, I found Kirk's blog when researching m43 last winter and it was during that time that I started avoiding the DPR forums. I think the Olympus EP1 I bought is suppose to have its own dreaded defect (can't remember what offhand :)I've gotten some great pictures with the EP1 but stopped using the OVF for fear of accidentally losing it. So, one of my requirements on the travel camera was an attached view finder, even if it was OVF instead of EVF.
Canon didn't make the cut for me because they're G-series and dSLRs have never felt right in my hands. Very subjective choice though and not really related to the output except that I knew that I would use them less if I didn't like how they felt. Indeed, after a few years of being told that the only thing that would satisfy me was a Leica last year was the break-through year. All the major camera makers are offering real camera choices between the simple point-n-shoot and consumer dSLR level. Not one camera is right for all consumers, but we seeing better choices imho.

kirk tuck said...

Mayamocha, You are absolutely right. You really have to play with the cameras in your own hands. Most of the cameras today are technically good enough so that our major concern now is how they "drive."

thanks for reading.

Andreas said...

Hmm ... nobody said it and I guess it's a sign of bad manners to mention it, but then, as this is a matter of marriage or not, isn't this camera easily one of the most ugly cameras ever made? Even the choice of typeface, or better, the mix thereof, is nothing short of disastrous :)

SCNR

FotoEdge said...

Let's see... 800 Dollars for this Contraption or 800 Dollars for the Olympus E-P3 with Potential to Grow with the Photographer! G1X would have been a good value in 2007 or 2008... it is already obsolete on delivery day.

John Mason - Lafayette Indiana said...

This is a pseudo camera by Canon to 'pretend' to be competing with mirrorless market. They had no presence in the large sensor, small body market so their bean counters said here are your parameters. The prime directive is you will not canabalize our existing cameras.

So what do we end up with? Similar to Nikon with their V1/J1, an attempt at competition with the large sensor/small camera market but in a way that will not compete with there own APS-C dSLR's and thus, not be real competition for the NEX, Olympus and Panasonic cameras.

In my mind, ultimately they'll have to compete, but this stopgap measure seems like a waste of development time to me.

Another large possibility is that the bean counters at Nikon and Canon are mis-interpreting this technology shift. They may be seeing this market as people looking to step up from point and shoots. While this is certainly part of the market buying these new interchangeable lens cameras, they seem to be ignoring the pro/semi-pro/serious amateurs that are downsizing into the Pens and like cameras.

The V1 / J1 and Canon G1X only address the point and shoot upsizing market while ignoring the dangerous trend to their futures occurring right in front of them which is the downsizing market. When you consider we are really talking about computer technology here with digital cameras, the curves in technology improvement make inevitable the continuation of this downsizing trend for serious photographers. The downsizing trend has happened throughout photographic history whenever technology allowed it. 8x10 to 4x5 to MF to FF and now to APS-c and 4/3's with ever smaller bodies.

They'll get on board at some point when their bean counters see the loss in market share means competing with themselves is the only long term way to survive.

My 2 cents anyway.

Frank Carricato said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Gray said...

Thanks for the post, Kirk. I just pulled the trigger on a G12, and I was starting to see some buyer's remorse kicking in over the G1X. Now I feel a bit better, knowing that I probably got better value.

jason said...

There is a new rash of cameras, by Canon,Nikon.Pentax etc., that all offer a lot less for a lot more! Have we reached the pinnacle of digital design. Is film totally vanquished, so there are no unfair comparisons..The prices are all up! For smaller sensor cameras, even if one or two are larger than the pocket sized tribe. i want a pocket sized camera. i am no longer a full time pro, my pro work solely except portraits, all for Internet.Would i buy it? No. The slow lenses, the price ahead and up from basic DSLR doesn't make sense to me..
In a downturn world economy, the only spenders are the privileged and wealthy. Better to sell one expensive G1X or similar than a whole rash of under $100 boxes. The actual cost of manufacture cannot be much different.
Economically for the makers a win. Consumers= losers! jason gold

Poagao said...

Well, the actual makers are probably low-wage factory workers, so not really that much of a win for them. In fact, their low wages make it possible for much of this stuff to be affordable for most of the market, so the consumers, with this embarrassment of choice in photographic gear, definitely win IMHO.

Tony's Vision said...

Jason, I don't think you will be disappointed with your G-12. I've had mine about a year now, and it is my "go everywhere" camera. It snugs into my SnapR bag (http://www.blackrapid.com/product/camera-strap/snapr20/), my phone in one side pocket, and the wallet in the other. Didn't Kirk say something about getting subject matter in front of the camera? If the camera ain't there, that's not going to happen, and my big D300 makes only occasional forays. My in-between camera used for my hiking outings is the Panasonic GH2. But even it doesn't fit into a bag that's always with me.

Tony's Vision said...

PS - and I meant to say the G12 makes excellent 19X13 prints

George said...

You guys should get on your knees and thank Canon. Why? Olympus 12mm lens $799. Just one prime lens. I've got $5000 into m4/3 and this Super Low Priced Canon covers the whole range for only $ 799. To cover that range with m4/3 would be $ 3000 to $ 4000.

That is because ISO 6400 on the G1X is quite clean, whereas ISO 1600 on m4/3 is not.

almostinfamous said...

BOOM! well put, but how long can it continue?

Gordon Buck Jr. said...

I've used several of the previous Canon G series cameras and was using the G12 until my G1X arrived a few days ago, http://lightdescription.blogspot.com/2012/02/g1x-arrived.html . I'm pretty sure that I'll keep the G1X and it will be my "go to" camera for a while. Sure, it's a lot like the G12 except for the larger sensor and that's OK with me.

kirk tuck said...

So, George, we should put up with the world's worst optical finder, 1997 focusing speed and a sleepy f-stop for most of the focal range as a trade off for one parameter = ISO? Are you nuts?

kwaphoto said...

Kirk, I remember you writing fairly postively about the earlier and less expensive G series. I've used them since the G5 (G9 and still have a G11). Overall, they are great smaller travel cameras. I see it this way.

1) The sensor, nice change, good move
2) lens, like you said, is much slower. More recent G series were f/2.8-4.5. The G1X is f/4.5 at 50mm (wow, I would have expected maybe f/3.5).
3) You question why the built in flash. Sure, I don't like them very much and I do like my little 270EX when needed on the G11. However, they do come in handy when traveling (non-assignment, with family, casually) and you need a small burst of fill flash. I don't mind it, it doesn't take up much room and it's there in a pinch if needed.
4) Operational speed. Is it REALLY that much slower than a G11/G12?

Like most here, I'm still looking for that "perfect" all in one little travel camera. The LX5 is currently in that role for me. I had a Fuji X10 arrive yesterday (I love my X100). Well, less than 14 hours later, I submitted a return request to Amazon. Why (in brief)? It doesn't turn on consistently, sometimes it takes 3-4 attempts (not good), the noise levels are $250-300 better than my little LX5 and of course I was hit by orbs. Not in night time shots "orb hunting", but in broad daylight taking images of a building. Orbs galore, EVERY surface that was remotely reflective was totally unacceptable. It was almost comical. I was hoping to love this little X10. Nope. It set a record for the shortest time in my bag.

So where does that leave the G1X? I may give it a shot, although I REALLY want a decent OVF or EVF. I could paint the one on my G11 black and I wouldn't notice. I'm not looking for another system (I've got my GH-1). I want a self contained camera for this purpose with a modest zoom range. For now, my X100 gets about 90% of the work for everything with me.

Your concerns are all valid and it's far from a great effort by Canon IMO. If this were priced even just $100 over a standard G series, I could swallow it easier with the new sensor, etc. However, at $800 vs $500....it's probably not going to be in bag anytime soon.

kwaphoto said...

Ooops! Typo:

Original: "the noise levels are $250-300 better than my little LX5"

CORRECTED: "the noise levels are NOT $250-300 better than my little LX5"

TBan said...

I agree with just about everything in this review. And yet, I've just bought one. Why? Mainly because my wife and I are taking a trip of a lifetime this year on one of those small ship National Geographic cruises. I have a 5DII and a 60D. I've never taken two SLR bodies on a trip before. This time though I've been going back and forth about it. I'm told changing lenses in a Zodiac is problematic.

I thought about buying the Panny G3 as a second body but I really don't want another set of lenses. Hence the G1X, which I'll use when I have the 70-300L on my 5DII for anything that needs to be shot wider.

Will I keep the G1X after the trip? Probably. I just came from a scouting expedition of gallery space near downtown Chicago. They let me shoot the interior with it to show an exhibit committee I belong to. 3200 ISO jpegs look just fine and it shouldn't be too long before Apple adds raw support so I can look at the raws in Aperture. The auto white balance seems to be better under tungsten lights than previous Gs as well.

Dogman said...

The lens speed and viewfinder are the biggest disappointments in this camera. I wish Canon had taken a hint and incorporated the fast lens and excellent viewfinder of the Fuji X10 but it didn't happen. Speaking of the X10...while it was praised earlier for its ergonomics, I found it to be easily the worst camera I ever tried to use as far as ergonomics are concerned. I owned one for about 24 hours before returning it to B&H. The first time I ever returned a piece of photo equipment that was not defective.

I like Canon's G-series cameras. I like fixed-lens zooms on cameras. I like cameras large enough to hold onto. I don't shoot sports. I don't do portraits. The Canon appeals to me on the level of having one camera that does everything fairly well without specializing in any single task. And I'm very familiar and comfortable with the way Canon sets up their menus and the overall Canon layout. But, then again, I'm kind of invested in the micro 4/3 system with available EVFs and zooms in the range and speed of the Canon G1X. And then we come to the bottom line which is, after all, the price. Yeah, I would have paid 800 bucks for a large sensor Canon G-series. But it would have to have at least an f/2.8 zoom (f/2-2.8 preferred) and a bright and well-designed zooming OVF. Without those features, the G1X is just a nice $500 camera.

TOM BELL said...

Thanks Kirk .... Well everything you say seems right to me . none the less in about it will be a $500 camera and it will then be worth buying... Using a K5 I really dont want another system and its High ISO performance will make it worth for me. The X100 is a wonderful alternative but in the end a zoom . even the wrong one is a better choice for me .. I would rather have had 24-70 ...2.8 all the way through

kirk tuck said...

Yes, the G1X is a very, very good $499 camera.

Daryl Davis said...

I came back to this today, after seeing the G1X get a "Gear of the Year" award from a certain outdoorsy magazine. According to the editor, it is a "simple truth" that "most photographers" crave slow zooms; f/5.8 "is fast enough for 90 percent of everyday situations"; and the viewfinder "makes makes using the G1X feel like shooting with a vintage Leica." He gave the G1X a 5/5 for features, 4.5/5 for value.

I'm not sure I'd pay $499 for it, especially after handling the Pannasonic G3.

Russell Grant said...

I think people are missing out on some key points about this camera.

First of all: It syncs at 1/1600 with ANY flash. As a lighting photographer, this pleases me greatly. Combine that with a larger sensor, and I've got a winner when on assignment and wanna kill the sunshine (like, REALLY kill the sunshine).

Point 2: That built in flash is hardly vestigial. Albeit small, having it pop up like that puts it closer to the lens axis which, all good lighting photographers should know, is a far better position than standing like a stork on the top. Plus, as a walk about/nightlife camera, reduces how conspicuous you look with a massive 580EX looming over your subjects.

The lens speed is a bit of a downer, but for my purposes (nightlife, general walkabout) I will be using it on the wider end of the spectrum anyway, so it'll be plenty fast for my needs. I'm also not averse to blasting my subjects with flash (especially the close to lens axis kind). Basically I'll be treating this as a snapshot camera for everyday use with the capacity to double up as a savage sunlight destroyer when it needs to be.