So, the G1 X is technically a compact, but it's certainly not a compact
compact. We admit to being slightly taken aback by this guy's size, weight and overall "blockiness" during un-boxing, even bearing in mind that the form factor hasn't changed much since the G12. The official weight including battery is 535g (19 ounces), whereas the G12 is 400g (14 ounces) and the PowerShot S100 is a mere 200g (seven ounces).
We measured the total protrusion, from the back of the closed LCD to the tip of the lens cover, at around 75mm (three inches) with the camera switched off. This is very similar to the camera's height, which helps to explain why the G1 X feels so cube-like. Powering the camera on immediately causes the lens to extend out 30mm (1.2 inches), even though that's maximum wide, while full zoom lengthens it by roughly the same amount again. Single-handed operation is easy enough, particularly when using the optical viewfinder, but the weight, long lens and 117mm (4.6-inch) width prevent this from feeling particularly natural or comfortable. In terms of pocket-ability, you'll require a deep coat pocket and even then it might look as if you're carrying a grenade.
If you take your photography seriously, then none of this size-ist talk should put you off. Neither should you be deterred by the fact that this camera demands to be stored and transported properly. Although the body and top dials are sturdy metal, the flip-out display and most of the buttons on the back are plastic, so you don't want this this thing flinging itself around in your luggage. A lighter, cheaper camera will happily be shoved into the general zip-up pocket on your rucksack, but not the G1 X.
Treat the G1 X right and its design will reward you generously. You can do things with a compact like this that would be too awkward with an SLR. Want to take some snaps of your kid in the toy store? A big, pro-looking SLR will not be your buddy in that situation, but the G1 X will barely attract a cursory glance from the guy on security.
Don't take that optical viewfinder for granted either. It's pokey, imprecise, lacking in any sort of visual aids, and at maximum wide it displays an intimate close-up of your lens barrel, but it's still handy for quick-trigger snaps when you don't want to mess with the flip-out LCD. Just bear in mind that shots through the OVF will leave you utterly reliant on auto-focus and you won't even know if it's accurate until you preview at the resultant image. Nevertheless, the grubby-faced image below was taken in this fashion, with flash too, and it turned out fine.
Directly below the OVF sits the large f/2.8-5.8 lens, which simply wouldn't fit on a smaller body. The large maximum aperture compares well with, say, the kit lens you might get with a similarly-priced DSLR or the Olympus E-P3, but the obvious flip-side to this is that you can't upgrade it. While NEX users can save up for a $1000 f/1.4 prime, and DSLR users can enjoy much cheaper and older fast lenses, the G1 X is stuck in it's birthday suit. Another bugbear: there's no in-built lens cap and we don't like lens caps that dangle off bits of string, because they get in the way.
Aside from everything else, the biggest boon offered by the G1 X's chunky design is the quantity and placement of manual controls, which put more fashion-conscious shooters to shame. You've got the wonderful stacked dials on top, giving immediate access to shooting modes and exposure compensation (to plus or minus 3EV). There's another dial on the front of the camera, just below the shutter release, which gives you SLR-style control over aperture and helps to make full manual mode feel entirely normal. The hot shoe mount is a major asset, even if it does protrude a couple of millimeters too far. The position of the flash and its switch will cause you no problems, while the power, shutter release and zoom knobs are precisely where you'd expect to find them.
Shutter speed is controlled via a scroll wheel on the rear of the camera, which also functions a D-Pad. Including this hybrid wheel and its four-way buttons, there are no fewer than thirteen separate physical controls on the back of the camera. Many of these buttons have multiple functions depending on your shooting mode and settings, which makes for a pretty intimidating array. A DSLR user will feel right at home, however, and compact users will owe it to themselves to become proficient with these controls -- after all, this is an $800 investment.
The centerpiece of the UI is the bright and effective three-inch, 922,000-dot LCD, which displays an overlaid histogram and spirit level by default. Beyond those indicators, you get numbers and symbols for all the usual bits of information, and these can be readily understood without referring to the manual. Especially helpful are the visual indications of which dial you need to turn to change a setting -- that's a very friendly touch, especially since you can re-assign the dials to different functions and potentially lose track of what they each do. Oh, and good news for videographers and the vanity-afflicted: the LCD flips out completely allowing to check framing even when you're in front of the lens. It's an identical system to that on Nikon D5100
and you'll quickly come to rely on it.
At the top left of the LCD you'll find a shortcut button, which can be assigned to a range of controls to speed up access, such as white balance or whether you want to capture a RAW image to go along with your JPEG.
To get the most out of this camera, and despite the abundance of bells and whistles, you'll still need to enter the menu system for some crucial settings. For example, for reliable focusing you should pick the right mode -- FlexiZone lets you choose which part of the frame to focus on, while other modes prioritize faces or track moving objects. Whichever mode you choose will have a knock-on effect on what happens when you press the focus button, immediately top-left of the scroll wheel. It's a logical system, and a necessity for giving you complete control, but it's a language that can takes some hours of shooting to master -- even if you're an experienced photographer.
There's one omission that we can't gloss over: the dedicated ISO button from the G12 has evaporated. This means changing ISO is now a three-stage process, where you press 'up' on the D-pad, then 'left' or 'right' to the desired setting, then 'FUNC.SET' to accept it. There has to be a limit to how many dials you can fit on a camera this size, so we're not going to make a huge fuss. Besides, you can tell the camera your maximum acceptable ISO and let it take care of the rest. All in all, you won't find us grumbling over any aspect of this camera's UI.
Performance and battery life
Grabbing a shot in a rush was no problem with the G1 X. We could power up, frame a shot using the optical viewfinder, focus and release the shutter in 3.1 seconds. Flipping the LCD viewfinder around to use that instead of the OVF added a one-second delay due to the extra fumbling and time for framing.
Canon claims 4.5 full-res shots per second, but that's only with the Burst mode that lasts for six shots. With continuous shooting, we fired off nine shots in the space of five seconds (i.e., just under two frames per second) with fixed focus, full-res JPEG files, shutter at 1/125 and a SanDisk Extreme Pro 45MB/s SD card. With continuous AF shooting as we moved towards a stationary target, it took ten seconds to get nine shots, or less than one frame per second. Capturing RAW as well as JPEG files during continuous AF yielded six shots in ten seconds. For comparison, using a Nikon D5100 used in the same conditions, with the same SD card and the same settings (RAW+JPEG, Continuous AF) produced 17 shots in ten seconds, which means the G1 X can be up to three times slower than a similarly priced DSLR, and also slower than many other compacts on the market.
Battery life was acceptable, but not impressive. We achieved 230 shots (or 300 files, as many were RAW+JPEG), captured over the space of three hours, before the camera died. This did include an obscene number of self-timer shots, long exposures and also a few 1080p video clips totaling around two and a half minutes, and absorbing around 3.3GB of data on a single charge should be sufficient for most users. However, it has to be said that the Sony NEX-7
managed 700 stills and 45 minutes of 1920 x 1080 video on a charge. (Bear in mind, though, that various settings will have been different between our two reviews, so this can't be treated as a benchmark -- it's merely a broad-brush comparison.)
Macro mode on the G1 X leaves also much to be desired. Autofocus during macro was slow and unintelligent, and we could only achieve proper focus with the lens at full wide, which severely limited just how "macro" we go.
Image and video quality