The Canon G1X switches on and becomes ready to shoot in a fraction under four seconds which hardly makes it the fastest camera out of the blocks. Autofocus modes are limited to a user-selectable single-point FlexiZone mode with good frame coverage that extends quite close to the edges and corners; a fully automatic Face AiAF mode that priorities face detection and which is capable of detecting more than one face in the same scene; and, lastly, a Tracking AF mode that works adequately with slow-moving subjects but struggles with fast-moving ones.
Overall AF speed is actually a little bit slow for a camera of this type, price and specification; it certainly doesn’t feel like a big improvement over the G12. Even in good light the time taken for the AF to lock on to its target is far from instant, while in less than ideal light conditions it slows down even further. While this won’t have any dramatic effect on considered shots where time isn’t an issue, it does limit the camera’s ability to take snatched, candid shots – especially in poor light.
What is of more concern, however, is the poor close focusing distance of the 28-112mm zoom. Canon claims the minimum focus distance as 20cm when the camera is being used in Macro mode although we measured it as closer to 23cm. Taking the camera out of Macro, minimum focus distance jumps to around 35cm, and that’s at its 28mm widest! Zoom in a bit and you’re soon looking at around 1.5meters minimum distance, and just under two metres at 112mm. The upshot of all this is that it’s hard to recommend the G1 X as a serious tool for dedicated Macro enthusiasts.
Processing times are, on the whole, are fairly respectable although hardly class-leading either. We did find the sluggish AF performance slowed things down someway when using the camera in Single-shot drive mode though. In fact, in repeated tests, we were only able to reel off four full-res JPEGs inside ten seconds. Switching to Raw capture this dropped to three, with the same result in simultaneous Raw and JPEG shooting.
Switching over to Continuous mode (whereby the camera only focuses for the first image), we managed eight full-res JPEGs inside ten seconds, although Raw (and also simultaneous Raw and JPEG) capture was actually slightly faster at around 10 frames. Lastly, with the camera set to Continuous AF (where the AF remains active throughout the burst) the speed dropped to around eight frames per 10 seconds in JPEG only, seven frames in Raw, and six on simultaneous Raw and JPEG.
Overall image quality is, as might be expected, very good indeed. There are many aspects that particularly impress. The first of these is the optical quality of the 28-112mm fixed zoom. This produces really impressive, almost DSLR-like levels of sharpness and detail and across the whole frame too, with only occasional instances of purple fringing on high-contrast borders letting the side down. As might be expected, there is some barrel distortion at 28mm however this soon disappears as you extend the zoom. Thanks to the larger sensor, it's also possible to get some fantastically shalllow depth of field effects - just so long as you can work around the close-focusing issues mentioned above.
Colour, tonality and white balance are another three areas in which the G1 X excels. Canon has a deserved reputation for making cameras that produce pleasingly vibrant and snappy colour while managing to remain lifelike and the G1 X is no exception. Of course, you can fine tune the way you want your images to look using the My Colours menu, with a ramped-up ‘Vivid’ and toned-down ‘Neutral’ offered alongside settings such as ‘Positive Film’ and ‘Lighter Skin Tone’ to name but four options. White balance is perfectly consistent when left on the AWB setting, which is one less thing to worry about.
Metering is accurate and reliable on the whole especially when the camera is being used in flat or even lighting conditions. High-contrast situations are a little trickier due to the fact that the metering system relies heavily on the positioning of the FlexiZone AF box. In such situations a ‘wrongly’ placed box can lead to blown highlights. Thankfully, the EV Compensation dial is found within easy reach on the top of the camera, with /-3EV on offer to correct matters.
Perhaps the biggest single strength of the G1 X, however, is ISO performance. Frankly, we were blown away by just how well the G1 X handles noise at higher sensitivities. While ISO 100 to 400 might be expected to deliver noise-free results given the size of the sensor (which they do), it’s from ISO 800 to ISO 3,200 that really impresses – even at the higher settings, the G1 X’s images keep noise almost entirely at bay while retaining plenty of fine detail, even in shadow areas. The top settings of ISO 6,400 and 12,800 do show a gradual decline in quality along with an increase in noise, but even these remain perfectly usable at smaller sizes.
The Canon G1 X is the company's latest flagship advanced compact and benefits from a bespoke sensor that is only slightly smaller than what Canon uses in its APS-C equipped DSLRs. The advantages of this larger sensor are immediately clear to overall image quality, with the G1 X offering class-leading performance in this respect. However, in other areas the G1 X lets itself down somewhat with sluggish operation and niggly performance issues. Image quality purists may well be willing to forgive these flaws, however anyone in the market for a snappy advanced compact with quickfire operation may well be slightly disappointed.