The Canon G1 X III is a premium zoom compact camera designed for serious enthusiast photographers. It features a 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor in a small SLR-styled body, with a retractable 24-72mm-equivalent f/2.8-5.6 lens and a centrally placed electronic viewfinder.
It’ll be available in November 2017 for £1149, but I got to spend some time with it pre-launch.
Canon’s new G1 X III is the first zoom compact camera with an APS-C sensor and built-in viewfinder
In the early days of digital, Canon’s PowerShot G-series compacts were hugely popular with enthusiast photographers for their combination of decent image quality and extensive manual controls. Canon was also the first to put a large sensor into a reasonably pocketable zoom compact, with its original PowerShot G1 X sporting a 14MP, 1.5-inch sensor in early 2012.
But less than six months later Sony released its pocket-sized Cyber-shot RX100 with a 20MP 1-inch sensor, leaving the competition playing catch-up ever since. Canon’s follow-up G1 X Mark II never quite caught the imagination in comparison, with a bulky design that lacked a built-in viewfinder.
Now, though, Canon has upped the ante considerably, by placing a 24MP APS-C sensor into a remarkably compact body that measures 115 x 77.9 x 51.4 mm and weighs just 398g. In principle, this means the G1 X Mark III should offer better image quality than any other zoom compact on the market, and the equal of many DSLRs. The new model also eschews the uninspired boxy designs of its predecessors, and instead is based on the SLR-like PowerShot G5 X, with a central built-in electronic viewfinder and fully articulated touchscreen. As a result, it promises a rare marriage between compact size, high image quality and usability.
The G1 X III is barely bigger than the G5 X (left) which uses a much smaller sensor
Naturally, there are some compromises to be made for this feat of miniaturization, with the most obvious being the lens: its 24-72mm equivalent range and f/2.8-5.6 maximum aperture look modest compared to either its predecessors, or the large-aperture zooms now commonly found on pocketable enthusiast compacts. Its 200-shots-per-charge stamina is also well below par, but at least the NB-13L battery is shared with many recent PowerShot models, making spares easy to source. Last but not least, the £1149 price tag places the camera firmly into the realm of serious photographers.
This isn’t actually the first camera to combine an APS-C sensor with a built-in zoom lens, having been preceded by Sony’s bridge-type Cyber-shot DSC-R1 in 2005, and the Leica X Vario of 2013. But it’s the first that’s truly pocketable, thanks to its retractable lens design, while also including a built-in EVF. As such, it’s fair to say that Canon has broken new ground.
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The G1 X III’s key headline feature is undoubtedly its sensor. Canon says that the 24.2MP APS-C CMOS is similar to that used in its popular EOS 80D DSLR, offering a sensitivity range of ISO100-25,600. The firm’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology is onboard enabling on-chip phase detection, and even from my short time using of the camera, it’s clear that autofocus is impressively quick. The sensor is coupled with Canon’s latest Digic 7 processor, which enables EOS-like image processing features such as Auto Lighting Optimizer for balancing difficult illumination conditions, and Diffraction Compensation for sharper-looking images when shooting at small apertures.
The NB-13L battery offers 200 shots per charge, or 250 in Eco mode. USB charging is available
Canon says that the built-in 15-45mm f/2.8-5.6 lens has been specifically matched to the sensor for optimal image quality. It has an impressively close minimum focus distance of 10cm at wideangle, dropping to a still-respectable 30cm at the long end. The lens includes optical image stabilisation promising 4 stops benefit, a switchable 3-stop neutral-density filter, and a 9-bladed aperture diaphragm for attractive background blur. However despite the large sensor, the f/5.6 maximum aperture means that the G1 X III’s lens won’t give any more background blur than those on 1in sensor cameras like the Sony RX100 V and Panasonic Lumix LX15, that have f/2.8 apertures at the 70mm equivalent setting.
Continuous shooting specs are very decent, at 7 frames per second with autofocus between frames, or 9 fps with the focus fixed at the start of a burst. Buffering is also quite respectable, with 24 JPEG or 19 raw frames recordable before the camera slows down. While this is no match for the ultra-quick Sony RX100 V’s 24fps, given the relatively short lens I don’t think many potential buyers will be terribly concerned.
E3-type remote control, USB, and HDMI sockets
When it comes to video, though, Canon has again disappointed any fans hoping that it might finally include 4K recording in an affordable camera. Instead, you only get Full HD at 60fps, and unlike the G7 X Mark II there’s not even a microphone socket for recording better-quality sound. One consolation is that in-camera time-lapse movie creation is available.
Canon has included comprehensive connectivity options, with onboard Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Dynamic NFC. This should make it really easy to connect the camera wirelessly to a smartphone, tablet, printer or smart TV for copying, printing or viewing your shots. You can also use your smartphone to control the camera remotely, either over Wi-Fi with a live view feed, or as a quick and simple Bluetooth shutter release. I’ve been really impressed by how well this all works on recent Canon cameras. One handy-looking new feature on the G1 X III is the ability to use the Bluetooth connection to connect to the camera, browse through your shots and copy them across to your phone, even when the camera is switched off.
Canon G1 X III – Body and design
In terms of design the Mark III represents a complete about-turn for the G1 X series, and I think it’s very much for the better. The body layout is lifted from the 1in-sensor G5 X, which is no bad thing as that camera is very pleasant to shoot with. The central EVF affords a very natural balance, while giving plenty of space on the body for buttons and dials. The end result is an almost DSLR-like handling experience that’s way better than Sony’s cramped RX100-series cameras.
Turned off, the camera is impressively slim, but the lens cap is chunky
Despite its small size, the G1 X III feels unexpectedly secure in your hand, thanks to its rubberised fingergrip and pronounced thumb hook. The design also encourages you to support the camera with your left hand under the lens ring, which gives a more stable shooting stance. The key shooting controls are all well-placed too, which isn’t always the case on cameras this small.
Canon has included an EOS-like command dial for changing exposure settings, placed vertically on the front-plate for operation by your forefinger, along with an exposure compensation dial that falls underneath your thumb. The zoom is controlled by a rocker around the shutter button, but alternatively you can use the dial around the lens. This dial rotates smoothly with no clicks, and can also be used for manual focus. There’s another small, fiddly vertical dial on the back, but this is only really needed in manual-exposure mode.
The fully articulated screen makes it easy to shoot at unusual angles
The EVF is a 2.36-million-dot OLED unit, placed centrally above the lens. While this design means that the camera is larger than other zoom compacts with built-in EVFs, such as the Panasonic Lumix TZ100 or Sony RX100 V, the advantage is that the viewfinder is larger and clearer. Immediately below is the 1.04-million-dot full-articulated touchscreen, which can be set to point in virtually any direction: up, down, or forwards for selfies. Canon has included its really well-implemented touch interface, including the ability to use the touchscreen to move the focus point with the camera held to your eye.
Canon G1 X III – Accessories
To go with the PowerShot G1 X Mark III, Canon has announced some additional matched accessories. First up is the £49.99 LH-DC110 lens hood, which attaches to the lens without interfering with its retraction into the body.
Canon G1 X III with LH-DC110 lens hood (left) and WP-DC56 underwater housing (right)
Second is the WP-DC56 underwater housing, which is waterproof to a depth of 40m (130ft) while still giving full access to all of the camera’s extensive external controls. It’s the only such housing Canon makes for an APS-C-sensor camera, and will cost £429.99. Like the camera itself, both are due to go sale in November.
With the PowerShot G1 X Mark III, Canon has managed a really impressive technological feat – it’s barely believable that such a small body can accommodate an APS-C sensor and a zoom lens. What’s more, from my short time with it so far it appears to be a very usable camera indeed, with excellent handling and rapid autofocus. It’s fair to say there’s nothing else quite like it on the market.
Canon’s new G1 X III is styled like a miniature SLR
If there’s one serious catch, it’s the relatively limited lens range; I’m not sure how many photographers will be attracted a 3x zoom with a relatively modest maximum aperture, especially given the £1150 price tag. Indeed for less money you could buy an EOS M5 with its 15-45mm kit zoom and the option of changing lenses, albeit in a rather larger package. But if you want a pocket camera with a short zoom lens and the highest possible image quality, the G1 X III certainly looks like it’ll be a leading contender when it hits the shops in November. Keep an eye out for our full review around that time.