It's hard to place the Canon G1 X's image performance. On the one hand, image performance is mostly exemplary, on the other hand, its few shortcomings are significant enough to be deal-breakers.
Let's start with the good: Image resolution is impeccable. ISO performance is excellent, producing little noise at higher ISO settings with fine, less destructive grain. Colors, like you'd expect from a Canon, are rich. Image stabilization is unbelievably good. Images have a wide dynamic range which make them a pleasure to work with in post-processing. The built-in 3-stop ND (Neutral Density) filter throws some creative options into the mix. This is a camera that, at its best, could easily rival or beat results from some of the mirrorless system cameras on the market today. The bad? The G1 X's minimum focusing distance is so far that it's not very good for macro photography, the camera seems to like overexposing by half to a full stop and it responds slowly.
But first, let's talk about that large sensor.
The G1 X has the largest image sensor ever seen in a digital compact camera, far surpassing the G12, the previous large-sensor record holder the Fujifilm X10, even larger than the sensors found in Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system cameras and approaching the size of APS-C sensors found in entry-level DSLRs.
Why does sensor size matter? All things being equal, larger image sensors produce better quality images. That's why photographs made by a DSLR always look better than those made by a camera phone. To squeeze such a large sensor into a body of this size is an impressive feat, and it pays off: The images we see from the G1 X are full of detail and clean from image noise, usable up to ISO1600, even ISO3200. Even when you reach above that to higher ISO settings, we're impressed by how fine the noise is and much detail is still retained. It's a real pleasure to be able to reach up to such high settings on a compact camera without fear.
One of the things that amazed us about the G1 X is its 4-stop optical image stabilizer, which promises to help photographers shoot hand-held at shutter speeds four stops lower than would otherwise be possible while still getting a sharp image. This reviewer is confident of hand-holding a shot at up to 1/20th of a second for sharp results, beyond that it's pretty much a matter of luck. But we consistently got sharp images at even lower shutter speeds, even once getting a relatively sharp image hand-holding the camera for a complete second. There were a few failures in-between the one successful shot, but the one success shouldn't even have been possible, not without the G1 X's excellent image stabilizer.
Having a large sensor inside a relatively small body doesn't come without trade-offs, however. The G1 X's lens' minimum focusing distance is 20cm, which means it needs to be at least 20cm away from its subject in order to focus. This is the closest it can get, and the lens needs to be set at its widest without zooming in, if you do zoom in, that distance increases even further. That means the G1 X isn't very good for macro photography, which is bad news for food and nature photographers.
According to Canon, the G1 X's inability to focus closer than most digital compact cameras is due to the large sensor which throws the minimum focusing distance forward (and also reduces the zoom range). These limitations have been offset by as much as possible with a large lens, but to further decrease the minimum focusing distance and increase the zoom range would require an even larger lens than what's already on the camera.
|Canon G1 X||20cm||85cm|
|Canon IXUS 230 HS||1cm||Unlisted|
|Fujifilm X10 (Super Macro Mode)||1cm||Unlisted|
|Olympus XZ-1 (Super Macro Mode)||1cm||Unlisted|