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Compact camera with near DSLR-sized sensor
With today's announcement, Canon joins the small camera/big sensor revolution. To the surprise of many, they didn't enter the MILC race and instead focused on image quality. taking the high-end G line in a new direction. What does the intriguing G1 X bring to the table?
Canon today unveiled the PowerShot G1 X ($799), a camera that offers both the convenience and portability of a compact camera and the promise of the kind of uncompromising image quality one expects from a DSLR, thanks to a new, near-APS-sized sensor. Did they succeed? Let's take a first look at this new camera and see if it's a game-changer. (Also read: Canon Unveils Compact G1 X Digital Camera with 1.5-Inch Sensor on the Adorama News Desk.)
NOTE: Adorama is now accepting orders for the Canon PowerShot G1 X. In case of back-orders, Adorama will not charge your credit card until your order ships.
First, some context
For several years running, the camera that has topped polls of the compact camera pro shooters want to bring with them has been the Canon G-series, most recently the G12. The G has undergone several refinements over the years but has stayed true to its core purpose, to provide a near-DSLR shooting experience in a compact digital camera. It's downfall? While its image quality is very good for a compact, it never really came close to DSLR quality. With the G1 X, Canon has apparently solved this problem. How? By making the sensor six times larger.
The Canon G1 X's 1.5-inch sensor is highlighted red; a typical DSLR sensor is the grey portion. The kind of sensor found in a Canon G12 is in dark grey. The 1.0" sensor size refers to the sensor found in the Nikon 1 V1 and J1.
While most photo industry observers expected Canon to come out with a well-thought-out mirrorless interchangeable-lens compact (after all, Canon is the only major camera maker without a MILC), the G1 X is self-contained. It may be compact, but its 4x zoom lens is bult in. The big news is its big 14-megapixel sensor, which is a new format that's just a tad smaller than the APS-C sensors found on Canon starter and intermediate-level DSLRs, and somewhat larger than a Four Thirds sensor. The possibilities are intriguing.
Let's take a closer look at the G1 X...
The G1 X vs. the G12
As you can see in the comparison shots above, the G1 X looks like a G12 on steroids, but it's not just on the outside. Although the G1 X's sensor is over 6x the size of the G12's, the G1 X itself is not that much larger. It measures slightly larger (4.60 x 3.17 x 2.55 in. vs. the G12's 4.41 x 3.00 x 1.90 in.) and a bit heavier (Approx. 17.3 oz vs. the G12 at Approx. 12.5 oz. without batteries). Like the G12, the GX 1. It has a built-in zooming viewfinder matched to a 4x optical 28-112mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens, which happens to be just a bit less than the G12's 5x zoom. The 14MP CMOS sensor holds the promise of spectacular image quality thanks to the fact that the pixel size would be larger than the G12.
New Image Processor
Canon claims the new Digic 5 Image Processor brings phenomenal increases in processing speed and power. Chip architecture and algorithms have been improved noise reduction produces clearer images when shooting in low light at high ISO speeds. Enhanced i-Contrast performance is said to adjust differences between light and dark areas to achieve even more natural-looking results. The faster processing speed also results in faster continuous shooting capability.
The Digic 5 Image Processor also makes possible a new, highly advanced automatic white balance system: Whereas conventional white balance makes an overall adjustment based on a single type of light source, the new Canon Multi-Area White Balance analyzes several areas of the image to determine whether different adjustments are needed, for example, for the main subject and the background.
New HS System
Another new feature is the Canon HS System, which lets you take bright, clear photos in an even wider range of shooting situations. High-quality low-light shots are possible with minimal noise and maximum detail in highlight and shadow areas. The system consists of a high-sensitivity imaging sensor, which is able to capture more light; and the Digic Image Processor, which actively reduces noise with high-speed image processing. The 14.3 Megapixel Canon CMOS sensor in the PowerShot G1 X incorporates advanced light reception technology that enhances sensitivity. The new DIGIC 5 Image Processor provides what Canon calls a major boost in noise reduction, expanding the usable range to ISO 12800.
If you already own a G-series Canon compact, you know that the controll layout is remarkably familiar for DSLR users. A bi-level mode dial/EV compensation dial sit on the camera's top plate, and an electronic dial can control aperture or shutter speed.
Full-frame sample photo shot with G1 X, provided by Canon, shows dramatic dynamic range and no apparent flare despite backlit subject.
100% blow-up detail of same image shows remarkable sharpness.
While we have yet to see the image quality from a full production model of the G1 X, the sample images provided by Canon is, in a word, stunning in its dynamic range and level of detail. It certainly blows away anything you could get from the G12 or any other smaller-sensor camera. The G1 X's sensor size and specs indicate that it should be capable of producing excellent image quality in low light at higher ISOs. In fact, with a top ISO of 12800, the G1 X has great low-light potential. (The camera als offers an HDR setting that merges three different exposures for greater highlight and shadow details.) We will be testing the G1 X in the near future and will report on image quality based on both hands-on and DxOMark Lab tests as soon as possible.
The G1 X's 6-element optical zoom range is somewhat limited (28-112mm) but with the larger sensor one could expect that to accomodate anything larger would have required the camera to have a much larger footprint. The lens is optically matched to the G1 X sensor.
Sample images provided by Canon.
Canon claims its optical image stabilization system will give low-light shooters 4-stops of additional shutter speed flexibility. Intelligent ISO is said to compensate for shake in normal, panning, macro, moving subjects, telephoto shake and even usable stabilization when the camera is mountaed on a tripod.
For videographers, the G1 X can capture 1080p full HD video with stereo sound at 24 frames per second and 720p HD video at 30 fps. A dedicated movie button lets you record movies immediately without hunting through menus. An electric wind feature suppresses wind noise, and you can zoom while shooting a video.
Meet the G1 X System
Although the G1 X is not an interchangeable-lens system, it is part of an extensive system and—notably—is compatible with the full lineup of Canon Speedlite flash system, including the 270EX II, 430 EX II, 580 EX II, the wireless ST-E2 trasmitter, and the Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX. There's a WP-DC44 waterproof case for underwater photography, a filter adapter and more.
I can't wait to get my hands on a full production version of the G1 X and so I can test its responsiveness and image quality. But based on the sensor alone, I think Canon may have a game-changer.