Canon G1 X Mark II review
Sensor resolution: 12.6 megapixels, Focal length multiplier: 1.92x, Viewfinder: no, LCD screen: 3in (1,040,000 dots), Optical zoom (35mm-equivalent focal lengths): 5x (24-120mm), 35mm-equivalent aperture: f/3.8-7.5, Weight: 557g, Size (HxWxD): 75x116x66mm
We've been looking forward to the arrival of the Canon G1 X Mark II ever since we reviewed the original Canon G1 X two years ago. It packed a large sensor and zoom lens into a magnesium alloy body that was littered with manual controls, and was just about small and light enough to fit into pockets. It had the best image quality we had ever seen from a pocket-sized camera, but sadly, autofocus was lethargic in bright conditions and worse in low light. Its slow shot-to-shot times simply weren't up to scratch for such an expensive camera.
For the G1X Mark II, Canon has made some significant changes. The optical viewfinder has gone and there are fewer single-function dials. We don't miss the viewfinder, which was small and showed a heavily cropped view compared to the resulting photos. We're sorrier to see the exposure compensation dial and command dial disappear, but there's still a rear wheel and two lens rings for quick adjustment of settings. These three rotary controls are underused at default settings, but it's possible to assign them to a wide variety of functions, depending on the selected exposure mode. For example, we set them to shutter speed, aperture and ISO speed in manual exposure mode, and exposure compensation, ISO speed and zoom in program mode. The motion of the inner lens ring is a little clumsy. It has a stepped motion and the unit we tested was temperamental, with audible clicks not always corresponding to the amount of change.
The 3in screen is articulated at the top rather than the side, which restricts the angles it can be oriented to. It can flip up and over for self-portraits, though. It's also touch sensitive, which makes it very quick to move the autofocus point and helps with menu navigation.
There's a big breakthrough for people who prefer to leave their camera on automatic settings. The G1 X's Auto ISO mode was restricted to values up to 1600, which was far too conservative for a large-sensor camera that performs so well at high ISO speeds. In the G1 X Mark II, the top value can be set from 400 to 12800. It's also possible to adjust the Auto ISO's rate of change, depending on how fast or slow you prefer the shutter speed to be.
As before, there's a generous allocation of buttons, giving direct access to ISO speed and autofocus area. The video record button and a custom button can be assigned to one of 22 functions, include custom white balance, drive mode and enabling the built-in ND filter. There's no longer a dedicated button for metering mode – a feature we seldom feel the urge to adjust – but there is one for the new Wi-Fi features. These include JPEG transfers to Android and iOS devices, plus a simple remote control mode with a live view feed on the connected device.
The G1X's slim profile was undermined by its chunky lens cap, so we're delighted to see an integral lens cap this time around. This feels much more in keeping with the compact ergonomics, and makes it easier to whip the camera out of a pocket or bag, grab a couple of snaps and put it away again.
We're even more delighted by the significant improvements made to performance. The G1 X Mark II powered up and captured a photo in 1.8s seconds, and took one second between subsequent shots. Autofocus was responsive in bright light and a little slower in low light, but not disastrously so. Some of our test shots were completely out of focus, but it wasn't a common problem and was easy to spot on the screen, prompting us to take another shot.
Continuous mode showed the biggest improvement, rattling off 44 frames at 5.3fps before slowing to 2.9fps. It also managed 3fps with continuous autofocus, although the success rate of the autofocus system wasn't so impressive here. RAW continuous performance hasn't improved much, delivering 1.4fps for 10 frames and then slowing to 0.9fps.
Another major upgrade is to the lens. The G1X's lens has a 4x zoom and an f/2.8-5.8 aperture. These are run-of-the-mill specs for a compact camera, although they're quite a technical achievement considering the size of the sensor. The G1X Mark II has a 5x zoom (24-120mm equivalent focal length range), and an f/2-3.9 aperture. Those aperture values equate to twice as much light captured compared to the G1 X. There are very few lenses for SLRs and none for CSCs that manage to combine a zoom with such bright aperture values. The fact that this camera delivers it from such a compact lens – and in front of a big sensor – is nothing short of sensational.
Converting apertures to 35mm-equivalent values tells us about the light-gathering ability of a camera compared to a full-frame camera. The G1X Mark II comes in at f/3.8-7.5, which puts it very close to genuine full-frame cameras such as the Sony A7 with a zoom lens attached. With that in mind, the high price starts to look pretty competitive.