Review: Canon G1X as Travel Camera

Canon Powershot G1X “enthusiast compact” entered market early 2012 so its about two years old at the time of writing. I got interested about it since the announcement, and been having mine well over a year now. Web is full of reviews of this camera, so am concentrating mainly how it suits for mobile backpacker lifestyle and recording events on the road.

Edit mid 2014: Mark II version of Canon G1X entered market few months after this review was written. It addresses many of the shortcomings of the reviewed version here. Additionally it would come with higher price tag, of-course, so am not planning to replace mine.

_SDI6933Canon G1X and Speedlite 430EX II behind.

Good things

  • Size and weight. Its smaller than dSLR and pricier mirrorless cameras.
  • Good high ISO files and dynamic range that benefit from large sensor (1.8 crop from “full frame”). Working with raw files, exposure can be pushed beyond natural look, while noise is not overtaking the attention.
  • Manual controls permit intuitive and fast reaction to changing scenes. No need to dive into software menus.
  • Custom modes. Though could be 3 instead of 2. I’ve been using two A-priority versions: one for “easy light” shooting with auto-ISO (100-1600) and f5.6. Second for “challenging light”, such as night and indoors, f2.8 and ISO 6400.
  • LCD is flip type, handy for inconspicuous, TLR-like shooting and abnormal angles such as over the head and down on ground. If knowing there’s rough road ahead, flip LCD backwards so its better protected from knocks.
  • Charger is small, excellent for travel.
  • Built in ND-filter. One less thing to carry with, if its your thing.
  • Fast switch filter adapter. At first I hated this, thinking why another proprietary adapter for filters (and caps). But fast switching is convenient, and e.g. polarizer can be used like a lens cap.
  • Silent shutter.
  • Canon soft case (SC-DC75), that splits to half when needed. This or some case is mandatory for protection on road.

Lens is a bit mixed bag

  • Good sharp lens, with handy 4x zoom range (28-112mm equiv.). f2.8 on wide end, 5.8 on tele.
  • Fixed lens, no sensor cleaning nightmare on some dusty guesthouse (been there, done that!).
  • Lens extracts every time power is turned on, slows you a bit and eat batteries.

Cons

  • Focusing performance. This has been “Achilles heel” of otherwise so great camera, and Canon has not released any firmware updates to fix it. If one ever tried SLR of any kind, G1X focus speed can be almost unbearable at first. Manual focus mode is buried under menus, and not controllable from lens where it would be most intuitively placed. Instead user has to fumble with rear scroll wheel to focus. Works better on paper than in reality! Been having little use of it on night scenes, when autofocus has given up completely. When shooting landscapes, architecture and posed photos, G1X focusing performance is less an issue. But try nail focus on anything moving in your scene, and you know what I’m meaning!
  • Peep-hole like optical viewfinder collects dust inside. Usability of the whole thing can be debated.
  • Battery life is surprisingly short. As mentioned, lens extracts every time when power is switched on. Am carrying three batteries with me.

_SDI6929G1X with flash. Big flash will unbalance the camera, and the combo becomes bulky on street. But its nice to have the two talking (Canon E-TTL II) each other, when better control of light is needed.

Verdict: Sturdy G1X has served me well on road, and am intending to keep it. Following camera industry and market news, people’s willingness to carry dedicated camera seem to be dropping everywhere. This applies especially well when one travels long periods and has to lug everything with. Its not just the camera itself, but cables and chargers as well. One more thing to keep charged and ready. For photo enthusiast on road who don’t want to compromise image quality, G1X form factor, manual controls, combined with its sensor and lens are hard to replace by slim smartphone camera or hefty dSLR. Being in halfway of the two opposites, it can also complement either.

Sample shots with G1X

Kalaw_Inle_Trek_1281Farmers in Kalaw, Myanmar. 28mm wide-angle shot.

Sukhothai_2393Centipede in Sukhothai, Thailand. G1X in 28mm & macro mode.

Chiang_Mai_0069Lightman in Chiangmai, Thailand. Tele 112mm shot.

Bangkok_5998Kids playing with candles during King’s birthday celebration in city center. Bangkok, Thailand. Had I been on ground with a dSLR, these kids would have disappeared right away. Thanks to G1X flip screen, I appeared to be checking something on camera, completely uninteresting “farang” 🙂

Siem_Reap_Angkor_0062Sunset in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This was tele shot as far as lens reaches. From the same hill, there’s nice high point view to Angkor Wat, but G1X’s lens is not long enough. 200mm or 300mm lens & tripod would have been needed to get good golden hour shot from ruins.

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