Canon G1X Review

Review of the Canon G1x for underwater photography, including auto-focus speed and macro tests
By Scott Gietler

The Canon G1X is Canon's first attempt to put a larger size sensor in a compact camera body, with a fixed lens. The camera appears to be designed for G-series enthusiasts who may want better image quality and low-light performance. The controls and menus are very similar to a G12, but in a slightly larger body. Let's see how it performs topside, and underwater - and how it compares to the Canon G12.


The Canon G1X is Canon's first attempt to put a larger size sensor in a compact camera body, with a fixed lens. The camera appears to be designed for G-series enthusiasts who may want better image quality and low-light performance. The controls and menus are very similar to a G12, but in a slightly larger body. Let's see how it performs topside, and underwater - and how it compares to the Canon G12.


Canon G1X key specs

  • 18.7 x 14mm sensor, 14.2MP. 4352x3264 jpegs; sensor is slightly larger than a micro-four thirds sensor

  • Fixed lens, 4x zoom, 28-112mm, F2.8-F.5.3 lens

  • Aperture range F2.8 - F16

  • Video - 1080p @ 24fps, optical zoom during video

  • Shoots RAW, has image stabilization, full manual controls

  • No GPS, no 3D. Includes an HDR shooting mode

  • Battery rated for 250 shots (without flash), not great

  • Articulated 3-inch LCD screen

  • $799 retail price

  • Weight with battery about 1.17lb (531gr), versus around .87lb (395gr) for a G12


Handling & Body

The G1X handles very similar to the G12. It has a swivel 3-inch LCD screen, which is slightly larger than the 2.8 inch LCD screen on the G12. The G1X does have a viewfinder but it's just ok - it doesn't show the entire image you are about to take, so it is not very useful for composing photos.


Canon G1x review for underwater photography


Canon G1x and G12


Canon G1X is on the left, Canon G12 is on the right. The Canon G1X has added a popup flash, and did away with the ISO dial. The exposure compensation dial is now under the mode dial. Other than that, the controls are pretty much the same, with a couple minor changes.

The build quality feels very good, and all of the controls worked flawlessly. The menu was very familiar, almost identical to the G12 menu system.


Image Tests

Here we see a 100% crop of an outdoor photo of a mural, taken with a G1X and a G12 at two different ISO's. The images look almost identical at ISO 200, but at ISO 1600 you can see quite a difference - the G1X is much better at higher ISO's.


Canon G12 with ISO 200, 100% crop


Canon G1X with ISO 200, almost 100% crop



Canon G12 with ISO 1600, 100% crop



Canon G1X with ISO 1600, almost 100% crop



The folks at DxoMark have already tested the sensor of the G1X and the G12. In their results, the G1X does much better in the high-ISO tests, but surprisingly does not do better in the dynamic range test. We'll post our own dynamic range test here shortly to see if we can replicate these results.


Canon G1X Macro Tests


Macro tests - no diopter

The Canon G1X does not have any true macro capability. Zoomed out at 28mm, I could only take a photo 8.5 inches wide. The G12, on the other hand, allows you to get as close as you want to the subject. Using the G12, I could easily take a photo 2 inches wide, although at that point I am very, very close to the subject. If you want more magnification that that, it is best to use a diopter (macro lens) and zoom in, so you can get some more working distance.


G12 - smallest photo widths

Macro mode, zoomed out: 2 inches or less, if i want to get really, really close
Macro mode, zoomed in: 4 inches

G1X - smallest photo widths

Macro mode, zoomed out: 8.5 inches (disappointing)
Macro mode, zoomed out: 13 inches

G1X focus distances

Macro mode, zoomed out: 6.0 - 40 inches
Macro mode, zoomed in: 46 inches - 72 inches
Normal mode, zoomed out: 12 inches - infinity

G12 focus distances

Macro mode, zoomed out: .5 inches - infinity
Normal mode, zoomed out: 2.0 inches - infinity


Macro tests - with a diopter

We tested the Canon G1X and the Canon G12 with a Dyron +7 macro lens, with the camera zoomed in all the way. With the G1X, we could take a photo 1 5/16th inches across. With the G12, it was 1 1/16th inch across, noticeable better macro performance. So you can get good macro performance with the G1X, but use of an external macro lens is essential.

When using a diopter, the focus range is extremely limited, so getting the magnification you desire may not be easy. Zooming the camera back out allows you to reduce the magnification to some degree.


Canon G1X and Wide-angle wet lenses

It can be quite difficult to use wide-angle wet lenses with the Canon G12, and the G1X will be no different. Placing a fisheye lens up against the G1X showed slight vignetting in the corners, but there was no vignetting with the G12. This means the lens element in the G1X appears to be back just slightly more than the G12 lens. This does bode well for the use of wide-angle lenses with potential housings, but of course we must wait and see what the innovative lens designers and housing manufacturers come up with.


Canon G1X shutter speed tests

The Canon G12 can shoot at 1/2000th at F2.8, and 1/4000th at F6.3 - F8.0. The Canon G1X shoots at 1/1600th at F2.8, 1/2500th at F6.3, and 1/4000th at F11 - F16.

The G1X can take an exposure as long as 60 seconds, this is an improvement over the 15 second limit on the G12.


Canon G1X Video mode 

The Canon G1X will shoot 1080p video at 24fps. This is an improvement over the 720p video that the G12 takes. You can optically zoom during video, and re-focus, but you do not have any control over exposure.


Canon G1X Auto-Focus Tests

For our auto-focus tests, we tested the G1X against the Canon G12, and a few mirrorless cameras, in low-light conditions. The shutter was pressed on 2 cameras at the exact same time, without pre-focusing the camera. We did 4 tests at 4 different focusing distances - taking a photo of a stopwatch running on an iPhone. Results are cropped.


Canon G12


Canon G1X, both shutters pressed at the same time.




Canon G12


Canon G1X




Canon G12


Canon G1X




Canon G12


Canon G1X


The Canon G12 beat the G1X in 3 out of our 4 low-light auto-focus tests, but just by a small margin. I'd say for practical purposed, they are pretty equivalent in auto-focus speeds. Mirrorless cameras like the Olympus E-PM1, E-PL3, Panasonic GF2 & GX1, and Sony Nex-5N and Nex-7 focus noticeably faster.


Canon G1X


Olympus E-PM1


The Olympus E-PM1 beat the G1X by almost a second, and the performance of other mirrorless cameras was similar.



With poor macro capability without a diopter, and no huge  auto-focusing improvements over the G12, there are probably better options available for underwater photography at $799.95 (not including the cost of a housing).

Although I have no doubt that the G1X is capable of taking some incredible underwater photos, at this price point I'd probably look at a faster-focusing mirrorless camera like an Olympus Pen E-PM1 / E-PL3, Panasonic GX1 / GF2 or Sony NEX-5N, or sticking with the Canon G12 and put the cost savings towards a good housing, strobe, wet lens, or focus light.


Further Reading:


Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel, and the Underwater Photography Guide. Bluewater Photo, based in Culver City, CA is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious underwater camera stores, serving many thousands of customers each year, where nothing is more important than customer service. The Underwater Photography Guide is the world’s first website to feature free tutorials on underwater photography, and has become the most trafficked resource on underwater photography worldwide. Bluewater Travel is a full-service dive travel wholesaler sending groups and individuals on the world’s best dive vacations. 

Scott is also an avid diver, underwater photographer, and budding marine biologist, having created the online guide to the underwater flora and fauna of Southern California. He is the past vice-president of the Los Angeles Underwater Photographic Society, has volunteered extensively at the Santa Monica aquarium, and is the creator of the Ocean Art underwater photo competition, one of the largest underwater international photo competitions ever held in terms of value of prizes. He lives in California with his wife, newborn girl and scuba-diving, photo taking 4 year old son.

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