The Magic Mirrorless Formula? Canon Enters the Fray with the G1 X

Posted in Equipment, News, Photography by Nathan Lee Bush on January 9, 2012

Every industry is subject to trends in nomenclature, and the photo business is no exception. It seems that somewhere around 2010, with the X100, it was decided that there is no better way to denote seriousness of intent than for a manufacturer to slap an X to its product name. Today, Canon introduced a serious camera indeed, with that dynamic letter suitably affixed. There’s been speculation of an pro upgrade to Canon’s G line for some time. The just announced G1 X (not to be confused with Panasonic’s recently announced GX1) is that camera. Most rumorizers had predicted a slightly larger sensor than the current G12 and some other performance enhancements to the storied G series… nothing too groundbreaking. Few suspected that this would be the long-hoped-for entrance of Canon into the large-sensor mirrorless market.

While most industry watchers posit that mirrorless (or as Trey Radcliffe recently christened them, “third generation”) cameras are indeed the future, each company has a different vision for what form this new breed will take. Fujifilm decided that sensor size and minimal form factor trumped the flexibility of interchangeable lenses with its X100, though today, with its just announced X-Pro1 mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, they threw their lot in with Sony and Samsung, which have decided that sensor size and interchangeable lens flexibility are essential, despite the attendant bulkier lenses. Nikon thinks diminutive form factor and speed trump the drawbacks of a relatively small sensor. Panasonic and Olympus have taken the middle road, opting for a generous enough sensor that will also allow for lens and body miniaturization, as well as that much sought after shallow depth-of-field. Pentax has decided that there is sufficient demand in the international superspy community for interchangeable lenses, but has a compact size sensor to accommodate the smallest system of all. And Ricoh has an awesome and unique approach all its own with its GXR swappable module system, which manages to fit into none of these paradigms.

This leaves Canon among major camera manufacturers, the long-awaited holdout from the game. This is the culminating moment we’ve been waiting for, when all major players show their cards. Canon has plenty of experience with mirrorless cameras, technically speaking: it prolifically releases point-and-shoots, and has, with its G series, long honed an impressive line of manually controllable, enthusiast-oriented compacts, hampered only by their tiny sensors.

With the mirrorless revolution, I’ve been flummoxed with the G series has continued to produce hit after hit. While relatively inexpensive and fully manual, who would bother with the relative bulk, equivalent in size to the likes of the NEX-5N and Panasonic GX1, when the sensor is so small, necessarily inhibiting dynamic range and achievable DoF? Sure, they have plenty of in-camera processing tricks to suppress noise, but software can only go so far in defying physics. The S100 is truly pocketable and retains much of the external control, outside of the viewfinder, hotshoe, and a few other direct access buttons, so that choice seems logical as a separate category.

This quandry was apparently not lost on Canon, and that missing ingredient, a large sensor, has finally been addressed with the G1 X. It is essentially a slightly larger G12 with an ample 4:3 aspect ratio sensor between Micro Four Thirds and APS-C in size.

Perhaps most remarkably the camera features a fixed zoom lens. Though not the fastest lens out there, it sports a jaw dropping 28-112mm equivalent range at F/2.8-5.8. In addition it has a built-in ND filter. The native ISO range is an impressive 100-12,800. The 14MP 1.5″ CMOS sensor can produce 14 bit RAW files at 4.5fps in burst mode. Canon’s new Digic 5 image processor is onboard, which guarantees substantial speed and low-light performance. Canon Technical Advisor Chuck Westfall even goes so far as to claim that jpeg and video output are cleaner than the 7D! Canon promises a four stop advantage with its built-in image stabilization. Beside the built-in flash, the hotshoe accepts Canon’s full range of pro speedlights, making this a great event photography tool.

Video is a mixed bag. The 920k dot full-range swivel screen like that on the G12 will be handy for video recording, but sadly Full HD (1080p) is reserved for 24fps only and the max framerate is 30fps. Also there is no manual control in video mode! But a couple nice touches in the video department: optical zooming and autofocus during recording.

At an MSRP of $799, this camera is set to grapple with some stiff competition, Panasonic’s GX1, Olympus’ PEN EP-3, Sony’s NEX-5N and Samsung’s NX200. But it’s well-spec’d and offers some compelling new twists to the genre. The consumers, and of course marketing prowess, will be the final arbiters.

Canon is positioning the G1 X as a second camera for pro shooters, but really this is so well spec’d it could compete directly with its own lucrative entry-level and even mid-level Rebel line, whose owners rarely look beyond the kit lens anyway (a fact certainly not lost on Canon. Perhaps this is why they are positioning it as a second camera for pros).

With the first large sensor mirrorless (not counting Leica) launched over three years ago, Canon was beginning to look hopelessly behind in this next generation arms race. But just in the nick of time, Canon brings us a worthy entry into the genre, which should slide comfortably into its overall lineup, as well as give the consumer ever more choice in this exciting camera segment.


Nathan Lee Bush is a fashion and fine art photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his site, vimeo and blog.

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  1. […] on the heels of Canon’s G1 X announcement, Fujifilm revealed it’s long-anticipated interchangeable lens offering in the […]

  2. […] internet goings-on of the Adorama family. On this blog, Through The Looking Glass, we cover the Canon GX 1, the  exciting entrant into the crowded large sensor compact field, with a huge zoom range and a […]

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