Two days ago, Canon announced a truly revolutionary camera: the Powershot G1X, the first digital camera in history that combined the small size of a P&S, the sensor of a SLR, and the flexibility of a zoom lens, all in one camera. For many photographers the world over, this is a dream come true: a camera that can deliver image quality, extreme portability, and flexibility all in one package. In addition, this is the camera that could make all other cameras obsolete, too.
Initially, by looking at the G1X, one immediately notices the strong family resemblance to Canon's previously top-tier model: the G12. While they may look similar on the outside, the two cameras are completely different on the inside. For a concise comparison of the two cameras, go here.
Now: the G1X vs. the world.
Previously, people had three choices when buying cameras: dSRS, large-sensor, fixed lens P&S models, and small sensor P&S models, all three of which have disadvantages that disappear with the G1X. First on the hit list: small-sensor P&S cameras.
With small sensor cameras, their biggest disadvantage is the sensor size itself. Why? It's all about the pixels, specifically their size. If two cameras with two different size sensors have the same pixel count, say 14Mp, the only way that this can be possible is that the individual pixels on the smaller sensor are smaller than the pixels on the bigger sensor. The problem is twofold. First: all electronic sensors have background noise, which manifests itself as graininess and/or color splotches with cameras. Second: small pixels capture less signal (light) than large pixels. Less signal means less data to drown out the noise. Result: grainy, splotched pictures. Now, while small-sensor P&S cameras can make good pictures at base ISO, at anything past 400, the noise really starts to show. At the same time, dSLRs/large sensor compacts can often do ISO 1600 noise-free.
Second on the hit list: all previous large sensor compacts. In 2006, Sigma made big news by announcing its DP1, the first compact camera to feature a SLR-sized sensor. While the camera was undoubtedly a breakthrough in design, it had one big drawback in the eyes of many people: the lens was of a fixed focal length equivalent of 28mm on film with a max. aperture of f4, meaning that the DP1 was only good for landscapes as the lens was too slow for low light shooting. In the following years, new cameras building on the same design (big sensor, prime lens) followed. While popular with serious photographers, these cameras never really caught on with the masses because of their high price (thanks to the big sensor) and fixed focal length lenses (which don't appeal to casual snappers).
Last of all, the dSLR. Until the arrival of the DP1 and its 'offspring,' dSLRs were the undisputed kings of the hill for image quality in less than ideal lighting conditions thanks to their big pixels, which drown out noise very well and result in remarkably noise-free images. Problem: dSLRs, even the small ones, are huge in of themselves. Add on a lens and guess what, forget about portability as neck straps and/or camera bags are required.
Now, with the arrival of the G1X, the world has a camera that eliminates all of these problems: the low IQ of small sensors, the prime lenses of previous big-sensor P&S models, and the sheer bulk of dSLRs. While not the smallest P&S model around, the G1X is still small enough to fit into a pocket, allowing for flexible, high-quality imaging on the go, just the thing for those spontaneous photo-ops that always seem to pop up when you wish you had a camera around.
Now another question: why not to buy a G1X?
In two areas, the G1X falls short of the dSLR. First, if you want telephoto performance, forget it, the G1X only has a lens that is the equivalent of 28-112mm, which is probably good for 95% of one's shooting, but can leave you wanting more reach for something far away. The other thing: dSLRs are better for fast action/low light focusing thanks to their phase-detect AF. While good on the IQ front, the G1X still employs the contrast-detect AF used by most P&S cameras, all of which can be so-so to downright lousy when targeting a fast-moving subject or anything in a dark setting.
In the end, for 90% of the people reading this, the Canon G1X may just be the only camera you'll ever need. Want one? Preorder yours now before the “line” gets too long!
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