A week in the Medina with the Canon G1-X

A couple of weeks ago I headed off for an amazing week in Morocco armed only with my Canon G1-X... I really didn't want to carry my 7D and lenses around in 40° heat and besides it was my honeymoon so photography wasn't really what I was there for. So, with a whole week's experience under my belt I thought it was a good time to let you know what I think (of the camera, not the wife).

Don't worry this isn't going to be a 'real' review with any in depth technical stuff (well maybe a little), there are plenty of those on the internet already and besides I've already bought the camera so I probably won't be that impartial.

As soon as we arrived in Marrakech I knew travelling light was the right decision, the medina is hot and busy and not the place I want to be lugging 10 kilos of expensive glass and metal around on my shoulder... not when we're there for sightseeing anyway. The G1-X tucked in my retro 5 bag along with guide book, hand wash, water, a couple of spare batteries etc was perfect for the occasion... so far so good.

As the idea was to travel light, let's talk about size... I often find small cameras fiddly as I'm so used to a DSLR but the G1-X is big enough to get a proper hold of without accidently pressing all the buttons (although I did press the exposure lock button a few times with my palm). On the other hand it's light enough to comfortably hold all day, I didn't like the neck strap that came with the camera so bought a chunky wrist strap meant for a canon video camera and spent most of the week with the camera hanging from my wrist or in my hand.

The reason for choosing the G1-X over any of the other compact cameras out there is that I wanted as close as I could get to DSLR quality in as small a package as possible, and while it's not the smallest (you're not going to slip it into a shirt pocket) it was supposedly one of the best for image quality on the market at the time. Looking through the pictures from Morocco it lives up to that reputation, thanks to the almost DSLR sized sensor and a digic 5 processor (as used in the 650D DSLR) images are clear, sharp and detailed so although I mostly took snaps if I happen upon something that would make a good stock shot it should still pass quality control. 

Marrakech is a dream for photographers, so many interesting details, bright colours and so much exciting stuff going on all the time, but it also has some difficult shooting conditions with dark interiors and alleys mixed with bright sunlight. I shot mainly in AV and the camera generally coped well, there is a nice big exposure compensation dial (+/- 3 stops) on the top of the camera and rather than change metering settings to cope with different situations, I found it easier to just tweak that to get the exposure I wanted. Those dark interiors weren't a problem either, thanks again to that sensor, high ISO noise handling is superb. Unlike my previous experiences with compact cameras where even at ISO 400 images were unuseable, I could happily shoot at ISO 1600 with little loss in detail and that's comparable to my 7D. 

The lens is where some of the G1-Xs quirks start to appear... No complaints optically and DOF is easily controlled, it has a pretty useful range of 28-112mm (35mm equivalent), a nice large front element and a max aperture of f2.8 at 28mm. What is slightly annoying about the lens is that it physically extends as soon as you turn the camera on, even when it's at it's widest. Odd but not the end of the world. On the subject of odd (and potentially annoying) things, the minimum focusing distance is a ridiculously long 20cm at 28mm... about 80cm at 112mm! Surprisingly though it was fairly easy to work round and in practice was less annoying than expected. This is also true of the autofocus, I'd read reviews claiming it was very slow but while it could have been faster, in use I rarely struggled with it.

I like to use the viewfinder rather than the screen on a camera and this is where the G1-X is poor, looking through the viewfinder is reminiscent of a cheap disposable point and shoot, about 70% coverage and off centre... useless in other words. All is not lost though. The screen is large, clear and sharp and being articulated it makes composing shots from unusual viewpoints a doddle. The only time it's not perfect is in bright conditions (kind of like those we had everyday in Morocco!) where it becomes difficult to see what's going on in the darker areas. I messed up several shots through not being able to see exactly what was on the screen and found I was having to shoot a bit wider to ensure I included everything in the frame with the intention of cropping it later.

To test the creative potential of the G1-X I bought an adaptor that allowed me to use the same Lee filters with it that I use with my 7D for landscapes. THis isn't really what I bought the camera for but armed with filters, camera, tripod and taxi fare home I set off to the main square for some dusk long exposures. Marrakech in the evening is busy... very busy, especially as I arrived later than expected having been talked into stopping for a cup of mint tea by a friendly Moroccan chap. Trying to find room to set up a tripod without getting a snake draped over me or being run over by something with 4 legs or 2 wheels was a challenge but once I did the camera worked rather well with the filters but long exposures have their complications on the G1-X as well. Firstly when in AV mode the the shutter speed is limited to 1 second! If it is going to be over 1 second you have to adjust the aperture until it comes down to 1 second or less... why?! I spent a good 15 minutes trying to find how to turn that off in the menus before I gave up and switched to manual. Problem solved. In manual mode shutter speeds up to 60 second are possible which is good but then there's no bulb mode so 60 seconds is the limit. Long exposures also take quite a while to process as well so there's several seconds wait before you can take the next shot but like I said, long exposures are an added bonus rather than the reason I bought the camera.

So after a week using and abusing the G1-X in Morocco what's the verdict? I love it... the camera and the country, I came back with some decent shots, maybe I missed a few that I would have got with a DSLR but then I probably got some candid shots that I might not have managed with a less discrete camera. It has some strange quirks and an awful viewfinder but it's all about the results and the results from this camera are great. If Canon address the issues I think the G2-X or G1-Y has the potential to be amazing but until then this makes a great DSLR 'light'.

Canon G1-X

Riad Kniza, Marrakech