It’s been many years since there’s been a pocketable camera that I could live with. My favorite was the 1979 Olympus XA. It had a sharp f/2.8 lens, shot 35mm film, was about 2 x 3 x 4 inches and weighed eight ounces. I’ve tried a lot of small digicams from Casio, Olympus, Nikon, Sony and Canon since the late ’90s. They all left my collection via EBay within a few months of purchase.
I had hopes for the Fuji large-sensor models. But with a telephoto lens they aren’t remotely pocketable. Same for the Sony NEX series, which have large sensors and fabulous image quality. A fixed zoom lens makes sense for a pocket camera; it’s not sexy, but it works.
A year ago I was eager to try the new G1X, a non-interchangeable-zoom, barely pocketable (4 1/2 x 3 x 2.5 inches) G-series brick (17 ounces) from Canon. It has a relatively large sensor – a tad smaller than those in many DSLRs and six times larger than the sensor in the Canon G12. While being marginally pocket-sized, it had two important features that the venerable Olympus XA lacked – a zoom lens and image stabilization. Those features fit my needs, but its reviews were lukewarm at best, though the Luminous Landscape was rather happy with it. The G1X suffers from very slow continuous shooting, slow autofocus, slow zoom, and its max ISO is 1600. It’s ugly too.
Despite all that, I borrowed one from Calumet in San Francisco and discovered that my camera criteria might be different from those of reviewers. I immediately liked three things about the G1X besides the fact that it fits in a large pocket. 1) Its large sensor changes everything. 2) It works pretty much like a Canon DSLR. 3) It allows manual everything – focus, aperture, shutter speed. So you can use it for night shots and scenes where auto-exposure is useless.
I’ve always thought that you shouldn’t select cameras based on reviews; your needs are too specific and personal. When people ask me about Canon vs. Nikon, I always say the biggest difference is ergonomics – a very important feature that a review can’t judge on your behalf. Which one feels better when you fiddle with the dials and buttons? No other attribute of those two brands is anywhere near as relevant; and it’s not a matter of better or worse. It’s which one is better for you.
I bought the G1 X and took it to Rome, carrying it in my jacket pocket. I’ve never seen a bigger difference between expectations based on reviews and my actual sentiment upon using a camera. It’s not that the reviews were wrong, but that they don’t apply to me. The G1X is painfully slow in continuous shooting, but I’ve never used that feature once on my SLRs. Image quality and ergonomics are my hot spots. Your mileage may vary. But shooting a 50mm (full frame equivalent) lens at 1/4 second hand-held at ISO 1600 and getting a sharp, noise-free image is mighty sweet, and the G1 X passed that test. Compared to everything similar I’ve tried, I like the G1X a lot. Warts and all.
Arch of Constantine at night with the Canon G1 X, 1/15 second, f/2.8, ISO 1600