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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II camera review

キャノン パワーショット   G1XマークII
Earlier this year I dropped my trusty old Canon Powershot 9 while climbing on a wall at the National Museum of Nature & Science in Ueno, Tokyo to get a better shot of the massive whale sculpture there. In the middle of it all, a guard came up and motioned me to get down--a warning that came just too late as my camera was already broken. The lens housing must have gotten bent and the lens would no longer extend.

Having had the Powershot 9 for at least three years, and being as avid a consumer as the next shopper, I wasn't as disconsolate as I made out I was to my, more frugal, partner, and promptly began looking for a replacement.

I was keen to start from scratch, and looked at all cameras available that matched my budget of about 60-90,000 yen. However, although starting from scratch, I must disclose my loyalty to Canon for its picture quality. Canon started out with the advantage of my knowing that I like how Canon reproduces color. There's a clarity and depth with Canon which outweighed in my  mind the PowerShot 9's tendency to overexpose the sky in scenes with light/dark contrast.

The single feature I was most interested in was global positioning system (GPS) compatibility. There's nothing more tedious than trying to work out where a photo was taken, especially when you're trying to write guides to Japanese cities. And keeping a notebook handy while snapping is hardly less tedious than resorting to Google Maps streetview to identify places.

I was also interested in high-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI or HDR) as used on my iPhone, as I noticed it avoided the whiting out of skies that I often encountered with my Powershot.

Nikon Coolpix cameras were either below my budget or too bulky. I had an Olympus camera years ago and found the Canon to reproduce color better, so didn't consider Olympus this time around.  The Olympus OMD EM10 would have been the contender, but, hey, call me prejudiced. I looked at Fujifilm, too, but the only class I was interested in, the X-class, was beyond my budget, topping the 100,000 yen mark.

I narrowed it down to three contenders: the Sony a6000. the Lumix DMC-LX100 and the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II.

Comparing camera makes and models can be an endless process and involves getting to grips with any number of technical issues regarding pixels, focus, resolution, and lens speed to name a few. After several days of poring over such details, I came to the conclusion that, besides taking into account the presence or absence of specific features I wanted, finding out what the camera felt like to hold and viewing the results of what it shot was a more than acceptable shortcut to a decision.

Major impressions were that the Sony looked good, had a nice chunky grip, 4K video capture, and very high resolution (according to the specs) - but no touch screen and no GPS tagging. So it was down to the Lumix and the Powershot.

The Lumix had very solid focusing and 4K video capture. But I attended a family get-together one weekend during the month or so that I was investigating camera options, and an uncle of mine had just bought the Lumix. I had a play around with it and it felt all right, but was not that taken by how the picture looked compared to my old Powershot 9.

The Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II was considerably heavier than my Powershot 9 had been, and didn't have that great a grip, either. However, it had GPS tagging (like the Lumix, using a smartphone app), and a screen that was not only a touchscreen, but twisted all the way around for taking selfies. And, most importantly of all, it took pictures with same rich, solid coloration that I had been used to with the previous Powershot.

I always look on Kakaku.com and Amazon first when I'm making a major purchase, but the price there was no better than that offered by brick-and-mortar Sofmap in Akihabara, since I'm a member and get points. I thought I was too old and ugly to get truly excited about things anymore, so was surprised to feel my heart do a palpable little flip when they brought the sleek, black box out from the stockroom. That sense of excitement has persisted with this intuitive, feature-packed camera.

Having had my Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II for a three months now, I have found the following pros and cons:

-There is no physical viewfinder. It requires paying for an expensive snap-on accessory that would only add to the bulk of an already somewhat bulky camera. However, using the screen to compose shots is often hit-and-miss in bright sunshine, and trying to see the spirit level that lets you know if you're holding the camera straight is often impossible in such conditions.
-Poor grip, improved only by buying an accessory grip (which I did) which makes it better, but still not great. You're still curling your fingers around the camera rather than having it nestled in your palm.
-Having the Wi-Fi switch just above the thumb pad. No end of times, especially in have-to-get-that-shot moments, my thumb will inadvertently press the Wi-Fi switch and take the camera completely out of shooting mode. Aggravating.

-the excellent picture quality that I liked in my PowerShot 9, but in even higher resolution.
-a geotagging system that uses Canon's CameraConnect smartphone app. CameraConnect also lets you download photos directly from the camera to the phone using Wi-Fi, and even remotely control the camera.  The remote control thing is fun, but I don't use it often. However, downloading photos from camera to phone instantly is great. Instagram pictures, for example, look much better taken on the Canon than the iPhone. Connecting the camera to the app often takes two or three tries before it works, but, in a way that doesn't really mesh with the cold, hard zeroes-and-ones image of things digital, it seems that the more you use it, the more the camera gets used to it, and responsiveness and stability quickly improve with use. The Wi-Fi connection doesn't require a Wi-Fi environment: just the camera (which generates the Wi-Fi signal) and your smartphone (which receives it). GPS data is recorded on the phone and you add it later using the Wi-Fi connection. We went to East Timor and Bali over Golden Week, and in places like that, getting a GPS signal can take up to 10 minutes, but if you're patient the signal does get found, and the geotagging works.
-the folding out and forward-flippable screen. The screen is a touchscreen, which is great for when you want to quickly select a subject to focus on. But even better is how the screen flips out so that you can look down at the screen with the camera at bellybutton level and take photos. Japanese people in particular are very touchy indeed about getting their photo taken without their permission, and while I never take a photo with the intention of embarrassing anyone, there are times when taking pictures in crowded areas when not having to hold the camera up to eye level has the advantage of being unobtrusive. Also, having the screen flip forwards for selfies is great, as the breadth of field captured is much greater than can be captured with my iPhone - making group shots easier - and, of course, the photo is much better quality.
-the huge range of options and features available (although this is not to say that the Lumix or  the Sony, or any of the others I looked at, were in any way inferior in this regard). One of my favorites is the Creative Shot mode that takes five shots with every shutter press and assigns each one a different effect and zoom setting, depending on what Creative Shot option you go for. I usually use Auto, which selects from all effects and comes up with some really striking, beautifully filtered shots. Perfect for promotional and party shots.
-the step zoom (works only in automatic mode) allowing more exact and decisive zooming in fast-changing situations when using the zoom lever would be likely to take you in too close or too far out.

All up, the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II is the ideal camera for the dedicated amateur who wants the option of both complete automation with a huge selection of special effects, or completely manual operation with a powerful range of adjustable settings--all for less than USD1,000, and beautifully toned pictures guaranteed.

To see photos taken with the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II, see JapanVisitor's Oizumi Google+ album shot using the Canon Powershot G1Z Mark II and enhanced in Adobe Lightroom.

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