Shrinking gear: The Canon G1X Mark II
Before I made the transition to Micro Four Thirds, I've been using point-and-shoot cameras extensively. Back in my "enthusiast" days, they have been my primary photographic equipments for most of the time. No, not the small ones, with tiny lenses and no manual controls, I used those that were at the top end of their respective segment. After switching to M4/3 in 2008, there was no need to carry around another small camera all the time. Even less so after the carry-everywhere camera became a reality with the advent of smartphones a few years ago.
However, as you know, my wife and are going back to Germany soon, and I'll be facing a period of time where, let's say, reduced hand luggage is of paramount importance. We're talking at least four weeks in late June and July, maybe more. During this time, a lot of things are going to happen that deserve a decent camera with great image quality. Actually, some of them will be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities which occur while my regular photographic equipment is traveling across the Atlantic Ocean in a huge container vessel.
Since I don't want to carry around my photo bag plus in addition to all the luggage we have to keep with us, my current gear was out of question. Therefore, after several years, I started again searching for a small but capable point-and-shoot camera that could go with me everywhere, including - theoretically - the "Captain's Diner" at the QM2, but one that would give me the image quality and handling to what I'm used to (more or less).
I was actually considering bringing my Olympus EM-1 with a set of three or four small primes. But even such a small system would always require carrying a separate photo bag. I even pondered buying a Leica M body and two primes, or a Fuji X-T1, or one of the tiny Micro Four Thirds bodies, but that wouldn't have changed the "how to avoid the second piece of hand luggage" problem either.
I was looking for a camera that would fit in a pocket or a small belt pouch, had great image quality, with a decent sensor, great lens and some depth of field control. One that was dependable and not restricted by a single focal length. One that was neither too big nor too heavy, had an acceptable handling and good overall speed. I also wanted a camera with Wifi on board, and one that didn't cost me a fortune.
There are a number of options in the advanced point-and-shoot segment to pick from. Among them are the Fuji X100S, Sony RX 100, Sony RX 10, Sony RX1, the Canon G1X, Panasonic LX7, Canon G16, Nikon P7800, and many small-sensor superzoom point and shoots. I ruled out the X100S and the RX1 because of its fixed focal lengths, the LX7, G16, and the other small sensor cams because of their lack of depth of field control and because of inferior image quality in less than optimal light.
I first read about the Canon G1X Mark II when it was announced a month ago. I have to admit that I have never had a real Canon cam before, except for a tiny A70 which passed away long ago (with the then infamous CCD sensor problem, see link), and an S5 IS which felt more like a toy camera than like a real tool. I never liked the big Canon DSLR gear and never used any of their stuff for assignments or professional work. And I never came even close to buying the original G1X.
However, the G1X Mark II changed my picture and I was somewhat thrilled when I read the specs. It is significantly smaller than the Sony RX10 and has a less limiting lens than the RX100. It has also has a bigger sensor than the two Sonys. I couldn't wait getting one, and actually bought it right out of the box at Ace Photo on the day it was delivered to them, which was about a week ago. Since then, I have been practicing with it almost every day. I can tell you stepping down from the Olympus EM-1 was not easy and I hated the G1X II during the first days. It's like switching to a Volkswagen when you have always driven a BMW. I almost returned it, but I didn't. Now it looks like I'm getting used to it.
Setting up the rings around the lens and at the back of the camera to adjust aperture, exposure time and focal length turned out to be the major challenge. Most of the time, I photograph in "M" mode, so I need good access to these most basic camera settings. The G1X II has dozens of ways to configure the wheels for the "M" mode alone. It turned out to be pretty difficult to find a combination that gave me quick access to the most important settings a camera has, and that didn't interfere with a smooth workflow or was prone to accidental changes.
The solution that works for me is: aperture on the clickless ring, exposure time on the clickable ring and step zoom on the wheel at the back of the camera. I wish I could swap the former two, but this would require an additional mode switch before I can change the aperture every time I turn on the camera. Auto focus speed and reliabilty is OK but not great, battery life could be better, and the apparently bright maximum aperture of f/2 degrades a bit too quickly when increasing focal lengths.
Anyway, I got somewhat used to its quirks and oddities, and that little guy seems to take decent pictures :-)
Finding a pouch turned out to be another challenge as the G1X Mark II is too big for most of the P&S bags you'll find in the stores. I didn't like Canon's own soft leather pouch, so I ended up buying the G1X II a Think Tank Lens Changer 15 V2.0 pouch, which seems to be just perfect for the job.
All the images in this post have been taken during the last days, while carrying around the G1X II wherever I went. None of these came from a dedicated photo tour, all have been shoot on walks or visits I did with my wife during the days around Easter. Taking photographs has not been my first priority on these trips, but isn't that what a point and shoot is supposed to be used for. Be there and be ready once it is needed?
Maybe I'll do a comparison between the G1X Mark II, my Olympus EM-1 (and selected lenses) and the little Panasonic LX7 at some time in the future. Right now, I'm leaving my M43 stuff at home whenever I can and practice using the G1X II instead. After a rough start, it looks like it might be the solution I was looking for for the upcoming journey. We'll see. Follow this link to see a bunch of images made with the Sony RX-10, another fine travel camera. Stay tuned, folks, I keep you posted, and thanks for reading :-)