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Canon PowerShot Pro70
Megapixel-plus resolution, flexibility, and control make for a strong "Pro" offering.

Initial Review Date: 14 November, 1998


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1,536 x 1024 pixel resolution
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2.5X optical zoom (28-70mm equiv)
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Optical and LCD viewfinder
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Full external flash support
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Excellent low-light capability
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Supports DUAL CompactFlash cards

Long one of the dominant players in the world of high-end film cameras, Canon's entry into the digital world has been measured and cautious. With the introduction of their PowerShot A5 model in mid-1998 though, they clearly advanced into the ranks of leading digital camera makers: The tiny A5's attractive, compact format and high-quality imagery have helped make it a big success with consumers. Now, with their PowerShot Pro70, Canon has aggressively moved to expand their position into the high end of the "prosumer" marketplace for digital cameras. To that end, the Pro 70 incorporates a number of features that uniquely suit it for professional use, particularly for in-studio shooting.
PowerShot Pro70 "High Points" overview
Several readers have requested quick, up-front feature summaries of the cameras we review, which we'll be doing from this point onward. Herewith are the key characteristics of the Canon PowerShot Pro70, ranked in a completely arbitrary order reflecting our own personal biases and dispositions ;-)

  • 1.7 megapixel CCD sensor
  • 2.5x zoom, with equivalent focal lengths ranging from 28-70 mm
  • Works with sophisticated external auto flash unit, including flash-head zoom and EV compensation
  • AP (Aperture Priority) auto-exposure mode, truly independent of shutter speed
  • "CCD Raw" mode for totally uncompressed images
  • "Review" mode holds last image on LCD screen as long as shutter button is depressed
  • Tilt/folding LCD screen is very handy in studio - we liked the option of positioning it to the side of the camera, or directly on the back...
  • Optional remote release very handy in studio for long exposures
  • Superb low-light capability
  • AF-assist illuminator guarantees accurate focus in any light (giveaway of AF light will prevent candids though)
  • Phase-differential passive autofocus is very accurate
  • Fine-grained exposure-compensation adjustment (1/3EV steps) a welcome feature
  • Dual CF cards for mondo in-camera storage. (Also supports Type II CF cards - should handle IBM 340-megabyte microdrives when they become available)
  • Fairly fast cycle times (max of 11 seconds for uncompressed mode), for such a high-resolution camera.
  • Average shutter delay, but very fast (0.2 seconds) if pre-focused
  • Excellent ergonomics, very stable camera platform
  • Works well with Canon dedicated speedlights, possibly usable with 550 super-speedlight? (multi-unit auto flash operation)
  • NiMH battery pack provides high power, rapid charge
  • Very fast, responsive menu system
  • Standard 37mm filter threads for aux lens mount
  • Very capable automatic white balance, works in virtually any lighting
  • Wider angle lens, plus low light capability, plus external flash integration make for a superb "indoor" camera!

Overall, the Pro70 is an extremely strong offering, but there are a few things we'd really like to see in a camera of this level and target audience. (None of these are "fatal" flaws, but all would be useful to the Pro70's target audience):

  • Spot Metering
  • Manual white balance settings
  • Faster autofocus


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Overview

In the PowerShot Pro70, Canon has created a package designed to satisfy the "real camera envy" so many of us experience when working with most digital cameras. The Pro70 boasts a very high resolution of 1536 x 1024 pixels, with the familiar 3:2 aspect ratio of conventional 35mm film. It also has excellent ergonomics, with a very solid "feel", and a shape that lends itself to very stable camera-handling. The optics appear first rate, with two aspheric elements in the total complement of 13, covering a somewhat wider-angle range than is common in most digicams, ranging from equivalent focal lengths of 28-70mm.
When you work with cameras a great deal in the studio (as we do, with our extensive studio-based test shooting), you quickly appreciate the major impact seemingly small features can have on usability and productivity. In the case of the Pro70, we came to greatly value the flip-out, rotating LCD screen, optional remote shutter-release, and the reasonable working range the macro option combined with the 70mm lens provided. Couple this with stationary (non-rotating) 37mm filter threads, aperture-priority autoexposure, and the ability to work with external flash units, and you have a real winner! Finally, the 1/3 EV-unit exposure compensation provides exceptionally fine exposure control. (This is not to diminish at all its usefulness as a field camera: We were just particularly struck with how pleasant it was to work with in the studio.)
Other key features include a very accurate autofocus system with assist-illumination that will work in literally any ambient light, exceptional low-light capability, and capacious removable-memory capacity. (The Pro70 will support the forthcoming Type II CompactFlash cards, which promise storage capacities as high as 340 megabytes by the middle of next year.) Until Type II CF cards are available though, the Pro70 can accept two CF cards, which currently means you can stuff as much as 128 megabytes of storage into it! The availability of enormous storage capacity combined with the uncompressed storage option may very well sound the death knell for the JPEG format in professional applications.
Design

The Pro70 has an unusual but very functional design, borrowing heavily from Canon's Optura line of compact video camcorders. The camera's design and placement of user controls essentially mandates a two-handed grip, with the right hand curling around the grip built into the body, and the left hand cradling the "snout' of the camera's lens assembly. (The reason this two-fisted approach is necessary is that the zoom control is located on the left-hand side of the lens barrel, requiring the use of the left hand to actuate it.) While some folks like to use a one-handed camera grip for quick candid shooting, the grip dictated by the Pro70's design will provide a very stable camera platform.
As we mentioned earlier, we found ourselves particularly liking Canon's implementation of the LCD viewfinder: In the studio, the ability to swivel the viewfinder out to the side of the camera and angle it upward avoided a lot of bending and squinting to frame our shots.
While far from tiny, the Pro70 is exceptionally comfortable to hold, with its generously-sized molded hand grip, and the auxiliary support provided by a left-hand grip on the lens barrel. Definitely not a "shirt pocket" camera, the Pro70 measures 5.7 x 3.3 x 5.2 inches (148 x 84 x 130 mm), and weighs in at 1.3 pounds (about 600 grams), without the battery pack.
Actually, the only quibble we can find with the design of the Pro70 is that the ovoidal-shaped front element requires a rather large, oddly-shaped lens protector cover that's bulky to store off-camera: Some sort of clip on the neck strap or other storage option would be handy...
Viewfinder

Like most current digital cameras, the Canon Pro70 provides both optical and LCD viewfinders. As we mentioned earlier, the LCD viewfinder on the Pro70 was one of the "little" features that we really appreciated, particularly in the studio. When not in use, the LCD panel stores face-in against the back of the camera body, protected against damage and nose-smudges. You can also flip it out, rotate it around, and snug it back against the camera body again, this time facing out, in which mode it acts like the LCD on most digital point & shoots. With the camera mounted on a tripod though, we most often found ourselves swinging the LCD panel out to the side of the camera, and angling it upward: This is the first digital camera we've tested that didn't give us a severe backache by the time we were done with the finicky resolution tests!
The LCD display is normally off in recording mode, but can be turned on at any time by pressing the "LCD/Video" button on the camera's top panel. The display illuminates automatically in Macro mode. We found the LCD viewfinder on the Pro70 to be very accurate: It displays almost exactly 100% of the field of view vertically and horizontally, and is well-centered in both directions. The one trivial complaint we have is that the bezel around the display screen crops it very slightly on the ends, making the view just slightly less than 100% at the left and right edges. The LCD display has a very fast 25 frame per second refresh rate, and was both bright and very sharp, although Canon doesn't include the display's pixel count in its published specifications. The display is relatively resistant to wash-out in bright sun, and also has a high-brightness mode that helps further in such situations.
The Pro70's optical viewfinder was very functional as well: It zooms along with the lens, as you move from wide angle to telephoto and back again. Like those on most digicams, the optical finder on the Pro70 shows less subject area than the image sensor ultimately captures, displaying about 85% of the final image area. The optical finder on the Pro70 was unusual though, in how well the viewfinder image remained properly centered relative to the sensor field of view throughout the zoom range. Another nice touch on the Pro70's viewfinder was a "dioptric" adjustment to correct for near- or far-sightedness on the part of the user. For those of us whose eyeballs are losing their flexibility, this is a very welcome addition!
"Instant Review"
When shooting critical photos, you often need to review the image you've just captured on the camera's LCD panel, to make sure all is well before moving on. Many cameras provide some sort of an immediate review, flashing the just-captured image on the LCD screen for a few seconds after each picture. But what if you want to study the image for more than those few seconds? Most digital cameras require you to switch to "play" mode, which generally involves a delay of a few seconds, and then another few seconds to return to "record" mode to take the next picture. It doesn't take much of this to be a real aggravation!
The Pro70 has an elegant solution to this problem: The "instant review" image shown on the LCD screen can be held for as long as you want, simply by holding your finger down on the shutter release button after you've taken the picture! With so many of our studio shots requiring precise framing, we found this feature to be an incredible (even luxurious) time-saver! A small touch, but just one of many that help make the difference between a professional tool and just another point & shoot.
Optics

Superb optical quality has long been Canon's hallmark in the professional 35mm arena, so you'd expect the optical system on the PowerShot Pro70 to be first rate. The unusual complexity of the lens system, with 13 elements (2 of which are aspherical), in 9 groups seems to support this, and in our tests, geometric distortion and edge-to-edge sharpness were indeed excellent. (The total lack of geometric distortion at all focal lengths was impressive and, in our experience, very rare.)
The lens focal length ranges between equivalents of 28mm and 70mm on a 35mm camera. This is a bit "wider" overall than most digital cameras, a welcome fact for people shooting indoors or in cramped quarters. (Combined with the excellent low-light and strong white-balance capability, the Pro70 would make a superb camera for shooting interiors for real estate and other applications.) The somewhat shorter telephoto capability can be remedied through accessory lenses fitted to the standard 37mm filter threads on the lens' front. (Although add-on lenses would doubtless degrade the exceptional performance of the Canon optics.) The zoom works very smoothly under control of the barrel-mounted control, and we found it easy to select the focal length we wanted for a given shot.
The optical system on the Pro70 is also unusual in that it completely separates shutter speed from lens aperture, a very rare feature in digital cameras selling for less than several thousand dollars. The maximum lens opening ranges from f2.0 at 28mm to f2.4 at 70mm. Apertures of full open, f2.8, f4.0, f5.6, f8.0, and f8.0 plus a neutral density 4.0 filter can be selected in program mode, or automatically by the camera in "auto" mode. The last setting deserves a bit more explanation: For whatever reason (diffractive limits on resolution at tiny apertures?), Canon chose to build the Pro70 with a minimum aperture of f8.0. To accommodate very bright conditions though (or to allow very long exposures when desired, under more normal illumination), they provide an additional "aperture" setting, of f8.0 with an ND4 neutral-density filter added in. This produces the same light transmission as an aperture of f16, but the depth of field (and aperture diffraction) will correspond to the physical aperture of f8.0.
The lens autofocuses from 28 inches (71cm) to infinity in "normal" mode, and from 4.7 inches (12 cm) to infinity in "macro" mode. (This is unusual - we didn't try the macro setting at more than a few inches, so can't validate the claim that it can focus all the way out to infinity in that mode. Also, one set of data from Canon stated normal close-focus as 28 inches, while another gave a figure of 12.6 inches. We'll try to clear up these discrepancies in the weeks to come.) The macro mode provides for close-ups of small objects, covering an area of roughly 2.1 x 3.2 inches (5.4 x 8.1 cm) at closest approach. (For reference, the small brooch in the "macro" test shot is about 1.05 inches (27 mm) wide.) This is excellent macro performance: Combined with the high basic resolution and sharp focus of the Pro70, the level of detail you can capture is pretty amazing!

Exposure
One of the areas in which the PowerShot Pro70 really excels is in its exposure system: It not only offers a powerful aperture-priority exposure mode, and very fine gradation in the manual exposure compensation, but it provides really exceptional low-light performance as well. It's more sensitive in low-res (768x512) mode than in high-res (1536x1024) mode, but even in high-resolution mode, its ability to capture an image in very low light is amazing. Canon claims a lower limit for effective exposure in high-resolution mode of about EV3: Based on our own tests, we feel that this is pushing it a bit, and that a value of 4-5 would be more realistic. On the other hand, we fully agree with their minimum-light rating of EV2 (!) for the low-resolution mode.
If you haven't had much experience with digital cameras yet, you may not realize just how extraordinary these numbers are: Most cameras we've tested are lucky to get down to EV 6-7. An illumination level of EV2 is dark enough that most people will have difficulty discriminating fine detail with their own eyes, let alone with a digital camera. Even more remarkable is that this performance is achieved with a maximum exposure time of 1/2 second! Some cameras can get down to EV 2-3, but require a 2-4 second time exposure to get there. To compare this performance with conventional film, Canon rates the camera at a variable ISO of 100-200 in high-resolution mode, and ISO 400 in low-res mode. (As we note in the next paragraph though, we feel these ISO rating numbers are highly conservative.)
With a mechanical shutter speed range of 1/2 to 1/500 of a second in high resolution mode, lens apertures ranging from f2.0 to an equivalent of f16, and an ISO ranging from 200 in dim light to 100 in bright light, the usable lighting range of the PowerShot Pro70 should be from about EV7 to EV22. In low-resolution mode, the ISO 400 rating and electronic shutter speeds of 1/2 to 1/8000 should translate into a usable lighting range of EV6 to EV23. This is interesting, in that the lower end of the usable illumination scale actually extends quite a bit further than the raw ISO and shutter speed numbers would suggest. In actual use, it appears that the effective ISO speed in low-resolution mode is more on the order of 1600 or even 3200. Thus, while we didn't test the upper end of the illumination range, our tests generally agreed with Canon's published sensitivity numbers at the low end of the scale, other than our slightly more-conservative rating in high-resolution mode, mentioned above.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The 1/2 second lower limit on shutter speed can be a great help in getting shots that would otherwise be too dark. This is a long exposure though, well beyond most people's ability to hold the camera steady enough to render a sharp image. Use a tripod when it's that dark! Some camera manufacturers have unfairly taken some knocks for "poor autofocus" in dim lighting, when the fault in many cases may lie with the photographer for not stabilizing the camera sufficiently. A few pros may be venture to hand-hold a 1/2 second exposure, but it's just about guaranteed that most amateurs will have a hard time below 1/30 or even 1/60. All that said, the combination of "fast" lens on the Pro70 and its higher-than-normal CCD sensitivity will let you hand-hold safely in much darker settings than will pretty much any other digital camera now available (early November, 1998) for under $3,000.
Exposure Compensation
Like any autoexposure system, that of the Canon Pro70 is subject to being "fooled" by unusual subjects, whether a light object against a dark background, a backlit subject, or one that's unusually uniform in overall brightness (such as a snow scene). To accommodate these situations, Canon includes an exposure adjustment control with a range of +/- 2 f-stops, in one-third-stop increments to accommodate these situations. Thus, if you think the situation calls for it, you can easily request lower or higher exposure through the top-panel controls when in "P" or "Program" recording mode. Since we find ourselves using exposure compensation fairly frequently, we like the rapid-access provided by top-panel controls, rather than being forced through the LCD menu system.
The Pro70 also has an "exposure lock" system, that allows you to pre-set the exposure prior to the shot itself: Pressing the shutter button halfway actuates the autofocus and autoexposure systems, without firing the shutter. Once the exposure and focus is set in this fashion, they will stay "locked" at the selected settings as long as you continue to hold down the shutter button. With this feature, you can easily accommodate off-center subjects by turning to center them, locking the focus and exposure, then turning back to frame the shot to your liking before firing the shutter. (This "half-press" operation is also supported by the very handy optional remote shutter release.)
One feature that we definitely felt the lack of in a camera of such otherwise impressive stature and specifications was spot metering: While offered by very few digital cameras at this time, the ability to set exposure based on just a tiny portion of the subject area is a very useful feature, albeit more of a convenience than a necessity. In practice, we never encountered a situation in which we weren't able to obtain a satisfactory exposure through a combination of manual exposure compensation and the exposure lock function, but we still would like spot metering. (Given that the CCD is sensitive enough to handle autofocus, you'd think it could be used for exposure metering as well. The camera actually uses a small light sensor just below and to the right of the lens to determine exposure settings.)
White Balance
The PowerShot Pro70 white-balance compensation performed quite well in our (fairly severe) indoor portrait test, under household incandescent lighting. Colors were very natural & well-saturated, with no abnormal color casts. The automatic white balance adjustment left enough of the warmth of the incandescent lighting in the image to let you recognize that it was an indoor shot, yet still produced a very natural rendering of the colors in the floral bouquet.
While the Pro70's white balance control was unusually sure-footed in its handling of a wide range of lighting conditions, we still like the added control that manual white-balance selection provides, and missed that feature on the Pro70. On the plus side, the Pro70's exposure system and sensor electronics (no doubt aided by the 10 bit per channel digitization) manage to preserve good detail in both highlights and shadows, providing ample data to work with in Photoshop or other imaging programs post-exposure, to correct any remaining color casts in the images.
Flash Operation

Flash capabilities are a key part of the "big story" of the PowerShot Pro70: The camera has no built-in flash unit, but incorporates a multi-contact "hot shoe" to support very sophisticated dedicated speedlights from Canon. The Pro70 is specified to work with the model 220 and 380 speedlights, and we've heard rumors it will also support the incredible 550 flash unit as well. Our evaluation unit arrived with a Canon model 380 flash unit, which we experimented with a fair bit. This is a very impressive unit, with a variable-geometry flash head that can adjust the flash's coverage to match the focal length of the camera's zoom lens(!). This provides not only very broad coverage at the wide angle setting, but an exceptionally long "reach" with the lens operating in telephoto mode. (We neglected to write down the maximum flash range with the 380, but recall being very surprised (100 feet?). The exceptional range is apparently due to the flash's ability to focus it's light output when the lens is zoomed out to the telephoto setting. This concentrates the light greatly, dramatically extending the usable range.)
We very quickly discovered a major benefit of the dedicated flash unit in the excellent coupling between the camera's exposure-compensation controls, and the flash's output: The two work seamlessly together, with the result that is very easy to get perfect flash exposures under almost any conditions. The tilting head on the 380 was also very welcome in our indoor portrait setting: We were able to bounce the flash off the room's ceiling to produce the exceptionally natural lighting you can see in that image. (This shot was also taken at an exposure compensation setting of +2/3 of an EV unit.) After working within the limitations of the built-in flash units on essentially all digicams we've tested to date, it's hard to say enough about the power, control, and flexibility provided by the Pro70/380 combination. This is one of the features that really puts the Pro70 into the "pro" category!
We also experimented a bit using the Pro70 with a non-dedicated flash unit (an old SunPak auto-thyristor cheapie). Somewhat to our surprise, the results were quite good: While we didn't have much control over the flash output, we were able to match the required lens opening quite well, using the Pro70's manual aperture settings. The combination performed at least as well as the same flash did on a film camera. While this is good news for anyone considering the Pro70 who already owns an existing auto flash unit, the advantages of the dedicated Canon 380 are so dramatic that we strongly encourage you to go all the way and get the Canon flash.
Cycle Time & Shutter Lag

We've recently begun tracking "cycle times," the amount of time after a picture has been taken that it takes the camera to prepare itself for the next shot. Despite its high resolution, the Pro70 posted respectable cycle times from image to image. In its highest-quality compressed mode, the shot-to-shot time was about 8 seconds, decreasing to about 5.2 seconds for small-format images. In uncompressed mode, the camera could capture an image every 11 seconds. To review a captured image by switching to "play" mode required 6.7 seconds. (Although the "instant review" achieved by holding down the shutter release really eliminated the need for the latter.)
Shutter lag is a measure of how long it takes the camera to actually take the picture after you've pressed the shutter button. In this category, we found the Pro70's behavior much more variable: Depending on the scene and shooting conditions, it could take as long as 3 seconds to shoot the picture after we'd pressed the shutter button! On the other hand, if the camera was pre-focused (by half-pressing the shutter button prior to the shot itself), the shutter response was extremely fast, consistently taking 0.2 seconds or less!
A note about our shutter-lag testing though: We were using the shutter-delay timer created by Digital Eyes to perform this test, and the timer has a set of large numerals counting down on it to prime you to trip the shutter. We suspect that the rapidly-flickering numbers on this countdown display were interfering with the sensitive phase-contrast autofocus system of the Pro70, making it hard for the camera to lock focus on the screen. We weren't aware of abnormally long focusing times during our normal shooting, but could easily be wrong there, too. Bottom line, please take these figures with a large grain of salt until they can be independently verified!
Operation and User Interface

As digital cameras have become more sophisticated, our operating descriptions have started to run away with us a bit. In an attempt to provide an accurate picture of each camera's operation, we've frequently ended up with enormous volumes of descriptive material, to the point that we suspect we're burying our readers with unnecessary detail. In this review, we're going to try for a happy medium, by moving to a more terse format for describing the camera's controls. Hopefully the result will be nearly the same amount of information, but in a much more readable form. In the section below, we'll simply list the camera's controls, along with a (very) brief description of what each does:
Control overview
5-position function wheel

  • Major camera modes are set via a side-mounted "function wheel." Available modes include: Off, normal (auto) shooting, "Programmed" shooting (manual adjustments), Playback, and PC-connect modes.

 

8 top-panel buttons with top-panel LCD readout, plus shutter release

  • Multi/Quality button - multi-image select in playback mode, image quality in record mode. (high/low compression in normal record mode, high/low/no compression and large/small image size in programmed mode.)
  • Jump/Drive button - Jump ahead/back 10 images at a time, or to the first/last image in playback mode, select normal, continuous-shooting, or self-timer options in record mode.
  • Info/+/- button - In playback mode, display image info on the LCD (exposure compensation, sound annotation time, image quality/size, date/time of capture, CF card lot number). In "programmed" shooting mode, activate +/- exposure compensation.
  • Macro button - activate Macro mode when in any recording mode. Automatically sets lens to 70mm telephoto position.
  • Microphone button - Record sound to annotate a picture, when in either record or playback, mode. (Must push back-panel "set" button simultaneously to activate recording function.)
  • CF button - selects which of the two CompactFlash cards in the camera will be active. (Enabled only when more than one card is present.)
  • Menu button - turns LCD menu system on/off, for more in-depth option control.
  • LCD/Video button - turns the LCD panel and external video signal on or off. (Default is off to conserve battery power.)

 

3 rear-panel buttons

  • Rear-panel controls are +, -, and "Set." +/- are used to cycle through various LCD menu options (see below), increase/decrease exposure compensation, step forward/backward through images in playback mode, etc. Set fixes a particular selection in most modes, is also used in conjunction with the Microphone button to activate sound recording.

Zoom control on left lens barrel

  • Mentioned in main body of the review, the zoom control for the lens is located on the left-hand side of the lens barrel. In a different location than we were accustomed to, and requires two-fisted camera grip, but very handy and conducive to stable camera-holding once we got used to it.

 

Menu system on LCD screen

  • The LCD-based menu system on the Pro70 shows different options for record and playback modes: We'll describe these separately below. The menu system is activated by the top-panel "Menu" button mentioned above, and then the +/- and "set" buttons are used to navigate between options and select menu choices. Overall, even though it's an attractive, color/3D-looking design, we found the Pro70's menu system very fast and easy to navigate.

 

Record Modes and Controls

Auto Mode

  • Only "large" format images (large/high, large/normal)
  • "Drive" limited to self-timer, no +/- exposure control
  • Macro, sound, LCD/video, CF-select, menu-activate work normally
  • LCD menu doesn't allow manual aperture

 

Program Mode

  • Allows Large and Small image sizes, with 2 compression levels for each, plus "Raw" (uncompressed) storage in large image size only.
  • Drive enabled, provides up to ~3fps in "small" size
    Note: "Drive" mode fixes exposure, focus based on first shot taken.
  • Exposure compensation allowed, +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV steps

 

Top-Panel Record-Mode Controls

  • Quality: Fine/Normal, also selects large/small/raw in "program" mode.
  • Drive: "Motor Drive" mode for 3fps rapid-fire "small" pictures.
  • Macro: Enable macro mode, zoom lens automatically to 70mm setting.
  • Microphone: Record sounds, in conjunction with back-panel "Set" button.
  • Menu: Enable LCD menu system.
  • LCD-Video: Successive actuations cycle between no display, LCD, Video output.
  • CF Select: Switch between CF storage cards if more than one present.

 

Record Mode LCD Menu Structure

  • Review - on/off
  • Aperture - auto, full open/F2.8/F4.0/F5.6/F8.0/F8.0+ND4
  • Reset File number
  • Setup
    • LCD - normal/bright
    • Beep - on/off (annunciator for camera functions complete, etc.)
    • Power Save - on/off (3-5 minute auto power off when selected - Drat! We neglected to test whether the camera would stay on indefinitely when Power Save was off! We'll try to find out from Canon.)
    • Date/Time - Style (ddmmyy, mmddyy, etc)/date/time

 

Playback modes and controls

Top panel Playback-mode controls:

  • Multi for 9-up image display
  • Jump to move rapidly through 9-up display (also "jumps" when in single frame mode
  • Info button: one press gives frame number, date/time, number on card. Second press gives size/compression, card number
  • +/- controls (rear panel) advance view and/or cursor one frame at a time, or jump 9 frames.
  • Menu: Enable LCD menu system.
  • LCD-Video: Successive actuations cycle between no display, LCD, Video output.
  • CF Select: Switch between CF storage cards if more than one present.

 

Playback Mode LCD Menu Structure

 

  • Slide Show
    The Pro70's slide show mode allows you to either display all images in memory, or to mark up to 3 different groups of them to be displayed as three separate shows. Each image in memory may belong to 0,1,2, or 3 shows. Herewith the menu controls relating to slide shows:
    • Start - "all images", or shows 1,2,3 (to select 1 of 3 possible shows
    • Mark/Unmark - select show 1,2,3 - then go to a 6-up display of images to mark or unmark the images for the show you've selected
    • Clear Marks - select show 1,2,3 to clear all marks for that show.
    • Play Time - 5, 10, 15 seconds, or +/- manual (three fixed slide-timing intervals, or full manual control with back-panel +/- buttons.)
    • Repeat - off/on (If on, slide show loops continuously.
  • Protect - Protects individual images against bulk erasure. Camera goes to single-image playback mode, use /- to step between images, then set button to set/clear protection status.
  • Erase - single/all
  • Copy - if 2 CF cards installed, allows copying images between the two CF cards, either one at a time, or all of the images on a card onto the other.
  • Setup
    • LCD - normal/brigh
    • Beep - off/on
    • Power Save - on/off (We didn't think to check this while we had the test unit (@#!) - Apparently, the camera will remain powered-on indefinitely if the "power save" function is set to "off.")
    • Date/Time - sets the style of the date/time display, as well as current date/time.
    • Format - Displays a useful readout of CF capacity, current Kbytes used, provides option to format the CF card.
    • Language - Choose English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese for the menu language. (A bit tough to get back out of if you change it to a language you don't understand, so be careful!)
    • Print Mark - Mark/Unmark images for subsequent printing on a Canon model CD-200 printer, supporting direct printing from CF cards. (takes you to 6-up image display). Clear Marks option resets all marks, letting you start fresh.
    • Reset File Number - The Pro70 maintains an absolute numbering system for image files, even between multiple image cards. Until the file-number counter is reset, it increments every time a picture is taken, insuring that each image file produced by the camera has a unique name. This menu entry resets the counter to either zero, or one higher than the highest file number on the CF card currently in use.

Image Storage and Interface
One of the more decidedly "Pro" aspects of the Canon PowerShot Pro70 is it's unusually capacious memory capacity. It uses "CompactFlash" memory cards, which are currently available in sizes as large as 64 megabytes, soon to increase to 96 megabytes. As if that weren't enough, the camera supports two such cards, making for a total on-board memory capacity as large as 128 megabytes currently, soon to increase to a total of 192 megabytes! Not only that, but one of these slots will support the new CF Type II standard, providing for hard drive-based CF-format memory cards due to arrive in early- to mid-1999, in capacities as large as 340 megabytes. These enormous storage capacities would encourage use of the camera's "CCD Raw" storage mode, which saves data directly from the CCD without compression, producing a 1.9 megabyte data file.
When compared to the enormous storage devices just discussed, the 8 MB CF card included with the camera sounds pretty miserly! In actuality, 8 MB is as large a memory device as is currently being shipped with any of the "prosumer" digicams. (Although this will doubtless change over time, as memory costs continue their downward spiral.) One nice thing about the dual CF slots is that you don't have to throw away your original memory card when you upgrade - just plug the new one in alongside it. (In earlier non-disclosure briefings on the camera, we had heard that it would automatically switch between cards when the one in use became full. We weren't able to test this function though, and didn't see any mention of it in the manual.)
The maximum number of images that can be stored on a memory card varies quite a lot, depending on the combination of image size and compression level selected. As mentioned earlier, the Pro70 saves images as standard JPEG files (making it a "finished file" camera) at two different image sizes (1536x1024 and 768x512 pixels), and three different compression settings (uncompressed or "CCD Raw", fine, and normal). These various options translate into three 1536x1024 file types (CCD Raw, Fine, and Normal), and two 768x512 types (Fine and Normal). Average file sizes range from 1.9 megabytes (!) for the CCD Raw format, to about 400K for large/fine, 200K for large/normal, 140K for small/fine, and 83K for small/normal. These sizes correspond to storage capacities for the 8 meg card of 3, 20, 40, 50, and 96 images respectively. (Note though, that final file sizes are highly variable, depending on the subject content: Shots with finer detail will end up much larger than those with large, "flat" areas of little detail. In our own testing, file sizes for the "large/fine" setting ranged from a high of 532K to as low as 236K.)
As a minor side note, we liked the fact that we could easily insert or remove the CF card(s) while the camera was mounted on a tripod. Not a big thing, but some cameras use a bottom-mounted arrangement for memory cards, meaning you have to unmount them from a tripod in order to pull the card. This arrangement is especially key for a camera that might be used extensively in the studio!
As to "interface," a defective software CD prevented our testing the Pro70's serial-cable computer connection. We instead relied exclusively on the included PCMCIA adapter card for the CF media, downloading the images onto a laptop. Although we regret our inability to furnish performance information for serial-cable downloads, in practice, we suspect relatively few Pro70 owners would use this method: Even 8 MB of image data takes a LONG time to move across a serial cable, and most Pro70 owners will probably buy and install even larger memory cards. In recognition of this fact, Canon includes a PCMCIA adapter in the box with the Pro70.
As to memory card performance, we found that the PowerShot Pro 70 appears to be heavily optimized for the standard SanDisk/Canon memory cards: We found little improvement in cycle times when a high-speed CF card from Lexar Media was substituted.
Video Out

Again, although we did not explicitly test it, the Pro70 supports direct video output, apparently running out to the video port whatever would normally appear on the LCD screen. Repeated actuations of the LCD/Video button cycles between no display, LCD screen, or TV screen: The LCD and video output can't be used simultaneously. While it's likely that Pro70 models built for Japanese or European markets will support the PAL video standard, the US-market unit we tested only supported NTSC.
Power

Like the earlier PowerShot A5, the Pro70 operates from either a custom NiMH battery pack, or from a conventional 2CR5 lithium battery. Although we like the flexibility of individual AA cells, we were quite impressed by the capacity of the dedicated NiMH pack: While we don't have any standardized battery-life measurements in our test suite, our distinct impression was that the battery pack in the Pro70 lasted a very long time. In our experience, most manufacturers' battery-life projections are, shall we say, "optimistic." In the case of the Pro70 though, Canon claims a battery charge life of "400 shots or 100 minutes of playback." Based on our experience, this seemed like a very reasonable projection of battery life. The first day/night we had the test unit, we shot about 150 images, all using the LCD viewfinder. While we didn't measure the length of time the LCD was working, it had to have been at least a full hour, and more likely close to two. This would agree very well with Canon's claims. Technically, at 1400 mAh, the capacity of the battery pack isn't that much above typical NiMH AA cells, which run from 1200-1300 mAh. As we've all learned though, mAh capacity is only part of the story when it comes to predicting battery life in digicams. Perhaps the Pro70's battery pack is a bit better optimized to the camera's requirements than AA NiMH cells are for most digicams.
To power the camera from wall current, Canon employs an unusual device, in the form of a dummy battery pack made of plastic, with a cord running back to the AC adapter/battery charger. While a bit odd, this is actually a much more robust design than the typical jack on the side of the camera, as the contacts are well-protected, and no amount of tugging on the cable can damage them. Alas, the AC adapter can either charge a battery (in only about an hour), or power the camera, but not both.
The ability to use a 2CR5 lithium cell to power the camera in a pinch is a nice touch, and avoids an objection we might otherwise have to the dedicated battery pack. An advantage of AA-powered cameras is you can always find alternate batteries in a pinch, which would often not be the case with custom battery packs. The 2CR5 option deals with this problem nicely.
Included Software

As we mentioned above, we weren't able to test any of the Pro70's software because the writeable CD we received with our test unit was unreadable. The software suite bundled with the camera is quite complete though, and mirrors that provided with the PowerShot A5. Accordingly, we direct our readers to the A5 review for more information on Canon's software package.
Test Results

In keeping with recent policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings: For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the PowerShot Pro70's "pictures" page.
As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the device performed: Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the Pro70 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.
Overall, the Pro70 turned in a very impressive performance. It was interesting to notice our own reaction to the camera as we worked (played?) with it: We'd been looking forward to this unit for so long that its arrival had built in our minds to a significance only slightly short of that of the Second Coming. When it finally did arrive, we experienced a little letdown, not due to any problem with the camera, but only because we had built such an emotional expectation that no (human) device could satisfy it! Once we began working with the camera in the studio (and later, outdoors) though, we were repeatedly surprised by how comfortable it was to use. We really can't think of a better adjective to describe our experience: A myriad of little touches like the rotating LCD screen and instant review feature (when the shutter button is held down) combined to eliminate many of the minor annoyances we usually face when taking test shots with other cameras.
Overall, the image quality of the PowerShot Pro70 is exceptional, as one would expect from a camera with its price tag and pedigree. Images were consistently well-exposed, colors were clean and bright, and detail superb. The Pro70 also did a good job of using the available tonal range, preserving detail in both strong highlights and shadows. Color accuracy and saturation were very good, with only slight weaknesses in bright yellows and blues. We found colors not as "bright" as those of some cameras, but felt that overall accuracy was for the most part improved by this: There was no false over-saturation of colors to produce "pretty" color at the expense of accurate color. (As a side note, we've been noticing this as a trend among the higher-end cameras recently: We believe manufacturers as a group are moving away from the artificially bright colors of earlier models, toward color-management schemes that more accurately reflect the real world.)
Detail and resolution were very good, with a visual resolution of approximately 600-650 line pairs/picture height in both vertical and horizontal directions, clearly at the top of the field. Performance in the outdoor far-field shot was also exceptionally good. We found the lens to be remarkably free from any geometric distortion, across the entire range of focal lengths.
Due to the malfunctioning software CD, we weren't able to experiment with the Pro70's "CCD Raw" file format at all, which is unfortunate: Given the obvious quality of the lens and sensor, we would have liked an image-quality setting that employed less compression than did the "fine" mode. This obviously is where the CCD Raw format comes in, but we weren't able to experiment with it. (Just in case, we saved several "raw" mode files so we can process them after the fact, should we get another chance with the software.)
The optical viewfinder on the Pro70 is about typically accurate, showing 85% of the field of view captured by the CCD. The view through the LCD was exceptionally accurate though, showing (as close as we could tell) 100% of the final image. The framing of the optical viewfinder is almost perfectly centered at the telephoto end of the lens' range, shifting downward slightly at the widest-angle setting.
The P70 did very well in macro mode, focusing down to a minimum 4.7 inch (12 cm) working distance, capturing a small 2.1 x 3.2 inches (5.4 x 8.1 cm) minimum area, with razor-sharp focus.
Normally, this is where we'd comment on the camera's flash performance.: Although the Pro70 lacks a built-in flash, this is far more than made up for by the full integration with Canon's dedicated flash units. The model 380 we used in our testing really opened our eyes (so to speak) to the power of a separate flash unit: The bounce-flash lighting in the indoor portrait shot was so much more natural than anything we'd become accustomed to for digital cameras that the result was little short of startling. If you're looking for a digital camera to use specifically for flash photography, the Pro70 is by far the best solution we've found to date! (November, 1998)
Conclusion

Canon refers to this camera model as the PowerShot Pro70, and after using it, we appreciated the appropriateness of the "Pro" designation: It affords not only excellent picture control, but a number of little niceties such as the rotating LCD screen and cable-remote that make life in the studio immeasurably easier. We expect many Pro70s will find good homes with pro and semi-pro photographers looking for a high-quality digicam for less than $1,500. Also, while we don't want to consign the Pro70 to a narrow niche, it deserves pointing out that the combination of unusually wide-angle lens, exceptional low-light capability, and wonderful external-flash integration make for a superlative "indoor" camera!

Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a PowerShot Pro70 camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at photos@imaging-resource.com, we'll list the album here for others to see!

 

For More Info:
View the data sheet for the PowerShot Pro70

View the test images from the PowerShot Pro70

 

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