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Canon PowerShot Pro1

New level of sophistication takes over the top spot in the PowerShot line.

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Page 7:Shutter Lag & Cycle Time Tests

Review First Posted: 05/14/2004

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a digital camera, there's usually a delay or lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms to do their work and can amount to a significant delay in some situations. Since this number is rarely reported by manufacturers or reviewers, and can significantly affect the picture-taking experience, I now measure shutter lag and cycle times using an electronic test setup I built for this purpose. It has crystal-controlled timing, with resolution to 0.001 second.

NOTE: My qualitative characterizations of camera performance below (that is, "reasonably fast," "about average," etc.) are meant to be relative to other cameras of similar price and general capabilities. Thus, the same shutter lag that's "very fast" for a low-end consumer camera might be characterized as "quite slow" if I encountered it on a professional model. The comments are also intended as only a quick reference: If performance specs are critical for you, rely on the absolute numbers to compare cameras, rather than my purely qualitative comments.

PowerShot Pro1 Timings
Time (secs)
Power On -> First shot
Time from power-up to first shot. About average.
1.5 -2.5
Time for lens to retract. On the fast side of average.
Play to Record, first shot
Time until first shot is captured. Fairly slow.
Record to play (max/min res)
Top times are for max res JPEGs, bottom times for min res. First number is for immediate switch after capturing an image, second is for camera at rest, after having finished processing. Reasonably fast for an 8-megapixel camera.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
Longer time is for telephoto, shorter for wide angle. On the fast side of average, but not as quick as I was expecting from the Pro1's hybrid autofocus system. ("Average" runs from 0.8 to 1.0 seconds, but most of the current crop of high-end 8-megapixel models is faster.)
Shutter lag, continuous autofocus 0.71 Continuous AF may help for moving subjects, but is slower than single AF for stationary ones. Quite slow.
Shutter lag, manual focus
About average for this class of camera.
Shutter lag, prefocus
Very fast.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
First number is for large/fine files, second for small/economy. Last time is for full res CCD RAW files. Buffer holds minimum of 17 shots at max JPEG size/quality, essentially unlimited shots at lowest size/quality, and four shots in RAW mode. Buffer takes about 42 seconds to clear for large/fine JPEGs, about 31 seconds for RAW files. (Times measured with 24x Lexar CF card.)
Cycle time, normal continuous mode 1.04 / 1.80
First number is large/fine files, second is RAW files. Buffer holds minimum of nine large/fine files in this mode, four RAW files. Buffer clears in 26/31seconds, again, with a 24x card.
Cycle time, high-speed continuous mode
First number is for large/fine files, second for small/economy, and third time is for full res CCD RAW files. Buffer holds minimum of six large/fine files, 23 small/basic files, four RAW files, but slows after the first four large/fine or small/basic files. Buffer clears in 26/17/30 seconds respectively, again with 24x card.

The Pro1 is pretty fast from shot to shot and it has a fairly generous buffer memory, but its shutter lag is longer than the most of its 8-megapixel competition. Not bad, just not as fast as I was expecting from its hybrid AF system. Specifically, the Pro1's range of 0.63-0.74 seconds (depending on the zoom setting of the lens) compared with the equivalent lag times of 0.55-0.58 for the Olympus C-8080 and 0.46-0.55 seconds for the Nikon Coolpix 8700, and within the slower end of the 0.25-0.69 second range of the Sony DSC-F828, but slower overall than the blazing 0.39-0.45 seconds of the Minolta DiMAGE A2. The good news though, is that its prefocus lag is very short, so you can get quick response when you need it, as long as you can live with prefocusing by half-pressing and holding the shutter button ahead of time. Cycle time in continuous mode is pretty good, about 1.0 frames/second in normal mode, and 2.6 frames/second in high speed mode. In single shot mode, its cycle times are also at the top of the field, faster than all but the Sony DSC-F828 and Minolta A2. Shooting in RAW mode, it beats all the others, thanks to its ability to buffer its RAW-mode shots. Overall, a very good performance, but I'd like to see a faster autofocus system, and no viewfinder "freezing."

As I remarked upon earlier, the single biggest annoyance I found with the Pro1 though, was something that doesn't show up in its lag time numbers: Its viewfinder display freezes whenever the lens is focusing. This can make it very difficult to track a moving subject, to "pan" with the action. Not an issue if you mainly shoot landscapes and still lifes, but for action shooting, it's a real impediment.


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