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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 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 05/14/2004

Executive Overview - Reviewer Impressions

In the past, this section of my reviews has been a condensed description of each camera's features and functions. This time though, I decided to try something a little different, collecting together some of my impressions of the camera that would normally be scattered throughout the review, and relating a bit more of a sense of what the camera "feels like" to use. I'll see how people respond to this different approach, you'll probably find me switching back and forth between the two approaches for the next little while, until I finally decide which style to settle on. Meanwhile, here are some impressions of the Canon PowerShot Pro1:

With the identically priced Canon Digital Rebel already on the market, it's a little curious that Canon would also produce a high end PowerShot that competes directly with the Rebel for what would seem to be the same type of user -- the person searching for a little more from a digital camera, and one who is willing to pay $999 get it. In many ways the Pro1 actually surpasses the capabilities of the Rebel. Its high performance lens--the first PowerShot to offer Fluorite and UD glass--earns the distinctive red ring of Canon's professional L-series lenses, although to be frank, I still found very noticeable chromatic aberration and loss of sharpness in the corners of the Pro1's images. Its 8 megapixel sensor can capture higher resolution images than the Rebel's 6.3 megapixels (although the Rebel's larger image size does offer lower noise, which we'll get into later). The swing-out LCD display makes the Pro1 more versatile still, offering easy capture over crowds, down low, or in tight spaces where the Rebel owner would just have to point and pray. Then there's movie capability and intervalometer (time lapse) capability. Though the Rebel could do the latter with a little programming, the Pro1's movie mode is completely out of reach of the digital SLR for a number of reasons.

Other advanced features are also present on the Pro1 that the Rebel could have but doesn't. Items like flash exposure compensation, and first and second curtain flash sync, both of which appear to have been left out of the Digital Rebel to keep it from competing too well with its big brother the EOS 10D. To understand this apparent incongruity, it's important to consider that the Pro1 is the top of the PowerShot line, and the Rebel is the bottom of the EOS line, so some overlap is to be expected. The Pro1 was built to exceed the capabilities of the G5, and it does that with ease. The Rebel was built for quick, high quality still image capture with EOS lenses in a small, inexpensive package. Both have different purposes and are likely to attract different users with that same $1,000 to spend.

There will be many fence sitters nonetheless. For the occasional shooter who wants high quality, and the semi-pro who wants the benefits of digital he's become used to in the G-series digicams, the Pro1 offers a lot for the money. Because the beauty of the Pro1 is in its usability, I want to spend some time describing how it feels to use this unique camera.

Wrap your fingers around the well-formed grip and the Pro1 almost whispers, "Let's go." Representing years of PowerShot development, the control arrangement on the Pro1 is excellent. The three fingers of your right hand, middle to pinkie, are given a great hold, comfortably opposed by the sizeable thumb grip, perhaps the deepest we've seen. Your index finger rests on the chrome shutter release naturally, with the Main dial just a few millimeters away. To the immediate right of your thumb is the power control, Manual focus and AE/FE lock buttons, and to the left is the Mode dial. Just down to the left are the all important Function/Jump and Four-way navigator. These four main control groups are right within easy reach for natural and quick operation. Because there's no bulge on the left of the camera, the left hand naturally cradles the underside of the camera with the thumb and index finger free to control the zoom ring surrounding the lens. Whether using the LCD or EVF to compose, this arrangement is just right for handheld photography. To shoot low for a unique vantage, swing out the LCD and tilt it about 40 to 50 degrees and you can easily maintain this comfortable and stable grip.

When it's time to change the battery or CF card, just shift the balance of the camera to your left hand and use the right to pull the battery/CF door open. Its spring loaded mechanism takes over just beyond 60 degrees and opens the cavity wide. A press on the battery release or CF card button brings each out for easy replacement. No fumbling with different doors or turning the camera upside down as we saw in the G-series, and there's room for both thumb and forefinger to grab the CF card, unlike many of Canon's smaller cameras.

A light press on the back of the power toggle releases the lock to ease swinging the toggle left or right. A quick swing to the right puts you in Record mode, and the lens comes out quickly. If you accidentally go left into Playback mode, you can just press the shutter release and go directly to Record mode, an important feature to help prevent missing that great shot. Turn the Zoom ring and the lens gradually comes out over three inches at full length. The lens has focal length markings that appear as it moves out of the camera barrel, a nice touch for those of us accustomed to thinking of focal length in terms of millimeters, referenced to a 35mm frame. A press on the flash button doesn't immediately pop up the flash, but the mode icon does change on both LCDs. When you next press the shutter release halfway, the flash will pop up in time to get your shot.

The only significant drawback to the Pro1 becomes apparent at this point, which is a rather lengthy screen freeze as the camera focuses. It becomes more noticeable as you zoom in, since the camera's shutter lag becomes longer at telephoto focal lengths. (As is the case with most digicams.) Photographing pets and kids becomes more difficult, because the little creatures can sometimes get up and move out of your zoomed frame while you wait for the camera to do its focus calculations. Panning to track a moving subject is also almost impossible because of this delay. Normally this could be overcome with an optical viewfinder, but the Pro1 uses an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), necessary to accommodate the unusually long zoom.

The zoom on the camera is indeed quiet and relatively fast. It is controlled by an Ultrasonic motor which makes it quiet, but its resolution isn't as high as I'd like. Turning the ring slowly moves the lens assembly in clear steps (I counted a total of 38 steps from wide to tele); because the zoom control actuates an electronic switch, it doesn't always respond as you turn it, if the camera is not ready. The zoom is nonetheless very fast and focus is quiet.

The AF point is the last aspect we should touch on. With a press on the Set button, it can be moved around 60 percent of the screen using the Four-way navigator, excellent for concentrating on the eyes in portraits. Spot metering can also be locked to this point via a menu setting.

With other extras like a built-in neutral density filter (to permit longer exposures under bright lighting), two macro modes (standard and Super), an extended capacity battery, and features you can only get with a non-SLR digital camera, like movie mode and stitch assist mode, it's clear that the Pro1 has a place in the photo enthusiast's bag. The ability to capture RAW images, the option to use the Adobe RGB color space, and the high resolution imager round out the picture. The Pro1 seems to be an excellent choice when detail and precision are important, because its images are excellent. The photographer wanting to capture action would be better served with a digital SLR in his bag though, because the electronic viewfinder and viewfinder freeze during the autofocus delay make these types of photography difficult.


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