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DCRP Review: Canon
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 4, 2004
Last Updated: August 19, 2004
The PowerShot Pro1 ($999) is the new flagship camera in Canon's consumer line of digital cameras. Packing a whopping 8 Megapixel CCD, a 7X "L" lens, full manual controls, beautiful LCD and electronic viewfinders, and more, the Pro1 is one of the most impressive fixed-lens cameras out there.
The 8 Megapixel field has grown considerably since the introduction of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828 (read our review). That camera was plagued with purple fringing and noise, due in part to the tightly-packed pixels on the 8 Megapixel sensor. Was Canon able to get rid of the junk in their 8 Megapixel images? Find out now, in our review!
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot Pro1 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
I don't know if anyone else noticed, but the Pro1 and the Olympus C-8080WZ are the only 8 Megapixel cameras to include a memory card in the box. While the Olympus includes a 32MB xD card, the Pro1 includes a 64MB high speed CompactFlash card (Canon doesn't say how fast -- based on my tests, I think 8X). That's a decent starter card, but these 8MP images take up a lot of memory, so you'll want a larger card right away. I'd suggest 512MB as a good place to start. The Pro1 can use Type I or Type II cards, including the Microdrive, and it supports the FAT32 format for cards larger than 2GB.
The Pro1 uses an even more powerful version of the "famous" BP-511 battery, known as the BP-511A. Where the BP-511 had an impressive 8.1 Wh of energy, the 511A has an amazing 10.3 Wh. That puts it at or near the top of the pack for lithium-ion batteries. Canon estimates that you can take around 420 photos per charge, or spend 400 minutes in playback mode.
My usual complaints about proprietary batteries apply here. They're expensive, and you can't put in a set of alkalines to get you through the rest of the day like you could with an AA-based camera.
When it's time to recharge, just drop the battery into the included charger. This is my favorite style of charger -- it plugs right into the wall. It takes about ninety minutes to fully charge the battery.
Canon includes a lens cap, but no retaining strap, which is used to protect the lens. Note that the lens cap only fits the way you see it -- or upside down. You can't spin it while it's on the lens.
There are a few extras in the box as well. The lens hood above comes in very handy when you're shooting outdoors.
If you're a filter-lover, then you'll appreciate the included filter adapter. Putting it on was a little awkward, but once you do, you can screw on the 58 mm filter of your choice.
The final included accessory is the good old WL-DC100 wireless remote control, which you've seen before. You can take pictures, operate the zoom lens, and do slideshows from up to 5 meters away. The Pro1 has remote sensors on the front and right side.
Now, let's talk accessories. Since there are many options, I just dumped them into this handy chart:
There are a few items I didn't mention there, and they're all various battery chargers.
ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)
ZoomBrowser (Windows XP)
Canon is now up to version 16 of their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software. Included in this package are ZoomBrowser (for Windows) or ImageBrowser (for Mac), PhotoStitch (for making panoramic photos), plus TWAIN and WIA drivers for Windows. Zoom/ImageBrowser can be used for downloading images from your camera, basic editing of your photos, and photo printing.
RAW Image Task (Mac OS X)
If you shoot in RAW mode, then you'll probably be using the RAW conversion tool built into Zoom/ImageBrowser to manipulate those images. For those who don't know about RAW, it's a lossless format that lets you manipulate various properties of your image -- a kind of virtual reshoot. Botch the white balance? Just change it in the RAW file, and it's just like you took the photo again. You can also adjust the saturation, sharpness, contrast, tone curve, and more.
RemoteCapture (Mac OS X)
Also built-in to the "Browser" software is RemoteCapture, which you can use to control your camera over the USB connection. Images are saved directly to your computer.
For some reason, the bundled ArcSoft Camera Suite is different than the one that came with the PowerShot S410 and S500 -- which were introduced at the same time as the Pro1. Windows users can use PhotoStudio 5.5 and VideoImpression 2, while Mac users get the old PhotoStudio 4.3 (the S410/500 came with PhotoImpression 5) and VideoImpression 1.6.
While Canon's manuals are still better than average, they seem a little more complex than they used to be. Either that or I'm getting dumber.
Look and Feel
The PowerShot Pro1's build quality is exceptional. The body is made of a mixture of sturdy metal and high grade plastic, and it feels great. There's a large right hand grip, and there's room for your left hand as well (there has to be, as you'll be using it to zoom). While the Pro1 suffers a bit from "button clutter", the most important controls are easy to reach.
Let's take a look at the dimensions and weight of the Pro1 versus the competition:
As you can see, the Pro1 is the smallest (but not the lightest) of the bunch. The Sony F828 is enormous compared to the Pro1!
Let's begin our tour of this camera now!
The thing that makes the Pro1 stand out from the competition is its F2.4 - F3.5, 7X optical zoom "L" lens. The lens has a focal range of 7.2 - 50.8 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 200 mm. The lens itself isn't threaded, but you can remove the ring around it (by pressing the button to the lower-left of it), and then attach one of the adapters I mentioned in the previous section.
If you know anything about Canon lenses, you know that the "L" lenses mean quality -- and price. The lens features both ultra-low dispersion and fluorite elements, which are there to produce sharp images with a minimum of purple fringing. Like the PowerShot S1 that was announced at the same time, the Pro1 features an ultrasonic lens motor (USM), which allows for precise and quiet zoom operation. The zoom mechanism is a little different than what you're used to, and I'll explain that a little later.
Directly above the lens is the pop-up flash, which has a working range of 0.5 - 5.0 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 3.5 m at telephoto. If that's not enough light for you, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see later in the tour. That white square below the flash is the redeye reduction lamp.
To the upper-left of the lens is the Pro1's hybrid autofocus sensor -- the first time such a thing has been found on a Canon camera. This system is used to speed up focusing (as opposed to just a contrast detection-based system), though it's unclear if it helps in low light.
Just below the AF sensor is the self-timer lamp. Over on the grip (left side), you can see both of the remote control receivers (one of them is hard to see).
The Pro1's LCD can flip-out and rotate, just like it can on several other Canon models. You can see some of the available positions in the photos above and below. If you point the screen toward your subject, the camera will "flip" the image on the screen so it's oriented correctly.
And how is that LCD? It's beautiful. First of all, it's quite large, at 2 inches diagonally. But even more impressive is the resolution -- this screen has 235,000 pixels and it looks amazing. Even the menus look great. Movement on the screen is very fluid, as well.
Here's the back of the Pro1, with the LCD in a more traditional position. Directly above the LCD is the electronic viewfinder, or EVF. If you liked the LCD, then you'll love the EVF, as it has the same amazing resolution. In fact, I'd say that the Pro1's EVF is the best I've seen -- though keep in mind that I'm yet to see the one on the Minolta DiMAGE A2. It still doesn't compare to a real optical viewfinder, but for what it is, it's very good. In fairly low light, I found the EVF to be usable, but not as good as cameras that really amplify what's on the screen (the DiMAGE A1 comes to mind).
There's a diopter correction knob, which focuses the image on the EVF, on the left side of the eyepiece.
Just to the left of the EVF is the display button, which switches between the LCD and EVF. On the opposite side is the Pro1's mode dial, which has a ton of options. These include:
I should mention the program shift feature, which is available in program mode. By halfway pressing the shutter release, then hitting the AE/AF lock (*) button, and using the command dial, you can scroll through sets of aperture and shutter speeds. This is an easy way to force a faster shutter speed or a smaller aperture, without having to use the manual modes.
The two custom spots on the mode dial are where you can store your favorite camera settings for easy retrieval. This is a great feature that not too many cameras have.
Back to the tour now. Just below the mode dial is the function button, which is also used to quickly "jump" through your photos in playback mode. Pressing the function button brings up -- get this -- the function menu! Here's what it includes:
The photo effect feature lets you quickly change the color of your image, or turn down the sharpness. For more control choose the custom effect option, which lets you adjust the contrast, sharpness, and saturation in three steps.
There are two types of bracketing on the Pro1. The first is the usual AE bracketing, which takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value (in 1/3EV increments). Focus bracketing is the same idea, except it's used in manual focus mode (which I'll discuss in just a second). The camera takes a shot at the chosen focus setting, plus one closer, and one further away.
The next item on the back of the camera is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, as well as for changing exposure compensation and white balance. The exposure compensation range is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments, while the white balance options are auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, custom 1, and custom 2. The two custom settings allow you to shoot a white or gray card, to get perfect color in nearly any lighting. I appreciate having two settings, as well -- great if you shoot in situations with non-standard lighting (like me!).
Below the four-way controller are the set and menu buttons -- both of which are used for menu navigation. The set button also activates the FlexiZone autofocus system, which lets you put the focus point just about anywhere in the frame (save for a margin around the edges).
Below those two buttons, under a plastic door, are the Pro1's I/O ports. These include USB, DC-in (for optional AC adapter), and A/V out. It's too bad that the flagship PowerShot camera doesn't support USB 2.0!
On the far right side of the photo are three buttons. They're for:
Manual focus mode lets you use the zoom ring to set the focus you desire (you must hold the MF button down first). A guide is shown on the LCD/EVF, giving you the approximate focus distance. The center of the frame is enlarged (not shown above), so you can make sure that your subject is in-focus. After using manual focus, you can press the "set" button to have the autofocus see if it can improve on what you came up with.
The sound memo feature lets you attach sixty second sound clips to each photo. The "star" button will lock the exposure or flash exposure (depending on whether you're using the flash or not).
There's plenty more to talk about on the top of the Pro1. But first, I'd like to talk about the zoom mechanism. Most cameras have buttons or a switch that electronically tell the lens when to zoom. A few others allow you to move the lens (mechanically) yourself. The Pro1 is a mixture of both. By turning the ring around the lens, you electronically tell the zoom to move. Turn it a little, and the lens moves a little. Really crank it, and you can quickly zoom in or out. It takes getting used to, but I think Canon did a good job with the implementation of the zoom ring.
The ultra sonic motor makes the whole process very quiet. If you're quick, you can move the lens through the zoom range in about two seconds. Canon has markings on the lens showing the current focus distance -- in regular and 35mm-equivalent numbering.
Okay, now back to our tour. At the left end of the above photo are two buttons. In record mode, these are for flash setting (auto w/redeye reduction, auto, flash on w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off) and macro mode (on/off). In playback mode, they operate the "zoom and scroll" feature that I'll describe later.
To the right of those buttons is the Pro1's hot shoe. The hot shoe fully supports all of the flashes that I listed in the first section of the review, and they can sync as fast as 1/250 sec. You can use your non-Canon flash as well, but you'll have to put both the camera and the flash into manual mode. The maximum sync speed with a non-Canon flash is 1/125 sec.
The next item over is the LCD info display, which displays a ton of camera settings ranging from battery life to shutter speed to flash setting. Since this is all described in the manual, I'll spare you the details. I will mention that there's a backlight for the screen, which is activated by pressing the lamp button to the right of the screen.
The other buttons adjacent to the LCD info display include one for metering (evaluative, center-weighted, spot) and another for drive (single-shot, continuous, self-timer). I'll have more on the continuous shooting mode later in the review.
Below those three buttons is the power/mode switch, which turns the camera on and off, and also moves between record and playback mode. At the top-right of the photo is the selector dial (used for adjusting manual controls), as well as the shutter release button.
The only thing to see on this side of the Pro1 is the speaker. You can catch a glimpse of the EVF's diopter correction knob, as well.
The opposite side of the Pro1 is where you'll find the memory card and battery compartment, which are kept behind a sturdy plastic door. Before we took a closer look at that, I wanted to point out just how far the lens sticks out when it's at the full telephoto position.
Here's the side of the Pro1 with the door opened up. The battery goes on the left, and the CompactFlash card on the right. This is a Type II CompactFlash slot, which supports regular CF cards, as well as thicker ones like the Microdrive.
It's hard to see here, but there's a small watch battery that goes into a slot just above the battery compartment. This stores your camera settings, even if the main battery is removed.
The included battery and memory card are shown at left.
We end our tour with a look at the bottom of the camera. The only thing to see here is the metal tripod mount, which is neither centered, nor inline with the lens.
Using the Canon PowerShot Pro1
The PowerShot Pro1 starts up quickly, taking just 3 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting.
Surprisingly, there's no live histogram on the Pro1
The external AF sensor helps the Pro1 focus quickly. In most situations, I found that the camera locked focus in 0.6 - 0.8 seconds after halfway-pressing the shutter release. If the camera has to "hunt", expect slightly longer delays. I did notice that the EVF freezes for about a second while the camera tries to lock focus, which may be an issue for action photography (the LCD was a little better). Low light focusing was better than expecting, but I think an AF-assist lamp would've been helpful.
Shutter lag was not a major problem, even at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed is very good on the Pro1 (as it usually is on Canon cameras). You will wait for just 1.5 seconds before you can take another shot (even in RAW mode, unlike on the Sony F828), assuming that you've turned off the post-shot review feature.
You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo button. If you really meant to take the photo in RAW mode, just press the function button, and the camera asks if you'd prefer to save the image in that format instead.
Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the Pro1:
I explained the RAW format at the beginning of the review. There's no TIFF mode, so if you require that format, you'll need to take a RAW image and then convert it in software.
Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.
Now, onto the menus!
The PowerShot Pro1 has the same menu system as the other PowerShot models. The items found here include:
There are two choices for continuous shooting on the Pro1. Standard mode shoots at 1 frame/second, while high speed shoots at 2.5 frames/second. I was able to take 18 shots in a row at the standard speed, and 9 at high speed. I found it difficult to shoot sequentially on this camera, as the screen pauses briefly between shots, making tracking a moving subject difficult (that's why I like optical viewfinders!). I experienced this firsthand while trying to take pictures of surfers.
The neutral density (ND) filter reduces brightness by a factor of 8. This lets you use a slower shutter speed (or larger aperture) when shooting in bright light. Canon is the only manufacturer to have this feature -- the G3 and G5 had it as well.
The safety shift feature allows the camera to adjust the shutter speed or aperture in Tv or Av mode if necessary, to get a good exposure.
The Intervalometer tool lets you use the Pro1 for time lapse photography. You select the interval between shots (1-60 minutes) and the total number of shots to be taken (2-100). Use of the optional AC adapter is strongly recommended.
There is also a setup menu on the Pro1, so let's take a look at that now. Here's what you'll find in the setup menu:
The "My Camera'" menu allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your camera makes. If these bother you, you can also turn them off.
Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
The Pro1 produced a very nice rendition of our famous macro subject. The camera captures a lot of detail, with tiny hairs and dust being the evidence for that. Colors are nice as well -- with the red being especially saturated.
The camera has two macro modes -- regular (which I used above) and super.
Regular macro lets you get as close to your subject as 10 cm at wide-angle. The lens won't zoom any further out than 90 mm. The sweet spot appears to be at 63 mm, where you can fit a 87 x 65 mm subject in the frame.
Super macro mode lets you get even closer: just 3 cm from the end of the lens to the subject. The zoom range here is limited to 42 - 90 mm, with the latter being the sweet spot. There you can get a 35 x 26 mm subject to fill the frame. Not quite "Nikon macro", but pretty darn good nonetheless.
If there was less purple fringing in this shot, then it would be one of the best versions of this shot I've taken. The sharpness and detail is, in my opinion, excellent (don't forget that I was at least 1.5 miles away). There is a fair amount of purple, especially on the left side. The simple answer is to close down the aperture (use a larger F-number). The images below have smaller apertures, and you can see that the purple is mostly gone at F5.
Speaking of which, how does the Pro1 perform at higher ISO sensitivities? Here you go:
As you can see, ISO 200 and especially ISO 400 are quite noisy. I thought that ISO 100 was a little above average in the noise department, as well.
The Pro1's 7X zoom lens shows moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle.
There's just a hint of redeye in our flash test. A great way to totally banish redeye from your life is to use an external flash -- which, as I mentioned, the Pro1 supports.
There were two problems that plagued the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828, the first 8 Megapixel camera that I tested. Those were purple fringing (chromatic aberrations) and noise. You won't escape either of those on the PowerShot Pro1, but they aren't nearly as bad -- especially in the purple fringing department. You'll still see both fairly often, and this may or may not be an issue for you -- it really depends on what you plan on doing with your photos. While nobody's nailed down the cause yet (is it the lens, or the tightly-packed photosites on the CCD?), one thing's for sure: 8 Megapixel cameras have more noise and purple fringing than lower resolution cameras -- and you'll have to get used to it, or learn to love Photoshop.
The Pro1 takes images that are quite sharp, which adds to the noise levels a bit. Colors are accurate, and the camera properly exposed most of the photos I took. I must say that I raised an eyebrow when I saw vignetting in several photos -- something I wouldn't expect from an "L" lens. Overall, I'd rank the Pro1's photo quality as superior to the F828's, and competitive with that from the Nikon Coolpix 8700. I haven't seen the DiMAGE A2 yet -- but I'm looking forward to it.
Please, have a look at the huge photo gallery, and see if the Pro1's photo quality meets your expectations!
The Pro1's movie mode is a bit of letdown after testing the PowerShot S1. While you'll get VGA resolution, you'll have a 30 second limit, and a slower frame rate of 15 fps. Lower resolutions are available too: you can record up to 3 minutes at 320 x 240 and 160 x 120. Sound is recorded at all of those resolutions.
Another major difference between the S1 and Pro1 movie modes is that you cannot use the zoom during filming on the Pro1.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a sample movie for you, recorded at the 640 x 480 setting:
Click to play movie (13.2MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Pro1 has the same, excellent playback mode as seen on other Canon cameras. Everything is very snappy.
The Pro1 has all the basic playback features that you'd expect. That includes slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. Playback mode is also the place to print photos, when connected to a compatible Canon or PictBridge-enabled photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you blow up the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. It's nice and fast!
By pressing the metering/sound recording button on the back of the camera, you can add voice clips of up to 60 seconds per photo. You can also rotate photos, or mark for transfer to your e-mail program, assuming that you use Canon's software.
If you've recorded a movie, an editing function lets you trim unwanted frames from the beginning or end of it.
By default, the Pro1 doesn't give you much info about your photos. But press the display button and you'll get plenty of details, as well as a histogram.
The Pro1 moves between photos at a decent clip, with about a 1.5 second delay between high res photos.
How Does it Compare?
The Canon PowerShot Pro1 is a very good fixed-lens camera, providing ultra high resolution, full manual controls, and a build quality that rivals D-SLRs. For those expecting the Pro1 to cure the problems of the Sony DSC-F828, you'll be disappointed -- as purple fringing and noise are still apparent (though not as bad). The Pro1 takes nice, sharp, colorful pictures, though expect some noise in flat areas and shadows, and purple around some edges. I was certainly shocked to see vignetting in three or four pictures -- and this is with the famous "L" lens. This lens covers a nice range too, from 28 to 200 mm. If you need more telephoto power, you can buy a teleconverter. Canon includes support for filters right in the box -- a nice touch. While not quite approaching the ultra macro mode found on some Nikon cameras, the Pro1 can get just 3 cm from your subject.
In terms of performance, the Pro1 is very snappy. It starts up fast, focuses quickly, and has minimal shutter lag. Low light focusing was just so-so -- an AF-assist lamp would've be nice. Battery life is excellent, as well, thanks to the new BP-511A battery. The Pro1's build quality is really spectacular, feeling more like an EOS-10D than a PowerShot. The fly-by-wire zoom ring takes some getting used to, but most people will prefer it over the zoom buttons on other cameras. Two things that are really nice are the LCD and electronic viewfinder. They are bright, with extremely high resolution, and the LCD can flip out and rotate as well. The EVF was a little on the dark side in dim light, however. Other nice features including a backlit LCD info display, and the ability to save two sets of camera settings to spots on the mode dial. Finally, while the Pro1 has a VGA movie mode, the brief 30 second time limit and sluggish frame rate make it less appealing than others.
Thus far, I've only reviewed two 8MP cameras: this one, and the Sony DSC-F828. I give the edge to the Pro1 in most areas, most importantly image quality and manual controls. The F828 does get points for a faster lens, superior AF system, and nicer movie mode. It's also a hefty camera to carry around, compared to the relatively compact Pro1.
The Pro1 is certainly an intriguing choice for those who want D-SLR resolution and performance, but don't want a bulky camera or pricey lenses. Don't expect D-SLR photo quality, though, as the tiny 8MP sensor just can't compare. The Pro1 gets my recommendation, but do careful research before you buy!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Other cameras worth considering include the Minolta DiMAGE A2, Nikon Coolpix 8700, and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot Pro1 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see some pictures? Check out the photo gallery!
Want another opinion?
Read another review at Steve's Digicams.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
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