Review: Canon PowerShot Pro90 IS
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, February 11, 2001
Friday, January 18, 2002
the last several years, the specs on high-end "prosumer"
digital cameras were usually the same. Take the highest Megapixel
CCD out there (1.3, 2.1, then 3.3 Mpixel), add a 3X optical zoom
lens, and toss it in a familiar body. Lately, though, things have
been diverging from that formula. Recent cameras from Sony (with
their high-end Mavica cameras), Fuji (FinePix 4900 Zoom), and Olympus
(C-2100 Ultra Zoom) have packed larger zoom lenses, ranging from
8X to 10X.
Canon's joined the "big gun" party with the PowerShot
Pro90 IS (isn't that a mouthful). This new camera ($1399) takes
the popular PowerShot G1 (see our review) and adds a 10X optically
stabilized zoom lens to the mix. While it does use the same 3.3
Megapixel CCD as the G1, the Pro90 only records 2.6 million of them.
Overall, I was pretty happy with the G1 -- will this continue with
the Pro90? Find out...
in the Box?
PowerShot Pro90 (as I'll call it) has everything you need right
in the box. It includes:
2.6 Mpixel Canon PowerShot Pro90 IS camera
Li-ion rechargeable battery
adapter / battery charger
featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions software
really don't have much to comment on in this section, since you've
got most everything you need right here. Thankfully, Canon includes
the battery charger with the camera, instead of charging extra for
it, like the did on their S-series of cameras.
16MB CF card is a bit on the skimpy side -- I'd like to see Canon
and other manufacturers move up to 32MB cards since the prices have
come down so much.
my camera came with a lens cap, it didn't have the little strap
to prevent losing it -- though the "system map" in the
box showed one. Maybe they're just playing with me.
those of you who still use serial (RS-232) connections, you'll have
to buy the serial interface cable (IFC-200MC for Mac, IFC-200PCS
for PC) from Canon.
covered Canon's excellent software in the past, so I'm not going
to talk about it here. Check out the PowerShot
S10 review for more.
of excellent, Canon's manuals are continuously some of the best
out there. They're sensibly laid out, and easy to read.
are all kinds of accessories lenses, filters, and flashes available
for the G1 and Pro90. Above, you'll see the LH-DC58 lens hood (along
with the BP-511 battery that's included with the camera). The Pro90
is compatible with all EX-series Speedlites from Canon. Canon also
sells wideangle, telephoto, and macro lenses that can screw right
onto the Pro90.
Pro90 is a solid, heavy, but not bulky camera. It's made of what
I'd call "high grade plastics" -- it doesn't feel like
the camera would shatter into a million pieces if accidentally dropped.
The dimensions are 5.0 x 3.3 x 5.5 inches, and the camera weighs
in at 24 ounces empty. The Pro90 has a large grip for your right
hand, though my left hand felt uncomfortable on the lens barrel.
begin our tour of the Pro90, starting with the front. The 10X optical
zoom lens stays within the lens barrel at all times -- you can barely
tell it's there. The f2.8/f3.5 lens has a zoom range of 7 - 70mm,
which is equivalent to 37 - 370mm on a 35mm camera. The lens is
threaded for 58mm attachments, as I alluded to in the previous section.
enough, Steve's Digicams mentions
that the lens on the Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom may be the exact
same one as the Pro90. Nobody knows for sure (or, they won't tell
anyone), but it's worth noting.
flash on the Pro90 can not be released by hand -- if the camera
is going to use it, it pops up. The little light below the main
flash is for redeye reduction.
the left of the above shot is the shutter release button. While
the button didn't have a lot of "play", I found it to
be just fine.
onto the back of the camera. While the swiveling LCD may seem like
a gimmick, once you get used to it, you'll wish every camera had
it. In the photos above and below, you can see some of the positions
the LCD can go into.
quality of the LCD is quite good - it's smooth and bright (and can
be made brighter via the setup menu). With the swivel feature, you
can use it in most conditions.
the LCD is the Electronic Viewfinder. Like all the other large zoom
cameras I've tested, Canon has replaced the traditional optical
viewfinder for an electronic one. You're essentially looking through
an LCD display, though it's not as sharp and bright as the one on
the back of the camera. One nice thing about EVFs is the ability
to display lots of information in the viewfinder (such as exposure
settings). Overall, though, I'd rather have a traditional optical
the EVF, you'll find a diopter correction dial, for those of us
three buttons to the right of the LCD are:
lock (locks the flash and exposure settings - great for panoramas)
[rec mode] / Delete photo [playback mode]
compensation, white balance, auto-bracketing, flash exposure compensation
(toggles amount of info shown on LCD)
details on a few of the options just mentioned:
compensation: -2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments
balance: Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash,
bracketing: You select the range (in 1/3EV increments) and the
camera takes three photos at different EV settings
exposure compensation: -2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments
Set and Menu buttons on the right of the above photo, as well as
the four-way switch above that are for using the menu system.
it's time for the top of the Pro90. Towards the left side of the
picture you can see the hot shoe for an external flash (Canon recommends
their EX-series of Speedlites).
three buttons towards the center of the photo are:
quickly move through photos [playback mode]
mode [playback mode]
metering [rec mode] / zoom in [playback mode]
the right of that you'll find the LCD info display, and the "drive"
button below that. The LCD info display is chock full of information,
ranging from battery strength to exposure settings. The drive button
toggles the camera between single-shot, continuous, and self-timer/remote
onto the side of the camera. Here, we can finally get a good look
at the zoom controls for the Pro90. See that ring around the lens
barrel at the far left of the camera? That's how you zoom in and
out on the Pro90. I'd love to see Canon add the zoom controls to
the four-way switch on the back of the camera as well. One glaring
error (in this reviewers opinion) is the reversal of normal zoom
controls. On a traditional manual zoom camera, you'd turn the barrel
clockwise to zoom in, and vice-versa to zoom out. The opposite is
true on the Pro90 - you turn it counterclockwise to zoom in. Do
note that this is an electronic zoom control and not mechanical
- it's just like the zoom buttons on all the other digital cameras.
There is a bit of lag before the zoom actually starts, as well.
buttons, seen in the center of the photo, are flash setting, manual
focus, and image stabilization on/off.
manual focus feature, when invoked, adds a little meter on the right
side of the LCD display. No distances are given, so you have to
guess how far you're focused sometimes.
image stabilization feature is very nice, especially in low light
or fully zoomed shots.
a very sturdy plastic door you'll find the I/O ports for the Pro90.
In the above close-up, you can see the speaker, DC in (for AC adapter
and recharging the battery), A/V out, and Digital Out (for USB).
that brings us to the mode wheel. For some reason, I'm not a big
fan of its placement, or design. The top ring has the various modes,
and underneath, you can switch between Off, Record, Playback, and
PC Connect. The available modes are:
(camera chooses everything)
Mode (you can change all options except aperture/shutter speed)
/ Aperture Priority Mode (you set aperture, camera chooses appropriate
/ Shutter Priority Mode (you set shutter speed, camera chooses
Mode (you can set both aperture and shutter speed)
Focus (camera quickly switches focus between subject and background
so both are in focus)
(subject sharp, background blurry)
Assist (for panoramic shots)
few notes about the manual modes listed above.
speeds range from 8 sec to 1/1000 sec
choices are from F2.8 to F8.0
full telephoto, your aperture choices are limited to between F3.5
the shutter speed is 1/1000 sec, the aperture is limited to between
F4.0 and F8.
a look at the other side of the camera, with the included 16MB CompactFlash
card and remote control shown. This is a Type II CF slot, and the
IBM Microdrive is fully supported. The door that covers this slot
is very secure and should hold up well.
but not, the bottom of the camera (with fashionable blue sticker).
The only things of note down here are the battery compartment and
the metal tripod mount.
the PowerShot Pro90
Pro90 takes just three seconds to startup after you turn the power
on. When you depress the shutter release button halfway down, it
takes a little less than one second to lock focus (a little on the
long side). As you depress the button fully, the shutter opens in
a fraction of a second. Shot-to-shot speed is good (as with the
entire PowerShot line),
with about 3-4 seconds between shots, at the highest setting. The
speed of the zoom lens is also very fast and smooth, once it gets
Pro90 uses the "overlay" style of menus, which are well
laid out, and easy to move around in. Here are your choices in Record
(Large/Medium/Small, which is 1856 x 1392 / 1024 x 768 / 640 x
(SuperFine, Fine, Normal)
Format (JPEG, RAW)
speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
Zoom (Off, 2X, 4X)
Mode (continuous, single)
(Off, 2 sec, 10 sec - this is how long the photo is shown on the
LCD after it's been taken)
/ Sharpness / Saturation adjustment
the usual setup stuff.
chart below describes the various resolution and quality modes,
and how many photos can be saved on the included 16MB CompactFlash
Images on 16MB card
(1856 x 1392)
(1024 x 768)
(640 x 480)
(1856 x 1392)
is RAW mode? It's essentially a dump of the RAW, unprocessed data
from the CCD. You can't just pop this RAW file onto your website,
though - it must be converted to another format first via Canon's
software. The nice part about RAW mode is the amount of space it
takes up -- a 1.7MB RAW image takes up 7.4MB when converted to an
uncompressed TIFF! For everyday shooting RAW mode (and TIFF mode)
is overkill -- Fine or Superfine JPEG format is just fine.
what you'll see if you look through the EVF, or on the LCD.
now, a word about ISO settings. In our review
of the very similar PowerShot G1, we noticed that photos got pretty
noisy at the higher ISO settings (and even "Auto"). My
recommendation: for everyday shooting, keep the ISO locked at 50.
example of purple fringing on the Pro90. It seems to be worst on
cloudy days. See the original picture (of the tree) in the gallery.
issue that the Pro90 shares with the G1 is "chromatic aberration",
more commonly known as purple fringing. This is most often seen
where objects bump up against a bright background (usually the sky).
The sample about illustrates this problem -- the Pro90 and G1 seemed
worse than the competition in this regard.
Pro90 is the first camera in a long time that doesn't have
a macro mode. Out of the box, you can get as close as 10cm (full
wide) to 1m (full tele) from the lens barrel -- if you want to get
closer, pick up the optional Close-up Lens, which allows you to
get as close as 34-50cm at full telephoto.
Pro90 did a pretty good job with night shooting, as you can see
in the above sample. Even with image stabilization, a tripod is
necessary for shots like this.
I'd rank the photo quality as "pretty good". The purple
fringing can be a problem, and it seems like many of the photos
seem a bit under-saturated Take a look in the gallery
and judge for yourself.
PowerShot Pro90 can record movies in AVI format, using the M-JPEG
codec. The movies are recorded at 320 x 240, 15 frames/sec. You
can record up to 30 seconds of video and audio, regardless of the
size of the memory card being used. You cannot use the zoom lens
here to play movie (AVI format, 1.4MB)
This movie was trimmed in the middle.
all of Canon's PowerShot line, the Pro90 has a very good playback
mode. Basic features such as slideshows, DPOF print marking, and
menu in playback mode
zoom and scroll feature, as I call it, is first-rate on the Pro90.
Zooming is almost instant, and scrolling around in the zoomed image
between photos is lightning fast as well, taking less than a second.
If you really want to move through photos, use the Jump button which
lets you jump ahead (or back) 9 images.
Pro90 gives you a pretty fair amount of detail about your photos
-- the only thing missing is a histogram.
I could wish for just one more thing in playback mode, it would
be the ability to delete a group of photos at a time, instead of
just one or all.
Does it Compare?
Canon PowerShot Pro90 IS is the latest in a string of higher-end,
"big zoom" cameras. It's got an excellent feature set,
good photo quality, a neat swiveling LCD, and fast processing speeds.
There are a few annoying design quirks, and chromatic aberration
can be a problem. The closest competitor is the Olympus C-2100 Ultra
Zoom, as I mentioned. While the Pro90 is higher resolution than
the Ultra Zoom (2.6 vs. 2.1 Mpixel), it costs $300 more, and doesn't
add a whole lot more in the features department (aside from movie
mode and the swiveling LCD). I'd compare these two closely before
you make any decisions -- and don't forget to check out the other
cameras worth looking at (see below).
10X zoom with optical image stabilization
manual controls, and plenty of presets if you don't wish to use
I didn't care for:
aberrations can be a problem
not functional in movie mode
are a number of cameras worth checking out before you buy the PowerShot
Pro90. The most obvious is the Olympus
C-2100 Ultra Zoom, but also look at the Fuji
FinePix 4900 Zoom and Sony
Mavica MVC-CD1000. As always, I recommend a trip to your local
reseller to "try before you buy!"