The Battle of the Prosumer Digitals

A detailed review of the Canon PowerShot Pro1

Photograph by John B. Carnett

Photograph by John B. Carnett

DETAILED REVIEWS:

- Canon Digital Rebel

- Nikon D70

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CANON POWERSHOT PRO1

**

- Nikon Coolpix 8700

- Olympus C-8080

- Sony DSC-F828

KEY FEATURES

8 mp (3264 x 2448 pixels) capture

Optics: 7 x zoom (28- 200mm 35mm equivalent) f/ 2.4/f3.5 minimum aperture is f/8

Sensitivity range: 50- 400 ISO

Up to 2.5 frames per second for 5 frames

Movies: 640 x 480 pixels 15 frames per second (fps), limited to approximately 30 seconds.

Memory: Compact Flash

Computer Connection: USB 1.1

Dimensions: 118 x 72 x 90 cm

Weight: 640 grams

Price: $1,000 (retail); $940 (estimated street)

IN A NUTSHELL

We had high expectations for the Canon Pro1 and most--but not all--were met. We especially liked the design and feel of the camera. The user controls were intuitive and quickly accessible and image quality was excellent. We were, however, disappointed with the camera's slow start-up and sluggish auto focus system.

BUYING ADVICE

If the Sony feels too bulky and action is low on your priority list, the Pro1 is an excellent choice.

BENCH TESTS

JPEG images produced with the Pro1's "out of the box" settings consistently showed proper exposure and contrast was normal. Noise levels were insignificant at the lower ISO settings, but more pronounced above 200 ISO. We thought its shots were slightly soft, but not because of any flaw in the optics. (The Pro1 sports a Canon L-series lens that uses a combination of UD (ultra-low dispersion) and fluorite lens elements normally only found in Canon's professional line of SLR lenses.) Rather, it appears Canon's internal image processor uses a light touch when sharpening. This also partially explains the Pro1's low noise levels--oversharpening typically enhances noise and gives an image a sharp but grainy look. These soft images didn't bother us at all. A simple use of Photoshop's Unsharp Mask filter snapped them right into shape. Over-sharpened images are much harder, if not impossible, to fix.

Both the images shot indoors in artificial light and outdoors in natural light had a slightly magenta color cast, which, again, was easy to fix with Photoshop. (The Pro1 also provides camera controls to fine tune such things as sharpening, tone, and contrast. Once a desired balance is found, a user can save the parameters as a custom setting.) onClick="window.open('','popup1','height=600,width=700,scrollbars=yes,resize=no')" target="popup1" class="sidebar">Click here to view a test shot.

FIELD NOTES

The Nikon Coolpix 8700 and the Canon Pro1 are nearly identical in size. However, the Pro1 is about 120 grams heavier than the 8700 and, not surprisingly, feels much more solid. The added weight is thanks to an all-metal body and makes the camera feel more substantial and stable. The camera's design also enhances the shooting experience. The separation between the grip and the lens, for example, is perfect, and didn't cramp even the largest hand.

The Pro1 features a unique hybrid manual/electronic zoom control. This means that you zoom from wide angle to telephoto by actually turning a ring on the lens just as you might do on a normal mechanical zoom lens. In reality, however, turning the barrel activates an ultra-fast motor that actually does the work of moving the lens glass into position. In our opinion, the Canon method is only slightly more satisfying than using the dial or lever electronic zoom controls on the other all-in-ones. Electronically controlled zooms make us feel a little out of control, even when they operate quickly and smoothly. Mechanical zooms--as used by the Sony F-828 and kit lenses for both digital SLRs--provide immediate and positive feedback.

Buttons and dials are also distributed thoughtfully throughout the Canon Pro1 and by simply pushing the FUNC. button it is easy to change the ISO, White Balance, Effects, JPEG compression, and File formats (including RAW, but not TIFF). Advanced user modes such as Shutter Preferred, Aperture Preferred, and Custom, are changed simply via a dial.

Another design plus is the Pro1's large 2-inch LCD monitor, which tilts away from the camera body, swivels, and twists 360 degrees. When the LCD is not being used, it tucks snugly into the camera body, where it's impervious to scratches and surface damage. Of the six cameras we tested, we liked the Canon Pro1's LCD system best.

This could have been a nearly perfect camera if not for its lack of responsiveness. We judge responsiveness by looking at several factors, including start-up time, shutter release lag, auto focus speed, data write time, and image preview speed. Start-up time for the Pro1 was an unacceptable 4 seconds.

We also found the autofocus system extremely slow and nearly unbearable in low light situations or when we'd zoomed to longer focal lengths. While the Canon's crippled auto focus system didn't affect our ability to produce wonderful scenics, still lifes or formal portraits, we missed many fleeting moments. onClick="window.open('','popup1','height=700,width=500,scrollbars=yes,resize=no')" target="popup1" class="sidebar">Click here to view a test shot. Having said this, once the camera is focused, things improve. There is virtually no lag between the time you press the release button and when the shutter fires. Data write time and image preview speed were acceptable.