For Canon to release the pricey PowerShot Pro90 IS with just 2.58 million pixels (mp) seems odd, given that many high-end digital cameras have at least 3.34mp and will soon start to move to 5.2mp. This is a limitation imposed by Canon’s huge 10:1 optical zoom lens, which can project only a small image onto the CCD. This PowerShot actually has a 3.34mp CCD, but the focused image doesn’t fill its whole area. Rival Olympus and Sony digital cameras with 10:1 zooms have only 2.1mp CCDs or smaller.
The big lens is the key feature of this new PowerShot. It’s the equivalent of 37-370mm on a 35mm camera, and has a healthy f/2.8-3.5 maximum aperture (though the minimum f/8 is disappointing). The power-zoom control – a little slow to respond – is a handily placed big ring at the front of the lens.
This is the first time Canon has used its Image Stabiliser (IS) system on a digital still camera. IS cancels out minor shakes when hand-holding a camera with slow shutter speeds, by rapidly moving the lens innards. Olympus uses IS on the 2.1mp C-2100, which has a similar 10:1 zoom.
Canon’s IS works amazingly well: I was able to get acceptably sharp hand-held telephoto results with a really slow third of a second exposure – the same subject with IS switched off was dreadfully blurred.
The rest of the camera is a bit less impressive. People buying a camera with a huge stabilized telephoto lens probably want to shoot outdoor action pictures, typically of wildlife or sports. These demand a fast-reacting camera. Yet the PowerShot Pro 90 has a frustratingly lethargic autofocus and shutter button response. You can pre-set the focus, but the shutter still often takes half a second to fire. So it’s practically impossible to capture a moving object at exactly the moment you want – something that more expensive digital SLR cameras handle with ease. However, once the camera decides to fire, it can sustain continuous shooting at about one frame every 1.4 seconds.
The CCD’s sensitivity range is 50 to 400 ISO – a bit low for action shooting, but mitigated by the wide aperture lens. A good range of automatic and manual exposure settings can be selected from the multi-function dial on the left-hand side, and there’s a choice of centre-weighted or spot metering. There’s shutter or aperture priority, full auto, full manual and programmed.
Six pre-sets cover typical scenes, B&W and Canon’s multi-image panorama mode that displays overlapping guide images to help alignment. A movie setting captures 15fps at 320-x-240 dots per inch plus sound for 30-second bursts, with in-camera playback.
The LCD main monitor is one of Canon’s excellent flip-out tilt-&-rotate designs, also used on the PowerShot G1 (reviewed in Digit
#32), which can be viewed through a huge range of angles. There’s a secondary viewfinder with a lower-res LCD for when bright sunlight obscures the main monitor.
A pop-up flash sits on top of the lens, but there’s also a hot shoe to take a more powerful external flashgun; most Canon Speedlites can interface with the exposure controls.
Canon includes a 16MB Compact Flash II card, but a high-capacity IBM MicroDrive cartridge can be used instead. Downloading to your computer is via USB (supplied) or serial cable, and there’s a PAL TV port. The 7.4 volt Lithium-ion battery has a good lifetime, and is supplied with a charger/mains adaptor. A small wireless remote control is included.
The image resolution of 2.58-mp means pictures are captured at 1,856-x-1,392 pixels, with two lower settings that take up less card space, and three JPEG compression levels or an uncompressed raw setting. The software is Canon’s standard set of PhotoStitch (panorama), ZoomBrowser (image viewer/organizer), PhotoRecord (printing) and RemoteCapture (computer control from the computer), plus Photoshop 5.0 LE.
The PowerShot Pro90 IS is a mixed bag. The huge zoom lens and its auto-stabilization are fabulous, but are spoilt by the lethargic autofocus and shutter. If you need a fast shutter and a stabilized long lens, the only digital option is to buy the £1,999 Canon D30 digital SLR (with 3.5-mp), plus an IS lens – prices start around £400 for an ‘entry level’ 75-300mm.