Moving on to handling the Pro1 is well-balanced and relatively compact in comparison to most other 8 megapixel cameras on the market. The beefier grip will also make SLR camera users feel at home, while ergonomically, the main controls are positioned around the back of the unit within easy reach of your thumb.
The Pro1 is a compact prosumer camera that fits snuggly in the hand thanks to the chunky grip.
However, unlike other prosumer digital cameras, zoom control is not operated by a bi-directional lever wrapped around the shutter release button or by separate zoom-in, zoom-out buttons. Instead it’s electronically operated by manually turning the zoom ring. Yes the key word here is electronically. It’s not a mechanical process, and the zoom movement is powered by one of Canon’s ultrasonic motors (USM).
Now this may be a novel approach but in practice electronically controlling the zoom by this means proved to be a little disappointing. It’s just not as responsive as I had hoped, although the zoom speed does vary depending on how fast you turn the zoom ring. That said, on a number of occasions I was able to turn the ring without affect. I also found that zooming was stepped over approximately 40 stages from wide angle to full zoom, so if you’re after truly precise control you might be better off with a digital SLR and an interchangeable zoom lens.
In terms of zoom speed it’s also worth noting that Canon was aware that this might be an issue for some users because it did factor in a method of rapidly zooming the lens. This is done by moving and holding the mode lever (the bi-directional lever mounted on the top right of the Pro1) to the little red camera icon (as you would do to turn the camera on), and then turning the zoom ring. This rapid zooming mode is maintained until the lever is released.
A somewhat awkward workaround in my opinion, but there is another role for the zoom ring that I did like. This comes to light when previewing your images where a quick twist of the zoom ring invokes magnification of the image displayed on the TFT. A press of the magnify button also does the same job with 10 steps up to 10x magnification.
As for the lens itself, this is rated at a reasonably fast f2.8 at full wide angle and f3.5 at full zoom indicating the quality of the optics. However, I did find the maximum aperture of f8 a little limiting especially for studio work where powerful flash heads proved to be too much for the Pro1, even with the ND filter in place. This filter is built-in and can be selected from within the record menu. Its purpose is debatable but it’s intended for muting incidences of overexposure. Personally, I’d prefer the option of selecting a higher aperture setting.
As for the zoom range this is quite impressive covering 7.2mm – 50.8mm which in 35mm SLR language is equivalent to 28 – 200mm. Add to that a 3.2x digital zoom and the numbers becomes pretty remarkable, although the results are somewhat fuzzy. The Pro1’s lens can also focus in on a subject 3cm away in super macro mode, making close-up work a real prospect.
I also cannot let it slip by that Canon has given this lens “L-series” status which before the launch of the Pro1 was a label normally assigned to its high-end range of EOS lenses (as indicated by the red ring). The Pro1’s lens obtains this mark of quality because it features fluorite crystal and Ultra-low Dispersion (UD) glass elements that are designed to reduce chromatic aberration, although I would argue that a compact zoom such as this, with it’s 10-group, 14-element configuration is going to have a hard job minimising this. I’ll comment on image quality shortly, but for now let’s continue with the rest of the Pro1’s features.