Canon PowerShot Pro70 
Digital Still Camera
Platypus Claws-on Review
by Dirck Halstead
As we have long predicted in these columns, the march towards the replacement of film by digital for photojournalism is moving inexorably forward. Working for a newsmagazine, as I do, I find that I am one of the last photographers left in the White House Press Corps to fill my camera bag with stuff from those little yellow and green boxes. The days when I could turn to one of my colleagues to borrow a roll of film are just about over. 

The newsmagazines, though, are going to be among the last to be pulled over the edge into digital. Nevertheless, I have had all too many bad experiences: during a weekend trip with the President, I watched the picture of the week happen in front of me, and with a sinking heart I realized that the only way my magazine was going to get it was through the wire services.  I must say, that sort of thing leaves you feeling unprepared, to say the least. 

Part of the answer to this problem may have arrived with the introduction of the Canon Pro70 digital camera. For about $1,199  it is possible to buy a camera, with all the necessary peripherals for hook up to a laptop, that is capable of delivering a magazine-usable image. It is not going to have the same quality as if it were shot on film, however, it will not appear noticeably different from the photos the wire services will provide. 

The camera looks like a smaller version of the Optura video camera (see our review of that camera in the September, 1997 "Camera Corner"). The ergonomics are almost identical. This means it can be tucked in a corner of your Domke bag without taking much space or adding much weight. The truly amazing thing is that this tiny package can turn out a 1.6 megapixel resolution image, which is actually better than what the Canon DSC3 used to provide--at a cost of $15,000. 

As you would guess from its "Powershot" name, it features a built-in 2.5x lens which gives you a coverage range of roughly 28mm-70mm with a variable maximum aperture from f2 at 24mm, to f2.8 at 70mm. The optics of the lens are excellent. Exposure ranges from 400 asa at medium resolution, to 100 asa at maximum. Shutter speeds range from 1/2 second, to 1/500th. Exposure and autofocus controls can be selected from a full-automatic, through program, to aperture priority. There is an excellent exposure compensation feature that allows you to tailor the exposure to your needs. Although there is no manual focus, the autofocus is very accurate, and by using the half-push method on the shutter button, you can lock in both focus and exposure prior to taking the picture. By doing this, you also speedup the cycle between shots, which in high-resolution can be up to seven seconds. In lower resolutions, it is possible to use the motor-drive to crank through a sequence in fairly rapid order. There is about a 1/3 of a second lag between pressing the button and the picture being acquired, so it's not a camera for sports. 

One of the very nice features of the camera, similar to what you have on the Optura, is a choice between using the eyepiece (with a built-in diopter), or the 35mm-size LCD screen that can be pulled open on the back of the camera. The screen can be swiveled through 360 degrees for viewing from any position, and gives you a bright, true-color image of what the camera is seeing. This makes it easy to fine-tune exposure without having to replay an image. The eyepiece gives you roughly 85% of the image, while the LCD displays almost the entire image area. 

The camera features a flash hot shoe which will run either the Canon 220 or 380 speedlights, and I am told, is compatible with studio strobe units as well.  The exposure compensation system works flawlessly with these strobes. 

The camera modes are set via a side-mounted function wheel, which allows you to choose between normal (auto), program (manual adjustments), Playback, and PC. 

There is a Muti/Quality button to the right of the eyepiece that lets you select multi-images in playback, image quality in record (high/low compression in normal record mode, high/low no compression, and large/small image size in program mode). Next to that, is a Jump/Drive button that lets you jump back 10 images at a time, or to the first/last image in playback, and allows you to select continuous-shooting, normal, or self-timer options in record mode. On the far right front is the info/+/ button, which in the playback mode displays the image on the LCD with exposure compensation, sound annotation time, image quality/size, date/time of capture, and CF card lot number. In programed shooting mode, it lets you select the exposure compensation.  

In addition: there is a macro button, microphone button for recording notes, a CF button to select which of two slots for CompactFlash cards is to be used, and a menu button to display the menu on the LCD, which in turn is activated by the LCD/Video button. On the rear panel are +/  buttons that allow you to cycle through playback of your images. 

The camera comes with an 8MB CompactFlash card which can hold anywhere from 20 to 40 high-resolution images, depending on the compression. The camera holds two cards, priced at about $50. CompactFlash cards are currently available from a variety of suppliers in capacities ranging from 2MB to 96MB. Later on this year, IBM will introduce 340MB cards. Canon itself sells only the 8MB cards for now. 

Included in the kit are the necessary cables and software to hook the camera up to either a Mac or PC. Also, there is a very stripped-down version of Photoshop which will allow you to send pictures to your publication even from Timbuktu. 

Though, the 3x lens means you won't be able to use a long lens, it could be a lifesaver to have in your bag when time is running out. It also makes for a great "happy snap" camera. 


Reviews of new equipment appearing in the Camera Corner of THE DIGITAL JOURNALIST are solely the opinion of the author. There is no compensation or pressure by the manufacturers considered in the evaluation of the products reviewed on these pages.

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