Just when we had hoped that manufacturers were moving on from the megapixel race we caught news of Sony's ICX456 eight megapixel CCD sensor which was leaked onto the Internet in June last year. And so at that time it wasn't difficult to predict that we would see a rash of eight megapixel digital cameras just in time for PMA 2004. Sony were first to market with their DSC-F828 which utilized a unique version of this 2/3" Type chip which instead of an RGBG color filter array had an all new RGBE color filter array (more info here). As predicted we each of the remaining 'big five' manufacturers introduce their eight megapixel digital camera at PMA; Canon PowerShot Pro1, Nikon Coolpix 8700, Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom, Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2.
Canon's offering is the eight megapixel, seven times optical zoom PowerShot Pro1. A camera which appears to bridge between what some would like to call the 'G8' (an eight megapixel G series camera) and a follow-on to the Pro70, Pro90 IS series. Canon's lens design is also interesting, the same seven times optical range as we first saw in Minolta's DiMAGE 7 (and subsequently the 7i, 7Hi, A1 and now A2).
An "L-series" lens
Just as Sony did with the F828 Canon are ensuring that they make a quality statement about this camera's lens. Not surprising when you consider that the pixel pitch (the distance between the center of each pixel location) of this 2/3" Type eight megapixel sensor is just 2.7 µm (about the same as the 1/1.8" Type five megapixel sensor used in some compact digital cameras). And the fact that it has an 'ambitious' (by compact digital camera standards) 28 to 200 mm equiv. zoom range.
This is the first time Canon have designated a digital camera lens with the "L-series" label, normally reserved for professional quality SLR lenses. Apparently this lens can carry this mark because it has a combination of both UD (ultra-low dispersion) and fluorite lens elements. I am sure that the 'L' mark will make many people ooh and ahh, however the proof of the pudding, as they say, will be in the image samples, lots of people got equally excited and later disappointed by the Carl Zeiss T* lens on the Sony DSC-F828.
Despite having a large ring around the lens barrel the zoom on the Pro1 is still 'zoom by wire' (electrically driven) rather than the preferred mechanically linked setup as seen on the Minolta DiMAGE 7x, A1 and Sony DSC-F828. However Canon are at least driving the zoom mechanism with a USM (ultrasonic motor) which provides both multiple speed and relatively quiet operation.
The lens, while perhaps not as fast as the Sony lens does have a very respectable maximum aperture of F2.4 at wide angle and F3.5 at telephoto. This should provide the AF system plenty of light for quick focusing as well as the exposure system / photographer plenty of opportunity to 'stop down' the lens (use a smaller aperture) for optimum sharpness.