Canon EOS-1D X field test by David Clapp
Professional landscape photographer David Clapp gets his hands on a Canon EOS-1D X to try out, and gives PhotoPlus his exclusive reaction.
The 1D-series bodies have always been the pinnacle of Canon’s optical and electronic engineering with the professional photographer very firmly in mind. Although it’s fair to say many of the features are also found in prosumer and consumer cameras, it’s the robust build, enormous 100% viewfinder, layout, duplicate shooting functions, massive battery life and weather sealing that make it worth every penny and streets above the other cameras in the Canon range.
For me, the 1Ds Mk III was a massive step upwards. It was such a revelation, with its huge 21Mp sensor and excellent image quality, that I have been happy with this exceptional camera for over four years. Great colour, great features and virtually bullet proof, for the landscape photographer it has been best camera out there – but the 1Dx has upped the game even further.
The 1D X effectively merges the fast 1.3x crop sensor 1D Mk IV and 1Ds Mk III full-frame camera. Is the 1D X the best of both worlds?
The crop sensor systems have never been of much interest to landscape photographers. I can see that, for wildlife/sports photographers, the merging will have caused some disappointment. Yet all files can be cropped on a computer – all it would take is some carefully positioned black tape to modify a focusing screen and the camera is the same (well, maybe not quite!) I don’t think it is the best of both worlds, but the costs to manufacture two very similar cameras for such a long time must have caused considerable issues in-house. I am just glad that the 1D-series system continued with full frame, and not a 1.3x crop.
Many are also concerned about the drop in full-frame image size, from 5616×3744 down to 5184×3456 pixels (21Mp down to 18Mp), but the sensor technology is so greatly improved that this small reduction should be the least of concerns.
What’s the high ISO performance like?
My testing of the 1D X has shown that the camera is utterly remarkable at high ISOs. In fact, I was looking at a night shoot from a PhotoPlus Apprentice feature (which will appear in issue 70, on sale 8 January 2013) and I am still astounded at just how noise-free the files are. I can happily report that ISO3200 looks like ISO800 on the 1Ds Mk III. My 5D Mk II was capable of good results up to ISO800-1600, but the 1D X is on another level all of its own. It’s even a marked improvement over the 5D Mk III, which is also a good performer, but it’s just how far the files can be pushed in Raw that makes the 1D X very much the camera of choice.
The dynamic range is also remarkable at high ISOs. Most cameras exhibit significant loss of dynamic range as the ISO is increased, but the 1D X can pull astonishing detail from the shadows in ISOs right across the range. The signal-to-noise ratio is also extremely consistent. ISO 100-800 is virtually noise-free, ISO3200 is just amazing, but the threshold is reached at ISO12800 where the quality starts to drop significantly. That’s a further three stops of quality above any camera I have used. To those shooting high-speed action, this means all manner of creative possibilities, but to me it’s night photography where this is the most exciting. The benefits are greater depth of field and shorter shutter speeds in low light, files filled with data that can be pushed/pulled in Raw and still stay looking great.
What’s the 14fps mode like?
14 frames per second? If the camera had 14 frames per minute I would be happy! I can honestly say other than flexing my ego, it’s not been something I would ever need. The 14fps only works with JPEGs, so you are ‘stuck’ with 12fps in Raw, oh what a shame! I hope this speed will pull further creativity out my photography, perhaps I’ll shoot some wildlife, but for the first time I have a camera that will encompass all these opportunities.
What’s the handling like?
The handling of the 1Dx is the best camera that I have ever used. The thought that has gone into it really shows when it comes to instinctive use. My journey to the 1D-series cameras came from a 5D Mk I directly to a 1Ds Mk III. I used to have a BG battery grip for the 5D, but despite the vertical control buttons, it never felt truly part of the camera. The 1Ds Mk III changed all that. The 5D Mk II was the only camera I have owned that hasn’t had the grip / dual shooting controls, simply because it was a backup. Everytime I used it, I used to curse the lack of dual controls, so you can tell how much I love them!
There are a million different AF setups for every type of moving thing – do you actually use any of these?
For me, I can see that this will be a slow stage of learning. As long as the camera focuses consistently and accurately, I cannot see myself dipping into all the custom AF menus very regularly. I tried the camera in AI Servo mode to see how the camera responded to near/close shooting, focusing on trees in Wistmans Wood. I was using an EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS lens and I have never seen a camera lens combo respond so fast. All the shots were pin sharp. Autofocus is a big part of what I do when travelling, so it is important to me, but it’s the ability of accurate low light focusing that will be a huge boost to my work.
Do you use the double CF slots, or just one?
I use both. The dual CF slots have always been very useful for me in the 1Ds Mk III, especially when on the move or shooting abroad. I only shoot 8GB cards, one in each slot, as I get somewhat nervous about accidents. Losing days of images from a corrupt memory card is rare, but I backup to my MacBook Pro regularly so 8GB cards are perfect. What I am going to do is implement the other CF slot in the 1D X with a second 32GB card, shooting duplicate Raw files to both cards at the same time. I rarely shoot over 500 shots a week when on the move, so the 32GB will duplicate everything I take. Its great to know I could have a backup card onboard at all times.
Is image quality ‘£3K better’ than the 5D Mk III?
It depends what you are shooting. The extended ISO performance is a notable improvement over the 5D Mk III. The threshold of the 5D Mk III that I am comfortable with is ISO3200, but it shows a significant drop in dynamic range in comparison to the 1D X in these upper ISOs. This would make me choose the 1D X every time, but for others its possibly unnecessary. Both cameras hold their own perfectly well in the Canon range, both are a huge leap forwards in image quality over the 5D Mk II in particular. For me, low-light/high-ISO has always been a huge part of my work, but for the low-ISO landscape shooter the 5D Mk III would more than suffice.
From a pro’s point of view, what do you like/appreciate about the 1D X?
I won’t mention ISO performance any more as I think you know what I am excited about most! The 1D X is an incredible photographic tool. There are some superb new features that I cannot do without. The dual customisable function buttons on the front of the body (in fact, literally all the buttons can be customised), the massive bright viewfinder, in-viewfinder LCD overlay, Custom Shooting Modes, in-viewfinder level (on the 5D Mk III too), extra joystick, Q button – all these features make it a huge leap forwards within the 1D-series system. The menus are far better, less cluttered, with help menus too. And, above all, its bullet proof.
Are you going to invest in a 1D X now you’ve tested one?
It’s funny, I was convinced that after the positive testing of the 5D Mk III, (before receiving the 1D X) that this camera was not for me. I was certain that, after I sold the 5D Mk II, I would get a 5D Mk III, and possibly sell the 1Ds Mk III, purchasing another 5D Mk III as a backup. All that changed in one night shooting the night sky in Norway. I only have the 1Ds Mk III right now, so I need another body, and the 1D X is going to be it. It will extend my imagery to greater heights for sure. Then, as the 5D Mk III comes down in price, it will probably replace the 1Ds Mk III. All 1D-series bodies attract a lot of attention, especially when travelling and in the end they are my working tools, depreciating as fast as my car! It is exciting times for photography, to say the least.
This entry was posted on Thursday, December 6th, 2012 at 5:44 pm and is filed under Canon D-SLRs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a comment. Pinging is currently not allowed.