Canon 1DX Mini Review
by Scott Bourne
This is without a doubt the most impressive camera I've seen since I went digital. There: You have the executive summary. The Canon 1D X is a certified monster of a camera. It's the biggest, the fastest, and if you'll permit me to create a word that is illegal in Scrabble, the bestest 35mm DSLR I've ever seen or used.
Reviewing this camera is a daunting task just because there is so much there. It's a deep well of features and benefits that won't fit into one simple review, so I'll just touch on what for me are the highlights -- and a few lowlights.
Let's start with the basics. The Canon 1D X is a full-frame 18-megapixel digital camera that is capable of shooting at speeds up to 14 frames per second. It's the new flagship camera in the Canon line. It's built like a tank, which is both its strong suit and its weakness. It will probably cause many of its owners to develop early-onset Arthritis.
While the Canon 1D X is more than capable of meeting the needs of any shooter -- sports, wildlife and other fast action shooters will consider it a must-have addition to their bag (as long as they can afford the simply staggering $6,799 street price) -- the camera is in very short supply (as in backordered perpetually), but given the boatload of cash I've given to Adorama over the years I managed to get one of the very few to hit US shores for any purpose other than making a hop over to England for the Summer Olympics.
ISO 400, 1/350 second, f/6.7, with 70-200mm f/2.8L lens
I've only had a few days of shooting with the Canon 1D X, but so far all it has done is amaze me.
First and foremost, can we give a big "Amen" to Canon and the camera gods for including two CF card slots? There are no fancy new unsupported formats to worry about -- no slow SD cards to fuss with. Just two, normal, red-blooded, easy-to-use CF card slots that are UDMA 7 compatible. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Canon.
Those card slots go into as weatherproof a body as Canon has ever made and connect to a system of computers and features that are simply mind-boggling.
Screenshot of 100% view. Click to open full size .png file.
The autofocus is the best you can buy in this format. I've tested and used the 5D Mark III, so I was already familiar with Canon's excellent new 61-point autofocus system. But on the Canon 1DX the autofocus gets a boost with its own dedicated DIGIC processor. This makes the AF even faster and more accurate than the 5D Mark III's AF -- and that is no small accomplishment.
While I need to go to Alaska or a race track to really test this baby out, my experience says that Canon has solved any previous AF problems it might have had and not only designed a fix for the horrid 1D Mark III debacle, but raised the bar higher than any camera to date.
Screenshot of fit view. Click to open full size .png file.
Since many of you are of the religion of low-light, you'll be happy to know that the new DIGIC 5 processors, combined with the new sensor, deliver amazing photos even at ISO 51,200. If you shoot the 14-bit RAW files this camera can deliver, you should find even high-ISO shots easy to clean up in post, and presentable enough for publication. An ISO of 6,400 looks like 400 used to look. Even 25,600 is extremely usable.
ISO 12,800, 1/20 second, f/4.5, with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens
In the past, I always said Nikon had a one to two-stop edge in high-ISO / low-light performance over Canon. As of the arrival of the Canon 1D X that statement is no longer true. Canon has reached parity with the new Nikon D4 based on my unscientific, real-world shooting tests.
Battery life is very good, but a little shorter than you might have experienced on a 1D Mark IV. Still, I spent an entire day shooting the camera and it never ran out of juice. (Note to 1D Mark IV owners: your 1D Mark IV battery will work in the Canon 1D X.)
There are several new buttons (including one that makes DOF preview easier) and a joystick to get used to, but they are fairly straightforward, and the need for nested menus has accordingly been reduced. The viewfinder is 100 percent, so that's a plus when trying to compose images accurately. The 3.2-inch LCD screen is also a nice addition, being slightly bigger than the 3-inch screen on the 1D Mark IV.
I did a short video test. The footage looks amazing and there's no longer a 12-minute time limit on video recording. There's timecode and a 3.5mm external mic input. If Canon weren't trying to sell us the C300 my bet is this camera would have come with XLR inputs; but you can't have everything. The camera uses contrast-detect AF in video mode.
Just walking around shooting in Auto White Balance using matrix metering, I found the Canon 1D X to be generally spot-on. There is a way to adjust the camera to hold highlights, but it looks like there's at least 12 stops of dynamic range here, so that function is generally not needed.
There's lots of stuff that I won't be able to cover here because I just haven't had enough time to try it out, like the 1Gbps ethernet port (which I wish were just a WiFi card), but suffice it to say that if there's a feature you're looking for, it's most likely here on this camera.
ISO 200, HDR, f/8, with 24-70mm f/2.8L lens
The autoexposure bracketing system in the Canon 1D X is an HDR-shooters dream. You can set up AEB over seven shots covering a very wide dynamic range with one press of the shutter button. Since the camera is so fast, using an image-stabilized lens in 12 FPS mode you could probably get away with hand-holding many HDR shots that used to require a tripod, just as I did in the above shot of the Veer Tower at City Center in Las Vegas. (Editor's note: the Canon 1D X does not offer in-camera HDR; these were combined after capture on a computer.)
The reason to buy the Canon 1D X is simple: If you want speed and plenty of it, and the best autofocus on any full-frame DSLR, the 1DX is your camera. It's too big, too expensive, and it's missing just a few video features such as audio monitoring in video mode, but its primary purpose is sport shooting, and there it simply has no equal.
(Scott Bourne is the founder of Photofocus.com, an online photography magazine. Visit Photofocus for a variety of interesting and entertaining articles, photo product reviews, and the Photofocus podcast, released on the 5th, 15th and 25th of each month!)
Canon EOS-1D X Preview
by Shawn Barnett and Mike Tomkins
Preview posted: 10/18/2011
With two DIGIC 5+ image processors, the 1D X can maintain 14-bit A/D conversion at 12 frames per second. Canon says the pair of processors is capable of bringing 17 times more processing speed than a DIGIC 4 chip, which will come in handy when applying noise reduction and in-camera chromatic aberration correction. A separate DIGIC 4 processor is said to control autofocus and metering, which will still be a job considering the 1D X's new 100,000-pixel RGB metering sensor.
But that's not all that's new with the 1D X. In brief, the new camera includes a new Ultrasonic Wave Motion Cleaning dust-removal system; An extendable ISO range from 50 to 204,800; A new 61-Point High-Density Reticular autofocus system; EOS Intelligent Tracking and Recognition (iTR) for better autofocus tracking; Multiple Exposure capability can combine up to nine images into a composite image; A Super High-Speed Mode can capture up to 14 frames per second in JPEG mode (with the mirror locked up); And the Canon 1D X's new carbon-fiber shutter blades have an expected life of 400,000 cycles--that's 100,000 cycles more than its predecessor. Also, the 1D X has an enhanced HD video capability for longer recording times and more compression options optimized for the needs of professional videographers. As if those improvements weren't enough, the 1D X includes a gigabit Ethernet connector, plus the ability to work with an 802.11n Wi-Fi transmitter and a GPS receiver.
Physically, the Canon 1D X doesn't veer much from its predecessors, but with a few notable additions. One prominent addition is the infrared port on the front of the grip, a feature only recently seen moving up the line from the Rebels, and now it's made it to the top. If you wanted infrared on a pro or semi-pro camera, you had to pay for an expensive receiver and remote combo, but now it's built into the EOS-1D X. We have yet to learn whether it requires a special remote.
Just inside the grip--both the regular and vertical grips--are a pair of new buttons. Both are programmable function buttons that are duplicated for the horizontal and vertical grips. Since there's no longer a Depth-of-field Preview button, we presume that's one of the functions available. The monaural microphone lies behind the three holes just below the EOS-1D logo (a stereo mic jack is available on the left side of the Canon 1D X).
Most of the controls on top are the same as past 1D models, with the exception of the Multi-Function button, which first appeared on the Canon 7D, and the addition of a White Balance button just in front of the top Status LCD.
Most of the controls also remain the same on the back, but with several important and well-conceived additions. First, there is now complete duplication of the multicontroller, now offering the same thumb-driven controls in the horizontal and vertical positions. The exception to this is the new Live View toggle button, which is only available in the horizontal orientation. The new Quick Menu button is also not duplicated, unsurprisingly. For its part, it offers easy adjustment to settings via the rear LCD and Scroll wheel.
The CF card door release is moved down to make room for the new multi-controller. It works like a turnkey, releasing the door to reveal dual CompactFlash slots.
To the left of the Playback button is a new LAN light, indicating when the camera's LAN port is active. Finally, the LCD is a 3.2-inch design with a 3:2 aspect ratio. More on that below.
Although there's been some rearrangement, the left side of the EOS-1D X still offers up most of the same connectivity as was found on the 1D Mark IV and 1Ds Mark III. The mounting hole for the wireless file transmitter has moved further up to almost level with the shoulder strap lug, and is now nearer to the front of the camera. Beneath, an unlabeled cover conceals a relocated system extension terminal. To the right of this is the brand-new gigabit Ethernet RJ45 jack, whose cover is separate from that of the HDMI and A/V Out / Digital ports beneath. Finally, the stereo microphone, wired remote and flash sync ports share the last remaining compartment cover.
The only other feature of note on this side is the battery compartment at the base of the camera. The battery pack has the same form-factor, and is backwards compatible, but it's actually a new part with slightly higher charge density.
Canon EOS-1D X Tech Info
Sensor. Canon has developed a brand-new, high-performance full frame CMOS image sensor specifically for the EOS-1D X. With a pixel size of 6.95 microns--some 1.25 microns larger than those of the 1D Mark IV, and 0.55 microns larger than those of the 5D Mark II--the 1D X's sensor is said by the company to have the lowest noise of any EOS digital camera to date. Further enhancing light gathering efficiency, the 1D X's CMOS chip includes gapless microlenses. Resolution is 18 megapixels, almost exactly splitting the difference between the 16 megapixel 1D Mark IV, and the 21 megapixel 1Ds Mark III. To ensure all that data can be read off the sensor quickly enough, the design includes 16 readout channels. Analog to digital conversion is 14-bit.
Processor. Of course, speed demands more than just a lot of parallel readout channels. The EOS-1D X features no less than three DIGIC-branded image processors, although only two are used for image processing. The processors used for imaging are both DIGIC 5+ types, and while we're understand that they feature similar technology to that used in the DIGIC 5 chips of recent PowerShot compact cameras, they're not surprisingly said to be rather more powerful. Compared to the dual DIGIC 4 processors found in the preceding EOS-1D Mark IV, Canon tells us that the new DIGIC 5+ processors offer around 17 times greater processing power. The third image processor is a DIGIC 4 type, and is dedicated specifically to metering and autofocus processing.
Sensitivity. Between the new image sensor and image processors, Canon has been able to extract a very wide sensitivity range from the EOS-1D X. The base sensitivity is ISO 100 equivalent, and ordinarily the 1D X tops out at ISO 51,200 equivalent. This range can be extended at both ends, reaching a minimum of ISO 50 equivalent at the bottom end, and a whopping maximum of ISO 204,800 equivalent in the H2 setting. Overall, sensitivity is said to have been improved by around two stops over the previous generation of cameras.
Performance. Canon has made a worthwhile step forwards in burst shooting performance in the 1D X, besting the 1D Mark IV by two frames per second at full resolution, for a very handy 12 frames per second using either One-Shot or AI Servo AF. This can be increased by another two frames per second, if you're willing to lock up the mirror, shoot in JPEG mode, and restrict your sensitivity to ISO 32,000 or below. In this case, it's possible to shoot at up to 14 frames per second, around 40% faster than was possible with the Mark IV.
Optics. Like its predecessor, the full-frame Canon EOS-1D X accepts Canon EF, TS-E, or MP-E lenses, but not the EF-S lenses designed for the smaller APS-C sensor format. Canon uses lens-based optical image stabilization in its interchangeable-lens cameras, so the availability of stabilization depends on the specific lens model in use.
Lens correction. With plenty of processor power available in the 1D X, Canon has revisited its in-camera optical correction functionality. As well as the peripheral illumination correction capability that was introduced in the Mark IV, which corrects vignetting / light fall-off, the EOS-1D X now provides for in-camera chromatic aberration correction. As with the vignetting correction, the availability of chromatic aberration correction depends on the lens in use, and we understand that the camera ships with around 30 lenses preprogrammed for the new function. Canon's EOS Utility software can be used to register additional lens types, as needed. The CA correction can correct for both lateral and axial aberrations, and does so for both JPEG and RAW image types. In addition, it's possible to correct for lens distortion, although this correction is made during processing of RAW data, and hence is applicable only to JPEG images.
Viewfinder. Optically, Canon has retained a very similar viewfinder design to that featured in the previous 1Ds Mark III and 1D Mark IV models for its new professional flagship. Coverage is approximately 100%, with 0.76x magnification, and a 20mm eyepoint. However, it now includes an information overlay LCD similar to that seen in the EOS 7D, and also shows more information than in past models. Additions include an AF status indicator that shows when the camera is actively focusing, as well as a shooting mode indication, and an additional digit on the ISO sensitivity indication.
Displays. As well as the information available in the optical viewfinder, the EOS-1D X includes two monochrome information LCDs (one each on the rear and top panels), plus a 3.2-inch color LCD panel on the rear panel. As you'd expect, this being a camera aimed at pros who tend to seek out designs that abide by the "hammers in tent pegs" mantra, the LCD panel is fixed in position. Viewing angles should be good (about 170°), though, as it's still a ClearView II panel, which uses a resin filling to eliminate air between the LCD itself and the cover glass, reducing reflections and glare. Resolution is quite high, at 1,040,000 dots, or somewhere in the region of 347,000 pixels.
Like any modern SLR, the Canon EOS-1D X includes live view capability, so it's possible to frame images either through the viewfinder, or on the rear-panel LCD. When using live view mode, three framing guides are available: either a nine- or 24-segment grid, or a nine-segment grid with diagonals.
Focusing. Canon has developed a brand-new autofocus sensor for the 1D X, its first completely new system since the current 45-point design was introduced with 1998's EOS 3 film camera. The EOS-1D X's High Density Reticular AF sensor has an even greater focus point count, with no less than 61 AF points covering a greater portion of the image area. Working range has been expanded at both ends, and is now from -2 to 20 EV.
All 61 points are sensitive to horizontal contrast with maximum apertures as small as f/5.6. In addition, five points in a vertical column at the center of the image frame are high-precision diagonal cross-type points for maximum apertures as small as f/2.8. The centermost 21 focusing points are standard precision cross-type points, effective with maximum apertures as small as f/5.6, depending on the lens in use. Two clusters of 10 focusing points function on either side of these function as cross-type AF points with maximum apertures as small as f/4.0. That leaves the only non-cross type points as the leftmost and rightmost columns, and the columns immediately between the f/5.6 and f/4.0 autofocus points.
Six autofocus point selection modes are available, similar to those in the EOS 7D: Spot, Single Point, Single Point with surrounding four points, Single Point with surrounding eight points, Zone selection and Automatic AF point selection.
Canon has refined its AI Servo AF mode, which is said to have higher tracking sensitivity, and better handles tracking of accelerating or decelerating subjects. Additionally, information from the RGB metering sensor is taken into account when identifying subjects for autofocus, in what Canon is calling EOS iTR (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition) AF. The 1D X can attempt to detect the locations of faces, and focus on these. Alternatively, it can aim to identify a subject of a particular color--a jersey color in a sports game, for example--and track this. (If face detection fails because a face has been lost, it will fall back to looking for color information instead.)
Canon has also now grouped all autofocus-related functions in their own menu tab, providing for quicker and easier access and changes. This new tab includes an AF configuration tool that allows the user to customize tracking sensitivity, AF point auto-switching, and how the camera handles accelerating and decelerating subjects. There's also a feature guide function, which advised photographers on what settings to use with different subject types.
Shutter. Another important change in the Canon EOS-1D X can be found in its shutter mechanism. There's an entirely new design with lighter, more durable carbon fiber shutter blades, along with a new motor design and shutter motion, which together are said to reduce vibration, and also allow a dramatic one-third increase in the rated shutter life, now some 400,000 cycles. Additionally, the EOS-1D X is the first 1D-series SLR able to use an electronic first curtain, which further reduces camera vibration during image capture. According to Canon, shutter lag has been reduced to 55ms and can be further reduced to only 36ms via a custom function setting.
Exposure. As mentioned previously, another first for a Canon DSLR is the 1D X's dedicated metering and autofocus image processor. This DIGIC 4 processor handles output from a new RGB metering sensor, with an effective resolution of some 107,250 pixels, and is said to offer greater exposure accuracy thanks to both color and face detection capability. Matrix metering considers the image frame as 252 separate zones by default, and in low light, the matrix metering system switches to a 35-zone view of the image frame. Subject recognition functionality is used not only for focus and exposure control, but also by the Auto Lighting Optimizer and Automatic Picture Style functions.
Flash. As is standard for professional SLRs, the EOS-1D X doesn't include an internal flash, but instead offers up a standard hot shoe and sync terminal. The 1D X's maximum flash sync speed is 1/250 second.
Creative. Continuing the firsts, the EOS-1D X is Canon's first DSLR to offer in-camera multiple exposure capability. It's possible to combine up to nine separate exposures into a single composite image, in-camera. Four compositing methods are available: Additive, Average, Bright, and Dark, and the results can be reviewed on the LCD monitor. If you're not happy with the results of the most recent exposure, there's a helpful single-step Undo function. In addition, it's possible to use an existing RAW image as the foundation for a multiple exposure stack.
Video. The Canon 1D X offers Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) video capture capability, as well as a couple of lower-resolution options, and a healthy selection of frame rates. At the maximum Full HD resolution, recording rate options are 29.97, 25, or 23.976 frames per second. At 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels), there's a choice of either 59.94 or 50 fps recording. Finally, there's a standard-def mode which offers frame rates suited for either NTSC or PAL display. In all cases, the EOS-1D X uses H.264 compression.
As you'd expect given its flagship, professional camera status, the Canon EOS-1D X provides a lot of control over how videos are captured. Both automatic and manual audio level controls are available, with the manual mode offering a fine-grained 64-step control. It's possible to adjust the levels during capture, and sound recording can also be disabled altogether. There's an optional wind filter function, and sound can be recorded either with an internal, monaural microphone, or an external stereo mic.
The videographer can also control the H.264 compression system used by the camera for HD video, opting either for ALL-i intraframe compression, or IPB interframe compression. The latter considers multiple frames when compressing the video, allowing higher compression levels and more efficient file sizes, but also increasing the burden of post-processing. Intraframe, meanwhile, is similar to Motion JPEG capture in that compression is restricted within each frame, making for higher file sizes but easier editing.
There are also two methods of embedding timecode in the 1D X, with one tracking timecode only during capture of video, and the other including timecode across an entire capture session, including periods where the camera wasn't recording.
Another new feature is the ability to automatically span videos that exceed the maximum 4GB clip length across multiple files. Canon notes that no frames are lost in this process, and so the files can be joined back together seamlessly in post processing. The maximum capture length is still limited to 29 minutes and 59 seconds, however.
Environmental sealing. The EOS-1D X is said to include the same level of weather resistance as in the EOS-1D Mark IV, although no specific information on the number of seals was available at press time.
Dust reduction. While the weather-sealing hasn't changed significantly, the dust reduction functionality has had an upgrade. The EOS-1D X includes Canon's new, second-generation UWMC (Ultrasonic Wave Motion Cleaning) dust reduction system, which doesn't simply shake the IR cut filter, but is said to do so with an underlying, carrier wave motion that's intended to help dislodge smaller particles. There's also a new fluorine coating on the cut filter glass, which aims to help repel dust from adhering in the first place.
Connectivity. The Canon EOS-1D X now includes built-in gigabit Ethernet connectivity (1000BASE-T) in the camera body itself, providing for wired network data transmission. Previously, Canon's professional cameras required the optional wireless file transmitter to connect to a wired network, and the speed was limited to 100BASE-TX. If the attached network connection goes down, the 1D X will queue and attempt to resend images once the connection is restored. It's also possible to mark images for transfer when not connected to the network or a USB port, and then have them transferred automatically when a connection is established.
Wireless file transmitter. A new Wireless File Transmitter, model number WFT-E6A, will be available for the EOS-1D X, and is now faster, offering 802.11n transfer rates. (In full, it supports 802.11a, b, g, and n network types.) The device offers secure transfer of images and video to an FTP server, the ability to display content on a compatible display over a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) connection, and supports linked shooting with multiple cameras. The WFT-E6A is dust and weather resistant, and includes Bluetooth connectivity compatible with certain GPS devices, allowing the use of the wireless file transmitter at the same time as geotagging of images. There's no USB connection, though, and so it is no longer possible to use a USB hard drive with the new wireless file transmitter.
GPS. Canon is also launching a new GPS receiver alongside the EOS-1D X. Carrying model number GP-E1, the new GPS receiver is also weather resistant to the same standard as the camera body, even at the connector. It includes an electronic compass, and can geotag images with UTC time, latitude, longitude, elevation, and camera direction, regardless of shooting orientation.
Storage. The Canon EOS-1D X stores images in RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG formats. Like its predecessors, it includes dual card slots, with the ability to back up images to each card, switch cards by file type or when filled, etc. However, where previously the slots differed in type, they are both now CompactFlash slots (Type I or II, compatible with UDMA 7), and no Secure Digital slot is offered.
Power. The Canon 1D X comes bundled with a new battery pack model, the LP-E4N. It's backward-compatible, and the new version simply offers a higher mAh rating. There's a new charger included, but old chargers should still be compatible with a few caveats. Battery capacity is TBA.
Pricing and availability. The Canon EOS-1D X was initially scheduled to ship in the US market from March 2012, though Canon UK announced on April 12 that general availability has slipped to mid-June. Body-only estimated retail pricing is expected to be in the region of US$6,800.00. The WFT-E6A Wireless File Transmitter will ship at the same time, priced at around US$600. Finally, the GP-E1 GPS receiver will follow from April 2012, with an estimated price of around US$300.
Analysis. With the 1D X, Canon's made a curious move. While its competitors continue the megapixel race, Canon has chosen to retreat from the 21-megapixel full-frame design in the 1Ds and 5D Mark II to an 18-megapixel full-frame sensor for the sake of greater speed, better high ISO performance, and presumably greater dynamic range. All are worthy goals, to be sure. The strategy paid off in the enthusiast camera space, with educated consumers appreciating the move and taking an interest in 10-megapixel S95 and G12 models, choosing better low light performance over ever more millions of pixels. Nikon fans likewise appreciated the faithful performance of the D700, which with its 12-megapixel sensor could capture clean images at higher ISOs than most other cameras in its class. Will Canon pro photographers feel the same? Or do they want something to surpass the amazing performance of the Nikon D3X, with even more resolution and speed?
For sports photographers, the new camera will be attractive for its greater speed, but while it'll offer full frame, that will effectively reduce the magnification of their lenses by a bit (not much, but perhaps enough). And the price of admission to the latest frame game just got $1,600 more expensive. On the other hand, will studio photographers be interested in a camera that can do 12 frames per second? Wouldn't they prefer to stick with their 21-megapixel 1Ds Mark III? I'm thinking both sides might need a little convincing. If performance--particularly in low light--can be shown to rival a Nikon D3X, if not surpass it, I suspect many pro photographers will be interested, regardless of their discipline. Autofocus performance is also key, and pros will be watching closely to see how well the EOS-1D X does in this area.
What's missing in the equation is the 50-megapixel sensor Canon was showing off at Canon Expo last year. If the Canon 1D X isn't adopted by portrait photographers, might the 1Ds make a reappearance with one of these high-res wonders? Another interesting question is what will happen with the 5D Mark II's replacement? Will it take a step back in resolution to attain some of the capabilities offered in the 1D X, particularly in the video department? All we can say for certain is that it's a very interesting and exciting time in the camera industry, with major players making bold moves to attract the attention of a growing body of eager and enthusiastic photographers. It'll be interesting to see how well the 1D X is received, and even more interesting to get the camera into the lab for testing. Stay tuned!