Canon 1DX Mark II Conclusion

As Canon's top-of-the-line DSLR, the updated 1DX Mark II is brimming with the high-performance features that professional photojournalists, sports and wildlife photographers, as well as deep-pocketed advanced enthusiasts, demand. As the latest iteration of Canon's professional flagship 1D-series camera, the 1DX II sports a lot of new features, including a brand new 20MP full-frame sensor, a pair of faster DIGIC 6+ image processors, a quicker 14fps continuous burst rate, and an improved 61-point autofocus system with f/8-capable focusing at all AF points.

The Canon 1DX Mark II is a serious camera -- big, bulky and expensive, but full of the latest and greatest EOS technology. However is this pricey pro camera all that it's cracked up to be?

Canon 1DX Mark II Image Quality

Not a big jump in resolution, but excellent image quality overall at low and high ISOs

The Canon 1DX Mark II gains a bit of image resolution over its predecessor, going from an 18.1-megapixel to a 20.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor. Though it doesn't offer the resolving power of smaller, pro-level DSLRs like the 5D Mark IV and, of course, the 5DS/R -- or even the consumer-level 24MP Rebel T6i/T6s -- the Canon 1DX Mark II is closely matched to its biggest rival, the 20.8-megapixel Nikon D5.

At 20MP, the Canon 1DX II offers a solid balance between image resolution and detail with high ISO performance, as well as providing image file sizes sufficiently small enough to allow for an impressively large buffer capacity and quick clearing times (more on performance in a bit). For fast action, sports, wildlife and pretty much anything else where timing is critical and you need to fire off frame after frame, the EOS 1DX Mark II provides high-quality images with excellent detail that don't slow you down.

We were very pleased with the image quality from the Canon 1DX Mark II, both at low ISOs and high. Low ISO shots are clean and crisp with fantastic dynamic range thanks to its new sensor with on-chip A/D conversion.  Although it offers an extra stop of extended sensitivity over its predecessor, ISO 409,600 is very noisy with questionable value, however it's a vastly more appropriate maximum ISO than the Nikon D5's rather ridiculous ISO 3,276,800. In typical use cases, you can easily boost the 1DX Mark II's sensitivity up to ISO 25,600 without much worry and still capture images with lots of detail.

Canon 1DX Mark II Autofocus & Performance

As expected, this flagship EOS camera has fantastic autofocus & burst performance

Being a camera designed almost specifically for sports and wildlife, it's no surprise that the performance from the Canon 1DX Mark II is excellent. Whether it's photographing soccer at dusk or racing yachts from another boat, the fast 14fps burst was more than adequate to capture fast-paced action. In our lab testing, the 1DX II's 14fps spec was pretty much dead on the money. Canon also claims up to 16fps in Live View mode since the mirror is locked up. However, although we tried a number of times, we were never able to match Canon's spec here. We were able to get a little faster than the standard 14fps burst rate, but nothing close to 16fps.

Buffer depths were equally impressive, especially using a fast Lexar Pro 3500x CFast 2.0 memory card, with practically unlimited shooting for either JPEGs or RAW files. If you opt for RAW+JPEG, then the buffer does finally reach a limit after about 73 shots in our tests, after which the burst rate slows to a still-respectable 8fps. Buffer clearing times were fantastically quick with our CFast 2.0 card, at only one second after a burst of RAW or JPEG frames or just four seconds after a burst of RAW+JPEG frames. We also tested continuous mode with a 100MB/s UDMA 7 CF card, and while the numbers were still quite respectable, a CFast 2.0 card is the way to go if you if you want or need top-notch performance.

As for autofocus, again, being a flagship model, we had high expectations for the 1DX Mark II, and the camera did not disappoint. While our lab tests indicated extremely quick AF times and very little shutter lag, the real test was in the field where the Mark II passed with flying colors. On a variety of moving subjects, the Canon 1DX Mark II was able to keep up and maintain focus very well. Tracking AF performance was superb, and the various AF point configurations, as well as adjustable AF speed and sensitivity parameters, really let you dial in the AF performance you need for the subject at hand.

Canon 1DX Mark II Video Features

Finally 4K video in an non-Cinema EOS camera, but it's still missing some obvious features

The Canon 1DX Mark II also makes significant strides in the video department, too. While the 1D-series have been video-capable for a few models now, the Mark II (apart from the earlier cinema-specific 1D C) adds a lot of pro-oriented features to make it a real hybrid DSLR beyond just a sports and action stills camera. Borrowing from the very pricey 1D C, the 1D X Mark II is the first non-Cinema EOS DSLR from Canon to offer 4K video recording, and in particular, the higher-resolution 4K DCI (4096 x 2160) standard at up to 60 frames per second. The Mark II becomes a versatile video tool for both cinema productions at 24p as well as broadcast projects, which need higher frame rates, usually 60p.

The video quality at 4K is very good, with lots of detail as well as pleasing colors and decent dynamic range with the 'Standard' Picture Style. The camera records 4K video using the Motion JPEG file format which offers very high quality, but the file sizes can get enormous very quickly. For example, a 43 second 4K/60p clip ended up being 4.45GB! It also takes considerable computing horsepower to playback these 4K videos. We even had trouble getting the videos to play smoothly on a quad-core i7 Retina 5K iMac. It's also worth noting that there is about a 1.3x crop factor when shooting 4K, so your wide-angle lenses won't be as wide when filming at this resolution.

Dual Pixel CMOS AF made its first appearance in a full-frame Canon DSLR in the 1DX II, and like previous implementations of Dual Pixel AF, live view autofocus for video (and stills) is quick and wobble-free. For stills, AF here is very fast and spot-on, while video autofocus -- called Movie Servo AF -- is very smooth. The fact that both speed and tracking sensitivity of Movie Servo AF are adjustable is a handy touch depending on your subject and look you're going for.

Other high-end features, such as focus peaking and exposure zebras, are strangely absent, despite the increasing popularity of such features on more consumer-level cameras. The 1DX II also maintains the common (and unfortunate) 29:59 continuous recording limit for internal recording time.

Canon 1DX Mark II Build Quality

Classic 1D-series build quality makes for a hefty camera, but one that should last a long time

Like the 1DX before it, the refreshed Mark II model maintains its distinctive, bulky gripped body design. Built to withstand the rigors of daily, professional use, the 1DX Mark II feels amazingly solid. With a heavily weather-sealed body, magnesium alloy chassis and a shutter rated for 400,000 actuations, the Mark II should last you for quite a while. Although its sizable heft is great if you have large hands or balance the camera with a lot of longer, heavier lenses, for mere mortals, this is a heavy camera that can get tiresome to haul around.

Given the professional nature of the 1DX Mark II, there are loads of physical controls, making it easy to get out and shoot without diving deep into menus -- if you don't want to. On the flip side, there is a lot of customization to both button functions and performance parameters that make the 1D X Mark II suitable for a variety of shooting styles.

The addition of a touchscreen is a first for a 1D-series camera, but touch is only active for live-view shooting to select or move the AF box. For the most part, that's okay with us, as that's perhaps the most useful feature of a camera touchscreen. However, a little more functionality would have been nice, such as navigating the Quick Menu interface, for example.

Canon 1DX Mark II Review Summary

The top of the line EOS camera with top of the line performance.

Sure, it's big, it's heavy, and it's expensive, but as the adage goes, "you get what you pay for." And with the Canon 1DX Mark II, you're paying for the best Canon DSLR for sports, action, wildlife, or photojournalism. The 20MP resolution might not suit those commercial photographers who need mountains of megapixels, but for everything else, the 1DX Mark II's images are right on the money. Images look great, and dynamic range is excellent. High ISO performance is also top-notch -- as one would expect for a camera of this class -- and the versatile autofocus and incredible burst shooting performance will not disappoint or slow you down.

With the ever-increasing performance and resolution provided by a number of recent cameras, many enthusiasts and advanced amateurs might be reconsidering if they truly need a camera as bulky or as pricey as the Canon 1DX Mark II. However, for the long-time professional photographer (especially one already committed to the Canon EOS ecosystem), the 1DX Mark II is currently the best of the best when it comes to combining speed, performance and high ISO image quality for the Canon system.

All told, the Canon 1DX Mark II definitely gets the nod as a Dave's Pick in our book.


Pros & Cons

  • Very good image quality from JPEGs, excellent from RAW files
  • Excellent high ISO performance
  • Class-leading dynamic range
  • Very good hue accuracy
  • Supports Fine Detail Picture Style
  • Very quick mode changes
  • Fast 61-point autofocus with excellent tracking performance
  • f/8 support at all focus points
  • Able to autofocus in very dim light
  • Very low shutter lag
  • 14 fps full-res burst mode (Up to 16 fps in Live View mode, but we could not verify in lab tests.)
  • Unlimited buffer when shooting JPEGs or RAW with a fast CFast 2.0 card
  • Very fast buffer clearing with a fast CFast 2.0 card
  • Big, bright, accurate viewfinder
  • Optional full-time red illuminated AF points in the viewfinder
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF allows for quick and smooth AF during Live View and movies
  • 4K DCI video capture up to 60p
  • Built-in GPS
  • USB 3.0 port
  • Built-in Ethernet port
  • Clean, uncompressed HDMI output (but only up to Full HD)
  • Simultaneous internal recording at up to 4K and 1080 HDMI streaming
  • Headphone jack
  • Flicker detection
  • Good battery life for its class
  • Familiar ergonomics to other 1D-series cameras with lots of physical controls
  • Highly customizable controls
  • Very robust build quality with high degree of weather-sealing
  • Two different memory card slots (CF and CFast 2.0)
  • Very heavy and bulky
  • Expensive
  • While more rugged, the fixed LCD makes it harder to shoot or film at low or high angles
  • No focus peaking or zebras
  • 4K video uses Motion JPEG codec which produces huge files
  • 29:59 continuous video recording limit
  • Touchscreen functionality limited to just tap-to-focus in Live View
  • Very warm images indoors under tungsten lighting with default auto white balance mode
  • Default sharpening radius a bit high, generating noticeable halos around high-contrast edges

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