Full Frame and FPS
After a long wait, professional sport shooters and photojournalists are finally getting the full-frame and high frames per second (FPS) camera they've hungered for. For the past 10 years we used a crop sensor in order to achieve a high number of FPS. The first full frame Canon SLR was released in 2002 but three FPS was inefficient for action photography. Subsequent full-frame models did not significantly improve FPS either, and left much to be desired.
New technology allows Canon to deliver full frame and FPS without sacrificing too much resolution. They've improved performance, making the new 1D X more responsive and reliable. Capturing full frame RAW files at 12 FPS instead of 10 FPS, may not seem like much, but it could be just the edge you need when striving for that perfect shot. With a new 61-point autofocus system and a 100,000-pixel RGB metering system to top things off - it's sure to satisfy.
Forget previous versions, the new 1D X has just raised the bar in autofocus technology. Leading the way with a highly advanced 61-point high density Reticular AF, Canon has designed something to brag about. It reacts to sudden stops and starts on a dime, which is something sports and wildlife photographers will appreciate. There are also a number of dedicated AF modes which are optimized to capture anything from a static subject to an unpredictable moving one. Plus, it has remarkable shooting sensitivity in low light situations.
The 1D X has enhanced and greatly improved tracking capability. The main difference between it and the 5D Mark III, which shares the same 61-point AF system, involves the metering system. There is a new 100,000-pixel RGB metering system in the Canon EOS 1D X that can be used with Automatic AF point selection to assist when tracking subjects around the AF area. It calculates exposure better than anything I have ever seen, even under mixed lighting conditions. Canon calls this an "Intelligent Tracking and Recognition" system (EOS iTR). They designed a separate, independent DIGIC 4 processor, dedicated strictly to calculate metering in order to bring this to life. When enabled, EOS iTR does a phenomenal job detecting face and color when tracking the subject.
The new AF system is able to quickly lock on focus in one shot AF mode, even in extreme low light conditions. There is noticeable improvement from the Mark IV. The low light AF sensitivity at EV -2 makes a great deal of difference in the real world. I was able to focus in very low light (moon lit subjects) with the new 1D-X when using a fast lens and the dual cross central 5 AF points. In comparison, this was not possible with the Mark IV, even when using the center point. It fails to lock on high contrast subjects in very low light, therefore making it necessary to use contrast-detection AF Live View instead.
When shooting with the 500mm f/4L IS II, there was access to 21 Cross-type AF points even when adding the 1.4x III extender. But, from the lenses I tested- only the fast 400mm f/2.8L IS II allowed me to use the new high precision diagonal cross-type layout (dual cross / central five AF points). With the 500mm f/4L IS II, I was able to use high precision AF points away from the center. To the left and right of the center stack of AF points there was a smaller group of 20 AF points in each (four rows across, five points top-to-bottom). In these groups, the middle two vertical rows had a horizontal line sensor that provide superior high-precision.
Here is a graph showing the AF points and their precision when using popular wildlife f/4 lenses like the new 500mm f/4L IS II or 600mm f/4L IS II.
When adding the 1.4x III extender (on the example lenses above), you will loose the f/4 (vertical-line focusing) + f/5.6 (horizontal-line focusing) cross-type AF as shown below:
The final graph shows an example using the most popular sports lenses Canon produces: The 400mm f/2.8L IS II and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II. Because of the fast f/2.8 aperture, these lenses take advantage of all precision points available on the new 61-point AF system.
I noticed that in servo mode, the 1D X takes about the same time as the Mark IV to lock on low contrast subjects in low light. But, focus accuracy was better with the 1D X. Also noticeable is the 1D X's ability to quickly lock focus in extreme defocused subjects.
One indication that Canon built the 1D X with the Sport Photographer in mind is the use of "Olympic sports" icons to illustrate several tweaks to the servo algorithms, aka "Case". These pre-sets grant the ability to tweak the AF servo code to work more specifically for your subject type and conditions.
Even though tracking sensitivity was available on the previous Mark IV, the 1D X now expands on this feature by adding two new settings which allow you to finely tune the acceleration and deceleration and speed of the AF pt auto switching.
My tests demonstrate an improvement from the 1D Mark IV because of the improved servo algorithms and user customizations. I was able to increase the number of keepers when tracking fast birds in difficult conditions with a busy background, thanks to a number of AF Servo "Cases" provided.
When capturing images of birds in flight, I found that two of the pre-set AF cases were most effective. Case 4 and 6. My default setting is Case 4 and works well in all conditions whether the birds are flying laterally or towards the camera. I also like to fine-tune Case 4, by adjust the tracking setting to -1. This gives me just enough lag time to keep the focus where I want it.
However, if a smaller bird is rapidly approaching I will change accel./decel. to +2.
When shooting against a clear background my 61-point AF expansion with face recognition, is enabled. But, my default AF setting will be a single focusing point along with four or eight surrounding points depending on the background.
For a small perched bird that I anticipate tracking as it takes off latterly into the frame, I switch to Case 6. With a solid background, I like to capture these rapid birds by predicting their flight - using the 61-point Automatic selection AF mode. I start by focusing on its head and then let the camera automatically switch between the 61 points to track the bird as it speeds into the frame.
I like using Zone AF when birds are coming towards the camera. Zone AF switches focusing points giving priority to the nearest subject element (birds head). I was able to get a great number of keepers by quickly switching to this mode.
Here is a tip on how to do this very quickly without loosing the bird:
Go to camera "Operation" (C.Fn5)
Select Custom Controls
Select "DOF preview button"
Select "Switch to registered AF func." and click on the "INFO" button
There you can register a custom AF function like Zone AF among other tracking settings.
Press "Menu" and then the "Set" button.
You have successfully registered a custom AF function to the DOF preview button. (In this case Zone AF)
When shooting BIF using Single-point AF with expansion you can quickly switch to Zone AF while still tracking the bird for those occasions when the bird changes direction and starts to fly towards the camera. Alternatively you could use the "M-Fn2" button for this purpose.
The right camera for Wildlife Photography?
Many wildlife photographers may be wondering if they should upgrade to the new 1D X.
It's 61-point AF system is definitely a pull in that direction. If you can get close to your subject and you are working with a long lens, than this could be the camera for you. Especially since you will get cleaner shots when shooting in low light.
Some may argue that the 1D X inability to autofocus at f/8 is a big drawback*. After all, being able to auto focus at f/8 with accuracy, using the center point, has always been a major advantage of the EOS 1 Pro SLR since the 1D introduction.
If you do decide to get the new camera, popular lenses like the 400mm f/5.6L and 800mm f/5.6L will not autofocus with the 1.4x extender. Also, bread and butter super-telephotos lenses like the 500mm and 600mm f/4L, when coupled with the 2x extender, will not autofocus either.
*Update: Canon released Firmware v1.1.1 which enables the Canon EOS 1D X to autofocus at f/8.
When not focal-length limited, wildlife shooters will get superior image quality, especially when shooting in low light. In situations where your subject fills the full frame, the 1D X makes a lot of sense and could be the best tool currently available. But if you find yourself reach limited and substantial crop is applied in post-production, then the 1D X superior image quality takes a hit.
Keep in mind that with the 1D X you are going to be maxed out at 800mm. If you upgrade to this camera you might have to get closer to your subject in order to avoid too much cropping.
For example, bird photographers currently shooting with a 1D Mark IV and the EF 800mm f/5.6L IS lens are able to take advantage of the 1.3x multiplier and the ability to shoot at f/8 - giving them a maximum reach of 1450mm when adding the 1.4x extender. That's a big difference in focal length that they will have to give up with the 1D X. Although 800mm is as super-telephoto as it gets, it just might not be enough for many experienced wildlife and bird photographers.
The 1D Mk IV's sensor has a pixel density advantage of 22% compared to the 1D X's full frame sensor. In essence, when using the same lens and cropping the 1D X file to match the 1D Mark IV's field of view, you end up with only about 10MP to work with.
At first glance when comparing RAW images from both cameras at the pixel level without any cropping or normalization, it seems like the 1D X files are cleaner. However, if the 1D X image is cropped so that it produces the same field of view as a full sized image from the 1D Mark IV and then interpolated to 16MP, the differences in noise are not so dramatic anymore. (See high ISO tests on page 2)
One solution for wildlife shooters considering the EOS 1D X is to upgrade their lenses to compensate for the loss of reach. It's an expensive proposition, but it will yield better image quality. And, there's always the option of carrying an extra crop body like the Canon 7D or 1D Mark IV, when focal length restricted.