You will never hear me complain about a lens that is just too sharp, or a photo that is just too high in image quality. So when the full frame Canon EOS 1D X was released, I immediately thought that the greatest benefit of this camera is going to be the super-boost in Image Quality. It did not disappoint.
After taking it out into the field, I was anxious to see if the EOS 1D X files were in-fact cleaner with higher dynamic range. To my delight, they were. I recovered highlights and shadows with such ease. Much better than I previously did with the EOS 1D Mark IV. There was also improvement in my High ISO files. At ISO 3200 my files looked similar to the 1D Mark IV ISO 1600 - tremendous when shooting in low light.
Reviewing my images from ISO 400 through 6,400, I found virtually no noise up to ISO 1,600. Basically, images using ISO 1,600 to 6,400 are surprisingly smooth and detailed, and barely require noise reduction post-processing when properly exposed. When needed, I used Lightroom noise reduction algorithms to remove any noise and was quite pleased with the high ISO results.
High ISO Tests
Canon says that the 1D X high ISO files are 2-stops cleaner than the EOS 1D Mark IV. After inspecting my own RAW files, I just could not see it. This leads me to believe that big improvements are not coming from the sensor itself.
I did see noticeable improvement in the entire ISO range, even base ISO. In fact, it was the best I've ever seen from Canon.
If you shoot JPEGs and don't crop your files much, you can definitely take advantage of the in-camera noise reduction and see the 2-stop difference.
I reviewed images at all ISO settings, and only detected slight differences appearing at ISO 800 and above. In the samples below you can see high ISO performance (800 to 12800) of the 1D X compared to the 5D Mark III.
The image above highlights the 100% crop location
ISO 800 (Canon EOS 1D X) ISO 800 (Canon 5D Mark III)
ISO 1600 (Canon EOS 1D X) ISO 1600 (Canon 5D Mark III)
ISO 3200 (Canon EOS 1D X) ISO 3200 (Canon 5D Mark III)
ISO 6400 (Canon EOS 1D X) ISO 6400 (Canon 5D Mark III)
ISO 12800 (Canon EOS 1D X) ISO 12800 (Canon 5D Mark III)
In the ISO 3200 test (below), the 1D X image was 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.
After normalization, the differences in noise are not so dramatic.
ISO 3200 (Canon EOS 1D X) ISO 3200 (Canon EOS-1D Mark IV)
They say this camera is designed to capture action. What better way to test it than to capture 12 frames per second of the fastest animal on earth? My thoughts are that it would mirror a track and field setting where an athlete is running directly towards the camera at constant speed.
The challenge would be to see if the camera's AF capability could hold its ground against a 70mph furious feline darting towards it.
To get the shot, I set the camera to 12 frames per second and AF single point with 4 extra surrounding expansion points. I decided to use 400mm f/2.8L IS II and 1.4x III extender for this test.
The run was over in a flash but I was able to extract around 30 shots with about 75% accuracy. Pretty impressive considering the conditions. Surprisingly the weight of the 400mm f/2.8L IS II + 1.4x III extender, did not prevent me from handholding it at 560mm f/4. For this situation, I used " Accel. / decel." setting, which I found most suitable. I also had Case 5 servo mode preset which allowed the camera speed-up AF pt auto switching.
The below images were shot with the 400mm f/2.8L IS II + 1.4x III, f/4, shutter speed above 1/2500 and ISO 800 | 100% crop
New Canon Super Telephoto Series II lenses
What do you do when you're desperate for a Canon 500mm f/4L IS and just don't have an extra ten- grand floating around to buy one? Call Roger at LensRentals.com. He hooked me up with this hard to find lens for a full week. Thanks buddy!
My back and shoulders were so grateful that he sent me the new series II update of this lens. With a weight reduction of one and a half pounds, Canon introduced the new 500mm f/4L IS II weighing in at only 7 pounds! That is almost the weight of the 300mm f/2.8L IS coupled with the 2x III extender. This new lightweight 500 mm is a fantastic choice for birds in flight. I was able to tirelessly handhold it for hours on end - even with the 1.4x III extender. Just for fun, I put my teenage daughter's delicate shoulders to to the test, and she was able to handhold this lens with great technique!
Do you remember Y2K? That's when Canon came out with the previous 500mm lens. It was 1999, twelve years ago when people thought the world would come to a crashing halt in the year 2000. Now in 2012 the Mayan calendar is scheduled to end, total destruction is feared and Canon comes out with a new 500 mm. Coincidence?
Putting all apocalyptic talk aside, this lens was well worth the wait. Image quality was greatly improved especially in the corners of the full frame. It takes the new 1.4x III and 2x III extenders without noticeable loss of image quality. You can hardly decipher the differences in images taken from the lens bare or with the 1.4x III extender - even at 100% magnification. With the 2x III, there is a small loss in contrast which improves when closing down the aperture by about a stop.
I tested out the new 300mm f/2.8L IS II and 400mm f/2.8L IS II and both performed extremely well with both extenders. With the 2x III extender, contrary to my expectations, my images had ample contrast and sharpness - even wide open. Canon has improved all series II lenses to work better optically and electronically with the new Mark III extenders. Autofocus remains fast and reliable, and it's nice to know that I can now use both extenders without hesitation.
Aside from the weight reduction, which is very impressive in the case of the new 400mm f/2.8L IS II and 600mm f/4L IS II, all series II lenses have a 4-stop image stabilization and shorter minimum focus distance (MFD). Lighter and with better balance, it's now possible to handhold them for a longer period of time. All essential features to the wildlife photographer and maybe just enough to convince my wife that our family really needs to have one of these.
1D X for landscape?
On my final day with the 1D X, before we said our goodbyes, I had a chance to it take it out for a spin. This time, I thought it would be nice if we watched the sunset through my favorite glass, the 17mm f/4L TS-E. Although, Canon is marketing the 1D X as an all-in-one professional camera body to cover every corner of photography - I would have to see it to believe it. So, with the waves crashing below, we waited for dusk to settle in on the San Clemente Pier.
Clouds filled the sky as we watched the last sliver of sunset fade away. It was time to test out long exposures. The full frame sensor let my 17mm TS-E lens do what it was made for. The angle of view was just what I wanted it to be. Image quality of the files, were as smooth as silk and littered with detail.
The annoyance of banding pattern is finally under control and less apparent.
The 1D X performed better than the 5D Mark III in regards to shadow detail recovery too. It's a step above what I've seen in the past from Canon. The 5D Mark III still carries a modest edge in resolution and although it's noticeable when comparing 100% crops, the resolution difference is minor when comparing large size prints.
I pushed the shadows with both cameras at ISO 100. For all tests, I used a sturdy tripod, cable release, live view manual focusing, and the same lens. The crops presented have a very similar histogram. In Lightroom, I pushed the "Shadows" slider to +100 and "Exposure" to +0.5. Below is the full image thumbnail showing the crop area.
The image above highlights the 100% crop location
The 5D Mark III has a resolution advantage, so I interpolated the 1D X native file using PS's bicubic algorithm to 22MP to see how they would compare in a large size print.
Checking the crops below: The 5D Mark III (on the right) has the resolution edge but the 1D X is cleaner.
We are all different photographers. We shoot landscape, wildlife, sports, weddings, news, etc... the list goes on. Canon's answer for all of us is their new, one size fits all, pro-camera, the Canon EOS 1D X. But, trying to satisfy the masses is a daunting task. There is no doubt that this is an amazing piece of equipment. The new focusing system, and the 12 FPS work perfectly for sports and photojournalism. If you're catching the action this camera is going to shine.
Wildlife photographers will surely welcome the new AF system, 12 FPS and cleaner high ISO files. On the other hand, they'll probably miss the pixel density and the ability to auto-focus their super-telephotos at f/8*.
*Update: Canon released Firmware v1.1.1 which enables the Canon EOS 1D X to autofocus at f/8.
The current prosumer 7D is without a question the king of pixel density but it does not offer the same ruggedness and weather sealing as the 1D X. It's AF system is adequate but the 1D X AF system is on a whole different level.
In my opinion, the 7D is a great complement body to the 1D X when shooting wildlife, especially bird photography.
But would a studio, landscape or commercial photographer craving high megapixels compromise resolution for features they could live without?
As a landscape photographer myself, I would love to see a high megapixel camera with a sensor that prioritizes base ISO image quality with improved dynamic range and low signal-to-noise ratio at the expense of frames per second.
Overall, the Canon EOS 1D X is a very versatile camera. When you shoot with it, you feel like it can handle anything. Combined with ultra wide-angle lenses, the 1D X captures amazing full frame landscape photos. It does costs more and has less resolution than the Canon 5D Mark III (Read our Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800 review), but you'll get great dynamic range, less banding, and body that you can take anywhere under any conditions. Sports and action shooters have found a match made in heaven. Only time will tell if other realms of photography will embrace it too.