Canon EOS 1D X Preview

Monday June 04 2012

Camera Preview
Introduction | Preview | Comparisons

Canon’s new professional digital SLR – the EOS-1D X – is a sports photographer’s dream. It shoots a dizzying 12 pictures per second, features a 61-point autofocus system, and pushes the upper limits of light sensitivity with a marketed ISO range of 100 to 51,200 (we’ll be sure to test the camera’s ISO for accuracy).

Its industrious design and weight of 1.34 kg make it a tank. So does its asking price of about $6,800 (US).

Much of this extra cost is being attributed to the EOS-1D X’s added brain power, which includes not one, but three processors!

But is the extra brain function worth the cost? Here’s a look at how the EOS-1D X compares with its predecessor, the EOS-1D Mark IV; its little brother, the EOS 5D Mark III; and its direct rival, the Nikon D4.

Canon EOS-1D X vs. EOS-1D Mark IV

Canon EOS-1D X vs EOS-1D Mark IV

The newest generation of Canon’s professional reporting SLR has undergone a change, and not a small one, either. In fact, the EOS 1-D X abandons the APS-H sensor of its predecessor, the EOS-1D Mark IV. This change has two important and significant consequences:

  • It helps the EOS-1D X offer a gain in resolution of 2 megapixels, and on a larger surface area. Our tests will most likely confirm that the EOS-1D X will have better low-light sensitivity than the EOS-1D Mark IV.
  • The APS-H sensor –found in a number of DSLR cameras – often gives a “crop factor” to images, meaning the sensor minimizes the field of view. By eliminating this sensor, Canon consumers shooting with wide-angle lenses will get images truer to what they see in the viewfinder. While advantageous, it carries problems for some photojournalists (sports and action photographers in particular) who view the APS-H as a natural 1.3x lens extender — for example, a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM was the equivalent of a 400mm lens (well, 390mm, to be exact).

Areas of progress for the Canon EOS-1D X

The Canon EOS-1D X brings a number of improvements to the already high performing EOS-1D Mark IV.

  • It debuts a new autofocus system that includes 61 auto-focus points (vs. 45 for the 1D Mark IV).
  • The camera relies on three processors, including two DIGIC 5+ processors, which Canon advertises as being 17 times faster than the EOS-1D Mark IV’s DIGIC 4 processor.
  • Its burst mode, or continuous high speed shooting, is 12 images per second in automatic mode and 14 images per second with all automatic features turned off — that is, AF tracking and exposure metering off, and with the mirror raised. This bests the 10 images per second attained by the EOS 1D Mark IV

One negative jolt

There is, however, one change that is really going to negatively affect photojournalists and full-time photographers: the battery life of Canon EOS-1D X’s is sharply reduced compared to the EOS-1D Mark IV’s, which itself was already quite modest for a pro SLR (1500 shots). With only 1120 images per charge, the Canon EOS-1D X’s new battery seems to fizzle at keeping up with the high-energy needs of the dual DIGIC 5+ processors, in addition to all the various automatic features and motors.

A pretty penny

The price of professional cameras continues to increase – the EOS-1D X is no exception. Canon’s newest iteration will set you back $6,800 (US), nearly $1,800 more than the EOS-1D Mark IV.

Canon EOS-1D X vs Nikon D4

Canon EOS-1D X vs Nikon D4

Rarely have these Canon and Nikon rivals gone so directly head-to-head:

  • Bye-bye to the EOS 1D’s APS-H-format sensor (see the 1D Mark III and the 1D Mark IV for its last uses): the EOS-1D X adopts the Full-Frame format for its camera designed for reportage and action photos — and not only for its high-resolution pro reflex (see the EOS 1Ds Mark III). A priori this is a rather good idea on Canon’s part, given that its camera results suffered by comparison, especially in terms of low-light. (Don’t forget that the larger the sensor, the better its handling of noise.)
  • Bye-bye to Nikon’s lag-behind video mode: today, the Nikon D4 is on par with the Canon EOS-1D X and goes so far as to propose a few additional refinements, starting with the ability to export the video stream via HDMI 4:2:2 output.
  • Both the Nikon and Canon cameras have an ethernet port and compatibility with a new WiFi transmitter that makes it possible to connect with a smartphone or tablet internet browser. Such connectors are a real asset for those looking for quicker integration with their workflow, such as those adopted by cable news agencies.
  • The two cameras have honed their automation with 51-point autofocus for the Nikon D4 and 61-point autofocus for the Canon EOS-1D X, both coupled with scene recognition sensors that weigh in around 100,000 points. The Canon has the advantage of a far greater number of cross-type collimators — 41 vs. 15 for the Nikon.
  • Both cameras have made progress in terms of burst shooting speed. The Canon retains superiority, however: in normal mode (that is, with autofocus tracking and exposure metering on), the EOS-1D X attains 12 fps versus 10 fps for the Nikon D4. With automatic features disengaged, the Canon achieves a record 14 fps versus 12 fps for the Nikon.
  • Both cameras have seen their autonomy reduced compared to their respective predecessors because of new regulations governing Japanese electronics. But as for the battery optimization game, Nikon has limited the damage with an announced autonomy of 2600 photos per full charge, whereas the Canon promises only 1120 photos for a fully-charge EOS-1D X. That’s not much.

The Nikon D4 is very similar to the Canon EOS-1D X — more than Canon and Nikon professional SLRs have ever been before. The retail price of the Canon EOS-1D X, however, is 500 euros higher than that of the Nikon D4.

The complete comparison is available here: Canon EOS-1D X vs Nikon D4

Canon EOS-1D X vs Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EOS-1D X vs Canon EOS 5D Mark III

The DxOMark comparison is available here: Canon EOS-1D X vs Canon EOS 5D Mark III

We’ve already said that the EOS 5D Mark III can be considered a baby-EOS-1D X, because it utilizes some of the same up-to-date technologies, such as 61-point autofocus and measuring exposure via a 100,000-pixel, 63-zone iCFL color sensor. But a baby-EOS-1D X is not an EOS-1D X: the EOS 5D Mark III’s autofocus, so close to that of its big brother, is not as fast (a double Digic 5+ processor for the former versus a single DIGIC 5+ processor makes a big difference), nor does it couple color measurement to exposure, as does the EOS-1D X’s.

Although the EOS 5D Mark III has nothing to be ashamed of in terms of its burst shooting rate (6i/s) when compared to its predecessor or to the Nikon D800, the EOS 1-D X still claims the lead with burst shooting at 12 i/s (and even 14 i/s without exposure meter or autofocus, mirror raised).

And while the sensor definition is fairly close for the two cameras (i.e., 18 and 22 megapixels, respectively), one can quite naturally assume that the EOS-1D X’s sensor has the upper hand. Short of surprising test results, the EOS-1D X will most likely further cement its position as an excellent camera for reportage, for field work, and for quality photos in low light.

Finally, the finish, the tropicalization, and the overall robustness of the EOS 1-D X are still a notch above those of the EOS 5D Mark III, despite the progress Canon has made with its third generation of 5D cameras. More professional, the EOS-1D X retains certain exclusive features in the Canon reflex line that allow it to insert itself better into one’s workflow — for example, its RJ45 ethernet port.

Still, the EOS 5D Mark III has quite a few things in its favor, including portability and discretion (when in silent mode), its greater affordability, and a headphone jack for video mode — an important refinement, especially if shooting video is a priority for your work.