Canon EOS 1 D X: an experience review

Canon EOS-1 D XAfter having written a review about the Canon EOS 1 Mark IV not too long ago, the review for the Canon EOS 1 D X may be a little bit early. But I think, I write only a short review, because I ‘m often asked about my experiences with the 1DX. Mainly from photographers who (still) use the Canon EOS 1 Mark IV.

With the EOS 1 Mark IV I had been very satisfied all the time and – until February this year – I assumed that I would wait for the next professional model and would skip the Canon EOS 1DX. I would not have thought at the time, that I would buy the Canon EOS 1DX. The EOS 1 Mark IV had been the perfect camera for me. However, in Norway I met the famous finnish nature photographer Marcus Varesvuo. I realized that he was shooting with 2 Bodies of the Canon EOS 1DX and he told me that he had sold his two “old” EOS 1 Mark IV because after the purchase of the new professional models he no longer took pictures with the EOS 1 Mark IV . The EOS 1 Mark IV he had originally intended to keep to use the “better” crop factor of 1.3. As he told me, this is of no importance for him anymore. The higher resolution of 18mpix would allow cropping in the final image very well and allow a significant improvement in noise performance recordings with the converters, which is not suitable with the EOS 1 Mark IV.

The first time I photographed with the 1DX myself, I have noticed not only the above mentioned improvements. The autofocus speed, a speed of 12 frames/ sec and the dynamic range were significantly better. After a short expedition for the Great Grey Owl in Finland again with many anticipated flight shots, I could not resist and I bought the 1DX as a demonstration of a magazine photographer.

As a bird photographer, I am specialized on photographing as many species of birds for scientific purposes. After 6 months in use, trips to Romania, Bulgaria and pelagic trips and a total of 70,000 shots I can draw the following conclusion:

What struck me as just the beginning, is that the new 1DX is weighed significantly heavier in the hand compared to the EOS 1 D Mark IV. So that was not so nice on first sight. First I switched-off displaying the grid and the electronic level. Thus, the INFO-button reveals only information directly associated with camera features.

What has intrigued me immediately were the assignable buttons. They are called Multi-function button and e.g. located near the bayonet. Now I chose the AF-ON key operated by the thumb for the ” 61-point Automatic selection AF.”  The Single-point Spot AF measurement is now triggerd by the lower of the two multi-function buttons on the bayonet A decision I am very happy until today. But honestly another key assignment did not come to my mind in the meantime anyway.

Really a progress is the new ISO-button, which is only there for the ISO setting . Since the setting is normally – with rare exceptions – set to “Automatic” , this feature is no real purchase criterion. The same is true for white balance. I appreciate it, that the 1DX displays how much Kelvin you get to set. However I like it more by professionally , ​​aesthetic reasons. Again, no real point , since I almost never change from the Automatic white balance (AWB) and – if at all – later in Photoshop, I set the white pointer in the RAW converter. Real progress is, that Canon has now installed two CF card slots. It can not happen any more, that in the middle of the “battle” you run out of storage and must change the CF card.

The new viewfinder is large enough, which is very pleasant. As noted by some users, I also thought the AF symbol in the corner a little bit strange. It light up when you are focusing, indicating that the AF is on. Well I’ve not missed this up to now, even when it happens that the AF –button switch on the lens during transport. Something what happens with the Canon EF 400mm f/4.0 DO IS USM. A corresponding display (AF or MF) has been with the Mark IV only on the rear panel. For me, this was enough. So now the bottom right of the viewfinder . Well! Otherwise, all AF settings and settings of the operation are as easy as you already know from other Canon models. So overall not a big, noticeable deviation from the operating concept of the Canon EOS 1 MK IV. As the handling is similar in both professional models, both cameras can be used as complements in the parallel use of different lenses.

There are different opinions on the shutter sound. Some claim it an addictive sound, for others it is too intrusive. I personally found the – initially less metallic sounding – shutter sound of the Mark IV pleasant, but now I am used to the harsh sound of the 1DX. Subjectively, I noticed that the sound of the 1DX is still too loud. Whether this bothers animals in front of a hide more than with another camera, I have not tried. True, however, that the Silent mode of the Canon 1 D X does not deserve its name. This was the same with the Mark IV, too.

What I do not want to miss however, is, that this camera is just incredibly fast. 12 frames per second is already a word , what you appreciate most in aerial photographs. A large number of images in a sequence is another bonus. This feature impressed me so much, that I switched away from the storage of small JPG ‘s additionally. Now I create JPG ‘s to the RAW-files only after reviewing the images in Adobe Bridge. Which of the two approaches in the workflow is better might be debatable. The fact is that now,  I a aible to shoot approx.  50% more RAW-image shots in a row with this setting than before. For flight shots a criterion not to be underestimated. Whether other important factors related to the inhouse-computer performance, such as the shutter lag or the LiveView on / off switch, has become much better, I cannot confirm personally.

The same is true for the batteries . There are now new batteries , which are called LP- E4N . In my opinoion they do not show significantly better performance. Fortunately the old LP-E4 of the Mark IV  are accepted in the EOS 1 DX, too. This made me decided to refrain from buying a second LP E4N up to now.

One of the bonus points of the EOS 1 – series had always been the sophisticated autofocus. Already excellent at the Mark IV. But the fast and accurate auto focus system of the EOS -1D X really is again half to one class better. The 1D X has an AF system with up to 61 focus areas that allow a very accurate and precise control of the focus level. In addition, it uses the autofocus information provided by the RGB sensor for metering. At Canon, this function will operate under the name ” Intelligent Tracking and Recognition” ( EOS iTR ) and it aims to improve the automatic selection of the AF point so far that colors are also taken into account when tracking moving objects . This actually works only with the 61-point automatic selection AF, because only if all the AF detection points are active, the 1 DX can use the color information to inform the AF system that the subject moves and that consequently the focus -related AF detection points are “passed”. A nice feature, of course I had to try right away. In flight shots against the sky, I could not see any significant improvement of course. However, I think that the accuracy of focus in cases of flight shots against a similar background color , e.g. a wooded mountain ridge has become better. Whether the difference in the reliability and accuracy of auto focus to other Canon cameras is now so significant that you are able to talk of a purchase criterion, I personally think is a bit exaggerated .

But overall I feel that the scrap has become quite low compared to the Mark IV when using the 2X Extender III to the Canon EF 600/4.0 L IS II USM . The scrap is on such an acceptable level that you really can recommend this combination. With the Mark IV I could not say that. As I mentioned already, I have set the AF to “AF point expansion” as normal setting and 2 other keys are assigned . The front button Single-point Spot AF, the rear AF -On button with the “61-point automatic selection AF”. I work with all 3 key assignments depending on photographic nees. A special button-assignment combination (normal: AF point expansion, rear: 61-point automatic selection AF) helps especially when pursuing flying objects . Often I use the regular key assignment for the detection of the flying object and try to keep track with the “61-point automatic selection AF” by pressing the thumb on the AF-ON button. This works best for flight tracking in front of a monotonous sky.

Given the little step from 16.8 Mpix to 18 MPIs, I had been skeptical concerning image quality at first. But as I said earlier, I had met Marcus Varesvuo during my stay in Varanger. This guy had 2 Bodies of the 1 D X in use and had only raved about the picture quality with 18mpix. The difference in the basic sharpness and noise performance compared to the EOS 1D Mark IV was significant. I can only agree after almost 6 months of use. I’ve edited the Canon 1D Mark IV RAW files in Photoshop regularly. With the 1 DX it works even better. The dynamic range has improved significantly over the Mark IV. This helps when shooting high contrast scenes such as on the high seas in off-shore excursions and there is still enough room for the post-processing . It’s amazing how much detail you can work out of lights and shadows. That the noise has been significantly improved not only in the high ISO ranges but low down at ISO 100, was to be expected. In this respect editing in Photoshop creates great pictures. After my initial assessment, you can use values ​​up to ISO 3,200 without hesitation . The 1 D X RAW files you can edit perfectly without having major compromises in terms of denoising.

REMARK (afterwards): some more detailed Information to the benefits in dynamic range and noise you will find in the blog “Canon EOS 1DX : some aspects of Dynamic range and Noise”

The settings above ISO 12,800 I have not used up to now. The Custom Settings are set so that the the camera is restricted at ISO 12,800.

One drawback I must mention, too. It was annoying, that the camera had been the subject of a recall after only 4 months in use. But I must admit, that the recall-settlement was very professional. A UPS package was picked up, modification were done by CPS and a package brought the camera back after 5 days by UPS.

My current conclusion: I am very satisfied with the camera. The decision to switch from the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV was just right. The AF is highly accurate and has become even faster. The resolution, image quality and operating performance are absolutely at the top level. However, you should not expect miracles. In the right – this mean – challenging situations still a lot of scrap remains. Nevertheless, the perfect camera for nature photography.

1 comment

  1. Hi Joe,
    mainly I am using case 2 for BiF – at least if I am not shooting against a evenly structured Background (e.g. water surface)

    Hi Jonas,
    Interesting review from a “birder”. Could you tell me what case setting you use and the three parameters within each case for successful BIF images?
    Kind regards
    Joe Caffery

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