Canon 1DX – First Look….

In Review, technical by a Comment

Well, this week I went to the Canon Pro Solutions Show in Islington. This was the first chance that I had to learn more about the new Canon 1DX camera. I was lucky enough to be able to try one for a short while including taking some photographs with it at high ISO although I was not allowed to use my own memory cards or take the photographs away with me because these are still pre-production models.

This First Look Review is based on the short time I had with the camera and the information from the official Canon presentation and the additional information given by Canon talking to them afterwards.

Canon are launching this as their new flagship camera and, if it performs in “real life” the way it did for me when testing then it has the potential to be a very impressive piece of kit.

So, what is new ??

18.1MP Full Frame CMOS Sensor
Canon are combining their 1D range in to one body meaning they will not be producing a crop sensor version of this camera. The new sensor has less¬†megapixels that the current 1Ds Mk III and the 5d Mk II. What this does mean is that Canon are producing a sensor with larger¬†photo-sites¬†and using a “gapless” design. In reality although this senor has less megapixels it will deliver sharper images and enable the use of far higher ISO’s than is available currently. The native ISO range is 100-51,200 with a “High” setting of 204,800.
In my testing I was shooting at ISO 32,000. There was some noise apparent on the images but less than I would expect at ISO3200 on a Canon 5d Mk 2. I would love to have longer to test this camera in some of the real world situations that we all encounter and look at the photographs in detail comparing them through different ISO settings.

The metering system has also been changed to a 100,000 pixel RGB AE metering system. The metering system has its own¬†dedicated¬†DIGIC 4 processor that not only measures brightness but also colour. This *should* result in far better metering…..

This has to be one of the more exciting parts for me (sad I know, getting excited about a cameras auto focus system) but this isn’t just any auto focus. This is a whole new 61 point autofocus system with 41 of these points cross hair focus points. The centre 5 AF points are dual cross type for added precision. Not only that but within the menu system you can customise how the auto focus system works and change the speed and sensitivity of the auto focus tracking system. I’m sure we have all suffered the frustrations of missing a moment¬†because¬†the autofocus just won’t focus…. but my testing with this found it to be fast and accurate, and not just limited to the centre focus point.¬†I did some of my testing focusing on a piece of dark cloth, using one of the outside focus points and there was none of the focus hunting and failing to get focus that I have had with the Canon 5dMk2.
The true test for this though will be how well it performs in low light… but if you put the new focus system with the new metering system and the ISO range of the sensor then this has the potential to be an amazing camera.

High Speed Shooting
14fps. Yes, really 14fps…. now this must be a real plus point for anyone that photographs sports…. At weddings I’m not sure that I would actually need 14fps but I know plenty of photographers that will be drooling over this aspect of the camera. This will allow bursts of up to 120 large JPEG photographs or 36 RAW files… what this does mean is that you will need fast memory cards…

Full HD Movies
Canon have changed their video codec available on the camera to include an uncompressed format (larger files again….) The changes in the sensor should also improve the moire effects that were present on the earlier cameras and the changes in the way it records video should virtually¬†eliminate¬†the problems caused by the rolling shutter.¬†Other important changes include the introduction of a timecode and the removal of the 12min recording limit. The cameras are still limited by the 29 min 59sec rule that would make them movie cameras rather than primarily stills cameras (something to do with import rules….) and the 4GB file size of the FAT32 file system; the way the camera handles this is to auto create a new file when the 4GB limit is reached so this should be seamless….

Dual DIGIC 5+ Processors
All this extra information being fed in from the metering and focus systems means you need more processing power. So Canon have put in two DIGIC 5+ processors to handle it.

Ethernet Port
Canon have also built in a Gigabit Ethernet port…. this means you will be able to download your photographs VERY fast ! One other interesting thing chatting to the Canon rep…. the ethernet port will be used on the camera attached to a custom rig during the Olympics to allow full remote control¬†of the camera, including zooming. This does mean that the camera must be capable of receiving commands via the ethernet port as well as transmitting a whole host of other information.

The camera has a whole load more built in service information, if it encounters a problem it will record the error code as well as the lens and other related information. This data is accessible through the menu structure on the back of the camera. It will also record various service information and the actual number of shutter actuations.¬†The shutter mechanism itself is rated for 400,000 actuations….

The ergonomics of the camera felt good. I don’t have large hands but all the important buttons were still within thumbs reach on the back.

The 1DX now has two CF card slots, these can be used in much the same way as the existing twin slots but this does mean that you will only have to carry one card type with you rather than CF & SD cards…

Talking to the Canon staff there is no doubt that the tsunami in Japan is still having quite an effect on development and production for all the major manufacturers. What this means for future announcements (such as the 5dMk3) I’m not sure. I did however hear rumours of a new flash system in the not too distant future that should overcome some of the common gripes with the existing setup (such as inconsistent exposures).

Primarily this is still a stills camera rather than a movie camera, combining the 1D range in to a single full frame version of the camera is a bold move but one that I think will prove popular. Some sports photographers were questioning this because of the crop factor and the fact that they may need to buy new lenses to keep the same equivalent focal length.

The camera has been announced this far in advance of its actual launch so that people can budget for it. Current prices are about ¬£5,300 although this does always drop about 6 months after the launch… BUT, next year we have the Olympics and I know plenty of people will be¬†queuing¬†up to make sure that they have this new camera in plenty of time…..

So, what is next from Canon…. chatting to the Canon staff I think there will be some very interesting announcements in the not too distant future. As to what features from this camera we will see in the likes of the 5dMk3 I’m not sure…. I have been told that the autofocus mechanism and the motor drive won’t both fit in a body the size of the 5dMk2 (personally I’m not that worried about the 14fps !). If Canon were to include the improved sensor, autofocus and changes to the video formats then I think they would be on to a winner…. What will actually happen ? Only the people within Canon actually know for sure, and they aren’t telling 🙂

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