The Canon EOS-1D X is the thirteenth camera in the EOS-1 series, which began back in 1989 with the EOS-1 itself: the first Canon EOS aimed at professionals. We’ve come a long way since then and the EOS-1D X sports a specification that – on paper at least – is truly impressive.
Prior to March this year you could choose which type of EOS-1D camera you wanted based on speed or resolution. The EOS-1D Mark IV sported a frame rate of 10fps and a 16-megapixel APS-H sized CMOS sensor (27.9x 18.6mm), great for press, sports and action photographers who also appreciated the 1.3x crop factor. But if you shot in the studio and image quality was your priority, then the EOS-1Ds Mark III was more for you, sporting 21.1-megapixels on a full-frame sensor (24x36mm) and capable of capturing images at 5fps. With the EOS-1D X Canon has effectively blended these two product lines together, producing a full-frame camera with 18.1-megapixel resolution and the ability to shoot at up to 14fps.
Other headline specifications includes vastly improved low light performance with the ability to shoot at up to ISO 51,200 (expandable to ISO 204,800). Autofocus now includes 61 focus points and is linked to the 100,000 pixel exposure metering sensor, which provides subject tracking capabilities. The camera’s controls and menus have been redesigned to be quicker to use and easier to operate with gloves on and in cold weather. Inside the weather-proof body is a shutter guaranteed to 400,000 actuations and two DIGIC 5+ processors control the camera’s functions.
A few criticisms have been made too: the camera’s AF only operates with maximum apertures of f/5.6 or wider, so if you stick a 2x teleconverter onto an f/4 lens you will have to focus manually. The competition – the Nikon D4 – doesn’t suffer from this problem. Also missing is a headphone socket for video work, although to be fair the new EOS 5D Mark III is still the DSLR that Canon is pushing videographers towards, and this does have such connectivity.
Pricing and availability are also worth comment. The EOS-1D X costs more that the Nikon D4 and has been harder to get hold of. Many pros may have jumped ship and gone over to Nikon. Nevertheless we have found three photographers who have been using the EOS-1D X in real-life situations, photographing everything from football to cricket and tennis. We spoke to them about their experience and asked if the new EOS is as good as it looks from the brochure.
Carl Recine – Action Images
Having worked for Action Images for six years, Carl has covered football events all around the world. He used the EOS-1D X extensively at the recent European Championships
Since he shot his first football match with a Canon EOS 500 and EF 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, Carl Recine has made photographing sport his life’s passion. “To me, football is the greatest sport to photograph,” he told us recently after returning from the Euro Championships in Ukraine. “I’ve been very lucky to travel all over the world capturing the drama, passion and skill that is played out in 90 minutes of theatre.”
Carl has been using the EOS-1D X since the Champions League final back in May, and took it to Edgbaston cricket ground to photograph the England vs West Indies test match before heading off to the Euros. He used it alongside the EOS-1D Mark IV and Mark III bodies which he is more accustomed to working with. Also in Carl’s bag is an EF 400mm f/2.8 USM , EF 70-200mmf/2.8 USM L II and EF 16-35mm f/2.8 USM L as well as a 1.4x converter and a trio of EX580 Speedlite flashguns.
“The first thing you notice about the new EOS-1D X is that it feels slightly larger in the hand than the EOS-1D Mark IV,” Carl says. “It’s almost a shock when you look through the viewfinder: it’s huge, and the full-frame nature of the camera really makes a difference here.”
In Carl’s line of work, fast, accurate autofocus is pretty essential, and this is an area where Canon claims to have made improvements over previous EOS-1D cameras. “I’d say the AF is maybe a touch slower to lock on, but once it’s done that it’s extremely accurate and reliable. When shooting a celebration picture from the touchline of a football stadium, I reckon I get 90 per cent of my pictures sharp. With my EOS-1D Mark IV that’s more like 60-70 per cent. I haven’t had the chance to experiment with the various AF fine-tuning options yet, but I will do over the coming months.
“I wasn’t aware of the f/5.6 maximum aperture limit on autofocus until recently and haven’t found it to be an issue, but that’s because I’m shooting with lenses that are fast aperture anyway, and I use a 1.4x converter that only loses me one stop.”
Although the move from cropped sensor to full-frame means a loss of telephoto pulling power, Carl has nothing but praise for the development. “It’s true that you might have to wait a little longer for your frame to fill with action, but I’d rather it be this way and have the full-frame advantage to work with. There are so many more options now. Wide-angle pictures look fantastic and the shorter focal length lenses look just how they should do. It’s great to get the true depth-of-field you expect from lenses like the 400mm f/2.8.
“Pictures at high ISO are less noisy too. I shot at ISO 1600 during the Euro Championships and the results are very clean. Some of my colleagues are shooting at ISO 4000 in press conferences and the results are perfectly usable. It’s a massive improvement and one that lets me shoot at really high shutter speeds to freeze action.
“It looks as though Canon is really merging the two EOS-1D lines here and I think I would have no issue using the EOS-1D X in a studio environment as well as on the touchline. It’s a more versatile camera. The pixel count is definitely high enough for me. Pictures I’ve taken with the EOS-1D Mark IV have been used on billboards and they have looked great. I’m not sure how far people want these sensors to go, but the image quality is fantastic from the EOS-1D X.”
Eddie Keogh – Reuters
Award-winning photographer Eddie has been shooting sport and commercial work for more than 25 years and previously worked for The Sun and Today newspapers
We’ve heard a lot of stories about how photographers first got into picture taking, but that of Reuters photographer Eddie Keogh certainly wins out in terms of quirkiness. “I bought my first camera when I was 18 years old and started taking photography seriously during a summer job working for Brent Council,” he says.
“ I would keep my Practika MTL3 in the middle section of the dustcart and whenever I met someone interesting I’d take their portrait.”
Eddie moved on to sports photography in 1981 and specialised in the subject when he started working as a photographer for the newspaper Today in 1986. Ten years later he moved to The Sun but has now been working for Reuters for seven years. “I’m more than happy to cover any news or features story for Reuters, though Premier League football is very popular, and part of my regular schedule,” Eddie reveals.
“On a normal day of shooting I take three cameras with me, two EF 16-35mm zooms (one used remotely on a camera behind the goal mouth), a 70-200mm telezoom and a 400mm f/2.8 prime telephoto lens. Accessories include a monopod, mini tripod and PocketWizard radio slaves.
“I picked up a pre-production model of the Canon EOS-1D X in May, and instantly found it a joy to use, especially because I was shooting full-frame again.
“The new camera’s autofocus is extraordinary, especially on the 400mm f/2.8 lens. I use it in one of the two new tracking modes: one continues to track the subject and ignores anything that may momentarily get in the way. The other accelerates and decelerates tracking depending on the speed of the focused subject, and it’s great for football. It’s good to have this versatility.
“The body is heavier than the EOS-1D Mark IV, but then it is a full-frame camera and when used with long lenses the combination feels well-balanced. The new custom controls provide a massive improvement in terms of handling, and I like the fact that you can set the custom controls so easily from the Q button without delving into the menus. Generally, all of the controls are bigger now too. I know it will always take some time getting used to a new camera, but so far I’m really enjoying it.”
When it comes to image resolution, some commentators remarked at the time of the camera’s launch that 18-megapixels was disappointing. How does this translate into image quality in the real world for Eddie? “Our work at Reuters is mainly editorial, so 18-megapixel resolution is more than enough. In fact there is so much information in the image files that it slows down
our editing software; we tend not to use
the cameras on their maximum image quality settings.
“At high ISO there is a big step up in image quality. Low light performance is at least two stops better than on the EOS-1D Mark IV. I’ve routinely used the camera on ISO 2000 and images look superb.”
New on the EOS-1D X (and the Nikon D4 for that matter) is an ethernet socket. This takes the type of computer network cable usually seen in offices and can enable remote tethered shooting over massive distances, as well as camera control. “Many of the stadiums we work in have ethernet connection points at the side of the pitch. I’ve not yet tried out the EOS-1D X’s connection, but one of our photographers was shooting tethered at Euro 2012. As he was shooting pictures they were being seen directly by our picture editors in Berlin.”
Bradley Ormesher – The Times
Two-time winner of the Barclays Photographer of the Season Award, Bradley has worked for many top papers throughout his career and is now a Times sports staffer
Bradley Ormesher has been shooting sport for newspapers for a long time: Today Newspapers for ten years, the Daily Mirror for 13 years and The Times, where he currently works, for four years. That’s a lot of experience, and he has a track record that has seen him win Barclays football photographer of the year a record three times, plus sports photographer of the year at the UK Press Awards.
“My staple diet is football,” he says. “It’s just so huge and everything about it is covered, from matches to training and press conferences. With so many big teams in my area (Merseyside) there is plenty to keep me busy in the winter months.”
With his wealth of experience, Bradley was the perfect person to test drive the EOS-1D X at the Euro Championships in Ukraine and Poland. ‘I used to be a Nikon man in the days of film, and in the early days of digital, but I switched over to Canon around nine years ago. At that time the quality difference between the two was massive and Canon was the better performer.”
Bradley is frank about the new addition to the EOS-1D range. “It’s the best digital camera I have ever had my hands on. AF tracking is brilliant. It seems to lock on and stay locked on. The increased frame rate is good too for us sports photographers. Handling is excellent and the viewfinder and screen seem a lot better, more like a film camera. That could be because of the move to full-frame.”
Like other photographers we asked about the move away from the APS-H cropped sensors, Bradley is a big fan of the full-frame nature of the EOS-1D X. “I think full-frame is what people have been waiting for. Using a 400mm lens wide open, the new camera blows the background out of focus better than any other digital camera I’ve ever used.”
Bradley’s limited time with the EOS-1D X meant he couldn’t try out everything he wanted to, but he’s looking forward to tougher conditions. “The floodlights in Poland and Ukraine were so good I didn’t need to go to a very high ISO to shoot,” he says. “A really good test will be photographing the Man City reserves in the middle of winter at Hyde.
“Built-in ethernet is a significant addition. At certain events, such as the Olympics, where each photographer will have an ethernet socket nearby, it will save time taking cards out of the camera to transmit images back to the remote editor. That means more time to concentrate on the job in hand.
“As I said earlier, I think this is the best digital camera I have every used. Just when you think digital photography can’t be improved any more, someone manages to do so. Surely they can’t improve on this one though. Can they?”
It’s hard to talk to anyone shooting sports photography about the Canon EOS-1D X and hear anything but a ringing endorsement of the new camera. The new AF system is universally praised, while the improved 12 fps frame rate (14 fps is you live without AF and can lock up the mirror) offers more opportunities to capture fast action.
The two areas of the EOS-1D X’s specification that were highlighted by the photographic press as being slightly worrying – namely the move to full-frame meaning telephoto lenses don’t have as much power, and the fact that AF only operates from a maximum aperture of f/5.6 – don’t seem to bother the people the camera is aimed at, no doubt much to Canon’s relief. On the full-frame issue, our photographers all preferred shooting with shallower depth-of-field and better image quality, citing similarities with the days of film. If it ever becomes an issue a 1.4x teleconverter will quickly take angles of view back to where they used to be in cropped format days.
No one complained about a lack of AF with converter-equipped lenses: the universally used EF 400mm f/4 USM L still has a maximum aperture of f/5.6 when fitted with a 1.4x converter; and you need to move to a 2x converter before you start to get issues. It’s possible that photographers shooting subjects other than football might feel differently, but it’s equally possible that it’s never going to seriously bother the majority of working professionals out there.
It would seem that Canon’s project to unify the two EOS-1D product lines is a success, at least from the point of view of those shooting sport. In the coming months we’ll report on how studio and commercial photographers like the EOS-1D X, and if its feature set makes the camera a worthy successor to the EOS-1Ds line of DSLRs.
Taken from the September 2012 issue of Photo Professional magazine