Today Canon has finally broken the silence on the future of their professional line of cameras: In March 2012 the company will start delivering the new EOS 1D X which is aimed to replace their current top cameras EOS 1D mark IV and EOS 1Ds mark III. In fact, this move will merge the sports shooter/press camera line (1D prefix, having a 1.3 crop sensor) with their studio camera line (1Ds prefix, with full format sensors). The 1D X will have a full format sensor, so Canon is getting rid of the 1.3 crop sensors of the 1D series. The sensor will have 18 Megapixel and shoot at up to 14 images per second. So this new camera needs to appeal to both customer segments, but will it?
I have not fully analyzed the specs and explanations from Canons marketing department, but a few things strike me as significant:
- The removal of the 1.3 crop will make many pro photographers unhappy. Over the years they have aquired lenses that work well with the 1.3 crop, and they got used to this. Also, for certain telephoto uses, the 1.3 crop was very welcome (e.g. put a 400 mm lens on a 1D mark IV, and you effectively get a 520 mm lens). This can be quite nice when you really need the focal length. (Ah, I can hear already Canon’s marketing department shouting: “Just buy a 1.4x teleconverter!”).
- From a pure resolution point, the camera is
far weaker than the 1D mark IV as the increase from 16 to 18 MP is set off by the loss of the crop factor. Why? Well, today you put a 400 mm tele on your 1D mark IV body and get effectively a lens that behaves like a 520 mm tele, and you get an image that is 16 MP net size. With the 1DX you will shoot with the same lens (400 mm) an image that is 18 MP in size. But to get the same visual impression (of a 520 mm lens), you need to crop out the center of the image and end up with roughly 10.5 MP image size (Thanks to Joe Lechner for pointing this out in the comments). So, the new camera is actually a lot weaker (a 16 MP image today vs. a 10.5 MP image with the 1DX). This could be a real issue. For example, sports shooters will find that the action is further away (with the 1D X) than today. They will shoot the image anyway (I don’t think many will upgrade to the EF 500/4.0 L IS II USM lens) and the photographer or image editor will have to crop the image radically before sending/uploading.
- I don’t think that the number of frames per second actually matter much. Whether I get 10, 12, or 14 frames per second, is not really important. Well, again, sport shooters may disagree on this. They want to capture the action and select the best image from the lot.
- Unfortunately, it remains entirely unclear whether Canon has improved the accesibility of the sensor for manual cleaning (the auto-clean is not good enough). My experience with the 1Ds mark III is terrible. I have to spend a lot of time if I want to get the sensor entirely clean. This is much easier with the 1.3 crop since the sensor is smaller but sits in the full-format back, so their is an unused “border” surrounding the sensor which does not need to be cleaned thoroughly. While I manage to clean the 1D mark III and 1D mark IV fast and easy, it’s a pain on the 1Ds mark III. I guess that Canon has not improved this situation. This is a big minus.
- The most obvious improvement on the 1D X is the high ISO which allows you too shoot at up to 51200 ASA. If the noise is acceptable, this ALONE would be a good reason to buy the 1D X, but I will wait until the first genuine test shots are around.
- The megapixel madness has come to a halt, finally. I see very little reason to go back to 18 MP from 21 MP now, unless you need the other features of the 1D X, e.g. the high ISO or the 14 frames per second. The 1Ds mark III will continue to be the first choice for serious studio photographers, along with the 5D mark II. Well, unless the new 5D mark III – which should be announced this winter/spring – will take the technology into a different direction. It could well be that Canon wants to position the 5D mark III as their professional studio camera while the 1D X will target mostly the press photographers.
- Other than that, I see improvements in many aspects, but these are tiny. Two CF card slots, good. Ethernet port, good. Yet another arrangement of buttons and joysticks on the back of the camera – well, well, was that really necessary? Filming functions, only new for the 1Ds mark III owners. New autofocus system, did we really need a new one?
So, after all this long waiting time, this was a somehow disappointing update. I think that the 1D X was created mostly with the press photographers in mind. And somehow it looks like this will be one of the very last top DSLR camera that features a traditional view finder and a mechanical mirror. The trend is heading for mirror-less cameras, and this will also hit Canon’s top products at some point in time. The merging of 1D and 1Ds is a first indicator that the market for top DSLR cameras is shrinking. I will also wait for the 5D mark III and study the specs in detail before deciding whether to go for the 5D mark III or the 1D X in the future. The 5D mark II has probably taken over the top segment anyway, so Canon is wise enough to focus on this camera. This will earn their money.