The Canon 1D Mark IV is Canon’s most advanced DSLR to date with HD video, 102,400 ISO, and full customisation to suit the way you take pictures
Canon dominated the sports and press market for many years but since the launch of Nikon’s D3 the distribution is much more balanced. The Canon EOS 1D Mk IV was launched within a month of Nikon’s record ISO headlined Nikon D3s, as tested in last month’s issue. Both cameras have the same end user in their sights: the professional sports or press photographer. Both cameras offer the same 102,400 ISO equivalent at the top end, fast shooting and impressive- sounding AF systems able to track fast- moving subjects. The D3s certainly lived up to expectations; will the Mk IV do the same?
Canon 1D Mark IV Key features
Auto Focus Tracking
The highly customisable AF system provides fine- tuning for the way the camera chooses to track subjects, from how many focus points it uses, to the speed at which it alters focus, and even whether to give priority to the subject or the chosen focus point.
The camera offers an impressive standard ISO range of up to ISO 12,800 and is the first Canon camera to offer an expanded mode that can provide a range from 50 up to a breathtaking 102,400 ISO equivalent.
With 62 custom functions listed in the menu system, the focus of this camera is towards personalisation. Everything is tweakable, from the ISO range to the function buttons.
Built like a brick…
The camera body is built from a magnesium alloy construction and is fully weather-sealed in 76 places around the body, so when used in conjuction with a weather-proofed lens (such as the L series) it will hold up to working under very tough conditions.
This kind of low light shot would have been very difficult to achieve with any other camera. Despite the high ISO, noise levels are still fairly minimal.
Canon 24-105mm f/4, at 58mm, f/4, 1/2500th, ISO 25,600, AWB
One quirk of the Mk IV is that, like 1D models before it, it uses an APS-H sized sensor. This gives a crop of 1.3x on the image size, and makes focal lengths appear longer than on a full frame camera – though not to the extent of an APS-C (1.5 or 1.6x) sensor. This smaller form sensor has its benefits and its flaws: the 1.3x crop means that photographers can use smaller and lighter lenses than on full frame, or get in closer, but it does mean that photosites on the sensor are not as large, which can affect tonality. The sensor features 16.1 million effective pixels and is a CMOS design featuring Canon’s integrated cleaning system, while Dual DIGIC 4 processors are used to maintain the high frame rate even for 14-bit Raw files. Images are output at 4896 x 3264 in Raw or JPEG, with smaller formats available in JPEG and Canon’s unique mRaw and sRaw formats.
The ISO range is truly impressive – 102,400 ISO is nothing short of staggering and in real world terms offers five stops more light than the ISO 3200 offered by the original 1D in 2001. This roughly translates as a shot at 1/30th sec at 102,400 which at 3200 would need 1sec. The 1D Mk IV also offers an ISO 50 equivalent for those wanting to increase shutter speed or if shooting in bright conditions. Like other recent EOS models, there is an Auto ISO which allows you to specify a range of ISOs to use from the custom menu.
Metering is handled by Canon’s 63-zone SPC system and offers a choice of evaluative, partial and spot. The spot metering can use the centre point, the AF point, or multiple selected points (a total of eight). Exposure compensation is just +/-3EV, rather than the more popular 5EV, at 1/3 or ½ stops. Auto bracketing offers the same range for two, three, five or seven shots.
These shots taken at the NME club night at London’s Koko really tested the metering system but still managed to deliver some stunning results.
Canon 24-105mm f/4, at 24mm, f/4, 1/400th, ISO 12,800, AWB, Evalutive Metering
The focusing system is one of the most important parts of this camera for the sports photographer, as fast-moving subjects or chance moments need to be captured quickly. What on the face of it may seem a fairly simple two-stage option of single shot or servo is backed up with a complex maze of fine-tuning options to allow the camera’s AF performance to suit your type of photography. The custom menu allows you to adjust the speed that the AF shifts focus when a subject moves into or out of the selected focus point. It allows you to select the expansion of the AF points for tracking: from none to all 45. You can specify your focusing priorities; whether it’s with your selected point, the tracking, waiting for the focus to lock-on, or just taking the shot instantly – for that once-in-a-lifetime moment.
White balance is managed by five presets plus an Auto mode. There’s also manual selection in Kelvin, five custom settings and a four-axis colour adjustment. Shooting modes are reassuringly simple with the choice of a standard M, Av, Tv, P, and Bulb. The drive modes offer a one shot, continuous (high and low), self-timer (2 or 10 secs) and a silent shooting mode to reduce mirror noise.
The viewfinder offers 100% coverage but, due to the sensor size, magnification is less than on full frame models, meaning a smaller view. The rear LCD screen has increased in resolution from the 1D Mk III and now offers 920,000 dots on the 3in Clear View II display. This is also coated to give an even brighter and sharper look. Within the live view you have a choice of two autofocus modes: Quick, which flips the mirror back down briefly to use the AF sensor, or Live, which uses contrast detect on the image sensor. There is also a face detection option. For video functionality you need to switch from stills to movie in the menu first. The video mode records in H.264 MOV (quicktime) and offers a full 1080P resolution (1920 x 1280) at 30, 25, or 24 frames per second for a maximum of 29min 59secs per clip. Functionality is otherwise limited to manual focusing and exposure compensation, with no independent control of aperture or ISO. It does offer an external mic input, however, for improved sound recording.
For output it features both an HDMI port and a high speed USB port. There’s also a PC sync socket for attaching to external flashguns and studio lights, a terminal for a remote, and attachment for a wireless unit.
The look and shape of the 1D Mk IV is little changed from the Mk III; an almost square shape with a good sturdy grip on the front and shallower vertical grip running along the bottom. Even without a lens the camera feels heavy but well built and capable of some serious use. It was once said that a previous version of this camera could be dropped down a flight of stairs and still survive. I wouldn’t want to try it, but I believe this one would too.
Previous models have been criticised for their handling, but in the grasp of a professional the controls are spaced enough to allow for quick and almost ‘blind’ use. There is a selection of controls for use in a vertical position, which can be disabled using a lock switch to avoid accidental pressing when not in use. You control most adjustments using the front finger dial and the signature large wheel dial on the rear, though there is also a small joystick-style control for faster selection of AF points.
A top LCD panel displays most of the handy shooting information, which is also shown to the side and underneath the image through the viewfinder. A secondary LCD panel sits underneath the main LCD on the rear displaying image quality and white balance information, with function buttons to quickly change both. These buttons also allow picture style control, card selection, image locking, voice memo and delete functions. By pressing the info button, the main LCD screen also displays a full summary of functions.
The only real criticism comes more from the menu system: though finding your way through the main functions is fast, a few options appear unnecessarily complex. The ISO expansion sits in the custom functions as ISO speed range. Also the controls for the AF tracking, though very sophisticated, appear overly complex. To set the tracking to your style of shooting required at least three custom functions to be accessed – this would have been clearer as one function with further degrees of customisation.
Live view control also needs to be simplified to allow stills and movie to be jointly selected, as on the 5D Mk II.
Value and image quality
Canon 1D Mark IV review – value
To overlook the huge price of the 1D Mk IV would be naïve – you could easily buy two 5D Mk II bodies and have change for a lens, but that isn’t the point. This camera is a tool designed to be used professionally, to make money, and its price must be offset with the income it can create for a working sports, action, or other press photographer. For the non-professional, however, this camera is very difficult to justify but that doesn’t make it any the less desirable.
Canon 1D Mark IV review – image quality
Tone & Exposure
The 63-zone metering system does an impressive job to produce an even tone distribution, even in tricky conditions. This leaves the image well exposed, though some may prefer to underexpose slightly to add atmosphere to images shot under darker conditions. Using the 14-bit Raw files it is possible to capture a large dynamic range, and even the JPEG files offer an impressive amount of detail in shadow and highlights.
Colour & White Balance
Canon has adjusted the standard profile from the 1D Mk IV to give images a little more punch, straight from the camera, as previous models have traditionally offered a more neutral image – allowing contrast to be increased in post processing. This certainly saves processing time and produces a more dynamic image, without taking it too far. Users can also choose to revert their profile to the more neutral version if desired.
White balance is well catered for with the range of presets, and the Auto setting is fine under most conditions. It did struggle with indoor strip lighting, however, and required a manual reading to match the lighting conditions accurately.
With indoor tungsten strip lighting the Auto White Balance produced results that retained a yellowish tinge and required a manual reading to produce neutral tones.
Canon 24-105mm f/4, 24mm, f/4, 1/2000th, ISO 12,800, AWB
Sharpness & Detail
The 1D Mk IV produces a very sharp and well detailed image, even at higher ISO values. The results from the APS-H sensor look far more like a full frame sensor than an APS-C, despite being halfway between the two in size. This means you get a similar range to full frame with the benefit of a 1.3x magnification on your lenses for telephoto work.
ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise
A large ISO range is somewhat pointless if the results are unusable above the normal set. Luckily, this isn’t the case with the Mk IV; image noise is well controlled all the way through the camera’s standard range or 100-12,800. Using the H1, H2, and H3 settings does require some compromise in this respect but even the top level H3, offering a 102,400 equivalent, is not beyond use for some situations. For critical work, however, it’s best to stay within the non-expanded range.
Digital Photo Pro
Canon’s own Digital Photo Professional software, included in the box, has had an update too. Now on version 3.7, it offers a quick and easy way to view, edit and covert your images. Also, as the algorithms for the Raw files have been created in-house, it offers the optimum output in terms of quality and image noise reduction. Adobe’s Camera Raw 5.6 update does also offer Raw conversion from 1D Mk IV files, though. The software remains easy to use and fast in operation. Multiple files can be selected for editing and batched for processing, with a range of adjustments available for Raw files and JPEGs. A file tree in the far left window allows you to work directly from any chosen folder without having to import, while files can be exported in a full range of formats, at both 8bit and 16bit.
Also in the box…
On top of the powerful DPP editing software, the EOS 1D Mk IV comes with a selection of other useful programs. The EOS Utility allows you to work tethered to your computer, fire remotely and download your images; Picture Style editor allows you to create and customise your own picture styles for use on the camera; ZoomBrowser EX is a simple image viewer for organising and printing your images; PhotoStitch allows you to create panoramas from multiple images; Wireless File Transfer Utility works with the optional wireless transmitter to control data transfer; and finally, the Data Security tools for image decryption.
The 1D Mk IV is one of the best DSLRs ever produced. As to whether it is better or worse than Nikon’s D3s is too close to call without direct comparison testing between the two. It’s fair to say, though, that both have their benefits and faults and on comparing their ISO performances on our colour chart, the 1D Mk IV doesn’t control noise as well above 12,800 but it does have other strengths.
The power of this camera is immense and its ability to shoot full 16MP 14-bit Raw files at 10fps – while tracking a moving subject – is jaw-dropping. If I had the money to spare I’d buy this camera tomorrow, but realistically you need to be making serious money from your images to justify spending £4,000 on the body alone. However, with this camera you would certainly have a head start in producing good enough shots.
100-12,800 (50-102,400 expanded)
View images taken with the Canon 1D Mark iv
Auto, 6 presets, 5 manual preset storage, WB compensation
Yes (N3 terminal, wireless LC-5)
Canon EF (not EF-S)
CompactFlash, SD, SDHC
+/- 3EV in 1/3, ½, EV
10stage (JPEG), 1stage (Raw)
3in Clear view II TFT 920k dot
4896 x 3264 pixels
45 point (39 f/2.8 cross type)
3 frames +/- 3 levels
16.1MP APS-H CMOS
63-zone SPC TTL
M, A, S, P
USB, HDMI, AV out, system terminal, Mic-in, DC-in
Yes, Quick mode and Live mode AF, plus live face detection
Rechargeable Li-ion LP –E4, 1x CR2025 for date and time
156 x 156.6 x 79.9mm
JPEG, Raw, sRaw, MOV (H.264)
1/8000-30secs at 1/3, ½, +Bulb
One Shot, AI Servo, Manual; auto (45, 19, 11, 9), manual
sRGB, Adobe RGB
Single, continuous (low), continuous (high), self-timer, silent single shooting