There was a long delay but the Canon EOS-1D X has finally arrived. Has it been worth the wait? Find out in our Canon 1D X review
Inheriting the speed characteristics from Canon’s EOS-1D models and a full frame sensor as typically found in Canon’s EOS-1DS DSLRs, the Canon EOS-1D X is designed to merge the best into one camera to provide an impressive balance between high resolution and high speed. It promises an excellent performance for professional photographers who seek nothing but the very best so it’s about time to find out if the Canon EOS-1D X can live up to its high expectations.
Canon EOS 1D X – Features
Rather than featuring an APS-H CMOS chip such as that found inside the EOS 1D Mark IV, Canon has fitted the Canon EOS-1D X with a full frame CMOS imaging sensor that delivers an 18MP resolution. Full frame is physically larger than APS-H and to give you an idea of the surface area of the 1D X’s sensor in comparison with the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV’s, it measures 36x24mm as opposed to 27.6×18.6mm.
With the sensor reflecting the same dimensions as 35mm film it means the 1D X’s focal length is equivalent to exactly 1.0x the focal length of lens. This is unlike the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, which has a 1.3x multiplication factor to take into consideration when attaching EF lenses.
The 1D X’s full-frame sensor also permits an extremely wide ISO range of 100-51200, with the option to expand it to ISO 50 at the low end and an equivalent of ISO 204,800 in the H2 setting. At present this is the highest ISO range to be offered by any Canon DSLR and gives it a two-stop advantage over the EOS 1D Mark IV when comparing native ISO ranges.
To process the large files the Canon EOS 1D X features not one but two DIGIC 5+ image processors, which are the same type as found within the Canon EOS 5D Mk III and Canon EOS 650D.
By having a pair of processors running in tandem the Canon EOS 1D X has the power to process image data more quickly and provide an extremely fast burst rate that’s demanded by the professional photographers it’s aimed at.
Capable of a 12fps burst (or 14fps in Super High Speed mode) the Canon 1D X is up there as one the fastest DSLR’s available and is fractionally faster than one of its closest rivals – Nikon’s D4 that’s capable of 11fps.
Metering is looked after by Canon’s 100,000 pixel RGB AE metering system and it offers the choice of evaluative, partial, spot or center-weighted. Exposure compensation can be set to +/-5 EV in 1/3 or ½ stop increments and auto bracketing offers a +/-3 EV range for 2,3,5 or 7 shots.
The focusing system the Canon EOS 1D X uses is virtually identical to the 61-point AF system used by the EOS-5D MkIII and the only major AF-related difference involves the two cameras metering systems.
The Canon 1D X’s metering system not only measures exposure, it can be used in combination with automatic AF point selection to assist the AF system, following moving subjects around the AF area. On the EOS-5D Mk III it uses a different metering system which is not linked to the AF system.
From the menu there’s a multitude of AF presets to cover a range of subjects for AF tracking. These vary the responsiveness of the AF to suit different subjects entering or passing through the frame and there’s the option to fine-tune these using the image protect button.
The viewfinder provides 100% frame coverage, a 0.76x magnification and dioptre correction control. Beneath this lies a large 3.2in Clear View II screen that offers a 1,040k-dot resolution. It’s an identical display to the Canon EOS-5D Mk III and much like its stable mate in the current EOS lineup, it has the option to star rate images and apply Raw image processing in playback mode.
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 limited to manual focusing but for those who’d like to enhance audio there’s a 3.5mm mic port. On the subject of ports, there’s also an Ethernet port allowing fast and easy transfer of images directly to a PC or network and there’s an HDMI mini output too for linking up to an HDTV.
Canon EOS 1D X – Design
A quick glance at the 1D X’s body from the front and it would appear there hasn’t been many design chances. Inspect it closely from the rear however, and you’ll notice some practical revisions. The most significant of these is the new AF toggle for moving AF targets when it’s used in the portrait orientation. This transforms the way the camera performs in portrait mode and will be of great benefit to anyone who shoots as regularly in the portrait format as they do in landscape orientation.
Handling the camera in portrait mode is made more comfortable too. This is down to the way the bottom corner of the body has been profiled, leaving the thumb to rest comfortably over the card slot cover release handle. Never before has a Canon DSLR been as comfortable to hold and as practical to operate in both shooting orientations.
Other revisions include the repositioning of buttons. Playback, zoom, erase and protect buttons are now orderly arranged beside each other, Live View is activated by a miniscule button beside the viewfinder and the Quick Menu displaying most of the shooting information is activated by a separate small button above the quick control dial.
As for the menu system, it’s practically identical to the EOS-5D Mk III’s. Autofocus gets its own sub menu, making it extremely quick to access the six combinations of subject-tracking and the menu system is brightly colour coded too, making navigation both simple and clear. Setting AF point selection is made by hitting the AF point selection button and using the M-Fn button.
A handy autofocus icon is indicated at the bottom right of the viewfinder to confirm correct focusing and our only minor grievance regarding AF is when you’re changing drive mode as this isn’t indicated through the viewfinder meaning you’re required to pull your eye away from the camera.
AF aside, the overall build and robustness of the body can’t be faulted – it’s truly sublime. Though pros will be accustomed to a weight of 1.3kg, it will feel heavy to anyone that’s accustomed to using a lighter body. The 1D X’s bulk factor combined with full weather sealing also offers reassurance that it’ll survive the brunt of any demanding conditions or knocks it’s faced with.
Canon EOS 1D X – Performance
Performance is a key criteria where the 1D X must excel if it’s to win professional photographers votes. Subjecting the EOS-1D X to the sport of Speedway gave it two significant challenges to overcome. First the AF system would be given a serious workout tracking moving subjects at subject speeds of well over 70mph and then the sensor had its work cut out to deliver excellent image quality as darkness fell and the ISO sensitivity was increased.
In use, the 1D X’s AF system tracked our subject exceptionally well in AI Servo mode, both in daylight and floodlit lighting conditions. After some experimentation with the six cases of subject-tracking sensitivity we identified Case 3 that instantly focuses on subjects entering AF points was best for our chosen sport once we’d customised the responsiveness to +2 in the menu. The AF settings we used won’t be best for every sport and it leaves some experimentation in the hands of the photographer to find the best optimum AF setting for his or her situation. The hit rate of pin-sharp results in a burst of images as the subject entered the frame was extremely high and the zoom in and scroll approach to reviewing images is quick once you appreciate that the two buttons at the top right of the body no longer control this function.
Loaded with a Lexar 32 GB Professional 1000x UDMA 7 Compact Flash card in the twin bay slot, we rattled out a breathtaking burst of 17 Raw+JPEG(L) files at 12fps. With the file format set to RAW only, 31 frames were taken at 12fps before the buffer required a breather. Seven seconds later it was ready to record an identical burst. The astonishing speed at which the 1D X shoots is one thing, but to be able to process such a high volume of data at the speed is does is a remarkable feat.
As for the 1D X’s screen, it’s a sizable display for reviewing images. Pin sharp, full of clarity and bright colour, it’s another part of the camera that can’t be faulted. If we were to pick apart anything from using the 1D X it would be the way images are star rated. Whereas on the EOS-5D Mark III you have an independent rate button, there’s no such feature on the 1D X. Instead you’re required to scroll through the in-camera processing menu, which is neither as quick or as intuitive.
Canon EOS 1D X – Image Quality
Tone and Exposure
Subjecting the EOS 1D X to a variety of different lighting situations would give the metering system a real test. In low-light scenes we experienced no issues at all and even under floodlights the exposures were spot on and there was no need to adjust exposure compensation. Backlit scenes can often fool a metering system but in the case of the 1D X they didn’t. With the metering set to Evaluative for most of our shots, it managed to produce pleasing levels of detail in the brightest highlights.
White Balance and Colour
Testing the 1D X through its ISO range in front of our colour chart is an excellent test of White Balance and helps to identify how well the sensor resolves different colour tones. Set to Auto White Balance and photographed using a continuous daylight balanced light source revealed that the CMOS sensor resolves faithful colour even at super high ISOs.
Sharpness and Detail
To find out precisely how well the 1D X’s sensor resolves detail we took several exposures throughout the ISO range in front of our resolution chart using Sigma’s 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens. The results from this test were very impressive indeed. Inspecting our ISO 100 results at 100% revealed that we could still distinguish incredibly close horizontal lines at number 14 on our scale. Just as impressive is the way the 1D X’s sensor manages to resolve detail at high ISOs, particularly up to ISO 25,600.
Colour was consistent throughout the range right up to ISO 51,200 and only beyond this point did the saturation of colour decrease ever so slightly. Working our way through the range from ISO 100 through to ISO 204,800 revealed a jaw-dropping ISO performance and it’s only really when you push beyond ISO 6400 and 12,800 that a fine grain structure of noise starts to become apparent. Results at ISO 25,600 and 51,200 are by all means usable and the noise that’s produced isn’t too dissimilar to a very fine film grain. It’s only when we pushed to the expanded settings that higher frequency noise and a slight reduction in saturation was evident.
Canon EOS 1D X – Value for Money
Given the £5,299 body-only asking price for the EOS-1D X it’s undeniably a huge expense. If you were to compare this cost with the price of the EOS-1D Mark IV at the time of its launch you’d find that the prices are identical.
Surely the question to answer here is: are you getting more for your money with the EOS-1D X? Consider the fact the EOS-1D X is jack of all trades in the way it offers an ideal balance between resolution and high-speed, and yes you are. The EOS-1D Mark IV might give you a bit more reach with its 1.3x crop factor but the 1D X’s performance and image quality is superior, particularly at high ISOs. There’s no denying the fact it won’t meet everyone’s budget but if you’re a pro that regularly makes money from your photography, it’s up there as the best that money can buy.
Canon EOS 1D X – Pro’s View
Speaking to Jeff Davies, Coventry Speedway Photographer and user of a Canon EOS 1D X, he spoke highly of the camera and told What Digital Camera ‘I like to keep up with the latest camera technology and have always had two cameras. I sold my EOS-1D Mk III, which contributed to the cost of the 1DX and retained my Mk IV.
The first noticeable feature of the 1DX is its full frame sensor. Specialising in Speedway photography, I normally use a 300mm f2.8 lens for pictures taken from the outside of the track. My previous 1D’s effectively made that a 390mm lens with the 1.3x magnification, which I found an ideal focal length. In comparison the 1D X is a bit short but manageable and if I require the extra length, it still works well with a 1.4x converter.
I prefer the new style menu and changes to the functionality of the camera, such as using the zoom button and then the top plate scroll dial to assess image sharpness. With regard to the autofocus system, I’m still playing around trying to fine tune the settings but it is pretty impressive.
The thing I’ve been most impressed with however is the low noise. With my EOS 1D Mk IV, I was always reluctant to go beyond ISO 6400 but with the 1DX noise is perfectly acceptable even at ISO25000. It gives me the opportunity to continue shooting bursts at 12 frames per second whereas I would previously have been restricted by having to use flash. Flash – who needs it when you’ve got the EOS 1D X’?
Canon EOS 1D X – Verdict
What Canon has achieved with the EOS-1D X is remarkable and we have no hesitation in saying it’s the best Canon DSLR we’ve ever used. The way it produces acceptable results even at ISO 12,800 and 25,600 is extremely impressive. We weren’t hesitant at any stage to push above ISO 6400 by a stop or two for the fear of image noise severely degrading image quality in low light situations.
Then there’s of course the speed at which it shoots and records, which sets a new benchmark for pro-spec DSLRs. The way in which the pair of DIGIC 5+ processors work together in the way they do to provide such blazing processing speeds is astonishing.
Canon has not only paid close attention to the features and performance, they’ve looked at the bigger picture and the finer details too. A good example of this is remodeled vertical grip to improve handling in the portrait orientation and even the neck strap features gold lettering and a high end feel.
Yes it’s expensive and for most people other than the professionals it’s aimed at, it’s going to take a lot of justification to spend this amount of money.Many professional photographers will be fortunate enough to have one supplied to them from their agencies at no personal expense and for everyone else it’s a camera that many will aspire to own.
We can happily say you’re getting everything you could ever need with the Canon EOS-1D X. The old saying of good things come to those who wait certainly applies in regard to the EOS 1D X and a 93% score sees it pick up a Gold award.