I have been testing the 1D MK3 all week to see if it lives up to its billing as there as been so much hype surrounding its arrival. I should say that the start that I have no relationship with Canon and have bought this camera at full price ahead of the review.
I will leave the feature spec list out as this is freely available elsewhere; as usual my testing has concentrated on how it performs in the field. I expect a lot from my DSLRs and push them right to their limits, sometimes in very challenging and difficult conditions. So the MK3 has been used as I would use anything, which ensures that it gets a much more extensive test than a DSLR might usually. Thus far I have concentrated my testing on two of the main “features” of the MK3 – Image Quality / High ISO performance and the all new autofocus system. What follows therefore are my initial thoughts after these few days of testing, rest assured I will continue to pound it over the next week!
A lot has been made of the new autofocus system and how it is now much more customisable. This is great (in principle) as photographers have different needs from an autofocus system depending on their chosen specialty. I will cover the different modes etc in the full review in a week or so but for now take it from me that once you get the hang of the various settings, the autofocus system is GREAT!
I tested it with flying falcons, eagles and kingfishers and the hit rate was higher than I am used to; in fact whole sequences were sharp not just an individual image.
Sometimes of course it infuriatingly locks onto the background, but I had the impression that once focus lock was achieved it kept it well even when the subject was closing like a bat out of hell (hey that’s a good title for a song!). I have to temper this by saying however that you cannot just expect to get results from the MK3 out of the box as the autofocus will need some customisation to get the optimum results. So far though so good and I am finding that the Mk3 is a fun camera to use as I trying things that I would never have previously.
Image Quality / High ISO
At ISO 100 the image quality is astounding, no discernable noise and so much detail. I use the Faithful settings so have sharpening set to 0 and the detail was simply amazing, if you set the sharpening to higher (for example if you are shooting JPEG) then I suspect that the image detail will be even more amazing.
In fact image detail is great right across the range and I can say with honesty that I suspect that the quality of the image at ISO 400 would give a 1DS MK2 image at 200 (and even a bit below) a run for its money. I know this because I shot the two cameras side by side yesterday. Usually I never shoot above ISO 400 but decided to give the MK3 a test at ISO 1600 as the light was poor yesterday in the Kingfisher hide and their was some good action. Well it was astounding (I have to stop using that word about the MK3). I don’t think that there has ever been an ISO 1600 image like it, so usable with noise kept to a typical ISO 400 level.
Of course the image will be a bit noisy and this is to be expected, but there was enough detail to more than make up for it. The noise too was “consistent” and not patchy like on previous 1D files, which means that it is easily reduced by Photoshop plug-ins like Noiseware.
In fact the quality was so good that yesterday I confidently shot a lot of feeding shots at ISO 400 and 800. They were razor sharp (thanks to the new autofocus) and noise was perfectly acceptable for my professional use. Being able to shoot at a higher ISO whilst retaining the same image quality is a major advantage as the higher shutter speeds used will help me in nailing more shots. Brilliant.
Is there a downside? For me it is the size of the final image, which is a disappointing 28MB Tiff at 8 bit. To get the blazingly fast speed of 10 fps Canon have no doubt compromised a little as I was expecting a 36MB image like the 5D. Of course for news and sports pros this will not matter but for serious agency photographers who need 50MB images it seems like a problem. So I tested the 1D MK3 files to see how well they interpolated using Photoshop bicubic to 50MB and I have to admit that because they are so clean they interpolate very well. But this of course is with a very good file in the first place and they cannot compete with a native 1DS MK2 file which is already a lot closer to 50MB. Time will tell if this is an issue, I suspect that for most users of this camera this size will not be a restriction but I felt I should mention it for completeness. This is one area that I will be evaluating more over the coming weeks.
Other Points of Interest
- Battery – the new battery performance is incredible, I have shot 800-1000 images in a session without the battery ever showing less than full charge. Awesome.
- LiveView – I have only tested this a little and will do some more next week.
- Silent Mode – the sound of the drive, even at 10 fps, is a lot better than I thought and the Kingfishers didn’t even blink yesterday. But the 1D MK3 has a single frame silent mode option, which works brilliantly. I will try it on wild roe deer over the weekend and if it works with them it will work with anything!
- Autofocus – yes I know I already mentioned it but it is AWESOME and needed to be said again!
- AF Points – the 1D MK3 has less selectable AF points than other DSLRs I use and so it has taken some getting used to. But I have found that the placement of them is great, especially the two outer groups which have given me a few extra options for composition.
- Histogram – only negative thing so far is that the highlight alert seems far too sensitive and alerts you to highlights long before they are blown out. This caused me to shoot a bit darker and block shadows until I realized what was happening, I have turned it off now and will not be using this again.
- Custom Functions – you can now customize everything and now put your most commonly used options together in their own My Menu group. This is a very very useful feature indeed.
- Did I mention the autofocus?
Conclusions - So Far
So far the 1D MK3 is awesome with great autofocus and ISO performance that has certainly allowed me to capture sharp images that I would usually miss. In fact it does everything that I ask of it and more. The one limiting factor for me is this 28MB output file size but I am hoping that the clean look of the file will more than compensate for this and will allow me to keep shooting with the camera. In fact I will be submitting a few shots to my agency in the next week so that will be the acid test.
So far so good then and I am looking forward to working with the MK3 in the next week, in fact it is a lot of fun to use. It has already given me the confidence to shoot in lower light as I know that its noise response is so good at high ISO (for me this means 400) and I think that a great many photographers will benefit from its new and enhanced feature set. It is early days to say this but I think that the MK3 will set the standard for all others to follow…it is simply that good!
This review is the copyright of Andy Rouse Wildlife Photography Ltd and Wex Photographic Ltd. No part of this review may be emailed, quoted or in any other way reproduced without the written permission of Andy Rouse. All opinions expressed are those of Andy Rouse and no third party has been consulted.