Canon EOS-1D X

Canon’s latest and possibly greatest EOS DSLR, the 18.1MP 1D X, is one hell of a camera with a price to match. At over £5000 for the body only it’s really got to hit the spot, or the justification for that kind of cost, even for a working pro, isn’t going to be easy. If you’re not a working pro then this almost certainly isn’t the camera for you but we can still admire it!

Canon EOS-1D X

Canon EOS-1D X

The 18.1MP might, at first glance, seem unremarkable. The 5D Mk III, for example, offers more at 22.3MP. But it’s the combination of the new full-frame sensor, new Dual DIGIC 5+ processors, shooting speed, and redesigned 61-point wide area autofocus system that’s the potential game-changer here.

At Super high speed continuous shooting, the 1D X approaches a staggering 14fps, although here focus is fixed and is limited to JPEG, but even at Continuous it can hit 12fps which is still, even by Usain Bolt standards, fast!

You could be excused for thinking this kind of speed is rarely needed, but if you are shooting sports then there will be times when it’s going to come into its own. Not that most sports pros will be machine-gunning all of the time or they’ll end up with too many images to hunt through after the event. But they’ll still like the comfort of knowing it’s capable of picking up the pace when needed.

Of course build quality is, as you would expect from a pro-level camera, outstanding. This is a camera that has to be used whatever the weather, and so weather-sealing and a tough exterior are an absolute must. If you’re a pro you have to be able to trust its ability to keep working when the heaven’s have opened, or not to crumple after the first accidental knock.

The best way to discover if Canon has ticked the right boxes was to get the beast into the hands of two of the most demanding pros we know – motorsports professional Chippy Wood and wildlife pro Andy Rouse...

Chippy Wood, professional motorcycle photographer

“The most important thing for me is an autofocus system that works. Most cameras are able to cope with someone running towards them or a plane travelling across the sky, but mine has to deal with the demands of a motorcycle shifting from speeds of 30mph to 150mph. This is a tall order but Nikon can do it and Canon used to be able to do it with the 1D Mk II N and the 1Ds Mk II. Then it all went pear-shaped. Even my 1D Mk IV has its faults in the AF department.

When I checked my first 1D X images my hit rate was only a bit better than my Mk IV because I was shooting at lower shutter speeds than I usually do, thinking the camera would cope. So I tried the camera again with some more custom work with the AF points and a third of a stop faster shutter speed and was immediately blown away. My hit rate was much, much better.

Shooting into the sun or slow side-on pans it’s noticeably better than my Mk IV and I loved the AF selection points, especially the single square with the four squares surrounding it, and that’s what made the difference in my second test.

However, I would have liked the squares to be able to move even lower and wider in the viewfinder. The black square for the focus point is a bit baffling. Why isn’t it red like the older cameras? Though if you use other squares as well as the single AF point then they are red, making it easier to pick out your focus point.

The ergonomics are great for normal and horizontal shooting. And a more angular grip makes it easier to hold onto the camera.”

Andy Rouse, professional wildlife photographer

“Those of you who have been reading Practical Photography for a long time may know that I used to be a Canon user. I switched to Nikon a few years ago when they were quicker to sort out the issues of noise at high ISO. This was, and still is, hugely important to me. Why? Because my wildlife photography demands it. I treat ISO 800 like most people treat 100. This is my starting point.

But Canon claims the new Dual DIGIC 5+ processor and sensor inside the 1D X has solved the reasons I switched, so it would have been rude of me not to give the 1D X a thorough ISO and AF in-the-field workout!

I started with some shots at ISO 400. Clean. Not a hint of noise, but so what? It should be noise-free at that level for the cost of this camera. ISO 800 did pick up a bit of noise in smooth background areas. But not bad noise, totally acceptable noise. In the detail of my subject (an owl), there was nothing. It looked absolutely clean.

It became obvious pretty quickly that at lower (not low) ISOs, like 800 and 1600, the 1D X was producing superb results so the only thing to do was make it work harder and see if it faltered. 

The long-eared owl (right) was up for modelling, so in gloomy conditions I framed up a portrait of him. And this is where the 1D X started going from plain good to downright impressive. I used ISO 16,000 for this shot. That’s right, count the noughts and then take a look at the inset detail of the image. Can you see the noise? No, I can’t either. There is some in the background – you’d expect there to be because this ISO is so high the camera could get a nosebleed! But again, the visible noise is more than acceptable. So, as far as ISO is concerned the big question I’ve asked myself is how high am I prepared to take it for my photography? On a recent trip to Africa I found myself using it happily up to ISO 8000 for a late evening leopard hunt. I’m not yet prepared to go higher even though the results you can see below are amazing at 16,000. Thismight change in the future of course. I’ll let you know.”

So its AF system is hitting the mark and its ISO performance is incredible and exceptional in low light situations. We found its systems and functionality straightforward for what is a complex piece of kit. Yes, we had to search around the menus a bit to find what we wanted but we didn’t have to resort to head-scratching and turn page-after-page of the manual to work out what to do.

This review isn’t intended to lead you through every button and dial, but rather concentrate on a couple of key areas and it seems that Canon has managed to get the tricky balance right to satisfy the most picky of users – the people whose jobs depend on its performance. File size is big enough to crop for magazine spreads and the full-frame sensor gives them back their wide-angle lenses! That tricky balancing act between file size, high ISO performance and shooting speed has been very successfully achieved by Canon.

Video is also worth a quick mention, as it was easy to use and the quality of the results outstanding, but the lack of a socket for headphones is a shame. Since working professionals are expected more and more to produce moving images alongside stills, surely this is an absolute necessity to monitor sound quality?

Verdict

Undoubtably Canon has moved the goalposts with this camera, as there are Canon pros, like Chippy, now considering the hefty investment in a new piece of kit. From an average enthusiast’s point-of-view, this camera is certainly offering more than you really need. If we were desperate to splash some cash on a Canon we’d go for the 5D MkIII but if we had to gamble our livelihood on it, we’d pick the 1D X every time.

Specification

  • Street price: £3350 (Secondhand price as of June 2016)
  • Effective resolution: 18.1MP
  • ISO range: 100-51,200 (expands to 204,800)
  • Sensor type: 36x24mm CMOS
  • Card types: CF
  • File formats: JPEG, RAW, MOV
  • Movie length: Maximum duration 29min 59sec, and maximum single file size 4GB
  • Viewfinder: 100% coverage
  • LCD size: 3.2in 1040k dots
  • Shooting speed: Approx. 12fps or 14fps with mirror locked-up
  • Image processor: Dual DIGIC 5+
  • Battery: 1x rechargeable Lithium-ion LP-E4N
  • Weight: Approx 1340g
  • Visit: www.canon.co.uk

This review was first published in the November 2012 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.