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A first look at the Canon EOS-1D Mark III
Sunday, April 22, 2007 | by Rob Galbraith
Canon knows how to mark an anniversary. Not content to buy themselves flowers or throw a dinner party, Canon's digital SLR group instead chose to commemorate 20 years of the EOS system by introducing the EOS-1D Mark III, the most ambitious still camera the company has ever developed.
 
It's a camera designed to extend Canon's superiority in areas like autofocus and high-ISO image quality, to shore up areas of competitive weakness such as the battery system and camera configuration and to incorporate emerging features like Live View and remote camera access, but do these things better than they've been done before in the digital SLR arena. And while they were at it, Canon opted to increase the EOS-1D Mark III's resolution and frame rate too, relative to the EOS-1D Mark II N it replaces.
 
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Fast Times: The Canon EOS-1D Mark III. Click any photo to enlarge (Photos courtesy Canon)
 
In short, Canon set out to change everything. Well, almost. The camera is about as all-new as it could be, and its companion Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E2/E2A is a major departure from the WFT-E1/E1A in both appearance and capabilities, but the image editing software included with the camera is largely the same (and signals the continuation of Canon's half-hearted software commitment).
 
Trying to write something meaningful on every aspect of the EOS-1D Mark III is impossible, because there's just too much that's new. Based on our experience shooting with a preproduction body, however, we've put together an article that cherry picks a few topics to cover in detail, provides observations about a handful of other aspects of the camera and includes a collection of both reduced and full resolution image files so that you can see what we've been seeing in the photos rolling off the EOS-1D Mark III's CMOS sensor. If you're considering the purchase of this camera, or are one of the many shooters already on a pre-order list, we hope you find this first look at Canon's newest 1-series digital SLR useful.
 
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Serving Pixels: Canon EOS-1D Mark III at ISO 100 (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
 
Canon EOS-1D Mark III feature summary
 
This isn't a camera that can be summarized easily, but here goes. The EOS-1D Mark III is a 10 fps, 10.01 million image pixel digital SLR with an ISO range of 100-3200 (plus 50 and 6400), a revamped 45-point autofocus system and a burst depth of well over 100 Large JPEG frames (at lower ISOs). It features a 28.1 by 18.7mm self-cleaning CMOS image sensor, 3-inch (diagonal), 230,000-dot rear LCD, a lighter body and extended shooting time courtesy of the new LP-E4 Lithium-Ion battery pack, a new control layout, a Live View mode that turns the rear display into an electronic viewfinder, more-comprehensive and convenient camera configuration options, faster writing to both CompactFlash and Secure Digital (SD) cards and more.
 
With a WFT-E2/E2A attached, it's possible to transmit pictures from the camera to an FTP server, fire the camera, browse and download the contents of its memory card(s) through a standard web browser, mount a USB drive and store pictures from the camera on it or connect a GPS device and have location information automatically stored in a photo's EXIF metadata. Coolest of all, it's possible to "see" through the viewfinder from afar courtesy of Remote Live View, a feature of EOS Utility 2.0 that works exclusively with the EOS-1D Mark III.
 
The camera's features may be difficult to sum up, but the camera's performance isn't. It's awesome. Pixel-for-pixel, the image quality is the best we've seen from a digital SLR, and except for one preproduction body glitch, it's also the best SLR we've ever shot with too. The EOS-1D Mark III shows a level of design care and engineering thoroughness that is simply unprecedented. Its list of features is impressive. But actually using the camera reveals how impressive all these features work.
 
There is one cause for concern, however, and it's one to pay close attention to if you're planning on buying an EOS-1D Mark III as soon as it ships. In the preproduction body we have, the autofocus doesn't work right. When it was issued to us, Canon made it clear that the autofocus wasn't working right in this generation of preproduction camera and/or firmware and provided the assurances you'd expect about how it will be working properly by the time the new model hits the streets. And that's likely to be the case. But it's not guaranteed to be the case, so please keep that in mind before you hand over your VISA card to your pro camera dealer.
 
Image quality
 
Let's start with the topic that always seems to be of greatest interest in the early days of a new digital SLR: image quality.
 
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Gray Day: Canon EOS-1D Mark III at ISO 800 (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
 
The EOS-1D Mark III has an all-new, Canon-designed CMOS image sensor, new image processing circuitry built around twin DIGIC III processors and 14-bit analog-to-digital conversion for promised smoother tonal gradation. All this new imaging hardware inside adds up to an image file that retains the same positive characteristics of the EOS-1D Mark II N and other current Canons, include really good in-camera JPEG colour from the Neutral Picture Style (the colour look of in-camera JPEGs is nearly identical, in fact).
 
The biggest image quality differences between the EOS-1D Mark II N and the EOS-1D Mark III we've seen are:
 
More detailed in-camera JPEGs The EOS-1D Mark II N, and various other Canon digital SLRs past and present, apply something resembling a median filter to every frame at every ISO. This helps reduce the visibility of noise, but it also smears detail slightly. Combine that with the image-softening effect of the low-pass optical filter in front of the sensor, and in-camera JPEGs from the EOS-1D Mark II N are somewhat blurry. Of the two, the blurring during processing has a stronger impact on image detail than the low-pass filter.
 
In the EOS-1D Mark III, the median-like blurring is gone, and in-camera JPEGs are far more detailed as a result. There is still some always-on blurring of in-camera JPEGs, regardless of how the camera's noise reduction options are set, but it's far less detail-munging than the EOS-1D Mark II N's method. And it looks like at lower ISOs anyway that the mild blurring effect may be applied somewhat selectively, with dark tones being affected more than lighter ones.
 
Look Sharp: The frame on the left is a full resolution crop from an in-camera JPEG taken with the EOS-1D Mark II N; the frame on the right is an in-camera JPEG from the EOS-1D Mark III. The stronger blurring in the EOS-1D Mark II N file is evident. Position your cursor over the photos above to see the CR2 version of each, as processed through Digital Photo Professional. You can see that the EOS-1D Mark III photo becomes slightly crisper, while the EOS-1D Mark II N photo becomes significantly sharper. (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Photo Journey)
 
With the EOS-1D Mark III, the most detailed final image still comes from a CR2, and Digital Photo Professional is still about as good as it gets at extracting every ounce of detail captured by the sensor. But the in-camera JPEG is now acceptably detailed, and significantly moreso than JPEGs from the EOS-1D Mark II N, EOS-1D Mark II and other Canons. This is really good news for JPEG shooters. An EOS-1D Mark III photo has about 22% more pixels than one from the EOS-1D Mark II N, but with these cameras set to JPEG, you can expect to see noticeably more than a 22% bump in enlargeability or cropability.
 
And the good news gets even better. With the median-like blurring gone, in-camera sharpening is also more effective. We compared JPEGs sharpened in the EOS-1D Mark III on settings 3 and 4 to unsharpened in-camera JPEGs that we treated in Photoshop CS3 with Smart Sharpen, where the sharpening goal was to combat the camera's low-pass filter and aforementioned detail blurring. What we found was that Photoshop's sharpening was better, but not by much. The EOS-1D Mark III has as good an in-camera sharpening algorithm as we've seen to date.
 
RAW CR2s from the EOS-1D Mark III render through Digital Photo Professional with about the same level of detail-per-pixel as those from the EOS-1D Mark II N. Which means that the jump in pixel count from 8.19 million to 10.01 million image pixels translates into a real increase in resolution. In the frame below, zoom in to get a sense of the level of detail being captured by the new camera.
 
Think Big: Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF 35mm f/2 at ISO 200. Zoom to maximum to view photo at full resolution. (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Photo Journey)
 
Lower noise, better shadows Of the two dominant digital SLR brands - Canon and Nikon - it's Canon that already produces cameras with the best high-ISO image quality and the most natural-looking darker tones. At ISO 800 and above it's no contest really, and the EOS-1D Mark III only widens the gap further. This camera produces images with the smoothest shadow gradations we've seen in a digital SLR from the two makers. Shadow naturalness is still decent at ISO 3200, which is a first to our eyes. Combine that with lower noise levels at all ISOs, and especially those at the top of the camera's range, and the result is a noticeably better image file whether you shoot at ISO 100 or ISO 3200 all day long.
 
Comparing photos of the same scenes from the EOS-1D Mark III and EOS-1D Mark II N, both on-screen and in 16 x 24 inch prints, we see almost a full stop improvement in noise levels at the upper ISO settings. But if you factor in shadow naturalness - which impacts the quality of high-ISO photos almost as much as noise when it's time to print them - plus, the fact that the EOS-1D Mark III doesn't seem to show the same faint bands that sometimes crop up at higher ISOs with the EOS-1D Mark II N, and the improvement is probably more like 1.5 stops.
 
Keep in mind that the EOS-1D Mark II N is no slouch at ISO 1600 and even ISO 3200. But the EOS-1D Mark III is that much better. In fact, the main limiting factor in pushing the ISO ever higher on the EOS-1D Mark III is the emergence of a faint white pixel pattern that becomes a prominent white pixel pattern when the photo is sharpened. Still, you'll see that if the light is somewhat even (though dim), it's possible to shoot at ISO 12800, clean up the frame with a noise reduction tool like Noise Ninja, apply some sharpening and be left with a publishable picture. And that's way cool.
 
Note: You can judge all this for yourself by downloading full resolution photos from each camera. Download links are on the last page of this article.
 
The camera in Nikon's lineup that's closest in basic specifications to the EOS-1D Mark III is the D2Xs, at least when set to its 6.9MP, 8 fps High Speed Crop mode. Applying the same criteria as above, the EOS-1D Mark III has perhaps a two-stop advantage if you're comparing higher-ISO noise levels only, but this extends to nearly three stops if you place a lot of importance on shadow naturalness (which is, quite frankly, dreadful in the D2Xs at ISO 1600 and 3200, and rarely acceptable even at ISO 800). Comparison photos from the EOS-1D Mark III and D2Xs at ISO 3200 are on the last page of this article. If you need to make pictures in available darkness, Canon has for several years been the better choice, and the EOS-1D Mark III makes the point even more dramatically.

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C. FnII-2: High ISO Speed Noise Reduction

The EOS-1D Mark III's High ISO Speed Noise Reduction feature (C. FnII-2) does a reasonable job of reducing colour noise without harming image detail. In fact, its approach - to tackle image chrominance but leave image luminance mostly or entirely untouched - is a pretty smart way to do in-camera noise reduction.
 
But in the preproduction camera we have, switching this feature on gobbles up the image buffer. For example, with the camera set to ISO 100 and recording Large (quality 8) JPEGs, the camera will shoot 144 frames at 10 fps of a moderately-detailed scene. Switching on High ISO Speed Noise Reduction reduces this to 17 frames (viewfinder readout estimate: 14). With the camera set to ISO 1600, the camera will rattle off 42 frames until High ISO Speed Noise Reduction is once again enabled, at which point this number drops to 13 frames (viewfinder readout estimate: 14).
 
So, for the dimly-lit shooting situations where the camera's noise reduction might be most useful, the camera will run out of buffer after only 1.3 seconds of continuous shooting. The story is similar when the camera is set to RAW and RAW+JPEG too (though the noise reduction is actually applied to JPEGs only). If production cameras work the same way, then High ISO Speed Noise Reduction will have to be switched on very selectively, if at all.
 
(On a semi-related note, enabling C. FnII-1-2, Long Exposure Noise Reduction, reduces the viewfinder burst depth estimate even when a short shutter speed is dialed in, but doesn't seem to have any impact on the actual number of short shutter speed frames that can be shot.)
 
Long exposure noise is acceptably low, even in 30 and 60 minute exposures with the EOS-1D Mark III, though admittedly we haven't done anything other than in-office test shots of this. We have done real-world exposures of up to two minutes, however, with Long Exposure Noise Reduction enabled, and the JPEGs right out of the camera look clean and almost entirely free of hot pixels (bright single pixels in darker areas). CR2s processed through Digital Photo Professional, however, show a number hot pixels throughout the frame, though when processed through RAW Image Task instead, the hot pixels are once again mostly absent.
 
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No Strobes: Canon EOS-1D Mark III at ISO 6400 (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Light Painting: Canon EOS-1D Mark III at ISO 100, 47 second exposure (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
 
Most of the discussion so far has been about higher ISO performance, and that's where Canon's new sensor design and image processing really shines. But low ISO noise is also lower, while the character of the noise is even more natural than the already non-offensive noise pattern evident in lower ISO photos from current Canons. All in all, the news is good on the noise front. As is darker tone tonality, where there is a subtle but noticeable difference between even Canon's high-resolution flagship, the EOS-1Ds Mark II, and the EOS-1D Mark III, in how the shadows are rendered.
 
This was most evident to us in a lit business portrait assignment we shot with both cameras, where the shadow gradations looked very good in photos from the EOS-1Ds Mark II, but they looked outstanding in the same frames from the EOS-1D Mark III, despite identical processing. We are, unfortunately, restricted by the buyer from showing these particular photos, but you'll find other low ISO frames available for download on the last page of this article.
 
If that's the good, what's the bad? We don't see anything about EOS-1D Mark III files that make them inferior to what has come before. We do see two things that are unchanged, however, that we think are worth calling out:
 
The Jaggies Canon's image processing - whether in-camera, in RAW Image Task or in Digital Photo Professional - tends to introduce jagged edges to bright reds and oranges in particular, and to a lesser extent bright blues. The effect is the most pronounced when Digital Photo Professional is doing the processing. The effect is noticeable in an unsharpened photo, and blatant in a sharpened one.
 
The full resolution, unsharpened EOS-1D Mark III crops below illustrate this. On top is a CR2 converted in Digital Photo Professional, on the bottom is an in-camera JPEG of the same thing. If you roll your cursor over the photos you'll see how applying sharpening only makes the jaggies more apparent.
 
The Jagged Edge: Two versions of the same frame show red jaggies. On top, Digital Photo Professional has been used to convert a CR2; on the bottom is a JPEG right out of the camera. Position your cursor over the photos to see how sharpening exacerbates the problem. (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
 
We haven't been able to process a CR2 from the EOS-1D Mark III in other software yet, but it's likely that this effect will nearly vanish in certain other RAW converters. For example, we've shot this same construction crane with the EOS-1Ds Mark II and EOS-1D Mark II N before, and the jaggies are there in the JPEGs and in the CR2s when processed through Digital Photo Professional, but they disappear completely when the RAW converter is Apple Aperture. So, this is something that Canon should have fixed in its own image processing by now, but hasn't. It's particularly surprising to see in Digital Photo Professional, because the program is otherwise so very good at generating detail-laden conversions from Canon RAW files.
 
One other minor image quality hiccup carries over unchanged, and it affects in-camera JPEGs and RAW Image Task conversions only. Areas of colour transition - red to white, blue to white, that kind of thing - sometimes show a very thin black halo along the transition line. It's not related to sharpening, it's not present in Digital Photo Professional conversions, and it's not a big deal. But it's there in the EOS-1D Mark III, just like the EOS-1D Mark II N and probably other models too.

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A Rainbow: The EOS-1D Mark III Picture Style menu

The same Picture Style As far as we can tell, the colour processing behind the EOS-1D Mark III's various Picture Styles is the same as those of the EOS-1D Mark II N. We haven't tried every possible combination, but certainly the default settings for each of the five colour Picture Style offerings - Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral and Faithful - conjure up results that have the same look as the EOS-1D Mark II N.
 
The upside of this is the Neutral Picture Style, especially with a +1 Color Tone bump, produces the most pleasing, usable all-round colour we've seen from an in-camera JPEG. Switching Color Tone to 0 or even -1 means decent colour even under ho-hum gymnasium and arena lighting. The only change we really wanted to see in the Neutral Picture Style is more-even skin tone colour, because that's our only complaint of any significance regarding the colour of JPEGs shot on this Picture Style emerging from a Canon camera.
 
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Down and Out: Canon EOS-1D Mark III at ISO 200, Neutral Picture Style, Color Tone set to +1 (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
 
Canon's decision to stay the course on colour also means that the other Picture Style settings range from being marginally useful to just plain bad. Having a range of colour looks to choose from is a great idea, but Standard, Portrait, Landscape and Faithful all need to be refined or replaced before we'd choose them for anything other than special shooting situations. Neutral is a very, very good choice, Standard can be of help when the when the scene is flat and reds in particular need heaps of livening up, but after that you're into a virtual No Man's Land of colour.
 
All of this is based on our perception of the colour of in-camera JPEGs, or CR2s processed through RAW Image Task, where the colour processing mirrors what's built into the camera. Digital Photo Professional, though it offers Picture Styles with the same names as in the camera, produces colour from CR2s that is different. How different depends on the model; a CR2 from an older camera like the EOS-1Ds Mark II will emerge from Digital Photo Professional with markedly different blues and reds, and the colour in our experience will always be inferior to this camera model's JPEGs or RAW Image Task. Over time, Canon has shored up the colour differences, such that a CR2 from the EOS-1D Mark III processed in Digital Photo Professional isn't worlds apart from its companion JPEG. Digital Photo Professional colour with EOS-1D Mark III CR2's is on the same planet, maybe even the same continent, but the colour still lags in quality behind camera JPEGs.
 
We won't belabour these points any further, since the fact is if you like the JPEG colour from your current Canon on your favourite Picture Style, chances are you'll like it from the EOS-1D Mark III. As noted, the Neutral Picture Style's colour suits us just fine. And except to gain access to the impressive fine detail rendering of Digital Photo Professional when it's processing CR2s - which can be useful for aerials, group shots and the like - there are other RAW converters that generate more pleasing colour than Digital Photo Professional certainly, ones which we presume will be revised to support EOS-1D Mark III RAW files in time.
 
A final word on image quality Even with the image quality impairments we've identified here, the files from the EOS-1D Mark III are as we described them earlier in the article: the best we've seen from a digital SLR.
 
Autofocus
 
In the EOS-1D Mark III, every aspect of the 45-point autofocus system has been changed from previous 1-series digital SLRs. The camera contains a new autofocus sensor, new autofocus control circuitry, new configuration options, new autofocus point selection patterns and new AF-ON buttons. In the preproduction body we have, the autofocus doesn't work properly, but there's still a lot we can say about autofocus in this camera, in the areas of autofocus configuration, use and even effectiveness.
 
Autofocus configuration and use Canon has made it simpler to configure the autofocus to your liking, by placing almost all autofocus-related settings, 17 in total, in their own Custom Function group, C. FnIII. They've done more than just bring the same old faces into a new location, however; while several of the submenus are identical to the EOS-1D Mark II N, the main thrust has been to streamline the personalization of the autofocus, reduce a couple of the confusing autofocus setting interdependencies while simultaneously adding new options like AF Microadjustment.
 
Without question, this camera is easier to configure. If, like us, it took you months to fully get a handle on what all the various autofocus settings in the EOS-1D Mark II were about and how they affected autofocus performance, the EOS-1D Mark III will take only a few days.
 
Here's a look at some of the C. FnIII menus:

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C. FnIII: Some of the autofocus configuration menus in the EOS-1D Mark III

Some observations:
 
C. FnIII-7, AF Microadjustment, works, in as much as you can see the point of focus being offset little by little as this setting is changed and the camera is refocused. We can't say for sure how well it works, though, because of preproduction camera quirkiness. But it will probably be an effective way to tailor the point of focus for prime lenses, without having to send the camera and lens off to Canon.
 
Because it adjusts the point of focus globally for a given lens model, the camera and zooms will probably still have to be handled by a Canon service department in the event of focus error, since service department software can adjust Canon zoom lenses at multiple points across the focal length range, whereas the EOS-1D Mark III's built-in adjuster will tweak the entire zoom range equally.
 
C. FnIII-3, AI Servo 1st/2nd Image Priority, provides these options when the shutter button is pressed down to take a photo and AI Servo is the focus mode:
  • C. FnIII-3-0: Wait until the camera acquires focus before shooting the first picture in a sequence; for subsequent pictures in the sequence, shoot only when the camera's predictive algorithm determines the subject will be in focus.

  • C. FnIII-3-1: Wait until the camera acquires focus before shooting the first picture in a sequence; for subsequent pictures in the sequence, shoot at the maximum fps rate currently set, even if the camera can't determine if each frame will be in focus.

  • C. FnIII-3-2: Shoot as quickly as possible after initially pressing the shutter button down, regardless of whether the camera has acquired focus, and keep shooting at the maximum fps rate currently set, even if the camera can't determine if each frame will be in focus.
What's missing is this option:
  • Shoot as quickly as possible after initially pressing the shutter button down, regardless of whether the camera has acquired focus; for subsequent pictures in the sequence, shoot only when the camera's predictive algorithm determines the subject will be in focus.
This last option is in fact the default for the EOS-1D Mark II N and other 1-series digital SLRs. Is its omission a serious one? It sure doesn't seem to be. We've shot almost exclusively on C. FnIII-3-0, and not once has the camera lagged when we've mashed down the shutter button to take the first picture in a sequence, regardless of whether we've been tracking the subject or shooting cold, even with a long lens like the EF 500mm f/4L IS. We'll talk more about first frame autofocus in a moment, but for now, Canon's decision to leave out this option doesn't seem to have any negative consequences.
 
C. FnIII-9, Selectable AF Point, packs more autofocus configuration power than you might think is possible for a menu with only three options. In a nutshell, with one of these options chosen, and some twiddling of the Quick Control Dial, it's possible to choose from a really great set of autofocus point patterns. We can't cover every angle of this, but here are a few things worth noting:
  • C. FnIII-9-0, 19 points: It's possible to manually select all 19 of the camera's cross-type AF points spread evenly among the 45 that make up the AF ellipse, though by moving between subgroupings of the 19: five across the middle, three across the top, three across the bottom, 9 around the centre, 5 on the outside left, 5 on the outside right and a couple of other combos. This flexibility is sort of similar to what's possible with previous 1-series cameras, but there are several patterns that are new and just more useful, like the middle grouping of 9 and the outside 5. It's also intuitive to move between the patterns, all with the camera to your eye, a press of the AF point selection button and a turn of the Quick Control Dial.

  • C. FnIII-9-1, Inner 9 points: This setting restricts manual focus point selection to a group of 9 around the centre of the ellipse, including the centre point itself.

  • eos-1d_mark_iii_af_anim.gif
    C. FnIII-9-2: Our new favourite autofocus pattern in action.
    C. FnIII-9-2, Outer 9 points: This setting restricts manual focus point selection to a collection of 9 around the outside of the ellipse, plus the centre point. This is by far the best of the bunch for our purposes. It's similar to the "racetrack" setting in previous models, which means you can manually choose an AF point for just about every occasion, but its pattern moves through the centre point, so that you also can use just the Quick Control Dial to leave from and return to the centre point. Awesome. The other patterns are cool, but this one is darn near perfect for how we like to shoot, because it covers different subject placements, it's fast to get around the ellipse and fast to get back to the centre. Again, awesome.

Regardless of how C. FnIII-9 is set, it's possible to choose automatic AF point selection by pressing the AF point selection button, then turning the Main Dial an increment or two (or at least that's one of the ways; C. FnIII-11 controls this). Among the ways you then return to manual AF point selection is to press the new multicontroller, a small 9-way switch just above the Quick Control Dial. This takes the place of the register button, and snaps the autofocus back to the centre point.
 
Rear button focusers gain two dedicated AF-ON buttons - one horizontal and one vertical - freeing the AE Lock buttons to be AE Lock buttons once again. The horizontal AF-ON button in particular is really nicely positioned, it feels like it is where it should be. If your other camera is a current 1-series digital SLR, then you'll probably want to assign the AF-ON function to the AE Lock button, so that your new camera works like your old camera when you're using them together. That's possible to do with the EOS-1D Mark III's C.FnIV-2, which switches the function of the two buttons.
 
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C. FnIII-15: Mirror Lockup
C.FnIII-15, Mirror Lockup, is grouped with the autofocus settings, so we'll talk about it here.
 
Canon has stopped short of providing a dedicated Mirror Lockup button (like the programmable button on an H-series Hasselblad, for example), but they've done other things that make this function as useful and easy to access as we need it to be:

First, it's possible to make Mirror Lockup one of the entries in My Menu, and configure the camera so that when you press the Menu button, My Menu always appears. So getting to the master switch for Mirror Lockup at any time can be faster than in previous Canons. (And with the master switched flipped on, a Mirror Lockup icon appears on the top LCD, which serves as a helpful reminder to switch the function off when done.)

Second, there is a new, additional Mirror Lockup mode (separate from Live View), one in which the mirror will stay up through successive frames. With C. FnIII-15-2 set, after the first press of the shutter button (or remote release), the mirror swings up and stays up until the Set button (in the centre of the Quick Control Dial) is pressed. With the mirror up, the camera will fire at up to 10 fps if desired, and do it very quietly too. Because it's so easy to bring the mirror up for multiple shots, then bring it back down with the Set button, we've used the camera this way for both tripod and handheld shooting.

Since Live View mode does lock the mirror up while its active, and since Live View is activated or deactivated by pressing the Set button, the EOS-1D Mark III does effectively offer a one-step path to Mirror Lockup. But you may not necessarily want the rear LCD to be active (and consuming battery power), and you may not want the sensor to be heating up (and consuming battery power), prior to making a picture that doesn't really need the electronic viewfinder magic of Live View. So, we don't see Live View as a complete replacement for Mirror Lockup. But between Live View mode and the new, separate Mirror Lockup functionality, the camera offers more than enough flexibility for us.
 
The EOS-1D Mark II N's P. Fn 16, Camera Shoots When in Focus, is absent from our preproduction EOS-1D Mark III. This setting purportedly allows the camera to automatically shoot a picture when the subject reaches a preset focus distance. We've never used this feature prior to the EOS-1D Mark III, so if it's gone for good we don't know what we'll been missing.
 
Autofocus effectiveness The EOS-1D Mark II N is a super-duper sports autofocus camera. What we'd like to see in its replacement is:
  • Faster acquiring of initial focus when the light is low, like at a church ceremony. The EOS-1D Mark II N, when focused from a cold start, takes noticeably longer to figure out the point of focus than it does in daylight. It can make the camera feel sluggish to use. Note that it's the speed of autofocus, rather than autofocus accuracy, that's at issue here.

  • Good tracking and a fast frame rate when the AF point is on the dark clothing of a moving subject, such as a runner wearing a black jersey. Generally speaking, the number of in-focus frames in a sequence is fine in this situation, but the frame rate can plummet to as low as 2-3 fps to achieve that, and occasionally the camera will stop firing in sequence completely.

  • Better tracking of slow moving subjects, such as people walking towards the camera, or even someone running across the frame, where the camera-to-subject distance is changing only gradually. Oddly, these situations can be a struggle for a Canon 1-series digital SLR.
Filling out our wish list:
  • Faster adjustment to changes in subject speed, such as when a football receiver is running fult tilt towards the camera, then slows or stops suddenly. The EOS-1D Mark II N already handles this situation well, we'd just like to handle it better by keeping the focus through every frame in a motor-driven burst during this type of transition.

  • The fastest possible acquiring of initial focus, in good light. The EOS-1D Mark II N is already great in this regard, but we want no delay, regardless of how late we're framing up the moment.

  • Better focus tracking. This is already a strength of the EOS-1D Mark II N, we just want more.
Okay, so that's what we want. What does the EOS-1D Mark III deliver? Here's what we know for sure:
 
If you shoot weddings, rejoice: acquiring of focus in dim light is much faster. The combination of both a more-sensitive autofocus sensor (which therefore needs less time to gather enough photons to perform its calculations) and what Canon says is a threefold increase in autofocus computation speed adds up to a camera that is much quicker off the line when the light is low. Similarly, when tracking dark-jerseyed players, the frame rate doesn't drop nearly as much, though it still does drop noticeably from 10 fps.
 
But the most startling improvement of all is the speed of initial focus when the light is not so dim. A few days after we took possession of the EOS-1D Mark III, I, along with Little Guy Media shooting partner David Moll, shot a string of university level women's volleyball games. Using the camera mostly for floor-level coverage, practically every frame shot was a test of how fast the camera could figure out focus before firing the first frame (well, the only frame, since almost all shooting was with strobes).

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Spiked: Click the thumbnail above to view a slideshow of volleyball photos taken with the Canon EOS-1D Mark III (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

With an EF 300mm f2.8L IS and an EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, the camera was so fast that I personally made frames I'm convinced wouldn't otherwise have been sharp. The EOS-1D Mark II N and the 300mm are a pretty fast combination already, less so with the 70-200. And yet, both lenses on the EOS-1D Mark III felt absolutely turbocharged. Without question, when the AF system is first engaged, this new camera can accurately figure out the subject distance faster than any camera we've ever used.
 
(Click the thumbnail at right to view a slideshow of volleyball photos taken with the EOS-1D Mark III.)
 
After that, our preproduction EOS-1D Mark III is a mess. It can't hold focus on static subjects very well and it can't track moving subjects very well. While Canon didn't provide any details about the autofocus limitations we would encounter in the preproduction body, we hope this is what they were referring to and this is what engineers have been solving since. The autofocus does show signs of brilliance. But we can't check off too many items from our autofocus wish list until a non-beta EOS-1D Mark III is in the house. Which for now, make us as sad as the player in the photo below.
 
eos-1d_mark_III_vball_03_midres.jpg
All Over: Canon EOS-1D Mark III at ISO 200 (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
 
Update, June 19, 2007: We've now published an analysis of EOS-1D Mark III autofocus performance based on shipping cameras.
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