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Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II announced - Continued

In our recent preview of the EOS 20D, we talked about the importance of balance in digital SLR design, and how that had been lacking in the EOS 10D. The same can be said of the EOS-1Ds. That is, the camera creates exceptional files for a digital SLR, and has been the only camera we'd consider using for certain assignments that require big output, despite the fact that most of what we shoot is editorial and sports. Take image quality out of the equation, however, and the camera can be frustrating to actually use.

Building a Better EOS-1Ds

As we've mentioned several times now in articles on this site and elsewhere, the EOS-1Ds' AI Servo focus tracking doesn't work right, the E-TTL flash system is erratic and reviewing photos on the rear LCD during a location portrait shoot, while a fidgety subject looks on, can feel agonizingly slow. In some fundamental areas, the EOS-1Ds comes up short, and therefore doesn't have the balance of usability and image quality that much of our photography demands.

But the real photographic clarity and detail in photos from the EOS-1Ds is exceptional.

canon_1ds_front_1.jpg

Against that backdrop, enter the EOS-1Ds Mark II. Based on extensive use of the EOS-1D Mark II these past several months, we're confident that the EOS-1Ds Mark II will be a more balanced camera than the model it replaces. Much faster throughput to the card slots should reduce the time spent waiting to review short and long bursts of pictures (though the 20D's ability to select and zoom even as pictures are being written would have been preferable), while the E-TTL II flash metering system should mean the EOS-1Ds Mark II is the latest Canon digital SLR to offer truly usable TTL flash.

Only AI Servo AF is a big question mark. Focus tracking with lenses such as the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS, EF 300mm f/2.8L IS or EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS coupled with the EOS-1D Mark II is great, so there's no question that the EOS-1Ds Mark II is the product of good AF breeding. But, as we mentioned on the previous page, the likely reason that EOS-1Ds focus tracking is poor is because of Canon's decision to change the AF algorithm it first introduced in the EOS-1D. If the EOS-1Ds Mark II is to be a viable tool for peak action photographers (and "peak action" can takes many forms, including catching a crisply-focused moment of the bride scurrying down the aisle), the optimizations Canon has made to account for the 4 fps shooting rate need to be effective.

Image Sensor and Image Quality

To be fair, the other question mark is image quality. Here, however, Canon has a solid track record of only improving on what they've done before. As such, we're expecting really good things from EOS-1Ds Mark II picture quality.

canon_1ds_sensor.jpg
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II CMOS sensor

The sensor It all starts with the sensor. The 16.61 million image pixel, 36 x 24 mm CMOS sensor in the EOS-1Ds Mark II is slightly larger, and has over 5.5 million additional image pixels, than the 10.99 million image pixel, 35.8 x 23.8 mm CMOS sensor in the EOS-1Ds.

Other than being about the same physical size, and CMOS, the sensors from each camera share little in common, since the EOS-1Ds Mark II reflects two years of additional learning about how to engineer and build CMOS sensors.

In that regard, the EOS-1Ds Mark II's sensor is really a closer cousin to that of the EOS-1D Mark II, as both feature simultaneous readout across 8 channels, a new, higher-efficiency microlens over each pixel and similar 1-stage on-chip noise reduction. The most significant specification difference between the sensor in the EOS-1Ds Mark II and EOS-1D Mark II is pixel pitch: the former is 7.2m square, vs 8.2m square for the latter. Combine the same sensor design, including noise processing, with reduced pixel dimensions, and it's possible that photos from the EOS-1Ds Mark II won't be quite as clean as the EOS-1D Mark II.

Colour Once the sensor has captured photons, a series of steps transform those photons into a full colour photograph. The more manageable contrast and colour look/colour space flexibility of the EOS-1D Mark II, when shooting in-camera JPEGs or RAW files processed using Canon's software, has been a welcome improvement over the EOS-1D. We expect the same to be true of the EOS-1Ds Mark II when compared to the EOS-1Ds. While it's not always considered hip to like camera manufacturer colour, the EOS-1D Mark II has been good to us in this regard, with pleasing skin tones and rich but controlled saturation being the order of the day. If the colour straight out of the EOS-1Ds Mark II is about the same, we'll be satisfied.

In fact, the only significant quibble we have the with EOS-1D Mark II image processing is in-camera JPEG sharpening, which is both weak and of poor quality. A cleaner algorithm, with more edge-enhancing oomph, is needed for that camera, and by extension the EOS-1Ds Mark II also if its sharpening function produces the same so-so results.

Introducing the Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E1/WFT-E1A

canon_wft-e1a.jpgCanon has taken the wraps off the Wi-Fi transmitter that was first mentioned as being in the works when the EOS-1D Mark II was announced earlier this year, and again when the 20D was unveiled in August.

The Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E1/WFT-E1A is an 802.11b/g wireless and wired Ethernet transmission device designed to send pictures using the FTP protocol from a compatible Canon camera. By year's end, the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A will mate up to the EOS-1Ds Mark II, EOS 20D and EOS-1D Mark II cameras.

Canon may not be the first digital SLR maker to the Wi-Fi party, but they seem to be determined to get it right now that they've arrived. Here's a rundown of the device's major features:

It's a rectangle While the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A can be mounted to the tripod socket on the base of a camera, Canon eschewed the battery grip look for a more rectangular appearance. The thinking is to allow it to be used either attached to the camera or separate from it. Included is a soft case with a belt clip and removable shoulder strap, as well as both 15 cm/0.5 ft and 1.5m/4.9 ft long FireWire cables. The shorter cable is intended to link the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A to the EOS-1D Mark II or EOS-1Ds Mark II when it's attached to the tripod socket; the longer cable when it's sitting on the photographer's belt or other location away from the camera.

USB and FireWire The WFT-E1/WFT-E1A communicates with the camera via the USB port of the EOS 20D or the FireWire port of the EOS-1D Mark II and EOS-1Ds Mark II. There are separate USB (Type A) and FireWire (6-pin) ports on the top of the unit, next to the antenna. USB cables are not included with the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A (at least not in the US and Canada, other regions may offer a different cable bundle), though the EOS 20D's USB cable will connect to the device.

802.11b/g and more The device can transmit over both the slower 802.11b and faster 802.11g wireless transmission protocols, with extensive support for common schemes designed to secure access to both the wireless network and the pictures being sent across it. This alphabet soup of security and authentication/encryption features includes WEP, TKIP, MAC address filtering and SSID support for access to closed networks. It can connect in either infrastructure mode (to link to a wireless base station) or ad hoc mode (to link wirelessly to a computer, PocketPC handheld or similar device).

Wired Ethernet It does wired too. A standard RJ-45 Ethernet port on the side of the unit enables it to connect to a wired router, the Ethernet port of a computer or other 100Base-T-compatible networking device.

Two different models Canon will actually ship two different transmitters. The WFT-E1 is for regions outside of the US and Canada, and has a total of 13 channels in the 2.4Ghz band of 802.11b and 802.11g. To conform with wireless regulations in the US and Canada, the WFT-E1A has a total of 11 channels only, but is otherwise functionally identical to the WFT-E1.

Battery and AC power The WFT-E1/WFT-E1A isn't powered by the camera it's connected to. Instead, it uses its own power. Canon has found yet another use for the ubiquitous 7.4V Lithium Ion pack that supplies juice to numerous Canon products, including the EOS 20D and its predecessors. In fact, the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A will accept the BP-511, BP-511A, BP-512 and BP-514 packs for use in the field, and the AC Adapter Kit ACK-E2 with DR-400 DC Coupler for use when near household power. Either the battery or the DC Coupler fit into a compartment on the device's side (the compartment is in the lower right corner of the photo above). Canon specifications suggest the device can transmit photos continuously for up to 3 hours wirelessly per charge, and 4.5 hours when the wired Ethernet port is used. These specifications don't note the model of battery pack. The WFT-E1/WFT-E1A doesn't include a battery, charger or AC adapter; these items must be purchased separately.

Network options Network configuration options are similar to those found on a modern Windows XP or Mac OS X computer with Wi-Fi capability. TCP/IP settings include the option of manually entering the configuration information, or obtaining it automatically from a DHCP server. Configurations that use a proxy server are possible. Wireless LAN settings include SSID, the selection of a connection method (Infrastructure or Ad hoc), channel (when applicable) and authentication and encryption options.

FTP As with any wireless networking scenario, once the wireless link is established, another protocol is invoked to actually transfer data across the link. Canon has opted for FTP. Both anonymous and login/password protected FTP server access is possible, while FTP options include the ability to choose the port number, switch between passive and active transfer modes as well as specify a particular folder on the server to transmit photos to. It's also possible to have the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A overwrite an existing file of the same name already on the server, if desired. Canon has hinted that an easier-to-configure method for transferring pictures is in the works, one that will not replace FTP but be in addition to it. So far no details have been released.

Selecting pictures The camera can be configured to automatically transmit photos as they're taken, or photos can be selected individually for transfer later in a batch. Browsing photos in a special image selection mode, then pressing the SELECT (EOS-1D Mark II, EOS-1Ds Mark II) or SET (EOS 20D) button places a small checkmark on the photo, indicating it's queued for transmission. When shooting RAW+JPEG, the camera can be configured to transmit just the JPEG, just the RAW file or both. An Image Transfer History screen shows the number of pictures to be transmitted, the number of pictures already sent and the number of pictures that failed to transmit on the card or in a certain folder.

The settings All of the wireless-related settings are found in the Image transfer (LAN) settings menu, which is under Setup menu 2 in the EOS-1D Mark II and EOS-1Ds Mark II (presumably, this menu appears only when the transmitter is attached). Within the submenus under this menu, it's possible, among many other things, to configure up to 5 different wireless configuration sets, named Set 1 through Set 5. Each set can be adjusted from scratch using options in the menus, right down to entering an IP address and all other information specific to your network and FTP server. A more civilized option is to use the included Windows 2000/XP and Mac OS X application, called WFT-E1 Utility, for creating WFT-E1/WFT-E1A configuration files on the computer, which can then be saved to a memory card and loaded into a wireless configuration set in the camera.

Canon File Transmission Utility Also included with the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A is a program called Canon File Transmission Utility. This software, which we think is for both Mac OS X and Windows 2000/XP, will watch a folder on the destination FTP server and automatically forward pictures that arrive there to another FTP server or a shared folder. It apparently can attach an incoming photo to an email message and send it out as well. We don't have any other information on this program, but it sounds like it could be a useful workflow tool.

Status and error feedback The WFT-E1/WFT-E1A has a small LCD status screen that displays the wired or wireless LAN connection status, wireless signal strength, link speed in Mbps, camera connection status, battery life and any connection error codes. The graphics below give an idea of what the LCD panel will show when the device is performing its wireless and wired transmission duties.

canon_wft-e1_lcd_1.jpg
LCD panel - active wireless connection

canon_wft-e1_lcd_2.jpg
LCD panel - wireless connection error

canon_wft-e1_lcd_3.jpg
LCD panel - active wired LAN connection

canon_wft-e1_lcd_4.jpg
LCD panel - wired LAN error

There are 19 error codes in all (this number may change before the device ships); the two-digit code displayed on the LCD panel can be looked up in the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A user guide or, better yet, a text description of the error can be viewed in the Error description menu on the rear LCD of the camera.

Standard and extended range antennas The WFT-E1/WFT-E1A ships with Normal Antenna NA-E1, which is removable. The range of the device is specified to be 60 m/197 ft with the NA-E1 attached, subject to the usual caveats about walls and various forms of wireless voodoo impacting the maximum range. An optional accessory antenna, called Extended Range Antenna ERA-E1, boosts the working range to 150 m/492 ft.

User-updateable firmware The firmware in the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A is designed to be user-updateable.

Dimensions The WFT-E1/WFT-E1A's dimensions are 140 x 26.3 x 65mm (5.5 x 1.0 x 2.6 in.).

What's missing? Not much, it would seem. On paper anyway, the only obvious advantage Nikon's D2X and its WT-2/2a transmitter appear to have is remote control of the camera from Capture 4.2 over a wireless connection. And, for those who envision using a wireless transmitter exclusively attached to the base of the camera, the more sculpted, integrated appearance of the WT-2/2a may also be perceived as a plus. Overall, however, Canon's first attempt at Wi-Fi transmission from a digital SLR seems well thought-out and is likely to be a solid addition to a wireless workflow.

Free, user-installable camera firmware updates will be required to bring WFT-E1/WFT-E1A compatibility to the EOS 20D and EOS-1D Mark II. The update for the EOS-1D Mark II is tentatively scheduled to be released before the end of 2004, while the EOS 20D update is to follow in early 2005. The EOS-1Ds Mark II is expected to work with the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A when it ships in November 2004. A price for the WFT-E1A in the US has not been set.

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