Canon has announced that by the end of July 2007, a firmware update for the EOS-1D Mark III will be released that will, among other things, improve AI Servo autofocus. This section provides some information about the upcoming firmware update, which is already being put in new cameras at the factory and can also be installed at the request of the customer by Canon service departments globally.
Q. What has changed about AI Servo autofocus with firmware v1.0.9 installed?
Improves the consistency of AI Servo AF under certain conditions. Reduces the tendency of the camera to autofocus on high-contrast backgrounds when shooting in conditions where AF detection is difficult, such as when the main subject is not completely covered by the AF frames or if the main subject's contrast is low.
Q. Have you tested the new firmware?
Yes. In the last 24 hours, we've shot with two EOS-1D Mark III bodies, both with firmware v1.0.9 loaded. This is the identical firmware that will be available by month's end on Canon websites, it has not been described to us as beta in any way.
Q. Does it address the problems you've had with the camera's autofocus?
Except for one comparatively minor problem, no.
As earlier sections of this article describe, on sunny, warm days, the EOS-1D Mark III's ability to grab focus initially, hold focus on static subjects and track moving subjects is both unusably poor and no match for the camera's predecessor, the EOS-1D Mark II N.
We've now shot and analysed about 3400 track, soccer and test frames taken over two days with v1.0.9 cameras, under the bright, warm conditions that trip up v1.0.8, and the results are effectively the same as before: lots of out-of-focus frames that should be crisply focused. And, as before, simply putting the EOS-1D Mark II N onto the same lens and shooting the same stuff produces a high percentage of in-focus photos.
The only improvement we can see that is probably attributable to v1.0.9 firmware is a reduction or elimination of the tendency for the camera to jump to a distant background when the AF point isn't entirely covering a moving foreground subject like a runner. We attempted to make the problem occur by deliberately moving the AF point to the left and right edges of the torso of two different sprinters, and the camera wouldn't jump to the background in this situation. We had done this same thing with v1.0.8, from the same position on the same track in fact, and it would immediately leap to the background practically every time, regardless of the AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity setting.
This minor improvement means that v1.0.9 is almost certainly worth installing by those experiencing autofocus problems. But it hasn't taken long at all to figure out that the most serious of what ails the EOS-1D Mark III's autofocus is not addressed by this firmware update. And we continue to hope that Canon is working on a complete and successful fix to those serious problems.
Q. I've heard that EOS-1D Mark IIIs selling more recently have better autofocus. Do you think that's true?
We've seen nothing that would suggest that's the case.
Of the two bodies we've tested with v1.0.9 firmware, one was purchased in the last 10 days from a dealer in Europe. This camera has a serial number that's about 18,000 increments higher than the other EOS-1D Mark III we've tested (which is the same one we refer to as the third production body earlier in this article). The autofocus performance of these bodies is so similar as to be interchangeable.
Plus, Chuck Westfall, Canon USA's Director of Media and Customer Relationship, told us today that there have been no changes to the autofocus hardware in EOS-1D Mark III bodies to date.
Add these two things together, and the evidence points to the autofocus in "new" EOS-1D Mark IIIs being the same as "old" ones.
Q. Are you using the same lenses to test the camera as before?
Yes. Because of the short amount of time we've had to try firmware v1.0.9 cameras, we've used the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS mostly, coupled with the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS a bit too. As before, the 300mm - which is simply the best autofocus telephoto lens we've ever used - continues to work superbly when the EOS-1D Mark II N is attached, but poorly with the EOS-1D Mark III.
Q. Can you show some sample pictures shot with firmware v1.0.9 installed?
Yes. Below you will find links to three different sequences of full resolution pictures shot with an EOS-1D Mark III set to capture CR2s. The CR2s were processed to JPEGs in Digital Photo Professional with Sharpening set to 3, then run through a Photoshop script that superimposed the active AF point on the frame, so you can see where the point of focus should be.
Click on a thumbnail to download a ZIP file containing all the pictures in that sequence.
Update, August 8: There are newer example sequences available for download in the August 8 update on the next page. The newer sequences were shot with firmware v1.1.0 installed.
Fast: Canon EOS-1D Mark III, ISO 200, 29 Pictures, 69.8MB (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Ref: Canon EOS-1D Mark III, ISO 200, 24 Pictures, 66.8MB (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Follow: Canon EOS-1D Mark III, ISO 200, 25 Pictures, 65.6MB (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
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