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Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II announced
Tuesday, September 21, 2004 | by Rob Galbraith

The latest significant digital SLR announcement of the Photokina 2004 season is the EOS-1Ds Mark II. Announced today, the new model shares many of the same features and attributes of the EOS-1D Mark II, which Canon began shipping earlier this year.

The primary difference between the two cameras? Pixels. The EOS-1Ds Mark II has about double the number of them in each photo. At 16.61 million pixels, the EOS-1Ds Mark II's photos have the highest number of pixels ever to emerge from a 35mm-style digital SLR.

Canon is determined to stay in the lead in the digital SLR megapixel race, though it's clear from the marketing and technical documentation supplied to us by Canon USA that they view their competition to be medium format digital backs as much as other digital cameras living inside 35mm-style bodies. In fact, the EOS-1Ds Mark II's ability to shoot at 4 fps for up to 32 JPEG or 11 RAW CR2 frames in a burst, and an ISO range of ISO 100-1600 in 1/3 step increments (plus 50 and ISO 3200), means it's better-specified all-round than a number of both higher and lower resolution digital SLR's and medium format backs.

canon_1ds_front_2.jpg
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II

Pixels, Pixels Pixels

Did we mention that EOS-1Ds Mark II photos at full resolution contain 16.61 million pixels? That means an in-camera JPEG will open into Photoshop as a 47.5MB file, a RAW CR2 photo will open to the same size if processed into 8-bits per colour and a whopping 95.1MB if processed into 16-bits per colour. That's a lot of picture data.

A whack of pixels doesn't automatically translate into detailed, ultra-enlargeable photos. A poorly-designed optical low-pass filter in front of the sensor can rob a picture of resolution, while heavy-handed noise reduction processing in the camera's circuitry can do the same. The detail-per-pixel ratio of the 8.2 million pixel EOS-1D Mark II, however, is very good (weak in-camera sharpening notwithstanding). And with the exception of the increase in the sensor's physical dimensions and number of pixels, the EOS-1Ds Mark II's sensor design appears to be much the same as that of its lower-resolution twin. 

Given that, we're optimistic that more than 16 million Canon-designed image pixels spread across a CMOS sensor the size of a 35mm film frame is going to add up to a substantial increase in detail-resolving capability over the EOS-1Ds. That said, we haven't seen files from the EOS-1Ds Mark II as yet, so we hope our optimism is properly rewarded when pictures from the camera emerge into the public domain.

The remainder of the EOS-1Ds Mark II is mostly a known quantity, at least to owners of the EOS-1D Mark II. Body design is identical; only the gold-coloured 1Ds and Mark II DIGITAL name badges on the front hint at the more-studly sensor lurking inside (the EOS-1D Mark II's name badges are silver in colour). The EOS-1Ds Mark II's E-TTL II flash metering and 21-zone ambient metering are the same. it also accepts the same NP-E3 NiMH battery. The 2.0 inch, 230,000-dot rear LCD (and the menus and image review modes within), the dual card slots (one each for CompactFlash and SD), the FireWire, video out and USB (for direct printing) connectors are all ported directly from the EOS-1D Mark II.

EOS-1Ds Mark II - EOS-1D Mark II Differences

The differences between the two models, then, appear to be driven mostly by the larger, higher-resolution sensor. We've mentioned several of these differences already. Here's a more complete summary, with some EOS-1Ds information rolled in too:

Frame rate Though the sensors in both cameras feature simultaneous readout of the sensor data across 8 channels, about twice as many pixels to read in the new model translates into about the half the frame rate, at 4 fps maximum for the EOS-1Ds Mark II vs 8.5 fps for the EOS-1D Mark II. This compares favourably to the EOS-1Ds' 3 fps; Canon has managed to up both the number of pixels and the frame rate in the EOS-1Ds replacement.

Burst depth Burst depth is also affected. The official specification for the EOS-1D Mark II is 40 JPEG and 20 RAW CR2 (though both these numbers are higher than the camera's actual full-speed burst depth). The official specification for the EOS-1Ds Mark II is 32 JPEG and 11 RAW CR2. If these numbers are indicative of the camera's real world capability, then JPEG burst depth will be ample while RAW burst depth should be usable for even candid wedding sequences and other action. Both specifications are up from the official - and actual - 10 JPEG and 10 RAW burst depth numbers of the EOS-1Ds.

ISO and noise The sensitivity range of the EOS-1Ds Mark II is 100-1600 in 1/3 step increments, plus ISO 50 and 3200. With different pixel dimensions, different noise reduction processing or both, the noise characteristics of the EOS 20D, the EOS-1D Mark II and EOS-1Ds Mark II are likely to be all slightly different, despite the overlap in ISO settings. We know the 20D and EOS-1D Mark II are close in this regard, with a slight higher-ISO edge going to the 20D. Its 3-stage on-chip noise reduction processing seems to tip the scales in its favour over the single-stage processing of the EOS-1D Mark II, despite the fact the latter camera has a pixel pitch of 8.2 microns, compared to the 6.4 microns of the 20D.

The EOS-1Ds Mark II combines a pixel pitch of 7.2 microns with the same noise reduction processing as the EOS-1D Mark II, which may well translate into its files being the noisiest of the three. But the difference may also be slight, and may also not be noticeable at anything other than the highest ISO settings. And this is all relative: the other two Canon cameras we're comparing to here produce some of the cleanest files around, at any ISO. What seems likeliest of all is that photos from the EOS-1Ds Mark II will be a lot less noisy from about ISO 400 and up than the EOS-1Ds, despite the earlier model having a comparatively large pixel pitch of 8.8 microns. That's because Canon is just a lot better at processing noise out of existence now than they were back when the EOS-1Ds was being developed.

Autofocus Though the AF hardware in the EOS-1Ds Mark II is identical to the EOS-1D Mark II, the AF performance has been tuned to the slower 4 fps shooting rate, presumably to bring up the level of AI Servo tracking with this camera to more closely match the EOS-1D Mark II. The EOS-1Ds was similarly optimized, and in that case the changes Canon made effectively neutered the camera's ability to track a subject in motion. Here's hoping that the AF tweaks this time have not hampered the EOS-1Ds Mark II's ability to continuously focus.

One other change of note: C.Fn 21, Drive speed priority in AI Servo, is not present in the EOS-1Ds Mark II. With the EOS-1D Mark II, one has the option of disabling this (which is the default behaviour for that camera), such that the first frame in a sequence is always release priority (the camera will fire even if it hasn't acquired focus), while subsequent frames are focus priority (the camera will put more emphasis on maintaining focus than maintaining the shooting rate).

Enabling C.Fn 21 switches the emphasis after the first frame to maintaining the shooting rate over focus. With the slower 4 fps shooting rate of the EOS-1Ds Mark II, Canon decided this option was superfluous. The EOS-1Ds Mark II will always behave as the EOS-1D Mark II does when C.Fn 21 is disabled. This is the same as the EOS-1Ds, which also lacks C.Fn 21.

Viewfinder The physically bigger sensor of the EOS-1Ds Mark II equates to a larger viewing area in the viewfinder than the EOS-1D Mark II, and a viewing area that's nearly identical to that of the EOS-1Ds.

Startup time Canon's camera startup time specification for the EOS-1Ds Mark II is 0.3 seconds.

The sum total of everything you've read on this page means that the EOS-1Ds Mark II should be a much better camera than the EOS-1Ds it replaces, in areas of performance that extend beyond image quality, much as the EOS-1D Mark II shored up a number of weaknesses in the EOS-1D. When there are files to look at, we hope that EOS-1Ds Mark II image quality will also be a step up, though photos from the EOS-1Ds are pretty darn good already. Our only major area of concern at this point, without an EOS-1Ds Mark II to use as yet, is AI Servo autofocus.

canon_1ds_rear.jpg
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II - rear view

Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E1/WFT-E1A Officially Unveiled

Canon has also announced the WFT-E1/WFT-E1A, an 802.11b/g wireless and wired Ethernet transmitter for the EOS-1Ds Mark II, EOS-1D Mark II and EOS 20D. That's covered in detail on the Feature Highlights page.

This preview report is broken down into 2 sections - an overview of the camera's features and a closer look at what's new in the EOS-1Ds Mark II.

Thanks to Hitoshi Doi, Chuck Westfall, Deb Szajngarten, Geoff Coalter, Neil Stephenson and Joanne Lee for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

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