Still the EOS to beat.
I’ve been working with Canon EOS single-lens-reflex cameras since they burst upon the scene. Well, actually, since shortly before, when I and other members of the photo press were introduced to the very first one-the EOS 1-on a top secret junket in Bar Harbor, Maine, many, many moons ago. Back then the photo press consisted entirely of print publications and cameras were analog, or as we simply liked to call them, cameras.
Fast forward to the digital age-and the full-frame EOS 1Ds DSLR. The 1-series continues to be the ranking member in the EOS lineup, designed for every imaginable professional application, with durability, functionality, reliability, and consistency at the forefront. And you’ve no doubt heard of the EOS 1Ds Mark III (MkIII, for short), the current flagship. While not the newest EOS on the block, like the 5D Mark II, it shares a 21.1 megapixel CMOS sensor.
But more to the point, it maintains the longstanding tradition established by its progenitors. And since Photocrati is a new site, we thought we’d take this camera out for a spin and round out our experiences with the EOS, with newer cameras to come under our scrutiny when available. In the meantime, here goes. Oh, and at the outset, at roughly $7,000, we should also point out that this is not the cheapest camera out there. But you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck and a camera that will probably outlast you in the field.
The EOS Interface
When it comes to cameras, familiarity breeds anything but contempt. The EOS interface remains familiar territory, although some things inevitably were bound to change, for better and worse. I do wish camera manufacturers would stop using two dials with interchangeable functionality on the one hand, unique attributes on the other. But I’m guessing that will never change, even if a rocker switch were to replace one of the dials. So we might as well learn to live with it. (Although I’ll probably continue to list it as a pet peeve.)
While being familiar with EOS DSLRs in general was helpful, I was still troubled by the plethora of buttons all over the place. I know, this is not the first camera to bear the brunt of this complaint, but that doesn’t ameliorate the situation. I would often find fingers playing Twister with the buttons-not fun (unlike the board game) when you’re trying to do things quickly.
I also found it difficult to read the data displays. There’s the typical display on top, and a smaller one below the color monitor on the back. Hopefully the T1i’s data display will migrate to the next generation 1Ds when that comes along. Of course, you could say I should get new glasses-but, really, do I need to whip out my glasses just to read the display? Fortunately, the optical viewfinder gives you much of the working info you need, so that’s a quick workaround.
By the way, the dioptric adjustment is under the eyecup: squeeze the sides in and lift straight up to reveal the tiny dial on the left. The adjustment appeared to be finer than on other cameras I’ve worked with. And there’s also a built-in eyepiece blind, activated via a lever-nice touch, instead of that very inconvenient eyepiece cover that is often used (assuming you didn’t lose or misplace it). Granted, I rarely, if ever, find myself shading the eyepiece-if I do, it’s usually with a hand. But this definitely facilitates the process and is a more effective approach that I would avail myself of when necessary.
One more thing you’ll notice is the large footprint. That’s due to the large, high-capacity battery. You need that kind of battery to drive this kind of machine-we’re talking NASCAR, not go-karts. Expect to get good mileage. Since this is the 1Ds and not the 1D (twice as fast at half the resolution), you’ll have to contend with 5 fps (at the “H” drive setting)-which is fine, unless your bread-and-butter is sports/action photography.
Under the Hood
To begin, the 1Ds MkIII supports two memory cards: CF and SD, operating in tandem. That can prove very handy. But to maximize capture rates at highest resolution, use the fastest cards you can get. Slow cards will slow you down and put you in pause mode as the frame buffer empties out. Still, I did find myself maxing out the buffer even with a SanDisk Extreme III SDHC class 6 card, when shooting RAW + small JPEG. (The only reason for the JPEGs was in case I used a geotagger to geographically ID the files, plus backup insurance.)
By the way, I can understand taking preventive measures so the card door doesn’t open inadvertently, but I think they’ve gone overboard on this one. Try holding a memory card while accessing the card chamber and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. It’s inelegance taken to a new level. Or another level of Twister-except, again, without the element of fun.
While not currently the highest resolution camera on the block, the 1Ds MkIII still gives you plenty of pixels to work with. That translates into plenty of room to crop. And at this resolution, it gives you pause to consider whether you still need a medium format DSLR. (On the other hand, as one who has worked with medium format digitals with resolutions reaching 60 megapixels, it’s no contest.)
The 1Ds MkIII boasts twin Digic III processors. That means the camera has processors working in tandem so that it can almost anticipate your every need. They may not be next generation as in the 7D, but they go a long way toward optimizing performance. That said, one can always wish for something better and faster. And I can’t wait for the next-gen 1Ds (sorry, no clue when that will arrive).
Of greater practical importance, perhaps, is the durability factor. The shutter has been tested to 300,000 cycles-twice that typically rated for other “pro-level” cameras. And it is fully sealed against dust and moisture-so, combined with an L-series Canon lens (equally dust/moisture-resistant), you have a camera that will go virtually anywhere imaginable-at least on this planet. (When we start testing cameras on Venus or Pluto, I’ll give you an update).
As mentioned, burst rates top out at 5 fps for that shutter, although the frame buffer is the limiting factor if you’re shooting RAW, or worse, RAW + JPEG. But if you’re shooting JPEG alone, you can reach 56 frames before the camera needs a breather. Capture is 14-bit, just shy of 16-bit that medium format cameras have standardized on–may not seem like much, but those bits add up exponentially. There’s also the option of sRAW (smaller file sizes), although I’m not sure why you’d spend $7000 on a camera only to choose this option.
Autofocusing–On Track & Off
The AF system in the 1Ds MkIII features 19 cross-type AF points with f/2.8 or faster lenses, and 26 additional “assist points.” Unfortunately, the functionality of these cross-type sensors changes with the maximum aperture of the lens, so you have fewer and fewer of them as the lens gets slower and slower, until they are only horizontal-line sensitive AF points with f/5.6 lenses. The Assist AF points help in focus-tracking when predictive AF is employed (a function of AI Servo continuous AF).
Having said all that, it brings us to a recent squabble some have voiced. Or more to the point, much has been made of the woes plaguing the latest 1D-series EOS cameras with regard to autofocusing, notably concerning focus-tracking. Well, from my experience with the 70-200mm f/4 lens attached, Canon apparently addressed that problem with a good deal of success, if not unqualifiedly, with the latest firmware update (already installed on this test camera when I received it). Keep in mind that this f/4 lens makes use of only one central cross-type sensor surrounded by horizontal sensors.
So after a largely successful run with my zoom, I decided to try AF with an f/2.8 lens, choosing my f/2.8 macro-perhaps not the ideal candidate for this test. My reason for saying that is this: With the 100mm f/2.8 macro lens attached, things did not go quite as smoothly. In fact, I found myself resorting to my usual routine, namely switching to full manual focusing. And this happened despite the fact that some exposures were made with subjects exhibiting plenty of contrast and texture-and less than life-size, which should have made it easier for the AF sensors to lock on. So I guess we don’t live in a perfect world just yet.
You also have some flexibility in the way AF works, via the Custom Functions. When using the macro lens, I briefly played with one of these Custom Functions governing the assist points-but, again, perhaps not the best lens for this test, since it did not seem to make a difference.
Custom Functions Galore
There are a ton of Custom Functions. Seventeen of these address AF and drive functions, as part of the C.Fn III subset. For instance, you might want to set tracking sensitivity for AI Servo to better deal with obstacles that come between you and the subject. This way you can avoid getting off track as soon as, say, someone walks into the frame in front of the subject. As an extension of this, another Custom Function lets you place priority on a subject entering the field of view closer to you than the original subject. You can also prioritize if the camera continues to track the subject at the expense of drive functions, or if the drive takes priority so that you can continue to shoot at a fast clip, at the expense of AF.
Fifteen Custom Functions are devoted to exposure alone (C.Fn I subset). Among these, you might want to address exposure and ISO increments. And, when shooting in Aperture Priority, if you want to avoid long shutter speeds under low lighting conditions when employing flash, opt for the fixed 1/250 flash sync speed. This, however, may not be the most prudent choice for fill-flash applications, where the flash takes a backseat to the ambient lighting.
There are over two dozen more Custom Functions contained in two additional subsets. If ever you’ve wanted a camera that you could customize to your heart’s content, this is it. But as I’ve said before, go slow so you don’t end up sinking underneath all those Custom Functions. Start with the most vital ones then play around with the rest at your leisure.
Automatic sensor cleaning is a welcome feature, albeit quite commonplace in today’s DSLR world. However, I believe that activating this feature both when the camera is switched on and when switched off is overkill. You can choose to activate this function, but not when it’s activated. It would be nice to be able to choose whether to initiate the process when the camera is turned on, turned off, or both, as well as none of the above. Of course, manual activation is possible. And for those who really feel the need, you can initiate a manual process (I’m getting this sense of dÃ©jÃ -vu that I’ve said this before).
There is also live view. But on this camera that means setting the lens to manual focusing. I tried it with my macro lens under bright lighting conditions. It was doable, but not my first choice. Sometimes I simply had no other option, since a plant or bug was otherwise out of reach.
Considering that I feel, in a sense, I’ve taken a ride in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine, although I’ve transported myself only a very short distance into the past, and viewing this camera in light of its design and accomplishments, I have to say I was impressed. Now sling-shotting back to the future, in light of more recent technologies that have been introduced, I still say-I’m impressed. I’ve always found Canon to deliver very usable images, with quantifiably good exposures and white balance. And I definitely like having more real estate to work with.
Since I wasn’t testing any new lenses with this 1Ds Mark III, I can only say that the lenses I employed performed as expected. As for camera operation itself, the release was certainly responsive enough (there’s also a second one, for vertical shooting-but I never used it), with no measurable shutter lag to speak of-any delay is best attributed to human failure to respond in a timely manner to unfolding action. And while I found autofocusing and focus-tracking well within acceptable tolerances, I once again found myself having to take the manual route when using a macro lens. But in this instance, manual control extended to shooting at less than life-size, which was unexpected.
One thing that struck me about this camera when I tried to squeeze it into a compact shoulder bag for my meanderings about town: It wouldn’t fit. And then it dawned on me. It wasn’t supposed to. Given the heavy-duty battery and the resulting overall bulk of this camera, this EOS was not made for quick jaunts. Admittedly, I did find it fatiguing to schlep around hanging from my neck for extended periods, but I was sure glad I wasn’t using my 300mm f/4 IS or a faster piece of glass.
Still, we come back to this: The EOS 1Ds Mark III is a serious camera for the serious-minded. No pro has come to me complaining about this camera. Pros use it, and abuse it. In fact, given a choice between using a 1Ds and 5D on the job in the studio, pros pull out the 1Ds. They tell me it impresses their clients-no minor point in a highly competitive arena.
There are cameras out there that are faster and smarter, but sometimes what you need is a workhorse camera. And this 1Ds Mark III, my friends, is a workhorse designed to stay the course.
Verdict: Buy it. It will work for your professional needs and your professional image.
For more information: Visit Canon USA
Tech specs: Canon USA
For prices and user reviews check out: Amazon (Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III 21.1MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)) (about $6,100), TestFreaks (Canon 1Ds Mark III, rated 7/10), and B&H Photo (about $6,100)