Thursday of last week, November 29th, I picked up my 1Ds Mark III. The shop only received one body and as so it was treated like a treasure. I drove home with a lighter wallet and the 1Ds Mark III next to me, eager to charge up the batteries, and get to some shooting. Shortly after I arrived home the phone calls and emails started to roll in. I was one of the first to get the 1Ds Mark III in California apparently.
Once out of the incredibley well packed box, with batteries charged, and Custom Functions set the differences between the Canon 1Ds Mark II and the Canon 1Ds Mark III started to jump out at me. Even more outstanding, was after a few shots it felt like a different camera - but in that sort of familiar way.
The viewfinder is exceptionally large and impressive. I have never seen a digital SLR, or even a 35mm film camera for that matter, with a viewfinder this large and bright. A lovely surprise and very welcomed upgrade to the 1Ds Mark II.
The new battery design is pretty outstanding. The batteries are smaller, lighter, last longer, and have a new locking mechanism. Instead of the old push button lock and turn design from the Mark II, the 1Ds mark III batteries simply have a solid latch that turns.
Button & Menus
Canon for the most part got rid of the "two press" logic when it comes to navigating the camera's menus. Also, something that is extremely useful is the new placement of the ISO button. It's now on the right hand side near the shutter release. That combined with the ISO status displaying in the viewfinder allows the photographer change their ISO settings without taking their eyes off the subject. This speeds shooting up greatly and will help you avoid missing those split second shots. A great addition especially for event, sport, and wedding photographers. There is also a new joystick that allows you to navigate through the menus and through images on playback.
The new 3 inch LCD is gigantic and bright. A huge difference from the 1Ds Mark II and extremely welcome. Most noticeable when browsing the menus or during image playback. With the new Live View feature you will be extremely thankful for the screen size. I had no problem chimping with the histogram or RGB histogram and the image on the same screen. I also didn't have a problem reveiwing images in direct sunlight. Keep that lens cloth handy though. The monster sized LCD picks up finger prints and smudges pretty easily.
The 21.1 megapixel Raw files are pretty large. I am now shooting on 8gb Lexar 300x Compact Flash cards and when you pop one in the camera it will tell you you'll get around 300 pictures. This is about 150 or so less than the 1Ds Mark II. File sizes so far have ranged between 21mb and 36mb in CR2 format. I don't shoot jpegs and I'm not a machine gun photographer, but if you are somebody that is, make sure you pick up a few extra memory cards. Play it safe. Memory is cheap.
For anybody who shoots on full frame bodies dust on the sensor has been the one pain in the butt that will never fully go away. Canon has employed a new vibrating sensor dust removal system. I did my best to muck up the sensor and I did indeed get it nice and dirty. I'm primarily a prime shooter. So I'm changing glass often. However, the sensor vibration does work pretty well in practice. What I've gotten used to doing now is to power down the camera, swap lenses, and power back up. This allows the sensor cleaning to happen before and after the lens is on the camera and should jiggle any dust particles loose. The best I can say is that it works, but over the course of the next year I'll be watching how well it works. I really need to do about 100 shoots to really see. That said, I use compressed nitrogen to blow out my camera bodies, an Arctic Butterfly to clean the sensor, and a Sensor Loupe to check and make sure the sensor is nice and clean. I'd invest in the Arctic Butterfly if you don't already own one. Painting out dust in a really filthy image can take a long time, any weapon against this dirty beast is useful.
Most of the photography I do is either in manual or AV mode. Metering is fast and acurate. I linked it to the selected AF point and was able to produce repeatable results. Even on difficult tones the camera performed very well.
New Auto Focus System
The new auto focus system stands out a bit on the Canon 1Ds Mark III. It actually functions differently compared to the 1Ds Mark II with a side by side/same lens test. It's very quick and likes to lock onto the first thing it sees. AI Servo tracks fast and accurately and One Shot is extremely reliable. I didn't have any auto focus issues really. Even in extremely low light. The camera seems to be able to lock focus better than the 1Ds Mark II in low light, but I'll need to do more testing to really say. Canon's new AF design on the 1Ds Mark III uses 19 high precision cross-type AF points and 26 assist AF points. They are selectable in a circular pattern, which takes a bit of getting used to. When using an individual AF point you can only select one of the 19 cross-type AF points. I don't know why Canon has limited us with this feature, but on the 1Ds Mark II you could select any of the AF points manually. I'm a single AF point sort of guy and do the majority of my shooting with one point selected once I've locked down my composition. And I'm very picky about my composition. The new AF layout of the 1Ds Mark III hasn't limited my shooting. But, the points are spaced out and there are gaps in between those magical red squares that I'd love to focus on. I would very much like Canon to allow us to select all of the AF points via a firmware update if possible.
Above is a graphic representing all of the current full frame digital SLRs on the market. I created this to have a visual image of the actual frame size in pixels between all of bodies. In my opinion if you are a Canon 1Ds Mark II user you will likely not be shocked by the detail improvement of the 1Ds Mark III. It is a noticeable improvement over the 1Ds Mark II. However, if you are comparing frames from any camera I think you'll be in for a visual treat.
The above shot was one of the first I ran out and took. It's not very interesting and most people should never see images like this, but I'm sharing it because I'd like you to experience the image quality in a similar way to how I did. There's a link just above to the right there to download the CR2 Raw file to play around with. Here's a 100% crop below.
My first impression was "whew". I was happy and relieved to see there was a good amount of detail in the shot. This was processed in Adobe Camera Raw with a light amount of sharpening. Take note that I'm shooting into the illuminated cloud blanket in the sky which is causing the fringing on the left of the leaf. Resolution is the primary selling point for this camera and it's performing pretty well so far. But lets get mean and dirty.
So here is a little test setup I threw together. I've chosen a few objects ranging in materials, a mini Macbeth chart, and then lit the scene to have strong highlights and deep shadows. I opened up the barn doors to get some light playing with the aluminum background as well as the white reflective board. I'm looking for lots of transitions from black to white and a whole lot of gray tones. I'm shooting with the 50mm f/1.2 L (it's just a hair sharper than my 50mm f/1.4) tripod mounted, trigger released, mirror lockup, and weighted down by 75 pounds in sandbags. Probably overkill, but let's look at some crops.
Gizmo looks pretty happy. And he should, I've locked focus to the specular highlight on his right eye (our left). White balance was achieved by selecting the neutral gray cube on the mini Macbeth. Color overall looks pretty solid, noise is not visible. If you are seeing any it's likely due to jpeg compression.
Now we are outside of the central focus point. The shadow of the leaf is nice and detailed as is the leaf itself. The fine thread goes from in and out of the focal plane, but you can indead make out individual hairs on it.
The text is nice and crisp on my well abused 85mm f/1.2L. The thread makes another appearance. The sensor does a great job of resolving the detail all the way into the spindle and there's a good amount of detail there, but it's getting a little difficult to make out individual coils on it.
Looking at the Ipod, the text is pretty sharp and the tonal balance and noise in the dark areas is really good.
We are a little out of the focal plane for f/8 here, but dark details are clearly visible in the box. The latch looks nice too.
|Click for larger|
Canon 1Ds Mark III 200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 - f/18 - 1/25
Canon digital SLRs have a reputation for performing well at high ISOs. The 1Ds Mark III is no different. I noticed about 1 stop improvement over the 1Ds Mark II. I've provided a CR2 Raw file to download above.
Here is a 100% crop of the Bob's Big Boy photo. It's processed with a little noise reduction and sharpening. I would have no problem making large prints from this image. In fact I didn't have many issues printing ISO 3200 from my 1Ds Mark II either. Let's take a closer look.
Above is an ISO comparison of the same cropped area over several different exposures. There are also links to 100% crops of the ISO range with Gizmo and his mini Macbeth chart. Here's what I see.
ISO 50 shows a lighter black area. This is expected though because ISO 50 is there to really to increase dynamic range, or at least increase the "workable" dynamic range. The gradient is nice and smooth.
ISO 50-400 is pretty much noiseless. There is a slight amount of noise at ISO 400, but it's barely noticable. The gradient is still nice and smooth.
The noise is just starting the show up, but again in the real world this is barely visible. The gradient is still very nice.
The noise is visible now. However, it's pretty low. The color noise is fairly minimal and the files could be worked to print very large. The noise pattern seems to have a very velvety and film-like quality to it, which I enjoy. Detail is also nicely retained. In my experience with the 1Ds Mark III you can push an ISO 3200 image to ISO 12800 and still have a very workable, printable image.
These files were processed identically. Besides the slight improvement in noise the 1Ds Mark III seems to have better color accuracy at ISO 3200. It's noticeable especially in the crop of the quarter and the reds on the Macbeth. The shadow noise is very impressive in my opinion as well. I think the best way to describe the difference is a slight improvement. Like I mentioned previously I see about a 1 stop increase in performance versus the 1Ds Mark II.
Update 12.04.2007 I have updated my views on the difference between the 1Ds Mark III and 1Ds Mark II in the world of ISO 3200. It is difficult to define how much of an improvement in ISO performance there is, but it is easy to see. In the test above I've push a Raw file + 2 stops and then applied a curve to bring out tonal range and details. As you can see with everything being equal between the camera the 1Ds Mark III does contain more shadow detail, or at least increased performance in that area. Is this a 1 stop difference? It's hard to tell, but the performance is better in my opinion.