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.

Here's a bit of information about me and what I need and want out of a camera. I'm a pretty demanding person when it comes to equipment and I look for a camera system that is flexible and can shoot in any situation or condition. The fields I work in are entertainment, gallery fine art, landscapes, portraiture, motion picture still photography, product, fashion, and event work. I don't shoot weddings, but I do shoot extremely low light events. At this point in my career almost every photograph I take is for print or has the potential to be printed. And even then still, the potential to be printed very large. I keep this in mind while working so my shooting technique doesn't slip. So I need a camera that is reliable and produces high quality/high resolution images in fairly demanding scenerios. Low light, bad weather, etc....

In this review I'll go over some real world and not so real world shooting conditions. I'll also occasionally compare the 1Ds Mark III to the 1Ds Mark II as it's been my main body for a couple of years now. I've included 100% crops, a couple of CR2 Raw files, and links to larger images. All images have been processed through Adobe Camera Raw.



First Impressions
Cold Dry Leaves
Click for larger
Canon 1Ds Mark III 100mm f/2.8 Macro
ISO 3200 - f/8 - 1/250

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.

It rained in Southern California (it's not always sunny here after all) the day after I purchased the 1Ds Mark III. However, that didn't stop me from going out into the cloudy and damp murk to shoot a bit. The above shot of leaves was one of the first shots from the new camera. There's pretty much no noise reduction applied to the ISO 3200 shot. The noise to me feels a bit "velvety" overall.

Viewfinder

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.

Batteries

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.

LCD

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.

File Size

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.

Sensor Cleaning

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.

Metering

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.

Duck on Duck
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Canon 1Ds Mark III 85mm f/1.2L
ISO 100 - f/1.2 - 1/320

Resolution
Current as of December 2007

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.

Tree Leaf
Download CR2 Raw File
Canon 1Ds Mark III 200mm f/2.8L
ISO 400 - f/8 - 1/200

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.

Tree Leaf - 100% Crop

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.


The Test Setup
50mm f/1.2L
ISO 100 - f/8 - 0.3

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.


The Test Setup - 100% Crop #1

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.


The Test Setup - 100% Crop #2

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 Test Setup - 100% Crop #3

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.


The Test Setup - 100% Crop #4

Looking at the Ipod, the text is pretty sharp and the tonal balance and noise in the dark areas is really good.


The Test Setup - 100% Crop #5

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.

Overall I'm very impressed by the image quality. In fact I'm pretty excited to explore this new level of resolution. For somebody who is used to working on 1Ds Mark II files all the time the resolution improvement is very noticible, although subtle. Let's move on.


Morning Light
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Canon 1Ds Mark III 200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 - f/18 - 1/25


ISO Performance
Bob's Big Boy
Download CR2 Raw File
Canon 1Ds Mark III 24mm f/1.4L
ISO 3200 - f/4 1/160

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.

Bob's Big Boy - 100% Crop

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.

ISO 50 ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600 ISO 3200
Canon 1Ds Mark III 50mm f/1.2L @ f/8

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

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

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.

ISO 800

The noise is just starting the show up, but again in the real world this is barely visible. The gradient is still very nice.

ISO 1600-3200

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.

So far I'm pretty amazed actually and very happy. But let's see how the 1Ds Mark III compares to the 1Ds Mark II at ISO 3200.

Canon 1Ds Mark III and 1Ds Mark II 50mm f/1.2L
ISO 3200 - f/8 - 1/100

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.

High ISO Blister Test

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.


In all honesty at this level of performance and quality images from all ISO ranges are usable for print. I never had any issues even with the 1Ds Mark II, and the 1Ds Mark III seems to just improve on what was already the best in it's class.



Highlight Tone Priority
Morning Fog
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Canon 1Ds Mark III 200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 - f/25 - 1/50

One of the more interesting features I was excited to explore was the new Highlight Tone Priority mode. Canon promised tremendous highlight detail retention with this new technology. When shooting with Highlight Tone Priority on by default the low ISO is set to "2oo" and the exposure is essentaily a ISO 200 exposure. Let's test it out.

Highlight Test Setup
Canon 1Ds Mark III 100mm f/2.8 Macro
ISO See Below - f/16 - 1/250

My test setup was fairly straight forward. The glass has a ship etched on it's side and the brilliant white string will be the areas we are focused on. The image itself is overexposed to really see what's happening at those areas. However, pay close attention to the silver cylinder, quarter, and the end of the string as well. Here's what each crop contains.

Frame 1

ISO 200 Highlight Tone Priority OFF

Frame 2

ISO 200 Highlight Tone Priority ON

Frame 3

ISO 100 Highlight Tone Priority OFF

Frame 4

ISO 50 Highlight Tone Priority OFF

The top two frames are really the frames of interest. Frame #2 with Highlight Tone Priority ON already seems to look better than frame #1 where it's off. The ISO 50 shot is the closest to a "good" exposure. But let's push it down to really see the difference.

Highlight Test Setup - 4 Stops
Canon 1Ds Mark III 100mm f/2.8 Macro
ISO See Below - f/16 - 1/250

Now we can really see the difference. Frame #2 with Highlight Tone Priority ON clearly exhibits more information in the highlights all across the image. I'm actually surprised how much detail it retained. It doesn't rescue everything, like the top of the spool of string, but almost everything else in the image is there. It would appear that Highlight Tone Priority in combination with 14 bit processing is indeed not hype.

Highlight Test Setup - 4 Stops
Canon 1Ds Mark III 100mm f/2.8 Macro
ISO 200 and "2oo" - f/16 - 1/250

While this is an extreme example, you can see for yourself how well Highlight Tone Priority works. Especially in the details of the etched glass. Also, take note of the darker area of the + 1 Stop frame. With Highlight Tone Priority shadow areas get processed differently. The results are impressive and I think many photographers will find this useful in practice.



Long Exposure
Westlake
Canon 1Ds Mark III 35mm f/1.4L
ISO 100 - f/8 - 1 minute

I'll try to move the rest of this along a bit faster. At this point I feel that the image quality of the 1Ds Mark III is excellent.

Westlake - 100% Crops
Canon 1Ds Mark III 35mm f/1.4L
ISO 100 - f/8 - 1 minute

Not a horribly long exposure. In the crops you can see how detailed the image actually is. Signs, building details and other things are clearly visible without any noise. Resolution wise we can almost make out the text in the last crop of the statue.

Night sky - 100% Crop
Canon 1Ds Mark III Sigma 15mm f/2.8
ISO 100 - f/16 - 30 minutes

Here is the blister test. 30 minutes is a long exposure in any world, but in this crop of a star's path you can still see that the noise isn't too bad and could be touched up.



Real World Shooting
Veins
Click for larger
Canon 1Ds Mark III 100mm f/2.8 Macro
ISO 100 - f/16 - 1/250

One of the most impressive things about the 1Ds Mark III is how "workable" the raw CR2 files are. Inside the raw data you can really push and pull the image around. There is so much detail that can be chiseled and carved out through different sharpening techniques as well. Tonal and color reproduction are equally as impressive.

Toby drinking Arizona Iced Tea
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Canon 1Ds Mark III 50mm f/1.2L
ISO 400 - f/1.8 - 1/200

Get ready to put your lenses to the test. I have a whole bunch of lenses and I'm the sort of guy who noodles over image quality. All of my lenses are calibrated yearly and I'll likely be experimenting with the micro adjustment feature on the 1Ds Mark III. As mentioned earlier I am mostly a prime shooter. The 1Ds Mark II put many of Canon's entry level lenses to the test, the 1Ds Mark III only magnifies this. While I own the 24-70mm f/2.8L and the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS none of the shots shown here were taken with a zoom. I'll be testing those out next weekend.

Cast Shadow
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Canon 1Ds Mark III 200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 - f/16 - 1/100

I was thoroughly impressed with the new battery design/technology. I went out and shot these landscapes in 20 degree weather for about 4 hours. This was after taking about a dozen 5 minute exposures, that huge 30 minute exposure, and a few random shots. After all of that the battery was at about 75%. Knowing this I'd estimate about 1800-2200 shots per charge depending on how heavy you are on reviewing your images on the LCD.


Gully
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Canon 1Ds Mark III 200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 - f/8 - 1/400

I've now shot with the camera in damp, cold, and controlled situations and I haven't experienced any issues at all. I'm pretty hard on my gear to an extent as well. Every feature in my judgement seems to function correctly. The camera appears to be a workhorse just like the previous two 1Ds models.

Growth
Click for larger
Canon 1Ds Mark III 200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 - f/16 - 1/320

If you'd like to view more images that weren't included in this review click this link. Inside there are links to larger versions of each image.


Final Thoughts

After shooting with the camera with a few days under numerous conditions I can confidently say the Canon 1Ds Mark III is easily the most versatile full frame digital SLR currently available. Currently the only thing similar on the market is the camera it's replacing. The 1Ds Mark II. In terms of pure image resolution the only cameras that come close are digital medium format bodies and backs. I've used a range of PhaseOne backs now and I know they can squeeze out more detail. That said you lose a lot of flexibility for that gain in resolution and in price point.

What's missing? Two things in my mind as far as the 1Ds Mark III go. My number one is to add the ability to manually select all of the auto focus points that the camera has available for use. In this case only 19 of the 45 are selectable, while the previous 1Ds Mark II had all 45 selectable. I don't know why Canon didn't leave this in as a custom function and I'll be calling them about this.

Number two on the list would be a good old fashion mirror lock up button. Right now you can assign "mirror down with Set", but that doesn't give us mirror up now does it. This isn't a deal breaker for me, but people have been asking for this since the D60 and for whatever reason Canon won't add it as a feature.

I would have prefered two compact flash card slots over the SD card slot, but also, not a deal breaker for me.

When considering purchasing a new body/camera ask yourself some questions. Most people never print over 8x10 inches these days and I know photographers who don't have their work printed at all. To me that means that most people would be very happy with a quality 6-12 megapixel camera. Consider this when making a final decision on what camera to buy. I only mention this because I see so many people who want the latest and greatest but don't really need to spend $8000 or more on a body. Really consider what you are purchasing.

Having said that the secondary, but more important question you need to ask yourself is....
How much is your photography worth to you?
If you are somebody that makes a living from photography and the images you create the answer is rather simple and the cost of new body isn't your primary concern. Your photographs are.

I hope you enjoyed the review, and more importantly, the photographs.

Phil

phil@artbyphil.com
www.phfx.com

Phil Holland 2007