In the past I’ve written down my take on what I though about the features of recently announced cameras. Now that I’m diving into doing video, I thought I’d take a stab at doing that same thing but as a video.
In this case, Canon recently announced the latest generation of the EOS-1DX, the EOS-1DX Mark III. And while in many respects, the camera is really just yet another evolution of the professional DSLR, there are some interesting new features in the design, that I wanted to talk about.
So let me preface this by saying, I haven’t had advanced access to an EOS-1DX. mark III. In fact, I haven’t handled one at all, and probably never will. I have owned EOS-1 series cameras in the past, but no longer do as my photography has moved away from the kinds of work that the EOS-1 series is best suited for.
That said, I buy all my cameras with my own money, which means that while I might not be a 1D user right now, I can’t simply ignore what Canon is doing with the camera. Moreover, for the last two generations Canon has brought many of the EOS-1DX series features down to the EOS 5D line, which is what I use. So even though I’m not an EOS-1 user, I keep a keen eye on the features that come to that camera as they can be indicative of what might be coming to a future 5D.
To start with, Canon chose not to increase the resolution of the new camera over it’s direct predecessor. In my reading there’s certainly been some wailing and gnashing of teeth over this, at least in the more vocal parts of the rumor mill online community.
Personally, I think this is a perfectly reasonable move. In fact, one of my biggest concerns with the 5D line, or it’s proper mirrorless successor, going forward is the continued push for more resolution.
Personally, I’m quite happy at around 30 MP. It delivers a good balance of detail, pixel performance, and reasonable file sizes. While I certainly wouldn’t complain if the resolution was bumped to say 35 or 36 MP, I also wouldn’t complain if it stayed at 30 MP.
And Canon has a reasonable product line to support this as well. The 5D line has the 5D, which balances frame rate, file size, and resolution towards being a good general purpose camera. And the the 5Ds which provides the super high resolutions for those that need them. So long as Canon is intelligent about the production of the 5D and 5Ds, namely that they maintain body and software parity while changing only the image sensor, the two options should be entirely sustainable as a business proposition going forward.
Besides it’s not like their competition doesn’t do this anyway. Sony’s A7 line is split 3 ways, with the A7 line being a general all arounder, the A7R line providing high resolutions, and the A7S line providing high sensitivity at the cost of resolution.
Second on my list of things that I’m very interested in is the new autofocus system.
The new phase detection autofocus sensor provides a substantial increase in autofocus points compared to it’s predecessors. For lenses and TC combinations of f/5.6 and faster, there are 191 AF points of which 155 are cross sensitive. For compatible lenses and TC combinations at f/8 the AF system still provides 191 total AF points, of which only 65 are cross sensitive.
When Nikon launched the AF system in the D5, with it’s 153-point I leveled a number of criticisms at the camera calling it little more than marketing numbers. Most of that came down to to major criticisms.
First, the Nikon AF system only allowed the user to select 55 of the 153 marketed points. The rest of the points were unselect-able assist points. Nikon could market the camera as having a massive number of AF points, but in practice for the user, there weren’t really any more selectable points than the D4 had.
This isn’t the case with the 191 point system in the EOS-1DX mark III. All 191 points are user selectable. Admittedly, the utility of having 191 selectable AF points is probably much lower than the marketing would allow, but they are all selectable.
My bigger criticism of the Nikon D5’s AF system was that it actually reduced the AF coverage at f/8 compared to the D4.
Certainly some might argue that a pro buying a $6500 DLSR can also afford to buy a 500mm f/4 or 600mm f/4 too. I find it hard to deny the utility of having a functional AF system with f/8 lens and TC combinations; if only because a 600 mm f/4 is a big heavy lens, and not something that’s easily carried all day. Additionally, high ISO performance of modern DLSRs makes it possible to shoot with much smaller max-apertures in many circumstances, at least compared to the past and especially to film.
Conversely, I lauded Canon for choosing to go the other route with the 1DX mark II and 5D mark IV, making the entire AF patter usable for supported f/8 lens and teleconverter combinations, and they’ve head with that course with the 1DX mark III’s AF system as well. All 191-points are functional, though only 65 of them are cross type.
New AF Controller
Increasing the number of AF points does pose usability problems for navigating them. In response to this Canon included a new AF-On touch sensitive multi-controller on the 1DX mark III.
That said, for me the jury is still out on this.
I have two primary concerns. First, the thumb is not the most accurate digit for manipulating things precisely. Moreover, the axis of movement for the thumb on the back of the camera is rotated compared to the axis of the frame. Admittedly it’s hard to articulate this in text, so you might want to watch the video to see what I’m trying to say.
Suffice to say, I’m not sure how well this will work day in and day out, and especially not sure how well it will work in adverse conditions such as cold, or under stress.
The second aspect is that it appears, at least as far as I can tell from the videos to potentially be touch sensitive. One of the hallmarks of Canon’s EOS-1 series has been that they are designed to be operable in even the most adverse conditions. This has generally mean that their physical UI is designed in such a way that it can be used with heavy gloves, such as what you might need in the arctic, Antarctic, or the top of a Himalayan mountain.
Heavy gloves and touch sensitive interfaces don’t work together. Moreover, in the kinds of environments where you need gloves that heavy, you generally won’t want to remove them to work a control on the camera.
Admittedly, the AF point can still be manipulated using the normal thumb sticks and dials, so it’s not a functionality breaking situation in those kinds of extreme climates.
People AF Capabilities
New to the AF system as well, are improved people AF capabilities. Canon has added what they’re calling head detection to the AF system, in addition to face and eye detection.
Admittedly, I though this was quite funny when I first read about it, but in having seen some demo footage, read the white paper, and thought about it some I can see the utility.
Head detect AF lets the camera focus on a head, when there’s no visible face — such as when a person is wearing a full face helmet. As well as allows the camera to maintain tracking of the persons head when their face turns out of view — such as when a person spins around while dancing.
With this being available in both live view and the normal viewfinder, this could be quite useful for some.
That said, as a wildlife photographer, I’d really like to see support for eye or head detection on animals, not just people. Sorry, this is one feature Sony gets a pat on the back for. That said, since the 1DX’s is used for shooting people more than animals, I can see why Canon would focus there.
Summing up the video features, there are a couple of points that I want to touch on, without getting too bogged down in the massive list of options and configurations.
To start with, the biggest feature for many I think is that the camera now supports 5.6K RAW. Of course, this is also a point where I’ve seen a lot of whaling about how it’s not 6K and how important 6K is to have — unsurprisingly without any actual cogent argument for why 6K is important buy 5.5K isn’t enough. Suffice to say, RAW video uses way to much storage for me to deal with, so it’s not something I’m all that interested in.
Second on the list is the availability of both DCI (17:9) and UDH (16:9) crops for 4K recording. As well as the ability to record both using the full sensor, and using a Super 35 window.
To be perfectly honest, the lack of a UHD crop mode on the 5D mark IV really annoys the crap out of me, and it shouldn’t be something that I have to upgrade to a new camera to get.
That said, the big story in the video department for me is two fold. First, the 1DX mark III supports both AVC/h.264 and HEVC/h.265 compression. H.265 provides a solid boost in image quality for the same bit-rates compared to h.264 and that’s potentially a good deal for my kind of shooting. That said, Canon choose to use the increased compression efficiency of h.265 to up the recording from 8-bit 4:2:0 chroma-subsampling, to 10-bit 4:2:2 chroma subsampling.
Personally, I would like to see Canon offer more in the way of user choice in the matter. For a lot of what I shoot, I’d rather be able to knock the bit rate down my 20-30 percent and retain the same image quality (e.g., shoot 8-bit 4:2:0 HEVC at say 20 Mbps, instead of 8-bit 4:2:0 AVC at 30 Mbps) and get more recording time without having to carry even larger cards.
The final point on video is that the 1DX3, seems to missing some 1080p recording modes. While the 4K and 5.6K modes can record 24p content; this is absent when shooting at 1080p.
Granted we could get in to a big debate about the relevance of 1080p in the current market, but I’d like to have the option to shoot it instead of having to shoot everything in 4K, with the associated storage requirements, and then downsample in post.