Friday, August 31, 2012

Field test: Canon 1Dx -initial thoughts.

My 1Dx first field test
I've been a Canon shooter ever since I went digital 10 years ago. My progression through Canon's DSLR line up has been the D30, 10D, 1DmkII, 5DmkII, 5DmkIII and now the 1Dx. I mainly shoot high school football which, if you don't know, is mainly played at night in about the worst lighting you should ask a camera to shoot action sports in. My typical exposure settings of 1/500 sec @ F2.8 meant my ISO would range between 2500 to 6400 depending on the field and location. For the last couple seasons the 5DmkII was filling this role and even with its low frame rate and antiquated 9 point AF system, I was getting a fair amount of `keepers' it just took a bit more planning and anticipating the play to make sure I was focused on the right subject at the right time. I made the plunge this year with the 1Dx in hopes that is superior low light image quality coupled with real sports oriented AF and frame rate would allow me to be a bit more spontaneous on the sideline and really increase my `keeper' rate.

It doesn't get any better than this. Ever since the 1DmkII, I've fallen for the 1D body configuration and I've fitted all my cameras with extended battery grips but they never come close to the comfort of a real 1D body. All controls (and Canon crammed a lot of em in there) fall comfortably under your thumb and finger tips. You can quickly make adjustments to most of the major camera settings without ever taking your eye from the viewfinder. I sorta wish they used a dial for mode selection like on the 5D, I use custom settings quite a bit and I think using the dial to switch between them is much faster than the 1Dx's button press plus scroll - but that's such a small nit pic.

Most of the internet reviews have commented how immediate the AF is on the 1Dx - I guess it's all relative, compared to my 5DmkII this thing is WORLDS faster but my old 1DmkII with the 300F2.8 lens has been my standard for AF speed and tracking performance and regardless of what the numbers say, I don't feel that the 1Dx is significantly faster than that model is - just than now I can finally enjoy this focusing speed at night - I really is nice to be able to see a pass, find the receiver, point and snap into focus.
Spontaneous shots like this weren't possible with my 5DmkII

What the 1Dx does bring to the table is 4 menu pages of AF parameter settings to tweak. I'm a major geek so I appreciate the ability to tweak things the way I like but I'm sure others may have an opinion similar to my Nikon friend that says `you shouldn't need a 32 page white paper to learn how to use the autofocus of your camera...It should just work'. I can't really argue with that logic.
One interesting mode that is exclusive to the 1Dx (for now) is Canon's Intelligent Tracking and Recognition(iTR) mode that uses data from the 100,000 pixel color metering system to `recognize' the subject and track it across the screen automatically switching between the 61 AF sensors to maintain focus. Wow this sounds really awesome, reading the marketing literature. But, iTR can only be selected when the camera is in Automatic Focal point Selection, a mode that I never use because it rarely focuses on what I want to focus on . Unfortunately I found this to be true here as well, at least for my Football shooting, where there are many objects in view, all wearing similar colors. I'd imagine it'd work pretty well on single subjects, like a tennis player or a car on a track, but then again, I never had issue with the accuracy of the normal AiServo modes for tracking things like this.

Image Quality:
It all comes down to this right? Canon's flagship doesn't disappoint here, I found images to have great color rendition and excellent resolution. Subtle textures are rendered with such great detail that doesn't make me miss the extra megapixels of the 5D. And unlike the files I got from the 5DmkII, which I found to be a bit unexciting and in need a bit of mid tone contrast adjustment and sharpening in post, I am liking these straight out of the camera.
In my initial game day outing I did something I never do, I shot in jpg. I wanted to see how all the camera's bells and whistles worked to produce a finished image. So I set the camera to F2.8@1/500s and let the camera auto adjust ISO for the correct exposure.
I found the camera's auto white balance did an excellent job maintaining sensible colors as lighting changed from daylight to dusk to sodium vapor lighting. The Matrix metering did an admirable job of not blowing out white jerseys against a dark background. The Standard Noise reduction setting however, was a little too heavy handed for my taste, smearing finer textures into an almost cellophane look but otherwise excellent in holding detail in medium and larger textures and eliminating color noise in the shadows. Any noise in the shadows had a film like grain to it which I found pleasing. All in all, I'd judged the jpg quality with NR to be better that what I was able to achieve shooting raw at the same ISO with the 5dmkII and doing NR in post. I think if I bump the NR down a click, I'll be happy shooting jpg and finally just go from shoot to publish without any post processing.
1/500 F2.8 ISO5000

The 1Dx is an AMAZING camera, I barely touched on a fraction of its feature (nor will I likely use all of them), but $6700? That's $2k more than the 1DmkIV it replaces. I think Canon pushing their prices a bit too far North lately and honestly, if I didn't have a fortune in Canon Lenses, I'd be writing a Nikon review right now.

You may have noticed there was a 5DmkIII in my opening paragraph; I picked that up because I was afraid the 1Dx wouldn't ship before the season started. I seriously thought of cancelling the 1Dx order after shooting the 5DmkIII as all my complaints about the mkII were fixed - better build quality, higher frame rate, a modern AF system. In fact the jury is still out on this one. I'm only keeping one of them so I'll be shooting these side by side this season - I think the 5DmkIII may win out at $3k less.

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