What does it take to be the best? In comparing DSLRs, the answer is incredible image quality and performance. Especially for pros, it also takes a nearly unbreakable camera body, long-lasting battery, and a wide range of accessories to ensure that you don't miss the critical shot. Is all of this worth $8,000 (street) for the camera body alone? Canon hopes that enough pros will think so once they discover the capabilities of its new 21.1MP EOS-1Ds Mark III.
The latest in a series of EOS-1Ds professional-level cameras, the 1Ds Mark III showcases Canon's most advanced, super-high-megapixel, full-frame sensor. The earlier models broke ground with 11.1MP and 16.7MP sensors (on the 1Ds and 1Ds Mark II, respectively), and all were built to handle the rigors and demands of professional use.
In our tests in the Pop Photo Lab, the 16.7MP 1Ds Mark II exceeded the image quality of ISO 100 film in most categories, including color accuracy and low noise levels at high ISOs. But film still had the resolution advantage at 3000 lines (tested), compared with 2600 lines on the 1Ds Mark II.
So we couldn't wait to find out what a 21.1MP pro DSLR offered in terms of image quality and resolution. After all, some medium-format film shooters (or those using digital backs) might be tempted to trade in their heavy cameras and clunky lenses for a less-expensive DSLR if it captured similar, or better, image detail and provided the other benefits of a digital SLR system, such as burst shooting, fast autofocus, low noise at high ISOs, and a wider range of accessories.
When we got a production model of the 1Ds Mark III, we needed no more than a few seconds to get acquainted with the controls and button/dial arrangement -- mainly because it shares all of these with its sibling, the 10.1MP EOS-1D Mark III ($4,330 street, body only) we tested in 2007. They both also have the same 45-zone AF system with 19 cross-type sensors, 14 bits per color from dual Digic III processors, 3-inch LCD with live view (with manual focus only) and 230,000-dot resolution, rechargeable lithium ion battery, and shutter rated to 300,000 exposures.
In our tests we found similar viewfinder accuracy (99%, an Excellent rating) and magnification (76%, Good), but the image in the 1Ds Mark III has full-frame coverage.
For twice the price you get more than twice as many megapixels in the 1Ds Mark III as you do in the 1D Mark III. So does that mean you get twice as much detail and overall image quality? No. For one thing, it takes four times as many pixels to double the resolving power of a camera sensor, and lens design plays a part.
However, the resolution improvement in the 1Ds Mark III is still record-breaking. With an average 2830 lines (2850Hx2800Vx2840D), it not only beat the performance of the 1D Mark III (2200 lines), but it also broke the record set by its 16.7MP predecessor, the 1Ds Mark II (2600 lines). For comparison, Nikon's new full-frame 12.1MP DSLR, the D3 ($5,000 street, body only) captured 2320 lines.
With such a pixel-filled sensor, the quality of the lens and the accuracy of the camera's autofocus system is more important than ever. Photographers get what they pay for from the 1Ds Mark III's fast, sensitive, and accurate AF, and we assume that anyone who can afford this camera will pair it with high-performance Canon L-series zooms, or high-quality prime lenses such as the 50mm f/1.4 Canon EF USM used in our tests. (Otherwise, using an older or cheaper lens will have the same effect as dialing down the megapixel count to the 16.7MP of the EOS-1Ds Mark II.)