A tough and speedy shooter adds more pixels and gets more sensitive.
Appealing most to sports shooters, news photographers, and any others who need a solid, weatherresistant workhorse body, Canon’s EOS-1D series has long been a leader in camera technology. The latest in this line, the EOS-1D Mark IV ($5,000, body only) brings with it a new 16.1MP CMOS APS-H (1.3X lens factor) sensor, as well as a new 45-point autofocus system, full 1920x1080-pixel 30-frames-per-second video capture, and sensitivity of up to ISO 102,400. But how did it fare in our lab and field testing? Read on.
Imaging Scores High
First, the good news. Results from our three main tests placed the 1D Mark IV at the very top of an Extremely High overall image quality ranking, just a bit shy of Excellent. Specifi cally, color accuracy was Excellent with a Delta E score of 6.56. Resolution measured a more-than-respectable 2490 lines, just below the 2500-line minimum for an Excellent rating.
That puts it ahead of its main competitor, Nikon’s D3S ($5,200, body only), which scored 2330 lines—an edge, but not a huge one. (The D3S sports a fullframe 12.1MP sensor, for a lower pixel count but bigger pixels.)
With that resolution edge comes a bit more noise at lower ISOs than we saw in the Nikon. At default settings, the Canon scored an Extremely Low rating at ISO 50 (the Nikon starts at ISO 100), but stepped up to Very Low from ISO 100 through ISO 400, where the Nikon maintains Extremely Low noise.
Although the Nikon kept its edge through ISO 800, the Canon showed less noise from ISO 1600 through ISO 12,800.
The rankings flipped again in Nikon’s favor at ISO 25,600 through 102,400—though noise was Unacceptable at these sensitivities with both models.
Fastest In Bright Light
If there’s bad news from our lab tests, it’s the 1D Mark IV’s lowlight autofocus performance, which lagged significantly behind the Nikon’s.
Because the 1D Mark III suffered from AF problems in some units from its inception, we weren’t surprised that Canon created a completely new AF system for the Mark IV. We were surprised, though, to see that the new system proved slower in our tests than the old one, even in bright conditions. This isn’t to say that its performance was terrible, but in a camera of this caliber, we expect more.
Ultimately, it seems as though the Mark IV is deliberately tuned for brighter situations. Indeed, with AI Servo tracking turned on, it did a fine job of maintaining focus on subjects moving throughout the frame, as well as toward or away from the camera. Canon says that new algorithms were created for such situations and that the AF processor works in tandem with the camera’s main processors during tracking.
Like its predecessor, the Mark IV has two of Canon’s processors inside—in this case, a pair of Digic 4 chips. That’s a lot of horsepower, but necessary for the camera’s scorching capture speed: up to 85 full-sized JPEGs (with JPEG compression set to its default of 8 instead of the highest quality level of 10) at 10 fps before the buffer fills. If you’re using one of the latest CF cards with an Ultra DMA Mode 6 classification (e.g., the Lexar Professional 600x or SanDisk Extreme Pro), you can expect up to 121 of those JPEGs.
That 10 fps is one frame more per second than the Nikon at full resolution, although the D3S can capture 11 fps when set to its DX crop mode, which serves up 5MP images using only an APS-C-sized area in the center of the sensor—in that mode, the Nikon’s images would be even further behind the Mark IV in resolution.