Canon doesn’t refresh its EOS-1D line very often. This time, the world had to wait even longer than usual due to the tragedy of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, the crushing tsunami it generated, and the (unrelated) flooding that rocked Thailand. And so the 18.1MP Canon EOS-1D X ($6,799, street, body only), announced back in October 2011, became available to retail buyers only in July of this year.
And, in a fairly radical move, Canon has also consolidated its burst-centric 1D series and studio-shooter’s 1Ds series into a single tough, speedy camera body meant to address the needs of both of these groups of professional photographers. With that consolidation, the 1D X has new metering and AF systems, a new CMOS sensor, and full HD video recording capabilities. All of this (and more) is housed in a super-rugged magnesium-alloy body made to withstand the most brutal conditions to which a camera can be subjected, short of serious injury to the photographer.
And we can now finally report on how the 1D X fared in the Popular Photography Test Lab.
In the Test Lab
With a beguilingly film-like look to its images and lab numbers to back them up, the EOS-1D X earned an overall Image Quality rating of Excellent from its lowest sensitivity of ISO 50 through ISO 1600. That’s a couple of stops fewer than the EOS 5D Mark III earned with its Excellent rating from ISO 50 through 12,800.
More interestingly, it is one stop better than the Nikon D4 fared when we tested it in our June 2012 issue, although the results for Canon and Nikon’s top-of-the-line DSLRs were even closer than the overall ratings suggest. In our resolution test, the 1D X tied the D4 exactly at ISO 50 with 2530 lines per picture height. The D4 fell to 2490 lines at ISO 1600, thus disqualifying it for Excellent status, while the 1D X barely held on to that honor with 2510 lines.
By ISO 3200, the 1D X dropped to 2490 lines, which it maintained at ISO 6400, as well. The two cameras repeatedly swap pole position up the sensitivity scale until the pinnacle, ISO 204,800, where they nearly matched—the D4 with 1810 lines and the 1D X with 1800 lines. For perspective, typical observers likely won’t notice that narrow a difference in resolution in real-world images. It’s essentially a tie in resolving power.
In our noise test, the Canon beat the Nikon at their lowest three ISOs, tied in the middle of their ISO range, and fell behind the Nikon a bit once both cameras reach Unacceptable territory at ISO 12,800. The exception to this is at ISO 204,800, where both showed tremendous noise, though the Canon not quite as much as the Nikon.
It should come as no surprise that the 1D X easily managed an Excellent rating in our color accuracy test, with an average Delta E of 7.0. In another note of synchronicity, the D4 yielded exactly the same result.
Our autofocus test showed very fast results for Canon’s new flagship. At the brightest light level in our test (EV 12), the 1D X focused in 0.33 second. Nikon’s D4 proved slightly faster in the brighter part of our test, but gained ground as we set the lamplight lower. From EV 2 down to our dimmest level of EV –2, the D4 proved consistently at least 0.1 second faster than the 1D X; at the moonlight-like level of EV 1, the Canon focused in 0.84 second, compared with 0.63 second for its Nikon rival.
In the Field
Built on the backbone of a strong magnesium-alloy body, the 1D X includes Canon’s highest level of weathersealing and boasts a newly redesigned 400,000-cycle shutter with carbon-fiber blades. This thing is built to last.
Plus, it’s built for speed. Those lightweight shutter-curtain blades, along with other design wizardry, lets the 1D X achieve a top burst rate (without continuous metering or autofocusing) of 14 JPEG frames per second. Canon rightly calls that Super High Speed burst mode. The camera locks the mirror up, and in live-view mode blanks out the screen, during the burst. So precision applications are limited.
Still, we had plenty of fun in this mode when we preset exposure and focus using a Lensbaby Composer with Sweet 35 optic, and shot slightly blind, as if the 1D X were a half-speed Bolex home-movie camera with no finder. With enough depth of field, you could create a striking sequence of shots from, say, a runner crossing a finish line as the ribbon breaks away and wraps around her.
The 1D X’s top regular burst speed is a still-stunning 12 fps for up to 180 JPEGs, 38 RAW, or 17 RAW + JPEG shots when using a UDMA mode 7 CF card. By way of comparison, Nikon’s D4 tops out at 10 fps and promises up to 170 JPEGs, but it can capture up to 69 RAW images in a burst. That’s quite a difference, and it could be enough for photographers who rely on burst shooting in RAW to opt for the Nikon.
The Canon, like its rival, does an exemplary job of tracking AF. As in the 5D Mark III, the 1D X has five pages of its menus dedicated to AF alone. You can tell the camera ahead of time if you know that a subject you want to track will enter the frame from a particular side, or tell it to ignore objects that pass in front of the subject you’re tracking. This can be very useful when panning along with a subject.