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Canon 1Dx Field Test

Posted on 7th December 2012 - 12 Comments


David Clapp Canon 1Dx Field Test


What Do You Get if You Spend £5K On A Pro Canon EOS D-SLR?
The 1D-series bodies have always been the pinnacle of Canon’s optical and electronic engineering with the professional photographer very firmly in mind. Although it’s fair to say many of the features are also found in prosumer and consumer cameras, it’s the robust build, enormous 100% viewfinder, layout, duplicate shooting functions, massive battery life and weather sealing that make it worth every penny and streets above the other cameras in the Canon range.

For me, the 1Ds Mk III was a massive step upwards. It was such a revelation, with its huge 21Mp sensor and excellent image quality, that I have been happy with this exceptional camera for over four years. Great colour, great features and virtually bullet proof, for the landscape photographer it has been best camera out there – but the 1Dx has upped the game even further.

The 1D X Effectively Merges The Fast 1.3x Crop Sensor 1D Mk IV And 1Ds Mk III Full-Frame Camera. Is The 1D X The Best Of Both Worlds?
The crop sensor systems have never been of much interest to landscape photographers. I can see that, for wildlife/sports photographers, the merging will have caused some disappointment. Yet all files can be cropped on a computer – all it would take is some carefully positioned black tape to modify a focusing screen and the camera is the same (well, maybe not quite!) I don’t think it is the best of both worlds, but the costs to manufacture two very similar cameras for such a long time must have caused considerable issues in-house. I am just glad that the 1D-series system continued with full frame, and not a 1.3x crop.

Many are also concerned about the drop in full-frame image size, from 5616×3744 down to 5184×3456 pixels (21Mp down to 18Mp), but the sensor technology is so greatly improved that this small reduction should be the least of concerns.

David Clapp Canon 1Dx Field Test

What’s The High ISO Performance Like?
My testing of the 1D X has shown that the camera is utterly remarkable at high ISOs. In fact, I was looking at a night shoot from a PhotoPlus Apprentice feature (which will appear in issue 70, on sale 8 January 2013) and I am still astounded at just how noise-free the files are. I can happily report that ISO3200 looks like ISO800 on the 1Ds Mk III. My 5D Mk II was capable of good results up to ISO800-1600, but the 1D X is on another level all of its own. It’s even a marked improvement over the 5D Mk III, which is also a good performer, but it’s just how far the files can be pushed in Raw that makes the 1D X very much the camera of choice.



Canon 1Dx ISO test


Canon 1Dx image at ISO3200, 6400 and 12800


 Canon 1Dx - Full hi-res image at ISO3200

The dynamic range is also remarkable at high ISOs. Most cameras exhibit significant loss of dynamic range as the ISO is increased, but the 1D X can pull astonishing detail from the shadows in ISOs right across the range. The signal-to-noise ratio is also extremely consistent. ISO 100-800 is virtually noise-free, ISO3200 is just amazing, but the threshold is reached at ISO12800 where the quality starts to drop significantly. That’s a further three stops of quality above any camera I have used. To those shooting high-speed action, this means all manner of creative possibilities, but to me it’s night photography where this is the most exciting. The benefits are greater depth of field and shorter shutter speeds in low light, files filled with data that can be pushed/pulled in Raw and still stay looking great.

David Clapp Canon 1Dx Field Test - Nuns Cross, Dartmoor shoot for PhotoPlus




What’s The 14fps Mode Like?
14 frames per second? If the camera had 14 frames per minute I would be happy! I can honestly say other than flexing my ego, it’s not been something I would ever need. The 14fps only works with JPEGs, so you are ‘stuck’ with 12fps in Raw, oh what a shame. I hope this speed will pull further creativity out my photography, perhaps I’ll shoot some wildlife, but for the first time I have a camera that will encompass all these opportunities.

What’s The Handling Like?
The handling of the 1Dx is the best camera that I have ever used. The thought that has gone into it really shows when it comes to instinctive use. My journey to the 1D-series cameras came from a 5D Mk I directly to a 1Ds Mk III. I used to have a BG battery grip for the 5D, but despite the vertical control buttons, it never felt truly part of the camera. The 1Ds Mk III changed all that. The 5D Mk II was the only camera I have owned that hasn’t had the grip / dual shooting controls, simply because it was a backup. Everytime I used it, I used to curse the lack of dual controls, so you can tell how much I love them.

David Clapp Canon 1Dx Field Test - in the snow in Norway

There Are A Million Different AF Setups For Every Type Of Moving Thing – Do You Actually Use Any Of These?
For me, I can see that this will be a slow stage of learning. As long as the camera focuses consistently and accurately, I cannot see myself dipping into all the custom AF menus very regularly. I tried the camera in AI Servo mode to see how the camera responded to near/close shooting, focusing on trees in Wistmans Wood. I was using an EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS lens and I have never seen a camera lens combo respond so fast. All the shots were pin sharp. Autofocus is a big part of what I do when travelling, so it is important to me, but it’s the ability of accurate low light focusing that will be a huge boost to my work.

Do You Use The Double CF Slots, Or Just One?
I use both. The dual CF slots have always been very useful for me in the 1Ds Mk III, especially when on the move or shooting abroad. I only shoot 8GB cards, one in each slot, as I get somewhat nervous about accidents. Losing days of images from a corrupt memory card is rare, but I backup to my MacBook Pro regularly so 8GB cards are perfect. What I am going to do is implement the other CF slot in the 1D X with a second 32GB card, shooting duplicate Raw files to both cards at the same time. I rarely shoot over 500 shots a week when on the move, so the 32GB will duplicate everything I take. Its great to know I could have a backup card onboard at all times.


David Clapp Canon 1Dx Field Test - in poor weather in Norway

Is Image Quality ‘£3K Better’ Than The 5D Mk III?
It depends what you are shooting. The extended ISO performance is a notable improvement over the 5D Mk III. The threshold of the 5D Mk III that I am comfortable with is ISO3200, but it shows a significant drop in dynamic range in comparison to the 1D X in these upper ISOs. This would make me choose the 1D X every time, but for others its possibly unnecessary. Both cameras hold their own perfectly well in the Canon range, both are a huge leap forwards in image quality over the 5D Mk II in particular. For me, low-light/high-ISO has always been a huge part of my work, but for the low-ISO landscape shooter the 5D Mk III would more than suffice.

From A Pro’s Point Of View, What Do You Like/Appreciate About The 1D X?
I won’t mention ISO performance any more as I think you know what I am excited about most! The 1D X is an incredible photographic tool. There are some superb new features that I cannot do without. The dual customisable function buttons on the front of the body (in fact, literally all the buttons can be customised), the massive bright viewfinder, in-viewfinder LCD overlay, Custom Shooting Modes, in-viewfinder level (on the 5D Mk III too), extra joystick, Q button – all these features make it a huge leap forwards within the 1D-series system. The menus are far better, less cluttered, with help menus too. And, above all, its bullet proof.




David Clapp Canon 1Dx Field Test - shooting moonlight on Dartmoor

Are You Going To Invest In A 1D X Now You’ve Tested One?
It’s funny, I was convinced that after the positive testing of the 5D Mk III, (before receiving the 1D X) that this camera was not for me. I was certain that, after I sold the 5D Mk II, I would get a 5D Mk III, and possibly sell the 1Ds Mk III, purchasing another 5D Mk III as a backup. All that changed in one night shooting the night sky in Norway. I only have the 1Ds Mk III right now, so I need another body, and the 1D X is going to be it. It will extend my imagery to greater heights for sure. Then, as the 5D Mk III comes down in price, it will probably replace the 1Ds Mk III. All 1D-series bodies attract a lot of attention, especially when travelling and in the end they are my working tools, depreciating as fast as my car! It is exciting times for photography, to say the least.


David Clapp Canon 1Dx Field Test - amazing shadow detail even in the dark

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  • I can’t believe I’m the first to comment on your excellent write up David.. I’ve just been offered the chance to test both the 5dMKIII and the 1 DX. I’m going to Finland in Feb and hope to take one of them along with me… from what you’ve said about the low light light performance I think you’ve made the choice for me! The 1DX…
    Personally I found the 5DmkII to be a massive improvement in image quality (noise etc) from my 1DS mkIII and I could buy 2 of them for the price of one 1DS mkIII.  I’m told and have seen results that suggest the 5D mkIII is better still and now you’re saying the 1DX is better still!
    Just one thing, we all get the idea that the 1DX is fantastic in low light but how does it perform against the 5 in daylight? Is there a noticable difference in the shadows or highlights?
    Keep up the good work and interesting write ups.

    / By Ian Bracegirdle on 7th December 2012

  • Funny you should say that as I found the 5D2 noise, although better in the high ISO range it was worse in the low ISO end than the 1Ds3. I have always found the camera to be 100% reliable and consistent, whereas the 5D2 was anything but. It was resigned to the camera bag as the images were so consistently good in the landscape where I believe it’s strengths are hard to beat.

    The 5D3 is incredibly slick in the lower ISOs than the 5D2, great in the upper ISOs too, but the 1Dx has a huge advantage over it. If I wasn’t shooting for a living, and not requiring the higher ISO capabilities of the 1Dx I would have a 5D3. As I explain in the article, that camera would be just about perfect for everything, if it wasnt that i push my photography towards the night sky so often. It’s the dynamic range at high ISO that makes it a true leader in its field, across the board, greater than any other camera out there today (although the D800 is better at lower ISOs)

    As for a daytime comparison, I haven’t really done that as I never had the two cameras at the same time. But I think that either is the camera for you, it just depends on how deep your wallet is!

    / By David Clapp on 7th December 2012

  • Excellent. I had a (very) brief play with one in Slovenia in October (it was owned by the tour leader), and on returning home, was convinced it was one for me. And then I thought a little more. I rarely shoot about ISO 400 (with a 5D2) and although 90% of my work is at the coast, weather-proofing etc hasn’t caused any issues. I suspect a 5D3 might be a better choice. But the 1DX feels so ‘robust’...! I’ve convinced myself it’s an apt 50th birthday present.

    / By David on 10th December 2012

  • I personally think you’d be better of with a 5D3 an a battery grip if you want a pro-feel without the expense. If you don’t shoot high ISOs then it’s really not worth it. The 5d3 is clean as a whistle, very robust as it is and makes beautiful images indeed. I would be 5d3 all the way if lowlight and moonlight wasn’t my bag / freezing to death up here in the Arctic. The 1Dx is one hell of a camera, but that saving could pay for a lot of experiences / lenses and more. Perhaps look at a 1Ds3 as another alternative. It would cost even less and give you all that 1-series goodness for £2k for a good condition one.

    / By David Clapp on 10th December 2012

  • Personally I am going to stick with the 5D Mk2 for a good while, mine is set to ISO 160 90% of the time so I don’t really see the point. For some reason I get dramatically better shadow noise at 160 rather than 100 / 200 especially when pulling the shadows on a longer exposure. I find the my 5D MK2 usable up to ISO 6400, I shot in a very dark church in Berlin at that and Getty accepted the shot. But I think body to body there are a lot of variation with the MK2s.

    The 1DX looks like a tank and I bet you will get years of use out of it in the worst weather, I definitely wouldn’t get a 5D2 covered in ice!

    / By Ian Woolcock on 11th December 2012

  • I would never shoot the 5D2 anything higher than ISO1600. The noise past that point was fairly atrocious, unless the image is downsized. Getty won’t take anything without severe quality control so I’m am surprised they let it through (was it Getty Flickr?)

    Getting encrusted in ice is part of the game! You need to baptise your camera at least once.

    / By David Clapp on 11th December 2012

  • I think from memory it was photolibrary at the time actually but it is now on Getty, it cleaned up very well in one of the recent process versions of light room. I don’t have half as many issues with noise as I know some people do. I do get more noise now however when I make more use of live view, probably due to the sensor getting hotter.
    The 5D MK2 does seem hit and miss, and even though mine is a good one it does occasionally throw some odd noise on a well exposed low ISO image. I considered a switch to a D800E but I really dont want even bigger RAW files, and I think I would rather invest the money on getting to locations and the ever increasing fuel bill :(

    / By Ian Woolcock on 11th December 2012

  • Many thanks David. Excellent advice as usual.I really ought to sort out a Norwegian trip!

    / By David on 16th December 2012

  • I remember reading this a while back and then forgot about it till we went to Norway last week. After reviewing my images we took on the last night when we stayed out all night I noticed that even at iso800-1200 the amount of noise in the images from the 5DMK2 was way too much for my liking. I don’t do much low light stuff but would like the option to pursue this somewhere down the line so whilst the 5DMk3 may be better suited to my current needs I can’t help thinking I should just get the 1DX and be satisfied for a longer period. Lets just hope I get a big enough dividend in June to cover the cost of one.

    / By Richard Hurst on 13th February 2013

  • Well its a hell of a camera and the lowlight potential is better than anything on the market right now, except the Nikon D4 which is also absolutely magic. If night time shooting is something that you feel you would like to pursue, then I would recommend it 100%.... but it’s a heavy lump (which may restrict how you feel about it for travel and longer distances). I have found myself still shooting my 1Ds3 more often, simply because its a great camera at the lower ISOs and there is no need to replace it. Its the ultimate combo I feel, but as the 5D3 comes down in price I will probably sell it. I get a lot of glares in third world countries when sporting the 1-series bodies….

    The 5D3 is very good at night, but don’t expect to push it any more than ISO3200 without beginning the slide into decreasing S/N ratio. Remember the increase in ISO from 3200 onwards will only degrade the image.

    / By David Clapp on 13th February 2013

  • An excellent review of the 1DX and how it compares to other top end cameras.  I am fortunate enough to have had my trust and well love 1D Mk2 replaced by insurance with the 1DX…I see a big improvement in PQ just doing a few quick snaps using my 70-200mm 2.8…I am looking forward to using this beast:)

    / By joe on 10th April 2013

  • You will totally enjoy the camera and I am sure it will open up doorways to greater creativity as it has mine.

    / By David Clapp on 11th April 2013