Canon 1DX £5299
21st Aug 2012 | 09:00
The Canon EOS 1DX has 18MP and 61 AF points, and shoots at 12fps
Canon caused a bit of a stir when it announced the 18.1 million pixel EOS-1DX because, rather unusually, it opted to use a sensor with a lower pixel count than the 21 megapixel Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III.
As a result, some Canon EOS-1 series camera users were left scratching their heads and wondering about the benefits of upgrading. Canon EOS 1D Mk IV photographers stand to gain an extra 2 million pixels, but lose the extra reach that the 1.3x focal length magnification brings them, while Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III users suffer a drop of 3 million pixels.
However, as is often the case with DSLR upgrades, what you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts. The Canon EOS-1D X offers improved handling - particularly for those who regularly shoot in upright (portrait) orientation - and has a maximum continuous shooting rate of 12fps.
Let's take a closer look at what else the Canon EOS-1D X - priced at £5,299 in the UK and $6,799 in the US - has to offer.
According to Canon UK's David Parry, the manufacturer opted for an 18.1MP CMOS sensor for the EOS-1DX to ensure higher image quality at the upper sensitivity settings than a camera with a great pixel count can muster.
Because it's a full-frame sensor, we can assume that the photoreceptors (or pixels) are larger than those on one of Canon's APS-C format 18MP sensors. This should ensure better control of image noise and high sensitivity performance. It also means that the Canon EOS-1DX is compatible with EF mount lenses.
In a first for a Canon full-frame sensor, the Canon EOS-1DX's sensor has gapless microlenses. This maximises the light-gathering potential of each photodiode, which helps reduce image noise levels and enable sensitivity settings to be pushed higher.
According to Canon Europe's Mike Owen, the Canon EOS-1D X's photodiodes are 21% larger than those in the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III. Again, this benefits image quality and helps keep image noise down, especially at higher sensitivity settings. Consequently, the Canon EOS-1DX has a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200 and expansion settings going up to the equivalent of ISO 204,800.
Two Digic 5+ processors handle the output from the Canon EOS-1DX's 36 x 24mm CMOS sensor. These enable shooting at up to 12fps with full autofocus and metering functionality, but if you are prepared to set the focus point and exposure before the first shot is captured it is possible to shoot JPEGs at up to 14fps.
Like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, the Canon EOS-1DX has a 61-point autofocus system. These points can be selected individually or in groups.
Consequently, in Live View mode the Canon EOS-1DX can use either contrast detection or phase detection focusing, but the latter results in an interruption of the live view feed, since the mirror has to flip down so that light is directed onto the AF sensor.
One slight disappointment is that the Canon EOS-1DX doesn't have the rate button or in-camera HDR feature on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. It is possible to rate images as they are reviewed, but it's done via the menu, which takes a little longer and is less intuitive.
We still found it helpful to assign a rating out of five to images in the lull between shooting sessions in the photographers' pit at a music festival.
We'd also liked to see the Canon EOS 5D Mark III's in-camera HDR system, which works with raw files and JPEG images and saves the three constituent images as well as the composite picture. Granted, most professional photographers know how to achieve this type of effect themselves, but the in-camera results are impressive and can be useful.
Build quality and handling
When you pay over £5,000/$6,500 for a camera you expect it to feel like it will last for a few years, and the Canon EOS-1DX doesn't disappoint on this score. The DSLR feels very solidly put together and shows now signs of distress when it's squeezed tightly in your grasp. The card port cover closes securely and doesn't move or flex under your hand when the camera is in use.
Since it has a larger than average battery, a full-frame sensor and both horizontal and vertical grips built in, the Canon EOS-1DX is naturally a very large DSLR, measuring 158 x 163.6 x 82.7mm (6.2 x 6.4 x 3.3 inches).
If you're upgrading from a Canon 5D series camera you may find you need to invest in a bigger camera bag.
If you watched the women's marathon during the Olympics you may remember the torrential rain that came down at the start - we were using the Canon EOS-1DX at the time, and it survived the experience, thanks to its weather sealing.
A camera that is intended for use by professional photographers needs to be able to withstand a bit of exposure to inclement weather.
Canon has made a few handling adjustments to the Canon EOS-1DX in comparison with the Canon EOS 1D Mk IV. The most noticeable of these is the extra mini-joystick multi-controller, which is positioned to be within easy reach of the right thumb when shooting in portrait orientation.
This makes it much easier to navigate the menu or change AF point when shooting in portrait format, but it's a shame that the menu doesn't rotate to make it easier to read when the camera is on its side.
As on the Canon 5D Mk III, the Canon EOS-1DX has a menu tab that is dedicated to the autofocus options. Although these go some way to explaining the intricacies of the AF system's customisation options, they take a little while to fathom, and there's a confusing level of overlap. Anyone who is serious about shooting a particular sport or activity would be well advised to experiment methodically with the options to find the optimal arrangement.
Video recording is becoming an increasingly important aspect of being a photographic journalist, and the Canon EOS-1DX is capable of shooting 1080p footage at 30, 25 or 24 fps.
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Although there's a mic port, the Canon EOS-1DX doesn't have a socket to attach headphones. However, the large control dial on the back of the camera is touch-sensitive during video shooting and can be used to adjust the exposure compensation to +-5EV, and to tweak sound levels.
Tapping the top or bottom of the dial switches between the two options, while tapping the left or right sides adjusts the settings. This helps to reduce the level of noise generated when making adjustments to the exposure and sound levels.
Although it's a larger camera with lots of direct controls, with the possible exception of some of the autofocus options, it doesn't take long to get to grips with the Canon EOS-1DX. It feels comfortable in the hand whichever orientation you are shooting in, and the buttons and dials are all within easy reach.
It is a little surprising that the exposure compensation button on the top-plate isn't replicated on the side of the camera for quick use when shooting in portrait format, though. We expected to find that one of the other buttons can be assigned to this task, but it's not the case.
In the default Standard Picture Style, JPEG images look great straight from the camera, but their contrast is markedly higher than simultaneously captured raw files. In some cases, for example under coloured stage lights, we also noticed the odd shift in the colour of some areas.
However, the automatic white balance system generally does an extremely good job of maintaining the atmosphere of the scene and producing a natural-looking result. There is a tendency towards warmer tones, but this gives images a pleasing appearance.
When the iFCL metering system is used in evaluative mode it can generally be relied upon to deliver correctly exposed results, even coping with some quite extreme lighting conditions.
We only really found the need to use the exposure compensation control when the sun was shining on white areas of the scene that weren't under the AF point. Though the camera generally got the exposure of the main subject right, we often reduced the exposure in these situations to retain a bit more detail in the highlights.
As we mentioned earlier, the AF system is fairly complex, and it enables quite a bit of customisation in continuous AF mode. Getting the best arrangement requires a good understanding of the subject being photographed, as well as the conditions and the various settings.
However, we found the AF system extremely quick and accurate in a range of situations. It also manages to focus the lens in very low light.
Although it can't match the 36-million-pixel Nikon D800 for detail resolution, the Canon EOS-1DX is capable of capturing a lot of information, especially at the lower sensitivity settings. It out-performs Canon's APS-C format 18 million pixel cameras in this respect.
Image noise is also extremely well controlled, with ISO 6400 images being impressively clean. Usually raw files that are subjected to bespoke processing have the maximum amount of detail and appear sharper than their JPEG counterparts.
Though noise is visible in images captured at ISO 51,200, the results are still impressive, and perfectly usable at A3 (16.5 x 11.7 inches) size.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Canon 1DX, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Canon EOS 1DX is capable of resolving up to around 26 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
Full ISO 100 image
ISO 100, score: 26
ISO 200, score: 26
ISO 400, score: 24
ISO 800, score: 24
ISO 1600, score: 24
ISO 3200, score: 24
ISO 6400, score: 22
ISO 12,800, score: 22
ISO 25,600, score: 20
ISO 51,200, score: 18
ISO 102,400, score: 14
ISO 204,800, score: 10
ISO 100, score: 28
ISO 200, score: 28
ISO 400, score: 26
ISO 800, score: 26
ISO 1600, score: 26
ISO 3200, score: 24
ISO 6400, score: 22
ISO 12,800, score: 22
ISO 25,600, score: 20
ISO 51,200, score: 18
ISO 102,400, score: 14
ISO 204,800, score: 10
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
These results show that Canon and Nikon have a similar aim for the in-camera processing of their top-end cameras. This indicates that the JPEG files from the Canon 1DX, Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D4 have very similar noise levels. Not surprisingly, these camera beat both the older Canon 1D Mark IV and the high-resolution Nikon D800.
Raw (after conversion to TIFF) signal to noise ratio
It's a very similar story for the raw files (after conversion to TIFF), though the Canon 1DX appears to have a significantly better result at the highest sensitivity settings.
JPEG dynamic range
Whereas the Nikon D4 and D800 produces JPEGs with a dynamic range of around 11EV at the lower native sensitivity settings, the Canon 1DX and 5D Mark III produce results closer to 10EV. However, the Canon 1DX does a better job of maintaining the dynamic range as sensitivity rises.
Raw (after conversion to TIFF) dynamic range
With the exception of the Canon 1DX, all the cameras' raw files (after conversion to TIFF) have significantly higher dynamic range than their JPEG output. This means that there is more scope to adjust the raw files to reveal tonal variations in the shadows and/or highlights.
Although the D800 is capable of capturing the greatest dynamic range, at the mid-range sensitivity settings, the 1DX is best. At the highest settings, the Nikon D4 and 1DX lead the way, with the 1DX doing the best job at the very top value.
Noise is extremely well controlled in this ISO 3200 image. There's only a hint of luminance noise in the background visible at 100% on screen in this shot which was taken with the high ISO noise reduction setting set to its default 'Standard' setting.
This ISO 1000 image has recorded the fiddler's face in fine detail.
This JPEG image was captured at the same time as the raw file below, note the higher contrast which results in the loss of some detail in the shirt as the dark gradation is compressed.
The raw file has preserved more of the tonal gradation in the dark shirt.
The full-frame sensor and a large aperture (f/3.2) has resulted in shallow depth of field so the runner is isolated from the background.
The autofocus system is responsive and accurate.
Even in Evaluative mode the iFCL metering system puts emphasis on the subject under the active AF point, but it still manages to find a good balance when the subject is darker or brighter than mid-grey.
Detail, and colour are great in JPEGs straight from the Canon EOS 1DX.
Even as the light was falling, the Canon EOS 1DX was able to capture lots of detail, meter accurately and reproduce colour well.
Colours are represented well from the Canon EOS 1DX.
Lots of detail can be captured by the Canon EOS 1DX: this image was shot using a 100mm macro lens.
The Canon EOS 1DX deals well with mixed lighting conditions, producing accurate colours under the Auto White Balance setting.
Shot at ISO 25,600, noise is controlled well for such a high sensitivity. Examining the image at 100% reveals chroma and luminance noise, but the image looks great at printing and web sizes.
This image shows the extreme sensitivities the Canon EOS 1DX can reach and was shot at ISO Hi2. Obviously the image degradation is severe, but it's also important to remember that this was shot in near dark conditions.
This image again shows how the Canon EOS 1DX has coped with a mixed lighting condition, to produce accurate metering throughout the scene.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 50 JPEG image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
As the most recent addition to Canon's professional DSLR series, the Canon EOS-1DX showcases the company's camera building capability and doesn't disappoint.
In fact, in some respects it exceeds expectations. The 18.1MP sensor and dual Digic 5+ processor combination proves itself to be very capable, delivering images that have lots of detail and little noise, even at the higher sensitivity settings.
The Canon EOS-1D X's AF system is fast and reliable in a wide range of situations, and it captures subjects sharply even in very low light.
Although the Canon EOS-1DX control layout is designed to enable you to adjust settings quickly whether you are shooting with the camera held horizontally or upright, Canon hasn't given it some of the useful features found on the EOS 5D Mark III.
There's no rating button, for example, so images can only be rated out of five via the menu. We'd also liked to see the Canon EOS 5D Mk III's in-camera HDR system, which works with raw files as well as JPEG images and saves the three constituent images as well as the composite picture.
A price tag of £5,299/$6,799 brings certain expectations, and the Canon EOS-1DX's build lives up to them. This is a camera that you can expect to survive several years of heavy use. Thanks to the control layout and deep comfortable grips it is also one that you can enjoy using.
The Canon EOS-1DX's noise control and autofocus performance particularly impress, and these are key areas for professional photojournalists who need a camera that they can rely on to get decent image, whatever the conditions.
With an f/2.8 lens, the Canon EOS-1DX can focus in very low light, and even at high sensitivities it delivers images that are clean enough to turn into full-page prints.