Its always an exciting time for wildlife photographers like myself, when a new Canon 1D series camera is about to arrive. The 1D series has long been a favourite of mine, typically represented by cameras that combine Canon’s best autofocus systems and great image quality, along with high speed and capacity.
The recently announced 1DX Mark 2 is set to replace the highly-regarded 1DX, and this is no easy task. The original 1DX is a very, very good camera. However, with a long list of improvements that includes image quality, high iso capability, resolution, speed, buffer capacity as well as Live View and video, the 1DX Mark 2 looks set to take on the job.
Having had the privilege (via Canon South Africa) of being able to make use of a 1DX Mark2 (Beta version) for a limited period of time, I have described my experience with the camera. It must be remembered that this is an early impression, and all images are from a 1DX Mark 2 Beta camera, not a final production model.
I have removed the earlier comparison images that were in this post at Canon’s request. I will look to revisit the direct comparison images once the production model 1DX Mark 2 bodies are in the field. In the meantime, I have added more images from the field taken with the camera showing its performance, below.
In this post, I will be sharing images taken in the field with the camera. For many users, image quality may be one of the most important aspects of the camera’s performance. This post will deal only with image quality. I will be publishing a second post covering other aspects of the cameras performance and features shortly.
So far, I have taken a couple of thousand images with the 1DX Mark 2 (Beta), and worked through them. On the other hand, I have shot many, many thousands of images with 1DX bodies. In time, I expect to become still more familiar with the new 1DX Mark 2 and its workings but I felt confident enough already to share my very positive experience and findings with it.
The 1DX Mark 2 (Beta version) has a full frame sensor, just like the 1DX. The sensor measures 35.9mm x 23.9mm, as per the owner’s manual. It boasts a resolution of 20 megapixels, which is 2 megapixels more than the 1DX. More resolution is usually better, especially if image quality stays the same or improves, on a pixel level, which it has in this case. Pixel pitch of this sensor is 6.54 microns. All other things being equal, I find it easier to get my action shots properly sharp, when I am using cameras with larger pixel pitches. The 1DX Mark 2 has larger pixels than the excellent 5Dmk3 (6.25 microns), and a little smaller than the 1DX (6.9 microns). 1DX Mark 2 pixels are much, much bigger than those found on Canon’s 7D Mark 2 (4.1 microns) or 80D (3.7 microns).
Making a ‘typical’ 2:3 aspect ratio, portrait crop from the 1DX Mark 2 (Beta version) sensor leaves me with an image made up of 8.9 megapixels, compared to just 8.0 megapixels for the same crop from a 1DX. Sometimes when photographing wildlife, things may happen a bit too fast for me to turn my camera vertically, and it is always nice to have enough resolution to crop vertically later and still have the option to print available.
Image Quality Impressions From The Field
I shot all images in AV mode or M mode (with Auto Iso). I set White Balance to Automatic and selected Ambient. I used Evaluative metering and Ai Servo throughout the shooting period.
It is my experience that when it comes to analyzing test images shot with a tripod-mounted camera, a completely static subject, and a steady (ambient) light source, that the results I get are usually a little better than what I achieve in the field. This is especially true for high iso image quality and noise.
By comparison, with images from the field, I have to often contend with very low ambient light, and the lack of contrast that comes once the sun sets or has not risen yet. Slow shutter speeds, subject motion and my own motion are all contributing factors making it harder for me to achieve the same high iso results in the field as I can do when shooting in controlled circumstances.
Image quality is subjective though, and not everybody has the same threshold for noise. The wildlife images I have posted here have been captured on the 1DX Mark 2 Beta version in raw, and processed via Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, using my normal workflow. I carried out colour corrections, toning edits, and sharpened the subjects only. I applied some noise reduction to the images that were shot at iso 4000 and higher iso settings, using Camera Raw noise reduction only. Adobe Camera Raw workflow and noise reduction is identical to Adobe Lightroom’ Develop Module.
My early analysis of this Beta camera’s output is very positive. I am enjoying the great colours, and the slightly ‘cleaner’ look to the images that I am seeing. I also like the more detailed dark areas. This means a bit less processing work for me.
The very clean iso 1600 and iso 3200 results have added significance for me. There are often times when I am I am photographing action, and feel the need for extra depth of field, to help compensate for perhaps not getting my focus point exactly where I intended. By closing down the aperture, I can increase my depth of field, giving me more latitude with placement of my AF point. Obviously stopping down will result in a slower shutter speed, except on the 1DX Mark 2 Beta I can just crank up the iso with no image quality penalty, right up to iso 3200. The good performance of the sensor above iso 3200 is also a big enabler for me, for photographing mammals that move at dawn and dusk, and the iso 8000 and iso 10000 results I have gotten so far are better than anything I have gotten before.
I used the camera in Aperture Priority or Manual mode (with Auto Iso), and I shot in Evaluative metering mode. As I always do with my Canon cameras, I set the white balance two clicks away from magenta, toward green. All shooting was done in RAW only, and the images were processed in Adobe Camera Raw. I also briefly brought up a couple of images in my Canon Digital Photo Professional software, and at a quick glance, the differences in brightness between the 1DX Mark 2 Beta and 1DX images, as well as the lighter shadows, looked to be the same.
What was also noticeable when working with images from the 1DX Mark 2 (Beta version) was its latitude for recovering underexposed parts of an image. African wild dogs are a favourite subject of mine, but are hard to capture well. They have dark faces, and when the one in the image above ran into the water, directly away from the sun, I felt a twinge of disappointment that the resulting image would have just a dark underexposed area around the dogs face. I did not have the chance to overexpose in camera or I would have risked blowing out the white reflective water surface and the golden light on the dogs rear. I was very pleasantly surprized when some careful selective editing revealed the dogs face, and eyes, without any artifacts or noise showing, from the brightening editing process I carried out.
In the image of the impala above, the colour that this sensor captured was both pleasing and surprizing. Shooting before the sun had actually risen, the camera produced a raw file that contained both the subtle colours of the sky and the rich colours of the impala’s red fur.
As at the time of writing, I can say that I am very, very happy with the overall image quality from the 1DX Mark 2 (Beta version). Exposure is slightly brighter than my 1DX, with blacks that are noticeably more detailed. Colour is very pleasing from this sensor and the images have a clean look to them, perhaps due to the improved metering system. Higher iso settings like iso 3200, provide very clean output, and I am able to use such settings even when ambient light is quite bright, in order to give me more depth of field, more so than before. When the light gets low, I can keep shooting for longer and with better results than any other Canon dslr. I would say that my usable range of iso settings (for raw capture) has been extended by a full stop over the 1DX, with the biggest difference for me coming between iso 1600 and iso 10 000. I am also able to recover underexposed parts of an image with better results than before.
With image quality this good, the Canon 1DX Mark 2 (Beta version) helps me shoot cleaner (noise), faster (shutter speeds), deeper (apertures), later (low light) than any other Canon dslr I have used to date. Hard to argue with that.
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