Disclaimer: Justin is not Canon Rumors Guy.
Review text and images by Saskatoon photographer: JG Photography
**Update**: March 23rd: I am still working on an assessment of the Camera’s video capabilities, but have added more real world experience after I have used the camera for 2 busy months of real world shooting
All future updates will be linked here
The Canon 1D-series is a group of cameras which really need no introduction. They are the best of the best in Canon’s lineup and and they deliver the quality professionals rely on. New to this lineup for 2010 (or for 2009 to the lucky Aussies who got them early!) is the Canon 1D Mark IV. The 1D series is more the sports/photojournalist pro camera, whereas the 1Ds series is more the Fine Art / Studio pro camera, and while the 1Ds Mark IV is rumored to be announced as soon as Spring 2010, for now the 1D Mark IV is the newest of Canon’s toys/money-makers/tools.
Why the picture of the camera surrounded by all the tools? Because this camera is a professional’s workhorse. Everything about it screams build quality, reliability, customization, and raw power – all the likes of which come together to allow the photographer to take pictures in situations that simply weren’t possible previously. I would say 90% of this camera is pure amazing and praise worthy, but I was shocked particularly at one of the areas I felt that Canon has almost deliberately handicapped this camera – an issue that can easily be fixed if Canon listens to its consumers. Keep reading to find my conclusions on Handling, Performance, Comparisons against the 50D, 5D Mark II, and the 1Ds Mark III, and my conclusion!
This review is the culmination of over 40 hours of testing and comparing aimed at representing typical performance in a real-world environment.
Background: the Reviewer
Before we get into the review of this amazing camera, I’ll let you know where this review is coming from. I’m mainly a Wedding and Portrait photographer, but I think I’m really a sports shooter at heart. I always use back-button focusing, I shoot on Servo focusing just as often as I shoot on one-shot, and thrive on a responsive-feeling camera. Also, the processing that I do with my pictures is definitely not kind to the files. I love to push, pull and twist my files, making the flexibility of the produced files a main concern. Therefore, this review is going to focus on how the Canon 1D Mark IV meets my needs for a responsive camera that creates flexible files in real-world situations. I am heavily invested in Canon, and although I contemplated switching to Nikon, the cost was prohibitive. So I won’t be comparing this camera to the Nikon D3s, as that camera never really was an option for me. Also video, while an interesting part of this camera, is not a feature I will utilize in a professional capacity and is not evaluated in this review. Rather, I’ll be looking at whether this photography camera is worth the upgrade for myself and for Canon users of various levels.?
In the past my weapons of choice have been the Canon 5D Mark II (and its predecessor the 5D). I’ve also had varying degrees of experience with the Canon 1Ds Mark III and the Canon 50D, which together create the foundation to which I will be comparing the 1D Mark IV. I won’t get too techy because I find that numbers in the end don’t mean much. Rather, its how these numbers come together and interact in the real world and the end product that is ultimately produced. I’ve come to accept the label as a “pixel peeper”, but only in so far as it translates into the real world display of that image: I want to create the best image possible, and I want to know if the Mark IV will assist me in that goal.
Canon 1D Mark IV: Handling
A soon as you pick up the 1D Mark IV you know it means business. With its extra large 1500-picture battery (update: I have shot over 2300 pictures in a gym and still had 20% battery left!) in the built-in portrait grip, fully weather-sealed magnesium body, and its 300,000 cycle shutter assembly, this camera isn’t light. But its a good heavy; a solid feeling. Part of this comfort and assurance rest in how the camera operations flow in your hands. I couldn’t find much change in the layout from the 1Ds Mark III, however, if you are new to the 1D-Series, well, you will never want to go back: no mode dial to accidentally knock, perfectly spaced and positioned buttons with great tactile response (especially through gloves), and even a dedicated “protect” button to give certain pictures special protection against deletion. Further security comes in the twist-latch mechanisms for opening the memory-card door and to remove the battery.
The 1D lineup is on a 3-year renewal cycle, and this new camera highlights many technological advances since the last passing of those 3 years. The 1D Mark IV utilizes a 3inch 920,000 pixel Clear View II screen, producing a clarity to the reviewed images that is unachievable with the older lower resolution screen. I also found it to have exceptionally accurate brightness and color, and its glass cover with anti-glare technologies end up resulting in what I would call the best rear LCD screen in the lineup at the moment. Different from the non-1D-series cameras is the inclusion of an additional display in the bottom of the grip that helps in the dispersion of information to create less cluttered displays. Oh, and the backlight is blue instead of the non-1D-series orange – score!
Although the live-view and video controls on the 1D Mark IV aren’t as accessible or as intuitive as those found on the 5D Mark II (or the 7D for that matter), all of the other controls offer the highest customization in the lineup. With 62 custom functions, each camera can be molded by the needs of the specific photographer, including the customization of how many shots are bracketed in a series, the long and short timer delays, the high and low frame rate speeds, and much to do with the AF system! Another welcome inclusion is a 2nd card slot with the ability to chose how it is used (identical copy, spill over room, different file formats, etc). However, the 2nd card slot is SD – I would have preferred another CF slot simply because I’m invested in 3 grand worth of professional CF cards. Additionally, with the introduction of dual Digic IV micro processors, all of the menues have gotten the much needed upgrade in their graphical interface, as shared by the 50D, 7D, and 5D Mark II.
Canon 1D Mark IV: Autofocus
After the 1D Mark III autofocus fiasco, the number 1 question on everyone’s mind is whether or not this camera can autofocus in sports conditions, regardless of temperature, direction of light, which lens is in use, etc. Well, its winter here and there aren’t a lot of outdoor sports around to test on, but based on my testing with various lenses and of various subjects, I would have to say that this camera has the best sports-focused AF system that Canon has ever made and that I have ever used! Its based around 45 autofocus points (39 of which are precision cross-type points sensitive to 2.8, a cross-brand industry best) in a familiar layout, however the internals are said to be completely reworked. With the highly sensitive AF points distributed throughout the entire field of view, there is no longer a disadvantage to using a (previously less sensitive) off-center AF point when tracking a subject. And even at the full 10 frames per second the camera has a remarkable ability to keep a fast moving subject in focus. I found the auto-selectable 45 point focusing to be a little too sporadic for my liking, but it is also the best application of it to date. I, like most photographers I talk to, stick to manual point selection and limited or no expansion (I personally use C.Fn III – 8: 2 which is “surrounding af point expansion”).
With the newly release firmware 1.06 upgrade, better performance is claimed with slow moving and receding subjects. Although I didn’t get a chance to test the old version of the firmware in a real-world situation, in controlled testing comparisons there does appear to be at least a minimal improvement, particularly in the speed and “snap” of the initial focus lock on, and when a slow moving object makes a sudden change in direction or speed. In real-world testing with the updated firmware, the focus feels “steadier” that the Mark III with the slow moving objects while also being quick to respond to unpredictable changes.
Applicable to both action and non-moving subjects is the introduction of a much appreciate option to link an autofocus point to the orientation of the camera. Especially if taking pictures of people (portraits or sports) it is very useful to have one of the off-center autofocus points over the person’s eyes so that the eyes at the very minimum will be in focus. This obviously changes when you change the orientation of the camera so with this option you can register different AF points to suite your needs regardless, and in my testing it detects the change at the perfect time. The only problem is if you like to take pictures on a 45 degree angle (soooo 10 years ago …) – then the AF point might jump, but even then it is predictable and not erratic. You can also register a specific AF point to the * button, which I also found to be amazingly helpful! In terms of servo focusing, against the 50D, 5D Mark II, and even the 1Ds Mark III, the Mark IV comes on top as the clear winner.
Where things went wrong
BUT … to my amazement and disappointment, the Canon 1D Mark IV autofocus falls apart in very lowlight situations! Let me remind you that it does fantastic in regular/dark indoor sports situations. Rather, where it has problems is in very dark candle-level light.
The main reason that I upgraded to the 1D Mark IV was in hope for amazing lowlight autofocus abilities, particularly as an upgrade from the very dated autofocus of the 5D Mark II. But amazingly, in real-world tests in very low light (12,800 ISO, F/1.4, 1/30s), the 5D Mark II consistently locked focus in ultra low light conditions when the 1D Mark IV would only search, fail, and go cry in the corner. I’ve played with every custom function and normally available focusing modes, matched lenses (used the 35mm f/1.4, 16-35mm f/2.8 II, and 135 f/2), matched focal lengths, matched widest apertures, matched distance from subject, used both the old and the new firmware – everything! The best results were obtained by manual point selection/center point/one-shot for both cameras.
There is just no doubt that, in these circumstances and with these lenses, the 5D Mark II has better AF performance than the 1D Mark IV. This is not in regards to sports – it is a very narrow set of circumstances under which it fails in comparison to the 5D Mark II, like a candle lit wedding reception (with no infared transmitter). To be fair, the 1D Mark IV is better than the 1Ds Mark III in this ultra low light. But the professional 1D series cameras, from both 3 years ago to present, are being shown up by an equally ancient autofocus system in a camera less than half its price – the 5D Mark II?! Technically the Mark IV’s AF sensor is more sensitive (sensitive to -1 EV instead of the -0.5 EV of the 5D Mark II), and yet it performs worse. My only possible explanation is that the AF points in the 1D series camera appear to be larger than the points on the 5D Mark II (or the 50D for that matter). A larger AF point could mean more distractions are taken in, leading to indecision.
So, the present challenge would appear to be the shrinking of those behemoth autofocus points. Miraculously, the 1D Mark IV includes the very option we need: “Spot Autofocus“. With spot autofocus enabled, the size of the actual focusing point is significantly reduced allowing for much more accurate focusing. This setting has also been implemented in one of Canon’s non-professional cameras, the 7D, and it is this autofocus mode that appears to be able to save the 1D Mark IV from autofocus inferiority. Another test was in order! You can see the test shots below (I really brightened the shadows so you could see the AF points, thus the huge increase in noise. Also you can see that the field of view on the shots is different and that is because I used the same lens, 200mm f/2, for both shots and the 1.3x crop factor increased the magnification. This, if anything, should be an advantage to the 1D Mark IV).
The results? There is no question: Spot-AF makes a huge difference in low light autofocusing. The test circumstances were very dark (two stops underexposed resulted in 12,800 ISO, f/2, and 1/60s) and the settings were the same on both cameras: manually selected center point, one-shot AF, no AF point expansion. For the the 5D Mark II, it had some trouble locking focus, but after 2-3 tries it managed to lock. For the 1D Mark IV (with regular focusing) no matter how many times I tried it just wouldn’t lock, it would just hunt. But, with the activation of spot-af on the 1D Mark IV, the autofocus not only locked, but locked quicker than the 5D Mark II!
So now all of you are confused – at first I say the 1D Mark IV loses but now I say that it wins? Well, this is where Canon made things complicated. On the original lenses that I was using for autofocus testing (the 35L, 16-35 II L and 135L) the 5D Mark II won, but with the 200 F/2 lens the 1D Mark IV won. The difference is that the 200 F/2 lens has an autofocus-stop button on it, and while not important in itself, the autofocus-stop button is the only button that can be used to activate spot autofocus on the 1D Mark IV, meaning that only lenses with an af-stop button on them can use the all-to-important spot autofocus feature. This means that of the 60+ lenses that Canon manufactures, only 7 very expensive super telephoto IS lenses (200 f/2 IS, 300 f/2.8 IS, 400 f/2.8 IS, 400 f/4 DO IS, 500 f/4 IS, 600 f/4 IS and 800 f/5.6 IS) can unlock the spot-af feature of this camera. So, in my eyes, spot-af is not a normal focusing mode as it is inaccessible 75% of the time I will be using this camera.
In the non-flagship 7D the spot-autofocus mode is included as a normal focusing mode accessible regardless of what lens is utilized. So why did canon limit the implementation of this feature on the 1D Mark IV? On page 4 of an article published by Canon they state: “Spot AF is not provided as a standard autofocus mode because when tracking moving subjects it may slow the autofocus operation as it uses a smaller area to detect focus from, and is therefore slower to detect defocus and respond to it“. Basically, they are saying that its not a good mode for sports or wildlife photography. OK, I can accept this explanation, but what I can’t accept is why they are only implementing this focus option in conjunction with lenses designed specifically (if not exclusively) for sports and wildlife photography when Canon admits that the focusing mode doesn’t work for these forms of photography? For me, the perfect use for this focusing mode would be at a candle lit wedding reception. Unfortunately, I don’t use a 500mm f/4 too often at a wedding reception, but rather my 35 f/1.4 L and 85 f/1.2L. The limitations on this feature seem exactly the reverse of what they should be.
So yes, Spot AF works and it makes a huge difference! BUT it is a useless feature if it can only be utilized on such a select few number of lenses. People ask why I would ever want to take pictures in this kind of dark situation – the image quality would be very bad. Outside of the dire circumstances where there may be no other option, I would admittedly be lighting such a dark environment with off-camera flashes. However, those flashes only last for a small fraction of a second, meaning that the focusing still needs to be done in that very dark environment. Ultimately, what we are left with is the irony of the 5D Mark II all over again: the camera can take pictures in near darkness, but it can’t autofocus in that same light. The ISO race appears to have gotten as illogical and single-sighted as the megapixel race has. **Canon, if you are listening, offer the option to assign “Spot Autofocus” to another button!!** If they can make it accessible in the 7D I am positive they can make it accessible in the 1D Mark IV! I just love my 35mm F/1.4 too much!
To recap: the 1D Mark IV has the best sports autofocus system that I’ve ever used, it really is unbelievable! But in the ultra-low-light department it appears that Canon almost deliberately disabled this camera by limiting the implementation of Spot-AF, leaving users with results only half as good as they could potentially be.
Canon 1D Mark IV: Image Quality
After a mix of amazement and disappointment in the Autofocus department, what will the 1D Mark IV have to offer in the imaging department? Unlike the sensor in my 5D Mark II and the 1Ds Mark III, which are full frame, and unlike the sensor in the 50D (and the 7D and Rebels), which are a 1.6x cropped APS-C, the 1D Mark IV is a special format: an APS-H 1.3x cropped sensor packing 16 megapixels (the fulframe equivalent of 27 megapixels). The sensor is a little bit smaller than full frame cameras, meaning that your wide angle lenses won’t be so wide, but your telephoto lenses will be even longer. Compared to a full frame camera, depth of field will be decreased and noise will be increased (as more pixels are crammed into a smaller area). Personally, I was hoping they would make the 1D Mark IV a full frame camera. These numbers aren’t that encouraging … however, lets look at some tests
Shot in full manual, on a tripod, timer release. Constant F/11 aperture, adjusting ISO and shutterspeed. My best attempts were made at equalizing the field of view for the different cameras buy setting up image boarder markers and using equivalent/relative focal lengths. Samples are 100% crops with no resizing or megapixel equalization – simply straight out of camera.
Shot in RAW, converted in ACR, equal “real-world” processing settings were used on all images – settings that are not kind to files: custom white balance (temp 3150 tint +18), exp: 0, recov: 0, fill: 29, blacks: 13, brightness: +106, contrast: +25, clarity: +35, saturation and vibrancy: 0, medium contrast tonal curve, sharpening amount: 50, radius: 0.5, detail: 5, masking: 0, noise reduction lum: 0, color: 30, all else is default. For test two I used the same settings. Notice the fur texture and the readability of the text. Also pay attention to blue-channel noise.
Click in the images for the full res views
Despite its technical foreboding, this camera provides the best mix of high image quality and image flexibility of the entire Canon camera lineup. With a standard ISO range of 100-12,800, expandable to iso 50-102,400, the H3 setting us unusable, but I would not hesitate to utilize 12,800 ISO at a wedding ceremony or reception, and 3200 ISO for portraits. With new advancements in sensor technology, Canon claims a 1-stop RAW improvement over the 1D Mark III, which is realistic, but the biggest change is in the quality of the noise. It is very film like, and when the raw files are tortured in a RAW processing program, there is no banding or obvious patter noise! Take a look at this comparison at 12,800 ISO, strongly processed, same settings in ACR. These are full-view and 50% crops (100% crop doesn’t show banding well enough), and the bottom half of the 50% crop has been treated in Noise Ninja (equal settings for all 3 treatments, just to show you how it could clean up). Dynamic range in the Mark IV also appears to be impressively keeping up with its full-frame companions.
The out-of-camera sharpness of the images from the 1D Mark IV is middle of the pack, not stellar. I attribute this to 1) higher pixel density = ripping apart even the highest quality lenses, 2) possibly diffraction setting in at the test aperture of F/11, and 3) a stronger anti-aliasing filter than in the 5D Mark II, similar to that in the 1Ds Mark III. The stronger filter will prevent aliasing (a form of visual distortion with small details when viewed through the bayer pattern of modern regular CMOS sensors. I actually quite fittingly ran into a little aliasing when I was using the 5D Mark II for shots of the 1D Mark IV). You can see this in the examples of the text in the image comparisons. Color rendering is very rich and is much the result of the advancements in sensor technology and Digic 4, again possibly the best in the Canon lineup so far.
Canon 1D Mark IV: vs 1Ds Mark III vs 5D Mark II vs 50D
The 1D Mark IV is no doubt an amazing camera! But who is it aimed for, and for whom is it worth the upgrade from their present setup? As I mentioned, I’ve had varying degrees of experience with the Canon 5D Mark II, 1Ds Mark III and the 50D, and these three cameras are fairly representative of various levels of photographers (needs, desired abilities, price range, etc). I have not had experience with Nikon or other camera brands, so this comparison will remain intra-brand. So out of these four cameras, which is currently the best tool for the job? Well, for me, here are my conclusions:
Compared to the 1 series cameras and the 5D Mark II, the 50D seems like a toy: not as solid of construction, cheaper sounding shutter/mirror, less weather sealing, and little as far as customization options go. However, its strength lies in its size and weight: its the least intimidating and the lightest. The 5D Mark II is similar to the 50D in that it doesn’t have a built in grip, but rather an optional attachment. The Mark II is larger than the 50D (especially in its pentaprism housing), and has “softer buttons” than the 50D (some might light them, I think they are too mushy). The 1Ds Mark III and the 1D Mark IV are almost identical on the outside. Compared to the 50D and the 5D Mark II, the layout is better, buttons nicer, more solid construction, and better customization options. The pro bodies also include a built in portrait grip. But the 1D Mark IV has some distinctive improvements over the 1D Mark III: a 920,000 pixel screen that is much sharper, brighter and more accurate that the Mark III’s, a better menu interface, and some further added customization.
Winner: 1D Mark IV (as long as you aren’t planning on going incognito)
Autofocus (UPDATED March 23rd, 2010)
For many, the 5D Mark II would be considered the weakest of the group: old technology from the original 5D in which only the center selectable autofocus point is a cross type sensor sensitive to 2.8, making tracking or even regular autofocusing must more difficult with anything but the center AF point. But that center AF point … its golden! The 50D too has 9 focus points, but all of these points are are cross type sensitive to 2.8, making focusing performance even regardless of which point is used. The system isn’t terrible, its just not great, and tracking can be sporatic. The 1Ds Mark III’s autofocus system is 3 years old, but it is a top of the line 45 point AF system with 19 of those points being cross type sensitive to 2.8. It providing solid tracking, instant performance, and extensive coverage through the entire viewfinder. The 1D-series AF system is also the only system that will auto-focus with lenses as slow as F/8. The 1D Mark IV takes the fantastic AF system from the 1Ds Mark III and improves it. Instead of 19 cross type sensors, it has 39. It also implements “Servo II” predictive focusing algorithms (which have provided the best AF I’ve ever used!) and has many additional AF custom functions.
BUT, Canon made a major mistake by limiting the use of Spot-AF in the 1D Mark IV to 7 very specialized, very expensive, and very impractical lenses. And without the encompassing availability of spot autofocus, the large AF sensors aren’t allowed to operate at the optimum level in all situations. Actually, in certain studio conditions, the 5D Mark II’s center spot can beat out the 1D Mark IV on a static subject. While the 5D Mark II’s advantage won’t be noticeable in the real world, tests have shown that the 1D Mark IV’s af points are capable of more when spot AF is activated
Winner: The 1D Mark IV, for its amazing tracking abilities in regular and low-light sports conditions and its all around snappiness and consistency – the best of any Canon Camera, hands down. But its clear that the AF could be even better with just a simple firmware upgrade … we need accessible spot autofocus!
Well, the 50D is a fantastic camera at its price point, but when going against a $3000 camera, a $6000 camera and a $9000 camera, it really doesn’t have much of a chance. Its one advantage for some photographers is its crop. Being a 1.6x crop, a 500mm f/4 lens is really an 800mm f/4 lens – a lens that doesn’t even exist! If you are shooting outside with tons of light and using ISO 400 and lower, that camera may just be your ticket. But past 400 it falls apart. The 1Ds Mark III has simply amazing image quality with the beautiful full-frame depth of field, but it is also limited to 3200 ISO, and it is a $9000 camera. The 5D Mark II is also full frame, and has a usable 6400 ISO. But where the 1D Mark IV really takes off is past ISO 3200, in the quality of that grain, and in the flexibility of the files it produces! As stated previously, regardless of ISO (even 102,500!) there is no banding (even when heavily processed), and the pleasantness of the grain is particularly distinguishable from 12,800 ISO and higher as compared to all other cameras tested. One might say, the grain is almost … “Nikon D3s like” (… gasp! I know!)
NOTE: many other reviewers have shown the 5D Mark II to have less grain where as my tests show the 1D Mark IV to have less grain. My only explanation is that the 1D Mark IV responded much better to the admittedly brutal (but equal) Adobe Camera Raw settings that I applied to all the files.
Winner: the 1D Mark IV (the ultimate would be the full frame 1Ds Mark IV, but until then, this takes the crown)
Pros and Cons
• Unbelievable autofocus in any indoor sports situation or brighter – the best of any Canon camera. Indoors, birthday party, ISO 6400, f/1.4, 1/100s ? Bang on focusing!
• The most advanced and customizable autofocus system of any Canon camera to date
• The ability to capture full resolution photos at 10 fps
• The highest quality image files, particularly in terms on the quality of noise in the files, of any Canon camera to date
• An amazing LCD screen (the best I’ve ever used), and the extra display found in the grip of 1D Models is very welcome
• Incredibly solid feeling and unparalleled reliability ratings
• Long lasting battery (in my experience I have almost doubled the suggested shots-per-charge)
• Fantastic movie modes (HD and up to 60 fps) for those who would make use of it
• Professional ergonomics, including a dedicated protect/voice memo button, dual card slots, and a 100% viewfinder
• Full AF performance in ultra-low light can only be fully realized with Spot-AF and Spot AF can only be activated on the select 7 lenses that have an AF-OFF button
• I agree with CR Guy: a second joystick on the portrait grip would be prime!
• Secondary card slot is SD not CF
• Could get heavy after holding two for a 12 hours wedding
• Price tag may be prohibitive to some
• 102,400 ISO is only for the most extreme and dire circumstances, and needs to be processed in black and white
• The auto white balance is still very weak under florescent and tungsten lighting
• Subjective: Not full-frame (wide angle lenses are cropped, higher image noise, larger depth of field)
Well, I really don’t know what to say. It was hard to express how shaken I felt when I figured out I spend almost 6 grand on a camera that didn’t do what I most wanted it to do: blow me away with its low-light autofocusing abilities. Worse yet, I know that it can blow me away, but the limits placed on the use of spot-af precludes its use in almost all circumstances in which I would want to use it. I still am in pieces about it – but it is something that Canon can fix with a firmware upgrade! However, even with that [admittedly small] issue with the autofocus, in writing this review I’ve come to realize that there are just too many other amazing things about this camera to not love it. And in all other circumstances, the autofocus really is great. Autofocus isn’t shot-to-shot. Rather it is series-to-series! In most cases I’ll shoot a 20 picture sequence (aka: 2 seconds) and there might be one picture that I couldn’t print as an 8×10 and have it look great, 10 of those could easily be blown up poster size and 5 are sharper than I knew my lens was capable of! Image quality wise, although not full frame, banding is non-existent, and quality at least as good or better than the others. Finally, in terms of layout, this is how every camera made should be like this.
What does this camera still need (reasonably)? A better application of the spot-af option. If that issue was to be fixed, besides not being full frame, this very well could be the perfect camera!
In the end, I feel Canon messed up their chance to have a complete blow-away catch-all winner that could have possibly shifted the tide of Canon follows who are now shifting to Nikon, but at the same time I don’t think that that was ever Canon’s intent. As far as a sports camera goes, its arguable that none could be better. In my opinion, this is the best camera available in the Canon camera lineup at the moment and is almost perfect for what I’ll be doing. I’m keeping it!
Real World Update (March 23rd, 2010)
It is hard to describe how much I have fallen in love with this camera! After a few weddings, a ton of portraits and some sports shooting, I’ve come to a stronger understanding of this camera’s performance in the real world. Almost every time I’ve been using the 1D Mark IV I’ve had the 5D Mark II along by my side and has provided a good standard of reference
First off, I still think Canon messed up by not providing a better implementation of spot autofocus with this camera. But my conclusions on the AF system have somewhat shifted. Outside of a studio setting, the times where the 5D Mark II will lock autofocus when the Mark IV won’t is essentially none, as those lighting situations are very dark and subject movement (at wide apertures) becomes a larger determining factor of camera focus. But there are still circumstances where the AF system won’t perform when I know that spot AF would make a difference. The 5D Mark II couldn’t do it, but I know spot AF would help (sometimes confirmed with use on lenses that have that AF-Stop button, and sometimes I just know).
But outside of ultra dark focusing, the AF system is unbelievable. Ultra fast, snappy and very accurate. With a distant subject, a wide aperture and a wide angle lens, when using the 5D Mark II I need to check the screen to see if I got focus or not because its hit and miss sometimes. But the Mark IV is just bang on. Hands down the best Canon AF system I’ve ever used. Same has to go with Sports – it just does its job, pretends like its not a big deal, and continues to rock on.
Image quality wise, the image flexibility and the lack of banding is a revolutionaly improvement for Canon, and is one that has really increased the image quality of the files I deliver (mainly because I push my files hard in processing). I find myself not wanting to put the 5D Mark II over 3200 (fear of banding), but using the 1D Mark IV I’ll do 6400 easily, or 12,800 with very careful exposure selection. One thing that has been bugging me is the 1.3x crop. That means that the 35mm F/1.4 L, which I love so much, is basically stuck on my 5D Mark II, which I find limiting in some situations compared to the Mark IV. But it also helps with the reach of the 70-200 in ceremony situations, so there are are pluses and minuses to that. But all in all, I wish it was full frame. And the 10 frames per second, well, I don’t use it often, but it sure is neat to have that option for the very few times I do need it.
All in all, its turned out to be an even better camera than I first found. For me, a full frame version would be perfect!
P.S. – Peter from DPR gave an explanation as to why the 1D Mark IV wasn’t full frame (a full frame, high megapixel, high framerate camera). Please note that this explanation is not coming direct from Canon:
“I would like to address the issue of why we cannot get a high speed full frame camera yet. This was explained to me by a Canon engineer. As you know when you take a shot the photons of light create an electrical charge on the sensor which end up on our cards as an image. After the image is shot the charge must be cleared from the sensor for the next shot. Here is where we hit a technical glass ceiling. For the 16MP on a H size sensor (1.3 crop) they can clear this charge in sufficient time to blast off at a high burst rate (10f/s). However when you go [higher megapixels or larger sensors] they cannot clear the charge fast enough at 10f/s and the result is ghosting-like a double exposure on a film camera after the first shot. By the time you get say to your 15th shot in a burst the image looks like hell. They have experimented with this and this is how they have seen this problem. They are working on the problem which is really an electrical engineering circuitry problem and since we now can split neutrons I am sure they will come up with an eventual solution.“
AI Servo Performance
I’ve been out shooting mostly sports oriented stuff with the 1D Mark IV. I spent a few hours at a CSRA (Snowmobile Racing) event in Owen Sound, Canada. I brought along an EF 200 f/2L IS and a 400 f/2.8L IS to really test out the AI Servo performance.
The first thing I wanted to test was how fast the camera acquired focus. At a snowmobile race the sleds are out of site and then come blasting over jumps. It’s an aim and fire situation. The 1D Mark IV was easily the best performing camera I have ever used in this type of situation. AI Servo acquired focus almost instantly and continued to track the fast moving sleds with ease. A few times I popped off 10fps bursts on a sled coming towards me, 90% of the images were critically in focus.
There were times the snow coming down was the really big and fluffy kind. This can wreak havoc on an autofocus system when trying to track a moving subject. There was a couple of times the camera would hunt because of the snow. I tested the camera with AI Servo speed set to the lowest speed and the highest speed. I found setting AI Servo to the fastest tracking without AF point expansion worked the best. The camera tracked the fast moving subjects in the snow very well. At no time did I turn on Spot AF.
I have to say I really loved the AF point orientation feature. My biggest gripe with the Mark III was I couldn’t reach the joystick to move AF points around when shooting vertical. I never liked changing AF points with the wheel. This feature is going to be extremely valuable in a lot of situations for myself. I am not a focus/recompose guy. A+ to Canon on this one.
File quality is absolutely terrific. The files are wonderfully crisp an detailed. My only issue so far has been the performance of Adobe Lightroom 2.6. I find it does quite a bad job with orange in the overcast situation I was shooting in. There was a lot of clipping that was hard to remove. Digital Photo Professional did a better job. DPP also seemed to produce a more detailed file, which is a pretty normal occurrence. That being said, I processed all the images in Lightroom because it’s the most popular way to do so.
So far, there’s nothing I’d change about the 1D Mark IV. I’m sure I’ll find something in the near future that I wish would be changed. I remember telling people that if the Mark III got the 920,000 pixel screen, HD movie mode, new AF system & 2nd joystick for AF point selection, it’d be my perfect camera. Well, the only thing they didn’t give me was the joystick, but they fixed my issue without it. I’m sure there will be a couple times that I’ll still desire one, but that’s getting pretty picky.
This is an area of the camera that I haven’t put through the paces in a real world situation. Justin has and he’s not too happy about the performance in ultra low light (aka: a cave) but in regular low light he says it does a good job.
I’ll update my post when I do some real work where I’ll need the lowlight AF. I don’t have a cat to shoot at night anymore. :(
Check back here regularly as our user experiences evolve with the 1D Mark IV.