Professionals who shoot with Canon's 1D series have, until recently, had to choose between the full-frame image sensor in the 1D Mark III and the exceptional speed of the 1D Mark IV—or buy both. So it's undeniably exciting news that Canon's EOS-1D X, the company's latest flagship body, combines the best features of both lines, offering a new full-frame image sensor, exceptional autofocus performance and control, and continuous shooting speed in excess of 12 frames per second.
When you consider that the 1D X also integrates professional-quality video capability on par with critical darlings like the Canon 5D Mark III, you begin to understand the enormity of the accomplishment. The result is a multimedia powerhouse, and a bold play by Canon to integrate all their professional lines under a single umbrella. At a body-only price of $6800, the 1D X is firmly entrenched in professional territory, and a glance at our first test photos suggest that its footing there is quite firm.
The 1D X offers expansive dynamic range, bested only by a handful of other cameras.
The Canon 1D X offered 11.4 stops of dynamic range at ISO 100, by traditional measurements. It also offered around 7.5 stops of "high quality" dynamic range at the base ISO, which is defined as a signal to noise ratio of 10:1 (the "typical" method only cuts it off at 1:1, which is really pretty low quality). This is a bit of a leap forward for Canon compared to older cameras; they've reportedly maximized the light-gathering area of their sensor by improving their microlens technology.
The Canon 1D X integrates video control seamlessly, and ergonomics are improved across the board.
Simply looking at the Canon 1D X and older 1D Mark IV side-by-side, the similarities are at first overwhelming. But when you actually pick them up and put them to work, you quickly discover that the myriad improvements made to the 1D X—many in the form of additional controls—make the user experience much sweeter.
While simply throwing more buttons at a camera isn't always an improvement, the intelligent additions made to the 1D X's control scheme are very welcome indeed. If you're a standard landscape-grip shooter, you'll notice the extra customizable front button around the lens mount (in addition to the familiar depth of field preview button), as well as the new layout of the controls along the top and rear LCDs.
However, the biggest changes are reserved for those who shoot with the integrated portrait grip, which now benefits from the addition of a second multi-selector joystick for menu and option navigation. Additionally, two more customizable buttons along the lens mount allow for depth of field preview in portrait orientation. Equally important are the additional video controls. While the 1D X doesn't have the most convenient form factor for video capture, the controls are functional, easy to use, and integrated logically into the body design.
Incredible color reproduction is still Canon's calling card.
The Canon 1D X is among the best we've ever tested for color accuracy straight out of the camera, measured using a standard GretagMacbeth ColorChecker. While color quality is quite subjective, the 1D X's accuracy can't be overlooked. With a color error (delta-C 00, uncorrected for saturation) of just 1.72 right out of the camera—not to mention the tools to fine-tune color performance further—the 1D X is as perfect as you'll find in this category.
With the 1D X, Canon has put the autofocus woes of the 1D Mark III in the rearview.
The Canon 1D X comes with a number of headline-grabbing features, but its most crucial addition hasn't earned it much press. While a new 61-point autofocus system isn't the sexiest item on the spec sheet, it's an essential feature for pros. After putting the camera through its paces in a variety of conditions, including our own lab-based AF test, it's obvious to us that Canon has produced an AF system surpassing the 1D Mark III's—one as sophisticated as it is accurate. The six user-adjustable cases and pages upon pages of AF options are nice, but the bottom line is that this is an AF system that you can trust in any condition, which is the highest praise we can offer.
Looking elsewhere on the body, one of the nicer remaining additions is a new wired LAN port. While tethered shooting isn't going to do much for wildlife photographers, the connectivity and remote shooting controls are a real boon for studio, sports, and news pros. The 1D X comes with all sorts of neat functionality in this regard, including the ability to easily upload shots to an FTP server for remote viewing.
For videographers, the Canon 1D X is packed with a number of exciting new features. Users can choose from two forms of compression at the full 1080/30p resolution: ALL-I and IPB. ALL-I compresses each frame individually, which produces higher-quality, larger video files that are easier to edit. IPB compression uses keyframes to compress multiple frames of a video, resulting in smaller files that are more difficult to trim in post. While the omission of a headphone jack is a concern, the addition of features like SMPTE timecoding, a 3.5mm mic jack, and dual CF card slots will be greeted with enthusiasm.
The 1D X didn't wow us with its resolution scores, but the sensor isn't the weakest link.
We tested the Canon 1D X with the original 24-70mm f/2.8L lens, since it was the only version available at the time. We found the results were, as expected, somewhat underwhelming. The newer version of the lens performs much better, but in our scoring system resolution ends up being the 1D X's weakest point. It will obviously perform far better with a superior lens, though, and the kind of photographers who buy a 1D X won't be shy about ponying up for some primo glass.
(Editor's Note: We have updated the 1D X's resolution scoring to reflect its performance with the new 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. The improvement was significant, both in the lab and in real world testing. While the new lens is much more expensive than the older version, the performance gains are worth it.)
The 1D X meets our highest expectations.
The confluence of Canon's professional lines would be for naught if the 1D X didn't perform up to expectations. A camera as adept in the studio as the field has to produce top-of-the-line performance in almost every category. The specialization of Canon's professional lines prior to the 1D X attests to this; it's awfully hard to get a full-frame camera with exceptional image quality to focus accurately and shoot fast enough to satisfy news and sports photographers.
This camera put in sterling performances in nearly every single category we tested, with 11.4 stops of dynamic range at base ISO, exceptional color reproduction, solid autofocus accuracy, and a remarkable 15 frames per second (13.3fps RAW) continuous shooting speed.
For the price, this level of performance is to be expected. We should mention, though, that the one category that the 1D X didn't perform terribly well in was resolution. However, it's worth noting that we tested with the older 24-70mm f/2.8L. Since our original review went up, the new 24-70mm f/2.8L II has been released. We found it to be a vastly improved optic, so normal zoom shooters interested in getting high resolution numbers can pump up the sharpness by shelling out for the newer version (or shoot with some of Canon's many excellent L primes).
(Editor's Note: Since this review's original publication we have been able to shoot with the new version of the 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. The 1D X's resolution scores have been updated to reflect the performance of the new lens.)
The is a multifunctional powerhouse.
When we first saw the Canon 1D X, way back in the fall of 2011, it became immediately clear that Canon was looking to produce a camera that would be just at home in the bags of both world-class photographers and videographers as it would be with amateur enthusiasts.
Bringing together the features of the sports-centric 1D Mark IV and the studio-centric 1Ds Mark III is an ambitious move, designed to capture the majority of the pro market with a single professional body. After seeing the test results and shooting with the Canon 1D X for an extended period of time, we have to say that Canon has largely succeeded in that mission.
In truth, this camera is built more for speed than for comfort, inheriting more 1D Mark IV than 1Ds. While it does have a full-frame sensor—something that has become increasingly common throughout the industry in 2012—this camera shoots as fast as any DSLR on the market. It's clear that Canon has succeeded in creating a superb, professional DSLR that is as capable as it is versatile. It produces beautiful images, and whether you shoot stills or video, studio models or wildlife, the Canon 1D X has features to make your job easier. It may have taken 10 months to get the camera to market, but the 1D X was worth the wait.
Video performance is on par with the best DSLRs on the market.
Professional videographers looking to use Canon EF lenses (or PL-mount lenses and Canon sensors) have the Cinema EOS series to get the job done. For those who primarily need a stills camera, but want one that can also function as a high-quality video camera in a pinch, the 1D X fits the bill. We found that the 1D X performed almost identically to the Canon 5D Mark III in our video tests, though the lack of a headphone jack (and the $3,000 price hike) mean that this is still a camera for still photography, first and foremost.
In every kind of lighting, the 1D X focuses with ease.
Canon made their name in professional circles in part by offering autofocus that was better integrated and more reliable than the competition's. That reputation took a big hit with the 1D Mark III's poor, schizophrenic AF system. The 1D Mark IV fixed most of those issues, but Canon has gone ahead and ramped up the complexity even further with the 1D X's 61-point AF system. In all of our tests we found that the additional complexity did not slow performance; the camera was able to lock onto subjects in everything from bright light down to just 10 lux in our lab. Canon has also stacked the deck with a huge number of focus options, including six customizable "use cases," allowing you to tailor AF performance based on need.
I got a need...
The Canon 1D X is the fastest DSLR that we've tested in 2012, edging out the Nikon D4 by a tiny margin. In our speed test, we look at the difference in timing over a 5-shot burst for both RAW and JPEG. The 1D X was able to reach speeds in excess of 15 frames per second for just JPEG, and 13.3 frames per second for RAW shooting. There is very little variance in the results from burst to burst, though you may see some differences depending on the speed of the CF cards you use.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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