Cameras

DCI Interview: Chuck Westfall, Canon’s director of media and consumer relations, discusses the EOS 1D Mark III

DCI Interview: Chuck Westfall, Canon’s director of media and consumer relations, discusses the EOS 1D Mark III

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Canon updated its 1D series with the launch of the 10-megapixel EOS 1D Mark III, tagging it as the "world’s fastest DSLR" and marking the 20th anniversary of its EOS system. Since the news broke last night, consumers and press have been thirsty for more information on the new DSLR. Digitalcamerainfo.com was able to catch-up with Canon’s director of media and consumer relations Chuck Westfall today and discuss the new camera, its design, and some of its more experimental features.

DigitalCameraInfo: On the 1D Mark III, we see the implementation of two image processors. How long has that been part of the design conception, and should we expect to see this in future Canon cameras?

Chuck Westfall: Canon Inc. doesn’t reveal that kind of information. They don’t talk about how long it takes to develop something. I’m sorry to be vague, but unfortunately, we can’t reveal that kind of information. As far as whether it’s going to be a trend in future cameras, it’s more or less of what is appropriate for that camera.

The reason why we did it for the 1D Mark III camera is the combination of the 10fps with the 10-megapixel sensor. It has more to do with the amount of image data that’s coming through they system at whatever speed it is as opposed to specific image quality improvement.

DCI: The press materials mention that the camera includes a 14-bit analog-to-digital converter that should significantly reduce digital and shadow noise. How much less noise should potential users expect, compared to the 1Ds Mark II or the 5D?

Westfall: What we have seen as far as the spec is concerned is only a comparison to the 1D Mark II N. It didn’t compare to the 5D or 30D. Compared to the 1D Mark II N, they are stating that it is 50 percent less shadow noise.

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DCI: Other than the dual processors, how are you able to increase the camera’s processing potential and reduce noise?

Westfall: Besides the 14-bit and the improvements of the Digic III, which is really considerable in helping to reduce noise, other things we were doing had to do with the actual sensor itself as opposed to just helping the processing side. Number one, the fill factor or the percentage of each pixel is actually occupied by a light-sensitive portion that became bigger. The micro lenses were improved. As a result of those two things, the signal-to-noise ratio which affects noise was improved as well. With better signal-to-noise ratio coming in, we were able to have a cleaner signal to start from. The Digic III helped us clean up noise that may have been left over.

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DCI: Would that have been possible with a full frame sensor?

Westfall: There’s no question about it. We could use that same technology on other sensors whether they are full frame or not.

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DCI: What went into the decision to stay with the APS-sized chip instead of boosting up to a full frame?

*Westfall: *We wanted to have 10 frames per second capability. We didn’t want to drastically increase the pixel size to get that. If we were to have gone to a full frame sensor, we wouldn’t have been able to stay at 10fps if the pixel size was the same. We would have had more pixels at a full frame. This is like the sweet spot of being able to have a good balance of the resolution of the sensor and the fps capability that we were able to achieve.

DCI: This is the first EOS DSLR to include live preview. Why introduce it on this camera as opposed to a more affordable or accessible DSLR?

*Westfall: *We didn’t decide to pick a particular price point. What it really comes down to is the technology that we developed to be able to get the live video feed off the CMOS sensor. It’s somewhat related to what we’ve been able to do with the video-camcorder side products like the HV10 and the HV20. It just turned out that due to the timing of our release schedule, it was better to put it into the 1D at this particular time.

DCI: You mentioned a live video feed. Was there any intention to include video capture on this model?

*Westfall: *They didn’t have any plan of doing that one way or the other. That’s certainly a legitimate question. At this moment, we don’t know that answer.

*DCI: *Is it technically feasible to include video on the 1D Mark III?

*Westfall: *It’s really something that I would have to research with Canon to see if they have an official comment. I can understand that the feature is quite desirable.

DCI: Are there thermal limitations on the live preview. Is there a max duration that it can be used continuously?

*Westfall: *There is no limitation on the live preview at normal room temperatures. One of the other factors is whether to record on a micro drive in the camera. If you did record to a micro drive on the camera, that micro drive mechanism could heat up. At that point, there is a sensor that detects the heat build up and causes the function to shut off, if it needs to be. We were really concerned about maximizing the amount of time that function would be available, and we were pretty successful. We expect people to use the remote live view function, especially when you hook it up to USB cable to record directly to the computer. If you are working with the WFT-E transmitter to record to hard drive, at that point, it’s unlimited.

DCI: With the remote capabilities and the speed available, who would benefit most from that type of combination?

Westfall: There are a lot of uses. A typical remote situation we’ve seen is the Kentucky Derby or even an NBA basketball game where you have a fixed camera position locked into a basketball hoop. Essentially, all you need is to fire the camera remotely.

Those are the things that will be a lot easier to manage now because of this. People interested in wildlife or nature photography might have a situation where they want to photograph an animal that can’t be approached by a human being. [Photographers] could set up a remote camera and have it fixed to a specific spot of activity.

DCI: Would face detection be advantageous in that type of situation? Will it enter into DSLR line?

Westfall: It’s hard to say right now. That’s not necessarily a strong demand from the market. If it turns out that we are getting some demand, we might consider it.

A lot of photographers that are using long lenses or tripods or slow shutter speeds will appreciate, that with live view mode, there is no mirror slap because the mirrors are already locked up before you shoot. For people who are doing auto bracketing, you can shoot continuously, or bracketing, you can shoot without having the mirror flip down between shots.

DCI: The camera also includes a new sRAW file format. How are these smaller files generated, and are they completely lossless?

Westfall: They are completely lossless. The information we have is somewhat limited. One of the things we do know is that is using a binning technique. That is the reason why it is one-fourth the resolution of the full sensor. It’s not down-sampling like a JPEG file. With that binning technique, that’s how we were able to do it. By keeping the file the same as regular full size RAW, all the image manipulation that can take place with a regular size RAW file can be done with a sRAW.

DCI: Do you expect to see future iterations of sRAW available in different size options, like JPEG compression in cameras now?

*Westfall: *It’s too early to say. We don’t know for sure. There may be limitations on it; there may not be. Canon has not commented on it.

 

DCI: There is drastic reduction of battery size on this model as opposed to the previous 1D-series cameras. How were you able to reduce the battery size so significantly and still supply ample power with dual processors?

*Westfall: *First, we changed the chemistry of the battery away from the Ni-MH and into Li-ion. That was the most important change. The difference is that for any given space in the battery, the Li-ion has a greater storage capacity than the Ni-MH. The net result is that even though the battery is physically smaller than the previous Ni-MH, this new Li-ion pack stores 2300 milliamps of power compared to only 1600 in the previous. That’s where we were really able to see the improvements in shooting capacity.

DCI: Can you explain the camera’s silent mode? How much quieter is it than the typical standard mode?

*Westfall: *When you measure it from a point, 15cm behind the camera, the regular mode is 77 db, and the silent mode is 70 db, so it is considerably quieter. What we’re doing is a technique that we’ve been using in previous cameras way back into the original Elan film camera in 1991 when we were using silent film advance. What we do is something called pulse width modulation that allows us to control how much electricity is parceled out of the mechanism and at what speed. The speed of operations of the mirror cocking and the shutter cocking are what’s affected. By slowing down the speed of the mirror and shutter cocking, that’s how the audio noise reduction is accomplished.

DCI: The camera includes 19 AF cross-type sensors that the press materials say are accessible with f/2.8 or faster lenses. How else has the autofocus been improved; will there be any improvement to low light autofocus with slower lenses?

*Westfall: *The improvement with all lenses is that the sensor is now active down to EV-1 compared to EV-0. As far as low-light sensitivity goes in AF performance, there is a big improvement on the 1D Mark III. It’s completely separate from the issue of cross-type verses single axis focusing.

DCI: What else went into the engineering of the new module to make that happen?

Westfall: Why we have 19 cross-type verses 7 has to do with the design with the physical sensor itself. You can physically see the difference of how the sensor is laid out. The one thing you have to remember about AF sensors is that in some way they are similar to image sensors in that they have pixels that receive light. With these 45-point sensors, they are CMOS sensors. What we were able to do with the AF sensors is similar to an image sensor. First of all, the fill factor per pixel was improved. The semiconductor process was improved so that we were able to get higher sensitivity in low light because of bigger photo diode on each pixel.

DCI: Can you discuss the difference between the dust reduction system on the 1D Mark III and the Digital Rebel XTi?

Westfall: The first physical difference is that instead of having one piezoelectric vibrator located above the cover glass, you now have two, one on the left and one on the right. There are twice as many vibrators. Second, the adhesive material is all around instead of just below the sensor on the XTi. Third, the amount of time that the system is running as a normal default is different. It’s about 3.5 seconds on the 1D Mark III, and the shutter is actually cocked three times on the process to shake off dust even more on the shutter blades. There is also a difference in filter construction that goes in the front that vibrates. On the 1D Mark III, the vibrating part is the IR filter. On the XTi, it was the anti-aliasing filter. The difference is between the IR and the anti-aliasing filter.

DCI: What is the intended target base of this camera?

*Westfall: *What we’ve been doing since the first 1D camera, introduced in 2001, we were almost completely aiming at sports photographers. Its biggest feature was the 8fps, which was of maximum interest to those photographers. Basic photojournalists are also interest in high frame rate as well.

As we’ve moved forward, we increased the resolution of the camera to make it more appealing to different types of photographers just on the basis of resolution. At the same time, we’ve improved image quality and other aspects of the camera. While still maintaining the core appeal of the photojournalism community, the 1D Mark III is very appealing to other kinds of professional photographers, including wedding and portrait, which is a very large segment.

DCI: How long will the 1D Mark II N remain on the line?

Westfall: Only until we have sold all the inventory we have. It’s no longer going to be produced. The 1D Mark III will take its spot in the line.

DCI: What price point will the EOS-1D Mark III be introduced at and when can we expect to see it on the market?

Westfall: We are expecting it during the month of April. The pricing will be finalized once we get close to shipping. The White Papers price is subject to change without notice.

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