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Canon EOS 1Ds MKIII

First Impressions

Important Note:

The camera used to take these photographs is a pre-production sample.
No determinations should be made about final production camera image quality
from either these images or my commentary.


Photo by Brian Murphree
Bill Atkinson, Charlie Cramer and Michael Reichmann
in front of The Luminous Landscape Gallery in Toronto

Bill Atkinson and Charlie Cramer came up to Toronto from California in mid-October to teach a workshop at The Luminous Landscape Gallery. By coincidence, the day before they arrived I received Canon's new 1Ds MKIII for testing, and the following morning we left for a three day shoot in Algonquin Park prior to their workshop.

This page contains a selection photographs taken with the 1Ds MKIII as well as some initial observations about the camera. I used both the Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L IS and 28-70mm f/2.8L lenses. None of these shots was taken with an eye to testing any particular aspect of image quality or performance. They were simply taken for their own sakes. I had brought my Hasselblad H2 with Phase One P45+ along (just in case), and normally would have used that rig for landscape work. But after looking at the MkIIIs' files on the first evening I was pleased enough with them to continue shooting with the Canon, and the Hassy stayed in its bag.

Having said that, no undue assumptions should be drawn. I was eager to use the new Canon, and first impressions of its image quality were such that I knew immediately that I wouldn't be disappointed with the results. Bill, who was shooting with a Hasselblad H1 and P45+ (as was Charlie on a Mamiya) was as curious as I was to see how the MKIIIs would compare to the P45+. We did a few comparison tests and the simple and quick report is that Phase One, and by implication other medium format back makers, have nothing to worry about. As good as the 1Ds MKIII is (and it's very good) a 39MP back is inevitably going to be better in terms of absolute image quality.


Wild Color. Algonquin Park, Ontario. October, 2007
Canon 1Ds MKIII @ ISO 125 with 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens
The camera used to take this photograph is a beta sample on loan from Canon

Upon returning to the studio I made some 20" X 30" prints of frames shot with the 1Ds MKIII that are simply gorgeous and sharp. (BTW – at 180 ppi that's the size of print that the 1Ds MKIII can make without needing any ressing up). Test prints were made on the brand new Epson 11880 printer, which I am also in the midst of testing. More about this exceptional new printer on these pages in November.

The Canon files were processed in a beta version of Adobe Lightroom which I was testing. I did not have a copy of Canon's DPP raw software available, and frankly, even if I had, I find the workflow available from Lightroom to be so much superior to anything else that I likely would have used it regardless.

I was very eager to shoot with the 1Ds MKIII (as you might imagine), but particularly because I am leaving on a 2 week long photo shoot in Madagascar in just a few days after this essay appears in mid-October. I needed to be able to determine that the particular camera which I was using was up-to-snuff, and that I could reply on it on what will likely be a very demanding shoot. After taking some 500 frames over a period of three days in Algonquin, and since, I am now confident of both the camera's operational robustness and image quality potential.


Fairy Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario. October, 2007
Canon 1Ds MKIII @ ISO 200 with 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens
The camera used to take this photograph is a beta sample on loan from Canon

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This is Not a Test Report

This report is based on few days of outdoor shotting and a couple of days of computer work with raw files from the new 1Ds MKIII. This is not intended as a test report, but rather simply some first impressions.

As noted in this page's header, no deductions or conclusions should be made from these web images. Judging image quality base on a web image is pointless in any event. With the right processing and sharpening just about any shot can be made to look good, and many flaws concealed if desired. Only by looking directly at a well processed raw file and then a high quality print can one make any serious determinations about image quality. (Cat pictures on Flicker don't count ).

I also did not take many shots (at least none that appear here) which were taken with the purpose of doing evaluations of actual image quality. Yes, I pixel peeped, along with Bill and Charlie, but the shots on this page are simply displayed for their own sakes. My brief comments here about image quality are also not in any way rigorously made or definitive. That will have to wait until after my Madagascar shoot when I can do some side by side testing against other cameras (such as the 1Ds MKII and the 5D), and also once I have had a chance to shoot a few thousand frames under a variety of conditions.


Forest Contrasts. Algonquin Park, Ontario, October, 2007
Canon 1Ds MKIII @ ISO 400 with 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens
The camera used to take this photograph is a beta sample on loan from Canon

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Handling

There are already a great many reviews, including my own, of the Canon 1D MKIII which became available in May of this year. The 1Ds MKIII is essentially the same camera but with a few notable exceptions. If you are interested in the 1Ds MKIII then I urge you to read some of these reports with regard to features and operation. Of course the sensor and frame rates of the IIIs are different, as is image quality. Otherwise, cosmetically and in terms of shooting features the cameras are essentially identical. The IIIs has a slightly larger prism bulge because of the large frame size.

This means that the IIIs has all of Canon's latest features, including Live View and auto dust removal. I am particularly pleased with the new Lithium Ion battery, which is considerably smaller and lighter than before. I was somewhat disappointed to note though that the ability to engage autofocus during Live View, which the recently released 40D has, did not find its way into the 1Ds MKIII, even though it's a later product. (Canon also doesn't have active autofocus in Live View, the way some other manufactruers now do).

And, this initial impressions report would not be complete if I did not mention once again, that like all Canon cameras before it the 1Ds MKII does not have a mirror lock-up button. Why not, when it is such an important feature? Almost every other major camera maker has either a dedicated or a soft mirror-up button while Canon still refuses to accommodate the large community of photographers that have been requesting this for years. It's a mystery. Maybe next year's models. Or the year after. One can only hope.


Lilly Pads. Algonquin Park. October, 2007
Canon 1Ds MKIII with 70-200mmL IS @ ISO 100
The camera used to take this photograph is a beta sample on loan from Canon

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About Lenses

Having written the above I want to be absolutely clear that resolution on this camera, when the best lenses are used, is extremely high, as is every other aspect of image quality that I have had a chance to evaluate thus far. But in this light it needs to be noted that because of its high resolution the camera is very unforgiving of lens deficiencies. To extract the best that the 1Ds MKIII has to offer in terms of resolution requires that the very sharpest lenses be used. Lenses which were adequate on lesser cameras will be found wanting on the 1Ds MKIII. Be prepared to reevaluate your lens collection.


Fungus and Leaves. Algonquin Park, Ontario. October 2007
Canon 1Ds MKIII with 70-200mmL IS @ ISO 100
The camera used to take this photograph is a beta sample on loan from Canon

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High ISO

During my shoot in Algonquin, because I was shooting on a tripod, I had no need to go above ISO 400, and then just to try and stop leaf movement due to wind. At speeds up and and including 400 there is essentially no noise visible with the 1Ds MKII, as would be expected. This is state of the art performance.

At the Atkinson and Cramer Seminar at my studio a few days later I had an opportunity to do some higher ISO shooting. At ISO 800 one can see a very small amount of noise, mostly luminance in nature. But it's so minor as to hardly need any help.

ISO 1600 has a bit more noticeable noise, but still nothing objectionable. Below is a shot taken at ISO 1600 and a 100% detail, with only a few points tweak to the Luminance NR slider in Lightroom.

ISO 1600
The camera used to take this photograph is a beta sample on loan from Canon

In photographs taken at ISO 3200 (HI) the camera starts to show some chroma noise as well as luminance noise, and needs help. Rather than use the NR routines in Lightroom or Camera Raw, I prefer to use a dedicated Photoshop noise reduction plug-in, such as Noise Ninja or Noiseware Pro.

ISO 3200
The camera used to take this photograph is a beta sample on loan from Canon

The class shot above, both small version and detail, was taken in available darkness by the light reflected off the gallery's projector screen. The light level was so low that it was too dim to read by. Noiseware Pro was used in its automatic mode, so no effort was needed to achieve a quite clean result.

Note that the shot is a bit blurry because I was hand holding, wide open, at 1/20sec with Canon's older 16-35mm f/2.8L lens, not one of the sharpest knives in the drawer. This is mentioned because I don't want anyone on the forums using this as an example of any aspect of image quality other than that related to noise.

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More to Come

As for overall image quality, I've only done about 400 frames so far shooting fall colour in Algonquin Park. I've made about a half dozen 20X30" prints on the new Epson 11880 printer, and the results are generally excellent.

Auto white balance is as good as I've ever seen. Tonal renditions are excellent, and it appears that the 14 bit processing capability is of definite value, especially when working on files which require some extensive manipulation.

At 21 MP the extra pixels are very welcome for either making big prints, or cropping. I have not done any comparisons yet to a 1Ds MKII or the 5D (I plan on doing this before my Madagascar report appears in mid-November).

My quick summery is that the 1Ds MKIII is Canon's best camera yet for anyone that doesn't specifically need higher frame rates for sports or similar subjects. The camera has excellent image quality, much improved features and user interface, a much superior battery system, faster frame rate, etc etc.

There's still a great deal for me to analyze, but it will be several weeks until I am back from my shoot in Madagascar and have a chance to write a full hands-on report.

As this is being written there are initial reports that Canon has determined the cause of the reported focus problems with the 1D MKIII. In my use so far I have seen no focus issues whatsoever, and think that it is safe to assume that by the time the 1Ds MKIII ships this will not be a factor for the new model.


Leaf, Bark, and Fungus. Algonquin Park, Ontario. October, 2007
Canon 1Ds MKIII with 70-200mmL IS @ ISO 100
The camera used to take this photograph is a beta sample on loan from Canon

So, with this as a first-look at the new Canon flagship I am now getting ready to spend two weeks working with the 1Ds MKIII in Madagascar. A full report and portfolio from that shoot will appear here in mid-November upon my return. My shooting companions on this trip are two friends, videographer Chris Sanderson (yes, this expedition will appear in a future Video Journal) and Pierre Claquin, a French epidemiologist and photographer who helped organize my Bangladesh workshop a few years ago.

Our shoot will encompass landscape, wildlife, and cultural photography, and we'll be offroading, flying in small planes, canoeing, camping, and hiking – what promises to be a pretty rugged journey. We have to travel light, so what camera gear to bring is going to be a tough choice. Right now the 1Ds MKIII will be my primary camera, with a 5D as backup. I also have a Canon G9 along as my pocket snapshot camera. My lens choices aren't final yet, but I'm thinking of the 24-105mm f/4L IS, the 50mm f/1.4, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, and 100-400mm f/5.6L IS. All of this and whatever other shooting gear I bring will have to fit in a Lowepro Minitrecker. A 13" Macbook Pro and 4 portable hard drives totaling about 300GB of storage, as well as a satellite phone, will travel in a rolling briefcase, and everything else including tripod, chargers and clothes in a duffle bag.

More in November.

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Postscript

In a version of this review which was online for a few hours on Oct 18-19, there was a discussion of antialiasing filters and how I felt that there would be advantages to the 1Ds MKIII not having one, for a variety of reasons. Due to a mix-up, an early version which was not intended for publication because of mistakes in my initial analysis, found its way online in error.

I regret any confusion that this may have caused.

__________________________________________________________________________________

The camera used to take these photographs is a pre-production sample.
No determinations should be made about final production camera image quality
from either these images or my commentary.

__________________________________________________________________________________

October, 2007


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Concepts: Digital single-lens reflex camera, Film speed, Camera, Raw image format, Full-frame digital SLR, Canon EOS DSLR cameras, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Digital camera

Entities: Algonquin, Toronto, Canon, Phase One, Lilly, Adobe, Madagascar, Bangladesh, Algonquin Park, chroma noise, ISO, frame rate, Auto white balance, satellite phone, confusion, chargers, Michael Reichmann, Bill, Bill Atkinson, Charlie, Epson, Flicker, Charlie Cramer, Fairy Forest, Chris Sanderson, Pierre Claquin, Macbook Pro, Ontario, California, Photoshop

Tags: 1ds mkiii, camera, image quality, Algonquin Park, canon 1ds mkiii, beta sample, photographs, new 1ds mkiii, report, production camera image, final production camera, 1ds mkiii ships, canon 1d mkiii, frame rate, Epson 11880 printer, new canon, Live View, Phase One, pre-production sample, Ontario, new canon flagship, raw file, major camera maker, pocket snapshot camera, Canon files, web image, new epson, Canon cameras, Noiseware Pro, Lightroom, Canon G9, absolute image quality, image quality potential, particular camera, actual image quality, image quality base, Phase One P45+, primary camera, overall image quality, camera gear