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Canon EOS-1D

A Reviewer's Notebook

The following report is based on a 4 day hands-on test of a production Canon EOS-1D done in early December, 2001. The camera was kindly loaned to me by Canon Canada shortly after it first arrived into their hands. (Serial # 2135).

I have published a more more formal review in the March / April issue of the American magazine Photo Techniques. ( â�� Now online). Also, anyone looking for detailed specifications and an in-depth technical evaluation can find them at many sites around the Net. I have included several such links at the bottom of this page. 

What I hope to provide here is a real-world evaluation of the camera, much as you would do if you had this camera for a few days. In particular I have focused on a side-by-side comparison with the Canon D30, a camera that I am very familiar with. This review and comparison has now been featured in an extensive video segment in Issue #3 of The Luminous Landscape Video Journal.

One more thing — this is a large page with a lot of test and sample images. Therefore on a slow dialup connection it will take some time to load. Persist. It's worthwhile.

The Wait

It took a long time for the other shoe to drop. The Canon D30 arrived in the Fall of 2000, almost a year after the Nikon D1. It was worth the wait. Image quality from the D30 was superb. It set a new standard for digital SLRs, particularly at its price point. But, the body was not as robust as a pro-level EOS-1V and the autofocus in particular was lacking for many applications. A small three-frame image buffer (RAW files) also made for slow shooting. The Canon faithful waited.

  Detail

Canon EOS-1D @ ISO 400 with a Canon 100~400mm f/5.6L IS zoom @ 400mm. 1/180 sec @ f/6.3
Note the low noise in the out-of-focus-background, even at ISO 400. (See below)

The Initial Disappointment

One year later, in early October, 2001 the long awaited and much rumoured EOS-1D was officially announced.  My initial impression at that time was one of disappointment. Two main things came to mind. The first was that the camera uses a CCD imager rather than the CMOS device used by the D30. With the D30 Canon had clearly broken new ground in terms of image quality — particularly low noise. Everyone therefore had expectations that the 1D would bring this technology to a new level of excellence. Secondly, the 1D only has a 4.1 megapixel chip, not the 6 megapixel imager that everyone was expecting. In fact, there were a number of apparently reliable reports from people who claimed to have actually seen a CMOS chip based 6MP EOS-1D prototype. Where was it? Why had Canon switched to what appeared to many to be a lesser design?

The answer, it becomes clear, was that Canon had decided to serve what it perceived to be its most critical professional constituency — news and sports photographers. They had wanted to design a digital camera that needed no excuses and made no compromises, on the battlefield or in the arena. Ultimate robustness, lightning autofocus and extremely high burst frame rates were the design criteria.

Canon representatives have made it known that they had been unable to get the very high frame rates (8 FPS) that they wanted from CMOS technology. At least for now. So, they used a CCD design. They also have said that they believe that a 4.1MP imaging chip is sufficient for the needs of photojournalists and sports photographers, (I concur).

I have no inclination to argue with Canon's decision to pursue this particular market. They presumably understand who they are selling to, and I am quite sure that the factories in Japan will be working overtime for many months producing 1D bodies for the tens of thousands of photojournalists and newspaper and sports photographers around the world who have been eagerly awaiting this camera. 

I'm not one of this group though. I use my Canon 35mm cameras for nature and wildlife photography. There are others who do documentary, fashion, portraits, social events, products, architecture and a wide range of other forms of photography. We all have large investments in Canon lenses and accessories. We all want and need a high resolution, high image quality digital SLR. High frame rates are important, especially when shooting some types of wildlife, but would the image quality be there? So, did Canon deliver with the EOS 1D

Enough preamble. Here then are my impressions, and test results — written here as I made them.

Day 1 — December 6

I had read that the 1V and the 1D's bodies were initially designed at the same time. It shows. I've used a 1V extensively since it was first introduced a couple of years ago. Picking up the 1D is like picking up its twin brother. The film-based 1V is one of the fastest handling, fastest shooting and quickest autofocusing cameras in existence. It's built like the proverbial brick outhouse. The 1V is regarded by many as the current state-of-the-art pro-level SLR. It feels like it was cast from a single block of magnesium alloy and high-quality polycarbonate. 

In virtually ever handling respects the 1D is a 1V — which is high praise indeed. In fact it seems even more all-of-a-piece because instead of having a separate removable motor drive the body is one integrated unit. Ergonomically, and in terms of body fit and finish, compared to the EOS D30 the 1V is a Mercedes compared to a Volkswagen.

This is a good time to reiterate that while I'll mention certain features and capabilities of the camera as they seem relevant, I don't intend on producing a laundry list of features or an in-depth technical analysis. Others, more qualified and interested in this than I, will do so exhaustively in the days ahead. My intention is to see how the camera handles and how the images it produces compare — especially to the Canon D30.

I'm using the D30 as my reference point primarily because I have more than a year's worth of experience with it. I wrote it up extensively when it first came out in October, 2000 and subsequently published a more formal review in Photo Techniques magazine.

First Impressions

The camera comes in a slick glossy box, unlike the D30 which ships in a plain cardboard carton apparently made of recycled wallboard. I find attractive packaging appropriate when one spends thousands for a product.

The camera kit comes with a single NI-MIH battery pack, a 2-battery charger, and an AC adaptor for studio use.  One of the realities of shooting digital is the need to travel with a charger, and the 1D is no different in this regard. That the charger will handle two batteries is a smart design, as I'm sure that every purchaser will buy at least one additional rechargeable battery pack.

The charger also acts as a discharger. This is also a smart design addition because Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, like Ni-Cads, suffer from the memory effect — though not as badly. This can mean that unless such a battery is regularly run dry it will retain a memory of the level at which it was recharged. Recharge at NI-MIH or Ni-Cad battery when it's only partially discharged on a regular basis and the battery will eventually forget how to recharge fully. But by pressing a discharge button on the 1D's charger the battery will be slowly drained and then automatically recharged. Draining a full battery takes 8.5 hours and a full charge takes 100 minutes. It probably isn't vital to do the discharge cycle all that often — maybe once a month.

This of course begs the question — why didn't Canon use Lithium Ion battery technology? They are more expensive, but lighter in weight and have no memory effect. Part of the reason may be the current demand of high frame-rate shooting. Still, NI-MIH seems like yesterday's technology.

The provided software comes on 2 disks — for both Windows and Macintosh. One disk contains Canon's TWAIN driver plug-in and the other a copy of Photoshop 5.0 LE.

At The Zoo

After a couple of hours during the morning reading the manual, loading the provided software onto both my Mac and PC and doing a couple of quick function-test shots, I headed off to the Toronto zoo for some real-world shooting. A gray day in early December in Toronto isn't one of the most exciting venues for doing outdoor photography, but the zoo at least features some interesting and occasionally colourful subjects. I had shot there the year before when I was first testing the D30.

I wish the camera had been delivered a week earlier. I just returned 2 days before from a 6 day shoot in Bosque del Apache, one of the premier wildlife refuges in the Southwestern USA. I had shot more than 1,000 frames with the D30 and 10 rolls with the 1V, and this would have been an ideal spot to test the 1D. But, things don't always work out as we would wish.

      Detail

Canon EOS-1D @ ISO 400 with a Canon 100~400mm f/5.6L IS zoom @ 400mm. 1/160 sec @ f/6.3

This Sumatran Tiger was one of my first subjects. Because I was shooting with a long lens and because the day was quite overcast I set the ISO to 400. I also set the white balance to "cloudy". Similarly, "Matrix" was set to Mode 4, which means that the colour space was set to Adobe RGB. (More on this later).

This was also the first frame that I loaded and examined when I got back to my office.  First impression was one of some considerable surprise. Colour balance was almost perfect and required very little adjustment. More importantly, sharpness was very impressive. Even more importantly noise in the shadows and out-of-focus areas was very low considering that I was shooting at ISO 400.

Unfortunately the matching frame which I shot with the D30 was not sharp due to camera shake and so a direct comparison with this particular image couldn't be done.

Of Cabbages & Kings

 

                                Canon 1D                                                                            Canon D30

                                                        Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens. 1/200 sec @ f/6.3 ISO 200

The above two photographs (and their linked larger versions) are straight from the camera. These were both converted with the same Canon software (the 1D's conversion program also works with D30 RAW images). In these versions neither has had any processing whatsoever — no Levels or Curves, no Sharpening. I did move the camera when taking the shot so that the .3X image size difference between them was compensated for.

What do you see? I see the legendary colour intensity of the D30 Vs. a much more muted, and possibly more accurate rendition from the 1D. I also see apparently greater shadow detail in the D30 image and better highlight detail from the 1D. (Both exposures were identical, and "as metered").

  

                                    Canon 1D                                                                            Canon D30

These two enlarged sections and their linked larger versions have been processed for optimum brightness, contrast and colour balance. They have also been optimally sharpened. (You might have made other balancing and sharpening choices — these are mine). In Photoshop on my screen, (a calibrated and profiled Apple Cinemadisplay), and on prints, I see greater detail in the 1D image. This is no great surprise given the higher resolution of the 1D. What I still see, even after processing, is that the D30 produces more saturated colours while the 1D's are less saturated but more accurate. If I had to compare them to film I'd describe the D30 as looking like Velvia and the 1D is resembling Fuji Astia in terms of colour saturation. Which do you prefer?

One more zoo shot. While it's tempting to want to judge image quality with bright and colourful subjects, sometimes we shoot things as monochromatic as an elephant's ear on a cloudy day. I was curious to see how the two cameras would handle this.

  

                                  Canon 1D                                                                   Canon D30

Here we again have "raw" uncorrected, unsharpened images. (To prevent this page becoming to large and slow I'm going to only use enlarged versions when seeing detail is needed).

Firstly, these two images are shown here in proportion to their actual file size. At 240 DPI (the lowest resolution needed for a quality print from an Epson inkjet printer) the D30 file size is 6" X 9". The 1D's file size is 6.9 X 10.3". This is shown above by scaling these proportionally.

Next, look at the colour rendition. Once again, both cameras were set to "Cloudy" colour balance and imported "As Shot". I arrive at the same conclusion as with the cabbage photographs above. The 1D's colour rendition is more accurate while the D30 presents a more saturated though less accurate palette.

  

                          Canon 1D                                                               Canon D30

In these two frames I've used some automated software to set the White and Black points in an attempt to remove subjectivity. I've also used an automated sharpening program for the same reason. Once again we see somewhat higher resolution from the 1D, though the differences aren't huge.

Day 2 — December 7


Processing Software

An evening of processing 1D and D30 images with Version 4 of Canon's plug-in camera module for Photoshop provided some initial impressions. Converting a RAW 1D 16 bit image and saving it to disk takes 26 seconds on a dual processor 500 Mhz Mac G4. Converting a D30 RAW file on the same machine takes 35 seconds. By way of comparison, processing RAW D30 images with BreezeBrowser, my preferred digital image processing software, takes 32 seconds on a 600Mhz Pentium 3 machine. Canon says that RAW processing has been considerably speed up. To quote from their brochure, "...newly-developed driver software typically takes only a few seconds to convert each RAW file." I don't see it.

Canon TWAIN / Plug-In — V4

I had not spent much time with this plug-in prior to testing the 1D. My first impression is that it isn't as easy to use and as full featured as some third party software. (I have some competence in the area of software design as I was once a software designer, headed up software development at a major publisher, and was CEO of another public software development company.)

By way of examples, there is no histogram available within the program. Also, it's only possible to move from one image to another when in thumbnail mode. Looking at the images in a larger size one-at-a-time requires that you go back to thumbnail mode to view the next picture. If you "Transfer" a file to Photoshop you have to exit the software to be able to work on the image, and then have to wait a long time to reload all the thumbnails when you want to return to look at additional thumbnails. This can be a very lengthy process if you're working with a large directory of files. The program should be able to start displaying thumbnails immediately while it processing the remainder of the directory, rather than making the user wait for the whole conversion to take place. Having a stand-alone version of the software would allow for a much enhanced workflow.

Curiously, sometimes the program appears to move and renumber files. I have experienced one instance where I loaded the card to my hard disk and went to look at the last shot that I'd taken. I couldn't find it and figured that somehow it had been eaten. A few minutes later I found it some 15 file positions back. Very disconcerting.

I could go on, but wont. My suggestion is that Canon hire someone like Chris Breeze to write their processing software.

Battery Life

Day two started sunny and so I went out to do some bright light shooting. After about 20 minutes I was surprised to see that the battery indicator was showing very low. I had done 118 frames the day before and 25 frames this morning. 123 frames in all. The camera had been on for 2 hours one day and 30 minutes the next. I'd done very little screen review and had used an IS lens about half the time. The temperature had been about 60 deg F the prior day and about 50 deg F the second. The battery had been discharged and then fully charged before starting the first day's shoot.

This is very disappointing battery performance. I shot wildlife last week in southern New Mexico with the D30 and achieved over 500 frames at temperatures around the freezing point, using a double battery set. This is my usual experience with the D30. If this battery life in the 1D is indicative of what one can expect I would suggest carrying at least 2 additional battery packs when doing all-day location work. Such appears to be the penalty of CCD Vs. CMOS battery demand.

Incidentally, a nice design touch is a safety release on the battery latch. One day this will prevent an expensive battery from landing in the mud during rapid fumble-fingered changing.

Shooting & Features

Canon EOS-1D @ ISO 200 with a Canon 70~200mm f/2.8L zoom @ 200mm. 1/400 sec @ f/8

After shooting and evaluating many test frames (not included here because of lack of space and time) I became bored. The differences that I was seeing between the 1D and the D30 seemed fairly constant. That is, the colour from the 1D seemed more neutral and less saturated than that from the D30. Better? Worse? That's subjective and changes with the subject matter. 

Resolution is definitely higher, but that's to be expected from a bigger chip size with more pixels.

I was most interested though in simply continuing to use the camera and to becoming really familiar with its features and workflow. As part of my morning's shoot I visited a construction site and the frame above was one of the better ones that resulted. A bit more interesting than pictures of cabbages and elephant's ears.

Based on yesterday's and today's shooting here are some random observations about design features, ergonomics, likes and dislikes. I won't dwell on features that are the same as the 1V's. It's been around long enough now that anyone interested will be familiar with what it's all about.

The 1D ships with a wrist strap as well as a neck strap. Thank you Canon. It's about time.

As good as the 1V was, the 1D is if anything even better in terms of fit and finish. The positive latches, rubber gaskets, safety releases and all-around superior quality of construction puts the 1V head and shoulders over virtually any camera I've ever owned or used (and believe me, that's been a lot of cameras). The only cameras that come close in this regard is the Rollei 6008i and Leica M6.

The built in audio recording capability is a joy. I know that this has existed on previous Kodak/Canon/Nikon digital SLRs before, but this is my first experience with it. I can't tell you the number of times that I've been shooting on location and wanted to note details about what or where I was shooting, or an image processing reminder which I invariably forget days or weeks later. 

The way that it's implemented is simple yet effective. Press the Display button to review any frame and then hold down the Mike button for more than 2 seconds. You can record up to 30 seconds of audio and a bar graph on the rear display screen keeps you informed of progress. If you need more time than that, just press and hold the button again.

When you review your files as thumbnails on the computer an icon appears next to the file indicating that there is an associated recording. Click and the audio plays. I've made recordings with it in noisy environments, with the camera down at waist level, and they are clear and intelligible. Nicely done.

The way that the camera's digital operations controls are implemented is interesting, and quite different than the way things work on the D30. With the 1D one uses the rear control wheel along with two buttons: one marked Menu and the other Select. Pressing Menu turns on the display and you can then select one of 4 sub-menus by continuing to hold down the button and by turning the wheel. Releasing the button selects that function.  Next, pressing the Select button and scrolling the thumb wheel moves the selection to the menu item desired. Again releasing the button selects the item. This continues down through further sub-menu choices.

It sounds complicated and awkward, but after a very short while it becomes intuitive and easy to use. I like it. This method seems to be less prone to user error — which is probably why Canon decided to use it, rather than the D30's free-turning thumb wheel. Menu items are logically grouped together and there's no need to scroll an individual screen to see additional items. Everything appears on one screen at a time. It won't take a new user long to become comfortable with the entire digital control array.

One curious omission, which has already been commented on in various forums around the Net, is the lack of a magnified image on the review screen. I use this occasionally, and many D30 users obviously find it useful, because there's been quite a hubbub about its absence on the 1D. A strange omission by Canon.

ISO Bracketing is a novel capability provided by the 1D. To my knowledge this is new to Canon. Whereas we're all familiar with a camera's ability to take 3 bracketed frames with differing exposure settings, by varying either the aperture or the shutter speed, the 1D adds the ability to vary the ISO. This can prove very handy when both aperture and shutter speed need to remain fixed, such as when doing daylight balanced fill-flash work.

Speaking of flash, the 1D will sync at 1/500sec when using EX series flash units. This is just great for daylight fill-flash work, so important to certain types of photographers.

Others will find the 1/16,000 top-end shutter speed appealing, though I find it hard to imagine when it will be needed by most people. I've never seen anything faster than 1/1000 look much different in terms of stopping motion in real-world shooting situations, though I suppose that being able to shoot in daylight at ISO 3,200 will appeal in some exotic situations.

And, speaking of ISO, you can set a Custom Function so that the ISO speed is visible in the viewfinder while shooting. Very important when shooting in quickly changing light conditions so as to not have the camera set inap[propriately. Anyone who has been shooting a lot of digital for the past year or so will understand how important this can be.

Day Three

Some readers of earlier comparisons of the colour rendition difference between the 1D and the D30 have questioned the fact that I'm using Matrix Mode 4 (Adobe RGB) on the 1D and the native quasi-sRGB mode of the D30. They suggest that both cameras should be in sRGB for a fair comparison. Sounds like a reasonable suggestion, but it ain't so. The difference are there regardless. Here's what I wrote in reply to one such comment on Photo Net.

I think that the colour space issue is a bit of a distraction. When shooting in RAW mode you can assign the colour space either in the camera or in the processing software on the PC. As I've now mentioned in an update to the review, RAW is RAW - all processing happens after the fact, whether done in-camera or on the PC.

After receiving several comments on what you've raised I spent quite some time experimenting with importing both the 1D and the D30 images into different colour spaces, and also exporting the 1D images using various Matrix (colour space) settings. There are indeed visible differences, but they are for the most part minor. It depends very much on the colours contained in the original scene.

Bottom line — the differences between the colour rendition produced by these two cameras is apparent regardless of colour space. Going from sRGB to Adobe RGB broadens it, but doesn't change it. The expansion is primarily in the greens. In any event it's not a better / worse situation. Just different. Some people that I've shown sample prints to like the neutrality of the 1D images, some like the saturation of the D30 images. That's why Kodak and Fuji make 2 or 3 different types of film of the same ISO, each with a different colour palette. Different strokes, etc.

Obviously this means that Canon users need to now own both a D30 and a 1D. (Irony alert).

Turn on Time

Like its analogue brother the 1V, the 1D is lightning fast in all its responses. But, like all digital cameras there is a delay on turn on or on coming back to life after going into sleep mode — right? Right, but is the 1D ever fast in this regard as well. The D30 takes about 4 seconds to come to life. The 1D is about 1 second — almost as fast as I can click my stopwatch. First rate professional performance.

ISO Speed & Noise

One of the great advantages of shooting digital is that the ISO can be changed to suit the shooting situation — between frames if needs be, rather than between rolls or camera bodies. The 1D brings this to a new level by permitting ISO bracketing.

But, the overriding question is, how good (low) is the noise level of the 1D at various speed settings and how does it compare to the D30, which itself has quite a reputation for clean low-noise images, even to ISO 400?

Note that the normal ISO setting range on the 1D is from ISO 200 to 1600. There are two additional settings, ISO 100 and ISO 3200, but they are accessed through a Custom Function setting. Of interest as well as that the 1D allows in-between ISO settings such as 250, 320 etc. Very nice for fine tuning.

This is the full-frame used in these tests. Below are "actual pixel" (100%) enlargements of shots taken at various speeds. The reason that the 1D and D30 frames are of different sizes is due to the different chip sizes. I decided that having both at 100% was more important than matching image sizes.

The place to look for noise artifacts is in the dark building at left of frame. In all cases exposure was kept constant at f/11 with the shutter speed varying to compensate for the changing ISO. No processing was applied to any of these images except for a moderate amount of USM. My comments and interpretation is found below these examples. Draw your own conclusions before reading mine.

                                       1D                                                          D30

   

                                                                            ISO 100

   

                                                                            ISO 200

   

                                                                            ISO 400

   

                                                                            ISO 800

   

                                                                            ISO 1600

               The D30 is incapable of ISO 3200

                                                                            ISO 3200

Ignore the D30 images for a moment and just look at the ones from the 1D in the leftmost side of the screen. What strikes me first is that the shadow and highlight detail is essentially the same at the normal ISO settings (200-400-800-1600 and presumably the settings available in-between). But, at ISO 100 shadow detail is lacking, and at ISO 3200 it seems to have been boosted. Clearly this chip doesn't really want to work at these speeds, and that's why one has to access them through a Custom Function. I can see no advantage to using ISO 100,  (and there's clearly some disadvantage) and obviously at 3200 noise escalates considerably — though much to my surprise appears better than the D30 at ISO 800!

OK, time to compare the 1D and D30. First, let me say that my comments are based on what I see on my screen in Photoshop and on prints, not what you see here on the web page. I have also spent time examining the separate RGB channels from within Photoshop and these impressions form part of my conclusions.

What you see may look different to you, and I have no idea of what your monitor is like. If there's a discrepancy between what you see and what I see, you're likely better off believing my evaluation rather than your screen.

One more caveat. The D30 images look sharper here than do the 1D images, even though I applied the same amount of sharpening to each. Clearly, 1D images need more USM than do D30 images. I could have applied no sharpening, or different amounts. But, whatever I had done, someone would have complained. Such is life in the fast lane. To ward off a flurry of irate complaints — I made the decisions I did in this and all my other testing based on empirical rather than theoretical considerations. That's how I do my work. I trust my eyes before either the word of others or raw theory. If you find my methodology flawed, my suggestion is to do your own tests and then get back to me with the results. 

Regardless, the differences in sharpening don't mask the really substantial differences in noise between these two cameras.

The bottom line is that according to my tests the 1D has lower noise than does the D30 at every ISO setting. At ISO 200 the 1D has less shadow noise than does the D30 at ISO 100, and that camera has been noted for its low noise at speeds up to ISO 400.

I've done quite a bit of shooting at ISO 400 with the D30 during the past year and so am familiar with its characteristics. In tests which I performed in 2000 comparing the camera when used at this speed with the finest grained ISO 400 transparency film, Provia 400F, I found the D30 to be superior to film in terms of noise level. The 1D is even better at 400. 

Looking at higher speeds — at 800 and 1600 there's no contest. It appears to me that the 1D has an easy 1 stop advantage over the D30, maybe a stop and a half. On the D30 ISO 1600 is barely usable, though I have done some real-world wildlife shots at this speed. 1600 actually appears to be a usable speed with the 1D. Quite exciting performance.

Because I only had the camera for a few days I was constrained by the number of tests that I could perform. I'm also limited by space considerations on the site and my own time in performing and evaluating the results. I'm sure that in the weeks and months ahead other testers and reviewers will publish their own conclusions. I'll add links to them here when I become aware of them.

Banding

There has been much discussion on the Net since prototypes and pre-production cameras first started to appear about visual banding in smooth out-of-focus areas. I've spent some time shooting walls, the sky and other smooth and out of focus areas trying to see what others have reported. Very boring. No luck (or rather, good luck). I see no banding under any circumstances on the camera that I've been testing. That doesn't mean that it may not exist in other cameras. It either doesn't in the one I tested or I just can't see it. I don't think that this is something to worry about.

Dust

What I have seen though is dust on the imaging chip. I have seen more dust on the 1D's chip in 3 days than I have with the D30 in over 14 months. I haven't been particularly careful when changing lenses, but then I'm not with the D30 either. My attitude is that these are tools and not to be babied. If I constantly worry about keep lenses and body caps on to protect against dust then I'm not worrying about my photographs — a more productive subject for my concerns.

This may be an issue of CCD Vs. CMOS, with the D30's CMOS chip being far less prone to attracting dust than the CCD on the 1D. Nikon D1 and D1X owners are known to bemoan this problem as well. I've read it's caused by the different voltage potential that these chips generate. On the other hand there has been discussion that there is an additional filter in the D30 that helps keep dust away from the sensor. In any event, score one for the D30. 

Day 4

 

Comparisons with Other Cameras

My points of reference for this review have been the Canon EOS D30 and EOS 1V. But I've received a number of emails asking what I think of the 1D versus other 4-5 MP cameras — from point-and-shoots to the Nikon D1x. While I've used and have experience with a number of these I did not had any of them at hand during the 4 days of testing. What I will say though is that if anyone thinks that any of the $1,000 to $2,000 digital cameras can even come close to the 1D in image quality, let alone shooting capability, they are kidding themselves. They may have 5 megapixels, but these aren't the same sort of megapixels. The pixels in the Canon 1D are some 12X times larger than those in consumer cameras. This makes a huge difference in image quality. Enough said.

In Summary

My 4 days with the 1D are now over. The information on this page summarizes everything that I know about the 1D. Please don't ask me to test this or check that — the camera has now (regrettably) gone back to Canon.

I'll be the first to admit that this wasn't a terribly scientific evaluation. I'm a pragmatic photographer and teacher, not a professional equipment tester. My time with the camera was severely limited and I also never got the chance to use it on a real-world situation, such as the opportunity I had a week prior in Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge, where I shot more than 1,000 frames with the D30 in 3 days.

But, I've been doing this stuff for more than 30 years and I can usually tell pretty quickly when something smells right, or is off.

The Canon EOS 1D is definitely on! In fact, I can say with confidence that it is possibly the most enjoyable camera that I've ever used — and I've used a lot. In terms of fit and finish it is first rate. Handling is on a par with the finest cameras out there. Everything from autofocus to metering to user interface is from Canon's top drawer — which means that it's pretty much state-of-the-art.

On the digital side the camera produces some of the "nicest" digital files I've yet worked with. Working with 1D RAW files is like being handed a very clean, very neutral transparency. Not too much of anything to get in the way of your being able to fine-tune the image to your taste and satisfaction. "Tweakers" will love the fact that there's lots of room to experiment and customize. Busy pros will revel in the ability to pick up the camera and use it almost exactly as if it were the long-familiar 1V that they've been using for the past few years.

So, we come to the key questions. Should you buy one and if so why, and if not, why not? Also, will The Luminous Landscape be getting a 1D? Naturally no one can tell you how to spend your money, or what gear is needed to best suit your particular needs. Having said that, I'll give you my opinion anyway, and because a lot of readers are D30 owners I'll make your decision for you in that regard as well.

Cost is the critical factor. No one can consider whether or not they should buy this camera without factoring in the cost. If you can't afford it, or if you're a working pro and can't justify it as business expense, then the question of whether or not to get a 1D is academic at best. Assuming that you can afford it, and can justify the expense to either your spouse or accountant, here's my take.

There's no doubt that the 1D is worth the USD $5,500 or so that appears to be the initial street price. This makes it more than twice the price of a D30, or almost three times the price of an EOS 1V. The price comparison with the 1V is spurious because the film and processing savings alone will likely be recovered in a few months by an active pro. The question for many will be — is it worth the price of two D30s?

In terms of performance the answer has to be yes. The poor autofocus of the D30 is a real hindrance to anyone working with fast moving subjects or in low light conditions. The frame rates on the D30 aren't even on the same planet as the 1D. 8FPS for 21 frames in RAW mode is superb, and sports and wildlife photographers will be hocking their grandmothers to get this level of performance. If you need these capabilities then the contest is over before it starts. Get in line for a 1D.

In terms of image quality the call isn't that simple. The D30's image quality is very good indeed but the 1D's is better in many ways. Certainly the resolution is higher, and definitely the imaging chip has lower noise, especially at high ISO settings. But is it worth another $2,500? My sense is no, it isn't. The jump up in quality is in the order of 20% not 200%. Of course no one expects a linear relationship between price and quality. At this level of performance you pay a lot more for just a little more of what you're looking for.

There are other factors to keep in mind, some of which bear negatively on the 1D. One of these is battery life. Based on my experience, 200 frames is what you can expect in the real-world from a 1D battery pack. I regularly get 400-500 frames from a 2-battery set with the D30, even under cold conditions and using a lot of IS and AF. This makes the purchase of one and possible two extra NP-E3 battery packs a necessity, together with the increased bulk, weight and cost that this implies.

Another consideration is dust on the image sensor. With the D30 this isn't really an issue. With the 1D, as with its CCD brethren from other manufacturers, dust is going to be an on-going problem.

What About Me?

There appears to be a lot of interest in what I'll be doing. I suppose that this is in part because of the critical comments that I made when the 1D's specs were first announced. I was disappointed at the time that the 1D didn't have a 6MP full-frame CMOS chip. 

Let me say here that I'm ready to eat humble pie. I should have waited for a chance to test the 1D before knocking it. Now, having said that, let me also say that I'm still annoyed at Canon for not announcing their plans in this regard. There's no question in my mind that Canon will be bringing out a full frame 6MP or better CMOS version of the 1D. My guess is that they'll label it the 1C. This is the camera that I've been waiting for. I want a bigger image size, I want full frame, and I want truly exceptional image quality. Great battery life and minimal dust problems would also be nice. 

I can live with slower frame rates even though they're important for wildlife work — which is what I'll primarily use the camera for. I do believe that Canon needs to preannounce this camera — now. Since Canon will sell more 1D's than they can possibly manufacture, even at its current price, and regardless of whether or not they were to pre-announce the forthcoming CMOS version, where's the harm?. Those of us with big investments in Canon glass need to know where we're going, and roughly when. Common Canon — treat us like partners as well as customers, not adversaries.

So, when will it appear and at what price? Again, just a guess, but likely by summer 2002 and probably for even more money than the 1D. There's also almost certainly a less expensive replacement or brother camera to the D30 coming in 2002, but I have no firm information on this — just speculation on my part â�� but the competition is moving quickly and Canon will need to remain competitive.

As for me, I'll wait for the EOS 1C, or whatever it's called. $6,000 or more is a lot of money, but as good as the 1D is (and it's very good), it isn't perfect for my needs. For that kind of money I want as close to digital camera nirvana as I can reasonably get. Obviously you will need to make this decision for yourself, based on your professional needs and financial abilities.

I hope that you've found this review helpful. Let me know what you decide to do.

© 2001 Michael Reichmann
All Rights Reserved

Links

Digital Photography Review 

Imaging Resource Full Review

Canon Japan's EOS-1D Information Page 

Phil Greenspun's Preview

Todd Buchanan

P.F. Bentley

A report on a 30 day trip to New Zealand with a 1D done in January, 2002
by Bill Caulfield-Browne can be found here.

 

 

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