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Canon EOS-1D X, the new gladiator

Field test

I managed to get Canon EOS-1D X camera for testing even twice. I could catch the first test product back in May from Canon Hungary, and later in August I could try out its final commercial version thanks to Camera Ltd, so I had the chance to check out thoroughly what this “monster” knows. After a nerve-wrecking waiting - the launch was announced more than a year ago - 1D X eventually has been launched on the market but still only the lucky ones had the chance to photograph with it. After the launch announcement lots of questions left unanswered about the capabilities of the camera body.
Photo: © Tamás Imre

Canon EOS-1D X, EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM 1/3200 sec f/4 ISO 500

First impressions

I could try out the first test version under very strict conditions, I had to sign lots of legal statements. A few copies of them were out in Formula 1 races and at that time some of them crashed and there were some other difficulties too, but thanks God I received a test version without any fault. The body looked like a real monster at first sight, it seemed to be quite heavy in hand but I was happy with that as more robust a body, the better the grip. What immediately struck me was the plus joystick by the grip, it is very useful for still images as I can easily choose focal points.

Canon’s first full frame body

The body has a brand new shape, increased attention was paid to the fact that the main functions can be managed even with gloves on. The 1D X is Canon’s revolutionary fullframe body, with 18.1-megapixel resolution and a staggering 12 fps rate in RAW format. So far, there has been no such body in Canon’s palette which is made to satisfy the needs of photographer up to the maximum. The biggest innovation is the menu system conversion and the 61-point auto focus.
Photo: © Tamás Imre

Canon EOS-1D X, EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM 1/1600 sec f/4.5 ISO 500
Redesigned AF and menu system: The day before testing I went through the menu system and the new auto focus system thoroughly. Lucky for me the Canon EOS 5D Mark III auto focus and menu system work completely on the same basis, so it was not that strange, as it seemed in December at a Canon demonstration. The menu is only slightly different from the EOS 5D Mark III, but the user’s functions can be personalized in more detail. Since the launch of Canon EOS 1D Mark III I has been rather skeptical about a redesigned AF. So first we should look through what the 61-point crosstype AF sensor can be used for as it is radically different from its predecessors. Spot AF: here we can obtain a spot auto focus, in which an AF point can be selected out of 61. The system is weighted in this area, but it adjusts focus with the help of the surrounding points.
A single AF point: here literally a single AF point works which does not take into account the surrounding points, we can set them anywhere by manual selection.
AF point extension: here we can extend the AF points, making a total of nine AF points, below, beside and above the points are also taken into account and the focus is adjusted according to them, the selection can be done in any direction, even according to the trisection rules.
AF-zone: Twelve focal points can be selected in the immediate vicinity of each other in any zone within the 61 selectable focus area.
61-point automatic AF: here any of the 61 AF points can be sharpened and it can even be transferred in tracking AF mode through the transverse system.
AI servo (followed by AF): The biggest innovation of the AI servo system is the graphical menu system of the tracking AF which significantly speeds up the exact focusing. Let’s see how it works. The first pictogram shows a running figure: it is a versatile, multi-purpose setting designed for irregular movements. The second one shows a tennis player figure: it continues the focus-track even when the subject momentarily moves from the AF points and ignores contrasted obstacles in the foreground or background. The third is an instant, lightning-fast focus: when a main subject moves into the AF points, such as a bicycle, racing car or flying bird, etc. The fourth shows a footballer: focus track subjects that accelerate or decelerate quickly. The fifth AF focus on subjects with erratic movements such as a bird flying up and down, a skating man or any subject which moves erratically. The sixth one focuses on subjects with erratic movements and changes in speed: This system manages a quite complicated algorithm, it perfectly catches subjects with irregular movement and speed. That’s not all, within the menu points we can also set tracking sensitivity and accelerate or decelerate tracking and switch AF points automatically. It may seem a bit too much at first but it can be set comfortably during work. Which one to use? It mainly depends on the subject. Everybody has to learn by experience which setting is the most suitable for the given theme.


An extremely high-speed exposure is possible. The fifth generation Digic 5 processors, already known from Canon EOS 5D Mark III, work inside the camera. The soul of the camera is the 18.1-megapixel full frame CMOS image sensor which rips at 12 picture/sec speed up to 36 RAW pictures and does not slow down until the exposure of 50-60 pictures, only after then can be sensed the speed subsided. If you do not need the RAW format, then the speed can be increased even up to 14 picture/sec super high speed, up to 120 big-sized JPEG pictures. Of course, for this you need a SanDisk Extreme Pro UDMA 7 card. In case you use a slower card, the speed of the series can be slightly lower, but the quality is credibly good. This is the first time we have met that speed at full frame cameras in Canon’s palette. Unbelievable – I even could not see the scenes what the camera recorded at the moment of the exposure! We will make spectacular pictures in the future with such a camera.
Photo: © Tamás Imre

Canon EOS-1D X, EF400mm f/2.8L IS USM +1.4x 1/1600 sec f/5.6 ISO 800

Image quality

Image quality and ISO sensitivity are the most important factors to choose a camera, and this is a real battlefield among companies. Above all, my Hungarian photographer friends’ first question was: What about the ISO sensitivity, what are the boundaries of the camera? The results are as follows. I worked in the field, in natural light conditions. The results of the ISO sensitivity test: there is no difference between ISO 100 and ISO 400, it did not matter which one I used, of course, I did not try it in studio. A slight noise appears between ISO 500 and ISO 800, but the factory setting corrects it nicely (at high ISO range noise reduction setting). I got usable, excellent pictures. At ISO 1600 I had to look for the noise, but I hardly find any.
But here comes the deepwater what everyone is curious about: hardly noisy at ISO 3200 but checking the DPP Luminance Noise Reduction the light noise was at 7, Chrominance Noise Reduction was at 9 with the factory settings and the quality of the image was incredibly good. I became enthusiastic after the first results, so I had big expectations for the ISO 6400 picture: wow, it is good too, moreover, better than I expected. Cameras used to fail at this point. In my opinion, to see an ISO 6400 picture on a 100x70 cm print is quite something! Oh my God, remember when we suffered with an ISO 50 Fuji Velvia! The technological advancement is dizzying. The ISO 12.800 is a bit noisy but not rough, the fine details got lost, however, by setting DPP Luminance Noise Reduction at 09 and Chrominance Noise Reduction at 11 we can get quite acceptable pictures, although these can be enjoyable at size A4 the maximum. The ISO 25.600 is rather noisy, but with a stronger filtering it can be OK for a family album or for smaller press photos. I think the ISO 51.200 does not meet the professional quality standard. The funny thing is that about 6 or 8 years ago the ISO 1600 looked the same as the ISO 51.600 now. We can achieve fantastic results by a full frame professional body at high, 18.1-megapixel resolution

Out in the field

I tested the bodies in various situations. In Rétszilas, Hungary, at a drained fishing lake I was lucky to photograph from a hide. Here I used a Canon EF 400 mm f/2,8 L IS USM lens, on Induro tripod and from a glassed-in hide. The conditions: cloudy weather, filtered light, I worked between ISO 800 – ISO 2000.
The great white egrets and the grey herons kept fishing the bigger and bigger fish out of the drained lake, it was a fantastic feeling to take pictures of them. The camera settings: Picture Style Standard, AF AI Servo and AF menu was set on Zona AF. 90 percent of the pictures were razor sharp. The most amazing scene was when a great egret wanted to catch a fish, I was on it and shot before the moment of the strike. The bird caught the fish in a split second and flew to the left immediately as another heron disturbed it. The whole scene happened in 4 or 5 seconds. I took 46 RAW pictures altogether, all of them were sharp and about 20 of them usable. Wow, I have been waiting for this for about ten years! I still have my Canon EOS 1VHs film camera, that was just that quick and exact. I photographed birds, cormorants and mallards, at the City Park of Budapest too. I used an equipment of Canon EF 300 mm f/2,8 L IS USM with the 1D X there. I expose from the hand at AF Al Servo setting and I selected the erratic movement graphical menu point besides the 61-point AF. The result was very good, about 80 percent of the pictures were sharp. I put it down to the handheld shooting but I had to try it as there are certain themes which cannot be photographed from a tripod. The cormorant flying up from the water surfaces was razor sharp, and when two mallards started to fight, I managed to catch all the 12 pictures sharply in the storm of the water drops. I did not video with the camera, but if I ever have the chance, I promise to give an account of it.


Canon EOS -1D X is an out-and-out professional camera body. A new gladiator has born and it must be a man indeed who wants to defeat it. It is a must for professional sports photographers and also for action nature photographers. Its price is quite hefty, but you have to pay for professionalism.
The camera body was provided by Canon Hungary and by Camera Ltd.
Tester: Tamás Imre
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