DSLR Training - Reviews

Canon EOS 1D MkIV

Introduction

Canon announced the new 1D MkIV on the 20th October 2009. We all waited with great anticipation for this new body to arrive in December 2009. It didn’t, I got mine on the 11th January 2010. I was very excited to test the new body, especially after the debacle with the focusing of the 1D Mk III.

So, before I get to the results, and I must add preliminary results, as I have not had too much time to test the body, let’s look at what is new or better according to Canon. Once again, I am not going to comment on the video capabilities.

  1. New 16.1 Mega Pixel (16MPixel) CMOS APS-H image sensor. My first thought when I read the specs was again Noise, Noise, Noise! The 1D MkIII noise level was acceptable up to ISO 1600; anything above became too noisy, and unusable over 3200. Now the new sensor can go up to ISO 102400???? I don’t think you will get anything good at that ISO.
  2. New completely redesigned AF system. Yes, we need this! Plus the expansion of cross hair focusing points from 19 sensors on the MkIII to 39 on the MkIV. I like this, but only sensitive with f2.8 lenses and a handful of f4.0 lenses which does not include the 500mm f4.0 or 600mm f4.0. What amazes me is that they can design the 7D with 19 cross hair AF points sensitive with lenses at maximum aperture of f5.6 or brighter, but when it comes to the Pro body, they only do it with lenses f2.8 or brighter!. Maybe I don’t understand the technology, and maybe the vertical hairs at f5.6 are better than the 7 D’s cross hair at f5.6, will have to see when we test how good the outside focusing points are. Something that comes from the 7D, Orientation linked AF point, a big thumbs up as it saves time and reduces missed photo opportunities. Another 7D function is spot focus which enables you to reduce the area of the focus point that is used to focus with, enabling you to focus very accurately on your subject if you have distracting objects close to your subject like grass in front of an animal, BUT, this option is only available if your lens has the AF stop button on. What’s up Canon, on the 7D, this option is on the M-Fn button, why is it not selectable with the FEL button on the MkIV so that it can be used with all lenses?? Ooops, I know, because it is allocated for Quick Start Movie recording. Not too difficult to add spot focus to this option as well (C.Fn IV Operation/Others – Start movie shooting)
  3. Metering – 63 zone:
    The same as the MkIII. No problem with that, just interesting that the new IFCL metering, that is used in the 7D, was not incorporated. Canon has also improved the auto-flash algorithm to prevent flash over-exposure, a much needed improvement.
  4. Controls:
    No new buttons but Canon has made most of the buttons stand out more with shorter strokes. What is really disappointing is that there is not an independent button for Live View/Video as on the 7D. They also have added a playback speaker on the back of the camera and a microphone in the front for video recording. On the side of the camera they have added a HDMI slot and a microphone input replaces the old video out socket. The system extension terminal cover is now also attached to the camera body.

TEST RESULTS

So, let us look at the tests.

ISO

Studio test
Below are images photographed in the studio. The tests were done as follows:
  1. Camera was mounted on a 70-200 f2.8L IS USM lens which, in turn, is mounted on a sturdy tripod and ball head.
  2. We used Mirror Lock-up and a cable release to trigger the shutter.
  3. The camera settings were as follows:
    • Quality: RAW
    • Color space: Adobe RGB
    • Picture Styles: Neutral (Zero sharpening)
    • Firmware: 1.06
  4. We photographed a chart that we got in the back of one of Scott Kelby’s books. The reason for using this chart is that it has nice shades of grey to black. Remember noise is easily detected in the darker areas.
  5. The images were viewed in DPP 3.7.3 and any Noise reduction was removed and no sharpening was applied. The view you are going to look at is a portion of the Actual Pixels (100%) of the RAW image.
  6. Out of experience, the moment you notice any noise in the studio shot the image will be very noisy in the field.
  7. We have also showed the ISO from ISO 400 and above as all the cameras that were used give excellent low noise images from ISO 400 and below.

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 25600

ISO 51200

ISO 102400
 
Field test

Below are images photographed in the field, it usually tells a complete different story than the studio images. Here, you clearly will see how the noise stands out, and again we have only taken images from ISO 400 above and did not bother to go higher than ISO 6400. The thought here was that the MkIII could not cope with anything higher than ISO 3200 so we limited our field test to ISO 6400, in hindsight, a mistake and you will see later on why.

The camera settings and process of the images were as follows:
  1. The camera settings were as follows:
    • Quality: RAW
    • Color space: Adobe RGB
    • Picture Styles: Neutral (Zero sharpening)
    • Camera Firmware: 1.04

    Quite an important point as Canon has upgraded the firmware to 1.06 after the field test. Yes, the firmware upgrade has got to do with focusing and not ISO but it is important to note that some tests were done at the old firmware and some tests were done with the new firmware.

  2. The images were viewed in DPP 3.7.3 and any Noise reduction was removed. The view you are going to look at is a portion of the Actual Pixels (100%) of the RAW image.

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400
 
Conclusion on ISO

Remember what Canon has done here to the MkIV, they have increased the amount of pixels from 10Mpixel to 16Mpixel making the individual pixel size smaller from 7.2m on the MkIII to 5.7m on the MkIV. This should increase digital noise, but as we have seen, the MkIV’s noise to me is the same as the MkIII’s noise at the same ISO and better with the additional pixels, is it better than Nikon’s D3S? I don’t know and I will have the opportunity of checking that within the next week or so, BUT, I need to add once again we are not comparing apples with apples as the D3S is a full frame sensor and only has 12MPixels. The only exception I have noticed is that the MkIV’s noise was slightly higher on ISO3200 than that of the 1DMkIII. Although Canon claim that the MkIV can photograph at an ISO 102400 the images are totally unusable, anything above ISO 25600 is not usable even if you apply the suggested noise reduction in DPP the image becomes soft and will maybe only be usable in very low-resolution reproduction and nothing more. See examples below:

  1. The camera settings were as follows:
    • Quality: RAW
    • Color space: Adobe RGB
    • Picture Styles: Neutral (Zero sharpening)
    • High ISO speed noise reduction: DisabledN1
    • Camera Firmware: 1.06N2

    N1 Note that when you select the Noise reduction to be disabled, the Noise reduction is not zero but at the lowest setting. When using DPP, noise removal will always take place unless you remove the settings manually yourself in DPP.

    N2 Note that these test images were shot with the new Firmware 1.06 installed.

  2. The images were viewed in DPP 3.7.3. The view you are going to look at is a portion of the Actual Pixels (100%) of the RAW image.

ISO Conclusion
 

After doing these tests you realize how good the noise is on this camera!!! Look at the ISO numbers we are talking about, ISO 12800 who would have thought that you can photograph a usable image at that ISO 12800 and not only usable but you can print it up to 15 x 10 inches and have a very good print. I will never suggest that you photograph at those ISO’s but, for sport photographers under floodlights ISO 6400 – ISO 10000 will give you a very good image. What is very important when you are going to photograph at these ISO’s is that your backgrounds needs to be nice and light, the moment the backgrounds go darker the noise becomes much more evident.

Focus

Now we are coming to the main problem that the MkIII had, inconsistent focus, even with static subjects and not good at all with moving subjects. We derived two tests here, one for static subjects and one for moving subjects.

Static Subject

Let's look at the static subject, and what we wanted to see is if the focus point focuses at the point where you aim the focus point and, how does the different assist focusing points influence the main focusing point. For the static test we printed a test chart from Norman Koren at http://www.normankoren.com. The chart is really to test lens resolution but we thought that this gives you a very nice chart with clear black and white lines that will create ample contrast to focus on. We used a Canon 400 f2.8L IS USM lens on a sturdy tripod with a Wimberley head.

  1. The camera settings was as follows:
    • Quality: RAW
    • Color space: Adobe RGB
    • Picture Styles: Neutral (Zero sharpening)
    • Camera Firmware: 1.04
  2. The images were viewed in DPP 3.7.3. The thumbnail will show the image plus the focusing point used and the enlarged view is a portion of the Actual Pixels (100%) of the RAW image where the focusing point was aimed at.
    • The exposure was 1/250 at f5.6 at ISO 400.
    • Both Auto Focus modes were used namely One Shot and AI Servo

We are not going to include all the test images, there is just too many, but you will get an idea of how the test was conducted and we will show the problem areas.

 

The above images show the use of all 45 focusing points, and you can see that the camera selected the centre focusing point to focus with. In all the other tests where we used the centre focusing point, see combinations below, the camera focused perfectly on the spot without any hesitation or hunting and was not distracted by any of the expanded focusing points (in both One Shot Focus and AI Servo Focus).

  • All 45 focusing points (Automatic selection)
  • Manually selected centre point with:
    1. Expanded with all 45 AF points area (CFn III 8-3)
    2. Expanded with surround AF points (CFn III 8-2)
    3. Expanded with left/right AF points (CFn III 8-1)

This sounds quite obvious, but remember what Canon says about using expanded focusing points and I quote, “If the manually-selected AF point cannot achieve focus, focus can be achieved with one of the adjacent (expanded) AF points”. This means that the manually selected focusing point must be used first to achieve focus and if the manually selected focusing point cannot achieve focus only then will the expanded focusing points search for focus. Out of experience with earlier models and with smaller bodies (entry level and semi-pro bodies) the camera will focus with the closest expanded focusing point ignoring the selected focusing point. In the case of the MkIV we did not get any such results with the centre point, so we thought, until we did a closer inspection on the images.

In the next set of tests we checked the outside focusing points. See thumbnails below:


Bottom AF Point

Top AF Point

Left AF Point

Right AF Point
 

Here the bottom and top focusing points worked perfectly (the first two images from the left). When it came to the left focusing point (third image from the left) we had poor results. The right focusing point (far right image) gave us mixed results. We will deal with them separately; when we used only the left focusing point without any expansion, the focusing hunted and it eventually achieved some sort of focus as you can see from the image below the focus was not accurate, the focus is in front of the target, and it did it with both focusing modes:


Left AF Point
 

When we added expansion to the left focusing point the result was as follow:

  1. Expanded with all 45 AF points area (CFn III 8-3), focused achieved but with the same result as with no expansion.
  2. Expanded with surround AF points (CFn III 8-2), hunted very badly and achieved focus eventually with one of the expanded focusing points, see image below:

    Left AF Point - no expansion
     
  3. Expanded with left/right AF points (CFn III 8-1), focused achieved but with the same result as with no expansion.

We experienced the same problems with the right focusing point but with less severity. When we used only the right focusing point without any expansion the camera hunted slightly and achieved focus. See images below, the first image is with One Shot Focus and you can see that the focused area is in front of the target. The second image is with AI Servo and the focused area is within the target area:


One Shot Focus


AI Servo

When we added expansion to the right focusing point the result was as follows:

  1. Expanded with all 45 AF points area (CFn III 8-3), the same behavior as no expansion with the same result.
  2. Expanded with surround AF points (CFn III 8-2), the same behavior as no expansion with the same result.
  3. Expanded with left/right AF points (CFn III 8-1), the same behavior as no expansion with the same result.

So, with added expansion we did not get faster focus, the camera hunted slightly and then achieved focus with mixed results between One Shot Focus and AI Servo Focus. With the left focusing point, we never achieved focus on the targeted area. This made us wonder if there was a problem with the chart that the left and right focusing points struggled and with none of the others. So we moved the chart so that the right focusing point can focus on the area where we did the centre-focusing test, and then did the same with the right focusing point. See thumbnails below:

The result was that with both focusing points left and right, and with all three expanded options, instantaneous and accurate focus was achieved. So, we moved the chart so that we can focus with the centre focusing point on the original positions of the left and right focusing points. Will we achieve fast and accurate focus from the centre point? Well, here is the results see thumbnails below for the positioning of the centre focusing point, the left thumbnail shows the centre focusing point in the original left focusing points position and the thumbnail on the right shows the centre focusing point in the original right focusing point:

Let’s deal with the left image first, remember this is the one where the left focusing point was on originally and the left focusing point really struggled, not once did the left focusing point hit the target. So this is what the centre point did without any expansion:

The focus was achieved immediately but the same as the left focusing point in front of the target. When we added expansion to the centre focusing point the results was as follows:

  1. Expanded with all 45 AF points area (CFn III 8-3), achieved focus immediately but used a different focusing point.
  2. Expanded with surround AF points (CFn III 8-2), achieved focus but the result was exactly the same as the above result with the 45 AF points expansion.
  3. Expanded with left/right AF points (CFn III 8-1), achieved focus with the same result as if you did not have any expansion on, meaning used the centre point but the focus was in front of the targeted area.

Let’s look what the centre focusing point did when we put it on the original right focusing points spot. Centre point without expansion:

And the answer is spot on!! With expansion we got the following results:

  1. Expanded with all 45 AF points area (CFn III 8-3), hunted slightly and then achieved focus the same as if there was no expansion.
  2. Expanded with surround AF points (CFn III 8-2), hunted slightly and then achieved focus the same as if there was no expansion.
  3. Expanded with left/right AF points (CFn III 8-1), hunted slightly and then achieved focus the same as if there was no expansion.

The last test we then did was to use spot focus and we did again with the centre point, top, bottom, right and left focusing points, see thumbnails below:

 

All the focusing was achieved immediately with no hunting, and once again centre, top and bottom was spot on without any problem. The right focusing point was also within the target area but towards the bottom of the focusing point. The left focusing point had about 50 % of the target in the bottom part of the focusing point and the other 50% is below and outside the focusing point, but much better than any of the other tests above.

See the three images below; the left image is the left focusing point, centre image the centre focusing point and the right image the right focusing point:

 
Conclusion on Static Subject Focus

The centre, top and bottom focusing points worked perfectly, but we suspect it is because the target areas were very easy to pick up without any distraction around the target area. The left and right focusing points struggled as well as the centre focusing point when we moved it to the more complex target areas and, we suspect, if we moved the top and bottom points to the same area we would have had the same inconsistent results. The obvious question now is why did this happen? Well one of Canon’s problems always was that focus will always be achieved on the closest subject, meaning if I use all 45 focusing points and focus on a subject with lots of contrast, focus will be achieved on the closest point, and it will even override the more sensitive centre point. That was the reason why I gave you that quote from Canon earlier. Now with the tests it looks like they sorted the problem, especially when we moved the centre point to the more complex area, the centre focusing point could not achieve focus, hunted and then used one of the expanded points, as what Canon’s statements says. BUT why, when we use the more complex area, is all the focusing achieved in front of the target area? The only explanation I have is two fold, one the old problem of focusing on the closest contrast area the focusing system can find and secondly the NEW LONGER FOCUSING HAIRS. The combination of the above two reasons makes a lot of sense, especially if you look at what happened when we used the Spot Focus option, remember the Spot Focus reduces the size of the focusing hair. Have a look at the diagram below:

See also below a side-by-side comparison of the left focusing point normal without any expansion (on the left) vs. the left focusing point with Spot AF activated (on the right).

 

Above you can see that both focusing points achieved focus but the focus is in front of the targeted area, spot focus (right image) less than the normal mode. For those of us that do wildlife photography (long focal length lenses close to your subject) and for those photographers that work with very shallow DOF take note of this problem. When you think that there is a chance that the focus point can be influenced by a nearby distraction use the Spot Focus. I also suggest that you select your focus points manually and only use surround expansion (CFn III 8-2) when you really need too and if your subject is parallel to you. I feel more comfortable with the left/right expansion (CFn III 8-1) than the surround. Stay away from the 45-point expansion (CFn III 8-3) as it focuses on anything it can find. See two field images below shot right after each other, although the centre focusing point is on the Hippo the focus first focused on the water next to the Hippo and the next image on the grass bank at the back.

 

We need to do many more tests on the focus expansion in the field and also remember these tests were done with the old firmware 1.04.

Moving Subject

For the second test, a moving subject, to test the tracking ability of the focusing system, we came up with a test to minimize “operator” error. So many people say that a camera does not focus properly and lots of time, it is the photographer and not the camera. We printed black and white diagonal lines on a canvas that was in turn glued on a board. The board was then mounted on the bulbar of our Landrover. My wife and a friend then drove at 40km/h towards me whilst I photographed the board. The first image was taken from around 70m from the camera and the last image will be around 6m from the camera. The tests were done with three lenses namely a Canon 400 f2.8 L IS USM and the 600 f4.0 L IS USM and the 100-400 f4-f5.6 L IS USM lens at 400mm to see how the camera copes with a maximum aperture of f5.6. The camera was supported on a Gitzo 1648 Carbon Fiber tripod with a Wimberley. The camera settings were as follows:

    • Quality: RAW/Jpeg
    • Color space: Adobe RGB
    • Picture Styles: Neutral (Zero sharpening)
    • Camera Firmware: 1.04 & 1.06
    • Focusing mode AI Servo and Drive Mode 4fps for RAW and 10fps for Jpeg. The reason for the slow frame rate in RAW was that we wanted to test the tracking over the entire distance and a faster frame rate will fill the buffer too quickly.
    • The centre focusing point was used with the different expansion options
    • All images were photographed at ISO 200 or 400
    • Apertures wide open and Shutter speeds always above 1/1000sec
  1. The images were viewed in DPP 3.7.3. The thumbnail will show the image plus the focusing point used and the enlarged view is a portion of the Actual Pixels (100%) of the RAW image where the focusing point was aimed at.

Before I come to the results I need to explain the different Custom Functions that were used:

  1. CFn III: 3 AI Servo First/2nd Image Priority. There are four options in this custom function, see below:
  1. The last option (3) has been added again, this option was available in the older 1D series but was not available in the MkIII. We used two of the options namely CFnIII: 3-0 and 3-3. The reason for this was that both options prioritize focus and not drive speed.
  2. CFn III: 4 AI Servo tracking method. There are only two options namely:
    0- Main focus priority
    1- Continuous AF tracking priority
    This custom function deals with how the focusing must react when another subject obstructs the subject you are focusing on, must the focus now change to the new subject (0) or must the focusing continue with the original subject (1). For wildlife I have mine always on CFnIII: 4-1. The other impact this custom function has is on CFnIII: 2 (AI Servo tracking sensitivity) and CFnIII: 8 (AF Expansion with selected point). They all interlink and can override or disable one another depending on your combination. We used both the functions CFnIII: 4-0 and 4-1.
  3. CFn III: 8 AF Expansion with selected point. We used in the test 8-0 (Disabled, meaning no expansion), 8-1 (Left/Right AF point) and 8-2 (Surrounding AF points). We did not use 8-3 (All 45 points area).
Conclusion on Moving Subject Focus

See below an example of the test, once again we are not going to show all the results because we took over 1750 images.


Moving Subject Focus - Gallery

After the first test, and that was with the old Firmware 1.04 we were rather disappointed with the cameras tracking ability. The results were better than the MkIII’s results but not a massive improvement. We then loaded the new firmware 1.06 and did all the tests again. Now Canon’s statement about the new firmware and I quote “will improve the camera's performance when tracking receding subjects and subjects that are approaching the camera slowly”. I did not think our subject is “approaching the camera slowly”, in fact we chose the 40km/h approach speed because Canon claims and I quote again “with an EF 300mm f2.8L IS USM lens, the EOS-1D Mark IV can track a subject approaching at 50 km/h up to about 8 meters”, so we thought using the 400 lens we will reduce the speed. The results of the next set of tests were much better, but we still got mixed results. We then analyzed the results and with all the different custom function combinations and then selected the two best settings. Here is then the final results and remember the percentages we have allocated to the tests is only for our specific test and not a general statement. The camera also struggled to focus accurately on the test board when the vehicle was still far from us (70 – 80 meters), but once it locked on the test board from about 50 meters the results were consistently very high. See below the results for the entire distance 80 meters – 8 meters.

  1. Custom Function set-up:
    • CFnIII: 3-0
    • CFnIII: 4-1
    • CFnIII: 8-0
    With the 400 f2.8 L IS USM lens: 59.0% accurate
    With the 600 f4.0 L IS USM lens: 58.7% accurate
    With the 100 – 400 f4.0 -5.6 L IS USM lens: 25.7% accurate
  2. Custom Function set-up:
    • CFnIII: 3-0
    • CFnIII: 4-1
    • CFnIII: 8-1
    With the 400 f2.8 L IS USM lens: 61.4% accurate
    With the 600 f4.0 L IS USM lens: 39.2% accurate
    With the 100 – 400 f4.0 -5.6 L IS USM lens: 28.6% accurate

As you can see, some major accuracy problems with the 100-400 f4.0-5.6 L IS USM lens with both Custom Setting combinations and with the 600 f4.0 L IS USM lens when we used Left/Right expansion. Why, we have no idea!! The next step is to do the same tests with 1.4x converter on the 400 f2.8 L IS USM lens and on the 600 f4.0 L IS USM.

The above numbers are meaningless if you do not compare them so here are the results of the 1DMkIII and we did only use the 400 f2.8 L IS USM lens, results as with the other lenses results were even worse:

 
  1. Custom Function set-up:
    • CFnIII: 3-0
    • CFnIII: 4-1
    • CFnIII: 8-0
    With the 400 f2.8 L IS USM lens: 18.5% accurate
  2. Custom Function set-up:
    • CFnIII: 3-0
    • CFnIII: 4-1
    • CFnIII: 8-1
    With the 400 f2.8 L IS USM lens: 29.5% accurate

So in conclusion, there is a dramatic improvement in AI Servo focus performance on the MkIV over the MkIII, but I need to mention, when we used the old 1D MkII, yes MkII not the MkIIN, the MkII performed at the same level as the MkIV!!!

 

Resolution

I am not going to say much about the 1DMkIV resolution; I will let the images do the talking. At low ISO’s in comparison with the 7D and 5DMKII it is very good, yes the 5DMkII is better, BUT when you move to anything above ISO 1600 the MkIV kicks .... big time!!!


Resolution - Gallery
 

General

We have not tested a flash to see how the new Auto Flash algorithm works but will do so shortly and add our views to this document. Canon also improved the buttons on the body, see image below.


Exterior Layout

One problem that we encountered with the new buttons were on the vertical grip, when you are photographing in landscape format ,the outside of your hand can accidently press against the AE lock button on the vertical grip and, because the button now stands further out with a shorter stroke, it easily locks your exposure whilst you’re photographing, especially when tracking a subject from right to left. This happened several times to me in one morning tracking a Fish Eagle fishing.

Final Conclusion

Obviously we are going to do more field tests, but our first impression of the camera is that it still has some focusing issues on static subjects; the tracking focus has improved dramatically if you compare it against the 1D MkIII, but it is not better than the old 1D MkII. The most impressive about the camera is its noise on ISO’s up to ISO 12800. If you are a 1D MkIII owner I will not hesitate in recommending the 1D MkIV. If you are a 1D MkII or MkIIN owner you will be blown away by the resolution and ISO’s of the MkIV. If you are waiting for the ultimate camera, meaning perfect focus, exceptional resolution and low low noise then you maybe need to hang on for a little longer, because the MkIV is not that yet!!