Canon EOS-1D X Mark II : X Factor Advantage

 
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is all set to make its mark with some impressive technology upgrades. The company’s latest flagship is also a pleasure to use, as K Madhavan Pillai finds out.

With the Rio Summer Olympics right around the corner, Canon timed the launch of their top-of-theline flagship, the EOS-1D X Mark II perfectly in time for photographers to upgrade. Within the Canon echelons and in practicality as well, the Mark II is a huge leap forward in one very significant way. It replaces not one, but two successful cameras which would otherwise have to be bought separately—the 1D X of course, and the videocentric 1D C.

In terms of usage, the 1D X Mark II caters to four specific types of photographers. It is meant for use in extreme conditions where other cameras would fail to deliver, for photographers who need that level of shooting speed, for those who need performance in very low light levels, and for those who want a camera that functions in either or all of the three conditions above and that also offers 4k and other video functionality.

Especially within moving, jolting vehicles, Live View comes exceptionally handy. I was particularly happy with the responsiveness of Live View AF. Exposure: 1/1250sec at f/8 (ISO 10,000). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Especially within moving, jolting vehicles, Live View comes exceptionally handy. I was particularly happy with the responsiveness of Live View AF. Exposure: 1/1250sec at f/8 (ISO 10,000). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Features
The new 20.2MP sensor may not be a jump in terms of resolution, but this is the first full frame sensor to feature Dual Pixel CMOS AF, for quick AF during live view shooting and video. With pixels on the imaging sensor dedicated to AF, it remains to be seen if the camera sacrifices some low light capability. The sensor also has the analogue to digital (AD) converter on the sensor dye, improving speed.

Burst shooting in stills is available at a blazing at 16fps, focus locked at first frame, or at 14fps (with AF), with a depth of 170 RAWs (provided you are using a CFast 2.0 card). In a first in Canon flagships, corrections for lens distortion and diffraction occuring on the fly too, apart from peripheral brightness and chromatic aberration correction. The Mark II also features a complete set of in-camera RAW processing tools, including Digital Lens Optimizer (earlier available on Canon’s DPP RAW workflow software).

The camera features a new 61-point AF system with 41 crosstype points, that provides a wider spread than before across the frame. Improving upon the earlier system significantly, all AF points are now compatible down to f/8 and focuses down to EV -3 for better low light performance. The Mark II also features alogrithms that work in conjunction with gyrosensors to detect the photographer’s movements even as the camera is being moved into position before AF locks. This lets the Mark II select the right focus point by identifying possible subjects with greater precision. All these advanced detection capabilities also sees the addition of Large Zone AF (first seen in the 7D Mark II) to previously available modes.

A new 3,60,000 pixel RGB+IR metering sensor graces the Mark II and contributes to the camera’s AF performance for both stills and video by enabling the camera to recognise situations more accurately and respond faster.

In a first for Canon DSLRs, the Mark II can now shoot video at 4k/60p or 1080/120p for slow motion. The rear LCD display is now a touch panel for improved video functionality. AF points can be easily selected during video recording. Focus can be quickly confirmed with a new still frame grab feature, wherein an 8.8MP still image can be selected and saved. First seen with Panasonic cameras, this feature has other advantages. If you think that 16fps is not good enough… shoot a 4k video at 60fps and extract an image as a still. Considering ISO in video recording is available till 12,800 in 4K (25,600 in Full HD), allowing perfectly sharp 4k still captures. The Mark II features uncompressed HDMI output for 1080p but, unfortunately, not for 4k, which is a rather big oversight.

In terms of features, almost every area of the EOS-1D X Mark II sees a change, making it a much improved camera from its predecessor, and a strong reason for photographers to upgrade.

Being able to use high ISO settings without the fear of losing detail allowed freedom with apertures and shutterspeeds. It enabled me to get the mood just right. Exposure: 1/1000sec at f/6.3 (ISO 8000). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Being able to use high ISO settings without the fear of losing detail allowed freedom with apertures and shutterspeeds. It enabled me to get the mood just right. Exposure: 1/1000sec at f/6.3 (ISO 8000). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Handling
Handling has always been Canon’s big advantage and this does not change. Users of the previous edition will feel right at home. Yet, there are a lot more features to be accessed in the Mark II over the Mark I, and this will take some getting used to. There are plenty of dedicated and customisable function buttons to go around that lets you customise handling to your preference.

There are also some nice additions. The Q button, for instance, brings up Video resolution when the Live View lever is on video. You can also customise the Quick Menu, including the size of menu options on the LCD. Live View shooting is a pleasure, thanks to Dual Pixel AF. The touchscreen adds to the ease of use here, by letting you assign AF points simply by tapping the area you need. Yet, you can’t use it to flick between images on playback.

If there was something I did not like, it would be the rather loud sound of the shutter and mirror slap. A burst of exposures in a quiet place is bound to startle people, let alone wildlife. For the most part, I ended up using the quiet mode, even if it meant a much slower frame rate. Other than this, handling, on the whole, is top notch for photographers across genres.

There is no dearth of detail captured by the sensor. As one would expect, noise makes an appearance when underexposed shadows are opened up. Exposure: 1/125sec at f/8 (ISO 5000). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

There is no dearth of detail captured by the sensor. As one would expect, noise makes an appearance when underexposed shadows are opened up. Exposure: 1/125sec at f/8 (ISO 5000). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Performance
The AF was spot on most of the time. Whenever I missed achieving the focus, I realised that I had the wrong AF area mode selected. Left on its own, with all settings at default, it rarely failed to lock correctly, unless there was a lot going on in the frame.

There were a few areas of performance that I thought were truly impressive. I was extremely happy with how the metering worked. It was rarely fooled even in the most tricky lighting situation, including the flicker of flourescent lamps. The second aspect was related to the first—in the rendition of accurate colours, exactly as they appeared. Over this, the in-camera picture modes did an admirable job in being able to deliver just the kind of colours I wanted from a scene.

Image quality is eventually the proof of the pudding. The sensor does a magnificent job. Despite a relatively modest resolution, files from the EOS-1D X Mark II could be enlarged to twice the size without losing much detail, especially below ISO 1600. Beyond that, the Mark II is certainly the best low light/high speed camera from Canon.

I noticed that the Mark II and Nikon D5 rendered images slightly differently… not so much that it would make a real world difference in results, but important enough to talk about. The Mark II has a higher bandwidth for recovering details than Nikon D5, but the D5 shows less chroma noise than Mark II till about ISO 3200. While the D5 shows slightly sharper RAWs, Mark II images sharpen beautifully in post. At ISO 25,600 and above, D5 images show more detail, but again, not in the manner that would make a big difference in print.

Conclusion
The performance of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is top notch right out of the box. AF, Live View AF, low light performance, speed, handling and overall image quality is excellent. As a tool meant for the highend pro, it offers the array of features and customisation that will get the job done.

This is not all that surprising considering that the Mark II is the tenth of the 1D series. It comes at a hefty price tag of Rs. 4,55,995 for the body. If you are the sort of professional who needs the Mark II, you will probably see the value in it.

Here comes the big question. How does the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II compare with the Nikon D5? Despite having tested both cameras, the honest answer is that I cannot really say because I have not had the cameras long enough from both manufacturers, nor have I had the chance to put both cameras together at the same time to compare them feature by feature. I do know this though… the practical differences will be small. In the field, it will not really matter.

If there is one area where you would consider Canon strongly over Nikon is in its video capabilities and Live View advantages. If video is critically important to your use, then the choice is quite clear.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
14fps, incredible ISO range, 4k/60p, 1080/120p
15/15
Performance
Exceptional autofocus, fantastic high ISO performance, colour rendition, metering
42/45
Build Quality
Robust magnesium alloy construction
20/20
Ergonomics
Mirorred controls for vertical/horizontal grip
13/15
Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, wide service network
4/5
MRP Rs 4,55,995 (body only)
OVERALL 94%
VALUE FOR MONEY 4/5
Who should buy it? Any photographer invested into Canon as a system, who needs speed, AF performance and low light capabilities, and requires advanced video capabilities.
Why? The EOS-1D X Mark II comes from a long line of tried and tested cameras. In terms of technology, features and performance, it is a pathbreaking DSLR.
Tags: Review, Canon, K Madhavan Pillai, better photography, August 2016, Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, 1DX