It’s been around ten months since the Canon EOS-1D X was first announced to the world, and since then a number of release dates have come and gone with no sign of Canon’s hotly anticipated pro-spec DSLR. Thankfully, the wait is now over and the camera is now available to buy. At around £5300 for the body only though, the 1D X is very much a serious tool designed for professional use. As such, it’s not a camera that will appeal to everyone, but for those looking for a top-end pro-grade DSLR, the 1D X looks, on paper at least, to have plenty to offer.
Broadly speaking Canon’s top-end, professional-grade DSLRs have generally fallen into one of two camps in the past. There have been the high resolution full-frame models – such as the 21MP EOS-1Ds Mark III – that have traditionally found favour with studio-based photographers, and there have also been the more performance orientated APS-H sensor models – such as the 10fps EOS-1D Mark IV – that professional news and sports photographers have tended to use. Essentially, the 1D X represents an attempt by Canon to bring the two strands together to deliver a single high-resolution, full-frame DSLR that’s also fast enough to be used by speed-craving photojournalists and sports shooters. So how does it stand up? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
The 1D X is built around a full-frame CMOS imaging sensor that delivers an 18MP of effective resolution. The term ‘full-frame’ refers to the physical size of the sensor, and basically means that it is the same size (and therefore contains the same surface area) as a single frame from a 35mm strip of film. This means that the sensor of the 1D X measures in at 36 x 24mm, whereas the APS-H chip found inside the 1D Mark IV measures 27.6 x 18.6mm.
One reason manufacturers such as Canon have, in the past, tended to use slightly smaller sensors with less overall resolution for their more performance-orientated professional DSLRs is that the image files they produce are significantly smaller in size, which in turn makes them faster to process. This has enabled Canon (and other camera manufacturers) to boost the continuous shooting speeds of these cameras well above what their high-resolution, full-frame models were capable of. However, as the saying goes: that was then and this is now. In recent years technology has caught up and image processors have become much more powerful, which in turn means they can crunch more data in less time so that large image files are no longer quite the obstacle to speedy shooting that they once were.
To this end the 1D X employs not one but two of Canon’s latest DIGIC 5 image processors. The DIGIC 5 is essentially a more powerful version of the standard DIGIC 5 chip and is currently the most powerful processer that Canon makes. Those unable to afford the 1D X’s not inconsiderable price tag might be interested to note that the prosumer EOS-5D Mk III also benefits from having a DIGIC 5 on board – although the 5D Mark III only gets one DIGIC 5 chip, as opposed to the 1D X’s two.
The 1DX’s twin DIGIC 5 processors give it plenty of power to crunch through image data, including lossless Raw image files, which in turn allows the camera to offer an extremely fast burst rate of 12fps in standard mode – or 14fps in Super High Speed mode (JPEG capture only). This makes the 1D X one the fastest DSLR’s on the market, fractionally quicker even than its nearest rival – the 11fps Nikon D4.
Staying with performance for a moment, the 1D X is also able to offer one of the widest sensitivity ranges of any camera, with a standard ISO range of 100-51,200. This can be further expanded to the equivalent of ISO 50 at the low end, and ISO 204,800 in the H2 setting. This gives the 1D X a two-stop advantage over the 1D Mark IV. Metering is taken care of by Canon’s 100,000-pixel RGB AE metering system with evaluative, partial, spot or center-weighted metering modes all offered. Should you need to make your own adjustments then exposure compensation can be set to /-5 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments, with auto bracketing offering a /-3 EV range for 2,3,5 or 7 shots.
The 1D X’s AF system is almost identical to the one used by the EOS-5D Mk III and benefits from a total of 61 AF-points, 41 of which are cross-type sensors for faster and more accurate focusing regardless of whether the camera is being held in portrait of landscape orientation. In addition the five most central AF points are of the dual-cross type for even more accuracy. The camera offers a range of AF modes including user defined single-point AF, automatic AF and AF tracking.
Being a professional-grade DSLR, there are no frivolous shooting modes or built-in digital filters, although the full suite of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and fully Manual (PASM) exposure modes are all present and correct. Video capture is also supported to a maximum quality setting of 1080p Full HD at 30, 25 or 24fps. There’s no continuous autofocus functionality while recording video though, so you’ll have to manually adjust the focus yourself once the camera is recording. Sound is recorded in stereo by default and there’s also a 3.5mm mic port that allows you to attach an external microphone. Like the 5D Mark III, the 1D X offers real-time sound level adjustment. Movies are stored using H.264 (.MOV) compression with embedded timecodes. On the side of the camera body you’ll find a HDMI mini output for easy playback of movies on a HDTV. In addition there’s also an Ethernet port for the quick transfer of images to a PC.
The back of the camera is fitted with a fixed 3.2in Clear View II LCD screen that offers a super sharp 1,040k-dot resolution and further benefits from toughened glass and an anti-glare coating that makes use of the camera in bright sunlight much easier. While the LCD monitor excels at reviewing already captured images and for navigating the in-camera menu we suspect that most photographers purchasing the 1DX will use the viewfinder to shoot with 99.9% of the time. Thankfully, the 1D X’s viewfinder is superb with a big, bright window providing 100% frame coverage, a 0.76x magnification and the usual diopter correction controls.