Canon EOS-1D X Review
- Performs exceptionally well in low-light situations
- Capable of shooting breathtaking bursts at high speed
- Feels robust and up to the task of any photo challenge
- AF drive mode isn’t displayed through the viewfinder when it’s being changed
- Star rating isn’t as intuitive as that on the EOS-5D Mark III
- No identifiable movie-record button on the body
- Review Price: £5300.00
- 18MP full-frame CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-51,200 (exp. to 50-204,800)
- Dual DIGIC5+ image processors
- 12fps burst speed (14fps in JPEG-only High Speed mode)
- 1080p HD video capture at 30, 25 or 24fps
- 3.2in, 1040k-dot LCD
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.
Befitting its status as a professional grade DSLR the Canon EOS-1D X is an uncompromisingly large camera that weighs in at 1.3kg for the body only. While seasoned pros should be used to the size and weight, well-heeled enthusiasts looking for the best camera money can buy may well find it a bit cumbersome. Underneath the toughened plastic and rubberised outer casing, the insides of the 1D X are further protected by a magnesium alloy chassis, with the body also benefiting from being fully weather sealed against moisture and dust penetration. In addition Canon claims that the shutter has been tested to at least 400,000 cycles, while carbon fibre shutter blades to minimise friction during prolonged bursts of shooting. Safe to say then that pros looking for a solid workhorse that can stand the inevitable bumps and scrapes that go with daily use will find the 1D X is more than up to the task.
In terms of design the 1D X’s body looks almost identical to its 1Ds and 1D Mark IV predecessors – at least when viewed head-on from the front. Closer inspection of the back of the camera does reveal a couple of subtle tweaks. The most significant is the new AF toggle switch for moving AF targets when the camera is being used in portrait orientation, which will be of great benefit to anyone who shoots regularly in the portrait orientation. The profile of the portrait orientation grip has been improved generally so as to make holding and using the camera in this way much more comfortable – something that extends to holding the camera in landscape mode. In fact, sticking our necks out we’d have to say that, to hold, the 1D X is the most comfortable pro-spec DSLR Canon has yet made.
In addition to the re-worked portrait grip, some of the 1D X’s buttons have also moved. The Playback, Zoom, Delete and Protect buttons have been placed next to each other, while Live View mode is activated by a button next to the viewfinder. The Quick Menu, meanwhile, is now activated by a small button just above the control dial. The in-camera menu system is to all intents and purposes identical to the EOS-5D Mk III’s. Autofocus gets its own sub menu, making it extremely quick to access the six combinations of subject-tracking while the menu system is brightly colour coded too, making navigation both simple and clear.
Testing the 1D X out at a Speedway track meet enabled us to thoroughly test the performance of the 1D X’s 61-point autofocus system – especially the Tracking AF function – when faced with fast-moving (70mph) objects. Later in the evening, as darkness began to fall, we were also able to get a good feel for how well the 1D X’s super-high ISO settings perform in real-world use. As regards AF Tracking performance we were left highly impressed, with the camera tracking our subjects especially well in AI Servo mode – both in daylight and under floodlights.
Experimenting with the six Cases of subject-tracking sensitivity we found that Case 3 (which instantly focuses on subjects entering AF points) was best suited to our needs, especially once we’d customised the responsiveness to 2. Of course for other sports and situations other tracking Cases will doubtless be more appropriate, in which case it’s up to the individual photographer to find the optimum AF setting. Used in Case 3 and firing off a burst of shots just as the subject entered the frame we managed to attain an exceptionally high hit-rate of pin-sharp images.
Thanks to the twin DIGIC 5 processors file write times are spectacularly quick too. Having loaded our review sample up with a Lexar 32 GB Professional 1000x UDMA 7 Compact Flash card we managed to shoot a burst of 17 consecutive Raw JPEG(L) files at 12fps. Switching over to RAW only capture, this figure increased to 31 consecutive frames before the camera had to slow down and clear the buffer. Impressively, within seven seconds it was ready to record an identical burst. As if the 1D X’s ability to shoot as fast as 12fps wasn’t impressive enough, we were fairly bowled over by the speed at which it can process that data, clear the decks and be ready to shoot again.
Testing the 1D X under a variety of different lighting situations, we found the metering system to be super reliable and consistent. From low light situations to shooting under floodlights we found the 1D X’s metering to be consistently spot on – so much so that there was no need to adjust exposure compensation. Backlit scenes can often fool lesser metering systems, but in the case of the 1D X they didn’t. With the metering set to Evaluative for most of our shots, it coped with just about everything we threw at it.
To test how well the 1D X’s 18MP CMOS sensor resolves detail we mounted the camera to a studio-grade tripod and took exposures throughout the ISO range in front of an industry standard resolution chart using Sigma’s 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens. The results from this proved to be very impressive indeed. Studying the ISO 100 results at 100% revealed incredible levels of detail – number 14 on our resolution scale. Just as impressive is the way the 1D X’s sensor manages to resolve detail at high ISOs, particularly up to ISO 25,600. We also tested the 1D X’s Automatic White Balance using a colour chart and continuous daylight balanced light source. This revealed that the CMOS sensor resolves faithful colour even at super high ISOs.
Colour remains consistent throughout the ISO range, right up to ISO 51,200. Beyond this images do begin to lose colour saturation though. Working our way through the range from ISO 100 through to ISO 204,800 revealed jaw-dropping ISO performance, and it’s only really when you push beyond ISO 12,800 that a small amount of noise becomes noticeable. Results at ISO 25,600 and 51,200 remain usable though, with the noise resembling a very fine film grain. It’s only when we pushed to the expanded settings that more noticeable noise and a loss of saturation became more noticeable.
At around £5,300 for the body-only the Canon EOS-1D X doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re a professional photographer who makes a living from photography then the 1D X is one of the best tools that money can buy. Put simply the Canon EOS-1D X is remarkable camera and we have no hesitation in saying it’s the best Canon DSLR we’ve ever used. From the blazing processing speeds of the dual DIGIC 5 processors to the class-leading 12fps Continuous shooting speed and exceptional high ISO performance the EOS-1D X really is everything Canon claims it to be. Those looking for a professional-grade, high-resolution full-frame DSLR that offers the full package need look no further.
The following images are 100% crops taken from the TrustedReviews resolution chart. The camera was mounted on a tripod and the same image recorded at increasing ISO settings.
1/4000sec @ f/2.8, ISO 200, 300mm, AWB
1/125sec @ f/5.6, ISO 800, 200mm, AWB
1/2000sec @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 300mm, AWB
1/80sec @ f/5.6, ISO 3200, 90mm, AWB
1/250sec @ f/2.8,ISO 6400, 300mm, AWB
1/640sec @ f/3.2, ISO 25,600, 300mm, AWB
Score in detail
Design & Features 9
Image Quality 9
Build Quality 9