Don’t tell my family, but I’ve fallen in love with a camera : Canon EOS 1D Mark III.
Have you ever tried to explain why you loved someone? Was it his sense of humor? , Her crooked smile? The way she sipped her drink?
Describing love using words is like painting the Mona Lisa with eye shadow – you’re bound to fall short.
In the following paragraphs, I’m going to try and tell you what I most appreciate about this camera. But I know I’ll disappoint. So, I start this review with a disclaimer:
I don’t have the words to express just how fantastically responsive, immediately intuitive or powerfully built this powerhouse of a camera is. Nor have I the technical expertise to say why it’s pictures come out so rich and three-dimensional. All I can say is this camera feels more “right” in my hands than any other camera I’ve ever used, and that the pictures it takes are phenomenal.
With that out of the way, here of some of the things that have made me fall so hard. You can read them after the break.
Autofocus as it’s meant to be:
I’ve shot over 1,000 images with the Mark III in the past two weeks, and I don’t think a single one was out of focus for any reason other than user error.
Canon boasts that the Mark III has an “all new high-precision AF system with 19 user-selectable AF points and 26 additional ‘assist points’; superior low-light performance and faster operation.” Well, I don’t know what they’re comparing the Mark III to, but it certainly focuses faster – and more accurately – than any camera I’ve ever used.
The effect of the Mark III's focusing prowess goes beyond the mere assurance that more of my shots will be keepers. The Mark III’s super-accurate focusing has made me feel like a better photographer. It has increased my shooting confidence greatly. It’s made the difference between hoping I got the shot and knowing I got the shot.
Much has been said about some problems with Marky’s autofocus in continuous mode. Whatever problems the Mark III may have – and they have documented extensively by Rob Galbraith – have not been evident in the one I’ve been using. Galbraith says the problems are most evident when shooting in warm or hot conditions, but I had no problem capturing my insanely fast three-year-old on an eighty degree day in Florida. Granted, it’s not like I’m shooting an Olympic sprint, but that’s not that kind of photography I do.
I should say that Canon has acknowledged that the Mark III did have some focusing issues. The camera I am using incorporates the latest version of their firmware and a hardware fix which the company claims has led to a camera that “performed better in our tests than all previous EOS camera models.”
However, Canon also says that “we are aware that some customers have raised questions about the performance of the EOS-1D Mark III AF system under certain conditions. We will continue to investigate, and look for opportunities to improve, the performance of the AF system to ensure the satisfaction of all of our customers.”
I’m pretty confident that means that Canon is still working to make sure that every Mark III owner winds up 100% satisfied with their camera’s performance. I know I am.
On The Digital Photography Show, my co-host Michael and I bemoaned that, like all larger-sensor DSLR’s, the Mark III’s autofocus points don’t extend to the edge of the frame. Apparently, this is technological challenge that no camera company has conquered in their DSLRs.
In real-life shooting, though, I didn’t find this to be much of an annoyance – more of a “wouldn’t it be nice if” thing than a “damn their eyes” thing.
Rock that Body
I was concerned that the Mark III would be too heavy and unwieldy for me. I’m used to shooting with the 29.8 oz Canon 40D – not a true lightweight, but not a brick like the 40.7 oz Mark III.
But, for whatever reason, I found the Mark III easy to carry. I brought it with me on two all-day trips – one to St. Augustine, Florida and the other to Cape Canaveral. Even though I was using the not-particularly-ergonomic strap that comes with the Mark III (Note to Canon: Would it kill you to include a padded neck strap with a $4,000+ camera?) I didn’t experience any discomfort. For much of the days, I used Canon’s heavy 24-70mm prime lens and Canon’s highest –end and biggest accessory flash, the 580 EXII– and the camera still didn’t feel cumbersome.
Both days, I carried at least two additional lenses with me. The whole set up was surprisingly comfortable to schlep around. Much of the credit has to go to Jessica Claire’s brilliant Shootsac. Even the weighty L lenses I carried felt feather-light thanks to Shootsac’s svelte construction and body-hugging design.
I also found the button layout and menu system very accessible and easy-to-use. Of course, I’m used to the general layout of Canon’s DSLRs, so I had a head start. Still, there were enough differences that the Mark III took little getting used to. But after a day of shooting, the Mark III’s controls were already second nature to me. There was nothing I wanted to do, whether it was change a focus point, adjust the ISO, toggle between one-shot or continuous shooting modes that took a second more than I thought it should have.
You can even enable exposure bracketing without going into the menu system. You just simultaneously press two buttons and then dial in the amount of bracketing you want. That’s pretty cool – and very quick to deploy.
When using the Mark III, especially if you’ve used other entry level or even intermediate level DSLRs, you’re immediately stuck by how solidly this camera is built. It felt like a tank, only safer. You really do feel like it could take mortar fire.
One area where I recognized this was in the vertical grip. Like many professional-level DSLR’s, the Mark II has a built-in vertical grip. Since I already use one of these on my 40D, I didn’t think the Mark III’s would be any better. But it was. The battery grip I use on my 40D is an add-on accessory that screws into the bottom of my camera. As a result, even with a tight fit, you’re always aware that the grip is a little wobbly and flexes a bit in your hands. There’s also a visible seam where the grip screws in that, while it doesn’t interfere with the camera’s function, always makes it feel a little jury-rigged.
That’s not the case with the Mark III, which feels as rock solid as if it were carved from a single piece of marble.
Beyond all that, I’ll say it again: the Mark III just feels right in my hands. Every button and control was where I wanted it. When I did have to go into the menu, it looked great on the Mark III’s very bright and colorful LCD screen.
The quality of the pictures from the Mark III was, in my experience, unsurpassed. I found the Mark III to excel in the following areas:
Noise Control: Much has been said about the Mark III ability to produce very low noise images even at high ISOs. Imaging-Resource.com concluded the following in their tests:
Though we usually roll our eyes when companies list ridiculously high ISO ratings, we were pleasantly surprised by how good the Mark III's ISO 6,400 images are. Noise is present, of course, but it's at a level that most cameras produce at ISO 1,600 or 800. We found the 8x10 printed results to be quite acceptable from the ISO 6,400 setting. That means that ISO 1,600 should be more like ISO 200 or 400 on another camera, right? With Noise Reduction on, some would make that argument. Since most don't enlarge their images significantly beyond 8x10, it's absolutely true that the 1D Mark III at ISO 1,600 delivers images that are better than acceptable at 8x10, they're great.
While I don’t conduct the kind of rigorous testing that Imaging-Resource.com does, I can say that in my more casual experience, I saw very low levels of noise in the many ISO 3,200 shots I took. This really helped when I was shooting my son singing in his church choir. It’s not a situation where you want to use a flash, but even with the room’s low ambient light, I got detailed and smooth images that I was able to capture at a reasonable shutter speed.
Tonal and Dynamic Range: I don’t know what technological enhancements are at play here, but it seemed to me the camera did a great job with handling images that incorporated a wide dynamic range. In high-contrast scenes, I was able to hold more shadow and highlight details that I ever have before. It was hard to force the dreaded “blinkies” without really trying to.
Color Depth? Again, I don’t know which of the camera’s attributes contributed to this effect, but I found that the Mark III’s pictures appeared much richer than those from any other camera I’ve used. I don’t mean that the images were more saturated, but, rather, they seemed almost three-dimensional.
As is always the case with True Love, I could go on and on. (I haven’t even mentioned the battery that’s rated at 2,200 shots! I was never able to get it even half drained.) And, yes, I have a few small complaints (a higher-resolution LCD would have been nice) they are few and far between.
Unfortunately, falling for the Mark III, for me, has been a little like having an affair with someone who’s already married. Soon, the Mark III has to go back to its real family (or, in this case, back to the good people at Canon who were nice enough to loan it to me.).
But in the meantime, I love this camera like Romeo loved Juliet: Truly, madly, deeply. Even though I know our relationship is doomed, I still cherish the time we have together. Parting will be sweet sorrow, but our romance has been nothing but bliss.
I'll try to post some pictures soon.