The EOS 1Ds MKII has been eagerly awaiting since the arrival in the spring of the EOS 1D MKII. It has been heralded as providing medium format quality and with image sizes suitable for the major agencies such as Getty and Corbis. To be honest I slightly dispute this as both the 1Ds MKI and the 1D MKII produce images that were easily medium format quality, but clearly the sheer filesize produced by the 1Ds MKII completely seals the argument. The 1Ds MKII is clearly a DSLR that is designed for the professional photographer or serious amateur who needs a large filesize for outdoor or studio work.
This review will be a much shorter one than usual since the 1Ds MKII is based upon the 1D MKII; therefore it might be beneficial to read the 1D MKII review first. As usual I decided to stress it to the limit, so took it with me in January to the Falkland Islands. And it did rather well…………
Technical Specifications and Highlights
Ok, let’s first take a look at the main technical specifications and feature highlights. I’ve split it into two sections to show the new features of this camera, plus also those that were inherited from the 1D MKII. The latter is very important as it shows the difference between the 1Ds MK1 and MK2 versions, starting with the new features:
- 16.7 million pixel CMOS full-frame sensor
- JPEG Large and RAW images are a whopping 5008 x 3334 pixels
- Improved 4 fps motordrive
- Improved buffer size – 11 RAW and 32 JPEG images before lockout
- Digital Photo Professional (Pony) v1.5 software (awful)
- WFT-E1 wireless transmitter
Features inherited from 1D MK2
- Improved 45 point autofocus
- 21 zone TTL full aperture metering with several options
- Shutter speeds 1/8000 th sec. to 30 sec.
- ISO 100-1600 with option for 50-3200
- E-TTL II flash capability with EOS Speedlite for allegedly improved flash operation
- Double drive bay – 1 CF card slot and 1 SD card slot, support for cards over 2GB
- Water-resistant body (very important as you will see….)
- New LCD zoom function
- Plus lots of extra bits that don’t matter a jot to most of us
When I tested the 1D MKII I found a few problems with the tracking autofocus, but nothing that I could put my finger on. Since then it has taken some of the best action images of my career so for me this is a non issue. I’ve also heard from various forums that some photographers are unhappy with the autofocus performance of the 1D MKII; personally speaking it does the job for me and any imperfection is very obvious when looking at fur and feathers.
Therefore I wanted to test the 1Ds MKII autofocus to check it was up to scratch as it would become my camera of choice if it passed. Luckily the Falklands presented me with many opportunities every day with it’s all-action Gentoo Penguins. Every afternoon they would porpoise in towards shore, suddenly erupting through the surf to waddle onto the safety of the beach. It was a tough test for any autofocus, when swimming they are very erratic and incredibly fast, hence the autofocus had to be able to cope with this extreme movement.
The more I used the 1Ds the more my confidence grew that it could do the job. Sure I lost the tracking a few times but that was to be expected with such erratic movement and when it did lock on it was very accurate indeed. For comparison I shot the 1Ds MKII and 1D MKII together and, apart from the obvious motordrive difference, both performed as expected. Before the trip I’d downloaded the latest firmware for both which addressed these autofocus problems, check out my latest newsletter for details.
The “freezing” of the autofocus that I found with the 1D MKII was still there, although it only happened a few times each day. The second problem was one of accuracy with static subjects, several times I have to select and re-select an autofocus point to get the eye in focus. It may have been in focus already of course as the viewfinder was often sanded up. Anyway a couple of minor problems but ones that need to be mentioned.
In conclusion the autofocus seemed to be back to the usual Canon standard and I was perfectly satisfied with the results. Certainly the number of high action images that I have in sharp focus is testament to that.
One of the main improvements over the original 1Ds has to be in the area of buffer size and management. All too often the original 1Ds has locked out on me, costing me vital shots. Well the 1Ds MKII promised much as it’s buffer size has been increased to 11 RAW and 32 JPEG images before lockout. But these files are huge compared to the 1Ds, so how would it perform?
In the confines of my studio I set about checking out the timed performance of the buffer; the results are subjective of course and will not be 100% accurate but at least they will give you an idea. For the purposes of the test I used a fast Integral I-PRO 2GB card:
- Time after lockout when 1 shot available – 1.2 seconds
- Time after lockout when 5 shots available – 11.5 seconds
- Time after lockout when buffer cleared – 27 seconds
I had to re-check these results several times as at first I didn’t believe them. I also had to check the camera to make sure that I was testing the right one. The 1Ds MKII whipped the butt of the 1D MKII, which has smaller files and is supposedly designed for sports. Of course the 1D MKII has more files to ship around, but the performance of the 1Ds MKII is astounding when you consider that the 1Ds MKII is shipping RAWs that are on average 13 MB in size. Awesome.
During the time spent with the all-action Gentoo’s I rarely missed shots due to lockout; sure the camera did lock out but it quickly cleared the buffer. By now I am used to picking my shots anyway but at last with the 4 fps drive and larger RAW buffer I can relax a little and be free to shoot as a want. Nearly anyway.
Oh great, they’ve released a new version of the Digital Photo Pony, marvellous. I won’t waste valuable column inches on this (read my 1D MKII review for further info) but will suffice to say that it is just as crap as the last one. In fact the first few RAWs that I converted with the DPP caused me to lodge some urgent questions with Canon about the level of noise in the 1Ds MKII files. It was only after converting the images with a different converter that I saw how much better they were out of the clutches of the DPP. It was like the outputs were from a different camera. You’ll have to wait another few weeks to find out about this software but stay away from DPP if you care about the quality of your images.
If you’ve read the 1D MKII review then you’ll know that I was initially concerned about the quality of the converted files. Well they have really grown on me and now I realise that the 1D MKII produces beautiful files. So how did the 1Ds MKII image quality rate with the old 1Ds and the 1D MKII? To assess it I used the camera in a variety of light situations and processed the resulting images with no sharpening or noise reduction (not with DPP). Then I magnified each upto 100% and went over the section of the image which I knew would highlight any quality issues.
Simply put the quality is superb, razor sharp with no visible noise artefacts below ISO 400. Even in low light the image details was amazing, with only the slightest hint of noise in the dark recesses of the darkest shadows. Check out the albatross, even at this extreme crop around the beak the detail just stands out. And that’s with no sharpening.
I’m not sure about the colour balance of the 1Ds MKII, sometimes it seems perfect but others it seems to be a little off what I’d expect. Of course if you shoot RAW then it doesn’t really matter but I’d rather that the camera got it right as it cuts down the time in front of my workstation. Again not a major issue but worth mentioning.
My 1Ds MKII sat through sand storms, was soaking wet several times as I was hit by big incoming waves and was rained on almost every day. Through all of this it carried on performing perfectly, proving that the tough construction and water-resistant interior is worth it’s weight in gold.
Overall I would say that the 1Ds MKII is an excellent DSLR and undoubtedly the top player in the market. The image quality is superb, with few visual artefacts and even less noise, yet with a level of detail that I have rarely seen before. Of course I should say that the images still look softer than those from the previous 1Ds MKI but this is only to be expected with the thicker anti-alias filter. What really impressed me is the buffer performance, which has perhaps been the greatest area of improvement over it’s predecessors. The downside of the 1Ds MKII however is the hefty price tag, over three times the price of the new 20D. As a professional who needs the filesize I can easily justify the cost and as such I have bought it (and paid the same as you would!). But as an amateur I think that you’ll have to decide if you really need the filesize improvements of the 1Ds MKII over the 20D. For landscape, wildlife and studio photographers the justification is easy if you can afford it, for everyone else it’s a question of need. Whatever you decide, one thing is for sure, choose an independent browser and don’t be ponied by the pony!