Canon EOS 1Ds

Canon EOS 1Ds Digital Camera

Over the past year there have been things that I have craved – West Ham to finish in the top 3 and a full frame digital SLR. The former seems more likely now to happen in the first division than the premiership, but the latter has at last been realised with Canon’s release of the EOS 1Ds. Over the past year I have been fighting a battle with my clients to prove to them that image size does not equate to image quality, and that the 12Mb images produced by the superb EOS 1D were good enough for A3 reproduction in the media (as opposed to printing). Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose, but now with the 1Ds I will rarely lose. Why, well simple, it delivers a full frame image that is better than a Velvia slide, in my humble opinion of course.

To list every function and feature would make for a very long review, and there are plenty of excellent technical reviews already on the Internet that will provide you with all this information. My previous review on the 1D will also provide you with a wealth of information on the 1Ds, as both cameras have almost identical functionality. What you are all really interested in is how the 1Ds actually performs when used, as that is the bottom line. So, here are my experiences of using the 1Ds exclusively for the last month, highlighting the two main areas of interest – performance and image quality. I’ll do it by using images that I have taken, which hopefully will show you what the 1Ds can do rather than just talking about it. Remember that the market I am shooting for, reproduction, is much more demanding of image quality than printing applications, so this will be a real test of the 1Ds capabilities.


The EOS 1D is targeted at the areas of sports and press photography, where speed is more important than image size. The 1Ds however is targeted at an entirely different market, where optimum file size is the most important consideration - studio, wedding and outdoor photographers.

click on picture for larger image
click on picture for larger image (240k)

Shots like this are usually the result of steam pouring from the motordrive but I knew that the 1Ds would never be as quick as the lightning fast 1D. This is because the 1DS is producing an image that at 31MB is much bigger than the 11Mb 1D RAW file. The manual states that it runs at 3 fps, I think that it is more like 2 fps, which is fine for landscapes and studio. “Too slow for wildlife” I hear you all crying and I must admit this was my initial reaction. Then I remembered why I had changed so much of my photography to medium format, to slow myself down and concentrate on getting the shot rather than listening to the sound of the motordrive. Over the past year this approach has taken my photography to new limits so I knew that my initial reaction to the 1Ds was just a knee jerk. So when I saw this Mallard start to stretch I waited until it was standing upright before pressing the shutter. Instead of 10 near misses I took 2 big hits, strike one for the 1Ds.

click on picture for larger image
click on picture for larger image (130k)

The autofocus is the same as the 1D so is lightning fast. I had no trouble in tracking these Pochards as they flew back to their evening roost. I selected the left most focussing point of the 47 available and tracked the leader, pressing the shutter only when the wing positions were as I wanted them.

click on picture for larger image
click on picture for larger image (350k)

Maybe it is just me but I have found the 1Ds metering system to be a little more accurate than the 1D and other D-SLRs that I have used. I find that I am always within 1/3rd stop of 0 compensation, except of course for the extremes of colour. I cannot find any Canon information about changes to the metering but I do trust the 1Ds a lot more than the 1D, especially in Evaluative mode which I now use all the time. This Pochard was a difficult shot for any meter, I deliberately darkened it by 1/3 stop to accentuate the water droplets. A more subtle change with the 1Ds is the way that the sensor deals with extreme highlights, which has caused me trouble in the past. Here there is some burnout on the water, but this is only to be expected in the conditions and a film camera would have given the same results. All in all a good result.

Image Quality

With its 11.4 MP CMOS sensor, the 1Ds delivers a whopping 4064x2704 Pixels. The CMOS sensor is, for the first time, a full frame 35mm equivalent (unlike the predecessors which all used an APS sized sensor) and delivers a 31MB TIF (when converted from RAW). This means that it is using the same image area as a 35mm slide, which has silenced a lot of critics. So lets look at some images that I have taken with the 1Ds, showing both the original and a highly magnified portion:

click on picture for larger image
click on picture for larger image (150k)

This image, more than any other here, shows just how good the 1Ds image actually is. This is taken with a 1.4x Teleconverter attached to my 500mm lens, which I have never been able to do previously with any D-SLR. The resultant image is punchy and sharp, with no trace or noise or Moire patterns. This was one of the first images that I took with the 1Ds and I was, for once, speechless.

click on picture for larger image
click on picture for larger image (150k)

At a 100% the 31MB RAW approaches an A3 print size, so at 200% it is nearer to A2! With this 200% cropped version the feather detail is amazing; every component is clearly visible. Just look at the detail around the beak, true 645 quality and better than I would expect to see with a Velvia slide under a 10x magnifier.

click on picture for larger image
click on picture for larger image (248k)

Ok, here’s a Sika Deer that I stalked one evening. I really like the 1Ds colour rendition, which perfectly matches the scene as I remember it.

click on picture for larger image
click on picture for larger image (248k)

Again here’s the crop at 200%, notice both the facial detail and the shadow detail in the dark side. This was taken with the exposure at 0 compensation and the White Balance set to Auto. This is something with the 1Ds that I have started to do a lot more as I can tweak the white balance later using BreezeBrowser (see later).

A Full Frame Image

There has been a lot of talk since the release of the 1Ds about the downside of having a full-frame image. The problem is not with the 1Ds, but with the lenses. They are all made to be optically superb when close to the centre of the lens element but get progressively ropey the closer to the edges that you get. The most expensive and longer the lens the less ropey they get, but wide-angle lenses generally suffer from the most ropeyness (this is a Rouse word and cannot be found in any dictionary). I tested this out on my 17-35mm zoom and at the 17mm setting I did notice some fall off in sharpness right at one edge. I immediately checked a scan from a 35mm Velvia (oops mentioned film again) taken with the same lens and could see a similar effect.

A second effect, which is shown up more by a full frame D-SLR, is chromatic aberration (or ghosting). Testing has shown this only to occur with super wide-angle lenses (14mm-17mm) and only in extreme contrast situations.

The digital image, because it is cleaner and better quality, will always show these effects up more than the film image, but it pays to remember that it is the lens causing the problem and not the 1Ds. None the less you should bear it in mind if you use wider lenses than 28mm (i.e. a 20mm or 17mm), which of course I do not. I know that Nikon have long been aware of this problem and have just announced a special wide-angle zoom which has been designed with these two factors in mind. Hopefully Canon will do just the same. To me, and to be honest 99% of all photographers, this is a complete non-issue, but for completeness I thought that it should be mentioned.

click on picture for larger image
click on picture for larger image (270k)
Other Bits & Bobs

In my review of the 1D I chastised Canon for leaving off the Image Zoom feature, which I found so useful with the D60. Well, fanfare of trumpets, they have supplied the 1Ds with such a feature albeit a well-hidden one. I have yet to test this yet but I will let you know when I do.

Just a few words about the software bundle. The awful Zoom Browser is still in existence; this should be avoided at all costs. Canon have provided a new piece of software, called the File Viewer Utility, which is combines the tasks of thumbnail management, image conversion and camera settings under one roof. It is probably the best software that they have yet released for their D-SLRs and I used it for the first few weeks. Then Chris Breeze released the new BreezeBrowser (download from for the 1Ds and that is my utility of choice. PhaseOne have also released a utility for the 1Ds which I have been watching with interest as they have a good reputation. Initial reports suggested problems with the converted image quality but I am sure that this will be fixed soon. It is however an expensive utility, costing several hundred US dollars, so I will stick with the BreezeBrowser.


So there you have it, my first month with the 1Ds. I have been totally impressed with its capabilities and the image quality is stunning. The problem that I have with it is one of price; I cannot understand why Canon has chosen such a high price for the 1Ds.

Anyway my clients seem generally pleased with the images; the first should appear in publication sometime in February. Even my cynical agent accepted the 1Ds files without a grumble, and that is a real miracle. Next month I will be taking the 1Ds to Africa for its first foreign trip, so will let you know how it copes with the dust

click on picture for larger image
click on picture for larger image (200k)