2012-02-06

Sports & action photography with the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

As an existing Canon EOS 1D Mark III user I was very excited at the prospect of testing out Canon's latest offering in the world of professional sport cameras, the highly anticipated Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. As you unpack the box, you will initially notice that the box is now smaller, this is because Canon have decided not to include the AC adapter.


I've never felt the need to power a camera from the mains, I'm sure there are some users that have, but I suspect 98 percent of photographers have never really considered it, so for me this was not an issue, but potential purchases should be aware of this. Personally I never have worked out why a sports camera would be shipped with an AC adapter. Once the body was out of the packaging, the strap attached, the new battery on charge (its the same battery as the 1D Mark III's). In the meantime I grabbed a battery from my 1D Mk III camera and started to explorer the options of the 1D MkIV. Existing Canon users who are familiar with the operation of the 1D cameras will immediately feel right at home with the upgraded model. All controls are in the same place as the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, although I did notice the multi-direcional control is slightly more pronounced than its predecessor.
Given that this camera is primarily aimed at the sports market I intended to put this to full use at the first round of the British Superbike season at Brands Hatch in April with an assignment from the Quattro Plant Honda, a new team in this year's championships.

Part 1 - Canon EOS 1D Mark IV paired with an EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS Lens

For the test I paired up the body up with my Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS L lens. I know this lens is sharpest stopped down a little to f4.0, so with that in mind I set the camera up in AV mode (I'll explain my thinking on this and you'll see why I shoot motorsport in AV mode). This technique I use for action freezing shots, which is not to everyone's taste and I should say at this point I do also switch out of this mode in order to blur backgrounds for movement.

In my opinion, this setup on the camera will always give me the best possible exposure setup for shooting motorsport. In theory, if the light allowed this could give me anything from 1/8000s, f4.0, ISO 100 to 1/1000s, f4.0, ISO 6400. That's 9 stops of light and the camera is still ensuring I have f4.0 and a shutter speed above 1/1000. I'm sure a similar setup could have been achieved using the Auto-ISO option, but this is a setup I have used in the past with great success on the previous generation of this camera, however with this configuration the camera will do its best to achieve a suitable exposure for motorsport within the parameters I have specified.

Previously I may well have been tempted to drop the shutter speed to 1/500 and also shoot at a slightly wider aperture, sacrificing some image quality, but I wanted to test the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV 's much talked about high-ISO capabilities and try to guarantee sharp, frozen action shots.

I never shoot with memory cards larger than 4Gb unless I'm using a EOS 1D series body; in all other Canon bodies if a card fails then you potentially lose all the images. In an 1D series body and using the dual card slots I set the camera to write to both cards simultaneously (in computer terms mirrored). In the event that one card fails, the other card will contain identical data. So with a 16Gb card in each slot; 1 CF card and 1 SD card. This is the same as the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, but personally I wish Canon would just commit to CF or SD for the 1 series camera, as it would be so nice to just be able to buy cards and not have to plan to matched them up with a card sized similar card of a different format.So before the action starts, a quick check to ensure the settings are correct;
  • Mode: AV 
  • Aperature: f4.0 
  • ISO: 100 (the camera will raise this as it needs to) 
  • AF Mode: AI Servo 
  • Drive Mode: High Speed 
  • White Balance: AWB 
  • Metering Mode: Evaluative

Part 2 - Canon EOS 1D Mark IV paired with an EF 400mm f2.8 IS Lens
For my second and more thorough test of the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV I paired the it with a pro series telephoto lens from the Canon the mighty and it should be said weighty, 400mm f2.8 L Canon lens.

This was going to be the real test of the camera, with the primary purpose of fully testing the new focus system. I also was going to try the Auto-ISO feature on the new camera.

The body and 400mm lens combination now weights in excess of 6 Kgs … so a monopod is now no longer optional, it is essential. In a similar manner as before I setup the camera as follows;

Using C.Fn 1-12 to set the desired SS range 1/1000-1/8000. This will ensure the shutter speed never drops below 1/1000.
  • Mode: AV 
  • Aperature: f4.0 
  • ISO: Auto 
  • AF Mode: AI Servo 
  • Drive Mode: High Speed 
  • White Balance: AWB 
  • Metering Mode: Evaluative
Now to the autofocus system of the new camera, I left most settings at their standard values and opted to use the centre point in most of the shots. I did change the setting C.Fn 3-8 to 1 to enable the Left/Right AF Point expansion and subjects would primarily begin larger horizontally than vertically. The results and crispness of the images are a major step up from the previous generation of this camera in my opinion.

During the 3 days of the superbike weekend I took some 1,422 shots of which I rejected 333. Yes some of the rejected photos were out of focus but a lot where down to me where the framing of the shots was not correct, where shots were out of focus. This I can put this down to the operator not managing to keep a bikes moving at speed on the selected focus point. I am really impressed at the keep rate of this camera which I feel is a big step up from the 1D Mark III.

The new higher resolution of the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV when combined with a high quality lens allows the user to crop in significantly especially if the target use of the images for destined for website, which don't demand images at large resolutions

In addition to covering some of the track action I also used the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV for the pit walk and non action parts of the weekend and as you would expect the camera is very capable at this genre of photography, capture images accurately and sharply. Like previous EOS 1D cameras, it does a good job in the Auto White Balance mode and the skin tones in the images are very good.

The quoted battery life of the 1D Mark IV is less than its predecessor (1500 vs 2200), but after 1400+ shots, the body still reports 68 percent capacity remaining. It should be noted that I didn't use live view or movie mode at all as these modes are particular suited to motorsport events.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV review conclusion

In summary Canon's 1D Mark IV is everything (and a lot more camera) than most photographers will ever need. I have to say the weight of the 400mm f2.8 lens got to me during the day, but the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV was a joy to use all day. I loved using this camera so much, I also tested it in my studio. Comparing the Mark IV's 16 Megapixels with my EOS 1 Ds Mark III's 21 Megapixels reveals that while the Ds can resolve slightly more detail, the EOS 1D Mark IV is still a very capable studio camera.

Given that the EOS 1D Mark IV can also do so much more than the 1DS Mark III, I am considering getting a second Canon EOS 1D Mark IV to replace my existing full frame Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III. Some will say wait for the 1Ds Mark IV which will surely be out later in the year, but the cost of the Ds range has always been so much higher it's 1.3x crop factor smaller brother that the 1D Mark IV has be seriously considered for its versatility both in and out of the studio.

I am really looking forward to covering the rest of 2010 British Superbike Season for the Quattro Plant Honda team with theCanon EOS 1D Mark IV.

Equipment Used -
Thanks must go to the following people for making this review possible:
Park Cameras (http://www.parkcameras.com) for the loan of the Canon 400mm f2.8 lens in order to make this review possible.

Quattro Plant Honda British Superbike Team (http://www.quattroplanthonda.com) for the unlimited access to the garage and pits during the 2010 BSB Season.

Nigel Jepson - Jepson Photography

(http://www.jepsonphotography.co.uk)

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