Canon EOS 1D MKIV Review

We let renowned wildlife photographer loose with the new Canon EOS 1D MKIV. See how he gets on below.

Canon EOS 1d Mark IV AF System

I have been shooting wildlife images for some 30 years, both professionally for 13 years and digitally since April, 2004 when I purchased a professional Canon 1D Series Body.  Since then I have also used a number of Canon DSLR's including the Canon 1D MkIII, Canon 40D and Canon EOS 5D MKII. This is not an 'in depth' review but the initial views of a working photographer on the cameras AF system and file quality.  Following the controversy that surrounded it's predecessor's AF system my first thoughts were how well would this perform. 

Birds in flight must be one of the biggest challenges any cameras AF system has to cope with as their flight is often erratic with sudden changes in speed and direction.  Couple with this their small size compared to a sportsman or racing car and you will soon appreciate that when it comes to the speed and accuracy of the AF system there is little or no room for error. If it can pass this test then I think it is fairly safe to say it will be fine for almost any other application in normal light.

The Canon EOS 1D Mark IV in Wales

For this test I took a trip to Gigrin Farm at Rhayader in Wales where they have a Red Kite (a very agile bird of prey) feeding station where once the feeding starts you have almost 2 hours of non-stop action.  Image shown is a Red Kite shot on a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. My Canon 1D MkIV was used on a Canon EF 500mm f/4L USM IS lens (EF 1.4x extender used occasionally) which in turn was mounted on a Gitzo 3 series carbon fibre tripod and Wimberley Head version II.  Shooting in RAW I left my  C.Fn III-2 AI tracking sensitivity on default  and C.Fn III-8 on 2 the surrounding AF points and Picture Style 'Neutral'  All other custom functions that might affect the AF system were at camera default!

In this challenging environment my first impressions of the 1D MkIV AF system were very favourable.  The first thing I noticed compared to it's predecessor was that the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV rarely lost focus, even when the active focusing points were momentarily not covering the subject matter.  I'm not saying that every frame would have been critically sharp , but I could count on one hand during the two hour session the times that the camera hopelessly lost focus and this was probably my error!  Even when this happened it wouldn't 'lock out' just a quick release and back on the AF button again and I was back in business!  Even with busy similar colour backgrounds (low contrast) the camera tracked it's subject faithfully.

The image shown here is a crop of the red kite photo, shot on 1D Mark IVwith noise reduction and Sharpening.

My success rate that afternoon was much higher than usual with close to 50 percent sharp to pin sharp usable images.  Of the remaining 50 percent most were only just out of focus and many of these I could put down to user error as your technique is an important factor when photographing moving subjects and mine isn't the best!  Often in the past when photographing fast moving birds I have captured the bird on the edge of the frame where it is not covered by any of the AF points and it has been pin sharp yet the next frame where the bird is in the middle of the frame and covered by the AF points is soft!  I was always quick to blame the cameras AF system but this is often classic 'user error'  because if you cannot pan/follow your subject perfectly (not easy) then your cameras AF system not only has to predict the movement of your subject but also factor in your panning errors.  A very difficult if sometimes impossible task for any camera AF system.  On static or near static subjects I had no problems with close on 100 percent success rate.

For those readers who feel a 50 percent success rate is not that impressive I would remind you that of the remaining 50 percent many were down to user error and when compared to the moving subject matter Rob Galbraith covers in his reviews flying birds are considerably more difficult - I remain impressed by it's AF performance!

The Canon EOS 1D Mark IV files

The image shown here is a crop of the red kite photo, shot on 1D Mark IVwith sharpening only.

The file quality for a 1.3x crop camera with 16.1 megapixel sensor is high.  Many photographers have said that the noise in the 1D MkIV's RAW files is about the same as those of the 1D MkIII - this is true when you view files from both cameras at 100 percent.  However what you need to remember is that the 1D MkIV has 60 percent more pixels and although the pixels are smaller Canon have managed to make the pixels in the 1D MkIVslightly less noisy than the 1D MkIII.  When you consider there are 60 percent more pixels on the same size sensor that is quite an achievement.  To sum up if you were to print identicle images from the 1D MkIII and the 1D MKIV the higher resolution sensor of the EOS 1D MKIV would oversample each pixel giving an improved pixel to noise ratio.

So when comparing final print output the 1D MKIV is a good performer and probably close to one stop better than the1D MkIII.  You can read more about sensor performance if you visit www.dxomark.com where you will see the Mk1V's sensor/ISO performance is currently rated as the best from any camera with a cropped sensor.

Nowadays I do very little printing but as far as supplying images for books, high quality magazines and agencies the qualty is fine to 1600 iso, and acceptable at 3200 iso beyond this the images are very usable but the fall off in quality is high which is only to be expected.

The Canon EOS 1D Mark IV ergonomics.
The image shown here is a crop of the red kite photo, shot on 1D Mark IVwith no sharpening or noise reduction. 

I am not going to go in to any detail as to how the camera handles other than to say it's lay out is similar to previous 1 series cameras with a few tweaks and handles extremely well.

To sum up I am very pleased with the overall performance of the 1D Mk1V - the AF is accurate, responsive and stable and the file quality for a 16.1 megapixel camera on a 1.3x crop senosr is excellent.  My initial reaction when the specification of the 1D MkIV were announced was that I would have preferred just 12 megapixels with a better noise performance.  However with action photography composition is usually something you think about later and having 16.1 megapixels to play with is a real bonus when it comes to final composition, you can really crop an image and still have a very high res file.  At the time of writing this review I have only used the camera for a little over three weeks but to date my only real negative comment about the Canon 1D Mk1V is the price.

I had hoped by now my web designers would have completed my 'Reviews' page on my website www.davidkjaer.com where you would have been able to view some sample images.  I now hope to have this up and running in the near future.


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