Canon EOS 1D X Hands On Report

Canon EOS-1D X

Last Tuesday I got up close and personal with the new Canon EOS 1D X HDSLR and Canon Pixma Pro-1 printer, at the Canon Pro Solutions Show 2011.

This was the first time the Canon EOS 1D X had been seen in Europe, having been brought over from Canon Japan the previous day. Despite looking like the finished article, the half a dozen or so EOS 1D X bodies left casually lying around the press room, were, in fact, prototypes, with a return ticket to Canon Japan for fine tuning. This explains why some details about the camera are still to be finalised. It also explains the rather large Japanese contingent at the press conference who, though they looked like senior execs, were, I am convinced, cunningly disguised ninjas, ready to pounce upon anyone who tried to sneak a CF card into one of the aforementioned EOS 1D X’s twin slots…

On the video front, the EOS 1D X offers three different h.264 compression schemes. The best of these is the all iframes codec which compresses each frame individually, delivering files that are higher quality than and approximately three times the size of those produced by the EOS 5D Mark II. Paradoxically these larger files make for easier editing and playback, as decoding is less processor intensive. Although the bit rate of these codecs is one of those details that has still to be finalised, I was assured that they will be at least the same as on the EOS 5D Mark II and will be supported out of the box by the major NLEs.

Canon told me that the combination of an image sensor with a 16 line readout and dual DIGIC V+ processors, means that the EOS 1D X has enough horsepower to process the full readout of the imager without line skipping and as a result, delivers footage with substantially reduced rolling shutter, aliasing and moire. I shot a small amount of video and the results looked pretty good (albeit on the camera’s fixed 3.2” LCD screen). However, I would need to spend time carrying out proper tests to reach any real conclusions.

Although the EOS 1D X has a completely redesigned menu, with a dedicated video tab, accessing and switching between some of its frame rates of 24p (23.976), 25p and 30p (29.97) at 1080p, 50p and 60p (59.94) at 720p, requires one to first switch between PAL and NTSC. Surprisingly for a camera that Canon are billing as “The Filmmakers Camera,” the EOS 1D X has no dedicated video recording button (though one can be manually assigned), no headphone socket (though audio levels can be manually adjusted and monitored during recording with on-screen multi segment bargraph displays) and no clean HDMI output.

Maximum record time has been been raised from the 12 minutes found in the rest of the EOS line-up to just under 30. This is achieved by using auto spanning to circumnavigate the 4GB file size limit imposed by the FAT32 file system. Canon confirmed to me that it is EU tax restrictions, not technological ones, that prevent them from offering longer record times (which implies a lack of sensor overheating issues).

On the stills front, both the press room and the exhibition floor were alive with the sound of people testing out the EOS 1D X’s machine gun like burst rate of 12 Frames per second (14FPS JPEG only with mirror lock up). Although the buffer size and maximum number of pictures possible in burst mode has yet to be finalised, when Dan Chung tried to figure this out, in the press room, the card filled up before the camera stopped shooting!

One of the big questions about the EOS 1D X will, inevitably be, how good is its autofocus system? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Canon have gone all out on this front, designing a completely new system with its own dedicated DIGIC IV processor, that’s linked to the camera’s newly designed RGB metering system, for increased accuracy.

Canon confirmed that, as per online speculation, lenses with a maximum aperture, or maximum effective aperture (think tele converters) of F8, are incompatible with this autofocus system. They explained that this is a trade off that enabled them to include more f/5.6, f/4 and f/2.8 sensors to optimise the EOS 1D X for use with the faster lenses that, they say, the vast majority of their customers favour.

My brief tests with a range of lenses, produced good results. However, environmental conditions in the press room did not lend themselves to testing modes such as AI Servo, as tech journalists tend to be large slow moving subjects…

Handling of the EOS 1D X is better than expected, with a surprisingly shallow form factor that sat in my hand perfectly and felt equally well balanced with everything from a small prime to a large EF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS II USM. Because a multi-controller has been added to the vertical grip, it is equally practical to use the camera in horizontal and vertical mode.

As for ISO performance, shooting at ISO 51,200 (with a fast shutter), in the reasonably well lit exhibition hall under mixed natural and artificial light and viewing the results on the EOS 1D X’s rear 3.2” LCD screen at 100% magnification, I saw only a hint of luma and chroma noise. Whilst this does seem encouraging, it is too early to reach any final conclusions as, on the one hand, high ISO performance in most cameras is worse under poor than good illumination and on the other hand, these are pre-production models that have yet to be fine tuned. If High ISO and auto focus performance can at least match that of the Nikon D3s, then with 50% more resolution and full HD video, the EOS 1D X will be a killer camera (albeit at a price)!

I will publish a separate hands on report about the Canon Pixma Pro-1 printer.

© 2011, Paul D. All rights reserved.

About Paul D

Paul D is a multi award winning director & producer who makes music videos, documentaries & feature films. His recent 'Toadlickers' promo for multi Grammy nominated artist, Thomas Dolby, won Gold in the W3 Awards, Gold in The Davey Awards, was nominated for 2 Webby Awards, reached #18 in YouTube's 'Most Watched' Chart and was broadcast on The BBC. http://bit.ly/eruHnO
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