Canon's EOS-1D Mark II
Style, Speed, And Character

sorcadmin's picture

When I received Canon's EOS-1D Mark II for testing, I planned to photograph Jaguar Mark 2 automobiles comparing camera and car models, but the changeable weather of springtime in the Rockies (it snows a lot) meant my choices were narrowed as the deadline marched on. So I ended up taking the EOS-1D Mark II with me everywhere, on assignment or for fun, and have never been more impressed with any camera--digital or film--before. The EOS-1D Mark II is a lot like a Jaguar Mark 2; it has style, character, and fast speed!

The Good Stuff
Like a Mark 2 Jaguar, this new Canon is built like a tank to take professional use, the way Pat Grossman drives her Mark 2 Jag hard in vintage sports car races. The Mark II is identical in size and slightly lighter (44.1 oz) than the EOS-1D it replaces. All of the Mark II's gripping surfaces are covered with rubber and provide excellent grip, including vertical grip shooting controls. When combined with world-class ergonomics, smooth shutter release, and a quick 55ms lag time (that can be adjusted to 40ms) making photographs requires only that you think about it--and the camera does the rest.

1: Audio caption information up to 30 seconds long, such as the owner's name and hometown of this Mark 2 Jaguar, can be recorded using the camera's built-in microphone. It is saved along with the file in WAV (Waveform) format that can be read by Canon's DPP, EOS Viewer Utility, and other WAV compliant programs. This raw image file was captured with an EF 16-35mm lens at 21mm, ISO 200, and Program mode (1/400 sec at f/10.)
Photos © 2004, Peter K. Burian, All Rights Reserved

The big news is the 8.2-megapixel CMOS sensor that captures images at 8.5 fps in continuous bursts of up to 40 JPEG or 20 raw frames. Canon is now all CMOS, all the time, with its digital SLRs. The Mark II includes the next generation DIGIC II image processor, permitting faster processing of large files with, Canon says, "superior color and more precise detail." PR talk, for sure, but borne out by my real-world experience working with this camera under many kinds of lighting and working conditions. The new and improved auto white balance control is done directly off the image sensor and I found it to be spot-on accurate all the time. Picky photographers might want to play with the camera's seven color matrices as well as a white balance bracketing option that lets you shift color balance slightly in magenta-green or amber-blue directions.

The camera's exposure modes include Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Program. Shutter speeds are available from 30 seconds up to 1/8000 sec plus the ever-popular Bulb. ISO range is from 100-1600 in 1/3 stop increments with ISO 50 or 3200 possible using the ISO extension via an on-screen menu. Spot metering is approximately 3.8 percent or multi-spot linked to 9-11 AF points. Exposures in all of the autoexposure modes were the most accurate on any digital SLR that I've tested, and I seldom, if ever, had to resort to using the exposure compensation feature to tweak exposures while shooting.

2: One of the first photographs I made with the Mark II was during my daily walk that takes me past this nearby farm, which has been the subject of many of my photographs. During my walk, I shot some large JPEG and raw files. When I booted up Canon's DPP software and opened this file I was stunned by its color and sharpness. "Wow," I said to myself, "these raw files are awesome." That's when I realized I was looking at a JPEG file and was even more impressed. Image file captured with an EF 16-35mm lens at 16mm, ISO 200 in Av (1/320 sec at f/8) mode.

The Mark II's 2" LCD preview screen contains 230,000 pixels (the EOS-1D only had 120,000) and provides approximately 100 percent coverage. Like a real pro camera, the Mark II's screen offers the option of showing a single image with histogram with separate graphs for RGB colors. If any exposure compensation tweaking is needed, you'll know it.

Like the (let's all say it together) Mark I before it, the Mark II has a focal length conversion factor of 1.3. That means a 50mm lens becomes a 65mm or a 16mm covers the area of a 21mm. In actual use, the 1.3x factor is barely noticeable, especially with the big, bright viewfinder image the Mark II delivers. Maybe it's not quite as good as the more expensive EOS-1Ds, but it's amazing considering it uses a pentamirror.

Bigger Files + Faster Frame Rates = Bigger Memory Cards
Like some Jaguar automobiles that have twin gas tanks, the EOS-1D Mark II has two memory card slots: one for CompactFlash Type I and II, the other for SecureDigital, although I guess you can stick an MMC card in there, too. Like the other members of the "One" family, the Mark II has 21 built-in custom features, but unlike them allows you to save custom and personal function menus off to a CompactFlash or SecureDigital card, allowing them to be installed on another camera.

3: The first weekend I took the Mark II everywhere, including making this photograph of my wife Mary and her brand-new 1993 Mazda Miata at a nearby park. I forgot to bring a 550EX flash, and like a "real" pro's camera, the Mark II doesn't have a built-in flash, but a little burning and dodging in Photoshop CS produced this final result. The original JPEG file was captured with an EF 28-105mm lens at 28mm, ISO 200, and Program mode (1/200 sec at f/9.)

Stealing some good ideas from the EOS 10D, the Mark II offers video out to a TV monitor and includes the needed cable. It has a FireWire out jack as well as a USB port for direct printing to compatible Canon and PictBridge-capable printers. The NP-E3 nickel metal-hydride power pack is the same as the other "Ones" use, but Canon claims battery life is superior at 1200 shots per charge. Of course, that ultimately depends on your chimping habits. (See Chimping sidebar below.)

When working with models I not only chimp, but also show the images for quite a long time to any on-set clients. During one shoot I never made it to 700 frames from a full charge. On the upside, the battery charges fast and during a break I was able to refresh the battery and finish the day's shoot. A DC Coupler kit (DCK-E1) permits the camera to run on AC all day long.

The Bad Stuff
If you're already familiar with the EOS-1D or 1Ds, there's little not to like about the EOS-1D Mark II. When moving uptown from an EOS 10D, D60, or D30, you're in for a surprise. All the on-screen menus and control buttons appear similar--but act differently. Every control, and I mean every, has an interlock button. To remove the rechargeable Ni-MH battery pack, you first must press an unlock button, and then turn a sturdy latch. Before you do anything, you gotta do something else. Why? After noticing that the EOS-1Ds menus and controls were so different from my 10D, I asked a Canon representative this very question. He said, "Yes, the menus and controls on the 10D are more intuitive (italics mine) but this camera has the same menu structure as the 1D." He also said the camera was deliberately designed to make it more difficult to make changes because "that's what pros want."

4: The Mark II's magnesium alloy body is fully sealed and gasketed against harsh working conditions, like the blowing dust and high winds when photographing this aluminum alloy Land Rover fire truck. The raw image file was captured with an EF 16-35mm lens at 16mm, ISO 200, and Manual mode (1/500 sec at f/11.)

Let me get this straight; it's harder to use the on-screen controls because pros want extra steps that slow them down? I don't think so.

Like I said, EOS-1D and 1Ds users won't notice, but every time you want to switch from capturing images on the CompactFlash card to the SecureDigital card the rest of us will have to open the manual and read how to do it. Or maybe I'm just stupid, which is always a possibility. Changing between SmartMedia and CompactFlash cards on an Olympus E20N involves pushing the SM/CF button and turning a wheel one click!

Here's just an outline of what Canon uses two pages to say in the otherwise excellent 180-page Instruction Manual. (The software User's Guide is twice as big and has 220 pages for both Windows and Mac OS versions.) Begin by setting the camera to the folder mode; then create a new folder; then select a folder; and finally choose the memory card you want to use. Whew! Why not give me a custom function that lets the camera automatically write to the other card when one is full?

5: Because of weather problems during the time I had the Mark II for testing, I was unable to test the 45-point AF system (same as the other "One" family members) on a Mark II, but found focus to be 100 percent accurate all of the time. This raw image file of a Jaguar Mark 2 was captured with an EF 16-35mm lens at 21mm, ISO 200, and Manual mode (1/320 sec at f/9.)

Software, We've Got Software
To work with raw files, Canon bundles their new Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software, and it ain't bad. It ain't good either, but at least they don't charge for it. Although the latest Adobe Camera Raw plug reads EOS-1D Mark II raw files, it was produced without help from Canon. (Olympus, for example, provided file specifications to Adobe.) The Canon portions of the Camera Raw 2.2 plug-in, the latest as I write this, was engineered backward by a bunch of folks working away to come up with the code. Canon told me that they usually don't share this information with others and DPP does a better job than Adobe Camera Raw, and I believe them.

It has an elegant interface, but I found DPP slow, although more techie types will probably love it. It does have a Transfer to Photoshop command that opens a raw file inside Adobe's program, so why doesn't Canon just develop a Photoshop compatible plug-in? Heck I'll even pay for it. In the meantime, I'll stick with Adobe Camera Raw.

6: Speed is relative. A 1963 Jaguar Mark 2 had 223 horsepower and a 2004 Jaguar XK-R Stirling Moss edition delivers 465 horsepower. Which one is faster? Canon claims that their DPP software offers, "high-speed processing of raw images," but it took me more than an hour to process 80 files. DPP is supposed to be 5-6 times faster than Canon's File Viewer Utility that's bundled with the other "Ones."

A Dream Camera?
So what do I really think? To paraphrase Tom Hnatiw (www.dreamcargarage.com): Do you need a camera like this? If you are a professional photographer the stunning image quality that the EOS-1D Mark II delivers is what you want and what your clients expect. If you shoot sports, the ability to capture a burst of 40 JPEG frames gives you an edge in capturing that one split second that makes the difference between a good shot and a great one. And every aspiring pro will want to upgrade to the Mark II, as their budgets permit. Do you want a camera like this? Oh yeah!

(Sidebar) Bedtime For Bonzo Or Chimping's Genesis
In case you're not familiar with the term chimping, here's some background from that font of information, the World Wide Web. According to PhotoNet (www.photo.net), the term "was first used by a few unnamed photographers at the US Open tennis tournament several years ago" and refers to the monkey-like sounds photographers make when looking at images on their digital cameras' LCD screens. The photographers make what they think is a great image, review it on the LCD screen, and make sounds like "ooooo, aaaaaa." Its first documented reference was on SportsShooter (www.sportsshooter.com). Over at the Leica Users Group they say chimping is a term to describe folks using digital cameras that take a shot, look at it on the display; take a shot, look at it on the LCD; and take a shot, and look at it on the screen because "that's the way a chimp would use a digital camera." Not everyone agrees with these negative connotations: "Chimping is a very powerful tool, as an aid to creativity it's well worth the high price of admission to the digital world" (www.nature-photographytechniques.com/digital-travelphotography.html). As an incurable chimper, I like that one best.

7: Adobe and Canon aren't the only raw software choices. SilverFast's (www.silverfast.com) DCPro supports the raw formats for many professional digital cameras from Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Kodak, Fuji, and Sigma. The conversion of the raw data takes place in the background; saving time so you can re-open converted files fast. The Virtual Light Table, shown here, provides the user with the capability to view, organize, and manage their digital image files and the application and Photoshop compatible plug-in provides image correction tools, such as redeye removal, color correction, white balance, and exposure adjustment.

Smarter Flash
The Mark II has a smarter "E-TTL" flash metering system that, while compatible with all EX-series flashes, is designed to illuminate the subject as a "plane" to ensure that images of various colors and levels of reflection are accurately captured. This was useful when I was commandeered to shoot some "grip and grins" (argghhhhhh) at the ground breaking of a new Land Rover dealership. The new system compares ambient light with the reflected pre-flash in all 17 metering modes and selects the areas with small differences to be weighted for flash exposure compensation. This, I expect, will be of most use to wedding and other shoot-and-scoot photographers working with Canon's 550EX flash.

For more information about the EOS-1D Mark II, visit Canon's website at: www.usa.canon.com.

Technical Specifications
Type: Digital AF/AE SLR camera; 36-bit color (12 bits per RGB color) CMOS sensor
Lens Mount: Canon EF mount; all EF lenses except EF-S
Equivalent Focal Length: 1.3x focal length increase
Total Pixels: 8.5 megapixels; effective pixels: approx. 8.2 megapixels
Pixel Unit: 8.2 microns square
Storage Media: CompactFlash Type I or II, SecureDigital (one slot each)
ISO Film Speed Range: 100, 125, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, and 1600; ISO 50 and 3200 are settable via menu (ISO extension)
Shutter Speeds: 30 seconds to 1/8000 sec in 1/3 stops; X-sync at 1/250 sec
Long Exposure Noise Reduction: Applied to shutter speeds of 1 second and longer
Drive Modes: Single; 3 fps; 8.5 fps
Continuous Shooting: Up to 40 shots (for JPEG images)
Sound Recording: Sound recorded with the built-in microphone is attached to the respective image Digital Port: FireWire
Camera Direct Port: USB
Exterior Material And Chassis: Magnesium alloy
Size: 6.1x6.2x3.1"
Weight: 43 oz (body only); Battery: 11.8 oz
Price: $4499

For a full list of specifications, check the Canon website at: http://web.canon.jp/Imaging/eos1dm2/html/specifications.html.

8: Canon's DPP software is designed to read only one kind of Canon raw file; the type that EOS-1D Mark II's, Mark I's, and EOS-1Ds write.

9: Raw image file of limited edition Jaguar XKR Silverstone "Stirling Moss edition" captured with an EF 16-35mm lens at 16mm, ISO 200, and Manual mode (1/400 sec at f/10.)

Share | |