Canon’s EOS-1D Mark III; Canon’s High-Performance D-SLR Gets Updated

The big SLR news for pro shooters so far this year is Canon's launch of the EOS-1D Mark III D-SLR. It uses a 10.1-megapixel CMOS sensor measuring 28.1x18.7mm that's about the same size as sensors in the EOS-1D Mark II and Mark II N, but has more pixels than the Mark II's 8.2 megapixels and the same focal length conversion factor of 1.3x. The new 10.1-megapixel CMOS sensor has 7.2 micron square pixels and the fill factor (the proportion of each pixel's sensitivity to light) has been increased, producing images of startling clarity. But the chip is only part of the story.

A Clean Sheet Of Paper Design
Some of the highlights of the Mark III's design include a 10 frame per second (fps) burst rate to capture (approximately) 110 JPEG, 30 raw, or 22 raw+JPEG files. For those photographers who think you can never have too many image file formats, the Mark III also offers the sRAW format, with 1/4 the resolution and approximately 1/2 the file size of conventional raw images.

The camera has an ISO range of 100-3200 or 50-6400 with ISO expansion enabled via the camera's extensive series of Custom Functions--there are 57 of 'em. The 10.1-megapixel CMOS sensor's pixels are not only bigger but are also more receptive to light, resulting in low-light performance that even at ISO 3200 is spectacular. Under the situations most apt to produce noise the Mark III produced minimal digital noise, but if that tiny bit bothers you install Neat Image's ( Photoshop compatible plug-in and make it disappear.

This shot of my K-Line steam locomotive was made in my train room at ISO 3200 with all of the room lights out but some ambient light leaking from one window with the blinds drawn. The exposure (4 seconds at f/18) is a classic high-noise situation but while the noise is obvious it's less than what I would expect with grain with ISO 400 slide film shot under the same conditions. The truly noise-averse could eliminate it with Neat Image ( but I didn't do it here because I don't think you would see a difference on the magazine's pages. Yes, it's that good.
All Photos © 2007, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

The Mark III has a 3" LCD preview screen with live viewing à la Olympus' Live View. In addition to expanded methods of image capture (see "What Else Is New?" sidebar), the Live View shooting mode reduces vibration by lifting the reflex mirror out of the optical path in advance of the exposure, with the potential of improving image sharpness at slow shutter speeds. Live View also lets you implement one of the Mark III's most unique capture capabilities, the ability to overlay vertical lines corresponding to different film aspect ratios, including 3:4, 4:5, 6:7, 10:12, 5:7, and even 6:6! During playback these lines are displayed on the Mark III's big screen and when viewed with Canon's Digital Photo Professional software (included free with the camera) the images are displayed in the selected aspect ratio. When viewed in Photoshop or whatever, you'll see and have access to the whole magilla.

Like previous EOS-1 series cameras, the 1D Mark III D-SLR has 45 AF points, but unlike its predecessors, 19 of them are of the high-precision cross-type. The array allows the other points to be divided into groups of nine inner and nine outer focusing points plus a center point. It is engineered to make selecting an individual focusing point much faster than in the past. During manual AF point selection, the AF point area is expandable. Canon claims the new AF sensor has double the low-light sensitivity when compared to earlier EOS D-SLRs, but I didn't see it in any of my low-light images. In fact, there has been an online brouhaha on the Mark III's autofocus capabilities. You can read my special comments about AF later in the "In The Field" section.

Shot with Canon's new EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM zoom lens, these kayaks were captured in Program mode at 1/400 sec at f/10 and ISO 250 with an exposure compensation of -1/3 stop.

Twin DIGIC III image processors provide all the good stuff you might expect, providing NASCAR levels of performance while processing large amounts of image data. While the EOS-1D has long had two memory card slots, it now has automatic switching between them when one is full. CompactFlash access is now 1.3x faster and SD card access is 2x faster. (The Mark III is also compatible with the SDHC format memory card.) The extra power of dual DIGIC III processors allows Analog-to-Digital (A/D) conversion to improve from 12 to 14 bits per channel, meaning that tonal gradation for raw images is now divided into 16,384 separate levels per channel rather than 4096, and that difference I could see. You'll see it in increased quality on your computer screen and, depending on your output device, on the print.

In The Field
Although the shape of the Mark III appears similar to the Mark II and its ergonomics are similarly excellent, it is a new camera in every way, including placement of controls. Many are in different locations and some, like the multi-controller (I call it a "joystick") also found on the EOS 5D, take on menu navigation duties instead of just AF point selection. The Mark III retains most of the Mark II's interlocks ("push this, pull that") that slow users of Canon's pro cameras and that is thoughtfully lacking in their non-pro offerings, and the 5D is slightly better than the Mark II in that regard. Out there in the real world these kinds of things are annoying, but like a missing tooth you eventually get used to it.

I photographed Mary giving me her best Lee Meriwether (everybody other than Batfans will have to Google that name) smile in my makeshift basement studio with the Mark III and EF 135mm f/2.8 SF lens. Exposure in Manual mode was 1/60 sec at f/9 and ISO 200. Autofocus in my dimly lit studio was sluggish but no more so than my Mark II. Under these same dimly lit conditions my EOS 5D seems to lock on and focus faster than the Mark III.

Instead of a Ni-MH power source the Mark III uses a LC-E4 lithium ion battery that reminds me of Nikon's D2X pack and doubles the Mark III's shots to 2200. When I tested the camera battery woes were nonexistent. With battery and memory cards the Mark III weighs 8 oz lighter than a similarly equipped Mark II N, but it's still a bigga bigga hunk of magnesium alloy. While it's lighter than the Mark II, it is not as light as the 5D and tips the Weight Watcher's scale at a relatively heavy 2.54 lbs. Making the chassis from low-density, high-strength carbon-ceramic the way Porsche makes brake rotors will cost more, but weight savings would be dramatic. Canon could offer it as a more expensive version of the Mark III. Who knows, Canon, you may be surprised at how many of these sports models you could sell to shooters who want something significantly lighter.

The Mark III is a true professional camera, which means it lacks a pop-up flash, which is one of the ways that Japanese camera manufacturers appear to delineate between pro and consumer SLRs. If the lack of a built-in flash for adding small amounts of fill light bothers you, consider using Canon's inexpensive ($119.95) 220EX flash. It's small, slips on the hot shoe, uses four AAs so it has real power, and incorporates Canon's E-TTL evaluative flash system. I've also used it with both the Mark II and 5D
with amazing results.

Canon's Picture Styles were added to the EOS-1D Mark II N and continue with the Mark III. This image was captured using the Monochrome mode with Sepia tone add-on directly by the Mark III with an exposure of 1/250 sec at f/8 and ISO 250 with a +1/3 stop exposure compensation.

In addition to the Mark III's 57 Custom Functions (arranged in four groups), up to six frequently used menu options and Custom Functions can be configured in a user-friendly feature called "My Menu." Up to five Personal white balance settings and five Custom white balance data items can be entered. You can also customize image file names to use your initials instead of the ubiquitous "_IMG." Is 57 too many Custom Functions? Twenty-four pages in a tiny 212-page User's Guide (old-timers will need their reading glasses) are dedicated to Custom Functions. As in most of the digital imaging world, I expect that 80 percent of the people will use 20 percent of the Custom Functions but 100 percent of them will be happy about it.