Canon’s EOS-1Ds Mark II
The Digital SLR Big Shot

Photos © 2004, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

About a year ago I called up a stock agency to whom I'd been submitting 35mm and 6x7 slides for years and told them I was considering sending digital files. "Oh, don't worry about that, we scan your slides for you," they kindly replied. No, I told them, I want to start submitting files made directly in a digital camera. Just what size files would they need? "Well," they told me, "35MB, non-interpolated TIFFs would be fine." Oh, never mind, I said, having my dreams of sending in files directly from my
8-megapixel digital camera dashed. I went right back to carrying a film camera along with my digital SLR on my travels.

That was then and this is now, especially with the release of the new Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II. This would be the ultimate stock/location camera for me, I thought, one that had 16.7 effective megapixels and delivered 48MB+ files. In addition, that full-frame sensor meant that my wide angle lenses would finally behave like wide angle lenses. And, because the camera allowed me to shoot raw+JPEG files I could simply shoot in raw+, and deliver the JPEGs as proofs before I processed the full-resolution raw images on approval.

All seemed a dream come true, and for many the EOS-1Ds Mark II will be just that, a camera that beats 35mm slides hands down and rivals medium format quality and resolution. But for some, including myself, that dream hits up against a hard reality--namely the asking price of body only, at $8000. While there are those who might not flinch at the price tag, 8k is mucho dinero, making the camera a commitment as much as it is a product. But before we get too steeped in that discussion let's journey through the specs and follow up with some field shooting experiences.

Three Sisters: Portrait photographers, wedding photographers, and all those who wish to make excellent, out-of-the-camera images ready to print will love the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II. While I did some blur work on a dupe layer to soften the backgrounds in these shots, the near 48MB files yielded excellent 11x14 and larger prints. All these shots were made handheld at ISO 100 with window light with no reflectors and the skin tone, highlight rendition, and sharpness are all topnotch. I did set the color matrix to "portrait" which yields sRGB color space, standard saturation, and a -2 color tone. I would not hesitate to use this setting for all my future portraits with this camera. Those who might want to shoot and download directly from the camera can do so wirelessly with the WFT-E1A (Wireless File Transmitter), a real benefit to studio shooters who want to preview proofs as they go.

Inside a magnesium-alloy body that we are assured is dust- and water-resistant, the EOS-1Ds Mark II sports a 17.2-megapixel sensor with 16.7 effective megapixels, the largest full-frame sensor in its class. The camera accepts Type I and Type II CompactFlash cards as well as SD (Secure Digital) cards in a side by side slot arrangement. Switching between the two card formats is easy using a button on the back of the camera along with the Command dial.

For my tests I used a Lexar 40x 8GB card, knowing full well that I'd be using all 8GB during shoots that when set at raw+JPEG took up about 20MB per shot on the memory card. Of course, when opened, using the full res settings, I'd get a 48MB+ file size. As I shot I used another good and useful feature, also accessible from the camera back, that of making separate file folders for each group of pictures. This allowed me to download distinct folders and to keep shots in neat compartments, great for editing and further file renaming later. You can't rename the folders in the camera itself, but that's easy to do once you have them downloaded.

Choosing format and resolution is also made quick and easy with a simple push button dial selection on the camera body. It didn't make sense to me to shoot at anything but max resolution, but you can do so if you choose. For my work I chose raw+M2; as mentioned, the raw file takes up about 15MB of space while the M2 JPEG setting takes up about 3.2MB, with a resultant 3600x2400 pixel file. The largest JPEG file is 5.5MB, which means that at max resolution you are compressing about 1:8. This is fairly high compression in my book, but pictures do not seem to suffer as they might with other digicams I've used.

High Speed: The ability to set ISO in a range of ISO 50-3200 allows for great handheld shooting freedom in all types of lighting conditions. To test out the high-speed settings I set the camera at ISO 1600 for this handheld shot of a Cajun band amidst a crowded bar on New Orleans' Bourbon Street. In my view digital SLRs such as this excel in these conditions and yield results I was never able to attain with pushed E6 or high-speed negative film. The tonal control after the fact enhances this high-speed capability even more.

Shooting with raw+ with this camera makes the most sense to me, as raw gets you into so many creative games, a topic we'll cover later. But you can also set what Canon calls "parameters" and "color matrix" processing in raw+ (or just with raw or just with JPEG). The raw file does take on the attributes you set and the variations you choose will show up when the raw image is opened. However, it's easy enough to change these, as they are instruction sets rather than embedded, as they are in the JPEG files. It's very easy to back out of decisions made in the field in raw, not always so easy in JPEG.

In any case, these parameters and color matrix settings allow you to play with color saturation, with skin tone rendition (using the Portrait matrix), and color space. You can also manipulate the tone curve, sharpness and contrast, and bank the settings in the parameters, if you will. If you like you can bank a high contrast rendition, high key or even low key/low sharpness, etc. The sky's the limit, and you can match whatever image mood you want to every subject and scene.

Of course, shooting raw you can do all this later with software, but if you want it right out the box you can get it the way you like it without excessive post-exposure processing. This might save time later, but keep in mind that although these settings can be quite nuanced in camera you'll not have the control you might want. It's almost like using an "auto" setting--sometimes it's on the money and other times it's just settling for a look because you don't have the time or disposition to do it later. It's your call.

The interior shot of the Mardi Gras figures was made inside the Riverwalk area at ISO 400, while the street sculptures found across the street from the New Orleans Convention Center were shot at ISO 100.

I judge a camera--be it film, digital, or instant--on how flexible it is in the field. In this regard my favorite aspects of the EOS-1Ds Mark II are the ability to quickly and easily set white balance and especially ISO. These factors are why digital SLRs often blow film SLRs out of the water for convenience and flexibility. The new Canon lets you go quickly from ISO 100 to 1600 via a set of push buttons and rotation of the Command dial. You can even go to ISO 50 or 3200 if desired, but you have to go into the menu to take that step. But once you turn on the extended sensitivity it stays on.

I shot in New Orleans for part of this test, and would keep the camera at its "native" ISO 100 for the colorful walls and buildings in the French Quarter using a Tamron SP AF17-35mm zoom, but quickly switched to ISO 800 or 1600 for crawls inside the music halls (kindly put) on Bourbon Street. And when I shot without flash inside Kern's Mardi Gras World in Algiers, Louisiana, (a must visit for New Orleans photos), I'd shoot with my Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens at 800 or 1600. By combining lenses, fast or moderately fast, with ISO, I found I could shoot handheld without flash in just about every venue I encountered.

The camera offers more white balance options than you could possibly use, even allowing for white balance bracketing and white balance compensation in 100K increments. This, I'm sure, is ideal for commercial and studio portrait photographers, who will find this camera up to any lighting condition. Frankly, however, after going through various white balance sets, I found that shooting on auto in raw did the trick for me. True, I did not do spectral analysis of the color spectrum, etc., but I got just the flavor of the color sets I wanted without much fuss and bother.

Full-Frame Wide: One of the real benefits of a full-frame sensor is that your wide angle lenses actually behave like wide angle lenses. These shots were made with the Tamron SP AF17-35mm f/2.8-4 lens, which delivered great sharpness at the 17mm settings for this test. The CMOS 24x36mm sensor in this camera and the full frame, 100 percent viewfinder makes shooting wide with digital fun again, and eliminates the so-called multiplication factor found in most digital SLRs.

As to other features of note the EOS-1Ds Mark II has plenty; in fact, it's what you'd expect--it's a state of the art digital SLR. In brief:
· AF points: There are 45 AF points in the finder and you can let the camera do its thing or set various groups yourself. You can set any number of variations as required by the way you work and the subject and scene before you. I'm a center-point, focus-lock kind of guy, being somewhat of a dinosaur, but for general street shooting I just set it on auto and was pleased 99 percent of the time.

· Drive modes: Drive mode can be set at single or continuous, which gives you about four frames per second. I was unable to make the camera lock up waiting for image processing in continuous, perhaps in part because I used the Lexar WA (Write Accelerated) 40x card. My only problem was that continuous is a thoroughbred that likes to run, and more than once I took more in a sequence than I liked, due to my heavy trigger finger and flagging reflexes. At 20MB of memory card space per shot that's no joke, but I found out later that I could limit the number of shots in a continuous sequence using the "Personal Functions" settings.