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Saying no to the camera update cycle?

  |   Article, Articles and reviews, Camera testing, Personal views, Photography Business   |   38 Comments

Another camera update – No thanks

Having the courage not to update your camera

When to pass on that nice shiny new kit.


When does a new bit of equipment become worth buying?

the new Canon 1D XNew toys are nice, but… it’s about time I listened to some of my own advice I give to people who write in and ask ‘should I upgrade my camera’…

I hope this note about some of my own considerations is of help to those wondering if the latest and greatest camera has rendered their existing one in need of ‘upgrade’. Do remember that what I say here is very much based on what’s important to my own business as a photographer. YMMV as they say.

New toys anyone?

Through our rumours and camera information pages I’ve been following new Canon cameras, before and after they are announced, for several years.

Back in November 2007 I received my nice new EOS 1Ds mark 3, as a replacement for the EOS 1Ds I purchased  in  late 2003. By skipping the EOS 1Ds mark 2, the jump in performance was quite noticeable. Particularly resolution (11MP to 21MP) and image quality (low ISO noise, useful dynamic range, and ISO range).

Last year, Canon announced the EOS 1D X, and now (9 months later!) it’s shipping. So, 4 1/2 years after I started using my 1Ds mk3, is this new camera one for me?

What do I need?

I’m a professional commercial photographer and the truth is, that I use my 1Ds3 most of the time at 100 ISO and quite often with manual focus lenses or with AF turned off for the shot. Where I do use AF, it’s for relatively static or slow moving objects – the 1Ds mk3 auto focus is superb – then again, so was the 1Ds.

Canon 1Ds and 1Ds mk3 side by side

My 1Ds3 and original 1Ds. The 1Ds LCD screen is quite small…

I’ve no interest whatsoever in producing video, and only rarely have I ever pushed the burst rate of my old 1Ds, yet alone the 1Ds mark3.

Many of my shots are manual exposure, and where the light varies, the 1Ds3 metering, coupled with an actual understanding of exposure, is rarely fooled.

Having used an EOS 5D mark2 a bit, I want the heft, build quality, and usability of a 1 series (big hands help here ;-) )

If I’m on a a wet building site or working foundry, then the build quality of the ‘1 series’ means I’m worrying far less about protecting my camera from damp and dust.

What’s available in the 1D X?

When Canon announced the 1D X, they pointedly said that it was the successor to the 1D mk4 and the 1Ds mk3.

It gets rid of the crop sensor (1.3x) found in their sports/action camera, the 1D series, and goes for a 35mm full frame sensor, as found in the 1Ds series.

Let’s have a look at the key specs of the 1D X (+ is ‘interesting’, – is ‘really not bothered’ )

  • Full Frame 18.1MP (?)
  • Dual DIGIC 5 – 17 Times The Processing Power of DIGIC 4 (-)
  • ISO 100-51200 Native (+)
  • 100,000 Pixel RGB Metering Sensor; EOS iSA (Intelligent Subject Analysis) (-)
  • 61 Point AF: 21 f/5.6 Cross Type Sensors; 20 f/4 Cross Type Sensors; 5 f/2.8 Cross Type Senors (-)
  • EOS iTR AF (Intelligent Tracking & Recognition Auto Focus) (-)
  • Dual CF slots  (-)
  • 12 Frames Per Second (-)
  • 14 Frames Per Second JPG Only (-)
  • 400,000 Shot Rated Shutter (-)
  • Ethernet Connection  (+)
  • Full HD video (1920×1080: 24/25 fps)  (-)

There are two features here that are of potential interest to me. The ISO range and the ethernet connection.

  • Sometimes I shoot the 1Ds3 at 3200 ISO – that improved range would be of real use.
  • Ethernet would be really useful in studio and tethered shooting

But hold on… I’ve been reviewing our entire archive over the last few weeks, as part of a planned update to the commercial section of this site.

How much photography did I do at 3200 ISO with the 1Ds3? – quite a bit. How much of that was actual paying work? Hardly any. Seems that high ISO would be most useful for my personal work. I’ve no desire to get into wedding/portrait/event work with the business, so the high ISO isn’t looking a particularly key buying factor.

Ethernet and tethered? Sounds great, but I use a long USB lead in our studio, and even on location, I’m generally pretty close to the camera. Wireless control would be useful every so often.

But what about megapixels?

In real life print terms, the difference between the 21MP of the 1Ds3 and 18MP of the 1D X is pretty irrelevant – both can give a good A2 sized print with good lenses. If I want a much bigger print for display use, then both should be capable of upscaling to 36″ x 24″ with no problem.

If I need a big print with a lot of detail then I either need some much more expensive kit (top end digital MF) or I can use our Gigapan to capture multiple images to stitch together. I did this yesterday for a client who wanted a very big print, with -lots- of detail. 280 megapixels takes a few minutes to capture, and won’t work for some subjects, but it’s way beyond what we’ll see in a 35mm DSLR for a good few years yet.

If you look at the few reviews of the 1D X so far, everyone compares it withe the 1D mk4 – lots of high ISO images and people running towards the camera.

Let’s face it, the 1D X is the 1D mark 5, but with a full frame sensor.

Nothing in these reviews (so far) addresses dynamic range and image quality at base ISO under varying lighting conditions – which, when it comes down to it, is the only new feature of real interest to me (I assume that all other features in common with my 1Ds3 will be at least as good in the 1D X)

Resisting upgrade pressure

The 1Ds mk2 appeared only a year or so after I got the 1Ds, and the jump from 11MP to 16MP, along with sensor improvements was noticeable, but not enough for me at the time. By 2007 and the 1Ds mk3, the jump in performance was quite noticeable (although I’m happy with my 1Ds as backup on most jobs).

For various business reasons, the cost of moving to the 1D X isn’t much of an issue so I’m not interested in a 5D3 for example.

Since someone is bound to mention Nikon… I really like my 8-15 fisheye zoom and TS-E lenses (I’ve the 17mm, 24mm and 90mm) Lens choice is often what makes a shot for me.

My 1Ds3 shutter is rated at 300,000 operations, which at current rates gives me a good few years life yet.

So, no pressing need to change.

I’m sure the 1D X will sell really well – it meets the needs of a lot of professional photographers. I can see so many uses for it, just not ones that interest me :-)

After all that, I’m hoping to get a 1D X for a short while to actually see the differences for myself, but that depends on availability of review equipment and may not be for a while.

When will my 1Ds3 be retired?

Perhaps when Canon once again addresses the side of their ‘pro’ market, that’s not bothered by 14FPS and shooting sports by candlelight, but still wants a camera of  ‘1 series’ quality.

When there is a 35mm full frame Canon camera that offers a noticeable improvement in image quality over the 1Ds3 (for the types of use I’ve mentioned)

1D Xs anyone?  I hear rumours of something more fitting my requirements, but they are just that, and not something I’m pinning any hope on in the near future.

2015: Finally, the 5Ds arrives at 50MP and my 1Ds3 is relegated to backup duty

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