Saying no to the camera update cycle?

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. ;-)

 

  • Derrick

    Months later I am pleased I still have my 1Ds2 and 1Ds3.

  • Paul M

    Have been following this site for a while now, and Keiths views are always a pleasure to read.
    As a 7d user and Amateur sports and portrait photographer I have been looking to upgrade and considered many of the full frame cameras available and have considered all that has been said here by others. However I have recently seen a 1ds mkiii for sale NEW! yes New, but at slightly more than the 1dx, would I be mad to purchase over the 1dx, and keep my 7d as backup (best of both worlds).
    I think the 1ds still has loads to offer even though it is over 5years old and as keith has said with the 1dx having a lower resolution than the 1ds I agree that this is the wrong way to go.
    Decisions decisions !!

    • http://www.northlight-images.co.uk Keith Cooper

      If I was buying a camera now, and didn’t have the mk3, I’d go 100% for the 1D X. There are so many useful bits that the slight loss of detail at low ISO would be pretty negligible.

      It’s only because I already have the mk3, that the 1D X doesn’t appeal ;-)

      • Paul M

        Thanks Keith,
        I felt that the 1DX wasn”t a true replacement for the 1ds mkiii and maybe if and when the big megapixel camera arrives this would be the ideal replacement.
        Agreed the 1DX does seem to have all the right specs for the type of photography I find myself doing although I am only an amateur. I have noticed that more and more 1d mk iv cameras are becoming available on the secondhand market but again these are now superseded by the 1dx and can only presume that many sports photographers are now moving over to FF.
        Paul.

  • Stu

    Keith,
    Good discussion! I decided against the 1D X (which I also pegged to be a 1D5) when Canon said that resolution would be slightly less than on the 1Ds3 and that you “might” notice the difference with large prints. This was the wrong direction for me. I canceled my order. I did get the 5D3 for the other side of my business (events) and sold my 1D4. This body works very well indeed for this. I never had the 5D2 but friends who did told me they struggled with focus. That kept me away. I have no interest in another manufacturer’s body, either Nikon or Sony, since my L glass is outstanding. I also have no interest in video even though it looks like fun. Just no time for it. I’m waiting to see what the rumored 46MP body will do, especially if it is 16 bit. If it is based on the new chip design it might have enough value to me to consider an upgrade (DR, IQ). If not the there will be more L glass in my future.

  • http://mickwatsonphotography.com Mick Watson

    I totally agree with your comments Keith. I use my old brick the 1DS3 which has never let me down in weather from desert to snow and rain. I shoot low ISO so all things considered i dont need the snappy autofocus. I also do some wildlife and the X is just to short. No crop sensor means getting closer, I would already if I could, or bigger len’s. Therefore ill stick with the 1D4 and 7D.Its an amazing camera but for what I do i’m not going to bother.

  • http://donaldnfraser@me.com Donald N Fraser

    Dear Keith
    How do I avoid the upgrade cycle?
    I have a Canon new F1 and a T90 which suit me fine (OK I’m an oldie and learnt in the RAF on an MPP 5X4) but if film is going out, what do I do. I can’t afford a new (or 2nd hand Canon and lenses) so I’m stuck.

    Thank you for your web site. It is super!

    Donald

    • Keith Cooper

      Film’s not going away for quite some time, especially B&W with its simpler processing and manufacturing.

      It seems that digital SLRs are till holding values above the average compact camera, with my old 1Ds (11MP full frame) probably at £6-700 (it cost over £4k in 2003).

      Glad the site’s of interest!
      Keith

  • EOS Shooter

    You’ve got a good point here, Keith, and it applies just as well to the 5D models. I bought a 5D in late 2005 when it was a very worthwhile upgrade from a 20D. In 2009 I bought a 5D II partly for tax reasons but also because it was a worthwhile upgrade from the 5D and gave me the opportunity to have two full frame bodies – master and backup. The extra resolution in pictures has been well worth it. With the 5D III, while lots of functions may be improved over the 5D II, it’s simply not a worthwhile enough improvement overall, especially given the ridiculous price hike over the 5D II. I’ve stepped off the upgrade escalator and am happy enough with the 5D II (except the focussing which is lousy but I can live with it).

    • Keith Cooper

      I’m hoping that something of a bit more interest comes along in a year or two – but I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m still using the 1Ds3 when the 1D X successor appears ;-)

  • Wolf-Dieter Grabner

    Good post, after having preordered the 1D X back in October 2011 I cancelled mine for similar reasons. While I also do quite a lot of motorcycle and car photography, most of the times sheer speed is no issue. Dynamic range is – shooting for http://www.musikverein.at for example I often run into situations where bracketing / HDR is the way to go. Long story short: I decided to use the budget for a new D800E plus some primes and now own both systems (1Ds Mark III and the Nikon) which lets me continue using the 17 and 24 TS and also gives a nice backup. Nevertheless, the resolution is amazing. Dynamic range: totally different story, huge improvement over the Canon. I’ll rent a 1D X for testing later-the shots I did with a preproduction model made me cancel it (didn’t see the jump in quality back then)

    • Keith Cooper

      Thanks – I noticed some initial testing on a DPReview forum that looked at low ISO noise and DR, and pretty much said that at low ISO 100-200 the 1D X was at best ‘on a par’ with the 1DsIII, which isn’t really what I was expecting when the comparison is with a camera launched in Nov 07. Like you, I’m hoping to see for myself before too long…

      • Wolf-Dieter Grabner

        Shot some portraits at 6400 ISO with a 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III and a pre-release 1DX at a Canon event in Vienna. Mk II > III was somehow noticeable, 1DX a bit blurred (my fault) but also somehow in the same league. As you wrote: kind of disappointing in 2012.

        What’s really amazing about the D800(E) is the amount of recovery that’s possible. The Mercedes SLS (http://www.gluschitsch.com/2012/wie-von-einem-anderen-stern/) was totally blown out on some images – my fault, I simply had some configuration-mess. Images are around -1.5V in Lighroom and everything is fine. Not even highlights blown.

  • Scott

    I’m at a similar junction. I’ve been using the 5D2/7D combo because I thought I should hold off for the 1Ds4 since I already had the image quality of the 1Ds3 in my 5D2, and the durability issues were minor (indoor event shooting) Then we got the 1D-X (1D5) and 5D3 instead. :/

    The 1D-X would likely do me just fine, but I can get the 5D3 ‘and’ the 24-70mm Mk2 for the same money (or several 600EX-RT) and likely see more improvements where I shoot. For many of the same reasons listed above, baring significant gifts of providence, I’m still holding out for the 1Ds4 (or 1D-Xs).

    Hopefully Canon has been hearing what we’ve been saying…

  • http://www.flashpixx.net Gordon

    interesting read. Seems quite a few Nikon users of the D3s are making the same observation of the D4. Not sure if the decision not to upgrade is purely based on the perceived lack of shiny new bells and whistles or a lack of confidence in the economy. There also appears to be some groundswell of lack of confidence in the product, what with delayed shipment of the D1X and all the inevitable rumours that go along with that.

    I’ll make a small wager with you Keith, I bet you will have a 1DX in your bag before Christmas.

    • http://www.northlight-images.co.uk Keith Cooper

      You’ll notice that there is a minor get-out clause, in that Canon are going to send me one for ‘review’ at some point and I’m basing my decision on current knowledge of the camera…

      One reason I published the article was indeed to make it that bit harder for me to change my mind without coming up with good reasons [excuses] ;-)

      Not an Xmas present I’d decline though ;-)

  • http://www.johnstuartclarke.co.uk/ John Stuart-Clarke

    Sage advice, Keith.

    I tend to photograph wildlife so for me, the snappy AF acquisition, tracking and low-light capabilities are of great interest.. but I already own a 1D Mark IV, which is more than capable of working at the margins of what I shoot and so an ‘upgrade’ would be an act of costly self-indulgence.

    In fact, if I did purchase a 1D-X or 5D Mark III, I suspect I would miss the crop factor of my current sensor and wish I had some longer lenses… so I too will stick, not twist.

  • Aris

    Sounds like the 5DMKIII may well be the ideal camera for you if you don’t need half the features of the 1Dx.

    • http://www.northlight-images.co.uk Keith Cooper

      Actually, no it’s not, since I have a perfectly good 1Ds mk3

      It offers relatively minor improvements in the areas I’m interested in, and failings in not being a 1 series camera, with the build, ergonomics and solidity I already have in my 1Ds3

      What I’m waiting for is a camera that can be thought of as a 1Ds mark 4, not a 1D mark 5

  • http://ps.avalonlightphotoart.co.uk Richard Winn

    If I was in your position with your stated uses, then it wouldn’t be worth upgrading, unless of course your 1Ds MkIII decided it had had enough and wasn’t worth repairing.
    For me it would be a different story, as I shoot different subjects, so my reasons for not taking that upgrade path are different. The weather sealing would be handy, but how often would I use it? There’s always the option of a waterproof cover. What is appealing for me, is the low light capability and the AF. My question to myself, then becomes, is the extra cost of the slightly faster AF and the extra stop or so of useable ISO worth the difference over the 5D MkIII? As it isn’t the main source of my income, taking a purely business decision, I don’t make enough to justify getting the 1D X over the 5D MkIII. Yes I would prefer it in personal terms (although carrying over long distances may also play a factor), but I have to be realistic.

  • Tom Wall

    People who mainly want to take ordinary photos in ordinary levels of light and have little or no interest in video seem to be deeply out of fashion at the moment.
    Canon seem to have forgotten that not a single one of their 60 or so lenses development costs were paid for by video sales.
    Finally, it`s a pity cameras weren`t like laptops. You could go on to the manufacturers site and design one that you could actually get excited about!

  • Dekker

    I can perfectly understand your reasoning. It makes sense to me.

    I’m making a similar trade-off with my camera purchases and I’m quite happy to skip a generation or more.

    As a hobby photographer I use a 50D. I know it is not the latest and the greatest, but the 60D is not (enough of) an improvement, the 7D is too far into its life-cycle (as is the 5Dii), the 5Diii would be an improvement but the combination of price/size/weight make it less attractive for my type of use. What would bring me in from the sidelines is some combination better dynamic range, high ISO performance and/or much better firmware (I like to shoot HDR on occasion and interval shots). If Canon does not offer that right now then I can wait (people no upgrading every cycle will cost them much more sales than users moving to other systems).

    Reality is that DSLRs have become a mature product and like PCs before them, that means that my update cycle has become longer as well.

  • http://www.longlensphotography.co.uk Tomas

    I have been following your rumours site for a while. I can see there is a lot of marketing pressure both on the consumers and professionals. The new gear is certainly nice, and often (!) comes with significant improvements. However, like you mentioned in this article, this is not always required for the business – after all the older gear is just as good as it was a few days ago.

    I am shooting with 1Ds 2 which is certainly a great camera, but is getting a bit old. I may feel a bit more pressure to upgrade, but then to be honest it is still great for landscapes and portraits. The pixels are very sharp indeed, and I have seen a few references claiming that mk3 had stronger AA filter which would negate the increase in resolution. 1D x is a step back to the right direction according to Canon.
    However the cost is significant, and likewise I don’t need ISO 50,000 nor 12fps for my regular work. Extra dynamic range would be most welcome though, and it may also come with better noise handling. I truly hope they fixed sensor grid afterimage in shadows in Dx. 5DIII apparently still suffers from it.
    I also expect some innovative software features in camera, like selective ISO, grad filters, and so on. This should be possible with introduction of adroid and electronic shutter.

    So in this case I will opt for a new lens or two as they make by far the most difference. The 24mm TSE II is one I’d love to get. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about it…
    On the other hand 1Ds3 could become backup to replace mk1…

  • T. Collier

    Well said.

  • http://www.nickstephens.org Nick Stephens

    All makes perfect sense. The 1Dx doesn’t give you, the user, the necessary upgrade to make it worthwhile. Bits are “nice to have” but not essential. So, you can afford to sit it out until Canon come up with something that does meet your needs.

    Perfect, logical sense!

    • admin

      Thanks – I just thought that I’d told enough people to go through the process, that I really ought to do it myself!