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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.

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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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  • tom rose | May 30, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Thanks for your quick reply and for your warnings, suggestions and the excellent article that you have referred me to.

  • kacoooper | May 30, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Thanks – it wasn’t until last year that I moved to a 5Ds, which is a big enough jump to make a difference (I do miss the 1 series body though)

    Second hand printers are something I’m vary of, without a good hands-on test. Watch out for Epson 4900’s that have clogging issues – quite a few people bought them and then just didn’t use them enough. You might find a good 3880 still. Have a look at the Canon iPF5100 too, but with all Canon LF printers watch for people getting rid of them just before the heads need changing (not cheap). See my ‘so you want a large format printer’ article for more general large printer advice.

  • tom rose | May 30, 2016 at 9:26 am

    Nice to see some good sense on the Internet, rather than the usual tosh from fanboys, shills, egomaniacs and the like. For similar reasons to yours I see no need to “upgrade” from my even older pair of 1-series DSLRs: a 1D ii N and a 1Ds ii.

    My money is better spent on:

    A good second hand A2 printer (any suggestions?)
    Travel to photogenic locations

  • Kevin Allen | Dec 8, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Canon from a PR point of view need some new technology. It gets a lot of bad press on the boards for various reasons. Wether in practical terms it adds up to anything much is getting drowned out. I would hope for Canons sake they have something up their corporate sleeve for a 1D X mkII.
    High iso has been a blessing and a curse, I shoot mostly from a helicopter, in the days of film it took a lot of skill and nerve to shoot after sunset with only 800iso film and f2.8. Now all kinds of people do it and get a lot of praise for something still difficult but many times easier by high iso on 35mm style cameras and f1.4. That’s progress.

  • kacoooper | Dec 8, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Yes that’s a good reason – my work has moved away from that as I’ve specialised more. I might use higher ISO and speed for personal stuff, but not rarely for anything that pays.

  • kacoooper | Dec 8, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    I’m minded to ask… What 1D X mk2 rumours?

    There are no reliable rumours about the 1D X mk2 at the moment! It’s likely to be another incremental change faster, better, but not a huge change. Maybe dual pixel, but radical change and Canon rarely go together ;-)

    Treat any rumour that addresses DR, as suspect at best. It’s a guaranteed hook to get stuff picked up and passed on. Most forum comment about DR is poorly informed at best IMHO ;-)

  • Kevin Allen | Dec 8, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Also after years of shooting film at 160iso I never had a need for high frame rate or high iso, it wasn’t an option on Hasselblad. I have made a need for it by expanding what I can do and offer. Cheers Kevin.

  • Kevin Allen | Dec 8, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    I’m just wondering with the X II rumours if the 5Ds might be the last of that current sensor design, Canon squeezing the last out of the R&D development for that tech. If rumours are true regarding new DR it would point to a different sensor technology in the camera, which would filter down to the 5D quite quickly.

  • kacoooper | Dec 8, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Ah yes, high ISO… another in the ‘not needed’ feature set for me ;-)

    If I was buying in 2014, it would have been a 1D X but in 2015, it was a 5Ds. Having 50MP to start with has made a bigger improvement for my workflow than I thought it would

  • Kevin Allen | Dec 8, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Yes of course it all makes sense, I just found the X to be much greater than the sum of it’s parts. I think what decided it for me was I needed a low light camera and it hit that nail spot on. Being able to shoot at 6400iso and even 12800iso was a huge help for me. Not just low light but enough DR to play with at high iso. I was surprised to see recently on Luminous Landscape that the high range iso DR was better than the Sony. The X at those iso’s still holds colour depth, somethying that never gets mentioned when testing high iso performance.


  • kacoooper | Dec 8, 2015 at 10:53 am

    Given I got the 1Ds mk3 when it came out in late 2007, I had several years use of it before the X came out, and had to look at what extra it offered -that was relevant to my work-

    The important part, and I mention it several times, is that you need to make the decision relevant to your personal needs

    So, for me… (YMMV)

    12fps – pointless
    Micro adjustment – bang on, but I rarely use AF
    Exposure – works fine on the 1Ds3 – I usually shoot in manual

    What the article is about, is that -for me- the 1D X was of no real benefit. Others will have different criteria – that’s what they should look at and it seems you did just that.

    So, you are right , and so am I :-)

  • Kevin Allen | Dec 8, 2015 at 10:39 am

    A bit late to add here, but I noticed in another part of your site you skipped the X over the III. I think you got that wrong, I have both. I never use the III, I just go for the X, it just nails everything that’s important. I have lenses on the III I considered not worth bothering with despite hours of micro adjusting. Stick them on the X and ker boom. I bought the Sigma 12 -24mm used it on the III, it was never sharp, it got left in the cupboard. Stick it on the X and I don’t feel the need for Canon’s 11-24mm. Exposure focus etc bang on with the X, 12fps great for handheld HDR when you need extra DR on the move. If the mkII X is more of the same but better I’ll probably get two.

  • Derrick | Mar 30, 2013 at 7:21 am

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

  • Paul M | Jan 8, 2013 at 11:56 am

    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.

  • Keith Cooper | Jan 8, 2013 at 11:30 am

    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 | Jan 8, 2013 at 10:38 am

    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 !!

  • Stu | Oct 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    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.

  • Mick Watson | Sep 2, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    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.

  • Keith Cooper | Jul 29, 2012 at 11:12 am

    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!

  • Donald N Fraser | Jul 29, 2012 at 8:48 am

    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!


  • Keith Cooper | Jul 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    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 ;-)

  • EOS Shooter | Jul 13, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    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).

  • Wolf-Dieter Grabner | Jul 5, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    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 ( 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.

  • Keith Cooper | Jul 5, 2012 at 9:35 am

    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 | Jul 5, 2012 at 7:43 am

    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 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)

  • Scott | Jul 2, 2012 at 6:48 am

    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…

  • Keith Cooper | Jul 1, 2012 at 8:44 am

    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 ;-)

  • Gordon | Jul 1, 2012 at 5:13 am

    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.

  • John Stuart-Clarke | Jun 30, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    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.

  • Keith Cooper | Jun 29, 2012 at 8:47 am

    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

  • Aris | Jun 29, 2012 at 8:41 am

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

  • Richard Winn | Jun 28, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    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 | Jun 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    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 | Jun 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    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.

  • Tomas | Jun 28, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    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 | Jun 28, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Well said.

  • admin | Jun 28, 2012 at 1:01 pm

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

  • Nick Stephens | Jun 28, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    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!

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