Newly Announced Canon EOS-1D X: A Nature Pro’s Perspective

(© Ian Plant) Canon has just announced the upcoming release of its newest EOS digital camera: the Canon EOS-1D X. As a Canon user, to say I am excited is an understatement. We’ve been waiting for a long time for a replacement for our 1D Mark IVs, 1Ds Mark IIIs, and 5D Mark IIs. Is the 1D X the answer to our prayers? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. It appears that the new camera will accomplish a merger of the previously disparate 1D and 1Ds lines, and its specifications are intriguing, to say the least. Here are my quick thoughts on some of the 1D X’s features that are most relevant to nature photographers.

Full-frame 18.1 megapixel CMOS sensor: Users of the 5DII and 1DsIII may be disappointed by the step down in megapixel real estate, from 21MP to 18MP. But then again, not all pixels are created equal. Improvements in pixel quality may mean better images, even if the total number of pixels are reduced. According to Canon, the new sensor of the 1D X produces the lowest noise of any EOS digital camera to date, using large pixels (1.25 microns larger than those in the EOS-1D Mark IV sensor and .55 microns larger than those in the EOS 5D Mark II sensor), gapless microlenses, and enhanced DIGIC 5+ image processors to achieve significantly less noise at the pixel level, making larger reproduction sizes possible. I’ll wait and see what this all means in practice, but I am glad that someone for a change is putting emphasis on pixel quality rather than sheer quantity.

High ISO performance: The 1D X’s ISO range is a ridiculous 100 – 51,000 (up to 204,800 in H2 mode). Yep, that’s not a typo. Canon claims that the camera will provide sharp, low-noise images even in the dimmest low-light conditions. Once again, the proof will be in the results, but this could mean incredible things for wildlife and landscape shooters working in low light. I do a fair amount of work in low light or at night, and I can see how higher ISO performance will open up new possibilities.

12 frames-per-second: I thought 10 frames per second was extreme, but 12 takes the cake. Wildlife shooters will find this useful, so long as the cameras’s buffer and CF cards can keep up. Fast writing, high capacity CF cards will be necessary to maintain the pace set by the 1D X.

Multiple exposure mode: The EOS-1D X is the first EOS DSLR to feature multiple exposure capability. The camera can combine up to nine individual images into a single composite image, with no need for post-processing in a computer. Four different compositing methods are provided for maximum creative control, including Additive, Average, Bright and Dark. I’m not sure if this means in-camera HDR or not, but it opens up some interesting possibilities. One possibility immediately comes to mind: super long exposures can be broken up into relatively shorter exposures (thus reducing long exposure noise and possibly the need for neutral density filters) and combined in-camera.

$6800 price tag: Okay, that hurts a bit. More expensive than my 5D Mark II, or a 1D Mark IV, but less expensive than the 1Ds Mark III. Still, this camera will cost a pretty penny to acquire and insure. I get pissed whenever I drop one of my 5DIIs into the water; just imagine how ticked off I will get when I drop one of these babies into the drink. Notice I said when, not if—with me, it’s inevitable (both that I will buy this camera and drop it into a lake at some point)!

Of course, the 1D X has many other interesting features. You can see its full specifications by visiting the Canon USA website. The camera will likely be available beginning in March 2012, but expect (as always with new Canon releases) that it may take a few months before back orders are cleared.

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