I have been using Canon professional digital cameras since the 1Ds Mark II. Every time Canon has provided a new version, I have upgraded and been very happy.
I saw a prototype of the 1Dx Mark III at PHOTOPLUS in 2019 and got my hands on one at WPPI 2020. It was love at first shutter press. When B&H sent me the Mark III for this review, it didn’t take long for me to sell my 1Dx and 1Dx Mark II and purchase the newcomer outright. Here’s why …
Before I jump into all of the updated and new features in the 1Dx Mark III, I want to show some results. After all, features are nothing without high-quality photographs. The shot below was made recently with LED lights. The camera and the new Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 Sports lens were mounted on a studio stand.
In a post like this, the detail and noise handling from the 1Dx Mark III is impossible to see without moving in closer. Below are two full-resolution sections showing the model’s face and the other that gives an idea of an area that is outside the zone of focus. Click on each of these pictures to see the actual size.
Thanks to the way the Mark III handles noise at high ISOs, I am working more and more with continuous lights. Knowing I can keep upping the sensitivity of the Mark III gives me the freedom to experiment with shooting in low light even in the studio.
The 1Dx Mark III has a 191-point autofocus grid provided by Canon’s newly developed high-resolution AF sensor for viewfinder shoots. Live view shooting is super smooth thanks to wide-area AF from a dual pixel CMOS AF that parcels the screen into 525 areas. The big news for manual autofocus point setting is the optical Smart Controller.
The two joysticks — one for horizontal use, the other for vertical shooting — do not move. Instead, moving a thumb positions the focus point in the viewfinder. Pressing the controller centers the focus point. It also serves as an AF-On button. The 1Dx Mark III has eye and head tracking for autofocus, a gift to sports shooters and fashion photographers like me. Thank you, Canon!
The previous camera, the 1Dx Mark II had six autofocus presets. In the Mark III, the presets are down to four plus a “program autofocus mode” named Case A. Let’s take a closer look at them.
- Case 1: This preset is perfect for autofocusing sports or moving subjects accurately.
- Case 2: This one is for subjects moving quickly away from the AF point or when a subject gets momentarily blocked by something so the camera keeps focusing on the subject not slipping to the background.
- Case 3: This choice is for moving subjects that come into the focus point. Cars coming around a corner or toward the camera will move into and out of the point of focus. This preset keeps that point active as the subject move into and away from it. It works great with continuous shooting.
- Case 4: Focus track on subjects that go faster or slower. This one is great for sports where there is a lot of running and stopping — think basketball and soccer.
With Case A, tracking automatically adapts to subject movement by analyzing the scene and setting the right tracking sensitivity and subject acceleration/deceleration tracking settings. This works in hazy situations or scenes where the subject is moving away from the camera quickly.
This just scratches the surface of what the Mark III’s autofocus can do. Download a 128-page white paper explaining it in detail.
Full touch screen interface — finally!
Other Canon cameras have this feature and have had it for quite a while now. Canon has finally promoted it into its flagship DSLR. The touch screen controls include menu selection, image playback and Quick Control menu options for stills.
In Live View, the screen offers Quick Controller choices, AF method, drive speed white balance and many more. Like I said, it’s a full touch screen interface.
One very nice feature of the touch screen during image playback is choosing a photo from a grid of four thumbnails with the tap of a finger then expanding or pinching to zoom in or out to check focus.
Sadly, the screen is still stuck on the back with zero articulation. Apparently, pros only shoot Live View from eye level. Sigh.
Fast and even faster frames per second
The 1Dx Mark III has a completely re-engineered mirror drive system that has a stronger frame and linkage for the mirror and sub-mirrors. Both are motor controlled completely coordinated with each other rather than relying on spring power as in previous versions. The result is faster than ever viewfinder frame rates.
The viewfinder frame rates move from 14 frames per second (1Dx Mark II) to 16 fps in the Mark III. Shooting this camera in Live View provide an astonishing 20 fps RAW or RAW plus JPEG rate.
Even better, the Mark III can keep this up for over 1000 photos. The Mark II could shoot 170 or so RAW files or 81 RAW plus JPEG before buffering out. The Mark III can capture at top speed for over a minute! That’s a lot of frames at 20MB each.
New card slots
The 1Dx Mark II had two card slots — one for CF memory cards and one for CFast cards. Both card formats have been abandoned in the 1Dx Mark III. It still has two card slots but these take high-speed, high capacity CFexpress cards. The new cards also handle the massive data generated by the 1Dx Mark III in 5.5K RAW video recording mode.
Some words of caution printed on the card compartment door warn that the cards can become very hot after shooting lots of pictures at high frame rates or when shooting log or RAW video.
A brand-new CMOS sensor
Canon has built a brand-new 20.1 megapixel CMOS sensor that they also manufacture. This sensor is a beauty. It has super low noise and offers very high ISOs. Canon has added circuitry around every pixel that increases the control of noise at the pixel level. This full-frame sensor’s completely new design includes dual pixel autofocus in Live View.
This sensor is fast
It has faster readout speeds compared to the previous 1Dx cameras. This is one of the reasons for the sustained high frame-rates mentioned earlier. It also reduces the rolling shutter effect during silent still shooting and in video capture.
Are 20 megapixels stingy?
Not at all is the short answer. The 1Dx Mark III is designed for action photography like sports, wildlife and photojournalism where speed is a priority. A lower megapixel count supports this need. Fewer pixels mean bigger pixels and bigger pixels mean lower noise. Combined with solid in-camera image processing the 1Dx Mark III gives great results at ISO 6400 and even higher with truly great results.
I am a commercial photographer and most of my work for the past several years with sensors sized at 18.1, 20.2 and now 20.1 megapixels as I moved from the 1Dx to the Mark II and now the Mark III. 30 or even 40-inch wide prints are very doable. They don’t look as good as the ones made with my 50 megapixel Canon 5DsR and they are still very good. Stand three feet away from a 40-by-60 inch print from a Mark III file and it’s astonishing.
Canon has upgraded the camera with a USB-C port for connecting with a computer to transfer files and to control the Mark III with EOS Utility 3. There is a mini-HDMI output for video, an Ethernet connector for adding the camera to a network. Flash sync, microphone, headphone jacks and a system extension terminal for the optional Wi-Fi transmitter WFT-E9. All of these are on the left side of the camera.
GPS is built into the Mark III as it was with the Mark II.
I love the longer battery life of the Mark III than that of the 1Dx Mark II. That camera was good but it was a battery hog gulping down all of the power available fairly quickly. The Mark III, on the other hand, sips the from the battery savoring the power and making it last. I can take a fully charged battery and shoot stills all day again! I’m free from multiple battery walkabout days. I do carry extras when shooting video or working tethered. Still, this camera goes a lot farther on a battery than its predecessor did.
Finally, the flagship 1Dx Mark III has lost a bit of weight. It still tips the scales at a hefty 50.8 ounces, body only — 3 pounds, 3 ounces — which is 3 ounces less than the Mark II.
Would I tell you to go right out and buy a Mark III body? Nope. Unless, as I do, you carry a camera everywhere and bang it around a bit, expose it to rainy days, humidity, cold, dusty conditions and other mean places all the while taking a lot of photos.
The shutter is rated for 500,000 exposures mechanically and probably more using Live View at high speed. I will not wear this camera out. I am not worried about being caught in a downpour, which in the south can come up suddenly and dump a large amount of water in short order. Simply put, the 1Dx Mark III is a tightly sealed camera. A quick swipe with a towel and it’s set for the next adventure.