The Canon 1D X Mark III: Remove the Mirror, Add an EVF, and You Have the Perfect Camera

The Canon 1D X Mark III: Remove the Mirror, Add an EVF, and You Have the Perfect Camera

Canon’s announcement of the 1D X Mark III has inevitably set the camera world chattering, confirming some rumors (raw video) and debunking others (there is no new battery with a secret new feature). Among the specifications, it’s interesting to see what’s been left out and how this compares to Nikon’s own “announcement” last month, not to mention the Sony a9 II.

Canon has revealed some truly impressive features on its forthcoming sports and wildlife flagship: 16 frames per second with autofocus tracking with the mirror, 20 frames per second with autofocus tracking with the mechanical shutter in Live View (i.e., no mirror), dual CFexpress cards, a rather remarkable internal 4K 10 bit 4:2:2 video with C-Log, and internal raw video as well. 

Ominous Omissions?

What’s notable, however, is what has been omitted: there’s a brand new sensor, but no mention of how many megapixels it will feature. Only a few years ago, this would have been one of the headlines; today, by contrast, it’s a detail that’s seems lost among frame rates and video specifications. If Canon isn’t shouting about the number of megapixels at this early stage, it seems reasonable to assume that there will be little or no increase over the 20.2 megapixels of the 1D X Mark II, especially when Canon made a lot of noise in 2016 about the two-megapixel increase that camera brought over its predecessor. Furthermore, the rumor sites felt confident that the Mark III would offer a “significant jump” in resolution, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

In fairness, more megapixels is not an aspect clamored for by prospective buyers. Press, sports, and wildlife shooters are typically looking for speed, not resolution, and while it may not quite match the 24.2 megapixels of the recently announced Sony a9 II, it's probably not a major concern. 

The new video specifications are impressive and pretty much in line with what was expected, although for all of the chatter over the last couple of months, uncropped 6K is not listed. Some other headline features touted by the rumor sites are markedly absent from this announcement: Canon has not mentioned IBIS, an omission that would seem like an odd choice given the 4K 10 bit 4:2:2 and raw recording capabilities. Surely, there is space within this huge body to add stabilization, and given that Canon is wedging in such impressive video specifications in a camera that's engineered first and foremost as a machine for stills, it seems incongruous. If you've any insights as to why Canon may have chosen to leave it out, leave a comment below.

Remove the Mirror?

As expected, this is a DSLR that is trying to take as much from mirrorless cameras as possible. Stepping back from the detail of this announcement and looking more broadly, the technology is at a strange juncture where, arguably, this camera would be improved by simply removing the mirror completely and adding an EVF. If the Live View outperforms the optical, what is that mirror for other than to keep users trapped with an outdated optical viewfinder? As it stands, if you want the best performance from this camera, you have to hold it at arm's length and stare at the rear LCD. Is this not a little bit absurd?

Of course, it's not that simple, but you have to wonder if we will look back in 10 years and see the last of the DSLR flagships as being these weird hybrids of different eras of technology. Canon is doing its best to navigate the transition towards mirrorless, but you do have to wonder what this mirror is for other than to hold this camera back. Would a hybrid viewfinder have been a solution here? Is there enough demand to warrant the research and development involved?

Technological Titillation

Canon is being seductively cryptic with the news over its new autofocus button that is touted to have entirely new features. What will that be? As revealed in BHPhoto’s video (see 0:34), the button is a slightly different design. One suggestion was that it might function as a joystick that combines the AF point selection, but this seems unlikely given the presence of a joystick just below it, so I’m wondering if it might be a two-stage button that allows some sort of triggering of the new “deep learning” that Canon has teased us with in this announcement. Your thoughts in the comments, please.

Canon 1D X Mark III rear

So, is Canon being deliberately selective with the information that it’s putting out because some of the specifications are not what was expected, or are some of the groundbreaking features being kept under wraps to create some more headlines a bit nearer the time? It wouldn't be surprising if Canon decided to make a deliberately partial announcement following the news of the Sony a9 II and Nikon’s “announcement” of the D6 back in September. Nikon declared that its new flagship would be its “most advanced DSLR to date,” but bizarrely, kept all of the specifications secret, perhaps slightly concerned that Sony was about to make its flagship camera feel somewhat underwhelming.

Whatever the outcome, it feels that while Sony has led the way in frame rates and autofocus performance, Canon is still offering good reasons for agencies and those pros heavily invested in Canon glass to stick with them for the foreseeable future. If you shoot under pulsing lights, the Canon makes the most sense given that its mechanical shutter now flies around at 20 frames per second. Mechanically, that is ridiculous, and while Sony — who can only make shutters move at 10 frames per second — should be respected for its innovations in sensor technology, Canon should be given some serious kudos for making this possible. To a degree, the ball is now back in Sony’s court for the creation of a global shutter to make that mechanical shutter completely obsolete, but until that happens, good old analog technology still holds an edge over its digital counterpart.

If you have any thoughts on what Canon might be up to in terms of the specifications revealed and those that are potentially being kept secret, be sure to leave a comment below.

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43 Comments

Previous comments
Just me's picture

I'm sorry to disappoint you.
Between the 5D Mark II vs Mark IV there is a amazing change in dynamic range AND resolution.
You should give a try and check...

David Pavlich's picture

This camera was not built with you in mind. This is for action shooters that need not only frame rate and low light but major durability. There are very few cameras that can withstand the treatment that cameras like this or the Nikon D5/6 types can withstand.

Then there's Canon's service. It's the best in the industry. A pro with a lot of Canon stuff can sign up for their protection packages and have lenses/bodies overnighted if they're on a shoot somewhere and something goes wrong.

As already stated, if you want a Canon to shoot landscapes and the like, the EOS R, 5DIV, or 5DsR will serve you very well.

Ryan Davis's picture

I'm aware that this camera was not built with me in mind. It's becoming apparent that Canon isn't really into building cameras with me in mind anymore, and that's my beef with Canon.

Re: Durability- that's one of the major reasons the EOS R is out. I haul my gear pretty rough some time, and the 5D series is no slouch in terms of physical toughness. It's one of the best features of the series, IMHO.

Fritz Asuro's picture

I am using the EOS-R now for majority of my work. Dropped it, banged it to walls and stuff, got it in rain, filmed in freezing conditions, eats sands of Dubai and it's all good. Paint scratches and some tiny dents but nothing different from my battered 5D Mk II, Mk III, and 1DX

And why do you think the EOS-R is weaker in terms of durability? Because it's a mirrorless camera or just because it has a flip screen? The camera is weather sealed even with the EF adapter and grip. It's made with the same material (magnesium alloy) with its DSLR brothers. I actually think that without the mirror mechanism, that's another less moving part that can get affected by drops and shock.

Ryan Davis's picture

Interesting. I was under the impression that the EOS R was not a mag alloy body, but plastic. I haven't actually held one yet.

Rayann Elzein's picture

No thanks, I'm glad we keep an OVF. I don't care much for EVF's, they give me headaches from the flickering of the screen that you have to look at from a very close distance.

Miguel Cunha's picture

Thank god some one understands me ! I was already thinking it was me and was something bad with my eyes!

Every single photographer friend I talk to keeps telling me evf is such a game changer you can see the exposure right there...

I don’t care about that either, I can get an exposure right very fast actually. Sometimes I do it at first try just look at the light and hum I need about this ...

But this electronic viewfinders give me headache from all the flickering and I can’t get used to it.

I have nothing against a mirrorless system it just doesn’t fit my shooting style.

Scott Wardwell's picture

Your comment about the EVF struck a chord with me in that I made an interesting observation about how I view through an OFV in that I can wear my glasses (Progressive bi-focals) with no problems with the diopter set correctly. I can accurately focus and take the shot. I use manual focus lens quite a bit. However, if I use Live View, the image looks blurry to me and I have to push my glasses to the top of my head and then the bluriness goes away as I adjust my viewing distance to a few inches in front of my face. I can get closer to the screen without my glasses so I can focus-peak. I use my tablet in the same way. I can only conclude that looking at a tiny screen in the eyepiece, I am looking at a flattened 2-D image with no apparent DOF and my eyes are conflicted and can't focus. Whereas the OFV presents a truer natural 3-D view with DOF and I don't have this optical aberration.
I suspect that VR headsets would give me the same issues.
The only thing between me and the real light hitting my eyes is the glass of the lens, the mirror and the prism. The image from the EVF is all that light being absorbed by the sensor, run through the processor, homogenized, compressed and what I am presented with is nothing more than a jpeg at best.
Plus I remember the warnings from my youth about sitting too close to the TV, which I ignored. Hence, the need for glasses since I turned 10.
So the claim that getting rid of the mirror box and doing away with the OVF entirely will make the perfect camera, is dubious at best. It seems that if that were your goal, then you would actually be designing the perfect rangefinder camera instead while maintaining the true optical viewfider and minimizing the electronics necessary which are the Achilles Heel of modern products with a shortened life span.

Michael Kormos's picture

Same here. I've used EVFs before. I prefer to see directly (and optically) exactly what my lens is seeing without draining the battery with zero yielded benefit.

Robert Nurse's picture

"As it stands, if you want the best performance from this camera, you have to hold it at arm's length and stare at the rear LCD. Is this not a little bit absurd?"

Good question! Canon's either incapable or unwilling to provide a EVF worthy of a flagship system. IMO, I doubt they're unwilling. Therefore, that leaves the latter.

ahahahah you are trolling in an amazing way !!!

This Article is merely an Op-Ed,i.e., just an opinion... and there are many other opinions out there. Everyone has one :-)

The first error noted was that wildlife photographers where mainly interested in speed and not resolution. That could not be further from the truth as both are essential.

The EVF vs. OVF argument is old hat and we’ve heard it over and over again. Yawn. To each his own. I suspect that Canon will continue to make the cameras that sell, even if they do have a flappy mirror. Just more to choose from, you decide.