Canon released the 1D X Mark II last year, representing the next generation of its flagship model, a camera meant to be without compromise — top of the line capabilities, durability, and performance. As even consumer-level cameras reach sometimes stratospheric heights, the truly professional models have had to reach for even greater heights to continue to distinguish themselves. Read on to see where the 1D X Mark II fits in.
- 20.2 MP sensor (5,472 by 3,648 pixels)
- ISO range: 100-51,200 (expansion: 50-409,600)
- Continuous shooting rate: 14 fps (16 fps with mirror lockup)
- Silent continuous shooting rate: 5 fps
- Buffer capacity: 170 raw files, unlimited JPEG (note: in my tests, I could not fill the buffer, even when shooting in raw)
- CF and CFast slots
- 61 AF points (41 cross-type)
- 100% coverage viewfinder with 0.76x magnification
- Color depth: 14-bit
- 4K (MPEG) recording at 4096 by 2160 at 60 fps
- 1080p at 120 fps
- 216-zone metering with 360,000-pixel RGB+IR sensor
- Exposure compensation of up to five stops
- Spot metering linked to active AF point
- Shutter speed: 1/8,000 s to 30 s
- Sync speed: 1/250 s
- Dual Pixel AF
- 1,620,000-pixel LCD with limited touchscreen functionality
- Weight: 3.375 pounds (1,530 grams)
Design and Handling
Despite weighing well north of 3 pounds, ergonomics on the 1D are a delight. The camera is fully weather-sealed and hardened against impacts with a magnesium alloy body. The controls layout is superb as well, with most controls falling comfortably under the fingers, but with enough spacing to maintain independence. The horizontal grip is large, comfy, and secure; my only complaint is that the vertical grip does not replicate the indentation for the middle finger found on its horizontal counterpart, but on the whole, the camera is very comfortable to use.
Controls and Ports
If you've not used a 1D-series camera before, the top plate may look rather foreign; namely, there's no mode dial. Rather, one holds the "mode" button on the left and uses the top dial on the right to cycle through the modes. By default, manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, program, bulb, and one custom mode are available, though I chose to enable all three custom modes and disable program mode through the custom function menus. This high level of customizability is a hallmark of the 1D series, where capability combined with efficiency is the name of the game — no special creative modes here.
Holding the "drive AF" button allows you to choose between AI Servo and One Shot modes; again, there's no intermediate AI Focus mode like on all other Canon bodies, as they've eliminated any unnecessary intermediaries in the interest of efficiency, placing the onus of proper decision-making more on the photographer. The bottom button of the trio allows one to dial in flash exposure compensation or change the metering mode between evaluative (majority of the frame), partial (center), spot (the most focused of all), and center-weighted, a hybrid of the first two. Unique to the 1D line is the ability to link spot metering to the active AF point, a highly useful tool. I frequently use this in manual mode with auto ISO and about 2/3 of a stop of exposure compensation to protect the highlights. It's great for following the same subject moving through changing lighting. Finally, holding the top two buttons together allows one to quickly dial in exposure bracketing.
Passing over the GPS bump and hotshoe to the right side, there's the shutter butter, which falls nicely under the index finger, the manual function button, used for controlling AF area selection, FE lock, and taking multiple spot metering readers. It can also be assigned a custom function, as can 10 other buttons. Below that is the multifunction dial, while the row below that features the backlight, white balance, exposure compensation, and ISO buttons. The top LCD screen is perfectly spacious and features the majority of any shooting information you could need at a glance, while the orange backlight works just fine without being overpowering at night.
On the right side of the camera are the replicated shutter, multifunction dial, and multifunction button for the vertical grip, as well as the lock switch to disable said controls should you wish to prevent inadvertent actuation. The covered port just above that switch is the remote control terminal.
As mentioned, in practice, the controls are just the right amount in just the right places. They fall under the hand logically, have good tactile feedback, and do a good job of letting me change settings without having to stop and think — an important aspect of a camera designed to be an efficiency machine.
When you do have to dive into the menu system, you may be overwhelmed at first.
In stills shooting alone (the menu switches to a movie-oriented set of options when that mode is activated), you have the following:
- 28 shooting options, including white balance shift and bracketing, lens aberration correction, multiple exposures, image type and size, ISO speed settings, highlight tone priority, anti-flicker, and more.
- 17 AF options, plus 6 AF cases with 3 adjustable parameters, making for a total of 75 AF system configurations. AF options include AI servo release/priority, intelligent tracking priority, orientation-linked AF points, AFMA, and more.
- 19 image review, storage, and processing options, including highlight alert, AF point display, and more.
- 25 general setup options, including card writing, LCD brightness, GPS settings, and more.
- 35 custom function options, including bracket settings, spot metering linked to the active AF point, safety shifts for changing exposure parameters, AE and FE microadjustment, and more.
- The ability to create your own custom menu of items to quickly access.
For those of you keeping track, that's 124 adjustable options in the stills menu alone. It's daunting at first, but the menus and submenus are well categorized and broken down, and a press of the info button displays a brief description of each function, making it easy to avoid having to consult the manual constantly. Nevertheless, plan to spend a good few hours setting up the camera to your liking, but once you've done this, the time spent more than pays for itself in the level of customization one can achieve.
With 0.76x magnification and 100 percent coverage, the viewfinder is very large for a DSLR, which makes shooting a joy. The translucent LCD that contains upgraded shooting information (first introduced on the 7D Mark II) makes an appearance.
Keep in mind that not all this information is displayed at once, and you can choose not to display some or all of it should you please. Nonetheless, having this information available in tandem with the intuitive controls keeps my eye pressed to the viewfinder more, which is how I prefer it. I particularly appreciate the electronic level; when I'm using heavier lenses, all my images tend to tilt to the left, and keeping this option on has noticeably alleviated that tendency. The display of the AF points is also customizable, from their brightness to which are lit. Past Canon users will be happy to know that indeed, you can keep the AF points illuminated while in AI Servo.
Meanwhile, the information displayed just outside the actual view uses a very high contrast green OLED on black system for the most fundamental shooting parameters. This is helpful, as you can always quickly find them on the edge of the display, and should you have a subject that reduces contrast through the viewfinder, your ability to read these parameters is not affected.
The two major upgrades to the LCD are the addition of limited touch capabilities and a bump in resolution. The only touch capability is the ability to select a subject that the camera will immediately focus on and track; in practice, this worked extremely well and will definitely be a boon to video shooters. I only wish that I could use it when zoomed in. When using tempermental wide-aperture glass, such as the EF 85mm f/1.2L II, it would be tremendously useful if I could zoom in and select focus on an eye instead of just the face. Doing so would mean an easy means of using on-sensor autofocus, thereby bypassing any AFMA issues that might arise.
Meanwhile, the 3.2-inch, 1.62-million dot Clear View II LCD is a pleasure to use. Colors and contrast are rich, even in bright sunlight, and it's plenty spacious enough to fit all the shooting info you need, though I normally keep it turned off unless reviewing images or adjusting items in the menu. A great feature on newer Canon bodies is the ability to customize the info display. It's a bit clunky to do so, but it's kind of a set it and forget it type of thing, so it's worth taking ten minutes to do in your initial camera setup (you're going to spend three hours in those menus anyway)! It's a bit annoying, however, that you can't use the touchscreen to control the quick menu.
Points and Spread
At first glance, the 61 AF points (41 cross-type, 5 dual cross-type) don't sound like much of an upgrade over the original 1D X. However, the vertical spread of the points has been increased by approximately 8.6% in the center of the frame and 24% in the outer zones, making tracking easier and increasing compositional possibilities. Furthermore, low-light focusing capabilities have been increased by a stop to EV -3, and all points are compatible to f/8, with the 27 center point maintaining cross-type capabilities, a huge improvement over the 1D X and great news for those who frequently use teleconverters.
One Shot AF mode shows typical Canon performance; namely, it's quite good. The 1D X Mark II is still a DSLR, however, so you may need to dial in AFMA for at least some of your lenses. However, when properly adjusted, it's fast and accurate. The shot was taken nearly wide open on the 85mm f/1.2L II lens, a beautiful but notorious lens (when it comes to autofocus). My copy is so temperamental that I used to not take it to events where I couldn't take my time (such as weddings), but for the first time, my keeper rate is good enough to warrant pulling it out of the bag in more demanding situations.
85mm, 1/640 s, f/1.6, ISO 100
AI Servo, Tracking
This is where things get complicated. Simply put, the 1D X Mark II is a monster when it comes to autofocus. The autofocus menu has five pages of customization, the most important page being the first, which allows you to select the tracking case, varying the tracking sensitivity (how much the AF "sticks" to a certain subject), accel./decel. tracking (how responsive the AF is to erratic subjects), and AF pt auto switching (how quickly the camera switches to another point). Using auto AF point selection also introduces the ability to iTR (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition), which can use face and color data to aid tracking.
Focusing and tracking is very quick and accurate, and I've yet to encounter a situation where a bit of quick thought about the subject and a tweak to the focus cases setting couldn't dial in precise and reliable results, though 90 percent of the time, I use the default case without issue. Sports, wildlife, photojournalistic, and all other photographers who demand top-shelf AF performance will not be disappointed.
Dual Pixel AF
Canon's lauded Dual Pixel AF (DPAF) also makes a showing on the 1D X Mark II, and besides being very useful for filmmakers, it's great for shooting stills in live view. If you often do this, you'll find it extremely helpful and accurate (and noticeably quicker than in the past), especially when coupled with the touch-to-focus function.
Dynamic range is vastly improved from previous Canon full-frame bodies. Whereas previous bodies sat below 12 stops (the 5D Mark III at 11.7 stops and the 1D X at 11.8), the 1D X Mark II sits at far more modern 13.5 stops. It's not the 14-14.5 stop range that other manufacturers occupy, but it's a vast improvement — close enough that most Canon shooters should no longer feel as if their sensor is the weak link of their system. I know I certainly don't. Nonetheless, that's not to say more improvement wouldn't be welcome; there are still scenes that exceed 13.5 stops (or 14.5, for that matter). Still, the improvement is noticeable.
Color rendition is quite good. They maintain a certain organicness that is reminiscent of Pentax bodies, but one area where Canon sensors really excel is skin tones. Portraits are a joy to shoot, with color gradations being both refined and natural.
At 20.2 MP, the 1D X Mark II gains 2 megapixels over its predecessor. It's not a huge increase, but it's on par with the Nikon D5 (20.8 MP). Furthermore, sports and wildlife shooters, who frequently shoot on prime lenses from fixed positions, will appreciate any increased cropping abilities. Flagship bodies are not meant to be resolution-monsters as they're built to take a lot of images in a short amount of time, but with the nice sensor inside the 1D X Mark II, many may want to make it their do-it-all camera, especially those who do not require ultra-high resolutions. Files out of the 1D X Mark II make good use of its pixels, with good details retained at standard sharpening.
100mm, 1/200 s, f/2.8, ISO 125
High ISO and Performance
Files generally look very good up to ISO 6,400. Past that, images are still quite usable depending on your needs and clean up well typically.
If you're a Canon shooter, you're probably used to fairly limited file latitude, particularly with shadows adjustments (oh, that red banding). I'm thrilled to report that this is much improved on the current generation of sensors. To test this, I took a shot that challenged the sensor and post-processing latitude, then processed it in two different ways.
Straight Out of Camera
As you can see, I'm just on the edge of blowing highlights in the background (with some values coming at 253), but preserving those meant severely underexposing the couple.
While putting the couple is silhouette was certainly not taxing on the file, it's good to see that drastically altering the whites still retains natural and smooth transitions in the upper tonal values.
Heavy Edit Version
This version is the real test, and what you see above represents the absolute maximum I could push the file before it really started to fall apart, not necessarily what I would prefer the final version look like. If you look closely at the groom's arm, you can see banding starting to show up, which I was able to hide slightly by bringing the blacks down. If I had my druthers, I would brighten the couple more; alas, it simply wasn't possible to do so. Nonetheless, a two-stop exposure push with a +90 shadows adjustment is a vast improvement; no doubt my 5D Mark III files would have fallen to pieces long before such extreme adjustments. Is it of the level of Sony and Nikon file latitude? No. Do I care? No. The point is that Canon users who are heavily invested in the system now have the sort of post-processing freedom (along with the 5D Mark IV) most other brand's enjoy that allow for better results in more extreme situations.
Shooting Speed and Buffer
Having 14 fps is simply awesome. While it's overkill in a lot of situations, and you may find yourself using the low-speed continuous mode to save your sanity when it comes time to cull, when you're trying to nail a moment in fast action, it's a huge boon. With the practically limitless buffer, you can feel free to mash on that shutter button.
New to the 1D X Mark II is silent continuous shooting, which allows for up to 5 fps with a quieter shutter sound and is highly useful for events like weddings. The silent shutter certainly isn't silent, and it doesn't approach Canon's current low-noise champion, the 6D (and presumably, the 6D Mark II). However, it's just a tiny bit louder than 5D Mark IV, which is itself quite respectable. I put the 1D X Mark II through the ultimate test: a classical music concert. It's a place where a mistimed cough can earn you the ire of your fellow patrons. The 1D X Mark II performed perfectly well. I still couldn't shoot during the quietest passages of pieces, but not even the venerable 6D can do that.
Exposure Metering and White Balance
I've had no issues with exposure metering; in fact, it's been a pleasure. In quickly changing lighting situations, I tend to shoot in manual mode with auto ISO and a bit of underexposure dialed in. Metering has been dead-accurate in all situations I've put the camera in, which is great news for JPEG shooters. You'll be pleased to know that you can link spot metering to the selected AF point.
On the other hand, white balance definitely tends to bias toward the cooler side, with many images having a slight blue tinge to them. While this isn't a problem for raw shooters, those shooting JPEGs will definitely want to dial in a bit of compensation.
Battery life is excellent. Though it's rated for 1,210 shots, I frequently take between 2,000 and 3,000 shots and return home with half-capacity. If you carry a spare, you should have no problem making it through any shoot.
The touchscreen is rather limited, and only allows touch autofocus in single shot mode, but Canon's DPAF is good enough to actually make this a useful feature. I frequently use it to hold the camera above my head and get a different angle, such as below.
I frequently keep this turned off to save battery life, but if you're someone who likes have location info for their photos, you'll be pleased to know you know no longer need to purchase a separate accessory. It's also useful for setting the internal clock.
The 1D X Mark II also comes with Canon's awesome anti-flicker technology. Many stadium and indoor lights actually cycle light and dark very quickly (normally at the power line frequency). While that's not a problem for our eyes, it can cause real issues when shooting. The camera will throw a "Flicker!" warning in the viewfinder when it detects it, and if you turn the anti-flicker option on, it will alter the timing of the shutter to take advantage of the bright cycles of the lights. Note that this does cause a very slight (normally inconsequential) delay and does decrease the continuous burst rate slightly, but it is very effective.
The 1D X Mark II uses a magnesium alloy outer shell with a magnesium frame and is insanely durable and weather-sealed. It's the first body I've felt comfortable exposing to the full gamut of Ohio precipitation (rain, snow, sleet, graupel, hail, freezing rain, sideways rain, snow-rain, rain-snow, rain-snow-rain-sleet-???, etc.), and it keeps going without a complaint. It's rugged and solid.
What I Liked
- A camera that can excel in any situation
- Highly customizable
- Extremely durable
- Fast, accurate AF
- 14 fps continuous burst with unlimited buffer
- Good dynamic range that brings it more in line with other brands
- Excellent high ISO performance
- Better file latitude than previous generation Canon bodies
- Amazing battery life
- Multitude of helpful features, such as GPS and anti-flicker
What I Didn't
- No Wi-Fi
- Limited touchscreen
- Slightly cool auto white balance
Click the following link to purchase the Canon 1D X Mark II.