Fstoppers' Stills Review of the Canon 1D X Mark II

Fstoppers' Stills Review of the Canon 1D X Mark II

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.

Key Specifications 

  • 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
  • GPS
  • 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.

The front of the camera features the DOF preview button and a multifunction button, with identical copies for the vertical grip. 

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.

On the left side of the camera, you'll find all the ports. In the left column, from top to bottom, we have the system extension terminal, mic input, headphone output, and PC terminal, while the right column includes the Ethernet connector, HDMI out, and USB 3.0 port.

Lastly, we come to the back. These controls should look familiar to most Canon users. Moving along the top, the menu and info buttons are standard, as are the live view/movie, AF-ON, AE-lock, and AF point selection buttons. Below that are the multicontrollers (which are thicker and better handling than those on the 1D X), quick control button, set button and dial, and below the main screen are the image review controls, along with the voice memo button and card/image size selection button just to the left of the rear LCD. 

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. 

Menu System

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. 

Viewfinder

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.

LCD Screen

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. 

Autofocus

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

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. 

Image Quality

Dynamic Range

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.

155mm, 1/125 s, f/4.5, ISO 100

19mm, 1/100 s, f/11, ISO 100

Colors

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. 

100mm, 1/160 s, f/2.8, ISO 100

70mm, 1/250 s, f/2.8, ISO 125

Resolution

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. 

120mm, 1/2,000 s, f/2.8, ISO 16,000

269mm, 1/2,000 s, f/2.8, ISO 25,600

206mm, 1/2,000 s, f/2.8, ISO 10,000

180mm, 1/160 s, f/2.8, ISO 1,600

120mm, 1/2,000 s, f/2.8, ISO 6,400

File Latitude

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

142mm, 1/200 s, f/5.0, ISO 100

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.

Silhouette Version

Exposure: -1.2, Contrast: +35, Highlights: 0, Shadows: -100, Whites: -84, Blacks: 0

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

Exposure: +2.09, Contrast: +24, Highlights: -90, Shadows: +90, Whites: -100, Blacks: -51

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.

Other Aspects

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.

Silent Shutter

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. 

No angry glares! (140mm, 1/160 s, f/3.5, ISO 500)

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

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. 

Touchscreen

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.

35mm, 1/100 s, f/3.5, ISO 250

GPS

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. 

Anti-Flicker

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.

Durability

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

Purchase

Click the following link to purchase the Canon 1D X Mark II.

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25 Comments

michael buehrle's picture

i'm a Nikon guy but that thing looks sexy.

Usman Dawood's picture

In my view, this is without a doubt the best full frame camera currently available.

Pat Black's picture

I am very interested to see how the A9 makes out, the sony auto focus system in the a7rii, a6500 are both top notch too

Alex Cooke's picture

I'm looking forward to reviewing the a9; the 1D X II is formidable.

Pat Black's picture

The anti flicker thing is so huge, especially if you are shooting FCS- Or Highschool football, or in any gym that dosen't allow strobing. I didnt even know it had that, thats amazing! but i still wanna know why it cant have wifi, and if its signal strength i don't buy it because if that was true it would mess with the gps too

Alex Cooke's picture

Yeah, it's amazing! As for Wi-Fi, I suspect it's a difference in signal strengths and Wi-Fi being a transceiver when it comes to the body, but I would be curious too.

Oliver Kmia's picture

Good review !

Spy Black's picture

I'm curious why, in the sequence of the baseball player running to base, there is a constant shift of color from warm to cool. Doesn't strike me as too impressive on a camera costing $6000.

Alex Cooke's picture

It's the flicker of the stadium lights; it has nothing to do with the camera.

Martin Van Londen's picture

So I use this camera at work all the time.. I love it. But two things I wonder about are.. when will they give it Clog.. and WFT is the Ethernet port for?!?

Alex Cooke's picture

It's for transmitting files, particularly at large venues. It's much faster and more stable; all the big agencies use it at places like the Olympics.

Martin Van Londen's picture

That makes sense. Do you know if there is a trick to it.. or dose it just work like USB?

Alex Cooke's picture

I've honestly never used it, but I suspect its a bit more automatic given the purpose of it.

Pretty straightforward and not much different (I assume - haven't used USB connection except to transfer files) to USB. Use your EOS Utility to connect camera to laptop. Advantage over USB is that you can have a much longer cable.

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

I buy a 1D every like decade. I'm excited to purchase this thing lol They last forever.

Jonathan Reid's picture

For an events/action photographer, this camera is the pinnacle. For almost everyone else, there are far better still cameras on offer for far cheaper. For those wanting a hybrid, the 1DX Mark II falls apart.

Just a note on the battery life, I get a total of about 300 stills/video clips per battery. On the Sony A7RII, I got about 160, however, the canon battery is about the size of a sandwich and keeping spares in your bag is heavy work. The Sony battery is about 1/4th the size, so I think Sony battery tech is better.

Alex Cooke's picture

I agree that it's overkill for most genres, but why do you say it's a poor hybrid?

Jonathan Reid's picture

The crop factor in 4K makes it borderline unusable, especially if you're trying photos and video together. It requires a lens change.

I don't know how much you use the rear screen or how much video you shoot but I shoot thousands of photos a week, very little video, and have to charge the battery maybe once every 1-2 weeks.

Jonathan Reid's picture

I mostly use the rear screen and for every still that I shoot, I shoot a 10-15 second video clip.

Interesting. I'm curious why do it that way or what is your final product/goal?

Jonathan Reid's picture

I work as a travel photographer and my client has two visual requirements - images for the articles, magazines, etc and video for online video guides. Doing it one after another, means not having to double back.

I also own the 1DX II and noticed, potentially, a problem in one of your images that I've sent my camera in to correct: possible oil splatter. In your shot of the bride and groom, particularly the silhouette version, but in all three versions, it is noticeable in the sky and foliage above her head.

I couldn't get rid of it on my camera with my "Eyelead" kit, the same one Patrick, I think, featured a couple years back. It works like magic on my 1D Mark IV, but couldn't remove the spots on the 1DX II sensor. So, I sent it off to Canon. Canon didn't remove it on the first go around, so I sent it back with a printout and circled 40 spots on a shot of the sky. It's coming back today and it will be interesting to see if they got it.

I wouldn't otherwise post about this issue, but checking around online, I don't seem to be the only one experiencing this. Hopefully, my copy is done splattering oil around the mirror box and will come back clean. Aside from this issue, it is truly an awesome camera!

Alex Cooke's picture

Totally appreciate you telling me that! That's actually the window behind the couple; it needed to be cleaned! I'm sorry you're experiencing that, though; I hope it's fixed this time!