Declaring the DSLR dead is premature. Sports and news image agencies are so heavily invested in bodies and glass that the shift was always going to take a while, but the Canon 1D X Mark III might have just put the use-by date on DSLRs back even further.
With the brand new, much-hyped, greatly anticipated Canon 1D X Mark III starting to appear in the hands of professional photographers, we’re beginning to get a much clearer idea of how it performs. According to long-time NFL shooter Peter Read Miller, the 1D X Mark III is a something of a game-changer when it comes to autofocus performance, and if the buffer never fills up (okay okay, 1,000 raw files), sports shooters might be waiting some considerable years before finding that mirrorless offers them something that they genuinely need.
Last Year's Resolution?
For those wondering if the resolution of the 1D X III still cuts it at a time when Sony regards 20 megapixels as the amount they add as an incremental upgrade, you might want to rethink. Just because Canon may have a 75-megapixel (or more?) mirrorless beast waiting in the wings doesn’t mean that insane levels of resolution are what everyone in the industry needs — least of all those needing to turn around huge amounts of files in very tight timeframes. As Read Miller mentions briefly, he can shoot at 20 megapixels and still punch in as required, so why would he want to slow Photo Mechanic and Lightroom to a crawl when most images appear on the web, and sports pages just don’t need the dots per inch that billboards require? That’s before you consider the need to send these files as quickly as possible so that those images can be published before the game has even finished.
Eye a What?
EVF aside, the 1D X arguably lacks one significant aspect over mirrorless: eye autofocus. Given that head and face tracking on the 1D X Mark III seems to be more than adequate for shooting an NFL game, eye autofocus doesn’t strike me as something that too many of those wielding 400mm lenses on the sidelines are going to be hankering for. Of course, it would be nice, but when Read Miller reports that he’s already getting way more keepers — even when he’s shooting through his 1.4 extender — eye tracking might just be a nice idea rather than something that anyone feels is missing.
The longevity of the Nikon and Canon DSLR in the face of competition from the Sony a9 II isn’t the conversation that people often think it is. Regardless of small variations in megapixels and frame rates, this is about whether Canon has produced a camera that means that agencies are going to be sticking with what they’ve got for the foreseeable future. Right now, if you’ve got half a million dollars’ worth of EF glass sitting on a shelf ready for your team of photographers to use, you’re not about to swap it out because 24.2 megapixels is better than 20.1, or because eye autofocus makes portraits that little bit easier.
Those pondering the video specifications might want to consider the percentage of 1D X Mark III customers who are buying this camera for its video or hybrid capabilities. Canon's R&D team sat down to build a camera that blasts out an insane number of low-noise raw files very quickly and also shoots 12 bit 5.5K raw internal video — not the other way around.
A mirrorless version of the 1D X will no doubt arrive, but it’s not on the horizon just yet. Before you consider the research and development, there’s a large economic factor to keep in mind from the outset: Canon would be shooting itself in the foot if it were to prompt sports and news agencies to rethink their entire camera system when they don’t need to. Canon and Nikon will be in no rush to nudge those heavily invested, brand-loyal businesses into swapping out vast amounts of gear for such an incremental difference, especially if it would be just as easy to switch to another brand. The EOS R was a marker, a foot in the door on which to build; when the 1DR or R1 or whatever it’s called arrives, it will be fully developed and with an extensive range of glass that doesn’t need an adapter. Canon wasn’t in a rush before the 1D X Mark III was released, and I doubt it’s feeling the pressure now.
Of course, the mirrorless transition will still be painful, and Sony’s insistence on incremental upgrades and market agitation will keep Canon on its toes. But with the 1D X, Canon has safeguarded the flagship DSLR, and despite the mirrorless noise, you can expect to see Canon DSLRs dominating the sidelines for the foreseeable future. Let me know if you agree by leaving your thoughts in the comments below.