If the Canon 1D X Mark III Is This Good, Why Would Sports Shooters Ever Want a Mirrorless Version?

If the Canon 1D X Mark III Is This Good, Why Would Sports Shooters Ever Want a Mirrorless Version?

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.

Canon 1D X Mark II - Andy Day

An architecture commission with a twist (they weren't always standing still) — one of my recent reasons to rent a 1D X Mark II.

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.

Heavily Invested

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.

Log in or register to post comments

54 Comments

Joel Hernandez's picture

Why would people ever want to go mirror less?
In Canon's case, because of the lenses they are releasing. Rumored RF 135 f/1.4L 😍

If you consider a patent application a rumor.

Joel Hernandez's picture

Yeah, who knows if it will ever be released. There was another patent RF 135 f/1.8L as well.

I am excited what Canon is coming out with in regards to RF lenses like the 28-70 F/2, new more lighter and portable 70-200 etc. 😊

Yes, I agree they have an exciting mirrorless lens offering in development. I guess if I was interested in portraits or weddings, they would have a compelling line-up in the making.

Having been involved in a few patents, I have found that they are often defensive and sometimes there is no actual intent to productize the patented technology.

Dave Morris's picture

Because it's an entertainment industry. Working professionals aside, we buy new cameras just for the fun of buying new cameras. Any marketing is only here to justify it for ourselves.

Johnny Rico's picture

Because SLR's have are/have been dead for years now! /s

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Let me tell you, dead brings 100% of my income and probably can for many, many years. If / when I get a mirrorless, I'll still have my slr's.

Johnny Rico's picture

Same, my kit keeps churning out money. Clients don't care, educators and YouTube'rs care

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Yep. In this world of fix it in post and push the iso, by far for what I do, my lights bring more money than my cameras. Last week I had a first time client at my studio coming from out of town. For direction to my place he first asked - Where is your place, are shooting from your basement or garage at your house - When he came in my studio, which in an adjacent town, he realized how much room and equipment we needed to set up for his small product. Not going to be a regular due to the small business he operates, but I'm confident he will call me when he has more need. The camera was absolutely insignificant in getting this client to trust me. I don't use the studio that much because most of my work is on location, but as long as it pays for itself, I can take any work and one time clients or not frequent clients to pass my name around.

Don Risi's picture

Sales people care, too. But, as you say, clients don't. If anything, it's the other way around. Some of mine comment on the largess of my DSLRs. They think it looks professional . . . :-D

Thats a pretty silly comment

Gabriele Zanon's picture

When you'll tell the difference between a mirrorless and a DSLR without looking at the EXIF, that will be the right time to switch.

Doug Birling's picture

Billboards require large files? Not any we've dealt with around the country.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Good catch! Now that's funny!

What a joke, an iPhone will work for vinyl on a large 14x48' sign and easily for digital billboards.

Excluding show/event displays where the viewing distance is close, most large printing (especially billboards) are printed at an ungodly low resolution. The viewing distance doesnt justify the cost.

Alex Herbert's picture

I don't know about you, but I only print billboards at 1:1. This is because despite common assumptions, most people read building sized billboards from arm's length.

Keith Meinhold's picture

I suspect there are good professional and very personal reasons one chooses a DSLR over Mirrorless or versa. Features like; weight, size, investment, technology, speed, sound, focusing, ergonomics, image quality, video capabilities... Wether or not the camera has a mirror or not is pretty far down the list. I have a hard time thinking that anyone asks; does it have a mirror or not, when choosing a camera today.

David Love's picture

No client has ever asked me what kind of camera I use. They want the results and don't care how it was done. The this camera vs that camera, windows vs mac crap doesn't matter to them at all if the results suck.

I recall my Nikon friends raving over the D850 and dumping it the day the Nikon mirrorless came out. I asked why, if the D850 was really that good, they are switching. I got non-answers ("It's smaller," as they attach a 600mm lens to it, for example). That doesn't mean that there aren't valid reasons to switch from a two-year-old camera, but they certainly weren't making it. I wanted to buy their D850s just so it wouldn't feel so jilted.

For me as a Canon guy, I can see switching but not necessarily to mirrorless. I would switch to a new camera if Canon could really nail IQ to the levels Nikon and Sony have had for a few years. It *appears* their new sensor technology may be finally bringing the brands closer to parity on that metric.

You genersliz as if most people aho used the d850 dimped it for the z6 ot z7..BTW, the d850 blowss away both the z6 and z7, with the exception of video..D850 is the best stills camera on the market, hands down.

I agree the D850 is a great camera. It's my main shooter, but there are times when I need the much quicker focus of the D5, and I am playing with a Z7 now and it's not to shabby. I really like the flip up / down screen on the Z7.

Fair point -- my sample size was small. Frankly from what I know about the D850, if I had one it would take something pretty dramatically better to make me switch from it, and I'm not sure the Z's do it.

Dave Morris's picture

"nail IQ to the levels Nikon and Sony have had for a few years" - to someone who has just sold his Sony a7iii that sounds a bit naive. When it comes to colors even a 10 y.o. Canon 5DII/III beats any Sony a7 hands down. It's only resolution, high ISO noise and eye AF where Sony wins.

Yes and Canon has a ton of other advantages which is why I'm still with them. But I do remain frustrated with their IQ in particular at higher ISOs.

T Scarb's picture

Lets use a person that shoots the NFL with $10k+ lenses as an example of the need for toaster size cameras...

Jason Flynn's picture

I can think of a few reasons sports shooters would want a high end mirrorless. Easier to judge exposure for JPG journalism shooters who hand the card to an assistant for immediate distribution is one reason. Focus tracking is another when the action is fast and the decisive moment disappears in an instant. Lower weight to more easily allow a third body to be carried with a normal or wide prime fixed to hyper focal infinity focus for shooting from the hip.

And come on, pupil detection AF means more keepers for anyone shooting faces.

AF tracking is superior, essoecially in lower light, with the Nikon D500 and D5..no argument dude.

More comments