What Is Canon Planning for the 1D X Mark III?

What Is Canon Planning for the 1D X Mark III?

With the EOS-1D X Mark II having just passed its third birthday, speculation is emerging over what Canon is planning for its successor. It’s long been mooted that the Mark III will arrive in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, but how will it compare to the competition?

The 1D X Mark II is the staple of vast numbers of sports photographers around the world and, in 2016, it was an excellent choice, albeit with some serious investment. It packs 14 frames per second, offers incredible durability, a fast and accurate autofocus system, and amazing battery life, all in a unit that has a huge array of lens choices. As the flagship camera, it’s still something of a beast. Over the years, whenever I’ve been hired for big commercial jobs that need speed and reliability, I’ve always rented the 1D X, whether it’s been running along walls in Texas or flipping through fields of wind turbines. The upgrade is now thought to be on its way.

Canon is no stranger to pressure, but one has to wonder what the Japanese giant is going to include in the new iteration. Frame rates and autofocus are being superseded by mirrorless cameras, and Canon may not be keen to make huge investments in a new version given that their own mirrorless cameras may themselves offer direct competition in the coming years. Plus there’s this slightly awkward question: could this be the last top-end DSLR that Canon ever releases? Anyone looking to upgrade might be swayed by the prospect of the R system and the increasing number of lenses and worry whether they might be investing in technology that has a lifespan that is even more limited than normal.

Canon 1D X Mark II
Whenever I'm hired to shoot commercially, the 1D X has been the obvious choice, such as this work for American Eagle.

At the same time, the 1D X has always been a workhorse: those working with it every day have typically regarded it as being unbelievably reliable, delivering consistent, high-level performance. These concerns are much more important than sweating over whether another camera might offer slightly faster autofocus or slightly less grain when lifting shadows. There might be a camera that has a few different bells and whistles, but there’s very little else that combines so much into one meaty lump of a unit. Sports shooters rely on its familiarity for delivering results in often challenging conditions, and switching to a different camera — even within the same manufacturer — means an unnecessary obstacle in the workflow.

Canon 1D X Mark II
For me, in 2016, 14 frames per second felt insanely fast. And then Sony brought out the a9.

Perhaps the remaining elephant in the room is the question of what Canon is actually capable of bringing to 1D X — other than more megapixels and a faster processor — that it hasn’t been able to deliver previously. Improvements to dynamic range and frame rate will probably be quite limited, and autofocus in mirrorless cameras is starting to make DSLRs look very much like yesterday’s technology. Anything else — WiFi, touch screen, intervalometer — may feel inconsequential, especially given that so few buyers will be concerned with its video features. Can Canon squeeze some magical mirrorlessness into the Mark III, such as a hybrid viewfinder that can show a histogram or a crazy frame rate in live view? If that's the case, why not just take out the mirror completely?

With the Olympics approaching, this might be the Canon DSLR’s last hurrah, and for some, it will be an indictment of the company’s reluctance to embrace mirrorless technology until Sony had already left it in its dust. One of the 1D X Mark III’s main competitions will no doubt be the successor to the Sony a9, rumored for release at the end of the year. I’m trying to imagine two photographers sat facing the starting line of the 100 meters, one wielding Canon’s last ever DSLR, and one wielding Sony’s latest and greatest MILC. As someone who loves the 1D X, I know I’d have a hard time figuring out which photographer I’d prefer to be.

If you’re a 1D X shooter, let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

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Russell Hunter's picture

From a non-technical standpoint, it would make sense for Canon to take the best of what the 1Dx has to offer and to refit it with mirrorless technology for the Mk III.

I love my 1Dx and 1Dx Mk II. Yes there are other good cameras out there, but that thing is tough. It's battery lasts forever and it feels great in the hands, especially with large lenses.

Marius Pettersen's picture

Yes, but I do not think that 'conservative Canon' would take the risk of introducing a brand new system before the Toyko Olympics in 2020 - but then again, they may take the leap and exploit the massive PR opportunity that comes with sporting events of that magnitude.

Russell Hunter's picture

Agree. There probably isn't much PR to be gained from what press use in the stands as most of Canon's sales would likely fall in the consumer range.

Marius Pettersen's picture

Sure, but I'm thinking about press within the community. "Screw the A9, look at this beast!"

Ed Sanford's picture

I have been making the same point. For whatever reason the hardcore sports and news photographers haven’t switched to a great degree. A thought occurred to me the other day. Most serious pros carry two bodies with interchangeable lenses. If you go mirrorless, you must purchase at least two bodies because why would you carry two systems? One thing about DSLR was that when you purchased a new body, you could use the old one as backup. When I go to NFL games, I notice the photographers on the sidelines with two and three bodies. Even at press conferences, I see more than one body by those guys and girls. I went on a photo trip to Iceland last year and the folks who were mirrorless had one body. I, of course, carry my 5DSR, and my old 5D MKII for backup. One guy had his Sony A9 swept into the surf along with his tripod while we were shooting ice crystals on the beach... and boom! no camera... good thing it was the last day of the shoot.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

I don't know about free-lance photographers but photographers who work for an agency often get cameras and lenses from their employers. And often, we are not only talking about cameras and a couple of lenses. The bigger agencies have hundreds of cameras and hundreds of lenses. That is a lot of dollars.

And that is not all.

There is sometimes a complete system apart from the camera in the photog's hands, remote controlled cameras,wireless transmitting of pictures to editors somewhere else in the stadium. The camera is but one small piece of a very complicated system and very expensive system that must not fail.

Most of these cameras are leased for a couple of years, including the lenses and all the other equipment. You are talking seriously big bucks.

I believe changes in this environment are very hard to make. They have to change their entire system and test it if it works in all circumstances. Then they have to retrain the photographers to use the new equipment. Often that means not a couple of thousand dollars but you are talking a couple of hundred thousand dollars. Not to mention the cost of retraining all the other staff which concern themselves with these systems.

So with big risk and probably not too much to win, I wouldn't switch either.
Even at my level with 2 cameras and 9 lenses and being just an amateur, I find it hard to switch because it will cost a lot of money with little gain in the end result.

Ed Sanford's picture

All good points. So if the big agencies haven’t changed, what does that say about going mirrorless in the pro world?

Pieter Batenburg's picture

It is often so that most of the industry is slow to change. The early adopters will change the fastest and the majority will only change when everybody else does.
The more money invested in a technology, the harder and riskier it is to change.

And lots of people really fear change. It says hardly anything about the technology but more about human psychology.

In the time of the clippers (the fastest cargo sailing ships) the rise of the steamboat was also laughed at. It would never replace trusted technology. And before that it was wooden ships being replaced with iron ship.
This is the case with every new technology.

I remember the time when AF systems were invented. The same laggards that moan nowadays about mirrorless said that real pros would never use AF and so on and on. It is the same old story every time again and agian.

The people who moan now were the same people who said that pros would never adopt digital cameras because they were so bad. I am old enough to have read all that was said about digital cameras. How real pros would never use them, how real pros could never use the bad quality pictures of the d-slr, how real pros would stick with films.
The same was said about smartphones and compact cameras.

All this has practically nothing to do with tech but with fear. Some people cannot cope with changes and have innovation anxiety. They are afraid of every new technology. They feel threatened by it.

Ed Sanford's picture

Very nice piece. I am an old guy and remember those things as well. Nevertheless, I think that it is unfair to say it’s all based upon fear. I think your point about the cost of change is more relevant. In my own case, I have 2 bodies and a host of lenses. Consequently, the real cost of change is two new bodies and a host of lenses. That is a steep financial barrier to entry when after the change, I still only end up with a print virtually the same as before.... say you?

Pieter Batenburg's picture

@Ed Stafford Sure. The end result will be pretty much the same. I switched to mirrorless for five reasons. None of them had anything to do with the picture quality.

1: I use reading glasses and it went like this: take picture, put glasses on my nose, chimp at the picture, remove glasses, take another pictures, don glasses, chimp at picture. With mirrorless I can view the result in the EVF. I am clumsy and was always dropping something.
2: I started with video and being able to use a viewfinder is very handy.
3: I have bad knees (nowadays one knee prosthesis) and being able to use the screen for low-angle shots is great. I cannot kneel down, that is too painful. Live view on a d-slr is far too clumsy and slow.
4 The last reason is that an evf lets you see the picture as it will turn out. I often travel in tourgroups and sometimes you have to be really fast to get the picture. Seeing the real exposure is a big advantage.
5: I have worn out knees and shoulders so less weight is a big benefit. My mirrorless kit was 2 kgs lighter than my former d-slr kit.

Monetary reasons are good reasons. However, most of the whining is about how mirrorless is inferior to d-slrs. And true enough, it was a new product so in the beginning there were few gains. It is becoming a mature product now and quickly surpassing all the d-slrs.

Ed Sanford's picture

How many bodies do you carry on tour?

Pieter Batenburg's picture

Just one. The a6300 with a 18-200, Samyang 12mm and Sony 35/1,8.
And probably next time only the RX100VA (and dji osmo pocket).
My body has more and more trouble with dragging weight for a long time.

michaeljin's picture

Professionals are notoriously slow to transition into anything new. Sports photographers and photojournalists are probably some of the slowest due to the nature of their work. Switching systems or even switching to a new camera body requires a period of acclimation where you have to familiarize yourself with the buttons and functions of the new camera. This is bad in any profession where you need to be able to change setting on the fly without thinking about it. I imagine that this is why so many professionals stick with even older models of DSLR despite the fact that they can certainly afford new ones.

The transition from a DSLR to an MILC is far more jarring than the transition between different generations of camera body within the same system. That means far more acclimation period and far more frustration on the job during that period. On top of that, it is only recently that MILC's have had really good AF and it's only recently that we've started to see long glass suitable for sports shooting on these nascent mounts.

I suspect that you'll start to see more MILC's in the stadiums and at press events, but it probably won't be the old heads switching systems so much as the old people aging out while younger shooters who are already acclimated to MILC systems step in. I can also foresee a possible future in which you might actually need to have an MILC at a press event because they might ban any photography that isn't completely silent. After all, if the technology is there for all of these photographers to be quiet, why would you want the cacophony of shutter noise?

David Pavlich's picture

i was at the Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Toronto last summer. Granted, I wasn't at every match but the matches I did see I saw a lot of Canons, not quite as many Nikons, and one A9. Since he had the, at that time, new 400mm f2.8 that wasn't available to the public yet, I would guess that he was a Sony Ambassador or some such thing.

John Tomlinson's picture

Last summer, I had the pleasure of shooting a game that was held indoors in a warehouse that was 95 degrees. I thought I would die. My 1DX2, however hot it was in my hands, kept going. So did my Einsteins. One of the things I keep hearing about the Sony cameras is that they overheat easily. I don't really want to take a chance that my camera will die from heat stroke in the middle of a game. Maybe Canon can bring a professional attitude to their design and produce a reliable MILC, but I'm going to wait and see.

michaeljin's picture

I can't say that I ever had a problem with my A7RIII overheating when I owned it...

Suzi Pratt's picture

Ditto what Michael said. My A7RIII has been a workhorse of its own in the past year that I've had it. I'm especially impressed with the battery life -- it's on par with Canon DSLR cameras and challenges the notion that mirrorless camera batteries suck (but it's the first mirrorless camera battery that finally seems good).

I'm a freelance pro photographer who's been a long-time Canon DSLR shooter (of the 5D series). I picked up a Sony last year b/c the Mark IV wasn't what I was hoping for, and I've wanted to expand into video. The Metabones V adapter has proved to work nearly flawlessly at adapting my Canon L glass to Sony, and the A7RIII has slowly but surely become my main camera. Pro shooters are indeed slower to adapt, but those who do may find that mirrorless technology is coming further along at faster rates than previously reported.

Ryan Mense's picture

It would be interesting to see a Mark II R with features that make it more niche or maybe more fragile, but have demand. Like 40+ megapixels while keeping high fps and deep buffer, 5-axis IBIS like the a99 II, something standout that makes it a variation off the of the Mark II. I don't think they have enough to improve on in the confines of DSLR to get to a Mark III otherwise. But it would be nice to be wrong and see something totally out of left field.

Andy Day's picture


aurèle brémond's picture

As said by other : When you buy a 1DX body, you get it for the pro ecosystem that comes with it (remote, network, etc). On the Olympic games, for exemple, any photographer have to have a Canon body for all the workflow of big agency like Reuters or Getty, to be able to show images to the world in less than 90 sec after any picture has been taken.

Benton Witcher's picture

Another thing that wasn't considered is potential video capabilities. High bitrate 4k? C-Log? There has been discussion as to why a C-Log firmware update was made available for the 5d4 but not the 1Dx Mk II.

Uriel Santisteban's picture

I’m a wedding photographer.

When I bought the 1DX2 when it came out I thought I might be acquiring something maybe a little unnecessary for what I do. An “overkill” camera for weddings it’s what came to my mind. After several years using it like a workhorse, weekend after weekend, having it endured all type of aggravation on the field, drinks spilled all over it, accidental punches and etc, I have to say I wouldn’t go back.

The speed of the camera to acquire focus at that time changed the way I shoot weddings receptions. (My favorite part of a wedding :)) The files that offers are very flexible and rich but above all... I have to say that it’s endurance, body strength and reliability it’s what I love the most.

Having said that, I believe I wouldn’t upgrade to a Mark III. I think my camera can hold up some more years for what I do, unless they come out with a super machine, vastly improved in all aspects.

If I have to invest in a 6K+ USD piece of gear, right now it would be a C200 Cinema Camera, since I also do video. (by the way, that’s one of the reasons I got the 1DX2, because I could work photo and video with a single machine).