When I do a real world field test like this, it’s less like DP Review (they do a serious deep dive into all the specs and technical aspects of the camera, uncover every nook and cranny and nobody does it better), where mine are more like what I’d tell a buddy if they asked “So, how was it?”
Just in case this is the first time you’re hearing about the camera, I’ll just quickly list the specs here, then we’ll get to the field use stuff:
- 20.2 megapixels (up from 18 mp previously) – totally new sensor.
- 14 frames per second (up from 12 previously).
- Insane buffer. If you shoot in JPEG (I do for sports), you can shoot forever. RAW format — almost forever (around 170 RAW shots uninterrupted in continuous burst shooting).
- Built in GPS (didn’t particularly excite me – somebody somewhere is probably jumping for joy)
- 4K 60P Full HD 120P Video (I don’t shoot video. Still, I know some folks really dig this)
- In-camera auto correction for dealing with chromatic aberrations and diffraction correction, instead of having to do them later in Photoshop. Sounds great, but I didn’t notice any in my sports shots (that’s why?)
- Enhanced viewfinder with 61-point AF with expanded coverage and all of those 61 points are selectable.
- Even cleaner high ISO performance (less noise).
- They included a new CFast memory card slot for super fast transfer time (and if you’ve got a fast memory card, you can just shoot JPEGs continuously for a thousand shots and it will just keep cranking on and on!)
- Enhanced wi-fi capability if you get the optional transmitter.
- A bunch of other tweaks and enhancements throughout.
OK, onto the field report:
So how was it?
In short, it’s the best camera I’ve ever used. It’s a lot like the 1Dx…only way better (if that gives you any idea). It even looks like the 1Dx (but with a noticeable “bump” on the top for the built-in GPS). Now, like I said, I shot a college bowl game with it and an NFL game with it, and I shoot with two cameras for football so I got to shoot it for about half a game each, but here’s what I found:
They super-tweaked the auto focus system and it is everything you’d hoped it would be. For me, that pretty much stole the show. It’s incredibly fast, and the most accurate focus system I’ve ever used. I actually loved the focus system in the previous 1Dx (it was mostly responsible for me making the leap to Canon in the first place, three seasons ago), so a redesign of the focus system honestly wasn’t something I was expecting would be in the 1D X Mark II. I thought it was awesome before, but I have to say, now that I’ve used it — I totally get it. It locks on in an instant — stays on — it’s really something you have to experience for yourself (this is all aided by an improved AI Servo [continuous focus tracking], and it’s definitely a leap in the art of super-fast auto focus.)
Above: Shot just outside the locker room at 25,600 ISO. Yeowch! (no added noise reduction)
What about the noise?
As good as the 1Dx was — this is better. I didn’t get to do a side-by-side test with it, but I made sure to shoot some really high ISO stuff around the locker room area where the light was just terrible, and I was really impressed with how clean and sharp the files looked, even at really high ISO settings.
Do those 2-extra frames per second make that big a difference?
Are you kidding? I know it’s just 2-frames more per second, but when you shoot it, it feels like it’s 10-frames more per second. I remember years ago standing on the sidelines next to a Canon shooter and thinking “Theirs sounds so much faster ” and I kept telling myself it really doesn’t make that big a difference (which is the battle cry of the jealous). So here’s the thing: it makes that big a difference. It’s the difference between having one frame where the receiver is looking over his shoulder to catch a pass, and in the next frame he’s already caught it. Those extra two frames per second help you catch that frame in-between that you would have missed — the one where the ball is just at his fingertips or just as he’s reaching out to grab it. It’s the difference between getting the shot or missing it.
Above Left: The original shot after an interception takes the play to the other end of the field in just seconds.
Above Right: This is a super tight crop from that same shot, and the resulting cropped image is still over 1,100 pixels wide! That’s why those extra megapixels make such a difference when shooting sports.
They added two more, bringing it to 20.2 megapixels (from 18MP). For those of you who know me, you know I’m totally not a “more megapixels means better photos” guy on any level, but if there’s one area where having more megapixels really matters, it’s sports photography (and probably wildlife as well), because the action (or your subject) can move very far away from your shooting position in a split second, so cropping in tight is a way of life for us. If I have more megapixels, I can crop in that much tighter, and still have enough detail, clarity and resolution to send the image to the wire. So yes, in this case, for this type of shooting, those extra megapixels matter big time.
How about the video stuff
I didn’t shoot a single frame of video. I’m not a video shootin’ guy. I know it has real 4K video and other stuff that video guys tell me is really awesome, but…it doesn’t help me, so I’m going to skip over it. There’s tons of info about all the new video stuff on Canon’s site and on DP Review.
There’s a new Card Slot?
Yes — it’s a CFast card slot, and the camera is available with a CFast card and reader. It’s like greased lightning and together with the camera’s huge buffer, if you shoot JPEG I don’t think you will ever fill the buffer, period. Shooting RAW, you get around 170 full continuous burst shots, so you probably never even have the chance to experience that, but at least you know, if you need it, it’s there.
Did they bring over that feature from the 7D Mark II where it adjusts to flickering and pulsing indoor lighting automatically?
Why, yes they did!
Above: The vibrance and depth of the color is amazing (that image above is a JPEG straight out of the camera — no vibrance or contrast added or needed!)
How do the images look?
Wow! That was the first thing I said when I uploaded my first shots from the game. I’m sure that’s because it has an all new sensor (I can’t tell you all the technical reasons why they look better because I have no idea what they are, and a tech guy at Canon tried to explain it to me, and he used a lot of techie terms that had me glassy-eyed, but he seemed very excited about it), but the files look very sharp, with really great overall contrast, and the color rendition is just outstanding.
OK, what’s missing
I hate to whine about a camera that is hands down the best I’ve ever used, but I have a few things I wish were different.
(1) So, they added some touchscreen technology for when you’re shooting video, but the screen on the back isn’t a touchscreen for anything else. You can’t choose menus by touch, or swipe through images, or pinch to zoom with touch, and so on like you’ve been able to do for years now on their old 70D model. I understand not making an articulated screen like the 70D (though that would be fantastic for shots of the coaches shaking hands at the end of the game, or the coin toss, or team huddles during warmups), but I just don’t get not including a full touch screen. I know some high-end pros might make a fuss about a touch-screen not being as durable, but not everybody buying this camera is a high-end pro. I think given a choice, most folks would opt for the touchscreen version.
(2) When you shoot a burst of images, do you generally want the last image in the burst, or is that decisive moment somewhere within that long burst? Of course, it’s somewhere within that burst. On the 1D X Mark II, it displays just the final image from the burst. If you want to scroll back through the burst to tag your image, you first have to press the Play button before you can start scrolling. There should be an option that lets you just scroll back without having to press the Play button first. Other cameras do it this way — no reason Canon can’t make this an option you can turn on/off (the camera hasn’t shipped yet — it’s not too late, Canon)!
(3) I dig the idea of having a blazingly fast CFast card slot, but I’d like to see Canon also offer versions of the 1D X Mark II that come with either two regular CF card slots, or two CFast card slots, so you can choose which set-up works best for your workflow. It just seems that one of each is kind of a pain, and now I need a separate reader that reads CFast, too. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d like the option.
None of those are deal breakers for sure, but I felt they were still worth noting.
Any portraits? Any non-sports stuff?
Now, while I know a 1D X Mark II will take a picture of anything you point it at (which I was reminded of this past week as I was sending images to a UK mag that’s doing a feature on my work, and I saw how many of my wedding and portrait shots were actually taken with my old 1D X), but it was designed from the ground up with sports and wildlife photographers in mind, and for that crowd the 1D X Mark II absolutely crushes it. Crushes it! I would have loved to do some portrait and/or wedding work with it, but I only had the pre-release loaner camera for just two days (and two back-to-back games), so I didn’t get to try much else (for example, I didn’t get to try the wireless transfer, and I didn’t get to try it shooting in candlelight, and so on).
The Bottom Line
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is the real deal. I’ll admit that sports photographers (in particular) are probably the most demanding group of shooters out there. They always want more and better everything. Give us more megapixels (so we can crop tighter). Give us faster frames per second (so we can catch that micro-second of peak action); give us lower noise in high ISO situations (so our files look cleaner), give us a better focus system so more of our shots are in focus, and they stick and stay on our subject), give us faster, better everything. Even for that tough to please crowd, I think Canon delivered right across the board, and that’s saying something.
The 1D X Mark II is due to ship in April, and it’ll be around $5999 (well, that’s the MSRP) or $6,299 bundled with a 64GB CFast memory card and card reader (B&H is taking pre-orders now). If you want all the techie detail stuff, head over to Canon’s 1D X Mark II info page.
Hope you find that helpful. :)