Hands On with Canon’s New 18MP Full-Frame, 12FPS Flagship Digital SLR, the Canon EOS-1D X

October 18, 2011

By Dan Havlik

Canon did what no other camera manufacturer has done since 2008 this morning: announce a digital SLR with a full-frame sensor. Yes, the long drought of new DSLRs with sensors approximately the size of a piece of 35mm film ends with the Canon EOS-1D X, Canon’s new flagship professional DSLR, which boasts an 18MP full-frame CMOS sensor.

In an unusual move, the fast shooting Canon 1D X, which can capture RAW bursts of up to 12 frames per second, will replace both the 16MP Canon 1D Mark IV and 21MP Canon 1Ds Mark III at the top of Canon’s professional line. The 1D Mark IV, which can shoot 10 frames per second, is popular with sports photographers and photojournalists while the high-resolution 1Ds Mark III appeals to studio and commercial photographers.

The only catch to the new 1D X announcement is that photographers will have to wait a while to get their hands on it. It’s not scheduled to start shipping until March 2012, which makes it ready for the 2012 London Olympics. The 1D X’s pricetag of $6,800 (body only) will be several thousand dollars higher than the 1D Mark IV but approximately in line with the 1Ds III

While it’s not exactly a recession-friendly model, the Canon 1D X is loaded with features and should attract a good deal of interest from pros looking for a camera that bridges that gap between the two previous models.

We watched an hour-long presentation about the 1D X out at Canon’s U.S. headquarters in Long Island last week and had some brief hands-on time with the camera. In a nutshell: it seems impressive.

Here are some more of the important specs:


• New 18MP full-frame CMOS sensor with an individual pixel size of 6.95 microns (1.25 microns larger than the 1D Mark IV sensor and .55 microns larger than the 5D Mark II)

• Powered by dual Digic 5+ image processors

• Dual CompactFlash (CF) card slots

• 60 millisecond blackout period after you press the shutter

• 14-bit A/D data conversion

• Standard ISO of 100 to 51,2000, expandable to a low of 50 and two high settings: 102,400 at H1 and 204,800 at H2 (Canon says this max ISO setting is for “law enforcement, government or forensic field applications.”)

• A separate, dedicated Digic 4 processor for metering and autofocus (Canon calls the 1D X “the camera with three brains.”)

• 100,000-pixel RGB metering sensor for better exposure with color and face detection

• 61-point “High Density Reticular AF” with 21 standard cross-type focusing points (for apertures as small as f/5.6) in the central area and five high precision cross-type points (for maximum apertures as small as f/2.8)

• New Ultrasonic Wave Motion Cleaning (UWMC) system, which uses carrier wave technology to remove dust from the sensor

• EOS iTR (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition) autofocus system which combines Phase Detection AF with Face Detection technology to keep faces in focus through a scene

• Super high speed mode shoots 14fps bursts but only for JPEGs

• New AI Servo III mode

• In-camera RAW processing

• Multiple exposure modes with the ability to combine nine images into one composite

• 1080p HD video in two new compression formats

• 4GB movie file size limit (29 mins, 59 secs) with splitting function that creates a new file internally without losing frames

• Movie Time Code recording

• Built-in LAN connection featuring a gigabit Ethernet Jack capable of 1000BASE-T transmission speeds

• New battery with more capacity (but camera is compatible with older 1D batteries as well)

• 400,000-cycle shutter durability

• 1/250th of a second flash sync speed

Hands On with the Canon 1D X
In our hands-on time with the Canon EOS-1D X (we were not allowed to take pictures of it), the camera felt slightly taller and deeper than the 1D Mark IV and heavier overall (but not by much). The 1D X, which has a new magnesium alloy chassis, has dimensions of 6.2 x 6.4 x 3.3 inches. The 1D Mark IV is 6.2 x 6.1 x 3.1 inches.

Some of the extra thickness is to accommodate the LAN port which is the front runner for our favorite feature on the 1D X.

While we were disappointed there is no built-in WiFi in the camera, Canon is hawking a new WFT-E6A Wireless File Transmitter with support for 802.11n. It will sell for $600 in March 2012. Canon will also sell the GP-E1 GPS receiver for the 1D X which logs latitude, longitude, and elevation along with Universal Time Code, starting in April for $300.

Along with a 3.2-inch 1,040,000-dot LCD screen on back which has new zoom control in playback with pre-registered zoom points (1x, 2x, 4x, 8x and 10x), the 1D X has a larger monochromatic top panel for eyeballing settings.

Button placement also seems improved. There’s a dedicated white balance button on top of the camera now, a new Live View Button on the back near where you’d place your thumb, and a Quick Control Button for changing settings on the fly. The front of the camera has four user assignable buttons, two for vertical shooting and two for horizontal shooting.

The viewfinder has 100% coverage, 0.76x magnification and 20mm eyepoint.

“The quality you see through the viewfinder is noticeably better than a 5D Mark II,” Canon’s tech guru Chuck Westfall told us during the 1D X presentation.

There’s also a redesigned graphical user interface which while it didn’t look like it had been drastically changed, seemed improved.

“We’ve tried to simplify things as much as possible while at the same time adding new features,” Westfall said.

The most striking thing about playing with the camera is the furious 14 frames a second super high speed mode. It’s interesting that in a day and age when HD video is now standard on most digital cameras, fast frame rates can still impress and this one does. Sports photographers will love both the 12 and 14fps burst modes but it seems like overkill for studio shooters.

And that’s the conundrum of the 1D X. By trying to appeal to the best of both worlds, it risks disappointing some. For instance, the 1D X is a drop down in resolution from the 1Ds Mark III, which may raise some eyebrows among studio and commercial photographers.

Though high ISO performance should be greatly improved with the 1D X over the 1Ds Mark III, that’s less important to studio photographers who shoot at lower ISOs using controlled lighting.

Westfall argued that the lower overall noise from a full frame sensor with such large pixels is ideal for working in the studio. “When you have a cleaner image at ISO 100, you can up-res it and get a cleaner image at a larger size,” he said.

At the same time, while sports photographers might like the better low light performance of the 1D X’s full frame sensor, they won’t get the same lens magnification they enjoyed from the APS-H sensor in the 1D Mark IV, leaving them further away from the action.

Either way, the 1D X is a bold move by Canon in a professional market that’s seen very bold moves in the last few years. Things just got real interesting. Hopefully more is on the way.