Canon EOS 1D Mark II SLR Review

Click for Steve's Digicams Main Menu

Canon EOS-1D Mark II Pro SLR

Steve's Conclusion

In our December 2003 review of the Nikon D2H, I posed the question "What is your definition of responsive?" Only five months later, Canon has offered their answer in the form of its new EOS-1D Mark II, setting a new standard for dSLR's with its combination of resolution and continuous drive frame rate. As the successor to Canon's 4.2-megapixel 2001-vintage 1D, the 8.2-megapixel EOS-1D Mark II is clearly designed for the professional market in terms of its features and performance. And while it carries a professional price tag of $4500, the Mark II will set you back $1000 less than the original EOS-1D at the time of its introduction.

The first thing you'll notice about the Mark II is its physical presence. Equipped with battery, CF memory card and Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8L zoom lens, it tips the scales at just over five pounds. Although you'll feel its weight during extended use, the Mark II is well balanced, especially with a flash unit attached to its hot shoe. The rugged all-metal body is also quite large, measuring 6.1 x 6.2 x 3.1 inches. But the size of the body is actually a benefit, providing enough space for the logical and ergonomic location of its various buttons and controls. The body is also well sculpted for comfortable hand-holding in both landscape and portrait orientation. All of the Mark II's covers fit snugly and seem capable of withstanding the rigors of professional use. The switches and other controls have a positive, professional feel with the exception of the vertical (portrait orientation) shutter button, which I found to be too sensitive; the Mark II frequently took a shot when I was intending to only half-depress it for focusing.

Contributing to the Mark II's size is the large NP-E3 Ni-MH battery pack, the same battery used in the 1D; the Mark II is more efficient in its power use both by Canon's specifications and in actual use; I was able to capture nearly 700 images before the low battery warning appeared, including a lot of time exploring the menu system on the LCD display, and including a two second image review.

A pro spends a lot of time looking through the viewfinder, and the Mark II's does not disappoint. Its eye level glass pentaprism covers the full 100% of the captured image, allowing for precise composition. It has a large 20mm eye point, comfortable rubber eye cup, and dioptric adjustment (-3.0 to +1.0) for viewing ease. It even offers interchangeable focusing screens, allowing you to choose from the standard microprism and nine other types to suit your subject or shooting conditions. There's lots of camera and exposure information displayed, including: AF points, focus confirmation light, shutter speed, aperture, manual exposure, metering range, ISO speed, exposure level, exposure warning, flash ready, FP flash, FE lock, flash exposure level, JPEG format, and number of remaining shots. The viewfinder is bright, informative, and exact, precisely what a professional needs.

Complementing the Mark II's excellent viewfinder are its three LCD displays. The 2-inch color LCD monitor is used for image review and menu access. It's important to note that this color LCD is the same physical size as that on the 1D but it now has almost twice as many pixels (230,000 vs. 120,000.) The menu options are large enough to be easily read, and the LCD's brightness control makes it usable even in bright sunlight. Although its surface is scratch resistant, the LCD is not equipped with a protective cover; you will want to store and handle it with care. Playback mode is very flexible, offering choices of shooting information and histogram displays along with the image. An improvement over the 1D is the ability to magnify the image up to 10x for critical field review. The top and rear LCD panels combine to provide a complete display of camera settings. The top panel contains shooting parameters such as aperture, shutter speed, shooting mode, metering mode, drive mode, AF mode, battery condition, and number of remaining shots; the rear panel displays image size, ISO, memory card and White Balance settings. Custom Function 8 allows you to switch the display of ISO and number of remaining shots between the two panels. Considered as a whole, the viewfinder and LCD displays provide the clarity and completeness demanded by professionals.

As you'd expect, the Mark II is a very robust performer. From power-on until the first shot was captured took only 7/10 second, and it took only 1/2 second to wake it from auto power off and capture the first shot; you will not miss many unposed spontaneous moments with the Mark II in your hands. Pre-focused shutter lag is almost non-existent, measuring less than 1/10 second. Autofocus shutter lag varied based on the number of AF points being used; it ranged from a remarkably fast 1/10 second when using a manually-selected single AF point to 4/10 second when using auto AF point selection. Shot-to-shot performance was also impressive; I was able to capture images at 1/2 second intervals in single shooting mode, about as fast as my shutter finger operates!

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to shoot several spring training baseball games alongside pro sports photographers, most of whom were using Canon's 1D. I had never before realized the extent to which they rely on high speed continuous capture to produce the stunning action shots we see in the media. Their technique was uncomplicated, simply depressing the shutter button just before the anticipated action, and releasing it after the play was completed; the 1D did the rest - ripping off shots at 8fps, a rate that pretty much assured the capture of at least one decisive moment. Pro sports shooters will not be disappointed with the Mark II's performance; in high speed continuous shooting mode I was able to capture 33 JPEG L images in 3.5 seconds, 20 RAW images in 2.1 seconds, and 18 RAW + JPEG L images in 1.8 seconds, all 3 capture rates exceeding Canon's claim of 8.5 fps! It's interesting to recognize that the camera's frame rate is so fast that it can be influenced by shutter speed; shooting at 1/30 second, the high speed continuous capture rate slows to under 8fps. While most photographers crave for high speed continuous shooting, the Mark II is so fast that it offers a setting, Personal Function 19, that allows you to slow-down the frame rate, extending the burst duration.

High speed shooting is only effective if the camera's buffer can hold an adequate number of shots, and those images can be written to the camera's memory card quickly; the Mark II performs well on both fronts. The buffer held 33 JPEG L, 20 RAW, or 18 RAW + JPEG L images during our testing. That may not seem extraordinary, but considering the enormous file sizes necessary for 8-megapixel images, it is impressive. Our typical JPEG L image file was over 4 megabytes, a RAW image file over 8 megabytes, and an image captured as RAW + JPEG L consumed about 13 megabytes of memory; those 18 RAW + JPEG L images totaled about 230 megabytes of data! Flushing the buffer takes a bit more time than filling it up. Using a Sandisk Extreme 1G CF card, the Mark II took about 50 seconds to write 18 RAW + JPEG L images to memory. The Mark II supports both CF and SD memory cards; using a 512MB Sandisk Extreme SD card, those same images took only 28 seconds to flush! This was the only test that exposed any difference in performance between the Mark II's support of CF and SD memory devices.

As you can see from the performance results, the Mark II's 45-point AF system is very fast, but it's also accurate and flexible as well. You have a choice of single AF, suitable for stationary subjects, and AI servo AF, for moving subjects. Photographers, as a rule, want faster and more sensitive AF systems, but the Mark II is so fast and sensitive that it offers a custom function, number 20, that allows you to regulate AF sensitivity, slowing it to accommodate objects passing between the camera and subject, and speeding it when there's a continuous unobstructed view of a fast moving subject. The number of AF controls is almost overwhelming, you can use automatic or manual AF selection, alter the AF Point selection method, the way the AF Points are illuminated in the viewfinder, limit the number of AF Points used, expand the AF Point activation area for moving subjects, and switch between normal AF and previously registered AF points. The AF system employs 7 cross-type sensors which are sensitive to both horizontal and vertical lines; the remaining 38 are only horizontal line sensitive. Of course Manual focusing is available, and the AF system provides focus confirmation when a subject is in focus. The Mark II's AF system produced consistently sharp images in every condition it faced, including tracking a moving subject.

The Mark II's metering system is also accurate and flexible. It offers metering modes of Evaluative, Partial covering 13.5% of the viewfinder area, Spot covering 3.8% of the viewfinder area, and center weighted average. Spot metering can also be linked to either the center or active AF point. You can override the camera's AE system using exposure compensation and auto exposure bracketing (AEB). The Mark II offers a unique AEB mode that varies the ISO rather than shutter speed and aperture to obtain the bracketed results. Finally, the Mark II provides an AE lock button, useful for back lit or spotlighted subjects; the sample photo of the saxophone player was captured using this feature. Like the AF system, the Mark II's AE system produced consistently well-exposed results when used properly.

Accurate and flexible are terms that also describe the Mark II's White Balance system. I found Auto White Balance to be consistently accurate, but if you are faced with unusual lighting, the camera allows you to select from a standard list of presets, directly set color temperature, set Custom White balance using a sample image of a white object, or fine tune it with White Balance Correction. The Mark II also offers White Balance Auto Bracketing; with just a single shot, the camera records three images with differing blue/amber and magenta/green bias.

I've mentioned several Custom Functions that you can use to fine tune the Mark II to suit your shooting style or subject. In all, there are twenty-one custom functions available from the camera's menu system. To speed camera setup for different shooting conditions, you can register up to three groups of custom function settings and later recall them. The Mark II also offers twenty-six Personal Functions that can be used to further customize camera settings. Personal functions allow you to disable shooting modes, metering modes and auto AF point selection, set minimum and maximum aperture and shutter speed, set the frame rate of both low and high speed continuous shooting, as well as a host of other controls. Personal Functions can be set only with the camera tethered to a computer running the EOS Viewer Utility. Once loaded into the camera, Personal Settings can be collectively or individually reset or cleared, but not changed. In addition to registering groups of Custom Functions, the Mark II allows you to save all camera settings, including shooting mode, menu settings, Custom Function Settings, and Personal Function settings, onto the camera's memory card. This allows you to later duplicate those same settings, even into another Mark II camera body.

The bottom line is always image quality, and the Mark II does not disappoint. Most pro's will opt to shoot in RAW mode, using software tools to adjust for the desired degree of sharpness, saturation and contrast. But the Mark II also produces high-quality finished JPEG images, allowing you to specify the degree of in-camera processing with settings for sharpness, contrast and a selection of tone curves that have been loaded from the EOS Viewer Utility. While image noise is detectable at sensitivities over ISO 800, I found it objectionable only at ISO 3200. And, speaking of noise, long exposures shot without noise reduction were remarkably free of it. See the 20-second exposures on the samples page, we shot one with and one without the NR enabled.

With its 8-megapixel imager, accurate autofocus system, precise metering system and robust performance the Canon EOS-1D Mark II is photographic tool that is unrivaled in the industry at the time of this test (May 2004). While its $4500 price tag puts the Mark II out of the reach of most non-pro's, we'll all soon be able to enjoy its results in the various newspapers and magazines you read; the Canon-equipped media will likely be buying them as fast as fast as they can be manufactured for many months to come.

Canon Posts EOS-1D Mark II Firmware v1.0.2

Canon Japan has posted the EOS-1D Mark II firmware v1.0.2 update which fixes/improves the following:

  • The screen becoming magenta-colored when shooting bulb exposures
  • The values being cleared when C.Fn-06 is set to "2" and the battery is removed
  • Improves image quality of NTSC video output

Fred Miranda Releases Canon 1D Mark II CSPro Plugin

Fred Miranda has just released his new Canon 1D Mark II CSpro Plugin, it uses a sharpening technology specific designed to accommodate Canon 1D Mark II SLR files. It's compatible with JPEG files straight from the camera or TIFF/JPEG files converted from RAW files. It provides everything from haloless sharpening, edge-sharpening, luminance sharpening, mode sharpening, and more with just the press of a button. With this plugin you can also choose from low or high ISO settings. It does not increase noise or artifact and sharpens only what needs to be sharpened and can be used with any type of images, from portraits, landscape, still-life and especially with HIGH ISO files. It sharpens your 1D Mark II files without adding noise or artifacts.

Canon 1D Mark II CSpro is compatible with Photoshop 6, 7, and CS. Also compatible with Photoshop Elements 1 and 2.0. Both Mac and PC versions are available.

Continue on to
Sample Photos

Want a second opinion?

DP Review's Mark II review

Luminous Landscape's Mark II review

The-Digital-Picture's Mark II review

Return To Our
Reviews Menu

Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.