Canon EOS 1DX MKIII – Feature Set and Wish List

It is no secret that Canon will soon be announcing the new Canon EOS 1DX MKIII professional DSLR camera body (I expect we will see a February announcement with an April / May 2020 delivery – in time for the Japan 2020 Olympics). The current 1DX MKII has been my go-to workhorse (I own two of them) for the last four years. It has been (and remains) an incredible camera for working and photographing in the worlds polar regions. The 1DX MKII has never let me down in the field and has continued to operate reliably in temperatures as low as -50ºCelsius; even when all of the buttons are literally frozen in place. I have had these cameras so wet they may as well have been underwater. I have dropped them repeatedly, banged them into ship railings, left them buried in snow and ice for hours and otherwise abused them in the pursuit of the image. They are quite literally the most reliable digital cameras I have ever used. So how does Canon improve performance further in the soon to be announced EOS 1DX MKIII?

Here is my best guess (and wish list) for the Canon EOS 1DX MKIII in terms of new and improved features. I am going to refrain from discussing the low level consumer orientated features such as built in HDR, Focus stacking etc. and confine my comments to the features and capabilities that I see as most important. Some these I know for fact and some are my best guess. You will have to surmise which is which.

1 – The 1DX MKIII camera body will be identical or very similar to the EOS 1DX MKII. It will be an EF mount (not RF  -see footnote). Expect built in GPS (as per 1DX MKII) and the inclusion of WiFi. We may see a very slight reduction in overall weight with the use of some new high tech composite materials. I do not envisage huge weight savings since professional photographers working with these cameras greatly value their rugged build quality and the cameras ability to take severe and repeated knocks. The extensive use of light weight materials would by definition compromise some of this build quality. A small weight saving would be appreciated, but is far from mandatory. The EOS 1DX MKIII will ship with an all new battery, but will still be backward compatible with batteries from the original 1DX and 1DX MKII with some reduced functionality.

2 – The EOS 1DX MKIII will have an optical viewfinder – not an EVF. However, we should expect many of the EVF benefits (such as live histogram) when using the rear LCD in live-view mode. It is my hope the 1DX MKIII will  include ‘zebras’ and ‘focus peaking’ when using Live-view. Focus peaking is an absolute god send when working with tilt shift lenses and is one of the primary reasons I purchased an EOS R RF for my landscape photography. Whilst there has been some talk of a ‘hybrid’ EVF / Optical viewfinder I do not believe we will see such a system in an EOS 1DX MKIII. The 1DX MKII was revolutionary for the display capability it offered with its optical viewfinder. I expect the 1DX MKIII to offer similar advantages.

3 – The EOS 1DX MKII with have an all new sensor with between 24 and 28 mega pixels. There is just no reason for Canon to try and stuff more than 28 mega pixels into this professional body. Even Sony realises that professionals just don’t need or want super high mega pixel cameras (witness the release of the Sony A9 MKII with the same 24 mega pixel sensor as its predecessor). Professional photographers understand that it is the quality of the pixels that counts – not the number of them.

4 – Improved high ISO performance. I will comfortably shoot my EOS 1DX MKII in low light situations at ISO6400 if that is what is required to capture the image. However, once you exceed ISO6400 the file is best described as sub optimal and things start to deteriorate rather quickly from there. I expect that EOS 1DX MKIIII will offer better high ISO performance by approximately one or two stops. Sensor technology has more or less plateaued in the last twelve months and I think it highly unlikely we will see huge ISO improvements. Sony’s release of the A9 MKII with a two plus year old sensor (with no update) is living proof that sensor technology (at least high ISO capability) has more or less plateaued.

5 – The EOS 1DX MKIII may, or may not have IBIS. If I was a betting man I would give the inclusion of IBIS no better than even odds.  Whilst the inclusion of IBIS would be ‘nice’, I don’t believe it mandatory; especially given recent  improvements in lens image stabilisation.

6 – Canon will drop the CFast format and move to dual CF Express card slots.  Whilst I will greatly appreciate the inclusion of dual CF Express slots (rather than one CFast and on CF) it does unfortunately necessitate another round of new cards and a new card reader (and that is not a cheap investment for high speed cards). Hopefully Canon Australia helps ease this transition with the inclusion of a reader and CF Express card with the purchase of the new camera (they did this with  CFast and the 1DX MKII). Lets hope for all our sake that the world finally standardises on CF Express as the preferred format of choice.

7 – Improved high speed frame rate: Probably up to 30 frames per second with the mirror locked up. I doubt we will see more than 16 frames per second with the mirror moving up and down as there is just too much mechanical movement required to make a mirror move this fast on a reliable basis. Whilst 30 frames per second with the mirror locked up sounds impressive, I am not sure how useful this will actually be in the field since locking up the mirror blanks out the optical viewfinder and would necessitate using the rear LCD screen (not ideal in most shooting situations). The use of a pellicle mirror would enable a 1DX MKIII to shoot at 30 frames per second without having to lock up the mirror (since a pellicle mirror is fixed), thus enabling the photographer to utilise the optical viewfinder without blackout. However, we have not seen Canon employ this technology since the Canon EOS 1NRS 35mm sports film camera (if memory serves this was around 1995). There are compromises to a pellicle mirror system, but such compromises are more or less easily mitigated with todays technology. Personally, I would be extremely happy if Canon decided to employ a pellicle mirror system in the 1DX MKIII, but I think the odds of this technology reappearing out of the blue at this point are slim at best.

8 – Additional auto focus points closer to the edges of the frame: Quite honestly, this is my biggest wish for the EOS 1DX MKIII. Ideally, I would like auto focus points (cross type and phase detect) right out near the edges of the frame. This would remove the need to focus and recompose when shooting wildlife (which I often have to do). Focusing and recomposing is extremely difficult with fast moving subjects and focus points out closer to the edges of the frame would be of huge assistance in my own wildlife photography (I know sports photographers would also hugely appreciate this feature). Typically I like to compose with my subjects (wildlife) toward the edges of the frame and the only way I can currently do this is to focus and recompose. When the wildlife is moving this becomes extremely difficult. If I could only choose one improvement for the EOS 1DX MKIII it would be additional focus points closer to the corners of the frame.

9 – Improved Rear LCD Screen: The rear LCD screen on the EOS 1DX MKII is already outstanding and fit for purpose so any improvement in the 1DX MKIII is likely to be small. I expect the screen will be either identical to the 1DX MKII, or  ever so slightly larger with slightly improved resolution. Any improvement is likely to be small and an evolution rather than a revolution.

10 – Expect increased frame rate for 4K movie recording – probably up to 120 frames per second. I do not expect Canon to include 8K Video recording in the 1DX MKIII (if they do it will only be at a very low frame rate).

Expect the rumour mill to continue to ramp up as we get closer to an actual camera announcement. Most of what will emerge across the internet over the next few months will be nothing more than hearsay and nonsense and any actual real facts are likely to be concealed beneath layers of miss-information. There is a possibility Canon will make a development announcement toward the end of this year (2019), but I think it more likely that silence and rumours will reign until the official announcement early next year. In the meantime, life goes on with the EOS 1DX MKII and speaking frankly,  it has a great many images left in it.

Footnotes

  • There are over one million EF lenses in the field today. Professional photographers the world over have serious and large investments in EF glass. Canon is not about to abandon its professional users and force them to purchase all new RF mount glass on the eve of the Japan olympics. That just isn’t going to happen. Additionally, Canon has already publicly announced that they are continuing development of EF mounted lenses alongside the new RF mirrorless mount.

Wolverines and Wolves of Finland Workshop Report 2019

In October of 2019 I lead a dedicated wildlife workshop to the northern region of Kajaani in Finland. This workshop was dedicated to the photography of Wolves, Wolverines and Bears. I arrived a week early to pre-scout many of the locations I wanted us to try to photograph in order to ascertain which hides (and in what locations) were having the most activity and at what time of the day. By pre scouting I ensured we had the best possible opportunities with the most action for our time in this beautiful part of Finland. This was well worth the effort and time as everyone who participated in this trip came away with a spectacular portfolio of photographs.

To my knowledge, there is no where else in the world you can get so close, so reliably and so often to wild wolves and wild wolverine. At various times during our photography sessions we would have Wolves, Wolverine and Brown Bear within just a few feet of our hides. This provided us with unique and incredible opportunities to produce a really strong and powerful body of work of these apex predators.

Wolves, Wolverines and Bears are typically most active first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening so this is when we concentrated our efforts. As it turned out, most of the action ended up occurring in the afternoon and early evening so we quickly abandoned the mornings and focused our efforts on the afternoons. With the evenings being so incredibly productive we were able to make many thousands of photographs during just a few hours each day. It also freed up our mornings for some informal landscape photography around some of the lakes at the peak of fall colour. The landscape opportunities in this area of Finland at this time of year are well worth a visit alone.

Many of the hides we used to make our photographs are actually located in no mans land between Finland and Russia and special permission is needed to enter this demilitarised zone. The benefit of being in this remote restricted region is that we have it completely to ourselves. No other human being for many kilometres. Of perhaps even greater importance is that there is no hunting allowed of any kind in this zone. With hunting pressure across much of Finland (for Grouse, and unfortunately also for Bear and Wolves) the animals are pushed into this region and concentrated more closely than they might otherwise normally be.

During the week we spent in this remote part of Finland we had what can only be described as some of the most amazing, unusual and incredible encounters with wildlife anyone could ever hope for. We had a pack of six wolves (two Alphas and four one year old pups) that were consistently coming within just a few metres of our hides on a daily basis. To have wild wolves within just a few meters of you is virtually unheard of. We also had close encounters with Wolverine and brown bears; often close enough that they were approaching minimum focusing distance!

During one early afternoon we were waiting to go into the hides when a wild wolverine emerged from the forest and promptly came straight up to us to investigate. This is extremely unusual behaviour for what is notoriously an extremely shy and elusive animal.  With the wolverine so close I took the opportunity to use my iphone and grab some video of this once in a lifetime encounter.

Due to my continual travel schedule this year, I have not as yet had time to sort, edit and process the many thousands of photographs I made during this week in Finland, so rather than delay my trip report I am instead including a few snippets of video I shot on my iphone during the workshop. I will post final images at a later date once I have had time to edit and process them.

This years workshop was such a success that I have decided to repeat the workshop again next year from the 14th of October until the 21st of October. As per this year, I will take just five photographers with me for this experience. We will be based in a quaint and cozy remote cabin just a few kilometres from the Russian border where we will make daily sojourns to our hide locations for photography of Wolves, Wolverine and Bears. Drop me an email to register your interest as places are strictly limited and some are already spoken for. Full details on my website at www.jholko.com 

Greenland East Coast Back-to-Back Expeditions Report 2019

In  September of 2019 I ran two back-to-back expeditions to Scoresby Sound and the East Coast of Greenland with long time friend and fellow pro-photographer (Or as he prefers – the ‘Bus Driver’) Daniel Bergmann. For these two expeditions we flew by private charter flight from Reykjavik in Iceland to Constable Point on the East Coast of Greenland where we boarded our sailing ship, the Donna Wood. Flying across the Denmark Strait (the body of water between Iceland and Greenland) saves at least two days of sailing in both directions and gave us more time for photography in the field.

For both our expeditions we chose to sail north to the rugged and scenic Bjørneøer Islands (Bear Islands) where we made landings at both sunset and sunrise for contemplative landscape photography. Along the way we photographed many of the gigantic icebergs that drift as giant sentinels silently through the fjord system. For our landings in this area we were blessed with a magnificent iceberg with a full arch that was grounded against a stunning mountainous backdrop and we spent many hours in this location with the late afternoon and early evening light. The landscape topography in these islands is a landscape photographers paradise with beautiful boulders and stunning back drops in every direction.

From Bear Islands we sailed west through Øfjord as we rounded Milne land. This region of Scoresby Sound offers stunning glacial scared mountains that were freshly dusted with late Autumn snow that serve as a majestic backdrop for the plethora of transient icebergs that drift through this system. We rounded Storø island into Rodefjord and made our way down to iceberg alley at Red Island. This iceberg graveyard offers up some of the most incredible iceberg photography I have ever experienced anywhere on the planet (I actually rate it as the worlds best iceberg graveyard for photography). With perfectly still conditions and heavily overcast skies (absolutely ideal conditions for iceberg photography) we photographed for hours amongst the gigantic icebergs on both expeditions as we drifted on our zodiacs through the ice maze.

From Red Island we travelled east through Fønfjord for more gigantic iceberg photography as we made our way to the small Inuit village of Ittoqqortoørmit (first expedition only) where we did a short landing before making or way back to Constable Point to conclude our expedition.

The East coast of Greenland is one of the most spectacular locations on our planet. Speaking candidly, if I could only photograph one place for the rest of my life it would almost certainly be Scoresby Sund and the East Coast of Greenland.  It is absolutely miraculous on every level.

Due to hunting pressure the wildlife is often skittish and hard to find in Greenland. Local inuit are unfortunately still allowed to hunt and shoot up to thirty six Polar Bears a year and Musk Ox and Arctic Hare are hunted relentlessly and without mercy. Despite the general lack of wildlife in the area we did encounter and photograph Musk Ox, Bearded and Ring Seals and quite a few Arctic bird species. We did not encounter or sight any Polar Bear during these expeditions (although we had a report of a mother and cub in our area)

If you missed out on a place on the 2019 expeditions but would like to travel to the East Coast of Greenland to photograph this amazing region then I will be repeating this very special ‘Winters Cusp’ expedition in September of 2021 (the 2020 expedition already sold out). Full details are now available for download from my website at www.jholko.com including a complete PDF itinerary. Drop me an email for further information.

Polar Bears of the High Arctic 2020 – Now Limited Availability

There is now only a few places left available on my Polar Bears of the High Arctic expedition this July before the expedition will be sold out (Read the report from last years expedition). The expedition runs from the 6th of July until the 15th of July and is strictly limited to twelve participants.

The High Arctic is a place to inspire the imagination. Nowhere is it more accessible than the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located deep within the Arctic Circle. Nowhere else can the Polar Bear be seen more reliably in its natural habitat, and photographing these magnificent animals will be our main objective. We will also search for walrus and the other wildlife of the region. Dramatic glaciers, plunging cliffs and beautiful drift ice formations will be present as well.Our intention is to sail directly north from the small town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard to approximately 80o degrees north, to the very edge of the permanent pack ice. At our northerly most point we will likely be less than 600 miles from the North Pole and depending on the sea ice we may get even closer. We will be using the ice hardened expedition ship M.S Freya that will enable us to skirt the edge of the pack ice searching for and photographing Polar Bears. M.S Freya is widely regarded as the best ship in the Arctic for Polar Bear Photography. With low-lying decks we can photograph at eye level with wild Polar Bears. Our expedition ship has private cabins (no need to share unless you wish) and is also equipped with sufficient zodiacs (2 x Zodiac MKV models) and crew for all photographers to be shooting simultaneously with plenty of room to spare for camera equipment – So bring what you need! Watch the expedition video ‘Kingdom of the Ice Bear’ to get an idea of what this expedition entails.If you are excited by the idea of traveling to the edge of the permanent pack ice to photograph Polar Bears in their natural environment with a small group of dedicated photographers now is the time to secure the very last place. You can download a detailed PDF itinerary HERE. Drop me an email to register your interest or to register for one of the last remaining places.

Photo of the Month October 2019 – Winter Ptarmigan

The photograph of the month for October 2019 comes from my last snow mobile expedition to Svalbard in winter this year and is of a Ptarmigan in its winter plumage. I had been wanting to try and photograph this bird properly in a winter setting for some years now and this year I was afforded several opportunities over the period of two weeks I spent on snow mobiles in the winter landscape (mostly searching for Polar Bears). Whenever I am photographing wildlife like this I make every effort to get down as low as possible so that I can be at eye level with my subject and create a stronger connection between the viewer and the photograph. In this case, I lat down in the snow and actualyl partially buried my lens in the soft snow to create the soft transition between the snow and bird. The key to all of this style of wildlife photography is to carefully choose your background and then work with the subject to achieve the ‘look’ you want. In this case, a combination of a clean background with just a sudden gust of wind to ruffle the birds feathers and create some movement.