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.

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