Canon EOS 1DX MKIII Initial Auto Focus Impressions

Today Canon announced the hotly anticipated EOS 1DX MK3 and I have spent some time this morning doing some preliminary testing of the all new auto-focus system. I wont bother to regurgitate the already released specifications of the new camera as these can easily be found across the web on just about every photography related news website already. Instead, I am going to focus on my initial impressions now that I have had a chance to play with and test the camera.

If you are familiar with the Canon EOS 1DX MKII then the 1DX MKIII is going to feel like an old friend. In the hand it feels just about identical to its predecessor, with a few small exceptions and improvements. Firstly, the weight reduction; although only approximately 100 grams on paper, the reduction is quite considerable and noticeable in the hand in actual real world use. It is not as light as a Sony A9, but if you add the vertical grip to the Sony and the extra batteries to make the Sony equivalent to the Canon in size and capability then the differences between them closes considerably. If you are in the market for one of these cameras I would not base your decision solely on any weight differences between the models. When paired with a 400mm f2.8L IS MKIII or 600mm f4L IS MKIII the entire package is easily hand holdable for extended periods and literally comes in pounds lighter than the Nikon equivalents. Secondly, the back-lit buttons are an absolute god send (not sure how we ever lived without these) and will be a real boon in low light situations.  Thirdly and the real kicker for me is the new back-focus button that allows me to move my focus point whilst continuing to focus instead of having to move my thumb off the auto focus button and onto the joystick and then back again. This is a game changer for me and will absolutely mean less moments with wildlife will be missed in the field.  The newly designed back-button focus button that enables you to slip your finger over it and move the focus points took less than a few minutes for me to get used to and I cant wait to employ this new tool in the field.

My preliminary (and I stress this is preliminary only at this stage) testing of the entirely new auto focus system in the 1DX MKIII is that it is incredible and on a par with the Sony A9 MKII when the mirror is locked up (I just spent a week in Canada with a clients A9MK2 and Sony 400mm f2.8 and have a good feeling for how this camera performs when shooting Snowy Owls). Focus points go right out to the edges on the EOS 1DX MKIII and the ability of the camera to lock on and track its subject at speed is extraordinarily impressive. With the mirror down in DSLR mode the focus is significantly improved over the 1DX MKII. The additional focus points are more than welcome and the ability of the camera to track in this mode is significantly improved over the 1DX MKII.  It remains to be seen, but I believe that in the field, when I am lying down on the ground (which I am doing most of the time with wildlife) photographing my subject that I am quite likely to use the 1DX MKIII camera in mirror-up mode to take advantage of the extra focus points out near the edges and the eye and face tracking capabilities that this mode facilities. Of course, when hand holding the camera I will use the optical viewfinder. In effect, what Canon have delivered with the EOS 1DXMK3 is a DSLR camera that offers all of the benefits of a mirrorless camera (except the weight saving of the optical prism) when the mirror is locked up. The only downside to locking up the mirror is that there is no EVF in the 1DX MK3 (something I am actually very pleased about – especially in the cold climates I shoot in) and thus you have to use the rear LCD screen when in this mode. Obviously, hand holding with the mirror locked up is not ideal as it forces the user to hold the camera out from their face to see the rear screen. But, when lying down and shooting this is absolutely a non-issue, allowing the user to gain all of the benefits of the extra focus points and tracking.

In addition to the improved auto focus Canon has also simplified the auto-focus case modes. Case 1, 2, 3 and 4 remain effectively identical to the Canon EOS 1DX MKII, but Case 5 is all new and employs ‘deep learning’ (Canons term for Artificial Intelligence)  to better track the subject. In layman’s terms, the camera in Case 5 effectively tries to learn from the subjects movements to automatically adjust sensitivity and tracking. I have to do further testing of this new case to see how it performs over a more significant period of time, but I am extremely impressed at the initial results. I will be leaving for the Ross Sea region of Antarctica in just a few days so will unfortunately not have more time to test this camera prior to my return.

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