Playing with New Toys: EOS 1D-X and EOS 5Dmrk3

During the past couple of weeks I have been playing with new toys – or tools, more like it. Canon Finland was kind enough to lend me the new EOS 1DX and the 5Dmrk3 to play with for couple of days.

No, this is not a test, just simple first impressions.

Canon EOS 1dX

In as few words as possible: the best camera I have ever held in my hands. I shot one period of the final of our national hockey series with it and I was totally sold. Before you ask: there is a simple reason why I did NOT shoot the 2nd and 3rd period. When you are working under  such pressure (9 pages plus video plus edit and c. 1,5 hours to the deadline after the game,) you do want to work with tools you master totally intuitively. In my case, that is 1Dmrk4’s.

Focusing was amazing. No, make it amazing plus as 1Dmrk4 is amazing already.

12 FPS… I was shooting jpg only. The camera was preproduction model and I promised Canon I would not show  RAW/Full Res files – as these cameras tend to evolve all the way up to the release date. Besides: at the time of my testing the latest ACR did not support this model.

I ended up shooting c. 600 frames in one period – all razor sharp (apart from my own mistakes, naturally).

I would estimate that the camera has 2-3 stops advantage over the previous model in terms sensitivity. I shot up to 12 800 asa with no noticeable loss of quality,  up to 1/1250th sec on 400mm 2.8 IS (the new model). Absolutely stunning. And, if you ever shot hockey in Finland you might know that the Lahti rink is pretty disgusting…

I did shoot video, but I have yet to analyze the footage. What is interesting is the choice of inter versus intra coding, i.e. is the information coded into each image separately or as a larger GOP (Group of pictures). Eventually,there is most probably no visible difference in quality, but the large GOP takes much less disk space – but then it comes with the downside that it has to be transcoded in the post. The “intra-flavor”  footage has a bit stream of  c. 90mb/sec which is pretty impressive – the best AVCHD can do – if I remember correctly – is 24mb/sec..

Naturally you do have the framerates 24,25,30,50 and 60; the higher speed only for 720p though. 50/60 fps is real cool if you want to do beautiful slow-mo effects. I tried slowing down 60fps to 20% with FCX optical flow and it was just stunning.

A nifty little addition in shooting video is that the cam now generates timecode, both in  Rec Run and Free Run flavors.

You can convert RAW into jpg within the camera, which is really cool if you want to send directly out of the cam with no computer in between. What is missing is the opportunity to crop in the camera.  I informed Canon about this  and they immediately sent the feedback to Japan…  and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this functionality in a firmware update even prior to the release of the camera.

The UI (i.e. menus and buttons) has changed a lot and I seriously advise anybody picking up this camera to familiarize themselves with the manual first. Seriously: RTFM as they say.  There are lots of new functions, there are several new buttons which you can program yourself to perform the functions most essential to your style of shooting. And these buttons are available in both horizontal and vertical position of the camera, reachable without your hand leaving the handle.

The CF/SD has given room to CF/CF which is good in a sense that it makes your card management easier (you only need CF’s) – but it comes with the downside: you cannot use Eye-Fi cards as such. You can use them with adaptors, but there has been some issues with these adaptors and they are hard to come by – at least in Finland.

Is the price tag of 6500 – or whatever it will be  – justified? Well, depends on how thick your wallet is and what do you shoot for your living.  I personally made a decision of getting two of these to replace my 1Dmrk4’s  -but only after a very serious consideration (more about this in the conlusion). With the rate our daily press is dying one really has to consider each investment seriously…

Basically at the moment: the price of the new X is about the double of a used mrk4 in mint condition… and you really cannot make two times a better camera than mrk4 – as it already is an awesome piece of work.

Most importantly one should never forget:  getting the latest toy in the market does not make you a better photographer. With the risk of offending somebody, I would say that the majority of people  are probably not using more than 10% of the technical potential their present camera has to offer.

Canon EOS5Dmrk3

If I was impressed with the X, I was totally blown away with the new 5D. Absolutely my choice of camera if I were doing reportage, weddings or “normal” photojournalism instead of sports. So many things have been taken to the next level: sensitivity, focusing, weather sealing…

You can get two of these with the price of one 1DX and they also weight about the half of an X.

As there are already many reviews online, I will not babble too much about this toy. Two things which I totally adored: the silent mode (single shot). Man, it is quiet. I really can see people doing e.g. weddings etc. going totally bananas about this. Another one was the addition of an SD-slot – AND integrating the Eye-Fi controls into the menu. I did not test it – I do have an EYE-Fi card presently in one of my point and shoot cams – but that is really great news. As one of my personal arguments in favor of 5D series (what I refer to as “small cams” as opposed to my “standard tools”) is weight and size, it is real nice you can use eye-fi with relatively low cost and no added bulk.

Will I get this camera? Presently no. I have three 5D’s of previous generation and I use them mainly for remotes and for basic journalistic/videowork when working abroad, when minimal weight and size of the equipment is essential. Yes, I would love to to have better focusing and added sensitivity – but I don’t think that would make my photography/journalistic storytelling any better. Not worth 9000€ (price of three of these) better anyway.

What seems to escape people talking about cameras – or whatever the newest hype is about …. is the fact that e.g. the introduction of 5Dmrk3 did NOT render 5Dmrk2 into an obsolete piece of junk. It’s still very much the same amazing camera it was yesterday (at least in terms of price/value ratio). Which leads me to my actual point of this post…

Conclusion

Not much of a review, right? As I said, this was only my first impressions. But I want to share something which really struck a chord the other day – and which also sort of explains why I don’t go on and on about the technical aspects and finesses of these.

I was reading Adam Westbrook’s  Inside the Story -and something Felix Clay said there has been ringing in my head. If you are an avid reader of this blog, you might remember that I have mentioned Felix once earlier in connection with a piece he made for the Guardian about two years ago.

Anyway, as an advice to photographers and visual storytellers he shared the following words of wisdom:

“You have to tell a story. If you dont’ you’ve not completed what you set out to do and you’re merely creating a montage of pretty pictures, or worse, just showing off the ability of the equipment to do what it is designed to do – and anyone can do that.”

I could not agree more. They are just tools.

“Anyone can do that”.

Exactly.They are not the core of what we do. My most essential “upgrade” presently as a visual storyteller has nothing to do with a camera, it is not a new lens…it’s something else. And I would like to argue that this is something we should pause and think about.

You might have heard my mantra: ” The three most essential elements of multimedia and visual storytelling: the story, the story, the story…”

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Postscript:

I realized my babbling started circulating in all kinds of cameraforums pretty fast. Common theme in these discussions often is “what kind of set up should I have – like should I have one 1X and one mrk4 and then I have my 7D…” etc.

A word of personal advise: you have to stick to one model only – i.e. all of your 1-series cams and all of your smaller cams should be identical. Otherwise when you are working tired, under pressure you are bound to mess things up because the controls/menus are not where your fingers remember them to be.

 

10 Comments

  1. Primoz Jeroncic
    May 8, 2012

    Hi Kari
    Just one question, since you are one of those, who I know I can trust :) Everyone are raving so much about 5dmk3 new AF system. Considering I remember years ago, when everyone were raving so much about “so great” af system of old(er) 5d, I’m “a bit” skeptic when it comes to reviews and “reviews” on internet.
    Now your opinion, how good it really is in 5dmk3? Still light years behind 1dmk4/x or did it come closer and it’s potentially useful for sport too? I didn’t get chance to try 5dmk3 yet, but to be honest, I don’t feel much of hurry to do it either. As you wrote, old bodies are working fine, and if we did all our job with old, and even older cameras, I don’t see reason, why all of a sudden we are not able to do our work anymore, and we need to get newest toys right away.
    Sure from that little I have been playing with 1dx in last 2 months or so, it really is great camera, but my current 1dmk4 are not all that bad either, and 6500eur is quite a bit of money for me. :)

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      May 8, 2012

      hi –

      I really don’t dare make too precise comparisons. I basically use in my 5Dmrk2 only the centerspot. The new 5dmrk3 has the same focusing system as the 1X – apart from the fact that 1X can also make more sophisticated calculations (using e.g. color info). 1X has three processors where as 5mrk3 has only one.
      5dmrk3 comes with 6fps…

      Your actual question is I guess 1Dmkr4 vs. 5Dmrk2 focus… and that is a tough one which I’d rather not answer. Just have not played around enough with them side by side. Would I accept if somebody offered to trade my mrk4’a into 5dmrk3’s? No. But that’s just my current work profile.

      But we totally agree on one thing: mrk4 is an awesome camera, and really, it is plain stupid to upgrade unless you really, really need it. I guess we are both shooting with 2 cam set up, so c. 13K € is a shitload of money… and considering our deteriorating business, it is an investment one really should consider before committing into it.

      Are you coming to the London Olympics?

      Reply
      • Primoz Jeroncic
        May 8, 2012

        Thanks for this info :) I will wait a bit more for this final “how 5dmk3 really works”. As I said, there’s no rush anyway :)
        No Olympics will be something I will most likely never see. Not before as xc skier, and not now as photographer. Sure there’s still something I can dream of, but realistically I don’t think I will ever see them. I just don’t find any decent calculation to make it through without huge minus. So maybe sometime in future :)

        Reply
        • kkuukka
          May 8, 2012

          Frankly: I don’t think we will be doing Olympics in Rio anymore. Four years from now: do you really see our legacy print having the means to afford that? Sure, they might send somebody on a bonus trip with a camera… but purely for journalistic values, I really do not see it happening.

          And I so much hope I am wrong in this one…

          Reply
          • Primoz Jeroncic
            May 8, 2012

            To be honest, I have no idea. Based on my calculations, even today, I don’t think it’s worth sending anyone from newspaper. Some big “national” agency (for example Lehtikuva in your case) is still way to go, since big players still won’t have all athletes and happenings in background interesting for certain papers. But for newspaper itself, and with prices connected to Olympics, I can only honestly congratulate anyone who makes business out of it.
            But then again, I guess it’s everywhere same, and there’s no way people would stand together and do something together, even if that means cooperation with their “enemy” :)
            But that’s for now. What will be in 4 years, I have really no idea. I guess we were talking a little bit about this last year in Garmisch already. I was wrong quite few years ago, when I though video will be way to go, and still photos (and printed newspapers) will be history in few years. For now, it looks like I’m luckily wrong, and we still hang around for now, but I don’t dare to say anymore for how long. I still hope you are wrong, and in 4 years it will still be kinda same, but I don’t dare to say this will really be.

  2. berde
    May 8, 2012

    hi, do you think that the AF on the 1DX is faster in acquisition and better in tracking than the 5D3? many thanks

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      May 8, 2012

      Cannot really comment, did not think in those terms. In theory it should be more accurate and reliable; how does that relate to acquisition and tracking really cannot say nor predict.
      However , the new 5D3 is huge leap forward from the 5D2. As it should be, naturally.

      Reply
  3. Jussi Hirvonen
    May 9, 2012

    Refreshing review, something different to the pixel peeping “12800 ISO in the closet with cap on” type of test shot comparisons. And forum ramblings. People should go out and push the limits on their current equipment in real life situations, which most never do, as you pointed out. They get the latest stuff because the guys at the forum said the camera they’re using sucks.

    My recently purschased 2nd hand 5DmkII at 1150eur seems like an “ok” investment, even my old 40D was just good enough for any leisure use, be it dark churches or whatnot. For most, that would just be an old piece of junk. I was only able justify upgrading to a used 5D if I got any pay from doing occasional weddings and such. Maybe I need to get a fast running dog or something so I can justify getting the new 5DmkIII. People are blinded by gizmos and gadgets and forget what this whole thing is about – taking the picture, not pushing the button.

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      May 9, 2012

      “People are blinded by gizmos and gadgets and forget what this whole thing is about — taking the picture, not pushing the button.”

      My thoughts exactly. It’s about telling a compelling story thru your images.

      Reply
  4. Jim Felt
    May 14, 2012

    Hi there.
    What you’ve mentioned about always using (at least) two of the same body so you’re totally familiar with the gear is really critical.
    I sold the last of my D3 series Nikons just because I’ve found myself using the 1Ds mk llls and now the 5D mk llls so much more.
    And neither myself nor any of my associates could shoot with any comfort jumping between cameras systems/brands.
    10-4

    Reply

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