The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III succeeds the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II as the flagship EOS camera for professional sports, action and wildlife photographers. But, head to head, how do the EOS-1D X Mark III and its predecessor compare?
The new camera features some significant upgrades, including deep learning technology and the debut of DIGIC X processor, but it also racks up more than 100 smaller enhancements.
Here we compare the most significant differences between the Mark III and Mark II models, with expert comments from Mike Burnhill, Canon Europe's European Technical Support specialist.
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III brings a step change in autofocus performance. While its predecessor featured a 61-point AF system, the new camera offers 191 individually selectable AF points, 155 of which are cross-type sensors, compared with 41 cross-types in the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.
"The old sensor was what we call a line sensor, so it had lots of fixed one-pixel lines, a bit like a flatbed scanner," explains Mike. "We now have an AF sensor that's actually made of a grid of smaller pixels, so it's more like a conventional image sensor. This enables it to resolve and recognise much more detail than the old AF sensor, so it's more accurate in a wider range of situations."
In addition to the new AF sensor, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III features a more intelligent AF algorithm than its predecessor – and marks the debut of deep learning technology in an EOS camera.
"Deep learning is basically teaching a computer some basic parameters using a very large pool of data," explains Mike. "By showing it tens of thousands of images of what's wrong and what's right, it learns the correct way to analyse a scene.
"Photographers will notice that deep learning gives them more focus accuracy. It will track subjects better and learn not just what to focus on, but where to focus. For example, when faced with a sprinter, other cameras will pick out the large black-and-white numbers on the runner's chest, but the first thing you look at in a picture is the face. So it's basically teaching the camera to focus as a photographer would."
Able to hit approximately 14fps with full AF/AE tracking when using the viewfinder, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II set the benchmark for continuous shooting speed. But its successor eclipses this, offering speeds of around 16fps with full AF/AE tracking. "It's a massive improvement," says Mike. "At one stage 12fps was considered the maximum you could ever do with autofocus in an SLR system. Yet here we are, offering 16fps and getting higher performance autofocus at that frame rate as well."
The dual CFexpress card slots certainly help, with even the basic CFexpress cards offering speeds around three times faster than CFast 2.0™ in the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.
"From our initial tests, you can shoot over 1,000 RAW files at 16fps," continues Mike. "Even if you do manage to shoot that number, you only have to wait two seconds for the buffer to empty and you can shoot the full amount again."
Live View gets a notable boost too – from 16fps to 20fps in the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. But unlike its predecessor, which required exposure and AF to be locked on the first frame, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III offers full AF tracking and metering capabilities for every shot.
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III‘s imaging sensor is a completely new design, but retains the similar 20MP resolution as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. "This resolution is more or less the sweet spot for readout speed, dynamic range and ISO performance," Mike says. "Agencies have also told us that they don't want very high resolution files as that slows down transmission into their systems.
"We have been able to increase the dynamic range of the sensor, and in this regard it's probably around one stop better than the Mark II. ISO performance has also been increased by one stop, and we've also addressed the noise performance from ISO3200 to 6400 – a range often used by sports and wildlife photographers."
A first-of-its-kind low-pass filter system sits in front of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III’s sensor. "Normally a low-pass filter blurs the image to avoid moiré, and this reduces sharpness," continues Mike. "But with this new system we are actually sub-sampling it 16 times and using a complicated algorithm to average it out. This then gives us that happy medium between having a low-pass filter and having no low-pass filter. The new design actually gives a slightly higher resolution than the Mark II because it's resolving more detail, while still reducing any chance of moiré."
In place of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II's dual DIGIC 6+ image processors is a single, powerful DIGIC X processor. Having one processor rather than two is one of the reasons that battery life is substantially better in the new camera.
"We've hard-coded so much into this new generation of processor," says Mike. "Not only does DIGIC X enable us to shoot high-quality video, it allows us to support the deep learning, to do the new image formats like HEIF, and to run multiple networking functions at the same time."
HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format) is introduced as a picture quality option on the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. This file type will compress down to a quarter of the size of a JPEG in theory, with fewer artefacts. "The way we're applying it in the Mark III is to keep it at the same file size as a JPEG but provide 10-bit images for more dynamic range and a bigger colour depth in the image," notes Mike.
Video recording has been significantly upgraded in the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. DIGIC X and CFexpress afford the data rates required for recording 5.5K 12-bit RAW video internally at 50/60fps. "Nothing else on the market can do that apart from high-end video cameras," says Mike. In addition to the new RAW option, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III can also record H265 HEVC 4:2:2 10-bit internally, complete with Canon Log.
While its predecessor's 4K DCI output was cropped, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III’s 4K DCI (17:9, 4096 x 2160) and RAW video is oversampled, using the full width of the sensor. Its 4K UHD option is slightly trimmed at each end to give the TV-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio. Additionally, there is a 4K crop option that uses a dot to dot readout from the sensor to give a Super 35-sized field of view.
"You can shoot at 60 or 50p as well in all these modes," adds Mike. "The only downside to shooting in 50 or 60p is that you don't get Dual Pixel AF. You only get that at 30, 25 or 24p, but Dual Pixel AF is possible at 50 & 60p with the 4K crop option”
"We're not using Motion JPEG this time around. Everything is recorded in MP4 wrappers; with Canon Log off, we're using the H.264 codec, and with Canon Log on it's HEVC/H.265. The RAW option uses the same type of Cinema RAW Light container used in the Canon EOS C200, with the option to save a 4K proxy file simultaneously."
Despite using the same LP-E19 Li-ion battery as its predecessor, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III has a battery life 2.3 times longer than the older model. "There's a host of things that help here," explains Mike. "A new processor, new circuitry, completely new software in the camera – it's much more power efficient than the Mark II."
A 360,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor was at the heart of exposure control in the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, but this has been upgraded to 400,000 pixels in its successor. "It still recognises colours and infrared light, but when linked to the AF sensor it gives us much more detail to be able to recognise people and faces," explains Mike.
"When the metering sensor is linked to the AF, it actually has its own DIGIC 8 processor. This is the same processor we have in the Canon EOS R, so one processor that runs everything in another camera has only one, albeit big, job in the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. DIGIC X is doing everything else and provides AF assistance when the deep learning algorithm is required."
Improving on its predecessor, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is a fully connected camera and comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy, as well as GPS. "With built-in Wi-Fi the range is always going to be limited," admits Mike, "but it will be great for many news and wedding photographers."
In another enhancement, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III can connect to two networks and carry out multiple network functions simultaneously. "If you're covering a Cup Final football match and you're connected via the LAN cable, when you go onto the pitch to cover the celebrations at the end, you can pull out the cable and the camera will automatically switch to Wi-Fi," explains Mike. “Or you can run two Wi-Fi networks, so if the signal varies at different times, between network providers or at each end of the stadium, the camera will switch to the best one automatically."
All of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III's network functions have been brought together under a new menu option, and you can even create a shortcut for a function button to go straight into the menu, enabling you to get to the network settings much more quickly.
"Once you've entered network details, the camera stores them in a list," adds Mike. "So you create a list of all your commonly used networks and all your commonly used functions and then you can mix and match them."
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and its predecessor share the same familiar control layout. "We introduce new little things every time. Fundamentally, though, you can pick this up and treat it like a Mark II or even a 1D X but get better results," says Mike. "Underneath, however, very little of the Mark II remains. It's got new boards, new internal components, a new viewfinder, a new prism, new LCD screens and more."
There are a couple of notable changes on the outside: illuminated buttons on the back of the camera, and the new AF point smart controller built into the AF-ON buttons.
"Think of it working like an upside-down laser mouse, and rather than moving the mouse you move the surface instead – and the surface in this case is your thumb," says Mike. "By stroking your thumb across the button, you move the AF point with the same smooth motion you get with a mouse. To get from edge to edge in the AF point array, you might need to do it twice, but for movement around the centre you just keep your thumb on the button and use small movements.
"People like the Canon EOS R's Touch & Drag AF, but that's a capacitive touch system, so you need special gloves if you're shooting in the cold, and it doesn't work in the rain. This new system works with practically all of the gloves we've tested. If you've got very thick gloves then you've also got the option of using the traditional joystick, which gives you a bit more of a tactile feel."