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Canon EOS 1D Mark III color and noise

I walked into a restaurant for dinner last night, and made a grab-shot of this colorful face. I was prepared for disappointing color in the dim and wacky light, but what I got was something true to life and pleasing.

Canon 1D Mark III, ISO 3200, 1/125 sec @ f/4
Click to see 50% actual-pixels

Look at the color! I haven’t seen color this vibrant and pleasing at ISO 3200 ever before.

Noise is extremely impressive (see below). JPEG compression smooths out noise, so I’ll only provide a small crop here at Photoshop “Very High” quality. You might want to view this actual-pixels crop (below) in Photoshop. Examine the red/green/blue color channels—prepare to be impressed. Try Auto Levels also—I haven’t adjusted the crop for optimal brightness/contrast.

Canon 1D Mark III, ISO 3200, actual pixels, no added sharpening

Every time I shoot with the Canon EOS 1D Mark III (much less than I’d like so far), I am so excited by the results, more than any DSLR I’ve ever used. All of these are subjective, but here’s my take—

  • The perceived clarity of the image is superior to anything I’ve yet seen;
  • Color is pleasing with no work required to get it that way;
  • ISO 3200 is not only viable, but an ISO I’m starting to use without hesitation.
  • Black and white results (individual channels and/or grayscale conversions) are the best I’ve ever seen.

I’ll emphasize one of the above points: getting pleasing color out of the EOS 5D is a chore, but with some work it can usually be done, though sporadically the 5D just whacks the color so badly that correcting it is nightmarish (see D2x vs EOS). The 1D Mark III erases that annoyance—almost everything it produces is pleasing without any screwing around to get it that way. Perhaps I’ll find a weakness with more experience, but so far it appears that it’s at the top of the heap.

I’m processing the EOS 1D Mark III RAW files using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional with the settings shown below.

My Digital Photo Professional 3.0.1 defaults

I like the 1D Mark III so much that the idea of doing a comparative review with the EOS 5D makes me annoyed—I really don’t want to shoot the 5D anymore (except my converted infrared body).

So I’m thinking I might make a departure from my usual approach by reviewing the 1D Mark III all on its own, with only a few examples comparing it to the EOS 5D and Nikon D200. (In the past, nearly every shot was a comparison).

But such camera-to-camera comparisons greatly restrict the subject matter, ruling out grab-shots, handheld shots, rapidly changing light, close-ups (perspective change), etc. Try isolating variables for a scientific approach with a variety of interesting subject matter, and you’ll find how hard it can be to set up a shot with cameras that require different focal lengths, have different body heights (perspective change), different ISO response, questionable focus accuracy, etc.

My only “disappointment” is that the 10.1-megapixel EOS 1D Mark III is 10.1 megapixels. If it were full-frame, it would be be 17 megapixels using the same size photosites [(1.3*1.3)*10.1] . If Canon can maintain 1D Mark III quality at 17 megapixels, it will be the camera to turn pros away from many medium format digital offerings, and put a stake through Nikon’s heart too, unless Nikon delivers soon. It’s not at all a given that a dense full-frame sensor (eg 22 megapixels) would be preferable to a higher quality one at 17 megapixels, but if Canon can pull off 22 megapixels with 1D Mark III quality—well, what’s the point of medium format except at the ultra high-end?.
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