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Canon 1D Mark IV — first impressions

Canon 1D Mark IV

I've just started shooting the new 16.1-megapixel Canon 1D Mark IV, on loan from B&H Photo.

The 1DM4 is a sports shooting camera, with the latest of Canon’s autofocus and other technologies. I’m not a sports shooter, and I won't be evaluating it for that purpose (heck 90% of my shooting is manual focus), nor will I be spending a lot of time on it, other than to look into it as a curiosity that foretells what we might see in a future Canon full-frame ~30 megapixel camera. So I am looking into its image quality, and there I already have some subjective impressions.

Wading through 200 menu choices to figure out how to get Live View working because it‘s set for some video function is damned annoying. I’d much rather see one more button.

The 1DM4 is a 1.3X crop sensor, which means that it has 60% of the area of a full-frame sensor. Crammed into that area are 16 megapixels, which means that it’s equivalent in pixel density to a ~27 megapixel full-frame camera. And of course that means higher noise on a per-pixel basis. The noise appears to be better than previous Canon cameras, but it nonetheless is no match for the Nikon D3s.

Images from the 1DM4 at ISO 3200 are excellent on a relative basis, but the overall “look” at ISO 3200 leaves me uninterested. The Nikon D3s looks to be a better sports camera for low light, both for noise and the beauty of its images. The 1DM4 does not have the D3s secret sauce at high ISO.

However, the 1DM4 produces very fine images and outstanding detail at ISO 100/200, which I’d rate as superior to any previous Canon DSLR. Also, the anti-aliasing (blur) filter looks minimal, allowing excellent sharpness per pixel.

But the 5D Mark II is less than half the price, with 21 megapixels and full-frame. So I see the 1DM4 as interesting mainly for what it was designed for: sports/action. Still, its 16 megapixels and high image quality at low ISO could appeal to landscape or other shooters.

Should Canon be able to maintain the 1D Mark IV image quality at low ISO in a full-frame sensor of ~27-30 MP (same pixel density), then things get more interesting.

In terms of lenses, the Zeiss ZE 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar shows its stuff on the 1D Mark IV, delivering crisp and contrasty images by f/2.8. It makes a very nice portrait lens, a 65mm f/2 in terms of coverage. The 1.3X crop sensor sees only the very best area of the 50/2 Makro Planar (which is outstanding), so it’s a great match.

As an aside, I shot the Canon 35/1.4L on the 1D Mark IV, and the images looked rather dull compared to the Zeiss glass I normally shoot. Then again, I figured that out 2 years go.

The image below shows that at ISO 100, the 1D Mark IV can produce a luscious looking image, probably the best I’ve yet seen from Canon. In particular, the blacks are far cleaner than in any prior Canon camera, an image quality issue critical to visual impact, as I discussed in Pushing the Blacks.

I’ll be posting the usual high-res version of this and other images soon in DAP, just as soon as I’ve had some more shooting time with it.

Canon 1D Mark IV + Zeiss ZF 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar, ISO 100, 0.8 sec
Actual pixels

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