Introduction and features
The Canon EOS-1D X Mk II is a replacement not just for the original 1D X, but also for the EOS-1D C pro video camera. And while in some areas the Mk II seems like a modest upgrade of the tech in the 1D X, in others it breaks entirely new ground.
The big news stories are the Mk II’s amazing continuous shooting mode, its improved autofocus system and its 4K video capability. Canon set out to deliver “the ultimate combination of image quality, resolution and speed” in a camera designed to give photographers a “competitive edge”.
The EOS 1D X Mk II has a brand new sensor, but it offers only a modest increase in resolution over the original 1D X’s, from 18.1 million effective pixels to 20.2 million. That may seem very low in comparison to the 50 million pixels of Canon’s 5DS and 5DS R, but the 1D X Mk II is about speed and low-light shooting – it’s designed to be a workhorse for professional sport and news photographers.
Having fewer pixels on the same size sensor means each photoreceptor is larger, and therefore able to capture more light. As a result the image signal requires less amplification than it would with a highly populated sensor, and so images have less noise.
Canon has also integrated the A/D converter circuitry into the sensor, which means the analogue signal from the pixels doesn’t have to travel as far before it’s converted into a digital signal, and as a result there’s less opportunity for noise to be introduced.
These facts combine to help keep noise levels down throughout the sensitivity range. Nevertheless, Canon has kept the 1D X Mk II’s standard sensitivity range the same as the 1D X’s at ISO100-51,200; however, the expansion settings take it to ISO50-409,600, whereas the 1D X tops out at ISO204,800.
While the maximum setting is high by most camera’s standards, it’s three stops lower than the ISO3,276,800 that’s possible on the D5.
In addition to the new sensor design, the use of two Digic 6+ processors helps keep noise levels down by enabling the 1D X Mk II to apply complex noise-reduction algorithms. But of course, the main reason for this mighty processing power is to facilitate fast continuous shooting speeds.
The 1D X II can shoot at up to 14 frames per second (fps) with full exposure metering and autofocus operation (however it drops to 10fps at ISO102,400). The Nikon D5 can only match that rate if the mirror is locked up, and that rules out focusing and metering mid-sequence, as well as seeing the subject in the viewfinder. The 1D X Mk II can perform a similar trick, but it can then shoot at 16fps.
To help enable (and cope with) the fast shooting rates, Canon has given the 1D X Mk II a ‘refined’ mirror system that uses cams instead of springs. This gives much more control over the movement of the mechanical parts at high speeds, and helps control mirror vibration and noise.
When you’re shooting at 14 or 16fps you really rattle off the shots, so a large buffer is needed. Where the EOS-1D X could shoot 180 JPEGs or 38 raw files in a single burst, the Mk II is able to record an unlimited number of JPEGs and up to 170 raw files. If you shoot at 14fps, 170 images will be captured in around 12 seconds.
This continuous shooting speed and buffer depth relies on the latest CFast 2.0 memory cards. The EOS 1D X II has one CFast memory card slot and one regular CompactFlash slot. This gives photographers the benefit of the latest memory card technology, and also compatibility with their existing memory cards. Interestingly, you’ll also need a healthy battery to take full advantage of the burst rate – Canon says you won’t get the top shooting speeds if the battery level drops below 50%.
It’s all very well having super-fast continuous shooting speeds, but you’ll need an autofocus system that can keep up. At first sight, the AF system in the Canon 1D X Mk II looks the same as the 61-point AF system in its predecessor, with 41 cross-type sensors and five dual cross-type.
But Canon has made lots of changes under the hood, with an expanded AF area and a new AI Servo AF III+ system, which improves the tracking sensitivity for subjects that are moving erratically. Canon’s latest adaptive 3D tracking system adjusts to your movements as well as the subject’s, such as when you swivel to follow a subject moving past you, for example.
The autofocus tracking is aided by the 1D X Mk II’s new 360,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor, which provides improved subject detection – an interesting example of how metering and focusing work closely together in the latest cameras. One further improvement will be big news for photographers who routinely use long telephoto lenses with teleconverters: all 61 AF points now work at f/8.
Canon has had Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology on APS-C format cameras like the 80D (and previously the 70D) before, but this is the first time that the technology has appeared in a full-frame camera. It means the 1D X Mk II has phase-detection autofocus points on the sensor to enable faster focusing in live view and video mode. However, because fast focusing isn’t always an advantage when recording video, it’s possible to reduce the speed via the menu.
The EOS-1D X Mark II can shoot stills faster, and for longer, than ever before, but it also introduces another major new feature: 4K video. This has been around on mirrorless cameras for a while, but it’s the first time it’s appeared on a stills-orientated Canon DSLR. It means the camera will appeal to the growing number of pro photographers now being commissioned to shoot video footage as well as stills.
Dedicated videographers, however, will be better served by a dedicated video camera that has an electronic viewfinder, more video-centric handling and contrast suppressing Log-modes. That said, it’s great that the 1D X Mk II can shoot shoot 4K at 30fps and 60fps – that requires serious processing power, and it means you can record smooth 2x slow motion footage at 4K resolution.
Interestingly, the Mk II shoots ‘real’ 4K at 4096 x 2160 pixels, rather than the slightly smaller UHD format most other cameras refer to generically as ‘4K’. The one possible complication is that this 4K video is slightly wider than the standard 16:9 ratio used by UHD, full HD and standard HD – it’s actually closer to a 17:9 ratio.
Another anomaly is that the 1D X II can’t save 4K to an external recorder via HDMI – it’s restricted to 1920 x 1080. 4K can only be recorded internally, which seems a little odd, but perhaps this aligns the camera more strongly with the occasional video shooter rather than the dedicated videographer.
Canon has chosen the Motion JPEG format for video capture, because this stores a full image for each frame of data and allows the extraction of 8.8-megapixel stills. It means photographers can capture good quality still images at 60 frames a second, albeit not at the sensor’s full 20-megapixel resolution. Grabbing stills from video is being taken much more seriously with the advent of 4K.
The 1D X Mk II’s new Dual Pixel CMOS AF sensor plays an important part in video recording, enabling fast and smooth autofocus during filming with the camera’s Movie Servo AF and touch-panel autofocus point selection.
And the 1D X Mark II takes another step forward relative to its predecessor with the addition of a headphone socket. Sound is a major part of any video production, and it’s important to be able to monitor the sound the camera is recording as you film in case you need to reshoot.
Build and handling
Just like the camera it replaces, the Canon EOS-1D X Mk II is a big brute of a camera, with a magnesium alloy shell and weatherproof seals that keep the high-tech insides well protected. It also looks very similar to the old model, with a familiar control arrangement that makes swapping between the two very easy.
One of the most distinguishing features of this type of camera is the twin-grip arrangement, with a vertical grip being integral to the body in addition to the standard horizontal grip; it makes shooting upright images that little bit more comfortable.
Significantly with the 1D X Mk II, when you reach out with your thumb for the mini-joystick controller to shift the AF point, it’s in the same location whichever grip you’re holding. This makes it easier to find, especially in the early days when you’re familiarising yourself with the camera – and it’s something that Nikon hasn’t managed to do with its D5.
The vertical grip has other controls associated with it, including a shutter release, a main dial and an AF area selection mode button, all conveniently placed for your index finger. There’s also a row of three buttons on the back of the grip – for exposure lock, AF start and AF-point selection by default – which can be pressed easily with your thumb.
In a slight change from the previous model, the ridge that divided the function buttons near the lens mount from the grip has been removed, and this makes those buttons easier to locate when you’re looking through the viewfinder.
One of the most notable changes that the Mk II version introduces over the original 1D X is that the 3.2-inch 1,620k-dot screen on the back is touch-sensitive – a first for a Canon full-frame camera. However, the touch control is only used in Live View mode for setting the AF point, and in Video mode for turning on or off the continuous autofocusing (as well as setting AF point).
That’s a shame, because Canon has one of the best touch-screen implementations around. While the main menu options may be a little small for selecting with a finger on the screen, the Quick Menu is larger and could be navigated by touch.
On the subject of the Quick Menu, this has been made customisable, which is useful. This enables you to specify which items you want to access, as well as how much space each occupies on the screen so that some can be made easier to see. Those who swap frequently between stills and video shooting may wish it was possible to create two custom Quick Menus, one for each shooting mode.
Both the 1D X and 1D X Mk II have 3.2-inch Clear View II TFT screens, but the original camera’s has 1,040,000 dots while the Mk II’s has 1,620,000. Those extra 580,000 dots make quite a difference; the screen is the clearest and sharpest I’ve ever seen, and it stands up to reflections well – and when you take a shot with a good lens the image seems to pop out at you from the screen, giving you confidence that you’ve got the job done. The viewfinder is also bright and clear, but it doesn’t offer anything over the 1D X’s.
I wouldn’t say the Mk II is a quiet camera, but the new cam mechanism makes the mirror movements feel controlled when you’re shooting at 14fps, and the blackout period is very brief.
The image on the screen of the Canon EOS 1D X Mk II gives a very good impression of the shots it captures, and images don’t disappoint when you open them on a large computer screen. The level of detail is excellent through much of the sensitivity range, and both exposure and colours are generally accurate and pleasing.
Examining images captured at ISO102,400 makes it pretty clear why this has been kept as an expansion setting – some details are very mushy at 100%, and even when sized to make A3 prints some areas have a slight diffuse glow. The camera also struggles with reds, with some gradation in tone being lost.
Drop down to ISO51,600 and things pick up quite a bit. Without any noise reduction applied the raw files have a little bit of visible chroma noise when sized for A3 prints, but there’s a good level of detail. Meanwhile the simultaneously captured JPEGs have no visible noise at the same size, but a little of the detail is lost. Post-capture adjustment enables you to find a happy medium with the raw files.
While these results are good for ISO51,600, where possible I would keep the sensitivity to ISO25,600 or lower, as both the raw and JPEG files look better with less noise and more detail respectively.
The main competition for the 1 DX Mk II is the Nikon D5, and it’s interesting to compare the results from the two cameras. Throughout the sensitivity range the results from the D5 look quite a bit sharper at 100% on-screen – both the raw files and the JPEGs.
However, the Nikon camera’s files look over-sharpened in some areas, even the raw files without any post-capture treatment. By comparison the 1D X II’s raw files look soft, but they sharpen up nicely with post-capture adjustments, and it’s possible to avoid them looking over-sharpened.
The D5 has a maximum native sensitivity value of ISO102,400, and at this setting it produces slightly better results than the 1D X Mk II, at least at 100% on-screen – the differences are less clear at normal viewing sizes. However, while the noise is just a little better controlled and colours more vibrant, the D5 struggles a bit more to reproduce reds accurately – they look over the top.
Step up to the 1D X Mk II’s maximum expansion setting (ISO409,600) and the results are pretty terrible from both cameras. JEPGs look fuzzy, while raw files have lots of coloured speckling. I would avoid this setting with either camera, although the D5 performs slightly better.
Step down to the 1D X II’s uppermost native sensitivity setting (ISO51,600) and it’s hard to pick a winner. Some areas look better from the D5, while others look better from the Canon camera. However, the D5 again does a slightly poorer job of reproducing reds in our sensitivity test scene.
Canon has upped its autofocus game for the 1D X Mark II, and the system performs brilliantly. I had no trouble shooting moving subjects in a wide variety of conditions, including very low light.
While the camera does a reasonable job of detecting and tracking a subject in Automatic selection AF mode, using one of the point or Zone AF modes is a safer bet if you can keep the active area or zone over the subject. Zone AF mode worked especially well when shooting go-karters in gloomy indoor conditions.
I wasn’t able to spend long directly comparing the 1D X II’s AF performance with the D5’s, but my impression is that the Canon camera’s is slightly better – though neither camera disappointed.
Metering is taken care of by the EOS iSA (Intelligent Subject Analysis) system, which has a dedicated 360,000-pixel RGB+IR sensor and which divides the scene into 216 zones. I found it very reliable in a wide range of conditions, and there were no occasions when I had to use exposure compensation unexpectedly.
With many cameras exposure compensation is used to hold on to highlight detail, but there were few occasions when this was necessary with the 1D X Mk II. Our dynamic range lab results confirm that the camera scores well, beating or matching the 1D X for much of the sensitivity range. It scores particularly well at the lower end of sensitivity scale, but there are a few mid-range values where it falls a little behind the original 1D X.
Canon has lead the way with stills SLRs producing video, and the 1D X II doesn’t disappoint. In the default ‘Standard’ Picture Style images look natural – just like the stills – and there’s good detail, with noise controlled well. The autofocus system also works well, adjusting swiftly (when that option is selected) and smoothly even in remarkably low light.
Lab tests: Resolution
We chose three rival cameras for the Canon EOS-1D X Mk II to see how it measured up in our lab tests: its predecessor, the EOS-1D X, the Nikon D4S and the 1D X Mk II’s closest competitor, the Nikon D5.
We’ve carried out lab tests on the 1D X Mk II across its full ISO range for resolution, noise (including signal to noise ratio) and dynamic range. We test the JPEGs shot by the camera, but we also check the performance with raw files. Most enthusiasts and pros prefer to shoot raw, and the results can often be quite different.
Canon EOS-1D X Mk II resolution charts
We test camera resolution using an industry-standard ISO test chart that allows precise visual comparisons. This gives us numerical values for resolution in line widths/picture height, and you can see how the Canon 1D X Mk II compares with its rivals in the charts below.
JPEG resolution analysis: The 1D X Mk II falls behind the D5 for resolution at the higher sensitivity values, confirming our real-world findings that the Nikon camera produces sharper images straight from the camera.
Raw (converted to TIFF) resolution analysis: The 1D X Mk II’s raw files follow the same pattern as the JPEGs, indicating that it’s a step up from the 1D X for detail resolution, but doesn’t quite match the D5 at some sensitivities.
Lab tests: Dynamic range
Dynamic range is a measure of the range of tones the sensor can capture. Cameras with low dynamic range will often show ‘blown’ highlights or blocked-in shadows. This test is carried out in controlled conditions using DxO hardware and analysis tools.
Dynamic range is measured in exposure values (EV). The higher the number the wider the range of brightness levels the camera can capture. This falls off with increasing ISO settings because the camera is having to amplify a weaker signal. Raw files capture a higher dynamic range because the image data is unprocessed.
Canon EOS-1D X Mk II dynamic range charts
JPEG dynamic range analysis: The D5 has the upper hand for much of sensitivity range, but this is as much about how the two companies want their cameras’ JPEGs to appear as it is about dynamic range. The Canon files have a little more contrast, which means their dynamic range is likely to be lower, but they may be more appealing without any post-capture editing.
Raw (converted to TIFF) dynamic range analysis: The raw file results appear to confirm our comments about the JPEG scores, as the 1D X Mk II achieves a better score for much of the sensitivity range. This means that for the lower sensitivity values at least, the Canon camera captures a broader range of tones.
Lab tests: Signal to noise ratio
This is a test of the camera’s noise levels. The higher the signal to noise ratio, the greater the difference in strength between the real image data and random background noise, so the ‘cleaner’ the image will look. The higher the signal to noise ratio, the better.
Canon EOS-1D X Mk II signal to noise ratio charts
JPEG signal to noise ratio analysis: The 1D X Mk II leads the way for the low to mid sensitivity settings, but the D5 shows its low-light pedigree from around ISO25,600 and pushes ahead, indicating that its images are a little cleaner.
Raw (converted to TIFF) signal to noise ratio analysis: This chart shows that the 1D X Mk II performs well in our lab, beating the Nikon D5 throughout the Canon’s sensitivity range. However, real-world shooting shows it’s a very close-run race.
Just like its predecessor, the Canon EOS-1D X Mk II looks and feels like a modern camera that’s designed for use by professional photographers who need a camera they can rely on, even in bad weather. These users will also appreciate the fact that little of the control layout has changed from the 1D X, so they can transition painlessly to the new camera.
The 1D X II’s intended market of professional news and sports photographers understand the balance that’s required between pixel count and pixel size. Current technology deems that 20.2 million pixels on a full-frame sensor enables the pixels to be made large enough to keep noise levels within acceptable limits at high sensitivity settings, while still producing an image large enough to make full-bleed double-page spreads for print.
It’s clear that Canon has put a lot of thought into the 1D X Mark II, along with some very powerful technology. Image quality is aided by refinements such as putting the A/D converter on the sensor, to reduce the amount of circuitry the image signal must travel along before being converted to a digital signal.
Comparing high-sensitivity images taken in identical conditions with the Nikon D5 and Canon EOS-1D X Mk II reveals that the Nikon camera has slightly better control over noise. However, there’s not much in it, and I would avoid using either model at ISO409,600 (or higher in the case of the D5).
Canon got the handling pretty much spot-on with the original 1D X, and all the physical controls are within equally easy reach on the Mk II. The controls accessible when the vertical grip is in use particularly impress – there’s no need to remember to reach to a different area to change the autofocus point for example.
It’s good see Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology for faster, smoother live view and video autofocus. And it’s nice that touchscreens are being taken more seriously, with both Canon and Nikon putting them on their top-end SLRs – even if their use is rather limited.
The addition of 4K video capability was to be expected in the 1D X Mk II, but the ability to shoot at that resolution at frame rates up to 60fps is a bonus.
While the layout of the physical controls on the 1D X Mk II is very good, some aspects of the menu system could be improved. It’s great that the Quick Menu is customisable, but it would be even better if you could set up two versions, one for stills shooting and the other for video, to enable quick access to the control options that are most relevant to the shooting mode. I’d also like to see touch control extended to make the menus quicker to use.
With the EOS-1D X Mk II Canon has created a powerful and versatile camera that’s a great choice for professional sport and news photographers. It doesn’t have the outrageous sensitivity range of the Nikon D5, but it’s very capable in low light, delivering excellent images within its standard sensitivity range. Its autofocus system is also phenomenal, getting moving subjects sharp even in very gloomy conditions.
While it may not be a dedicated video camera, it does a great job with video, and its video autofocus system is capable of operating smoothly for professional-looking footage. Few can fail to be impressed by the quality of the screen, although some may wish for a little more touch control than it offers.
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