Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III – First Impressions (Podcast 115)

by | Dec 4, 2007 | Gear, Podcast, Review | 0 comments

It’s here!! I have taken ownership of my Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III. Today I’m going to do another First Impressions style review while looking at the fruits of my first day out with this amazing piece of kit. Having spent a good few hours poring over the instructions manual and looking through the custom functions, I have a pretty good idea of what’s new to me, but I found a few things while shooting that hadn’t really occurred to me until I was in the field, so I’m sure there’ll be more to follow interweaved into the coming weeks Podcasts, but today I’m going to relay what I’ve already found out about the 1Ds MarkIII.

So, right of the bat, there are a few things that just jumped out at me. First and foremost is the feel of the camera. It’s big, bulky and fits perfectly into my hands, which are not all that big, but the camera feels just right. It’s a little lighter than the 1Ds Mark II which I rented for a week almost a year ago, and both just wreak quality when held, because the build is incredibly solid. My first professional body, I love the fact that the vertical grip is built in, as once again this adds to the overall feel, with the lack of the join lines that my 5D with the battery grip has. The 5D is of course still a great camera, so I’m not going to be bashing it today, but there are obvious differences, mainly because the 1Ds has two more years of R&D behind it, and it’s just a different class of camera.

The slightly larger screen at 3” is nice, and it seems easier to view at an angle. I’ve already got plastic protection film on the LCD and the two LCD panels, one on the back below the monitor and one on the top right of the body. I always buy these for my cameras and noticed how much better the ones that I bought for the 1Ds are over the ones I bought for the 5D just over two years ago. I don’t remember the make, but the ones I bought this time are from Hakuba, and made for the 1D Mark III which has exactly the same sized LCDs. They have a slight blue tint, but don’t affect how the image is displayed from what I can see, and they’ll protect my LCDs from scratches. They didn’t get statically charged while I was applying them either, so I didn’t get any bubbles as I did with my 5D.

The LCD is also easier to see outside, although I did still have to shade the LCD sometimes in very bright sunlight. A great testimonial for how easy it is to see the LCD actually comes from my other half. We were together for my afternoon’s shooting last Saturday so a number of times I showed her the results on the monitor. For the first time, she was actually able to see what I’d shot and comment on it. Until now, although I often showed her the LCD, she has never been able to see the image, so this is a huge leap in favour of the new 3” monitor of the 1Ds.

There are a number of useful custom functions too. In the third set of Custom Functions which center on Auto Focus and Drive settings, number 15 is for Mirror Lockup, and Option 2 maps the Set button on the back of the camera to raise the mirror in preparation for shooting. This may seem redundant at first, because usually the first press of the shutter release does just this, but with this option enables, the mirror stays up. This allows you to take as many photos as you want before you press the Set button again to drop the mirror back down. This allows you to get an entire set of bracketed shots with one long press of the shutter button or better still a cable release, without the mirror going up and down for each exposure. This not only reduces vibration, it also reduces the time between each exposure greatly because you don’t have to give the setup time for the vibration to subside, so there is far less chance of things moving in your scene between exposures. The other custom function I like related to this is that you can set the number of exposures in a bracketed set at anything between 2 and 7, which will be very useful. I have set mine to 5 for now, but it’s nice to have the choice. Thanks to Wayne in the forum by the way for originally brining this up.

Another function I like is the ability to turn off auto-rotate of images just for the camera, leaving it on for when viewing the images on a computer. Although it was a nice novelty at first, in recent months I’d turned off auto-rotate on my 5D because I don’t like the smaller image you get on the LCD monitor once portrait aspect images get rotated. This was a pain though, because it meant that I had to manually rotate them in the computer later. Now I have the camera set to only rotate for the computer, so I have the best of both worlds. Nice foresight Canon!

So far my one and only bug-bear is that Canon has yet again chosen to omit a Mirror Lockup Button or a custom function to automatically turn on Mirror Lockup when a cable release is attached to the camera. I really can’t understand why they are doing this, when so many people have discussed this so often. I for one have written about this in so many Canon surveys that I can’t remember. The button is now out of the question, but I see no reason why this can’t be added as a custom function in a firmware update so please Canon take your fingers out of your ears or your thumbs out of your, well, whatever, and give us this feature. It’s the only thing I still want.

Helping me to not have to dig so deep for the Mirror Lockup function though is another nice new addition – the My Menu. You can add up to six items to a custom menu that is displayed first when you hit the menu button on the back of the camera, which means you can get to these menu items very quickly. The first one I added is the Mirror Lockup custom function. Next I added the Battery Info option. This is a new screen that is pretty helpful. The batteries for the 1D and 1Ds have not only gotten a little smaller and lighter, they’ve become a little more intelligent and can now tell you exactly how much power is left in a precise percentage, how many shots have been taken with that battery, and the recharge performance of the battery, or the ability to take a charge I guess. The other thing that I added was the Live View Function Settings. I was not sure how much I’ll use Live View, but I have more to say about that shortly. You have the ability to make Live View available or not, and also to display a grid with the rule of thirds lines on the LCD while the Live View image is being displayed, which is quite useful. Next I added the Custom White Balance Registration option for obvious reasons, and the LCD Brightness adjustment menu. I find that I turn the brightness down when working in very dark conditions as it can trick you into thinking you have a brighter image than you actually do if you are not careful about looking at your histogram. Finally I added the card Format option, as I usually format my cards once I’ve deleted all of the images.

Another design thing that I like, though I doubt this is new, is that the Depth-of-field preview button is on the right side of the lens mount. All of my EOS cameras so far have had this on the left, but having it on the right allows you to push the button with a finger on the hand actually holding the camera, which is helpful, as my left hand is usually cupped under the lens if I’m shooting hand held, or on or near the focus ring when using a tripod, at least while setting up the shot.

Anyway, I do have lots of other things to discuss, but I’ll interleave that with looking at a few images from this first day, and then cover the rest at the end. The first image I want to look at is number 1634. I imagine a few people will be new to this podcast just tuning in for the first time to hear about the new 1Ds MarkIII, so just to recap, if you are listening in iTunes or an iPod that can display photos, they will be displayed automatically as I speak. You might have to turn on the thumbnail view in iTunes and click it to view the image at full size though. I also embed the images into the MP3 version of the audio file so you can look at them there in some software. Also, you can go to my Podcast page by clicking Podcast in the top menu at and then click the thumbnails under this episode in the table, or you can add the numbers I call out into the field in the Podcast menu from anywhere on my site, then hit the button or enter key on your keyboard to jump to the image in my online gallery.

Jindai Pampas

Jindai Pampas

So once again, let’s look at image number 1634, in which we can see some pampas grass that I shot hand-held with the 70-200mm F2.8. This is the same pampas grass that was in an image we looked at last week. I was pretty impressed with the resolution of the lens and camera, but of course I would be with 21 megapixels to play with. I have posted a few images in the forum with some 100% crops like I did last week, and I’ll put a link to that post in the Podcast show-notes for those that are interested. There is nice separation between the foreground objects and the blurred background, and the colours are really nice and warm too. You’ll see as we move on that colour rendition is very nice with the 1Ds. I usually apply an Adobe Lightroom preset to all of my images when I import them that bumps the Saturation by 60 for red, and 18 for Green and Blue, and I keep a second preset that only goes to 45 red and 18 for Green and Blue, and I use this when I already know I’ll have some strong reds in the scene as I expected this day. Still, I had to bring the saturation back down some more for most images. I originally came to these numbers when I tried to emulate the punchy colours of Canon’s Landscape Picture Style, which Adobe Camera RAW doesn’t understand. I guess I should process a few of these images in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional which understands Picture Styles and see if I need to adjust my presets.

Next let’s take a look at image number 1635, in which you will hopefully be able to see a goofy little character that I found in the center of a flower in the green house at the Jindai Botanical Park. I shot this with my 100mm Macro at F5.6 for 1/60th of a second. Wayne who I mentioned earlier has already commented on this image in my online gallery, pointing out that he looks like a grandpa parachuting down towards us with orange goggles and a purple parachute. Thanks for the comment Wayne. This is so true. I’d of course seen the man but it does look like a parachute!

Goofy Character

Goofy Character

Moving along quickly here, let’s take a look at image number 1637 next. This is the same tree that I shot the previous week, from a different angle, and this time with a little sunlight still catching the top of the leaves. There is a single leave standing out on its own in the top third, and I like the shadow that the tree trunk creates in the background for this somewhat serene shot. This was shot with the 300mm F2.8 at F2.8 for 1/500th of a second, with ISO 100, so again it’s nice and sharp. It was around now though that I started to shoot in total shade, though keeping the exposure high enough to maintain some incredibly vivid colours.

Yellow Momiji Against Trunk

Yellow Momiji Against Trunk

Let’s look at image number 1639 as the first example. This shot actually reminds me of a young ladies kimono, the traditional Japanese dress, maybe one that would be worn to a “Coming of age” ceremony. Shot again with the 300mm F2.8 wide open, for 1/40th of a second at ISO 100. It was from here though that I started to notice some softness in my images that I’d not noticed the previous week shooting in a similar way. I didn’t notice it when shooting of course, rather when I got home and was going through my images. I’ll tell you why later.



The thing I was not all that excited about, but very surprised to find that it’s actually quite useful is the Live View function. The ability to turn Live View on is a menu option that I mentioned earlier that I’ve added to my Menu, and actually found myself leaving on. Once turned on, you hit the Set button on the back of the camera to raise the mirror and go into Live View mode. You then just trip the shutter when necessary to make your exposure. The thing that I was annoyed about when I first heard about this was that autofocus does not work in Live View Mode. I actually found though that I used this feature in low light to fine tune focusing, as you can zoom to five and ten times on the LCD monitor, so you can actually get very close and see the focussing very easily. Also, because the lens is now automatically set to manual focus mode, you don’t have to switch to manual to stop the lens from re-focussing when you finally press the shutter to make your exposure.

Another nice custom function is that you can set the camera to show actual exposure on the LCD during Live View, so that you can make corrections real-time. The verdict is that although I was dubious about Live View when I first heard about it, it is turning out to be very useful. I’ll probably not use the live view for normal shooting, only in dark conditions where seeing and focusing accurately through the viewfinder is difficult, but it definitely has its place and I’m looking forward to using it more. I should also mention that the 100% field of view in the 1Ds’s huge viewfinder is a pleasure to use too. It really is just so crisp, sharp and bright that I was giggling to myself like a little boy on Christmas morning when I first started playing around with the camera.

Actually while I’m thinking about it, Custom Function III, 8 turns on AF Expansion of the Selected Focus Point. The 45 point auto-focus seems so far much better than it was in the Mark II, but still there are times when I selected a specific focus point. What turning on Expansion does is allows the camera to also use either the two focus points to the left and right of the selected one, or to use all of the neighbouring focus points directly next to the selected one. I found that with this turn on, I noticed the neighbouring focus points illuminating quite often, and usually seeming to help focus, so I thought this was a nice touch. You can also choose to only be able to cycle through the inner 9 or outer 9 cross focus points, though I haven’t turned this on. I prefer to be able to select any, and the expansion option makes this doubly useful.

Anyway, let’s press on, and look at just a couple more images before we finish. Next is number 1642. Again shot in total shade I was able to really bring out the true reds of these maple leaves that I have to say were just totally breath-taking. Well worth a second visit to the same park that I was at the previous week. This was shot at F3.2 for 1/13th of a second, still at ISO 100. I have actually uploaded three different compositions of this same patch of leaves, but I won’t show you the others today. I will put a link into the show-notes to show all ten shots from this day though if you are interested. I had been shooting from F2.8 to F4 most of the time, going to F5.6 a few times, and this one turned out to be the only one of this batch that was sharp enough to use. We’ll look at one last example later, but let’s get into what I found out last Sunday, the day after this shoot.

Red on Orange #3

Red on Orange #3

I did some test shots with the new 1Ds and the 300mm F2.8 that I picked up a week ago, as I am nearing the end of the two weeks grace period to take back the lens if there are any problems. I have of course used the 300mm a lot already and was happy, but because I’d noticed that some of the shots that I got from the shoot that we’re looking at today were a little soft, I was wondering if it was maybe back or front focusing with the 1Ds. Many were tack sharp, so I didn’t think this was the case, but I thought I’d do the test anyway to rule out any possibilities. I used the Test Target that I mentioned back in Episode 101, when I tested my 85mm F1.2 lens. After a few relatively soft test shots with the 1Ds and the 300mm F2.8, I watched as I tripped the shutter and saw that the whole setup was vibrating on the tripod as I released the shutter, even though I was using Mirror Lockup. It seems that my Manfrotto tripod is buckling slightly under the weight of the 1Ds with the 300mm F2.8, but this was not noticeable with the resolution of my 5D. Indeed the shots look fine at 50%, but when viewed at 100% many of them had a coloured fringe to one side, indicating that the camera had moved very slightly during the exposure. This is backed up by the fact that the problem doesn’t really show up with faster shutter speeds, even on the 1Ds, but I was going down to lower than 1/20th of a second for some shots during my shoot and for my test shots, and it’s these shutter speeds that can’t take the vibration.

I got out my larger Gitzo tripod that I use mainly with the 600mm F4, and reshot my tests, and found that there was no vibration, and the lens is sharp, and not front or back focusing, so I’m happy about that, but it does mean that I need a sturdier small tripod or I’ll have to take my larger Gitzo out more, if I’m going to be using the 300mm F2.8. I should stress that this is not a problem with the Manfrotto tripod. They are great tripods, but the one I am using for my lighter weight kit was not designed for this much weight. With all the expense over the last few weeks though my gear budget has hit rock bottom, so I reckon I’ll be stuck with my larger, heavier Gitzo, even when doing a fair amount of walking, until my gear budget gets healthy again.

Orange Momiji

Orange Momiji

Let’s look at one last shot that I made before leaving the park, which is image number 1643. This was a beautiful orange tree, with some speckled light shining through the back which I thought was going to make some nice bokeh. I shot this again with the 300mm F2.8 wide open for 1/5th of a second at ISO 100. There’s nothing really much to say about this, except that I like the shot and thought I’d throw it in for good measure.

There was one negative point that I think I should mention, but don’t really understand the consequences of yet. There is a function called Highlight Tone Priority, which increases the dynamic range of images, especially in the highlights, as the name implies. When this is selected though, the minimum ISO changes to 200, from as low as 50 when not using this feature. I’m sure image quality will still be there, and grain at ISO 200 is going to be unnoticeable, but I may not be able to bring myself to shoot at ISO 200 in normal light conditions unless I really need the highlights. I’m sure there’ll be some tests around this soon though, and I will probably do some myself, but right now this is a surprise and a little disappointing.

I’ll cover a few other nice touches that I found interesting too though before we close. With the custom functions you can select which shooting modes to cycle through. As a pro body, there are no scene based shooting modes, like portrait or night scene etc. so these don’t need to be removed, but I never use Program, or Shutter Priority modes, only ever using Manual, Aperture Priority and Bulb. So I have deselected Shutter Priority and Program, so now when I cycle through the modes they don’t appear, and I only see the three that I use. You can do a similar thing with aperture and shutter speed priorities, as well as ISO speeds. If you know you will never use something, just limit the camera to only show you things you do use.

There is also the ability to fine tune the focusing if you have a lens that is front or back focusing. You can do this on a per lens basis, or across the board. I find the across the board option disturbing, because if the camera was front or back focusing surely it’s a fault, and you’d get it fixed, but maybe in years to come if the auto focus calibration ran out, due maybe to a hard knock on the camera, you’d at least be able to correct it without paying for what would probably be very expensive repairs.

Another thing is multiple spot metering. Those of you that have used modern hand-held light meters will already understand this concept, but basically you set the camera’s meter to spot metering, and point it at the highlights, shadows and mid-tone areas of the scene, and the meter will give you an average exposure to capture the scene as accurately as possible. You just point the spot meter circle which is 2.4% of the center of the viewfinder, or the focus point being used, depending on how you have the camera set up, and then press the FEL or Flash Exposure Lock button to record the light reading. You can repeat this up to eight times, and the camera will set the exposure to the average of all the reading. This doesn’t work in Manual Mode of course, but does in Aperture Priority and I imagine Shutter Priority mode too. You can then also use Exposure Compensation as usual to fine tune the exposure. With the histogram to help, I really don’t know how useful this is going to be, but still, I thought it was a nice touch to build into the camera.

Lastly, as I said when I talked about the 1Ds Mark II that I rented in December 2006, I like the eyepiece shutter, which can be moved into place with a little lever at the side of the viewfinder eyecup. This is to stop stray light getting into the camera through the eyepiece when your eye is away from the camera. I also like that the rubber eyecup is held in place with clips, not just slid on like all of my other EOS cameras. I’ve lost these a few times, and it really can be annoying, especially in the middle of a trip.

So, I feel like I should give you a verdict on the new Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III that was released to the world on November the 29th, 2007. This is the first 35mm format digital SLR camera to break the 20 megapixel mark, at 21 megapixels. It’s a pro body, so it’s built like a tank, and dust and weather proof. It has 5 frames per second, with a relatively small RAW image buffer, but I get that can’t be helped when you consider the size of the images being stored and the time available to do it. A verdict as such though would be kind of redundant, as I knew that I was going to love this camera. Why else would I have ordered one without even having held one? Owning a camera like this has been my dream since the first 1Ds was announced back in late 2002. I figured at the time that this was not going to be a body I upgrade all that regularly at this price, so I had to wait at least three generations so I was happy that it would last me. The 1Ds Mark II was announced exactly two years later in 2004, so I was actually all ready for the Mark III at the end of 2006, two years after the Mark II.

It actually took over a year longer though, and having used the Mark II, I can already see where those three full years of R&D went. Not dwelling of course on the larger image size and faster fps, the overall usability of the camera has increased immensely. The menus are easy to use and intuitive, unlike the Mark II, and the camera mode changes are now easier though still fool proof. I felt that a few hours with the manual and playing around with the body were enough to get me comfortable with it. You could actually just pick up the camera and start using this one, which was not always the case with the Mark II.

All in all, it’s an amazing piece of kit. Is it for everyone? Obviously not! The price for one is very prohibitive. Canon are having problems fulfilling all of their orders for this camera, and many won’t receive theirs until next year, so obviously many people have found the money to buy one, but still, warranting this amount of money for a camera body is not easy. I’m lucky that I have a good day job outside of photography, as well as a certain amount of income from photography and a very understanding wife. Without these things owning my dream camera would not have been possible. I have to admit, without going full time, I probably would not have been able to warrant this purchase based on photography earnings alone, so again, I feel very lucky to be in this position. If you have the money and can warrant the purchase yourself, yet are on the fence about whether to pull the trigger on this one, just pull it. It’s the best camera in its class today and it will be for Canon at least for another few years. Nikon may over take this soon, and that will be good for competition, so good for Nikon and their users. If you are wondering if this camera is everything you think it is though, don’t worry, it’s more.

Well that’s it for today. I will of course be shooting with the 1Ds as my main body from now on, keeping my 5D as a still very capable second body, so stay tuned for more snippets of information as I learn more about my new baby.

A quick mention for any new listeners, that I will be holding a Photography Workshop in the Winter Wonderland of Hokkaido, the island at the top of Japan, close to the Eastern tip of Russia. The workshop will cover wildlife and landscape shots, as we make our way around the eastern side of the island. We’ll be shooting the majestic red-crowned cranes as well as Steller Sea Eagles, White Tailed Eagles and Ezo Deer. I’ve also got us booked into a hotel that has regular visits from Fish Owls to their pond, so we’ll spend a few hours out one night shooting owls with flash. If you want to hear more details, please take a look at the Workshops pages or drop me a line. There’s also a Podcast Episode in which I go through many of the details linked at the bottom of the workshops site and there are some example images too.

Before we finish once again a quick reminder that the Fire Assignment is now closed and the voting system is turned on until the end of Sunday the 9th of December. Then I’ll turn it off and prepare the podcast to announce the winner who will receive a fine art print of the photo of their choice from my online gallery. Thanks to all of those that participated. Please do take the time to vote, even if you didn’t upload an entry. There are some stunning photographs in the assignment gallery as usual.

And that’s about it for today. So with that, all that remains to be said is thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing — Bye-bye.

Show Notes

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