Conclusion - Pros
- Highly detailed 16MP images in a wide range of conditions
- 10 frames per second shooting make it the fastest full-res camera on the market
- Compatible with the most comprehensive lens range on the market
- Excellent AF performance during our testing
- Very good high ISO performance even at 25,600
- Consistent if slightly over-keen metering
- Highly customizable buttons let you tailor the camera's behavior
- Excellent JPEGs that make the most of the camera's resolution
- Good, Full-HD video with a wide range of shooting options
- Superb build quality with magnesium alloy body and environmental sealing
- Very good ergonomics, well shaped and comfortable hand grip
- Well-placed and configurable buttons
- Simple methods for AF point selection
- 100% coverage viewfinder
- Stereo microphone socket for video recording
- Reliable flash exposures
- Sensor cleaning generally effective
- 1.3x crop with high resolution gives both extra effective reach and cropping flexibility (but naturally limits wide-angle options)
- Good battery life when shooting stills (live view and video have a drastic impact, however)
Conclusion - Cons
- Movie mode (and live view to a lesser extent), feels tacked-on, rather than integrated
- Level of AF customization makes optimization challenging
- Placement and interaction of AF customization options unhelpful
- White balance isn't brilliant in artificial lighting (but few cameras shine in this respect)
- Like the D3S, the vertical AF-ON button can easily be pressed by accident
The Canon EOS-1D Mark IV has the feel of a product that is determined to be as close to perfect as possible, and this is understandable after the uncertainty that hung over the 1D Mark III. It almost doesn't matter how many people were affected by the Mark III's AF problems - in the same way that a great flagship product has a 'halo effect' that radiates out, conferring some if its greatness on more lowly models, rumors of a flaw can have an impact on perceptions way beyond the group of people actually affected. And, with Nikon successfully competing for the professional market in a way it hasn't done since its D1, this is a product Canon needs to be perfect.
Canon's 1D series have always been the results of carefully considered evolution but in this instance the evolution is so subtle that you can almost think of the Mark IV as the EOS-1D Mark III Mark II. The body and handling are essentially unchanged, which is to be expected, as the Mark III's ergonomic prowess has never been in doubt. Regardless of which brands you've used before, you don't have to use the Mark IV for long before you appreciate just how carefully honed the shooting experience has been.
There is, perhaps a problem with evolution, though - adapting can take a long time. And, while the Mark IV's handling may be approaching the zenith of what any stills shooter might desire, it is pretty clear it isn't a camera designed for video shooting. Of course this isn't an issue at all if you don't shoot movies but if you do, you're likely to find the experience a slightly disjointed one - the 1D body doesn't readily lend itself to being held away from the eye and the functions all feel a bit tacked-on. This isn't unique to the Mark IV of course (and the video options are amongst the best you'll find on anything this side of a pro video camera), but the disconnect is felt more acutely on a camera this big and this good in its traditional use.
In image quality terms, the 1D Mark IV is all a flagship camera should be - it captures incredibly detailed images with great color, whether you choose to shoot RAW or JPEG. It produces better pixel-level quality than its predecessor and offers 26% greater resolution in every file, meaning you can crop to the heart of the action without a care.
Its high ISO performance is also very good indeed - it may not quite be able to match Nikon's full-frame D3S in the very lowest of light but nothing can. Looked-at another way, it's essentially on a par with the D3 which also had that large-sensor advantage and was, until recently considered almost impossibly good. Yes the Mark IV is stunning in good light but it's by no means for outdoor shooters only. We have reservations about the benefits of including an ISO 102,400 setting, given how poor the output is. But if the corollary of that statement is that we consider ISO 25,600 to be perfectly usable then we think it's going to sound pretty good to the Mark III shooters limited to 6400.
As I've already said, once learned, this is one of the fastest-to-use cameras on the market: it's comfortable, well laid-out and configurable to your preferred way of shooting. But again, in a sense the Mark IV's greatest flaws are a consequence of its greatest strengths. In the same way that its supreme to-the-eye handling makes it an awkward tool for video, its high level of customizability make it an incredibly complex camera to set-up.
It would be easy to come to the Mark IV from a previous high-end Canon and assume that you can just pick it up and shoot and, to an extent, you can. But getting the most out of it, particularly in terms of AF performance, will require sitting down with the manual, the 1D Mark IV White Paper or an appropriate guide to the camera's AF system to optimize its settings to your chosen subject and shooting technique.
We're not in a position to give the camera's AF system a clean bill of health but we found little to criticize in our testing. The true picture won't become clear until more are in the hands of practicing pros. Its complexity and flexibility make it a difficult camera to configure and learn and for that reason we're not yet ready to join the naysayers.
The final word
A lot has already been said about the 1D Mark IV, both by people who have tested it and those who have tried to weigh it up against the D3S and that kind of nit-picking makes it easy to overlook what an astonishing camera it is. And looked at from a neutral perspective, both it and the Nikon are unmistakably the best sports cameras that modern technology allows.
Its talents are slightly different to those of D3S but its strengths will be a great asset to many people - the smaller sensor that prevents it competing at the very highest ISOs delivers the kind of extra reach that many touchline shooters will appreciate. Frankly there's more to both cameras than just their high ISO performance and, while the Mark IV isn't the best high ISO camera on the market, it's still an exceptionally good one. From the point-of-view of the tasks it was built to tackle, there is nothing that can touch the detailed, high resolution images that it can deliver ten times a second.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Professional shooters needing fast, high res performance
Not so good for
Pros working in ultra low light - the D3S is still better
Putting the EOS-1D Mk3's demons behind it Canon has produced an upgrade that's not just better, but delivers an incredibly versatile tool that blurs the 'sports camera/studio camera' line more than ever before. The Nikon D3S might beat it in very low light, but if you want speed and resolution the EOS-1D Mark IV delivers convincingly.