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Conclusion - Pros

  • Significant upgrade to the Mark II that improves almost every area of performance without 'reinventing the wheel'
  • Better ISO button placement, new joystick, new AF point selection method, ISO in the viewfinder; all help faster more intuitive operation and mean you less often have to take your eye away from the viewfinder.
  • Superb resolution and pixel level detail, noticeably better than the Mark II (especially in JPEG) - simply stunning output when used at low ISOs with good glass.
  • Huge, bright viewfinder view really fills your vision
  • Surprisingly good high ISO performance (beats the Mark II despite resolution increase)
  • Optional high ISO noise reduction that retains detail whilst removing chroma noise
  • Dust reduction system and live view
  • Good dynamic range with plenty of raw headroom
  • Impressive 5.0 frames per second shooting speed with large raw buffer, UDMA support
  • Superbly well built, 'a solid block', fully environmentally sealed, totally robust
  • Very fast in use - feels more responsive than Mark II and low light AF feels more assured
  • Fast, reliable AF (we had no problems with tracking AF but we're not sports shooters)
  • Improved user interface including easier menu navigation and custom MyMenu
  • 14-bit raw files and internal processing
  • Wide range of image parameter adjustment (-4 to +4 for most)
  • Bigger, brighter LCD is a big improvement (no more pixels, however).
  • Dual storage slots with comprehensive options for how they're used
  • Superb write speed with fast SD and UDMA CF cards
  • Flexible raw and JPEG image quality and size options
  • Huge range of custom functions, still one of the most configurable cameras
  • New WFT-E2 wireless transmitter is superb; compact and feature-rich
  • Voice annotation feature (built-in mic)
  • Smaller, lighter battery that lasts longer and has a more sensible latch lock
  • Supplied Digital Photo Professional now a mature and quality RAW converter


Conclusion - Cons

  • Edge softness / chromatic aberrations with wide angle lenses, needs good glass
  • Overall softness that means images need more sharpening than you might expect; we'd prefer an even lighter Low Pass Filter.
  • No autofocus of any kind in live view mode
  • No built-in wireless flash (needs ST-E2 transmitter)
  • Mirror up implementation still far from ideal
  • Higher resolution screen would be nice
  • As would the ability to select any of the AF points, not just the 19 'primary' points
  • We would have preferred two CF slots
  • There's no getting away from the price


Overall conclusion

First an apology; the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III arrived in our office well over eight months ago (when we were 'between studios') and, though we've been using it regularly every since, the avalanche of digital SLRs that arrived in January caused this review to be bumped down the queue so often that it started to develop a persecution complex.

This is because, although there's no doubt that the Mark III sets the standard for digital SLR resolution and significantly narrows the gap between '35mm format' and 'medium format' digital cameras, it is also undoubtedly a niche product that will, by now, have been bought (or earmarked for purchase) by pretty much everyone who is ever likely to hand over the best part of $8000 for one.

So what's our take on the EOS-1DS Mark III after spending so long with it? The answer is, I guess kind of predictable: It is undeniably impressive, and though it appears on the surface to be a fairly low key update to the Mark II, the more you use it the more you realize how all the little improvements add up to a significantly better camera (and that's aside from the resolution hike). Nikon's D3, launched almost simultaneously to rapturous response might stolen a little of the Mark III's thunder, but the truth is that in many respects it is the Canon flagship model that most deserves to sit at the very top of the digital SLR tree.

If you need resolution, the Mark III - as long as you choose your glass carefully - has it by the bucket load. From here the only way to get more resolution is to go medium format, which brings a whole new set of considerations (not the least the need to sell your house - or at least a kidney - to afford the body and lenses). The Mark III may not be able to beat a MF back in the studio for critical work, but the sheer versatility offered by a 35mm format camera that can shoot 21.1MP images at 5.0 frames per second at up to ISO 3200 shouldn't be underestimated.

The EOS-1 series has matured to the point where surprises are rare, and the EOS-1Ds Mark III is an evolutionary, incremental upgrade to what was already a class-leading camera. That said it's a much more impressive upgrade than the Mark II was to the original EOS-1Ds; the control system (both hardware and firmware) are considerably better and the menus have, ironically, benefited from what they've inherited from Canon's consumer DSLRs. The harmonization of everything from menus to Picture Styles to button placement across Canon's entire range makes upgrading or using multiple bodies far less taxing. The Mark II was beginning to show its age a little, and the Mark III isn't just a case of more megapixels; it's a wholesale upgrade of virtually every aspect of operation and performance. The image quality up to around ISO 400 or 800 is stunning, with breathtaking detail giving texture and depth that you simply won't get anywhere else... at least not in a current 35mm format digital SLR. The build quality, like all Canon's professional cameras, is reassuringly solid, and the camera feels incredibly responsive (especially considering the huge files it is creating).

The Mark III's main problem is cost; you've really got to need 21.1 megapixels to fork out $8000 on a body and heaven knows how many thousands on the lenses necessary to actually get the benefit of all that resolving power. Of course the counter argument to this is that the EOS-1Ds Mark III is a serious professional tool, not a photo hobbyist's plaything, and those it is designed to appeal to simply won't be worrying about the price as long as it does the job it was bought for.

And that, the Mark III certainly does. It fills a nice niche bridging the gap between the affordability, versatility and portability of professional 35mm format DSLRs and the sheer no compromise image quality of a studio based medium format cameras. It's by no means perfect (in many respects the $4500 Nikon D3 is a more rounded 'one camera' solution), but it's pretty difficult - wallet-busting price aside - to find serious to complain about.

We suspect the whole full frame high resolution SLR market is due for quite a shakeup over the next 12 months (Sony's 25MP CMOS FF sensor announced earlier in the year is sure to throw a cat amongst the pigeons when it makes it into production cameras) so it'll be interesting to see where the Mark III sits in the grand scheme of things by next spring. But for now it is, essentially, peerless. Undoubtedly pricey, certainly not perfect, but the EOS-1Ds Mark III is good as it gets, and for many users will offer a genuine, viable alternative to a medium format digital system.

Detail (D-SLR)
Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 9.5
Ergonomics & handling 9.5
Features 9.5
Image quality 9.5
Performance (speed) 9.0
Value 8.0

Highly Recommended

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