Body, controls and handling

Suffice to say, the EOS-1D X Mark III is immediately recognizable (to us camera folk anyway) as a 1D-series camera, sharing the same basic shape as its predecessors going back decades. But refinements abound, and a couple of long-standing frustrations persist.

Key takeaways:

  • New AF Smart Controller is a truly useful option for quickly positioning your AF area
  • Rear screen is now touch sensitive and very responsive
  • CFExpress cards are seriously fast
  • Customization options are solid, but we think they could be expanded
  • Live view performance is great, but you won't want to hold this camera out in front of you for very long
  • Robust connectivity options for pros, easier options for consumers
  • Battery life gets a boost from the same LP-E19 pack

The EOS-1D X Mark III is a large camera with an integrated vertical grip housing a battery that could probably jumpstart your car. In the hand, it feels like it could double as a weapon for home-defense. None of this is a surprise, of course, but Canon has a couple of tricks up its sleeve for this latest model. Let's first take a closer look at the AF Smart Controller we introduced earlier.

AF Smart Controller

Although the two AF Smart Controllers take up little room on the 1D X III, they are perhaps its most significant handling upgrade (for the camera's intended users, anyway). They act essentially as tiny touchpads, where you simply drag your thumb around on them to move your AF area either in the viewfinder or in live view mode.

Canon has given users the option to enable both smart controllers, disable only the vertical one, or disable them both. You can also adjust their sensitivity on a –2 to +2 scale. We found that if you limit your number of AF points in the viewfinder, you may want to adjust the Smart Controller's sensitivity to compensate.

The AF Smart Controller is also by far the best way to control your autofocus area in live view. The traditional AF joystick allows for fine-tuning of your area (and holding it in one direction speeds up the movement a bit), and you can of course tap the touch-sensitive rear LCD as well (more on that later). But the Smart Controller strikes just the right balance of speed and precision for us, and again, using the sensitivity scale, you can dial this in to your tastes.

The AF-ON button as a touchpad means you can move your AF area while focusing continuously

Now, why would you use it? Well, it's been designed to make for a faster way to select our AF area in general, but is also useful for shooters who 'back-button focus'. This is when you decouple autofocus from the shutter and only use the AF-ON buttons; thus, having the AF-ON button be a touchpad means you can move your AF area around while focusing continuously. This is less important if you're using the camera's tracking modes, but for users that prefer a single point or a zone, this is potentially a powerful new capability.

The touchscreen

For the first time on an EOS-1D camera, we have a full-function touch-sensitive rear LCD (the previous model had very limited touch functionality). As expected from Canon, it's smooth and responsive, allowing you to manipulate autofocus in live view, navigate the menus, double-tap to magnify in playback, swipe to scroll through images, and so on.

Another new functionality is the ability to pinch-zoom while in the menus to magnify them. This could be handy for glasses-wearers who, perhaps, aren't wearing their glasses.

There's no option to use the touchscreen as a touchpad for your viewfinder AF point with the camera to your eye, but the smart controller renders this function largely redundant anyhow. Interestingly, there is no provision in the menus to fully disable the touchscreen.

Customization and remaining controls

Like previous 1D-series cameras, the 1D X III lacks a mode dial, instead requiring you to hit the 'Mode' button on the top left shoulder and twiddle the dials. This control philosophy (which has been honed over quite some time, we should add) carries through to the rest of the camera; from drive mode to metering, white balance to ISO, many shooting parameters are configured by hitting a direct button and manipulating either the front or rear dials.

The caveat here is that, unlike many competitors, relatively few exterior buttons can be customized, and those that can may have more limited options that you'd expect. (We did a deep dive on the EOS 5D Mark IV here; the 1D X III has more options, but there are still limitations.) While we certainly don't expect all users to be impacted by this, we don't generally think giving users more choices for customization is a bad thing (so long as they're well-organized).

By far the most customizable buttons are the depth-of-field (DoF) preview and M-Fn2 buttons, which fall under your ring finger and middle finger, respectively. They can give you quick access to different autofocus configurations, bring you directly to network settings, create a new folder on your card, and a whole lot more.

Lastly, between the shutter button, AF-ON button and Auto Exposure Lock (AEL) buttons, you can configure three completely separate AF modes. The AF-ON and AEL buttons let you define your starting position, AF case, whether you want single or continuous autofocus, and which area mode you want. Couple this with settings you get on the DoF and M-Fn2 buttons just discussed and you get a good array of options to very quickly adapt to different scenarios as they unfold.

Live view handling

We've written previously that, if Canon took the mirror box out of this camera and put in an EVF, you'd almost have a cutting-edge mirrorless sports camera. As it stands, that's not what Canon's done (yet), but using the EOS-1D X Mark III in live view unlocks stellar Dual Pixel AF performance and 20fps burst speeds with either mechanical or electronic shutter. Those burst speeds aren't blackout-free like Sony's a9 models are capable of, but it's not too difficult to follow the action.

No, what is difficult about using this camera in live view is, you guessed it, the weight. With some moderately sized lenses, I managed to use the 1D X III quite a bit in live view mode to shoot video alongside stills, and it wasn't too bad. But if you're going to use live view with lenses like a 70-200mm F2.8 or anything larger, a monopod or tripod is advisable.

Even if you don't need 20fps, the reason to consider live view is that, even with all the improvements in this camera's viewfinder autofocus system, its live view autofocus system is simply more capable. It just is. You have pupil detect (versus head-detection in the OVF), far, far broader AF point coverage, and you will never have to worry about microadjusting your lenses.

If anything, the EOS-1D X Mark III is likely a decent indicator of what Canon's forthcoming EOS R5 will be capable of, to say nothing of an eventual EOS R1.

Built-in wireless antenna

The EOS-1D X Mark III comes with built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS antennas. The GPS antenna in particular is likely to be handy for anyone working off-the-grid, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi mean it's incredibly easy to get images from the camera onto your phone and then onto whatever social network you want.

In practice, it functions exactly like Canon's more consumer-oriented cameras. Enable Bluetooth, open the Canon Camera Connect app and select the 1D X III. From there, all you need to do is tap 'images on camera' to initiate a Wi-Fi connection to view your shots. Other functions including remote live view shooting and manipulation of camera settings are available from the app as well.

Being a pro-level DSLR, the 1D X III also comes with some deep wireless and file transfer features. You can save sets of settings to 'banks' for quick recall, and you can hook up Canon's WFT-E9A wireless transmitter for 5Ghz Wi-Fi for faster transfer speeds or working with FTP servers. You can also hardwire into the camera with gigabit ethernet.

Finally, this is the first Canon camera that supports multiple network protocols at one time. This means you could, say, set up the 1D X III as a remote camera that's set up to auto transfer files with the WFT-E9A, and then connect to the camera's built-in wireless antenna with your phone to adjust settings even if you don't have physical access to the camera itself.

Battery and memory cards

The 1D X Mark III continues to use Canon's LP-E19 battery. This is going to be fantastic for pros, rental houses and agencies that already have a bunch (they're not exactly cheap, after all), and with the benefit of the camera's latest processors, they go further than ever: CIPA rates the camera at 2850 shots with the OVF, and 610 using live view. Bear in mind, you'll likely get a lot more than this. If you're shooting 20 silent frames per second in live view, you will get more than 30.5 seconds out of the battery pack.

And thankfully, given 20fps burst shooting, the camera comes with two matched CFExpress card slots. You'll find that the buffer is, for all intents and purposes, bottomless.