Image Quality

Out-of-camera JPEG.
ISO100 | 1/80 sec | F2.2 | Canon EF 35mm F1.4 L II

Key takeaways:

  • Better default JPEG parameters give more usable results right out of the camera
  • Noticeably lower noise at high ISOs than predecessor, still not quite a match for Nikon's D5
  • JPEG noise reduction and detail retention are improved across the board

Studio scene

Compiled from information originally published here on March 23, 2020.

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you'll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

These sports cameras aren't megapixel monsters, but we can see the 1D X III exhibiting good detail capture for the class at lower ISO values. But of at least as significant import for this camera's target audience, the EOS-1D X III delivers great results in extremely low light, with noticeably lower noise levels than its predecessor. Sony has a resolution advantage, at 24MP to 20MP, but when we downscale to a common resolution, the 1D X III continues to look impressive. At ISO values that border on the absurd, Nikon's D5 honestly continues to reign supreme among this company.

But of perhaps even greater significance for a camera like this a good good JPEG engine; many agencies won't accept edited files of any type, and for those whose turnaround times are measured in seconds, JPEGs are faster to transfer anyway. All of these cameras' JPEG parameters are customizable, but the default values on the Canon look improved. Compared to the 1D X Mark II, fine detail retention is better everywhere you look. It looks like the Mark III is using a finer radius sharpening, which emphasizes (rather than writing-over) the finest detail in the scene. Still, it's not quite a match for Sony's a9.

As ISO values start to climb, the Mark III strikes a good balance between noise reduction and detail retention. But while this is an impressive result, it is again not quite a match for the context-sensitive noise reduction that Sony employs.

HEIF files

We go into some detail on the HDR / PQ capability of the EOS-1D X III earlier in the review, but we thought we'd take a practical look at what you can expect if you wanted to experiment with it on your own. For example, let's say you wanted to capture a scene in HEIF for display on an HDR TV, but what happens if you want to later view that same image on regular old SDR displays?

As of this writing, you can convert HEIF files to JPEG Canon's Digital Photo Professional software as well as in-camera. Neither option gives you any control whatsoever over the process, but doing so gives you a noticeably different result from a standard out-of-camera JPEG.

ISO 100 | 1/20 sec | F4 | EF 24-105mm F4L at 70mm | Photo by Dan Bracaglia

The above images were captured just moments apart, one as a standard JPEG, and the other as a HEIF file that was converted to a standard JPEG in-camera. Notice that while the shadow regions aren't drastically impacted, the tones in the sky are much richer, almost as though you'd taken a Raw file and brought the highlights down a bit.

So the takeaway is that, if you're wanting to start shooting in HEIF in anticipation of an HDR workflow, you can safely convert the files to JPEG and, while they look a little different than standard JPEGs, will look just fine on most SDR displays.

HDR display of HEIF files

The most impactful benefit of shooting HDR PQ HEIF files, though, is when it comes to capturing and displaying high dynamic range scenes. While it's difficult to show on a web-page with only SDR output, we've used a camera to shoot the output of the 1D X III to an HDR display, using the exact same exposure. This gives you an idea of the added highlight range HDR output on the 1D X III affords you. The expanded output dynamic range helps alleviate some of the flat results that necessarily result from trying to squeeze a large scene dynamic range into the capabilities of an SDR display (by, for example, darkening highlights and lifting shadows). Canon recommends you use Highlight Tone Priority (HTP) when shooting in HDR HEIF mode, to ensure highlights are not overexposed.

This is a necessarily limited representation of the difference between SDR and HDR images, constrained by your SDR display.

On an HDR monitor, capable of brighter whites and darker blacks, the shadow region would be brighter and able to express more contrast, while the sky would be brighter still and more distinct from the foreground, just as it would be in the real world. Interestingly, you'll note the exact opposite effect of the 'Standard JPEG' vs. 'JPEG converted from HEIF' rollover above: while the converted HEIF file shows reduced sky brightness, the slider above shows increased brightness of skies, while still retaining the sunset hues. This is because the HEIF files captured more dynamic range, while the HDR display was capable of displaying that dynamic range in the form of brighter brights and deeper shadows.