Real-world AF performance - the Nyssa Nite Rodeo

by Carey Rose

Editor's Note: After having written and published this page as part of the review, we've done extensive digging into the 1D X II's nested menus of custom controls and found options to change both AF area and AF mode (One Shot vs AI Servo), all the while including AF activation. This functionality is supported on the AF-ON button and the 'star' button to its right if you assign them to 'Metering and AF start' and 'Register/recall shooting func', respectively, setting desired AF modes under each function's detailed customizations. It's unfortunately complicated, and only works with those two buttons, but ultimately possible. On this page, we incorrectly stated that this is not possible. Our apologies for any confusion this may have caused.

Now, it should be noted that we used soccer on the previous page as a sort of 'stress-test.' Although I only photographed a friendly club match, professional photographers shooting professional soccer certainly have their work cut out for them. But more selfishly, it was a great way of determining how the autofocus system on the EOS-1D X Mark II behaves, especially when making small tweaks to the case presets.

However, we also wanted to see how the camera would behave when shooting a variety of subjects and scenarios.

This was our first rodeo, but I'm pretty sure this wasn't his. Processed and cropped to taste from Raw. Canon EF 24-70mm F2.8L II @ F4.5 | 1/320 sec | ISO 100. Photo by Barney Britton

The Nyssa Nite Rodeo in southeastern Oregon, in contrast to soccer, provided a wider variety of subjects and behaviors. Instead of tailoring the camera to specifically track players criss-crossing in front of me, Barney and I had to be able to shoot a single subjects that moved erratically, accelerated and decelerated rapidly, groups of subjects moving in tandem, and also subjects that weren't moving much at all. In other words, the rodeo is not a single use-case like soccer (which is, admittedly complex). We had to do our best to behave as more general photojournalists, rather than dedicated sports shooters.

There's also plenty of dust, back lighting, and dim lighting to boot. So in terms of sheer variety, it's appreciably different from the experience of shooting soccer, and in that vein, my experience with the 1D X II was appreciably different as well.

This page will be a little lighter on technology verbiage compared to our analysis on soccer because most of the basics have now been covered. Indeed, despite our using varying lenses and differing case settings, both Barney and myself came away impressed and with a high quantity of keepers.

Subjects at the rodeo tend to be a bit unpredictable. Processed and cropped to taste from Raw. Canon EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS II @ F5.6 | 1/800 sec | ISO 500. Photo by Barney Britton

One small gripe - after having used automatic AF fine tune on the D5 and D500, I've been spoiled. I noticed that the EF 70-200mm F2.8L II USM lens I was using tended toward front-focusing slightly, a problem that could have been more quickly dispatched had Canon implemented a similar feature as opposed to my microadjusting manually on the fly (which, in addition to be annoying, is actually quite difficult). Fingers crossed for a firmware update! (Especially as Canon has a patent for such a system). One point to note - microadjustment is not required in Live View, so if you're having trouble with focus accuracy, you may find some success in switching over and using Dual Pixel AF, for single shots of static subjects, that is.

Okay - on to the setup.

The setup

Barney and I used lenses ranging from 16mm to 400mm, with maximum available apertures varying from F1.4 to F5.6. We used Cases 1, 4 and 6 with some tweaking in there, and area modes varying from single point to iTR. In other words, we tried just about everything we could think of, and we still came away with hundreds - check that, thousands - of in-focus shots.

I tended to stay in case six, but I did have to bump 'Accel. / Decel. Tracking' to have the system consistently keep up with (very) fast approaching subjects. Processed and cropped to taste from Raw. Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L II @ F2.8 | 1/1000 sec | ISO 800. Photo by Carey Rose

So while it appears that some situations might require extensive customization of Canon's flagship autofocus system, many situations at the rodeo did not.

All of those lenses we brought focused quickly enough to easily follow the action, whatever action that might have been. Between mutton busters, bull and bronc riding, barrel racing and more, the camera's autofocus system repeatedly proved its worth.

The results

Despite dust, fast movement, erratic changes of direction and the photographers being distracted by the prospect of tasty tacos, the 1DX II was in its element and allowed us to get the images we wanted without fuss. Processed and cropped to taste from Raw. Canon EF 100-400mm F4-5.6L II IS @ 124mm | F5.6 | 1/250 sec | ISO 100. Photo by Barney Britton

However, despite all that the 1D X II has going for it, there is one nagging issue that I had a hard time shaking. It's an edge case, but it is an issue nonetheless.

As I alluded to on the first autofocus page, there is a price to pay for having the camera set up for very fast, erratic subjects - a tendency for autofocus to get a bit 'jumpy' when you're shooting something static, like a casual portrait. No problem, just set the function button under your ring finger on the grip to 'One Shot' (AF-S) and all's well, right? After all, AF-S is what Canon recommends for things like portraiture.

If you're a 'mutton buster,' you'll get a participation medal and you'll like it, darn it. Processed and cropped to taste from Raw. Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L II IS @ 145mm | F4 | 1/160 sec | ISO 100. Photo by Carey Rose

But if I'm wanting to switch from AF-C to AF-S, then I'm likely going to want to change my AF area mode. Area modes that work great for moving subjects, like AF Expansion of Zone, aren't precise enough when I'm trying to focus on an individual's eye at a wide aperture. The real problem here is that, unfortunately, I can't use that same function button I assigned to switch from AF-C to AF-S to also swap AF area modes. I'll need to hold down another button to do so, or just change the AF area manually each time.

Rounding up - besides some nit-picks, the 1D X II made for a great rodeo companion. Processed and cropped to taste from Raw. Canon EF 70-200mmL II IS @ 175mm | F2.8 | 1/2500 sec | ISO 200. Photo by Carey Rose

So that's a pretty specific edge case, but it does speak a little to the highly customizable philosophy of the 1D X II. With so many possibilities, you'll need some practice not only to discover what setting works when, but also to be sure you can change settings and adapt to your surroundings quickly.

But when you get that practice, and you get your muscle memory down, the 1D X II will keep up with just about anything you throw at it.