Video

The 1D X Mark II is Canon's first DSLR to support 4K video since the EOS 1D C, introduced back in 2012, a camera primarily aimed at videographers. Since that time every Canon DSLR has been limited to 1080 (FHD) resolution, so 4K support is a welcome development. However, 4K does come with a few strings attached, though whether they will impact you largely depends on how you plan to use the camera for video.

Video Specifications

The 1D X II uses full sensor readout with pixel binning when shooting at 1080p, but there's a 1.34x crop factor when shooting in 4K. It appears that Canon is using a native crop from the sensor for 4K capture, which should result in nice 4K footage (spoiler: it does), though at the cost of some low light sensitivity and ability to shoot at wide angles.

The 1D X II uses a native crop of the sensor to shoot 4K video, resulting in a 1.34x crop factor compared to full frame.

4K video is captured in the DCI format (4096x2160), which is slightly wider than the more common UHD format (3840x2160). It's interesting that there’s no UHD option available; if you need UHD you’ll have to crop your video in post.

Video can be recorded at a variety of frame rates, ranging from 23.98 fps up to 119.9 fps. Most notably, the camera can capture 4K/60p video which, as of this writing, is unique among still cameras. 4K/60p can be useful to capture smooth, fast moving action, or conform 60p footage to slow motion in a 24p/30p timeline.

The 1D X II produces very nice 4K video, but there’s a catch: 4K capture is limited to Motion JPEG format. Motion JPEG is a relatively inefficient compression method, especially when compared to H.264-based codecs, such as Canon’s XF-AVC (which is even included on the compact Canon XC10). It requires high bit rates that produce huge files. As you can see from the table below, recording 4K/30p will run close to 500 Mbps, and 4K/60p runs close to 800 Mbps. By comparison, the Sony a7S II captures 4K/30p at 50-100Mbps and the Panasonic GH4 does so at 100-200Mbps.

Resolution Frame Rate(s) Compression Rec. Time on 64 GB card (min) Approximate Bit Rate (Mbps)
4K

59.94p, 50.00p

Motion JPEG 10 min 765 Mbps
4K 29.97p, 25.00p, 24.00p, 23.98p Motion JPEG 17 min 478 Mbps
1080p (MOV) 199.9p, 100.0p ALL-I 23 min 345 Mbps
1080p (MOV) 59.94p, 50.00p ALL-I 47 min 173 Mbps
1080p (MOV) 59.94P, 50.00p IPB 138 min 59 Mbps
1080p (MOV) 29.97p, 25.00p, 24.00p, 23.98p ALL-I 93 min 87 Mbps
1080p (MOV) 29.97p, 25.00p, 24.00p, 23.98p IPB 270 min 30 Mbps
1080p (MP4) 59.94p, 50.00p IPB 141 min 57 Mbps
1080p (MP4) 29.97p, 25.00p, 24.00p, 23.98p IPB 281 min 29 Mbps
1080p (MP4) 29.97p, 25.00p IPB-Lite 695 min 11.6 Mbps

Due to the high bit rates, having the right memory card is critical when shooting video. You don’t need a CFast card if you limit capture to 1080p or 4K/30p. In those cases you can get away with a fast CF card (UDMA 7, 100MB/sec. or faster). If you plan to shoot 4K/60p, however, you’ll need a CFast card.

Well, that’ not entirely true. You can record 4K/60p on a fast CF card, but it will only work for about 10-15 seconds. If you just need to capture a quick clip at a sports event, or a bride throwing the bouquet at a wedding, it will do just fine.

The upside of Motion JPEG is that each frame is compressed independently from every other frame, making it a good format for extracting stills from video. (Though you still need to use a high enough shutter speed to freeze the action.)

Single exposure taken from a frame of 4K video on the Canon 1D X Mark II. Exposure unrecorded, but approximately F5.6 |1/2000 sec |ISO 640. Photo by Dale Baskin

Also note that 4K video is recorded at 4:2:2 8-bit, while 1080p is recorded at 4:2:0 8-bit. There’s a 29:59 minute recording limit as well (thanks, EU!), though in practice we don't expect most people will use this camera for long form video.

Autofocus

The 1D X II is the first full frame DSLR to get Canon’s Dual Pixel autofocus system. We’ve been very impressed with Dual Pixel autofocus technology and consider it to be real differentiator for Canon.

Canon's schematic of its Dual Pixel CMOS AF sensor structure. The top layer illustrates the light-gathering microlenses and conventional Bayer-type colour filter array. The lower layer shows how each pixel is split into two photodiodes, left and right, which are coloured blue and red respectively. (Note that this does not indicate different color sensitivity.)

There are two AF modes for shooting video: Face+Tracking, and FlexiZone. These are the same modes we've seen on previous Canon bodies, but it's worth reviewing how they work when shooting video.

Face+Tracking mode is designed to find a subject and stick to it. As its name implies, it preferentially looks for faces and generally identifies them easily. However, what makes Face+Tracking mode especially useful is the ability to tap-to-focus with a high degree of confidence that the camera will stick to your subject.

For the most part, it does just that. Whether your subject is moving in the X, Y, or Z axis, the system adjusts focus in a smooth, natural manner. There are some limitations to Face+Tracking. Most notably, the responsiveness of the system is a one-size-fits all solution. If your subject moves very erratically, Face+Tracking may lose track of it or focus may lag.

FlexiZone mode allows you designate which zone of the frame to use for focus, either with the joystick or by tapping on the screen. Unlike Face+Tracking, which tries to follow a subject around the frame, FlexiZone only performs distance tracking, similar to a standard phase detect AF system.

At first glance it may seem like Face+Tracking is the more flexible AF mode, and for some things it certainly is, but FlexiZone has its own advantages. The first is that it's fast and easy to engage. Just turn on video, hit record, and get your subject under the AF zone. That's exactly what our Field Test cameraman, Lou Karsen, did to get this 'mutton busting' clip at a rodeo. The rider stays in focus until the very end when she falls off and is no longer under the AF zone, at which point focus reverts to the signs in the background.

The other advantage of FlexiZone is that you have more granular control over how the AF system behaves. Movie Servo AF speed can be adjusted in 10 increments, and tracking sensitivity (how quickly the camera responds if the subject moves erratically towards or away from the camera) can be adjusted in 7 increments.

Overall, we found video AF to be very effective and natural looking, particularly for moving subjects. We've always liked Canon's Dual Pixel autofocus system, and in our opinion 1D X II is the best implementation of the system to date on a DSLR.

Unfortunately, for those who prefer a manual approach to shooting video, the 1D X II doesn't support basic video tools such as focus peaking or zebras, though it's at least possible to view a histogram prior to shooting.

Controls

The 1D X II has a touch screen, though it only supports a handful of functions such as tap-to-focus, focus magnification, and toggling Servo-AF on and off. However, even if it only added tap-to-focus it would still be a useful addition for video. It makes shooting much easier and works fantastically well.

The 1D X II has a touch screen, though it only supports a handful of functions such as tap-to-focus, focus magnification, and toggling Servo-AF on and off. However, even if it only added tap-to-focus ability it would still be a useful addition for video.

The camera also includes Canon's silent control system, which adds touch sensitivity to the rear dial. Unlike the EOS 7D Mark II, which has slight visual cues on the rear dial to suggest silent control functionality, there are no markings on the 1D X II. It would be easy to miss that it's there, but it works really well.

Silent control turns the surfaces of the rear dial into touch sensitive buttons. A quick tap of the Q button while recording enables silent control, allowing you to use the up/down touch surfaces to cycle through shooting parameters (shutter, aperture, exposure comp., ISO, sound levels, and headphone volume) while the left/right surfaces can be used to adjust each one.

You can't adjust exposure variables using the touch screen while shooting, but 'silent control' allows you to change them quickly using the touch sensitive surfaces on the rear dial. This can be useful if you shoot video with a loupe over the LCD.

Silent control does have one big advantage compared to a touch screen-only approach: if you shoot using a loupe over the LCD screen, such as a Zacuto Z-Finder, it’s possible to adjust all your exposure parameters even with the loupe attached, a feature we suspect will appeal to some users.

Connections

The 1D X II has all the video-related connections we would expect to find on a pro-level DSLR, including clean HDMI-out, at frame rates of 23.98p, 24p, 50p/60p, and 50i/60i.

But there's one big 'Gotcha': HDMI-out is limited to 1080 resolution. This is unfortunate as the camera is capable of producing great 4K footage. 4K HDMI-out would facilitate recording to an external device, such as an Atomos Shogun, and also provide a means to bypass the motion jpeg recording format.

The camera has microphone and headphone jacks. Levels for both recording and monitoring can be adjusted easily using silent control while shooting.