Conclusion

Pros Cons
  • 20.2MP CMOS full frame sensor with Dual-Pixel autofocus
  • 14fps continuous shooting (16fps in live view)
  • 4K frame grab allows for an effective 60 fps burst rate, with AF
  • Shortest viewfinder blackout times in industry
  • Virtually unlimited Raw buffer with CFast cards
  • Fast 61-point AF system with 24% more coverage than previous model
  • All AF points work down to F8 with proper lens/teleconverter combos
  • Center 5 AF points offer high precision with F2.8 and faster lenses
  • AF points can be configured to stay illuminated in dark
  • Highly customizable AF use cases
  • Improved base ISO dynamic range compared to previous Canon DSLRs
  • 360,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor
  • Spot-metering linked to AF point
  • Touchscreen with tap-to-focus
  • Configurable Q menu
  • 4K/60p video
  • Outstanding AF performance in video
  • Flicker detection
  • USB 3.0
  • Optimization of AF settings takes practice and experience
  • iTR subject tracking lacks precision and reliability compared to some peers
  • iTR optimized for erratic subjects can lead to intermittent mis-focus
  • AI Servo unavailable for stills in Live View (using Dual-Pixel AF)
  • CF compatibility can limit performance when using two cards
  • Touchscreen functionality limited
  • 4K video limited to Motion JPEG
  • 4K/60p video requires CFast card
  • No Log gamma, focus peaking, or zebras for video
  • HDMI-out limited to 1080 video
  • Custom Controls would benefit from a comprehensive option list per-button

Overall conclusion

It may surprise some people to realize that the 1D series now dates back 15 years, beginning with the original Canon-1D in 2001. During that time there have been numerous advances in image quality, performance, and even entirely new features, such as video. What's remained consistent, however, is an emphasis on being a dependable workhorse that performs day-in, day-out without surprises.

The 1D X II is virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor. Pros who are used to shooting with a 1D-series camera should feel right at home.

The 1D X II follows perfectly in this tradition. Visually, it's almost indistinguishable from its predecessor, while on paper it gains just two megapixels of resolution. To a large degree, that's where the similarities end. It has a faster AF system with significantly wider coverage and improved subject tracking. All AF points function down to F8 (with compatible lens/teleconverter combos), which is great for wildlife photographers. It even features improved dynamic range thanks to on-chip analog-to-digital conversion, and a virtually unlimited Raw buffer when shooting with a CFast card. But wait, there's more! It's also the first full frame Canon DSLR to include the company's superb dual-pixel autofocus system, and it shoots impressively high quality 4K video. It's a noteworthy upgrade to an already great camera.

Like any camera, it has some tradeoffs - though the list is relatively short. Its iTR AF system, while very good, still doesn't track subjects as well as the Nikon D5's industry-leading 3D tracking autofocus. It lags the D5 by a fraction in terms of high ISO performance but it actually pulls ahead of that camera when it comes to dynamic range at base ISO, significantly. Also, while it produces some of the best 4K video we've seen from a DSLR, the feature set included for serious video shooters is surprisingly shallow.

Fundamentally, this is a camera that can do most things well, and many things exceedingly well. But as with any tool, whether it works for you always comes down to your requirements.

Body and handling

The 1D X II is every bit as solid (and borderline-indestructible) as one would expect from Canon's top of the line pro camera. Beyond a new Live View/Video switch, it's a natural evolution of the series. Most current 1D series users will, by design, be able to pick up the camera, dial in their favorite settings, and start shooting, barely noticing that they're using a new camera.

The updated Live View/Video switch is about the only external hardware change on the 1D X II.

However, while we understand this conservative approach to changes, we worry that it can limit development. Case in point: the 1DX II gains a touchscreen, yet makes less use of it than the EOS 80D. It can't be used to navigate menus, change settings in live view, or for reviewing images. This approach ensures continuity but risks locking users out of potentially useful features as well. It would be great if there were at least an option to enable additional touchscreen functionality. It seems like a missed opportunity.

Performance and autofocus

Overall performance from the EOS-1D X Mark II is, as expected from a flagship action-shooting machine, blazing. Startup is immediate, shutter lag seems nonexistent and viewfinder blackout is incredibly short. Following subjects in the viewfinder while motoring away at 14fps with full autofocus and autoexposure is a breeze.

The continued support of CompactFlash (CF) alongside the faster CFast format risks holding the camera back. Using a CF card slows buffer clearing times if the camera writes Raws to that slot, whereas CFast’s extra speed means you’re unlikely to ever fill the buffer.

AF on the 1D X II can be very effective, but you'll need to pay attention to your AF case mode (and possibly customize it) to get the best results. 55mm @F2.8 | 1/250 sec | ISO 6400 Photo by Carey Rose

In terms of autofocus, the 1D X Mark II's autofocus has been updated with slightly improved coverage, a faster processor and input from a more detailed metering sensor. From this you get one of the best autofocus systems on the market. You do need to pay careful attention to your AF case mode, and even customization of the individual parameters therein to get the best out of it – indeed, even small adjustments can mean bursts of images where, bizarrely, nothing is in focus – but once you’ve taken the time to figure out what works best for your particular shooting scenario, it’s capable of great things from the soccer pitch to the rodeo arena.

Despite the highest-resolution metering sensor ever placed into a DSLR, the 1D X II's iTR (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition) subject tracking is still a step behind the Nikon D5's 3D Tracking in terms of reliability. It's an improvement over the original 1D X, though, and can be useful for those needing to follow unpredictable action. But if you can follow the action yourself with a chosen AF point or zone, the camera will reward you with a very high amount of in-focus 'keepers.'

The Dual-Pixel autofocus system in live view brings face detection and subject tracking across most of the frame when shooting single shots where precision is paramount. The advantages of this become even more paramount when you pair it with 4K/60p video recording, since effectively you're capturing 60 8.8MP JPEG stills every second while accurately tracking a subject. And since it's completely silent, this could be equally handy for fast-action sports as well as, say, a formal wedding ceremony.

Real-world image quality

Canon has been making strides in its sensor technology, resulting in markedly increased dynamic range at low ISO values compared to its predecessor. Although this is useful for more 'dramatic' pushes and pulls of a Raw file, even those making smaller adjustments may see a reduction in image noise. The extended latitude also allows higher ISO shooters to safely dial back exposure to preserve highlights, boosting darker tones in post-processing of the Raw. While there are still cameras out there that offer even greater dynamic range, none of them will do so at 14 frames per second - and notably, the dynamic range at lower ISO values is superior to that of the D5. And, though the D5 pulls ahead as ISO values climb, the 1D X II performs admirably well.

Out-of-camera JPEG Processed to taste from Adobe Camera Raw

A practical application of the 1D X II's improved dynamic range. Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM II @ F2.8 | 1/3200 sec | ISO 200. Photo by Carey Rose.

JPEGs tended to skew a bit to the cool and flat side (adjusting auto white balance will bring some more warmth back in, though), and the simplistic noise reduction at high ISO values means it's beneficial to edit the Raws to get the very best from the camera. Of course, you can adjust the JPEG parameters, but default output is a bit flatter than we're used to seeing on Canon DSLRs.

Warmer tones, particularly yellows, are just slightly less 'rich' than some previous Canon DSLRs (and in comparison with the Nikon D5). You're still able to get excellent, Canon-esque color from the 1D X Mark II though, but sometimes you might need to go into the Raw files to get it.

The headline feature here is 4K video, but given that most buyers of this camera are likely to be existing 1D X users, or users coming from a similar system, Canon has provided a video feature set that's a good match for those particular users.

The ability to shoot 4K/60p video is unique among still cameras. It's very usable straight out of camera, requires little or no post processing to look good, and rolling shutter is very well controlled. From a pure quality perspective, the camera is among the best-in-class.

The 1D X II is capable of producing some of the best 4K video we've seen from a stills camera, and benefits greatly from Canon's dual-pixel autofocus. (You may need to use Google's Chrome browser to view this video in 4K.) Video by Dale Baskin

Of course, that only matters if you can get the shot, and with the 1D X II you probably can. Dual-pixel autofocus is the best video AF system we've used, meaning it's easy to get your subject in focus and keep it there. Plus, the touchscreen allows you to execute accurate and natural looking focus pulls.

Experienced videographers, however, may find the feature set isn't as deep as they would like. The camera lacks basic video functions like focus peaking, zebras, or a Log gamma profile, and 4K video can only be recorded using the Motion JPEG format. Also, while there is HDMI-out, the camera won't output 4K video.

The 1D X II captures some of the nicest 4K video we've seen from a stills camera, and is competitive with full frame models such as the Sony a7S II and Nikon D5. It doesn't have a deep set of video features, but users who just need to nail the shot and get great video, even if the subject is moving, will appreciate Canon's approach here.

Final Word

It may not look that different than its predecessor, but the Canon EOS 1D X II brings numerous improvements under the surface. It gains an updated AF system that makes it easier to nail off-center shots. It also has the latest version of Canon’s iTR subject tracking system which, while not as effective as the Nikon D5's, can be useful once you’ve learned its foibles. There’s also a virtually bottomless Raw buffer that clears instantly when shooting with a CFast card.

On the image quality side of things, Canon has stepped up its game with a new sensor with much more dynamic range than before. It also bests the Nikon D5 in this area, though the D5 maintains an edge at high ISO settings. It's also worth noting that Canon's JPEG images seem a bit flatter and less saturated than we've seen in the past.

Probably the most striking change is the addition of 4K/60p video. And not just 4K video, but great 4K video. The video toolset isn't as deep as some video professionals might want, but Canon seems to have found the right balance of features and performance to appeal to the type of shooters who will use this camera. It's extremely easy to get high quality, natural looking video with a minimum of effort.

Ultimately, the EOS 1D X II is exactly what we would have expected from Canon: a (literally) rock solid successor to the 1D X that will get the job done for pros, day-in and day-out, with improved performance and compelling new features designed to appeal to its target audience. Expect to see a lot of them at the Olympics in Rio this summer, and for good reason. Nice job, Canon.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
Category: Professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The EOS 1D X Mark II is a worthy successor to Canon's 1D series of professional cameras. It gains an improved AF system with greater coverage, significantly improved dynamic range, and a virtually limitless Raw buffer when shooting with CFast cards. Additionally, the camera now includes top notch 4K video with beautiful color straight out of the camera. When combined with Canon's class leading dual-pixel AF system for video, it's easy to get great video without being an expert. This is a camera that sports, action, and event photographers will love.
Good for
Sports photographers, event photographers, anyone who needs great quality video without a lot of work
Not so good for
Videographers who require a deep feature set
89%
Overall score

Field Test: DPReview goes to the rodeo

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