Rock Solid: Canon 1D X Mark II Review
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II ably carries on the tradition set forth by its 1D predecessors. In other words, this camera is big and fast, with enough battery to easily last you a day filled with 14 fps bursts shot through a viewfinder that has incredibly short blackout times. None of this is really news, but it does speak to the continued relevancy of bulky DSLRs for those that need outright performance, reliability and durability under any conditions.
The 1D X II powers up instantly, and is ready to capture fleeting moments at any time. Shooting with a CFast card means long continuous bursts if you need them, with the buffer clearing incredibly quickly.
There is a CFast-related caveat, though. The 1D X II comes with dual-card formats, meaning that if you shoot overflow, or backup, or send JPEGs to one card and Raws to the other, you'll potentially be missing out on the best performance the camera has to offer. Even the market's fastest CF cards will lower your write speeds dramatically, and therefore your continuous shooting performance noticeably.
But we'll look more in depth at that further down the page. First, let's take a look at one of the 1DX II's main party pieces - shooting at 14fps with a live view through the optical viewfinder.
Similarly to our experience with the Nikon D5, Canon's 1D X II offers a mind-blowing burst rate. Of course, it might not seem all that exciting anymore since there are a number of consumer-level and up mirrorless cameras that shoot many photos in a row with a similar (or even faster) outright speed, but the 1D X II allows you to follow the action through an optical viewfinder with full autoexposure and pro-level autofocus capability.
|Almost there.||Just right!||Eh, not quite.|
Photos processed to taste from Raw. Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L II IS @ F4 | 1/1600 sec | ISO 400. Photos by Carey Rose.
The above images are three consecutive frames from a 14 fps burst as the bull and rider tore out of the gate. At 174mm, the lens was very near the end of the zoom range in order to minimize cropping. But there's a price to pay for that - for the first image, the rider's hand is cut off, and in the last image, the positioning left the bull's head partially obscured by the rodeo clown.
But with 14 fps, the camera made it possible to capture that one moment in the middle where the important parts of the image are all in frame. The rider's hand is still elevated but not cut off, the bull is frozen but clearly in the midst of quick motion, and we can see the cowboy just behind who had opened the gate but not even had time to react and turn his head yet. The left side of the rodeo clown might be cut off, but at least the top of his hat made it all the way in the frame.
It's obviously not impossible to get similar results with a smaller, less expensive and less sports-oriented camera, but it might involve pre-focusing and firing off a burst. The real point here is that the 1D X II makes this sort of shooting easier than many other cameras, which then allows you to focus less on making the camera work for you and more on the moments around you that are quickly passing you by.
What about 16 fps?
Like the Nikon D5, the EOS 1D X II allows you to boost its burst rate by shooting with the mirror up. Unlike the Nikon, though, the Canon is much more usable in this mode because it allows you to at least see an almost-live slideshow of the images you're shooting on the rear monitor, whereas the Nikon only shows you images from the burst after you've finished shooting.
That said, you are still unable to follow a subject as easily as you could 14 fps, and you don't get to use the revamped phase-detection autofocus system since it's blocked by the mirror. But for users setting up remote rigs or for extremely fast moving subjects where every fraction of a second counts, it's likely to be a useful capability.
Continuous shooting - measured
After buffer testing the 1D X Mark II, Nikon's 'arbitrary' 200-shot limit on continuous shooting on the D5 starts to make a lot more sense. But as we alluded to earlier, you'll want to be careful with how you set up the camera to record to the cards if you want to get the most out of it.
Here's how it looks using a Lexar Professional 3500X (525 MB per second) CFast 2.0 card:
|Quality||Burst rate||Buffer depth|
|Raw + Large fine JPEG||16 fps (mirror up)||~140 shots|
|Raw + Large fine JPEG||14 fps||~240 shots|
|Raw only||14 fps||Unlimited (500+ shots)|
|Large fine JPEG only||
It's worth noting that there was a lot of variation. Over six trials doing Raw + JPEG at 14 fps, the 1D X II varied from 205 shots to 282 shots (240 is an average). What's more, shooting only Raw files varied from 514 all the way up to 1,321 shots (no, that is not a typo, and yes, that is a stupidly long burst).
Crunching those numbers, we can see that all this adds up to almost 9 seconds of continuous Raw + JPEG shooting at 16 fps, and about 17 seconds of shooting at 14 fps.
But when you bring a normal CF card into the equation, things change a bit. For this test, we used a Lexar Professional 800x UDMA 7 card. Sure, there are slightly faster cards at 1033x, but we figured this is a speed that is likely to still be popular among those users that have built up a collection.
|Quality||Burst rate||Buffer depth|
|Raw + Large fine JPEG||14 / 16 fps (same results)||~55 shots|
|Raw||14 / 16 fps (same results)||~78 shots|
|Large fine JPEG only||
14 /16 fps (same results)
|Unlimited (500+ shots)|
So, that's quite a difference. Are those still good-sized bursts? Sure. Will most people, even professional users of this camera, really need more than 4-6 seconds of burst shooting at a time? Probably not. No, the real story is this:
|Card Type||Buffer clear time|
|CFast||< 2 seconds|
|800x CF||~15 seconds|
No matter how long your burst is with a CFast (and we're including the 1,321 shot burst referenced above), it will finish writing to the card in under two seconds after it slows down from hitting the buffer. That's insane, albeit similar to the performance we see with XQD cards on the Nikon D5/D500.
On the other hand, waiting 15 seconds for a buffer to clear with a CF card can be problematic if you're shooting several quick bursts in succession, or (heaven forbid) if you want to chimp to make sure you got the right shot before moving on. You'll still be able to manipulate settings and enter menus, but seeing all those images in playback - particularly the last image you shot - can take some time.
This raises one potential pitfall of the idea of mis-matched card slots, especially when there is such an enormous performance gulf between them. You need to make sure that, if you're using a 1D X Mark II with both slots occupied, you have the card-write behavior set up the way you like it. If you have it set to backup every image to each card for example, you'll only be shooting as fast as the CF card allows, which turns out to be a big limitation despite incorporating CFast technology. On the other hand, if you shoot Raws to one card and JPEGs to another, you won't have any problems if you set your JPEGs going to the CF and the Raws to the CFast.
Our initial reaction to this camera's battery life might seem a bit strange, when you compare it to both other DSLRs and mirrorless cameras: '1260 shots? That's it?' This is especially disappointing when compared with the Nikon D5 which is rated almost three times higher from a battery of similar capacity. But these are simply figures from standardized testing, and while such values can be useful for comparison, they're not always a great substitute for some real-world testing.
In the real world, we did see the Canon lag behind the Nikon in terms of outright efficiency, but not by as wide a margin as you might expect. Indeed, we are able to repeatedly log between 2-3000 images on a single battery charge without any issues, though we were routinely able to reach 4-5000 images on the D5. Of course, 3000 images is nothing to sneeze at - and we shot with plenty of bursts, but almost no chimping or live view shooting. Once you mix those into the equation, and you'll predictably see battery life drop. But in the end, the 1D X Mark II continues to offer impressive stamina for professionals shooting all day long.
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