Our latest test scene simulates both daylight and low-light shooting. Pressing the 'lighting' buttons at the top of the widget switches between the two. The daylight scene is manually white balanced to give neutral grays, but the camera is left in its Auto setting for the low-light tests. Raw files are manually white-balanced. We offer three different viewing sizes: 'Full', 'Print', and 'Comp', with the latter two offering 'normalized' comparisons by using matched viewing sizes. The 'Comp' option chooses the highest-available resolution common to the cameras being compared.

JPEG images are shot at default settings, while Raw files are converted using a standardized process in Adobe Camera Raw.

High ISO Performance

Although the 1D-X II shows significant increase in dynamic range at low ISOs in our dynamic range tests, high ISO Raw performance only sees small gains over its predecessor, which is actually impressive considering the 1D-X II gains Dual Pixel architecture for decisive live view and video AF. Noise performance falls ever-so-slightly behind the Nikon D5 at very high ISOs, falling in-line more with normalized results from the 42MP Sony a7R II. At these very high ISOs, JPEGs suffer a bit as well, with the a7R II showing the most detail retention in grey tones and in low contrast greenery, despite all cameras starting off with similar detail in Raw. Sony's clever sharpening and context-sensitive noise reduction help it establish its lead, but the Nikon D5 isn't too far behind. Canon's noise reduction is, in comparison, less aggressive overall, but smudges away low contrast detail. While on the surface this may not seem an ideal combination, it's a fair choice in the sense that it avoids obvious noise reduction artifacts.

Color

Color-wise, saturation is dialed down slightly from the 1D X, and a bit more so from the 5D Mark III, yielding less saturated blues, greens, and yellows - even compared to the Nikon D5. The decreased saturation is a trend we've noted in recent Canon DSLRs. At default settings, warmth is preserved under tungsten lighting, though you can set the camera to neutralize warm colors (which the 1D X tended to by default).

Sharpening

Canon's latest JPEG engines have opted for fairly large radius sharpening of JPEGs - like the Nikon D5 - and can lead to some obvious sharpening halos around edges. Interestingly, these halos appear less obvious in 5DS images viewed at common viewing size, because the same large radius sharpening proportionally affects less of the photo with the higher resolution sensor of the 5DS. Sharpening halos are completely absent in Sony a7R II JPEGs, because of a more refined sharpening engine. Ultimately, large radius sharpening is accompanied by a fine detail cost relative to the Raw file, or when compared to the finer radius sharpening of the Sony a7R II or a7 II - both of which retain most of the fine detail available in the original Raw.

Summary

While the EOS-1D X II shows big improvements in base ISO dynamic range relative to previous Canons, high ISO performance only sees small gains, falling very slightly behind the Nikon D5, and showing little to no benefit over the higher resolution Sony a7R II at common viewing size. Put another way, there's not much between each company's flagship cameras with respect to noise in low light.

This is actually more impressive than it sounds: it's highly commendable that Canon has achieved this level of sensor performance while splitting photodiodes to achieve Dual Pixel AF, which enables groundbreaking video autofocus. At this point, we're only likely to see significant improvements in high ISO noise by increasing sensor size, or by going to a backside-illuminated architecture (which helps the two-fold higher resolution a7R II to compete with respect to low light performance)

JPEG colors are a bit muted relative to predecessors, but the 1D-X II still has those pleasing Canon colors we, and many, know and love. Sharpening is a bit heavy-handed, sacrificing fine detail for punch. Noise reduction is well-controlled, but the lack of context-sensitivity and smudging of low contrast detail mean that high ISO JPEGs are neither the cleanest, nor retain the most detail, when compared to peers.