Real-world image quality

by Carey Rose

At first blush, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II looks to be a purpose-built sports-shooting machine, like the Nikon D5. But as we've seen, Canon has markedly upped the dynamic range performance of the sensor in this camera, which, for some users, will make it a better all-rounder than the Nikon.

Vroom, vroom: the 1D X Mark II's image quality easily matches the very high bar set by its performance figures. Tamron SP 90mm VC F2.8 Macro @ F8 | 1/125 sec | ISO 200. Photo by Carey Rose

In the process of tweaking their sensor for low ISO performance, it seems as though Canon's color processing has changed very slightly. Warmer tones and yellows in particular are just a bit less rich compared to the Nikon D5's output, and very slightly less so than the 5D Mark III. As for how this plays out in the real world? Well, there's no denying that the 1D X Mark II still offers exceptional color performance, but I mainly found the auto white balance to skew my out-of-camera JPEGs toward the cool side.

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

Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L II IS @ F8 | 1/250 sec | ISO 100. Photo by Carey Rose

To get a lot of that warm color magic back, I frequently felt I had to go into the Raw file to access it. Take the above image, for example. Editing is a matter of personal taste, but I found the auto white balance a bit too cool, and though there are plenty of blacks around the frame, the image still feels flat. Adding in some warmth, contrast and a bit of vibrance in Raw fixed it right up for me.

However, no surprise, the Canon's high-ISO noise reduction in JPEGs performs fairly well.

While the 1D X II handles colors and noise reduction well at higher ISO values, it unfortunately can't fix your compositions for you. Canon EF 50mm F1.4 @ F1.4 | 1/125 sec | ISO 12800. Photo by Carey Rose

The 1D X II does a good job of getting rid of large swaths of noise in your images - particularly considering the likely size these images will be viewed at - while retaining acceptable levels of what detail there is from the wide-open 50mm lens. What's more, colors remain pleasingly true to life and in this case, the auto white balance did great.

But the big news for the 1D X II is its dynamic range performance, and chiefly, how it deals with noise in shadow regions as you lift them up in Raw.

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

Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM II @ F2.8 | 1/3200 sec | ISO 200. Photo by Carey Rose.

The above image is a great example of exposing for the highlights to lose as little of them as possible, which will then allow you to pull up shadows in post. This particular image was boosted 2.25 stops, highlights pulled back down some, and shadows boosted up. This isn't as extreme an edit as some people might routinely do, but it's a good realistic example that shows that the 1D X II files hold their own despite some pretty heavy pushing and pulling in Raw.

The wrap

After shooting thousands of frames with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, there are a couple things I've found consistent. It is a matter of taste, but I am personally not enamored with the JPEG engine and default auto white balance behavior. If I were a press shooter sending off batches of out-of-camera JPEGs using the camera's built-in ethernet port, that would be a bummer for me - I'd need to spend some time playing with the JPEG settings to get the contrast, saturation and white balance all dialed in. The noise reduction generally works well, and though it can smudge away fine detail if you look closely, that's not quite as important when your JPEGs are being viewed at small sizes on the web or in print.

On the other hand, the Raws are something to behold. The overall color is still second-to-none and the malleability of the 1D X II's files, especially from a noise perspective on low ISO shots, was a pleasant treat after having used the Nikon D5 so extensively (its Raw files contain much more shadow noise at lower ISO values).

The much-improved dynamic range of the 1DX II at lower ISO values makes it a great all-rounder. Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM II @ F8 | 1/400 sec | ISO 100. Photo by Carey Rose

It's that last point - the quality of the low ISO images out of the 1D X II - that cements this camera in my mind as an excellent, albeit big and bulky all-rounder. This contrasts with the Nikon D5 which, though it too has an excellent autofocus system, high ISO quality and high burst rate, doesn't have the outright quality at lower ISO's that many landscape shooters and the like clamor for.

For the photojournalist that shoots peak action but also wants to shoot landscapes on the weekend and have one camera body for it all, the EOS-1D X Mark II is tough to beat.

Check out those deep, rich yellows and reds - shame I had to process out the Raw file to get to them exactly how I like them. Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM II @ F2.8 | 1/4000 | ISO 200. Photo by Carey Rose