Rock Solid: Canon 1D X Mark II Review
With the 1D X Mark II, Canon has revamped its autofocus system. It retains 61 user-selectable points like its predecessor, but they come with a larger vertical spread. Five central points are dual-cross type, offering diagonal cross-sensitivity in addition to traditional cross-sensitivity (both a x sensor and + sensor). The diagonal cross sensors have longer baselines, which means they offer enhanced precision with F2.8 and faster lenses. And they work; with a calibrated lens, these 5 points offer nearly contrast-detect levels of AF precision with fast lenses. The center point is now sensitive down to -3EV.
With the right lenses, all AF points can function at F8, with 27 central points remaining cross-sensitive - particularly relevant to birds-in-flight and wildlife photographers shooting long lenses with teleconverters (there are some restrictions). There's also an updated 360,000 pixel RGB+IR metering sensor that the camera uses in tandem with the AF module in iTR (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition) mode.
As you'd expect, the 1D X II's autofocus systems is highly capable; once you dial it in for your specific situation, you will be greeted with a high quantity of keepers. But there is a flipside to that - as with Canon's other professional offerings, the autofocus system is highly customizable, and getting the absolute best results necessitates some basic knowledge of all the settings, some experimentation, and some time.
Of course, it's natural for the seasoned Canon pro shooter to set up his or her new camera as closely as possible to the previous model - or two or three models back - to make sure to never miss a shot. But in doing so, there's a possibility of missing out on some exciting innovations that could result in both more keepers and different shooting philosophies (better AF accuracy means better luck with wider apertures, as an example).
Canon offers six presets of the AF system's three fine-tuning parameters. Hold the 'info' button, and you'll see that each preset has a description of the type of action it's designed to cover. It's a useful aid to help get you close to the ideal autofocus setup for your particular shooting situation.
|The 1D X II's six presets will be familiar to all 1D X users. They're a means of getting close to the ideal setup of the three tracking parameters, based on the type of movement you're trying to shoot.|
Despite the (at first) daunting complexity of the setup system, it's an approach that makes a lot of sense - three variables with multiple settings, each of which can have quite a significant impact on your hit rate. Unfortunately, that adds up to 75 possible combinations, which we've seen can be difficult to get right and easy to get wrong without a degree of guidance - further reinforcing the usefulness of the six case presets.
But don't forget - to help you further dial the camera in for your particular shooting scenario, you'll need to pay some attention to the autofocus area modes (AF Point Selection in Canon vernacular) as well.
Autofocus Point Selection
There are six autofocus 'cases' that serve to fine-tune the performance of the 1D X II's autofocus tracking behavior, there are six AF area selection modes for you to choose from as well.
- Single-point Spot AF allows you to manually select a single point, which will only focus based on a very narrow area. It's great for pinpoint accuracy, such as a subject's eye, even through something like a motorcycle helmet, or a small bird surrounded by branches. It is not recommended for moving subjects.
- Single-point AF functions identically to the previous mode, but with a less narrow area. It's more suitable for focusing on still life or an eye during traditional portraiture (Single AF), or continuously focusing (AI Servo) on a subject that is easy for you to follow. This is the default mode of focusing.
- AF Point Expansion works with either four or eight additional autofocus points surrounding the point you've manually chosen. This is an ideal mode for shooting sports - if you accidentally let your chosen AF point slip off your subject, the camera will (depending on the case you've chosen) attempt to use the additional four or eight 'helper' points to intelligently determine whether you wish to keep focus on that subject, or re-focus onto a new subject. It's most suited for moving subjects in AI Servo, as the system can get distracted for still life or portraiture in Single AF - it might not acquire focus exactly on a subject's eye, for example.
- Zone AF divides the camera's 61 autofocus points into nine zones which are user-selectable, and is again meant for continuous focusing on moving subjects. According to Canon, it's useful for larger subjects or subjects moving over a larger area, as the camera decides where to focus within that chosen zone. It's not great for situations where obstacles might block your subject.
- 61-point Automatic Selection AF works as you might guess - it lets the camera do the work. In Single AF, it will automatically select an AF point(s) for you, based on information from both the AF module and the metering sensor. In AI Servo, it'll do the same, but use those same two modules to intelligently shift the AF point(s) to stick to your subject as it moves (and the system will give priority to faces if you have this option enabled in the menus). Changing a menu option allows you to specify the initial subject yourself by selecting an AF point and placing it over that subject before initiating focus. This is most similar in practice to Nikon's 3D Tracking in that it allows you to constantly reframe your composition without having to move the autofocus points or follow the action manually.
So, as stated earlier, that's a lot to keep in mind while shooting. Of course, depending on how wide (or narrow) a variety of subjects you shoot, you may find one or two modes that work well for you most of the time - but it does take some understanding of what exactly the adjustment parameters do so that you can adjust them if you're noticing the AF system struggling with your subject. Basically, it pays to read the manual.
Subject tracking with iTR
As stated in our Nikon D5 review, the depth tracking abilities (refocusing on approaching or receding subjects) of flagship DSLR cameras have been very good and very reliable for a long time - so long as you've dialed in your case settings properly anyway. We still shoot with and test these modes, but we pay a bit more attention to what's arguably more new and novel, especially for DSLRs - subject tracking through the viewfinder.
But if you can follow the action yourself perfectly well, why even bother with subject tracking? Strictly speaking, you may not need subject tracking, but it does open up some creative possibilities.
|For this image, the camera was set to center point with AF Expansion (top, bottom, left and right) and Case 4. Processed to taste from Raw. Canon 70-200mm F2.8L II @ 200mm | F2.8 | 1/800 sec | ISO 10000. Photo by Carey Rose|
In the above image, focus was maintained by keeping the center cluster of AF points over the player in white, with the camera set to an AF Expansion area mode, and not using the full spread with iTR. With iTR, and the full spread of AF points, it would have been possible to let the camera track that player on its own by automatically switching autofocus points. In doing so, it would have been possible to recompose the scene so that player could be on the left side of the frame, the goalie would be in the middle and his arm wouldn't have been cut off, and it would have been possible to get some of the net on the right side of the frame for more context.
There is a counterargument to be made here, though: a more 'seasoned' soccer shooter may have been able to better predict this play, and move the cluster of AF points manually off to the left to get the same framing without having to rely on iTR. But in the heat of action, a camera can be far faster at doing so than you, particularly if you're not an expert on the movement and strategies of your subjects. And in such cases, iTR has merit.
For an example outside the world of sports, combine 61-point iTR with F8 autofocus and you have a compelling tool for focusing on and tracking birds in flight. Where it may be difficult for a photographer to manually keep a single point centered over a fast or erratic bird with a longer lenses with teleconverters, it can be rather easy for a capable phase-detect AF system to understand that a subject that was 30m away and under the left-most AF point has now moved to the center point - because the left-point is now registering infinity while the center point is now registering 29m.
And that's the real story about why subject tracking is important - it can lessen the stringent requirement of keeping an AF point strictly over your subject. What's more, even for fast moving subjects, having more compositional freedom will often result in a very different photograph. But, as we saw with the D5's 3D Tracking, Canon's iTR isn't infallible. We'll get into how it performs in the real world a little more on the following pages.
iTR vs Nikon '3D Tracking'
Compared to Nikon's 3D Tracking, though, Canon's iTR works a little differently. While Nikon's system chooses a single point that sticks to a subject with remarkable tenacity, Canon's iTR uses almost a 'cloud' of AF points that tend to be a little less 'sticky' with regard to the exact spot on your subject where you initiated tracking.
We've found that Canon's iTR works very well with subjects that are some distance away (shot with telephoto lenses) versus subjects that are closer up (shot with wider lenses), which to us indicates the system is biased slightly more towards the AF module's depth information than the pattern recognition that's theoretically possible via the high-resolution metering sensor. We had hoped the jump to a 360k-pixel metering sensor would spell more pinpoint accuracy for the system, but it still displays the lack of specificity we observed with the 5DS - unable, for example, to track the eye of a subject you initiated focus on. It also exhibits some strange behavior, occasionally refocusing to such an extreme that the whole scene is out of focus, before then refocusing properly - something we've tended to observe consistently across recent Canon DSLRs.
So while the 1DX II's autofocus system works appreciably better than any other Canon camera in iTR mode, and indeed often works very well, it's still behind Nikon's 3D Tracking in terms of dependability - meaning you'll have to gauge whether or not it truly offers enough advantages over single or expanded point AF modes to merit using. iTR doesn't display the level of consistency we'd like to see from a subject tracking system. Even with the same subject or situation, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Despite the updated autofocus module and metering sensor, the actual focus modes and area options are identical to the original 1D X (or 7D Mark II for that matter). As such, if you have a preferred set of parameters that works well for you, dialing in the same settings in on the 1D X II should work just fine.
In our experience, we chose to use the built-in guide on the 1D X II to help us decide what case to use as a starting point for what we were photographing, and then some quick Googling to see what area mode Canon recommends.
For soccer, for example, we used Case 4, and AF Expansion with four additional points around the user-selected point (we also used iTR for testing purposes as well). For photographing a rodeo, we used Cases 1 and 4 at default settings, and experimented with Case 6 with 'Accel / Decel Tracking' boosted one notch (also with AF expansion). Without that 'Accel / Decel Tracking' adjustment, we noticed that the AF system seemed to lag slightly behind very fast moving - particularly erratic - subjects. Once we made that adjustment though, the system had no trouble keeping up.
There's a tradeoff to this though - once you've biased the system for fast and erratic moving subjects, the camera becomes a little 'jumpy'. This can be particularly problematic with static subjects, occasionally resulting in slightly out-of-focus images, but even with moving subjects, where focus can momentarily wander well off your subject. For static subjects, at least, you can assign a custom button to switch from AI Servo to One Shot AF, which reliably locks focus with a very high degree of accuracy, even if you haven't changed the case settings you're in. If you have time, it's also best to switch to single-point AF, as using the expansion settings (particularly 61-point iTR) on static subjects can also result in very slight mis-focus, due to the unreliability of the subject tracking system we alluded to above.
AF in Live View
Live view autofocus on the 1D X Mark II functions very much the same as it does on the older 7D Mark II, which is to say it's very, very good thanks to Dual Pixel AF. The 1D-X II adds touch functionality similar to the 80D. You can tap to move the area of focus, as well as pick a subject for the camera to track. Unfortunately, focus locks as soon as you hit the shutter, so you cannot track a moving subject, or get continuous AF during bursts. A shame, given how good Dual Pixel is at subject tracking.
It's worth noting that Dual Pixel AF in Live View is incredibly accurate, thanks to focusing using the very image sensor taking the image, and the fact that on-sensor PDAF tends to generally be insensitive to residual spherical aberration. If you're having difficulty achieving accurate focus at a wide aperture due to focus accuracy issues (lens/body miscalibration), you can quickly switch to Live View. Helpfully, face detection is very accurate in this mode.
And with that, let's take a look at how the 1D X II performed in the real world.
Canon's mirrorless EOS R5 comes with a ton of features and capability stemming from its design inside and out. Come along with us on a guided tour of Canon's new high-end, high-megapixel camera and check it out for yourself.
Announced alongside the EOS R5, the R6 offers a lot of the same technology but in a more affordable, slightly more enthusiast-focused model. Take a closer look.
Alongside the EOS R5 and R6, Canon has announced a brace of lenses, all in the short to long telephoto range. Filling out the 'long' end are one L-series zoom, and two innovative primes.
Alongside a trio of telephoto lenses, Canon also announced a new 85mm this week. The RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM is a compact, affordable alternative to the pro-oriented 85mm F1.2L.
The EOS R5 has been a long time coming – we knew it had 8K and we knew it had an AF joystick. But now that's it's here, what is it really like to use? Find out in our initial review based on hands-on time with the camera.
The R6 doesn't promise quite such headline-grabbing specs as its big brother, but it still packs a punch, whether you shoot stills, video or both.
Think you've read everything there is to know about the new Canon cameras? Chris and Jordan share eight important things you may have missed from today's Canon EOS R5 and R6 announcements.
We've been shooting around with the new Canon EOS R6. Initial impressions of image quality are positive, and out-of-camera JPEGs appear similar to that of the gold award-winning Canon EOS-1D X III. Have a look for yourself.
Canon has officially released the long-awaited EOS R5, the company's top-end full-frame mirrorless camera. Featuring a new 45MP CMOS sensor, Dual Pixel AF II system, 8K video capture and 20 fps bursts, this is the RF-mount camera we've been waiting for.
Although the Canon EOS R6 doesn't have the 45MP sensor and 8K video capture of the higher-end R5, it's still an incredibly capable camera with specs that outshine similarly priced peers.
The Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM is the company's first super-zoom lens for RF-mount. Despite a relatively slow aperture range, it's very versatile, offering five stops of stabilization, weather-sealing and compatibility with Canon's new teleconverters.
Canon's RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM is an inexpensive telephoto prime lens with a minimum focus distance of just 0.35m (14") and a 0.5x magnification. When attached to the new R5 and R6, it offers a whopping eight stops of shake reduction.
Canon has announced a pair of super-telephoto fixed-aperture primes. The 600mm and 800mm use diffractive optics to keep their size and weight down. They'll also be compatible with new 1.4x and 2x RF teleconverters.
Canon has announced a new small-footprint inkjet photo printer, the imageProGraf Pro-300. it will produce prints up to 13 x 19" and it goes on sale later this month for $900. A new textured photo paper will also arrive in July.
The new compression standard is set to reduce video file sizes by half to save space and speed-up transmission, paving the way for more portable 8K footage.
Sony recently confirmed plans to launch a successor to the video-centric a7S II. We don't even know the name of the camera, but Jordan already has a feature wish list for the new 'a7S III' – and it doesn't include 8K.
The Profot B10 is the first studio flash system that can be used when shooting with an iPhone camera.
The Pixii camera is an interesting little rangefinder camera that features a 12MP APS-C sensor and lacks a rear LCD display, opting instead to pair with your mobile device, which can be used to view and transfer images.
Sirui is launching an Indiegogo campaign for a wide-angle answer to its existing 50mm F1.8 anamorphic lens. The 35mm APS-C lens will come in a Micro Four Thirds mount with adapters for other systems.
Sony has added a 12-24mm F2.8 to its top-shelf 'G Master' series of lenses. It's the widest constant F2.8 zoom currently offered for full-frame, with a hefty price tag to match: it will sell for $3000 when it ships in mid-August.
Take a look at the view from Sony's new ultra-wide F2.8 zoom – we paired it with the a7R IV for some initial shooting.
Canon's EOS-1D X Mark III is one of the best DSLRs ever made. With fast burst speeds, great video quality and impressive autofocus, the 1D X III is equal parts cinema rig and sports shooter. Find out how it fares against steep competition in our full review.
Nikon Rumors is reporting that Nikon will announce successors to its Z6 and Z7 camera systems by the end of the calendar year.
Canon says the event, set to take place at 14:00 CEST in two days on July 9, will be its 'biggest product launch yet.'
The Verge Video Director, Becca Farsace, shows how she built a custom Raspberry Pi camera with effectively zero coding knowledge over the course of just three days.
The EOS R5 has been in the works for some time, and Canon has published a handful of specifications, but there's still plenty we don't know. What are you hoping to see from Canon's forthcoming flagship camera?
Canon's CE-SAT-IB satellite camera was destroyed alongside six other satellites during Rocket Lab's ironically-named 'Pics or It Didn't Happen Mission.'
This sample gallery includes images from our recent review of the Tamron 28-200mm F2.8-5.6 Di III RXD zoom lens. Check out these photos to see how it performs, from wide-angle to telephoto and everything in between.
The Tamron 28-200mm F2.8-5.6 Di III RXD provides a wide zoom range in compact, weather-sealed design. Find out why it's Chris and Jordan's new favorite travel lens.
Kodak Portra 800 is a wonderful and versatile color film. And any rumors of it being discontinued, we're pleased to report, are simply untrue. That's a good thing, because it's capable of producing lovely results in all sorts of conditions.