Canon EOS 1Ds Review

I borrowed my friend’s Canon EOS 1Ds Mark I to try for a little while to see what it was all about. While it is not like it’s newer and better son, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, it definitely is no slouch either. Let me repeat, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark I is still a very capable and useful SLR today even though it’s nearly 6 years old.



Released back in 2002, the Canon EOS 1Ds was Canon’s flagship model and first digital full frame sensor (35.8 x 23.8 mm) SLR on the market with a cost of nearly $8,000 (which is about the same price as the new Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III when initially released. So what did you get for $8,000? Here’s a brief preview:

  • 11.4 megapixel CMOS sensor (JPEG pixel dimensions: 4,064 x 2,704)
  • ISO 100-1250 in 1/3 steps (with ISO 50 as a custom function)
  • 4 sRGB settings and 1 Adobe RGB
  • 45 AF points
  • Evaluative, Partial, Spot (3 modes), and Center Weighted Metering modes
  • 2.0″ 120,000 pixel LCD
  • 87ms mirror black-out
  • 30 to 1/8,000 sec shutter speeds with bulb
  • 3 frames-per-second (FPS) for up to 10 JPEGs or RAW

For more in-depth features, you can check out DPReview’s 1Ds specifications page. Even by today’s standards, some of the features are obviously dated (such as the 2.0″ LCD screen), but it can still hold it’s own at 11 MP with 45 AF points (still the same number of AF points on the new Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III). The only other cameras that has more AF points is Nikon’s recently released D3, D300, and just announced D700. Also worth mentioning is that Canon started the full frame digial sensor with the 1Ds whereas the Nikon has just started with the D3 and D700.

Build Quality

Solid like a tank; it is a 1D series after all. The button layouts next to and under the LCD are identical to the Canon EOS 1D Mark I. So are the buttons on top and the LCD readout panels and also the menu layout.

Here is an example of a very well used and still functioning Canon EOS 1D Mark II by humanitarian photojouranlist, Karl Grobl when he accidentally dropped his 1D with Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM from about 9 feet while seated on an elephant.


The Canon 1Ds is certainly not designed to be a sports camera like it’s brother, the Canon EOS 1D; evidenced by the huge difference in frame rates (3 fps versus 8 fps). That is not to say that it can’t be used in sports, it just takes more patience and timing. People who generally purchase the 1Ds are more interested in maximum quality and thus the resolution is hugely different (11 MP versus 4 MP). The 1Ds definitely shines when it comes to landscape photography, studio work, portrait photography, weddings (formal pictures), etc.

20080630-canon-eos-1ds-007From the moment the camera is turned on to when you can actually take a picture, it usually takes about a second; it’s only marginally faster from sleep to wake. This is horrible if you expect to capture shots quickly when the camera is turned off or asleep. But once awake and during operation, it’s much more responsive. Unfortunately for someone who is used to using a Canon EOS 1D Mark II, the 10 image buffer on the 1Ds fills up quickly. The flush time (the amount of time it takes to write the data from the buffer to the compact flash card) is decent, but definitely shows its age when compared to newer cameras like the Canon EOS Rebel XTi/400D and Canon EOS 1D Mark II.

Like the Canon EOS 1D Mark I, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark I also features an additional external WB sensor. On future 1D/1Ds generations, Canon did away with the external WB sensor. So far I have not noticed any additional benefits of having an additional external white balance sensor or any ill effect, but one person on FredMiranda reports that the external WB sensor can actually have a negative effect:

In my experience, the AWB sensor affected the colors in a bad way as in most cases the light falling on the subject has a different color temperature than that at the camera position. For instance, if you have the sun behind you, the subject is in the sunlight while the sensor is in the shadow. It was a good move from Canon not to continue with it. I find the AWB on my 1Ds2 much better than the 1Ds.

I wonder if Nikon’s external WB sensor helps on their D2x and D2xs?

Forgot about being able to review images on the LCD right after you take them. It usually takes a few seconds from when you take the picture to when it actually displays on the rear LCD. Also because the LCD is only 130,000 pixels, you can’t really judge sharpness or colors. It’s best to rely on the histograms. Plus another major disadvantage of the 1Ds LCD is lack of zoom. You can’t zoom in on any images you take. One good thing about having a crappy SLR LCD such as this is that it makes you more reliant on reading histograms (a good thing) and learning to better judge your settings. The more I continued to use the Canon EOS 1Ds, the less I found I was relying on the LCD to tell me whether or not I was taking a good picture, but rather checking histograms for blown highlights and good exposure. The camera LCD isn’t the best thing to judge sharpness, exposure, or colors because of many factors. For one, the image that is displayed on the rear LCD isn’t even the actual image you took, but rather a low resolution JPEG that is created in camera for the purposes of LCD viewing. That’s why when you try to check sharpness of an image you took and it looks jagged and not quite sharp but later extracted on a computer, it looks perfectly fine, that’s why. Another reason is the color discrepancies between the different models of the same brand! For example, the Canon EOS 5D has a slightly greenish hue to it’s LCD, making images appear a bit more green than let’s say the Canon EOS 30D. While I’m not saying you shouldn’t use the rear LCD, it’s a great feature, just make sure you’re using it for how it works best.

In The Field

During the couple of weeks I had the Canon EOS 1Ds, I did quite a number of photojournalism work such as our office’s employee appreciation day and most notably, the 2008 SF Pride Parade. For the 2008 SF Pride Parade, I was using the 1Ds with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM and the 1D Mark II with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. Having full frame on a super wide angle lens like the 16-35mm allowed me to get shots like this.

Having a full frame SLR allows for some great wide shots especially when in tight situations such as close-up crowds, in small rooms, etc. It’s definitely refreshing when a 16mm lens is actually 16mm and not 20.8mm (1.3x crop factor) or 25.6mm (1.6x crop factor), which may not seem much, but when you get to longer focal lengths like 70mm, on a 1.3x and 1.6x crop sensor becomes 91mm and 112mm, respectively. Although on the flip side, having full frame may not always be advantageous such as when photographing birds or birds in flight, wildlife, and so forth. A full frame SLR requires a longer focal length lens than a 1.6x crop sensor to achieve the same crop.

Noise is problematic for the 1Ds. At ISO 400 and above, noise is quite apparent and gets very bad at ISO 1250. Proper exposure is paramount to keeping noise as low as possible. I highly recommend the technique of Exposing To The Right (ETTR). Software can be used to clean up noise quite well, although at a cost of some sharpness. I personally use Noise Ninja, and would highly recommend them. Here is a 100% crop of a shot of Stripes (our cat) with the 1Ds at 1/25th second at ISO 1000. Here is the same image and crop with Noise Ninja applied using the default 1Ds profile. Here is another example at 1/20th second at ISO 1000 and with Noise Ninja applied.

The 1Ds, shooting in JPEG with sharpness set to level 5 is very sharp; more so than my 1D Mark II, the most likely reason is a weaker AA (anti-aliasing) filter which allows for sharper images at the cost of increased moire. I have noticed that moire is more apparent on the 1Ds. The 1Ds produces very pleasing JPEGs that require little post-processing, provided you get the exposure and white balance correctly. I find at sharpness set to level 5, I rarely have to apply Unsharp Mask in Photoshop whereas on the 1D Mark II at the same sharpness level, I do have to apply Unsharp Mask.

After having used the Canon EOS Rebel XTi/400D for more than a year, picking up a full frame camera with its large and bright viewfinder is a revelation of how truly small and inadequate the 1.6x crop factor viewfinders truly are. The 1Ds, unlike the 5D, has a 100% viewfinder (VF) coverage (the 5D has a 96% coverage) meaning that what you see in the viewfinder is what you get. It’s amazing what a difference of a full frame viewfinder compared to a 1.6x crop sensor viewfinder or even a 1.3x crop sensor viewfinder. The best analogy is with a 1.6x crop viewfinder, it looks like your standing at the beginning of a long tunnel and looking towards the end where there is just some light, but mostly darkness. The 1.3x crop viewfinder feels like you’re in the middle, so the end of the tunnel where the light is fill up more of the darkness and with the full frame viewfinder, you’re right at cusp of the exit, so there is hardly any darkness around.


If you don’t mind the weight (1265g or 2.78lbs), the Canon EOS 1Ds is a great SLR, albeit six years old. Any one who has either used or felt a 1D series camera can attest to the rock solid build quality. These are the kind of cameras that photojournalist use in war zones that can (need to) handle abuse. While it may not necessarily survive a drop, in some cases such as Karl Grobl who dropped his 1D Mark II from an elephant, it will take some degree of abuse, not intentional mind you.

When the 1Ds was first introduced, its asking price was $8,000. Today’s market value is about ~$1850 which is about equivalent to a brand new Canon EOS 5D, the prosumer full frame dSLR.

Noise can be problematic at times, but a noise reduction software such as Noise Ninja can do quite a bit to reduce noise. The camera produces very sharp results because of a weaker AA filter like the Canon EOS 1D Mark I. What is interesting is that normally with a larger sensor (full frame) and decent amount of pixels (~12 MP or less), noise is very well controlled. This is the case with the 5D, but for some reason the 1Ds exhibits quite a bit of noise. Fortunately for the most part, the noise appears in no patterns which makes the images from the 1Ds look like film noise.

So given a choice between a Canon EOS 5D or a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark I, which should one choose? We’ll evaluate the differences and similarities in a future post.

Canon EOS 1Ds Gallery Images

3 thoughts on “Canon EOS 1Ds Review”

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