Canon EOS 1Ds versus Canon EOS 5D

Sometimes new(er) isn’t always better. Take for example: Windows XP versus Windows Vista. Our office (and many others) have refused to make the up(down)grade to Windows Vista because of the slow performance, annoying security policies, and it offers nothing that we don’t already get with XP.

So how does something that is 6 years old like the Canon EOS 1Ds compare to the 3 years old Canon EOS 5D? It’s a tough call, but let’s see why anyone would choose an older SLR over a newer model. It’s worth noting that the only reason we can or even should compare the two cameras is because of the full frame sensor. Also you might be wondering why compare the original 1Ds rather than the newer and better Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II? The Mark II’s price (~$4000) is still significantly above the 5D whereas the original 1Ds’ price (~$1800) has fallen to be right on par with the 5D. Other than that, these two cameras are completely different and serve different purposes.

Comparison Chart

SLR Cameras Canon EOS 1Ds Canon EOS 5D Winner
Year Introduced September 24, 2002 August 22, 2005
Sensor Size 35.8 x 23.8 mm 35.8 x 23.9
Viewfinder 100%, 0.7x magnification 96%, 0.71x magnification 1Ds
Max Resolution 4064 x 2704 4368 x 2912 5D
Megapixels 11.4 12.8 5D
ISO rating 100-1250 in 1/3 stops, with 50 as options 100-1600 in 1/3 stops, with 50 and 3200 as options 5D
Auto Focus type TTL-AREA-SIR 45 focus point CMOS sensor Multi-BASIS TTL 9 focus point CMOS sensor 1Ds
Metering 21 area eval, partial, spot (center, AF point, multi-spot), center weighted average 35 area eval, partial, spot (center), center weighted 1Ds
Crop Factor 1.0 1.0 Tie
Continuous Drive 3 fps for 10 JPEG or 10 RAW 3 fps for 60 JPEG or 17 RAW 5D
Storage Types Compact Flash (Type I or II) Compact Flash (Type I or II) Tie
LCD 2.0 inches 2.5 inches 5D
LCD Pixels 120,000 230,000 5D
Battery Canon Ni-MH NP-E3 (12v 1650mAh) battery Canon Lithium-Ion BP-511 (1390mAh) battery 5D
Weight 1585 g (55.9 oz) 895 g (31.6 oz)
Dimensions 156 x 158 x 80 mm (6.1 x 6.2 x 3.2 in) 152 x 113 x 75 mm (6 x 4.5 x 3 in)

It’s clear that in 3 years, Canon has certainly made improvements: bigger and brighter LCD, better buffer, slightly more megapixelage. While the figures of the Canon EOS 5D certainly *look* better than the old outdated Canon EOS 1Ds, don’t discount the later as being useless. During the time I had the opportunity to try out the 1Ds in many various conditions, I’ve found the 1Ds to be quite a formidable camera that holds its own to the newer models as long as the user was aware of the limitations.

Canon EOS 1Ds Limitations

Let’s examine the limitations of the Canon EOS 1Ds in regards to Canon EOS 5D. One of the biggest differences is the LCD screen size and resolution. The 1Ds sports a 2.0 inch LCD screen with 120,000 pixels making it vastly inferior to the 5D’s 2.5 inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels. This makes reviewing images for colors and sharpness very difficult to do. You can also scroll the image and there is 10x only zoom. Likewise, there is no orientation sensor, so any images taken in portrait orientation will appear as shot in the LCD and will not be auto-rotated as it is with the 5D. Of course all this is a relatively small issue, because it matters more how the camera takes and records the pictures rather than how it looks on the back of a little LCD screen.

The max ISO setting on the 1Ds is 1250. Meaning you only want to use 1250 for emergencies because the noise usually present at the max ISO setting tends to make an image pretty unusable unless for cases where you absolutely have no other way to get the shot. The 5D, on the other hand, is capable of images up to ISO 3200 meaning you have more room to up the ISO to get a sharper shot. The noise on the 1Ds at ISO 100-400 is decent. After 400, things start getting really bad. As some photographers may know, the trick to keeping noise to a minimum is to nail the exposure. If you have to photograph at ISO 400 and above, it’s imperative to not underexposure. Underexposure will cause noise in areas like blacks, dark greys, etc and will be become very apparent when you try to raise the exposure in post processing even by 1/3 or more. If you want to keep noise as low as possible when shooting at higher ISO, Expose To The Right (ETTR). Also using noise reduction software such as Noise Ninja can help dramatically reduce the noise, at the cost of some sharpness of course. Here are some 100% crop sample pics of our cat, Stripes, to show the noise on the 1Ds:

As you can see from the two samples, noise can be a bit problematic, but fortunately the noise produced by the Canon EOS 1Ds has a film like kinda noise. I was a bit put off in the beginning, but grew accustomed to it after long term use of the 1Ds.

The limited buffer of the 1Ds can sometimes be problematic. Having only 10 frames in JPEG or RAW means you have to time your shots and make them count because having a limited buffer is not the only concern, but the slow flush rate also. I’ve tried two different types of compact flash cards: a SanDisk Extreme IV 2GB and a SanDisk Extreme III 8GB, both are slow with the 1Ds. When shooting formal portraits and formal wedding portraits, the buffer isn’t a problem. I found myself running into buffer full when I was shooting fast paced events such as parades and sometimes when shooting our cat, Stripes who moves erractically and fast.

Another huge limitation is the response time, it is slow. From power off to on it takes about 1.2 seconds and review time of JPEG or RAW takes about 3.3-3.4 seconds (figures from If you’re not prepared, it’s easy (and frustrating) to miss shots. I’ve had this happen multiple of times because the 1Ds was asleep and it takes a bit for it fully wake up to the point where I can fire off shots. You could always disable the sleep mode at the cost of draining the battery. The Canon EOS 5D, in contrast, is near instant from power off to on and from sleep to on. It also takes about 1.2-1.3 for record review of JPEG or RAW (figures from Huge differences. Obviously the 1Ds uses the first generation DIGIC processor. It wasn’t until the Mark II models did Canon start putting in dual DIGIC processors.

The final major limitation of the 1Ds is ease of use. As anyone who has used a 1D series (prior to the Mark IIIs) will know, it takes a combination of two buttons pressed simultaneously to make setting changes. Want to scroll through images you’ve taken? Hold down the Display button and turn the Quick Control Dial (QCD). Want to change from single shot to continuous shot, hold two buttons down. The 5D certainly is quicker and easier to make changes especially with one handed. Change ISO? Press the ISO button and turn the top dial. While the concept of having to press simultaneous buttons to effect change is a good concept, in practice it is annoying and time consuming.

Canon EOS 5D Limitations

Now let’s see what the 5D limitations are when compared to the 1Ds. First, it’s quite apparent that the build quality isn’t nearly as tough and solid as the larger 1Ds, but it’s no where cheaply assembled either. The Canon EOS 1Ds definitely feels like it can take and give a beating.

While the sensor of the Canon EOS 5D is full frame, the viewfinder view isn’t; it’s only 96% of the frame. This can be frustrating when you are trying to frame a shot, but not quite sure how much or how little to include of a subject or background because you obviously can’t get a visual idea of what will show up in the final picture. Of course you could always crop and some people have learned to adjust to that 4% issue, but there is something about being able to see exactly what you are going to get.

The Canon EOS 5D has the “typical” nine-point AF diamond that the Canon EOS 20D/30D/40D and Canon EOS Rebel 400D/XTi/ and 450D/XSi but slightly modified to include 6 additional “hidden” cross-type sensors in the spot metering circle for better AI Servo tracking. For many cases, 9 AF points is plenty, but it’s certainly a whole new world when you have 45 AF points. 9 AF points becomes in adequate when you are trying to frame a subject in the upper or lower left and right hand corners where there are no AF points. This isn’t a problem is the subject fills the entire left or right hand size, but let’s say you’re trying to get a bird that only fills the upper left hand corner. This is an extreme example that obviously doesn’t happen on a daily basis, but worth noting. It’s kind of like insurance, you don’t really appreciate having it until you need it. Although I should mention that sometimes having too many AF points can be annoying if you just need 1 and not all 45.

One thing I’ve found particularly annoying about the 5D is accidental setting changes. Because I use two cameras when on assignment, I usually have one camera slung over one shoulder while using the other. With the 5D, I experience this more often than I would like is when I had the 5D slung around my shoulder and when I reach to take a quick shot, turns out I’m in Shutter Priority when I had been in Aperture Priority. Or I had set Program Mode but manage to end up in Full Automatic mode. This is certainly a disadvantage of being able to easily change settings.


As you can see, despite being nearly 6 years old, the Canon EOS 1Ds is still a very capable dSLR. On the other hand, is it worth spending ~$1800 for something that old versus something newer? It depends. If you already have a or used a Canon EOS 1D series camera, you can certainly see and feel the appeal. Here are some points of consideration for choosing the 1Ds over the 5D:

  • If you already own a Canon 1D/1D Mark II/1Ds Mark II, getting a 1Ds may be beneficial because it uses the same exact batteries meaning you only have to carry 1 set of camera batteries. Same batteries mean same charger and the 1D series battery charger has a dual slot plug.
  • The 1Ds is very rugged and built to handle, if what your photographing calls for a camera that handle some abuse, then this might be the choice for you.
  • 100% viewfinder view might seem like a small point, but for some people it’s important.
  • 45 point AF can’t be beat.

But on the other hand, if you’re looking for something that is small (small being a relative term here) and easier to carry and conceal, then the Canon EOS 5D maybe the better for you. Full frame in a body only slightly larger than the 20D/30D/40D maybe desirable to some. It’s build quality is definitely a bit more superior to the consumer-grade level of the xxD series, but definitely nothing compared to the 1D series.

The 5D is Canon’s lowest noise producing camera next to the new Canon EOS 1D Mark III and is right on par with the Mark III. It’s takes post processing sharpening very, very well and resolves a lot of data and prior to the 1Ds Mark III, was second only to the 1Ds Mark II. Although, noisier, the 1Ds has a certain nostalgic film feel to the images that the newer cameras seem to lack and appear a bit digital.

If I had to choose, because the type of photography I do is very dependent on low light with no flash, I would have go with the 5D. But otherwise, I would probably choose the 1Ds over the 5D.

Canon EOS 1Ds and Canon EOS 5D Gallery Images

8 thoughts on “Canon EOS 1Ds versus Canon EOS 5D”

  1. This was very handy. I recently faced the exact same decision mentioned in the article; the original 1Ds and 5D are almost the same price on the used market here in the UK. In the end I bought a 5D with a portrait grip, mainly because the 5D has great high-ISO performance, and the batteries are much cheaper and easier to come by. Also, used 1Ds bodies tend to have very relatively high shutter counts. I know the shutter was engineered for something like 150,000 click, but I would be wary of something that had been thrashed for a eighteen months and then put into a cupboard for three years, no matter how tough it was.

    In my experience of shooting museums, the 5D’s noise at ISO 1600 is absolutely acceptable; NeatImage gets rid of it very well, and when a photograph is printed at A4 the grain is unnoticeable. Furthermore it is nice-looking grain rather than blotchy smudges. ISO 3200 isn’t much worse. With the grip attached I believe the 5D is actually slightly taller than the 1Ds, but lighter because the camera has a plastic outer body rather than metal. I find that playback review is basically instant – I can hit play, cycle through the histogram, zoom in and out without any delay (at least with a Sandisk Ultra II card).

    I can see the 1Ds’ appeal if you spend a lot of time doing landscapes, in the open air, because of the rugged body. Or if you live on crisps and greasy food, and you never wash your hands. Nonetheless I have to wonder how the rubber seals have lasted over six years, particularly the seals around the battery and memory card doors. If you’re going to rely on the camera for its weather sealing, you would have to make sure that the weather sealing is all still intact.

    There was also the Kodak DCS SLR/c, which appears to have been a complete dog’s dinner; the SLR/n sells relatively cheaply on the used market, but the SLR/c never seems to come up (I assume it sold in small quantities during the year or so it was offered).

  2. It is very objective, good written essay.
    My heart stays with 1Ds, but I have to learn to love 5D for low light photography I do….Thanks…

  3. It is very objective, good written essay.
    My heart stays with 1Ds, but I have to learn to love 5D for low light photography I do….Thanks…

  4. I have to say I have re-fallen in love with my 1Ds. Realising that Photoshop was doing things hidden in the background, and how to really get the best out of the camera by using custom curves, tweaking focusing settings and so on, it has delighted me in so many ways.
    Also finding out how to remove the grain properly without destroying sharpness was a boon.
    5d, nah, i’ll just treat my 1ds to a pressent or two at Christmas 🙂

  5. “It seems like something is missing, no?”

    From what I remember the original article had a fairly extensive set of images, comparing the cameras both on a physical level and in terms of high ISO performance. There was a shot of a cat. My guess is that in the process of moving the site to a different blogging platform, the whole thing has gone belly up.

    Since writing my previous comment, almost a year ago, I still have the 5D and have taken it to Europe and North Africa, and it still works; I suspect that I don’t thrash my cameras enough to justify the 1Ds’ everything-proof body. The Mk I was fairly common on eBay back then, but seems to have vanished now (I guess no-one wants to sell them – there are lots of MkIIs for £1,000+, presumably sold by people moving to the MkIII or the 5D MkII).

    1. Ashley: I need to look for those old photos. They probably vanished when I had moved hosts sometime ago.

      I’m glad the 5D is working out great for you! It’s just so amazing how the latest crop of dSLRs are pushing the ISO range like the new 1D Mark IV. ISO 104,200…crazy!

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