Canon EOS 1D Review

Joe Schmo: Hey that’s a very professional looking camera there!
Me: Thank you, yes it is.
Joe Schmo: How many megapixels is it?
Me: 4.
Joe Schmo: Wow 40?!
Me: No, 4 megapixels total.
Joe Schmo: That doesn’t sound very professional at all. My little point and shoot has 12 megapixels! I think you overpaid for that thing.

While 4 megapixels certainly does not sound even remotely professional or cool, let me assure you that the Canon EOS 1D will amaze you.

Specifications

Released in 2001, the Canon EOS 1D is Canon’s first sole professional digital SLR. It’s primary focus is aimed at the photojournalists sacrificing megapixels for speed. The Canon EOS 1D has been out now for eight years and has numerous of reviews. Instead of focusing on the same thing that others have already discussed, I’ll focus on how relevant the 1D is still today. Let’s glance over the specs of this guy.

  • 4.15 megapixel CCD sensor (JPEG pixel dimensions: 2,464 x 1,648)
  • ISO 200-1600 in 1/3 steps (with ISO 100 and 3200 as a custom function)
  • 4 sRGB settings with 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 1/16,000 sec shutter speeds with bulb
  • 3 or 8 frames-per-second (FPS) for up to 21 JPEGs or 16 RAW
  • 1/500th second Flash X-Sync

For more in-depth features, you can check out DPReview’s 1D specifications page. The Canon EOS 1D certainly shows its ages compared to the newer 1D line such as the Mark II/n and Mark III, but it’s still no slouch. The Mark II/n and Mark III’s fastest shutter speed is 1/8000th second whereas the 1D Mark I goes up to 1/16000th second, although you may almost never need to shoot that fast. You would have to photograph the sun with an aperture of f/1.0 or f/1.2 to need a shutter speed this fast. One perhaps more useful feature is the faster flash sync speed of 1/500th second. The Canon EOS 1D Mark II and the newer Canon EOS 1D Mark III’s fastest flash sync is 1/250th second. Having a faster flash sync speed is especially useful for flash fill. The 1D has a 1.3x meaning that with a 50mm lens mounted, it would be like a 65mm lens on a full frame sensor.

Build Quality

Canon EOS 1D
Canon EOS 1D

The 1D series design has changed very little in the course of nearly 8 years. The Canon EOS 1Ds uses the same identical body with a full frame sensor. The Mark II/n have a higher resolution screen (the Mark IIn gets a 2.5 inch LCD screen), the addition of a secondary card slot (Secure Digital, or SD), and the addition of a dedicated zoom/change memory slot button. The Mark III’s get a larger LCD (3 inch) and a completely different button layout in the rear.

The 1D, 1Ds, 1D Mark II, 1Ds Mark II, and 1D Mark IIn all use the same Canon NP-E3 (12v 1650mAh), which is nice because you only have to carry one set of batteries and a single charger if you have any combination of these 1D’s. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the new Mark III’s use a completely different lithium ion battery.

The build quality of the Canon EOS 1D is excellent with 90 points of weather sealing and the entire body built of magnesium alloy. It can survive being dropped from an elephant, not that you would want to try.

Operation

The biggest disadvantage of the Canon EOS 1D is the processing speed. The 1D utilizes a single Digic processor. While file flushing (time it takes to clear the buffer into the compact flash memory card) does a bit of time, and there is a very noticeable delay from on to ready and from sleep to wake, but once it’s on, it’s ready to go. I would recommend setting the auto sleep mode to something like at least 4 minutes so it doesn’t go to sleep too quickly and is always ready to fire. Auto focus acquisition is fast, especially with the 45 auto focus points. The Canon EOS 1D was the first digital SLR that could do 8 frames-per-second (FPS). The Nikon D2H is the second dSLR capable of the same speed, but was released two years later (2003) and sported a larger buffer (40 JPEGs). While the flush time might be slow, it’s noticeable faster compared to the Canon EOS 1Ds when it comes to image review. With the 1Ds, it would take forever for the image to appear on the LCD, whereas with the 1D, it comes up quicker; granted that the 1Ds has 3 times the resolution so the camera has more data to move.

With 8 FPS, the Canon EOS 1D is clearly aimed at photojournalists and sports photographers whose needs require faster auto focus acquisition and capture versus megapixels and that’s where it shines. Surprisingly despite having only 4 megapixels, it excels in portrait photography. The weaker anti-aliasing (AA) filter means that photographs taken with the 1D are inherently sharper out of camera than the newer Canon EOS 1D Mark II with a stronger AA filter. Having a weaker AA filter on the flip side will cause more moire to appear with certain patterns, which usually isn’t too much of a problem. I can definitely say that the 1D is sharp, very sharp and this is with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM which generally isn’t that sharp in the edges.

External White Balance Sensor
External White Balance Sensor

Also the Canon EOS 1D has an additional external white balance sensor that assists in adjusting and correcting white balance in addition to the sensor. From what I notice, the external white balance sensor hasn’t made any difference. Canon continued to put the external white balance sensor on the Canon EOS 1Ds, but stopped after that.

The second major disadvantage of the original 1D is the LCD. With only 120,000 pixels on a 2 inch screen, the image quality when displayed on the LCD is very poor and not very useful to judge color correctness of a scene. You really have to rely more on the exposure and RGB graphs. This isn’t too big of an issue if you’re shooting RAW, as all data is recorded, but can be very important if you are shooting JPEGs.

The Canon EOS 1D takes a single compact flash card with a maximum limit of 2GB (see Rob Galbraith’s excellent table on CF cards and write speeds). I had no problems using my SanDisk Extreme IV 2GB Compact Flash card. It formatted and wrote to it with no problems. When I tried using a higher capacity CF card, like my SanDisk Extreme III 8GB Compact Flash, the camera would only detect 2GB worth.

In The Field

With only 4 megapixels, there isn’t really any room to crop the image. Framing and composition are much more important when using the 1D versus using something like the Canon EOS 1Ds or the Canon EOS 5D. This can be limiting in situations where you don’t have a longer focal length lens to isolate the subject and would normally crop down. The 1.3x crop factor, in my opinion, is a great compromise between wide (full frame) and reach (1.6x crop factor). It makes this SLR very versatile by being able to retain a majority of the wideness but also have that little bit of “reach”.

The auto focus is exactly what you would expect from a 1D series: top notch and spot on. It’s 45 AF points do not disappoint. It’s not as fast as the newer Canon EOS 1D Mark II/n or the latest Canon EOS 1D Mark III, but it’s slouch compared to entry level (Rebel series) or consumer (10D/20D/30D/40D series) level dSLRs despite being older.

Noise. It’s noisy. Even at ISO 200, you can see the existence of noise in the shadows. Compared to the 20D, 30D, and 40D, it is noisier at the same levels. The noise exhibited is the chroma type of noise, which is similar to film grain, like the Canon EOS 1Ds. The noise doesn’t bother me too much because I think it gives the image a nice “feel”, nostalgic feel almost. Just check out wedding photographer Joe Buissink’s work. He shot with Nikon D2h’s (4 megapixels) for years and produced some stunning photographs. Just goes to show you that megapixels aren’t everything.

Battery life sucks. The CCD sensor definitely drains more battery power than the CMOS sensors. I’m getting about 500 or so shots on average with a full charge. If you’re using an Image Stabilizer (IS) lens, then the battery will drain slightly quicker.

The only other issue, for me anyways, was I was finding I was missing shots because of the slow start up times. It was getting to a point where I finally set the camera to fall asleep after 4 minutes as opposed to 1 minute that I normally have my Canon EOS 1D Mark II set to. When I’m using two bodies and when I know a crucial shot might be coming, I tend to periodically half depress the shutter on the 1D to keep it from sleeping so that it’s ready to fire.

I also tend to find that I was using longer focal length lenses on the 1D because of the megapixel limitation with cropping. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM would be primarily attached to it with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM on the 1D Mark II. The images taken with that lens comes out great.

Conclusion

The Canon EOS 1D is an excellent camera which is capable of great shots despite the shortcomings in megapixels. It has the fast frames-per-second and superb auto focus that all future 1D series will be based off of. The images produced by this camera are both sharp and natural looking and reminiscent of prints made from film. It obviously has some issues with noise, but those can easily be combated with a noise reducing software such as Noise Ninja.

It’s a great camera to have in any one’s arsenal, especially since the average price for a used 1D is around ~$800. By using a camera such as this, you can improve your photography skills because you learn not to rely on things you take for granted everyday such as major megapixels and excellent in-camera noise reduction. With 4 megapixels and virtually no possibility of cropping, you learn to better frame your shots instead of just firing off random shots and heavily cropping later.

The 1D is an excellent tool for the photojournalist and sport shooters. With 4 megapixels, you can make images to about 8×10 without any major issues. Images for the web or newspaper, 4 megapixels are plenty. The photographers who should consider the Canon EOS 1D are ones that don’t need the lowest noise but need a fast focusing and fast shooting SLR.

To see the sample images, please click here.

Canon EOS 1D Image Gallery

One thought on “Canon EOS 1D Review”

  1. A great retrospective review! It is 2011 almost 10 full years since the 1d came out. I brought one w/ a 580ex speedlite to learn photography. It is a heavy un forgiving beast to use, but it has forced me to manually learn a lot to get decent photos out of it. As reviewed, the noise is a real issue, anything above iso320 and it is painfully evident. The small screen and weight are annoying (especially with the speedlite and a l series lens attached). However I am glad I chose this option to start photography, the low initial cost of a 1d has allowed me to pour more precious funds into lens that I can use with a newer body down the line. I did not realize, until I took I out in public, how much a 1d body commands respect! It is a real conversation starter with any one who is interested in DSLR photography.

    Kind regards

    Reif hand

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