Before the current pandemic put the kibosh on pretty much everything, I was able to take the Canon 1DX Mark III out for a number of sessions, and I’m here to share my real-world experience of living with this flagship camera. You can find spec sheets and comparisons that reveal what Canon’s 1DX Mark III is like on paper, but I believe there’s added value in experiencing the camera hands-on, and that’s where I’m coming from in this review, especially considering that we’re talking about a fairly pricey camera while entering a global recession.
Video for Canon 1DX Mark III Review
Canon 1DX Mark III Specs
Camera Format Full-Frame (1x Crop Factor)
Pixels: 21.4 Megapixel
Effective: 20.1 Megapixel
Maximum Resolution 5472 x 3648
Aspect Ratio 3:2
Sensor Type & Size: CMOS, 36 x 24 mm
Image File Format JPEG, Raw, HEIF
Bit Depth 14-Bit
Image Stabilization Digital (Video Only)
Package Weight & Dimensions: 6.95 lb., 11 x 11 x 9″
The Still Photographer’s Perspective
These days, we look for value in both photography and cinema/videography features when reviewing new cameras. Let’s start with our thoughts on the photography side.
When I first took the 1DX Mark III out for a portrait session, it seemed like business as usual with a quality camera body, with quick autofocus, remarkable dynamic range, and so on. Of course, the 16 frames per second (with the mechanical shutter, or 20 frames per second with the electronic shutter) will grab most anyone’s attention, but for the most part, the camera didn’t seem to add anything remarkable from its previous iteration. In fact, the 20MP resolution seemed a little limiting.
On the next shoot, however, at a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu studio, I started to realize what this camera is designed for. While the 1DX is often touted as a sports and action camera, there were certain aspects I didn’t appreciate until I used the camera to photograph sparring at the Jiu Jitsu studio. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with shooting at 16 frames per second.
Noteworthy Photography Feature #1: Autofocus Speed
The autofocus speed for the 1DX Mark III is incredibly impressive. If you’re coming from shooting with the Mark II, you’ll notice an improvement. If you’re used to shooting with a Canon 5D Mark IV, the improvement is substantial. For example, whenever I shoot with prime lenses like the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 on the 5D Mark IV, I generally use the live view feature on the camera to capture images. I do this because the camera tends to front or back focus when shooting wide open with primes. When I tested the 1DX Mark III with prime lenses, I was able to capture tack sharp images when shooting at wide-open apertures, all while shooting through the viewfinder. While I wouldn’t typically shoot sports or action sequences this way, the quick autofocus made it possible to do so with great results.
When paired with the fast frame rate, the quick autofocus makes this camera worth every penny for action & sports photographers.
Noteworthy Photography Feature #2: Robust Build (and Size & Weight)
With the camera in hand, you can tell right away that it’s built to last. There’s no question as to the durability of this body. It’s a workhorse. As such, its size and weight are formidable. If the size or weight is an issue for you, then you will immediately notice just how large and heavy this camera is. I definitely felt it after using the camera for a 3-4 hour session. For capturing longer events, like a full wedding, you’ll no doubt feel the effects of this camera’s heavy weight.
Noteworthy Photography Feature #3: Portrait & Landscape Grip Orientation
What’s more, the grip can be used for capturing landscape or portrait-oriented images with two separate shutter buttons. This is not news for those who’ve used the 1DX Mark II, but it’s still a great feature. It’s worth noting that the feature must be turned on.
Noteworthy Photography Feature #4: A Workhorse Battery
The battery is built to keep up with the demands of this camera. After a full session with over 2,000 frames, the battery life still stood around 40-50%.
Noteworthy Photography Feature #5: Menu & Ergonomics
I feel this is often left out of reviews, but it deserves your attention as menu configuration and ergonomics are both so critically important. If you already use Canon cameras, you’re going to feel right at home with the 1DX. For those coming from other camera systems will still find the 1DX comfortable to hold and use.
The backside menu systems are easy to use and flip through. Despite having tons of features, the menu system makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. In addition, the button arrangement and customizability are intuitively designed and won’t require that you spend several hours reading guides and manuals. Basically, the camera is set up and ready to go, straight out of the box, and you can quickly learn to customize it as needed as you go.
The Cinema Perspective
Where Our Cinema Review Fits into the Big Picture
We shoot quite a bit of video in the studio, and for our purposes, we don’t necessarily need everything that the 1DX Mark III offers. For a full review of how this camera can best serve videographers, be sure to check out Parker Walbeck’s (@parkerwalbeck and @fulltimefilmmaker) review, which you can find here. Parker is a fantastic cinematographer with a great channel and top-level education for other cinematographers. In Parker’s review, he discusses using the camera on commercial and other projects, and he compares it with the 1DX Mark II.
From the content creator and wedding cinematographer side, this camera does more than most in either of these genres will ever need.
[Related Reading: Nikon D780 Review: The Best DSLR in a Mirrorless World]
Noteworthy Cinema Feature #1: Resolution
With this camera, you can get 5.5k 12-bit Raw at 60 frames per second. From a quality standpoint, this sits right up there in Canon line-up with the C200 or C300 Mark II. That said, it is not a dedicated cinema camera, which means you won’t have XLR ports and you’re still bound by the 30-minute timer limitation; however, the quality of the footage rivals dedicated cinema cameras.
Truth be told, most cinematographers will not need 5.5k 12-bit Raw footage. The file sizes are substantial and it greatly impacts post-production workflow when working with such large files. Shooting in this format at 60 frames per second will fill a 256GB CF Express card (which currently cost between $300-$400) in about 10-12 minutes. The Raw files will also have to be color graded before they’re used, or else the footage will appear flat (see the image above). At the end of the day, only production and commercial level cinematographers will need what this camera delivers in terms of resolution.
Noteworthy Cinema Feature #2: Multiple Formats
Cinematographers are going to love the wide variety of formatting options included with this camera. From 5.5k 12-bit Raw to 120 frames per second at 1080p, the formatting options should satisfy most cinematographers’ formatting needs, including 4k compressed, which allows for roughly three hours of footage on a 256GB card.
Noteworthy Cinema Feature #3: Eye & Face Tracking and Focus Peaking
With the 1DX Mark III, you’ll notice improved eye & face tracking, as well as better focus peaking. Basically, we have everything we really need to capture sharp footage from a cinematography standpoint.
Noteworthy Cinema Feature #4: Full Fram
Another nicety of the 1DX Mark III is that we’re no longer getting the 1.35 crop that came with the Mark II. This is a full frame cinema camera.
Areas in Need of Improvement
On the topic of the $6,499 price, I find it difficult to justify, especially given the state of things as we head into a global recession due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Here are the limitations that leave me struggling with the price.
I love what Canon is doing with the RF lenses, which are absolutely incredible. However, the 1DX Mark III includes an EF Mount, which makes it feel like I’m buying technology that is already dated given Canon’s development of the RF lenses. Of course, EF Mount lenses are also incredible and adapters are available, but in terms of investing in a new camera body, native RF Mounts represent the future and would have been a better choice for this camera.
20.1 Megapixel Sensor
For sports and action photographers, 20MPs is probably enough. That said, I don’t feel that limitation should’ve been built into this camera and I don’t know what issues caused this limitation to be included in the camera’s design. It would make sense to give us options to dial back our resolution when shooting at higher frame rates, but limiting the overall resolution doesn’t really make sense.
This is probably more of a personal preference, but I have come to appreciate smaller camera bodies that allow me to do what I need to do without feeling weighed down by the extra size and weight, especially after a long day. This camera’s large size and formidable weight make it difficult to carry for extended periods of time.
Missing Resolution Options
I’ve already mentioned the wide variety of options this camera offers in terms of resolution, but there are two options for the cinema side that I would’ve liked to see that are not included: 120 frames per second in 4k (compressed) and 240 frames per second in 1080p. Granted, there may be a firmware update in the future that changes this, but for now, we’re limited to 120 frames per second in 1080p.
Who Is the 1DX Mark III for?
In my honest opinion, on the photography side of things, I feel like my needs haven’t been met for the reasons I’ve listed above. However, the 1DX Mark III offers more than I need on the cinema side. It is the hybrid content creators’ dream camera. If you are a still photographer and you cover a lot of sports events, but you also create a decent amount of content for other genres, this also qualifies as your dream machine. It is a workhorse camera and will provide value (even at its steep price) for everything that it can do.
Personally, I’m on the lookout for and excited about Canon’s new mirrorless lineup that will give us professional-level cameras in the mirrorless market. I expect they will meet my needs on both sides, for photography and cinema, and make purchasing them a worthwhile investment.
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