The EOS-1D Digital Camera

Review by Robert Deutsch
USA Today Staff Photographer

A while back, PF Bentley wrote in these pages about the new Canon EOS1-D camera. His point was that for his needs, he would wait for a newer body with a larger chip that would give him the larger file sizes he feels magazines need.

However, for a newspaper photographer that does as much sports as I do, the 1D is a major leap in quality and usability from the digital choices around before it. I just returned from covering the Olympics and will admit to chanting "I love my camera!" many times over the month in Salt Lake City.

I've been using some form of digital camera since the early days of the Canon analog still video, the Mavica still video, Kodak DCS3, and the DCS520. All were compromises in usability and quality, big compromises. Now for the first time, I have a camera that can record what I see.

The dreaded shutter lag, which forced me to anticipate my shots, has been reduced to 55 ms, which is the same as an EOS1V film camera. Now when I press the shutter, I get what I wanted. Combine that with eight frames per second, and I can now confidently expect to come back with images that I used to get on film. At figure skating, leaping and twirling skaters are no longer a hit and miss shot. Now I get them all. On the downhill course, I now have three or more sharp frames of an 80 mph skier flying over a blind jump. I used to be lucky to get one. At the NCAA basketball tournament, when a player flies in from the foul line for a dunk I do not have to hope for one frame, I get a burst or three or four and can pick peak action. In fact, I find myself shooting quick bursts or 3 frames, knowing that I will get the picture, rather than holding down the button for a while like I used to on the DCS520's, hoping for a shot.

The quality is also much improved. The larger file size (11.7 MB in Photoshop) means we can crop some and still have a file that will look great in newsprint at sizes we generally run. Clearly, much larger files will look better in the mags or in large prints, but there has to be a balance in usability. A full frame chip generating 20 MB files is cool, but there are trade-offs. Larger files would mean fewer frames per second, and a smaller buffer (as in the Canon D60, a new 6 mega-pixel CMOS camera just introduced. It does only 3 frames per second). File sizes in the 1D are twice the size of the previous cameras, and transmitting over bad hotel or arena analog lines now takes forever. Larger files are just not practical until broadband is available everywhere. Right now I like the ability to use a 400mm lens where I used to use a 600mm. I would lose that in a full frame chip. The 17-35 mm wide zoom is wide enough most of the time, even with the 1.3x multiplication factor.

The camera is solid, one piece, and feels (and looks) just like an EOS1V film camera. Most important for me was that the viewfinder was a "full frame view" ...large, bright, just like the EOS1V. No more small finders that we old farts can't see through.

The chip is a 4.48 megapixel CCD (still smaller than a full 35mm frame, giving a multiplier of approximately 1.3x). But the viewfinder image is as large as the 1V. It also displays the frames left on the card (one choice among several user selectable settings) and also the number of frames left in the jpeg buffer! That should go a long way to preventing "running out of bullets" in the buffer.

Pick it up and fire away at 8 fps, and you'll realize at once how much a different this camera this is from what we have had. I had thought that we would slow it down some of the time to prevent running the buffer and running out of disks, but it is not necessary. If you do run the buffer, it begins to flush immediately and after a second or two you have several more frames to shoot. You can set it at 3 or 8 fps, and set personal functions for other high and low settings. So in effect you can set it at 4 different frame rates (3, 4, 6, or 8, for example). Many other custom functions and personal function sets are available to completely personalize the camera's operation.

The 1D can generate Raw files and Jpeg's simultaneously if desired, but that fills disks very quickly and adversely affects the buffer replenishment, so I've avoided it. Autofocus is the same as the 1V, with 45 AF points and all that, and works great. The combination of a fast motor, no lag, and great autofocus means I now come back with many more "moment" images than I used to.

Flash sync is at 1/500 sec. (or more, with reduced exposure), and does true TTL. It is safe to use with strobes with sync line voltages up to 250 volts, including the old unmodified Speedotrons, without filters. The PC sync socket is non-polarized, so no more having to switch polarity. ASA is from 200 to 1600, with ASA 100 and 3200 available as a user setting.

There is a user setting to keep the camera "alive" for up to an hour, so no external "keep alive" switch is needed for remote uses (but it will drain the battery faster). The remote plug is the same as the 1V, the D2000/DCS520 and the D30. And if you get caught in the rain, it is sealed (when used with new IS lenses) and I'm told it will be fine, but don't confuse it for an underwater housing.

Canon kept the ability to record sound files (.wav files) matched to a specific frame. However, it takes three seconds of holding down the record button (after the buffer is cleared) before recording begins. This must be shortened, as the next play often begins before that.

There is no zoom to the preview display, a feature I do not miss but others have asked for.

The image quality is excellent, far better than previous bodies. The early cameras had some "banding" noise visible in dark sections of high ASA images, but this has been reduced with firmware updates. Also, a line can appear on the edge of similar images, but this can be fixed with a hardware update available by returning to Canon. Newer 1D's have these fixes installed already. Exposure is consistent and accurate, especially in auto modes. When shooting Jpeg's, it is critical to be accurate. There is no fudge factor such as "exposure throttle" that we used with the older Kodak Tiffs, so you need to be as accurate as if shooting chromes on film. Raw files can be tweaked for exposure and balance, but for now the Canon software available to process Raw files is so slow that it is not workable on deadline. Hopefully, this will be corrected and the SDK made available to other companies who produce great editing software.

I try to stay at or below 800 ASA most of the time, but have shot acceptable images at up to 1600 ASA. As a test, I shot some action at 3200 at the World Series, and except for some visible noise, it looked remarkably good. Most of the photographers I showed these images to thought they were taken at 800 ASA! You do have to make sure that there is no underexposure, to keep the noise down.

There are several white balance choices, including auto, custom, and even the ability to dial in a specific Kelvin degree setting. It's hard, even in bad arena lighting, to not be able to get a balanced picture.
Nothing is perfect though, and there are some issues that I wish were better designed. The card door and battery release tabs are very hard to open, especially if wearing gloves. I've had to put gaffer tape on the door tab to help grab it. You'll need plenty of batteries, probably 2 or 3 per camera. Even if properly charged and refreshed, they go fast, especially in the cold, or if "chimping", autofocusing, and using IS lenses. Get extra! If working in the cold for a long time, consider an external battery such as the well made "Digital Camera Battery"( ). Canon recommends 3 refresh cycles when new, and monthly after that under normal PJ use.

So while some photographers will want a larger chip camera and can cope with slow motors and large files, those of us shooting sports and fast moving news in remote locations will be thrilled with the new Canon EOS1D. You might even find yourself at the top of a ski hill someday chanting, "I love my camera."

For more information on the Canon EOS 1D, visit Canon's website.

Write a Letter to the Editor
Join our Mailing List
© The Digital Journalist