Canon EOS-1Ds Review
February 2002

by James Colburn

Let me start by saying that the Canon EOS-1Ds is the first digital camera to produce what I consider to be film-quality images. At it's best settings it produces a 4064 X 2704 pixel image that translates into a 31.5 Mb TIFF file. As a comparison a 2700 dpi scanner (like a Nikon LS-2000 Coolscan) will produce a 28 Mb scan from a 35mm negative. That's good enough for a magazine cover or a double page spread and that's something that hasn't been available before now. Not only is the image BIG but it's beautiful. It's sharp and, aside from a slight greenish cast in some of the shadows, the colors are rich and true-to-life.
You know it's a good camera when you see photographers fighting over who gets to use it.
It's not really a camera though. It's more like a digital imaging computer that just happens to accept Canon EOS lenses. The long-used and much ignored geek-speak adage RTFM (Read The F***ing Manual) is very important with the Ds because if you ignore that manual you'll wind up kicking yourself. This camera will do things that previous generations of cameras only hinted at. Open the box, take out both manuals (hardware and software) and read through them both before you even pick up the camera. Trust me, you WILL have to read them eventually anyway.
This camera goes beyond Average White Balance, Daylight, Tungsten and Fluorescent. If you want to set it for 3100K or 4600K then just dial it in. If you want to warm things up just a touch bump it up to 7000K. This camera also allows you to bond with your television brethren when you ask someone to hold up a piece of paper, again, so that you can do a white balance. It will even White Balance BRACKET automatically so you can take a three shot series with one at 4800K, one a 5500K and one at 7500K. That, dear readers, is amazing.
You can adjust the sharpness of an image (similar to Photoshop's Unsharp Mask.) You can adjust the degree of JPEG compression. It seems like you can adjust damn near everything and you can do it IN THE CAMERA. You can also capture and save an image as a "raw" file and do everything to it (color temperature adjustment, sharpness, etc., etc., etc.) in your computer AFTER you transfer the image to a computer.
Canon's supplied File Viewer Utility will let you (with a Firewire connection twixt camera and computer) allow you to go deeper into the camera's operating system to adjust "Personal Function Settings" on your Ds. Want to set the minimum and maximum shutter speeds available? Done. Want to limit the number of shots you can do during continuous shooting? Done. Have you ever wanted to make the Quick Control Dial on the back of your EOS work in the opposite direction? Why? Darned if I know. But now you can. It almost seems that this camera allows an almost ridiculous level of control, but that's a good thing.
The metering and exposure options (Program, Tv, Av, etc.) will be familiar to anyone that used a Canon EOS camera and they seem to work very, very well. Heavily back-lit shots taken without fill flash were usable but fill-flash (with a 550EX) is automatic and accurate. It handles well, is nicely balanced and weighs about the same as an EOS-1 with a motor drive.
It has every bell and every whistle available. If you try this camera you will want this camera. And that, my friends, is the only problem I found with the EOS-1Ds. It is expensive. It has an Manufacturer's Suggested Price of $8999, maybe $7500-8000 at a discount..... Each.
To put that into some sort of perspective a gee-I'd-like-to-own-one-but-can't-justify-the-expense-because-I'll-only-need- it-four-times-a-year 600mm f/4 lens costs $7000. A new Honda 750 motorcycle costs $5800. A luxury villa in the south of France rents for $5000 a month....
It is expensive.
You will need very fast Compact Flash cards (at least 24X) and they'll have to be big ones, 512Mb or 1Gb. And you'll need a few of them. Big? They have to be big because the 128Mb cards you've been using will hold all of 25 high resolution JPEGs produced by the Ds and if Raw files are your bent each 128Mb card will hold five images. It may get to a point one day when news photographers will have a "back to the future" moment and say "Excuse me, I have to change my film holder between shots" as they did in the days of 4x5. Fast? I found that filling the camera buffer (ten shots) took about three seconds (at 3.5 frames per second) and writing those ten shots to my 1X or 2X 128Mb CF card took almost two minutes.... Two minutes during which you can't take any pictures, can't remove the CF card, can't do much of anything except look at the red "I'm busy writing to disk" light and pray that a Pulitzer Prize winning picture doesn't happen right in front of you. Plan on getting a Firewire Compact Flash card reader too because USB just won't cut it anymore. The High Res JPEGs produced by a Ds weigh in at 4Mb each.
Two bodies, four 1Gb cards and two 550EX flashes will set you back $19,000. I can't see a freelancer wanting, or being able, to pay the cost of a new car for a brace of Ds cameras when a Canon D-60 (for those times when you need "speed") and a good scanner (for the times when you need higher quality) will cost $3500.
So this camera, as wonderful as it is, is a corporate purchase, not an individual one. At least Canon seems to have realized that by allowing for up to three Custom Function Groups so that three photographers with different preferences can easily change the camera's custom functions without scrolling through 14 menus every time they trade off a camera. If your magazine or paper values quality above all or you really have enough high-res-hungry clients to justify buying a Ds do it. You'll love the camera. Your friends will be jealous. You will be the "Big Dog."
I'm planning to buy one in early 2005 when I should be able to pick an "obsolete" EOS-1Ds for around $500. I'm going to use some old 128Mb CF cards. I'm going to put it on a tripod and use a darkcloth over my head when I focus. I'm going to take it very, very slow.

© James Colburn
Contributing Writer

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