Canon EOS-1D X Mark III Review

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III review
Review

Price when reviewed

£6499

$6499
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Our Verdict

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is the best DSLR currently available. It's AF system is superb, bar the occasional blip, it can shoot at up to 20fps and noise is controlled very well up to around ISO 51,200. It's big, heavy and robust, and despite having two new Smart Controllers on it's back, it has a very similar control arrangement to the camera it replaces. It's going to be interesting to see how the Nikon D6 compares.

For

  • 16/20fps continuous shooting with a massive burst depth
  • Excellent AF system
  • Great new Smart Controllers

Against

  • Huge price
  • Fixed screen is frustrating in Live View and video mode
  • Big and heavy
What is the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III?

Announced in January 2020, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is Canon’s top-flight DSLR camera and the successor to the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. It’s aimed at professional news and sports photographers who need a fast, durable camera.

The Canon EOS-1D X III has a full-frame sensor with 20.1 million effective pixels paired with the Digic X processing engine. This combination enables a top shooting rate of 16fps when the viewfinder is used and 20fps in Live View mode. It also has two AF systems, one with 191 points for use with the viewfinder and the other with 3,869 for use in Live View mode.

It has the occasional blip, but on the whole the AF system is blisteringly fast!

 

Specification

  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Announced: 7th January 2020
  • Sensor: Full-frame (24x36mm) 20.1Mp CMOS
  • Lens mount: Canon EF
  • Processing engine: Digic X
  • Sensitivity range: Stills: 100-102400, expandable to ISO 50-819,200, Video: ISO 100-25600, expandable to ISO 100-204,800
  • Autofocus system: Viewfinder: phase detection with 191 points, 155 cross-type AF at f/4 including 1 dual cross type at f/2.8, Live View: Dual Pixel CMOS AF with Face+Tracking and 3,869 points
  • Max continuous shooting rate: Viewfinder: 16ps, Live View: 20 fps with mirror locked up with exposure and AF tracking
  • Max video quality: 4K raw (5496×2904) at 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 50, 59.94fps, 4K DCI (17:9) 4096×2160 at 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 50, 59.94fps intra or inter frame
  • Viewfinder: Optical, pentaprism type with 100% coverage, 0.76x magnification and 20mm eyepoint
  • Screen: Fixed 3.2-inch / 8.01 cm TFT with 2,100,000 dots
  • Storage: Dual CFexpress 1.0 Type B
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 158 x 167.6 x 82.6mm
  • Weight: 1250g body only
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III Price & Release Date

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III launch price tag is £6,499.99 / €7,599.99 / $6,499 and it went on sale in February 2020.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III review
Features

While mirrorless camera sales are now bigger than DSLR sales, many professional news and sport photographer put their faith in mirrored technology and an optical viewfinder.

Inside the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is a 20.1Mp full-frame (36x24mm) CMOS sensor which has a new High Detail Low-Pass Filter. This is said to sample light over a greater number of points for sharper and higher resolution images without moiré.

Canon has paired the sensor with its new Digic X (AKAK Digic 8) processing engine. This enables a sensitivity range of ISO 100-102,400 (expandable to ISO 50-819,200) when shooting stills and a maximum continuous shooting rate of 20fps (frames per second) in Live View mode and 16fps when the viewfinder is in use. The camera can continue to focus the lens at both shooting rates.

What’s more, those shooting rates are maintained until the memory card is filled with Jpegs or over 1000 raw images. That’s a lot of images!

Autofocus

In reflex mode, when images are composed in the viewfinder, the EOS-1D X III uses its dedicated autofocus sensor which has 191 AF points, 155 of which are the more sensitive cross-type. By comparison, the EOS-1D X Mark II has 61 AF points and 21 of them are cross-type. Also, according to Canon, the centre of the 1D X III’s AF sensor is 28x more sensitive than its predecessor’s.

In addition, Canon has used deep learning to program the AF system so it can identify humans in a range of sporting situations and focus n them quickly using the new advanced subject tracking system. It’s designed to prioritise human eyes even when they are covered by helmets or goggles.

As Canon has used its Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology in the EOS-1D X Mark III, there’s phase detection focusing in Live View mode. This has 3,869 points and you can set a point just about anywhere in the frame.

New File Format and New Card

In a first for Canon EOS cameras, as well as raw and Jpeg files, the EOS-1D X Mark III supports the new HEIF (High Efficiency Image File Format). This is based on the HEVC codec and it enables images with 10-bits of data to be saved in a file that’s an equivalent size to a JPEG but with fewer compression artefacts.

As the EOS-1D X Mark III is all about speed, it uses the new CFexpress memory card format. This has write speeds that are more than 3x those of the previous fastest CFast cards.

Video

The EOS-1D X Mark III is Canon’s most advanced interchangeable lens video camera outside the Cinema EOS series. It can shoot 4K 12-bit video with raw internal recording. It can even record raw and MP4 video simultaneously to two separate memory cards.

In addition, video can be recorded as 12-bit CRM files at 5.5K (5472×2886), for highly-detailed oversampled 4K footage.

Canon Log Gamma is available in 10-bit HEVC/H.265 file format and the MP4 container is available when speed is of the essence.

Movie Digital IS, as seen in the likes of the EOS C500 Mark II, has also been included to create 5-axis stabilisation.

Connectivity

As we expect now, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity is built-in, and as an added bonus there’s a GPS chip. Furthermore, the Wi-Fi can be used to connect to FTP services as well as EOS Utility or a smartphone.

Meanwhile, the Low Energy Bluetooth connectivity enables a constant connection to a smartphone or tablet.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III review
Build and Handling

As a full-frame double-gripped camera, the Canon EOS-1D X III is a whopper. It’s also made from magnesium alloy and has weather-seals so it’s designed for a tough life in the hands of a professional photographer.

Having dual grips means that it is as comfortable to use in portrait orientation as it in landscape orientation. The key controls are also arranged in the same way around each grip so your muscle memory ensures that you press the right button.

The control arrangement on the EOS-1 D X Mark III is almost identical to that of the Mark II, but somehow Canon has managed to fit in a pair of new Smart Controllers. There’s one for the vertical grip and one for the horizontal grip.

These perform a similar function to the mini joystick controller but they work in a different way. Rather than nudging the Smart Controllers, you move your thumb over them and they sense the movement. They enable very quick movements of the AF point while you look through the viewfinder.

It’s a great idea and a more sophisticated type of control than a mini joystick. They also work very well. As a left-eyed shooter, an added advantage of using the Smart Controllers is that your thumb doesn’t have to wiggle under your nose like it does with the joystick.

Viewfinder and Screen

As you’d expect with it’s flagship DSLR, Canon has used a pentaprism in the EOS-1D X III’s viewfinder. This shows 100% of the captured image with 0.76x magnification and there’s 20mm eye point.

It’s a nice bright, large optical viewfinder. I generally prefer electronic viewfinders these days because they can show you the impact of the camera settings, but there are some advantages to an optical viewfinder, including the detailed, natural view.

One frustration of using the viewfinder is that you can’t set the AF point as close to the edges as you might like. To be fair, for a full-frame SLR, the EOS-1D X III’s AF points are quite widely spread, more so than the Nikon D780’s (but that is also a third of the price of the Canon camera), but anyone who has used a modern mirrorless camera is likely to miss the freedom to move the AF point close to the edge of the frame.

Most experienced SLR users will of course be well-versed in using the focus-and-recompose technique, but there are times when it’s not practical. The EOS-1D X III’s Live View AF system offers an alternative as the AF point can be set close to the edges of the image (with a tap on the screen if you like). But this highlights another frustration of the camera, the 3.2-inch 2,100,000-dot screen is fixed rather than tilting or articulating.

The lack of a tilting mechanism for the screen is also limiting when you shoot video, although you can of course connect an external monitor via the HDMI port. Naturally, that additional expense isn’t exactly what you want after shelling out £6,499/$6,499 on a new camera.

Better news is that Canon has gone the whole hog with the touchscreen implementation and you can select Quick and Main menu options with a tap on the screen as well as set the AF points and zoom into to scroll through images.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III review
Performance

The first few shots with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III are enough to put a smile on the face of any photographer. In the default settings the results are generally sharp, well exposed and have attractive colour and saturation.

Autofocus Performance

I was lucky to receive the Canon EOS-1D X III just before the Coronavirus lockdown came into force in the UK and some football and rugby matches were still taking place. This gave me the opportunity to shoot so fast action, and the EOS-1D X III’s AF system is blisteringly fast. It also did a great job of keeping up with my dog in a gloomy woodland as he zoomed around.

Although the EOS-1D X III can spot human faces and pick out and track a moving subject when it’s left to select the AF point itself, it’s not quite as good at doing so as a Sony mirrorless camera such as the Sony A7 III or Sony A9. Generally, I found it far better to set the 1D X III to one of the Manual selection modes.

However, there were a few occasions when I was shooting in Manual selection: AF point Expansion 4 points or Manual selection: AF point Expansion surrounding 8 points mode when I could see that the active are was over the subject but the camera would not focus on it.

The EOS-1D X III’s Live View (and video) AF system is excellent, proving capable of keeping pace with fast-moving subjects. The Face+Tracking is especially impressive, managing to spot an heavily underexposed backlit face and pick out the eyes when Eye AF is active.

Canon EOS-1D X III Image Quality

As it has a 20.1Mp sensor, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III a good, but not exceptional level of detail. However, noise is controlled well up to around ISO 51,200. I think ISO 102,400, the top native value, is s tip too far, but if you’re interested in news gathering, it may well be acceptable.

At ISO 51,200 luminance noise is quite clearly visible in raw files even at quite small sizes while the Jpegs look slightly smooth. Step up to ISO 102,400 and the noise is fairly dominant in the raw field and  the Jpegs look diffused or plastic.

The first expansion settings, ISO 204,800 and 409,600 could have a use for evidence gathering if you don’t need fine details to be visible, but the results as ISO 819,200 are terrible.

One of the reasons for keeping the pixel count to a relatively modest 20Mp on a full-frame sensor is to enable a wide dynamic range. This is borne out by the fact that underexposed low ISO raw files from 1D X Mark III can withstand brightening by around 4Ev without noise becoming a major issue or colours going haywire. That could be useful for anyone having to shoot in the heat of the moment and who doesn’t have time to check the exposure properly.

Canon EOS-1D X III Video Quality

There’s a healthy array of video resolutions to suite different scenarios, but it’s clear that the EOS-1D X II is a very capable video camera that produces very high quality 4K video.

However, it’s also a big, heavy camera which makes it best suited for use on a tripod, which means the lack of in-body image stabilisation isn’t a major issue. The fixed screen, which Canon will no doubt argue is more robust than a tilting one, however, is a pain unless you happen to be shooting at eye-level.

Read our Canon EOS-1D X Mark II review

Sample Images

Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III Image Gallery

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Verdict

Aside from a couple of misses, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III’s AF is incredibly fast and accurate. When you’re photographing a moving subject you can see the AF points clearly so you know whether it’s doing it’s job or not.

Provided you stick to ISO 51,200 or lower, you’ll be rewarded with excellent results. The level of detail is good, colours are vibrant and the exposure metering system is reliable.

Once you start using the new Smart Controller and the touchscreen you begin to wonder why Canon bothered to include the mini joystick on the back of the camera. It must be to ensure a smooth upgrade path for Canon EOS-1D X Mark II users.

Canon has given the EOS-1D X Mark III and excellent video specification, and it’s capable of superb results, but it lacks the convenient size, electronic viewfinder and tilting of some other cameras.

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is a great DSLR, and if the Olympic Games were to have gone ahead this summer, I think it would sell well amongst the attending photographers. However, the world is a very strange place at the moment and few photographers (or agencies) are likely to want to spend £/$6.5K on a camera right now.

Also, many of us have one eye on the Canon EOS R5, which has a very exciting specification without the inconvenience of a mirror clacking about.

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