Review: Canon EOS-1Ds
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, December 8, 2002
Monday, December 9, 2002
year ago, I was writing a review of Canon's EOS-1D professional
digital camera. This D-SLR cost $6,000, and featured a 4.15 Megapixel
CCD. As it turns out, I never got around to reviewing it. It's a
shame, because most of the work was already done.
ahead one year, and the new ultimate camera from Canon is the
This 11 Megapixel monster will set you back nearly $8,000. For
those who want major resolution and have an investment in Canon
this is the camera for you. By the way, the 1Ds uses a CMOS sensor,
rather than a CCD.
don't get around to reviewing stuff like this very often, so enjoy
this special look at the EOS-1Ds!
in the Box?
all D-SLRs, the EOS-1Ds is sold without a lens or flash. Canon included
a 28 - 135 mm lens and the 550EX flash along with my review camera.
Here is what you'll find in the 1Ds kit:
11.1 (effective) Mpixel Canon EOS-1Ds camera
rechargeable NiMH battery
cap" (covers the lens mount)
featuring EOS Digital Solution and Adobe Photoshop LE
page manual plus separate software manual (both printed)
review setup... about $10,000!
Canon gives you a bare bones setup, it's really up to you to build
the bundle. The camera is compatible with most Canon lenses and
Speedlites. So if you already have those, odds are they will work.
No memory card is included.
(at left) and battery
1Ds has a very large NiMH battery that slides into the bottom
the camera body. Canon estimates that this 12V battery will last
for about 600 shots when used in moderate climates. It has a
whopping 19.8 Watt/hours of power, the most I've seen, by far.
Buying a spare battery will set you back $130, though.
battery charger is has two connectors for two batteries. I don't
think they are charged at the same time, though. Fully charging
the battery takes about two hours.
you want to just plug the camera into the wall, you can use the
included DC coupler kit. You replace the battery with the coupler,
which looks just like the battery you just removed, except for an
extra plug. You plug the AC adapter into the wall and plug it into
the coupler, and you're set.
it comes to accessories, the sky's the limit on SLR cameras. If
it exists, it will probably work on the 1Ds. That includes flashes,
lenses, filters, remote shutter release cables, and more.
includes a Photoshop plug-in for getting the images off the camera
via the FireWire connection. Unfortunately, neither the FireWire
connection nor the plug-in are Mac OS X compatible, so you'll
a card reader or a reboot to Mac OS 9 to use it. Things work smoothly
in modern versions of Windows.
EOS-1Ds's manual is pretty good -- and you'll need it, as the
is very complex. There aren't too many "notes" at the
bottom of the page, and everything is explained pretty well. There
is also a large manual covering the software for both Mac and
like Nikon's D1X, the EOS-1Ds is a big camera that means business.
It's bigger and heavier than most SLR cameras (it's based on the
EOS-1v 35mm camera), but at the same time, is exceptionally easy
to hold. The right hand grip is large, and depending on the lens,
there's plenty of room for the left hand as well. The camera's build
quality is nothing short of amazing. Canon tells me that the camera
is waterproof and can be used in a downpour. I took their word for
official dimensions of the camera (minus a lens) are 6.1 x 6.2 x
3.1 inches (W x H x D) and it weighs a whopping 1.26 kg without
a battery, flash, or lens. That's a whopping 2.8 pounds! My arm
was exhausted after carrying it around for 30 minutes.
take a 360 degree tour of the EOS-1Ds now:
is the front of the camera, minus the lens of course. I will use
this opportunity to mention an important issue about removable lens
digital cameras: dust. On most other cameras, the lens is sealed
to the body, so no dust can get in. This is not the case on pro
SLR digitals, which I learned the hard way when I had the EOS-1D.
easiest way to prevent this is not to remove the lens very often.
If you switch lenses, there's a chance that crap will get in the
body. You can use an air blower to clean the sensor if need be.
of the great things about the EOS-1Ds is that the CMOS sensor has
the same dimensions as 35mm film. That means that your lenses work
as advertised. Before, you'd have to multiply the focal range by
something like 1.4 in order to find the true focal length. Not so
with the 1Ds -- 28mm - 135mm is just that. You can use any lens
compatible with the EF lens mount (more or less). Odds are that
yours will work just fine.
are just a few other items on the front of the camera. Just to the
left of the lens mount is the self-timer lamp. To the lower left
of the lens mount is the depth of field preview button. Over on
the other side, you can see the lens release button. At the top
right of the photo is the white balance sensor.
the 1Ds lacks an AF-assist lamp, it can use the one found on
an external flash.
you like buttons and wheels, the 1Ds is your camera. The back of
the camera is covered with them, and I admit to reading the manual
since I had no clue how to operate the menus when I first used a
1D last year. Intuitive, it is not.
why: on most cameras, you hit the menu button and then use a four-way
switch to move between items. It seems that four-way switches are
taboo on pro SLRs, so you have to use the wheel. Instead of just
turning the wheel to change things, you have to hold down a button
(Select, for example) and then turn the wheel. To select a menu
item, you just release the Select button. Moving between photos
in playback mode works the same way.
2" LCD is only used for reviewing photos and using the menu
system. Like all real digital SLR's (at least expensive ones), you
cannot preview a shot on the LCD. You must use the optical viewfinder.
surprisingly, the optical viewfinder is very large and easy to see.
As you'd expect on an SLR camera, it covers 100% of the field. There
is exposure information on both the bottom and right sides of the
viewfinder. When you lock focus, small red squares illuminate to
show you what part of the frame the camera is focusing on. These
red squares are also used when you're manually selecting the focus
point. There is also diopter correction for those with less than
that out of the way, here is what the buttons on the left side of
the LCD are for:
image / Record sound clip (up to 30 sec with each photo)
(for moving around menus)
(enters playback mode, changes info shown in it) / WB bracketing
(button 1 of 2)
two buttons below the LCD are for:
balance / WB bracketing (button 2 of 2)
two buttons can illustrate another quirk about the EOS-1Ds usability.
You probably noticed that there were two buttons for white balance
bracketing. You have to hold both of these down, and then turn
wheel, to activate this option. To clear settings, you hold down
both of the buttons above. As I said, it takes some getting used
white balance choices are excellent on the 1Ds, as you'd expect.
personal WB settings
right, with the 1Ds you can actually set the color temperature
want to use for white balance. The range is 2800 - 10000 °K,
in 100 °K increments. You also have the option of using the
custom mode to shoot a white or gray card, and use that for "white".
You can store your favorite white balance settings as well.
LCD info display just below the main LCD is one of two such displays
on the camera, both of which are backlit if need be. This one shows
the current white balance, quality, and size settings, as well as
folder name and file number (among other things).
back to buttons now. Just right of the LCD is the main command
used for changing settings. You can disable it, so you don't accidentally
change something. To the lower-left of that is the microphone.
Moving to the right, we see the power switch. There
are two "on" options: one with a beep sound when focus
is locked, and one without. Just right of that is the release
the CompactFlash slot (more on this in a bit).
three buttons at the bottom right and top right are the same: they
are redundant. The ones at the top are when the camera is in landscape
orientation, and the ones at the bottom are for portrait orientation.
My description will be for the top buttons.
leftmost and rightmost buttons are both for focus points. You can
define a point in the frame to focus on, and you can store it so
you can easily get back to it later. The button in-between (AE lock)
will lock the exposure settings for six seconds, giving you time
to recompose and take the shot.
is a close-up of the back of the camera, with the CompactFlash
open. This is, of course, a Type II slot, and the 1gb Microdrive
works great. Do note that using the Microdrive will put more
on the batteries than a regular CF card. I found it difficult to
open the door sometimes.
let's move onto the top of the EOS-1Ds. The buttons over on the
left side may have confused you already, so here's my explanation.
The buttons have one function when they are pushed, but can also
work in combination with the surrounding buttons (like the WB bracketing
on the back of the camera). That's what those arrow-looking things
between the buttons are. The basic functions of these buttons are:
(Program, manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, depth-of-field)
(One shot, AI servo) - you'll use the former for stationary subjects,
and the latter for moving subjects
(evaluative, partial, spot, center-weighted) / Flash exposure
compensation (-3EV to +3EV in 1/3EV increments)
the truly hardcore, you can even do multiple spot metering measurements
-- up to 8 of them per photo.
of the "modes" I listed should be familiar to everyone,
but here's a review of what they do:
mode: camera chooses best exposure settings
priority mode: you choose aperture, camera chooses appropriate
shutter speed. The aperture range will vary depending on your
lens. On an 16 - 35 mm lens, for example, it was F2.8 - F22.
priority mode: you choose shutter speed, camera chooses aperture.
The shutter speed range is 30 - 1/8000 sec. There is a bulb mode
available as well, which keeps the shutter open for as long as
the button (or more likely, remote shutter release) is held down
mode: you set both aperture and shutter speed
mode: you choose two points in the field, and the camera makes
sure both will be in focus
here are the functions you get when pressing two buttons at once:
+ AF = AE Bracketing (-3EV to +3EV in 1/3EV increments for three
+ Metering = Drive (Single-frame, continuous, self-timer (10 and
+ Metering = ISO (100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640,
800, 1000, 1250) - you can also activate ISO 50 via the Custom
EOS-1Ds has a nice continuous shooting mode, though it's not nearly
as impressive as that of its predecessor. It can shoot up to 10
shots in a row at a 3 frames/second, even in RAW mode.
back to our tour now -- at the center of the photo is the 1Ds's hot
shoe, which as you'd expect, supports most of Canon's EX-series
Speedlites. Some of the fancy features that you get with the EX-series
Speedlites on the EOS-1Ds include:
autoflash: the camera measures the flash exposure using a pre-flash
sync - the flash can be used with all shutter speeds on the 1Ds
exposure lock (similar to AE lock but for flash exposure)
exposure compensation and bracketing
wireless autoflash with multiple Speedlites
note that in order to use that high-speed sync for the flash, you'll
have to put it into that mode. Otherwise, the flash will only use
30 - 1/500 sec shutter speeds.
do non-Canon flashes work? Quoting the manual, "the EOS-1Ds
can synchronize with compact, non-Canon flashes at 1/250 sec or
slower. With a large studio flash, the sync speed is 1/125 sec or
the right side of the picture are, you guessed it, more buttons,
plus the main LCD info display.
like with the bottom LCD info display, this one is backlit. This
display shows about every setting imaginable. The manual provides
all the details about that.
buttons just above the info display are for the LCD backlight (left
button) and exposure compensation (right button). Exposure compensation
is -3EV to +3EV in 1/3EV increments.
that is the FEL button, secondary command dial, and shutter release
button. The FEL (flash exposure lock) button will fire the flash
once and store the exposure setting for 16 seconds.
buttons! Let's move onto the sides of the camera now.
one side of the camera, where you'll find the I/O ports and the
the battery is a multi-step process. You flip the lever down, twist,
and then press another button, and out it comes.
take a closer look at those I/O ports, where are safely covered
by weatherproof rubber covers.
top to bottom, the ports are flash sync, remote shutter release,
and FireWire. There is no USB support on this camera,
so you'll either need to buy a FireWire card or a card reader.
Or, a Macintosh (shameless plug).
this side of the camera, you can see the redundant controls
when the camera is in portrait orientation (down at the bottom).
You can turn them off so you don't accidentally screw something
here is the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find the metal
tripod mount and a third strap mount.
the Canon EOS-1Ds
you have a camera with no lens to extend, it usually starts up
quickly. The 1Ds is no exception -- it's ready to go almost instantly.
There is no "live view" of the frame on the LCD before you take
a shot. You only see the picture after you've taken it.
shouldn't come as a surprise, but in terms of AF/shutter lag
performance, the 1Ds is as good as they come. Focusing was very
quick, except in low light when it had to hunt a bit. Shutter
lag was nonexistent.
though it's writing huge 11 Megapixel files, the EOS-1Ds still
has excellent shot-to-shot speed. Regardless if you're shooting
JPEG, RAW, or RAW+JPEG, the camera can take
another shot as fast as you can compose
EOS-1Ds does not have a TIFF mode. Rather,
it uses a lossless RAW format, which you then process on your computer
using special software. The big advantage of RAW is the file
size: it's substantially less than the size of a TIFF. You can
also fool around with the exposure settings with a RAW file,
data. As I alluded
to, you can record RAW files alone, or save a JPEG file along
take a look at the many image size and quality choices on the EOS-1Ds:
of images on 128MB card (not included)
reading the above chart, you'll probably agree that you need
a huge memory card to truly enjoy the 1Ds!
going to describe the recording and custom function menus in this
review. Be warned that the latter is lengthy!
WB - choose an image to be used for custom white balance setting;
this is usually a white or gray card.
temp (2800 - 10000 °K) - pick a color temperature for white
- you can have up to three sets of processing parameters, that
include the following settings:
Matrix (1 - 5) - select from the following:
looking hue and chroma"
and chroma suitable for portraits. Effective for rendering
and chroma similar to high-chroma slide film. Effective for
making colors clear."
low-chroma. "Effective for making color tone moderate."
recording (RAW + Large/Fine, RAW + Large/Normal, RAW + Small/Fine,
(off, on, on + info) - whether the image is shown on LCD after
it is taken. Can also show exposure info/histogram if you want.
time (2, 4, 8 sec, hold)
reduction (on, off) - reduces noise in long exposures. Increases
amount of time between shots.
- Auto power off (1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30 min)
- File numbering (A-Reset, Continuous, M-Reset)
- Card format
- Sensor cleaning
- LCD brightness
- Firmware - update your firmware if need be
- Language (English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese)
was the easy part. Now, take a deep breath, here comes the Custom
Finder display during exposure (on/off) - displays exposure info
and remaining shots during continuous shooting.
2. Shutter release w/o CF card (on/off) - whether the shutter
button will work if a CF card is not inserted
3. ISO speed expansion (on/off) - activates ISO 50
4. Shutter button / AE lock button (AF/AE lock, AE lock/AF, AF/AF
lock, AE/AF) - define what this button does
Manual Tv/Av setting for manual exposure - what dial changes aperture
and shutter speed, and whether you can change them without a lens
6. Exposure level increments (1/3|1/3, 1|1/3, 1/2|1/2) - those
are the increments from shutter speed/aperture and exposure compensation
(divided by the | character)
7. USM lens electronic MF (on after one-shot AF, off after one-shot
AF, always off) - disables the electronic manual focusing system
on Canon USM lenses
8. Top / Bottom LCD panels (Remaining shots / file no., ISO /
remaining shots, ISO / file no., shots in folder / remaining shots)
- what info is shown on the LCD info displays
9. Auto bracketing sequence / cancel - the order in which AE bracketing
shots are taken, and whether the camera cancels AE bracketing
when you're done
10. AF point illumination (on, off, on without dimming, brighter)
11. AF point selection method - which buttons operate this function
12. Mirror lockup (on/off) - locks up the mirror before a shot
is taken; for super close-up shots
13. Number of AF points / spot metering (45/Center AF point, 11/Active
AF point, 11/Center AF point, 9/Active AF point)
14. Auto reduction of daylight sync (on/off) - when OFF, prevents
underexposure of a subject in front of a strong backlight
15. Shutter curtain synchronization (1st, 2nd) - for flash slow
16. Safety shift in Av or Tv (on/off) - if turned on and settings
suddenly become unsuitable, the camera will shift settings to
correctly expose image.
AF point activation area (single AF point, expand/7 pts., auto
expand/13 pts.) - turn this one to help focus on erratically moving
18. Switch to registered AF point - which button will switch to
registered AF point
19. Lens AF stop button function (AF stop, AF start, AE lock while
metering, AF point, AF mode, IS start) - this button is only found
on super-telephoto lenses
20. AI servo tracking sensitivity (standard, slow, mod. slow,
mod. fast, fast)
00. Focusing screen - choose which type of laser-matte screen
you're using. I have no idea what this is 00 instead of 21.
those weren't enough, there are personal functions as well. These
really let you customize the operation of your 1Ds. You set the
personal functions in software on your computer. Here's a look
Custom Function group registration - for storing 3 sets of
Disables the shooting modes (Program AE, shutter priority,
aperture priority, depth-of-field, bulb, manual)
Disables the metering modes (Evaluative, partial, spot, center-weighted)
03. Specify metering mode for manual exposure (Evaluative, partial,
04. Set maximum and minimum shutter speeds
05. Set maximum and minimum apertures
06. Registers and switches the shooting mode and metering mode
- for presetting a shooting/metering mode
Repeat bracketing during continuous shooting
08. Number of shots to be bracketed (2, 3, 5, 7)
09. Change bracketing sequence for C. Function 09-2/3 to +,
10. Retain the shift amount for program shift
14. Disable focus detection by the lens drive
15. Disable AF-assist beam on external Speedlite
16. Enable automatic shooting when focus is achieved at the
fixed point of focus while the shutter button is pressed fully
- takes a picture automatically when the subject is at the preset
17. Disable automatic AF point selection
Enable automatic AF point selection when C. Function 11-2 has
19. Set the continuous shooting speed
20. Limit number of shots in continuous shooting mode
21. Enable quiet operation when the shutter button is off after
23. Change the timer's time length (6 sec timer, 16 sec timer,
post-shutter release timer)
24. Illuminate LCD info displays during bulb exposures
25. Set the default settings when the clear button is on - choose
the default settings for the camera to use when it's reset
27. Enable the electronic dial's functions to be used in the
reverse direction (main dial, quick control dial, both dials)
28. Prevent exposure compensation adjustment with quick control
30. Enlargement mode (shows from image center, shows from last
31. Add original decision data
above is listed for your information only. The manuals go into
much more detail about each function, so you'll definitely want
to read those. I have no idea why they skip numbers in the function
enough about menus - let's talk photo quality!
EOS-1Ds did an incredible job with the City Hall night shot.
This shot is probably the best I've taken in this location (okay,
the full-size image is a little crooked). I did crank up the
sharpness a few steps, since I wanted to avoid the soft images
the 1Ds takes at default settings. There's a little bit of grain
in the sky and shadows, but overall, "wow".
story about sharpness settings in our macro test shot. The colors
look nice and the subject is nicely focused (thank you, aperture
priority mode). Macro focal lengths will vary depending on your
didn't do a redeye test in this review, since the lens and flash
you use will affect how the camera performs in that regard. I
would imagine with an external flash you won't have any problems.
test I did do illustrates the image softness that I have been
referring to. At default settings, the EOS-1Ds produces very
soft images -- too soft for my liking. Thankfully, you can totally
customize the sharpening system that the 1Ds uses. Here's an
increase the sharpness level toward its maximum of 5, you can see
that grain increases. I liked things best at a sharpness level of
2 or 3. Since you have full control over sharpness, you can find
a setting that works best for you.
overall photo quality on the 1Ds is superb -- it really
doesn't get much better than this. Images were well-exposed and
colors were accurate. I've covered the softness at default settings,
and also explained how it can be avoided.
11 Megapixel resolution means that you can make some huge prints.
I printed the Stanford church picture at 24 x 36 inches and it
just take my word about the photo quality, have a look at the photo
gallery and decide for
playback mode on the EOS-1Ds is pretty basic. The only features
thumbnail mode, image protection, sound annotations (up to 30 sec),
and image information. There is no slide show, DPOF print marking,
Navigating through the images takes some getting used to, just
like using the menus.
camera moves through images quickly -- hold down the select button
and turn the wheel. By holding down the display button and turning,
you can change what is shown on the screen - one image, 4 images,
9 images, or image info.
what you'll see in the image info mode. Not as much data as I would've
expected, especially compared to Nikon's high end cameras.
Does it Compare?
you've got the money and an investment in Canon lenses, the EOS-1Ds
is one heck of a camera. In addition to being compatible with
nearly all Canon lenses and Speedlites, it's one of the most
customizable cameras anywhere. Did I mention the 11 Megapixel
images? They're a little soft at default settings, but that's
easy to fix, using the very complex controls. The camera is intimidating,
for sure. Though I haven't tried it, Kodak's DCS Pro 14n is
an intriguing competitor, offering 14 Megapixel images for $3000
less using a (mostly) Nikon body. By the way, if you're stepping
up from a "regular" digital camera to a digital SLR,
the 1Ds is most certainly overkill. But pro photographers will
want to add it to their collection!
(and heavy!) camera body
frame (35mm) CMOS sensor
manual control ever conceived (almost)
backlit LCD info displays
use existing Canon lenses and Speedlites
I didn't care for:
for the faint of heart (controls are intimidating)
soft at default settings
now, the only other super high resolution D-SLR is the aforementioned
DCS Pro 14n.
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try
the EOS-1Ds and it's competitors before you buy!
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos
in our photo gallery!
a few more opinions?
sure to read the reviews from Steve's
Resource, and Digital
Photography Review! Don't miss their sample pictures
either, as they often photograph subjects (read:
people) that I don't.
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests
for personal camera recommendations.