The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is Canon’s flagship DSLR aimed at pro photographers, with a lineage dating all the way back to 2001’s EOS-1D. As usual, this iteration of the line is full of new and updated technologies designed to make it one of the top performing cameras in the world.
A quick glance through the headline features will tell you that this is a pretty amazing camera, and unsurprisingly that’s pretty much what our review uncovered. But let’s take a look at what impressed us most, what surprised us, and maybe even what disappointed us a little bit.
Touch screen innovation – conservative UI
The EOS-1D X II gains a touchscreen, which we’ve seen work well in conjunction with the excellent live view focus that Canon’s Dual Pixel AF can bring. Sadly, and presumably in the name of backwards compatibility, its use is extremely limited.
Thus, you can customize the arrangement of the Q.Menu but can’t operate it by touch. You can use the touchscreen to specify the AF position in live view mode, but the camera can’t then track the subject and, unlike its Nikon counterpart, you can’t double-tap to zoom nor swipe to switch images.
In fairness, the 1D X II is designed as the zenith of what the conventional DSLR can do. It’s a traditional, sports-shooting super camera that will be immediately familiar to existing users of the series. But is that a reason to limit the utility of a feature that its new owners are having to pay for?
Autofocus needs careful configuration
The EOS-1D X II’s autofocus is excellent, as you’d expect for a camera whose first major outing was to cover the multitude different sporting challenges of the Rio Olympics.
Configuration is easier than on the likes of the EOS-1D IV: you now need only choose from six preset use cases, then adjust them if they’re not giving you the results you want, rather than just being confronted with the 75 different combinations that the settings allow.
However, in our testing, we found that it needed a bit more of a hand than Nikon’s D5 for it to anticipate the type of movement it needed to shoot. And that, once suitably configured, it was less adaptable to other shooting situations. Which isn’t to suggest it’s not up to the job, just that it requires a little more user input to avoid situations such asthis one, where biasing the predictive algorithm toward more erratic movement led to 6 out-of-focus shots because the camera confused a 2nd subject passing in front of the main subject as the main subject suddenly accelerating forward.
We were also hoping the higher resolution metering sensor would increase the accuracy, of the camera’s iTR focus tracking system. Sadly, the system still feltimprecise and tended to jump off the subject entirely. It works, but it’s not as effective as the 3D autofocus on the Nikon D5, which may leave many users shooting their 1D X II the same way they always have – good old trustworthy single point AF.
Quick, easy video
The 1DX II can shoot DCI 4K video at 60 frames per second. It’s the first stills camera we’ve seen that can do this and we were very impressed with the quality, detail and how little rolling shutter it exhibits. So, while we don’t expect many people to buy this camera for video shooting, it does put very good quality video into the hands of photojournalists and sideline shooters (so long as TV rights deals don’t prohibit it, of course).
And, beyond thinking of it as video, this means the 1D X II can shoot 8MP JPEGs at 60 frames per second with the camera refocusing as you shoot. Suddenly, rather than just using the touchscreen to rack focus between subjects, you can ask it to track subjects as you record and have a great chance of capturing your decisive moment.
Huge files, dual formats
High frame rate 4K isn’t an unalloyed benefit, though. The 1D X II doesn’t (or can’t) compress video into a compact video format, instead taking the unusual route of using the huge, inefficient Motion JPEG format.
It’s true that Motion JPEG gives slightly higher quality individual frame grabs even than All-I H.264 (where each frame is recorded individually), but the size cost for that gain is tremendous.
And this draws attention to the 1D X II’s decision to use two different memory card formats. You’ll need to use a CFast card to capture video at the camera’s highest rate, just as you will to maximize the camera’s buffer when 14 fps shooting. In which case, what do you use the second slot for? Even choosing to record JPEGs to the physically similar Compact Flash format while shooting Raw to a CFast risks slowing the camera down. Perhaps Canon should have been brave and made a dual CFast camera, even if that meant also offering a slower dual CompactFlash version.
The area we had least concern about was image quality (though the JPEGs seemed a little muted, by default.) Despite splitting every pixel in two and increasing the amount of circuitry, the 1D X II outperforms its predecessor in low light. That’s not enough to quite match the best sensors we’ve seen but hey, you also gain that simple autofocus in video.
The other area in which the Mark II gains an edge over the original model is dynamic range. A move to on-sensor analog-to-digital conversion means that you get Raw files will more processing latitude at low ISOs. You can push, pull and manipulate your Raw files more than before without having to worry about noise becoming visible. Which is especially useful in unexpected or challenging light the X is likely to encounter.
Take Home Message
The EOS-1D X II exceeds its predecessor in just about every way, though not without a few compromises along the way.
We love the additional dynamic range we get out of the Raw files on this camera; it makes it a much more flexible tool in challenging lighting. We also love the CFast card slot, though we kind of wish Canon had gone all the way and just put in two of them. Also, while AF is blazing fast, there are enough customization options to make you dizzy at times; practice and familiarity will pay off.
Our biggest surprise was how much we liked the 1D X II as a video camera. Thanks to Dual Pixel autofocus, it’s really easy to capture beautiful footage, even for someone who’s not a video pro. This could be a real game changer for photographers who need to capture both stills and video from the same event, or extreme action photographers that will benefit from 60 fps 4K stills (JPEG) capture, with responsive AF no less!