Reflex Canon EOS 1DX Mark III: a war machine for sports photography

This is THE area in which SLRs have not yet bowed down to hybrids: the future of sports photography remains in the SLR camp with the announcement of the upcoming release of the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III.A huge monobloc housing with integrated vertical grip as required by the “sport” camera format.A camera that has a foot in the world of SLRs – mirror, mechanical shutter, optical viewfinder, etc.- and a camera with a foot in the world of SLRs.- and another in the “electronic” photo.Small anatomy of a monster.

The 1Dx and Dx ranges are, for both Canon and Nikon, a test of strength where each of the two “big guys” puts the package on the side of speed, autofocus and resistance.Image definition is not really a topic, since it is a matter of sending, in every conceivable situation, good images, as quickly as possible, to editorial offices all over the world.The 1DX Mark III does not outbid the competition on the pixel side, with a sensor of “only” 20.1 megapixels, even though the component is completely new – dual-pixel technology, new low-pass filter for improved image accuracy, sensitivity range from ISO 100 to 102,400 (expandable to 819,200!).

In addition to its imposing size and the horde of joints and other reinforcements on all sides, the monster now sends 16 images per second through a mechanical shutter.A shutter still at 1/8000th, but which takes advantage of a new mechanism even faster (and even more robust: 500,000 shutter releases!) to reduce the dwell time to its simplest expression.Thanks to its dual-pixel sensor, the 1DX Mark III can even shoot at 20 fps with an electronic shutter, but then the viewer is able to see the screen.A possible use, but not preferred by professional photographers who use this type of body: according to Canon studies, 95% of sports photographers prefer optical aiming, blaming the electronic viewfinder for its slight delay.


Note that despite its “rugged” character, the 1DX Mark II weighs 100 grams less than the Mark II.Grams that the engineers took 4 years to “tear off” by dint of optimizations.

The 1DX Mark III is a reflex with a mechanical sauce, but its electronics oscillate between those of reflex and hybrid cameras.Just like traditional SLRs, it incorporates a sensor dedicated to focusing and exposure measurement, a prism, a mirror, etc., which is used to measure the exposure.The display is a new 2.1 megapixel touchscreen LCD panel and the case features two CF Express memory card slots.But once in viewfinder mode, the 1DX Mark III is dressed in the finery of a hybrid camera.In addition to 100% silent shutter release (electronic shutter) and an even better burst (20 fps), it uses all the pixels on its surface for focusing (Dual Pixel sensor) or keeping the focus on the eye (Eye AF).

Among the improved image processing tools is the use of the photographic capabilities of H.265 with the appearance of the HEIF codec already found in the iPhone.Compressing twice as well as Jpeg – which remains the format of choice in sports photography – HEIF also offers more image quality for the same file size.When the 1DX Mark III produces an 8-bit 4:2:2 Jpeg (256), for the same memory card footprint, it can also produce a 10-bit encoded 4:2:2 HEIF (1024), which is much richer in information.

At the heart of the EOS 1DX Mark III’s performance is the all-new Digic X processor, a chip whose raw image processing power (pixels) is multiplied by x3.1 and whose computing capabilities (video encoding, AI algorithm manipulation, etc.) are boosted up to x380.A figure that means nothing except that the capabilities are very extended.These include the “digestion” of 400 million pixels per second (20 Mpix twenty times per second with an electronic shutter), in addition to 5.5K video (see below), as well as brand new AF algorithms.And the AF is kind of the crux of the matter in this kind of reflex.

Also, in addition to the integrated Digic X that manages the entire camera, there is a Digic 8, the same one found in the EOS R.A recent processor whose entire resources are allocated to autofocus by controlling, among other things, the new AF module.And it takes a lot of power to manage this module since its resolution has been multiplied by x28 and the number of collimators has been multiplied by x3.This greater accuracy allows the camera to successfully detect (and track) human heads even in “reflex” mode, an industry first.For lazy photographers, there is also an “Auto Af Case” autofocus mode that analyzes the scene in real time and determines the type of subject to follow.

All this would be nothing without a good quantity (and quality) of internal memory.If Canon did not give exact details, the figures provided by the company on the gust side are a cause for concern.In RAW, the shooting speed starts to decrease beyond 1,000 consecutive frames.Compared to the “only” 170 consecutive RAW images announced on the 1DX Mark II available on the second-hand market at a lower price tha the new generation, the Mark III would do nearly six times better.

While hybrids have long since overtaken SLRs in video, it’s worth remembering that it was an SLR, the EOS 5D Mark II, that launched the video revolution with its full-frame sensor.Since then, Canon has shifted its focus to a line of pro cameras (C100, C300, etc.) and had clearly fallen behind Sony and Panasonic in the camera business.Even Olympus and Fujifilm are pushing hard in this area.

The 1DX Mark III marks a “wake-up call” from the pride of the Canon giant with an arm-long list of video capabilities.With as a “crown jewel”, a 5.5K 50 fps 12-bit RAW video mode at 2.6 Gbit per second (yes, that’s 325 MB/s on the memory card).A truly cinematic mode not currently found in any consumer camera, and in addition to many 4K modes (UHD, DCI) in ALL-I or IPB mode as required.

While the one-piece sports SLR format isn’t as practical as that of the hybrids, it does show the competition that Canon has it under the pedal.Sony and Panasonic must sharpen their weapons to stay in the race when the giant deigns to equip its hybrids with such technology – it wasn’t exactly the EOS R that was scary!

Paradoxically, it’s not so much the pure performance enhancements that might convince photographers and agencies to take the plunge as the camera’s communications capabilities.Because the “critical” mission of this kind of camera is not so much to offer a few pixels more or x percent less digital noise, but to help the photographer send his shots of the football match or the 100m as quickly as possible to agency feeds and editorial offices around the world.

And then Canon went all communications whiz.Firstly, the box integrates its own Wi-Fi chip that troubleshoots over a range of 10-15 m, as well as a 45 gigabit RJ network socket.Next, Canon has developed a new dual-band (2.4 and 5 GHz) Wi-Fi (WFTE 9) adapter that pushes network coverage up to 150m guaranteed (300m theoretical).For the shoot mode connected to an RJ45 upload box, the EOS 1DX Mark III protects (at last!) its SFTP connection and can now be accessed remotely by desks using its internal web browser, in HTTPS of course.

Finally, the entire core of the device’s editorial functions (management of IPTC fields, FTP sending servers and directories, image reading and tagging, etc.) can be controlled via the browser from a computer.This avoids tedious renaming of folders by using the small buttons and other knobs on the case.

The EOS 1DX Mark III will arrive from 13 February at 7300 euros and will be delivered, as a launch offer, with a 64 GB CF Express card and a computer memory card reader.