Having been a part time photographer for the past several years, I’ve managed to go through a handful of SLR cameras, with my first being an older film Minolta. The enthusiasm with that one didn’t last long, especially after realizing that without the generosity (and student discounts) that the college photography class offered, working with film was just too damn expensive. Not only did you have to pay for developing, but if you wanted to be at all creative with the process, the amount of time, equipment, chemicals and space involved was just absurd. So the Minolta didn’t last long after I graduated, especially with the popularity of digital point and shoots and the onset of digital SLR’s at the time. I went around for a while trying to be artsy with a little Sony Cybershot, which surprisingly gave me some decent photos.
Then the SLR bug bit me again, and I somehow convinced my self to get my first digital SLR with Canon’s Rebel XTI… What a mistake. Because that started my bad habit of trying to take pictures of everything. And I mean everything. That’s a whole other story.
A 40D followed after, having want for more and better features that was limiting for the Rebel series. No offense for anyone sporting such an awesome entry-level camera, it did great and I ran around with it for several years before finally hitting a wall and finding that there are better, faster cameras available.
I came to a similar wall (along with multitudinous quality problems, but again, another story) with the 40D, which prompted the purchase of the 1D Mark IV. I can’t remember the last time I felt as excited as I was when I finally heard that Kenmore Camera had them in stock at their shop, and I was ready to pick one up. Having been put on a wait list, getting that call was like Christmas morning, but instead of stumbling out of bed to open presents, I stumbled out of my car to walk into the camera store. I’m pretty sure I almost took out an elder woman in my excitement. If anyone had seen me come out of that store with that big, beautiful, black box, they probably would’ve thought that I had just gotten lucky with Natalie Portman, considering the smile I must’ve had on my face.
Taking the 1D out of its box was almost an ethereal experience. This thing is massive and felt like it was made of solid steel. The first thing that came to mind was what Boris said in Snatch: “Heavy is good. Heavy is reliable. If it doesn’t work you can always hit them with it.” The brick that is the 1D can kill an elephant.
The next thing that came to mind was how well built and thought out it seemed. Manipulating all the controls, with a little help from having grown accustomed to Canon’s interface, everything seemed natural and conformed easily in my hands. All the buttons had nice resistance and texture, all the dials confidently clicking with even the multi-controller having a very solid and sturdy feel. I couldn’t break this camera if I dropped it out of a skyscraper. Of course that was the last thing I wanted to do with it.
Before I even started taking pictures, I already jumped on customizing the controls and configuring the options for the camera. And the options are endless. You can basically choose how the camera thinks and works with you. From selecting which controls you use to select your focus point, to how it determines what you’re trying to focus on. One option that stuck out was the ability to tell how fast the AI Servo, which is the camera’s ability to continually focus on a moving subject, changes it’s mind when you switch subjects. For example, if I was tracking a running athlete, I can determine how fast the camera reacts when I turn my attention to another runner. Apparently this isn’t a new feature for the 1D series, as it’s available for the Mark III, but having never had the option on the lower end models, it was a welcome feature.
After finally taking some test shots, the new feature that jumped out the most was the LCD screen on the back. This thing was bright. And clear. If enabled, I could watch Lord of the Rings on this thing and not have a complaint. Compared to the older LCD screens, it’s much more useful for zooming in and checking to see if the shots I had taken were in focus or not, instead of waiting till I got back to a computer to review the photo. I’ve been doing a lot more chimping since.
One of the new advantages I was definitely looking forward to with getting this camera was its high speed frames-per-second rate. Being able to take up to ten pictures a second has improved the probability of getting the shot that I want in focus, especially in sports situations. Like with the track photography that I do, taking a burst of images with a faster burst rate, I’m less concerned about whether or not I got the rider in focus and can move on to the next rider. Not sure if it makes me lazier as a photographer or not, but it sure makes me less frustrated. Not to mention, the funny animated GIFs I can make whenever I happen to pull out my camera when I’m among friends.
The video capability of the 1D is still something I’m exploring, as seen by my first few attempts. As of this writing, I’ve actually completed a short music video that I did for fun while shooting the Northwood Middle School kids doing their talent show. There’s still a lot to learn with it, but the specs alone are a treat, being able to shoot in full HD, and frame rates ranging from 24 to 60 (720p). It opens up a whole new avenue of creativity, which is almost intimidating. I’ll have to see where and how far I can take this whole video thing.
Another thing I had been looking forward to was the supposedly smarter IQ of the camera I’d been having problems lately with Canon’s 24-70mm 2.8L lens backfocusing while using it with the 40D. Basically, on occasion, it would focus either just a little bit farther or closer than my intended point of focus, resulting in slightly out of focus images. I was hoping the “smartness” of the new 1D would compensate for this lens error. Surprisingly, it did, and more so than I thought it would. The problem still occurs, but less often and not as severe when it does. It’s allowed me to hold onto the lens a little longer, before I either trade it in or get it repaired.
The ISO performance of the 1D is another thing of wonder. Previously on the 40D, I was limited to having to deal with a max ISO setting of 3200, which was unusable in 99% of the situations due to the amount of grain in the image. I was hesitant to shoot anything beyond 800 ISO in fear that the noise would be too intense in the image. Complete night and day compared to the 1D’s abilities. It’s 12800 is better than the 40D’s 1600 setting, and if need be, there are higher settings up to 102400. I can’t think of any situation where I’d need to go that high, but having it available is a nice to have. I can pretty much shoot in your typical restaurant-evening low light situations as if it were day time. Inebriated photos of peers will be of a higher quality from here on out.
Having been able to shoot a bunch of track days, some events and a wedding with the new 1D Mark IV, I’m glad to say that I’m happy with the upgrade. I probably should be, considering the price, which might be the only downside to the camera – but it’s not anything unexpected, obviously. Throwing on a variety of lenses on this body has proved the camera’s versatility flawless. Maybe a little bit of microadjustment here and there, but nothing major that couldn’t be solved as long as the lens itself has no problems. The body doesn’t miss a beat unless it’s due to user error, and until I can get completely used to it, there’ll be a lot of that going on.
In conclusion, the 1d Mark IV is a beast of a camera, with the elegance and tech that any professional camera enthusiast can drool over. For someone who doesn’t do photography full time, I can’t get more top notch and satisfied than this. It’s no wonder that this is Canon’s flagship series, being so versatile and robust all at once.