Canon maintains its pro leadership with its 8-megapixel EOS-1D Mark II N, the fastest-shooting digital SLR on the market. Made for magazine photographers covering news and sports, the Mark II N also works well for portrait shooters who want a versatile, small-format digital camera. The Mark II N replaces the EOS-1D Mark II--which was already at the top of its class--and makes several useful improvements.
As a contributing photographer for Sports Illustrated magazine, I have been using the Mark II for a few months and am very impressed with its feature set, design, customization ability, and image quality. If you need evidence that it's in a league by itself, consider that SI replaced all of its EOS-1D bodies with Mark IIs.
Editor's note: The design, feature set, and image quality of the EOS-1D Mark II N is essentially the same as that of its predecessor, the Mark II. The II N has faster performance and a larger LCD than the II, so we have simply updated the original review where necessary.The body design of the Canon EOS-1D Mark II N is very similar to that of its predecessor, the EOS-1D Mark II. At 3.4 pounds without a lens, the Mark II N has a perfect weight for professional use and fits comfortably in my hand, although it might be heavy for some. A solid camera, it's weatherproofed and sealed from water, dust, and dirt.
One nice touch is that the rubber doors covering the ports swing around but don't come off, which means you won't lose them. Canon also made a small but important improvement in the release tab that opens the memory card door. Anyone who has ever shot with the original EOS-1D in the snow knows how difficult it was to change out CompactFlash cards with gloves on. On the Mark II N, like the Mark II, the tab protrudes a little bit, making it much easier to open.
As with the Mark II, the Mark II N has an integrated second grip and shutter release so that you can turn the camera 90 degrees and capture photos with a vertical orientation. Like the main grip, the vertical grip provides all the necessary controls--a command dial, a button for multispot metering and flash exposure lock, an autoexposure-lock button, an autofocus assist button, and an autofocus-point selection button--and it's comfortable to hold.
The shooting modes you cycle through with the command dial include Program, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Bulb. If you're upgrading from the original EOS-1D and used to moving the command dial two clicks to go from Manual to Aperture Priority, you'll be thrown off until you become accustomed to turning only one click.
Many of the Mark II N's enhancements over the Mark II center around image playback and the larger, brighter 2.5-inch LCD display. For one, you can set the camera to magnify the area centered around the AF point when reviewing shots, a big timesaver when you need to check your focus. Furthermore, you needn't pop into playback mode to zoom in; you can do it during Quick Review. Also, the camera can return to the last image you viewed during playback, rather than the last one you shot.
New to the Mark II N are Picture Styles. In addition to a handful of presets, you can save three custom combinations of sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone settings.
Like all the EOS models, the Mark II N is compatible with Canon EF-mount lenses (except EF-S). It has a 1.3X lens conversion, or crop factor, because its CMOS sensor is smaller than a 35mm-film frame. In other words, when you put a lens on the Mark II, it will give you the same field of view that a lens with 1.3 times greater focal length would have on a 35mm camera. The 1.3X factor makes a nice compromise between the 1.5X crop of and the 1:1 ratio for Canon's EOS-1Ds. However, I find that it's just enough of a difference that you must shoot with a wider lens to really get a wide-angle effect, but not enough to make a significant difference with longer telephoto lenses.
One smart idea is the Save/Read Camera Settings feature. Once you have your camera set up exactly the way you want it, you can save all of your settings by using a selection in the first Setup menu. The Mark II N will store your settings in a small CSD file on the root level of your card, which you can then load onto another camera or save for future use. It's a huge timesaver.
Senior editor Lori Grunin contributed to parts of this section. Canon has managed to improve all aspects of continuous-shooting performance for the EOS-1D Mark II N. It retains its fastest rated full-resolution drive speed of 8.5fps in optimal conditions, but Canon claims the buffer will now hold 48 JPEG images (up from 40), 22 raw files (up from 20), or 19 raw+JPEG before reaching capacity. In our tests, we managed to capture 257 small JPEGs at 8fps and 100 raw shots at 3fps before buffer crawl set in.
Like the Mark II, the buffer will continue to write images to the card even if you accidentally open the card door. The top status LCD will blink and tell you how many frames it has left to flush out of the buffer, but it will continue to write without a problem.
Canon has also improved the time it takes to clear the buffer. In previous tests, the Mark II took almost a minute to clear the entire buffer after shooting a burst of 20 raw+JPEG files. With the Mark II N and a SanDisk Extreme IV CF card, it took only about 22 seconds to write 21 raw+JPEG images. The Mark II N also zips through reviewing images on the LCD--close to instantaneous, in fact--a big improvement over the Mark II.
Since the Mark II N has the same excellent 21-zone evaluative metering and 45-point autofocus systems as the Mark II, its automatic shooting modes still do an amazing job at getting the exposure just right.
The Mark II N uses the same rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride battery as its predecessors. That means you won't have to buy a bunch of new batteries, but it also means Canon didn't implement a newer, longer-lasting lithium-ion or lithium-polymer battery--such as the never-ending Nikon D2H cell.
Senior editor Lori Grunin contributed to this section Editor's note: Since the Canon EOS-1D Mark II N's image quality hasn't changed from that of the EOS-1D Mark II, we've left the references specific to that camera. All comments here apply equally to the Mark II N.
The photos I've taken with the Canon EOS-1D Mark II files are smooth and show almost no noise at ISO 100 and ISO 200; even ISO 400 and ISO 800 look very good. There is no sign of the banding that plagued images from the EOS-1D. As with most dSLRs, however, you must be careful not to underexpose your images. Noise can be seen very clearly in images that are too far underexposed. Just to be safe, I prefer to overexpose my images about half a stop, then bring the exposure down when converting the raw file with image-processing software.
Mark II images also have very little sharpening applied right out of the box. Some people may be put off by the resulting softness of the images, but I like this approach, because it allows you more control in applying your own sharpening after the fact. If you prefer to apply sharpening in-camera, I recommend using a sharpness setting of 3 or 4.
Because of its high resolution and superb image quality, the Mark II will demand a lot from your lenses. For example, my 1.4X teleconverter, which worked perfectly on the EOS-1D, doesn't give me sharp results on the Mark II. The camera's high resolution shows even the slightest imperfections, so you'll have to use the highest-quality lenses to get the best results.
Click here to see some of David Bergman's photos taken with the Mark II.