Canon EOS 1D Mark III review: Canon EOS 1D Mark III

Canon officially joins the live-view SLR revolution with the 1D Mark III, which lets you frame images with the big 3-inch LCD on the back of the camera instead of the optical viewfinder, should you choose to do so. Once the Live View mode is enabled in the setup menu, all you have to do is press the Set button to enter Live View mode. When you do, the camera locks the mirror up, thereby cutting off the optical viewfinder, and you are restricted to manual focus. Conveniently, you can use the playback zoom controls to zoom in either 5x or 10x on your subject, to aid in manual focusing. Canon doesn't set any strict limits on how long you can remain in Live View mode, but it does mention that the sensor heats up in Live View mode and that you may encounter a thermometer icon on the LCD once the camera reaches a certain temperature. I never saw this icon when I used Live View mode, but if you typically shoot in very warm environments (studio hot lights, anyone?) you may run into it. As you may guess, shooting at higher ISOs should make the sensor heat up faster than at lower ISOs. Canon also warns that increased temperatures can lead to increased image noise.

As usual, along with this new SLR comes a new version of Canon's Digital Photo Professional software for raw processing. This new version (3.0) is very similar to the last version. We did notice, however, that it runs more smoothly on Intel-based Macs than did the previous version, and it now officially supports Windows Vista. If you prefer to use Adobe's Camera Raw plug-in with Photoshop, you may be as irked as we were to find out that Adobe forces you to upgrade to Photoshop CS3 or Photoshop Elements 5.0 if you want to use the latest update, which includes the 1D Mark III as well as Fuji's FinePixS5 Pro, Nikon's D40x, Olympus' E-410 and SP-550UZ, and Sigma's SD14. That's a mean piece of corporate tomfoolery on Adobe's part, especially considering the fact that pro-level photographers who would use the 1D Mark III helped make Adobe the powerhouse it is today. If you can't yet justify the expense of upgrading to Photoshop CS3, remember that Elements costs significantly less and could serve as a quick way to get the new Camera Raw, especially for pros who may have decided against upgrading to CS3. Other third-party raw processors, such as the latest version of Bibble, have also begun adding support for the 1D Mark III, so if you decide against a CS3 upgrade, there are other options available.

In addition to all the nice features of the camera body itself, the 1D Mark III is made to work with a very wide variety of Canon's optional accessories. This includes an array of Speedlites; one of the most comprehensive assortments of lenses available today; the WFT-E2A wireless file transmitter, which lets you send files to a computer via the 802.11g wireless standard; and the OSK-E3 Original Data Security Kit, which lets you verify that images have not been tampered with. Of course, there are many more accessories, but listing them all here would be excessive.

Performance
As our testing analyst Matthew Fitzgerald quipped, the Canon 1D Mark III is "a rocket ship." The camera took 0.1 second to start up and capture its first JPEG, then took 0.4 second between shots when capturing subsequent JPEGs. When shooting raw, the camera took 0.5 second between shots. Shutter lag measured 0.4 second in our high-contrast test, which mimics bright shooting conditions, and 1.1 seconds in our low-contrast test, replicating dim shooting conditions. Our lab tests were performed with Canon's EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens.

Continuous Shooting basically lived up to Canon's 10-frames-per-second (fps) claim. We were able to capture full 10-megapixel JPEGs at a rate of 9.9fps with the camera set to its highest quality JPEG compression setting of 10. Canon's claim is based on a lower compression setting of 8, but either way, it feels like you're firing a machine gun (without the recoil or death) when you shoot with the 1D Mark III in high-speed Continuous Drive mode.

Just be warned, if you do shoot 10-megapixel images in Raw+JPG mode, you'll fill up your CF or SD card extremely fast. Full size raw images from the Mark III can easily be 14MB or 15MB, while large JPEGs at the highest quality setting hover around 7MB.

The Mark III represents a major shift for Canon away from the nickel-metal-hydride battery found in previous 1D models (and stretching back to pro-level film bodies, too) to a new, much shorter, lithium-ion battery. The 2,300mAh battery looks almost identical to the one used in the Nikon D2Xs, though I wouldn't try to interchange them. Canon rates the battery to provide up to 2,200 shots per charge, and though we didn't test it, I believe them. After a full weekend of shooting many hundreds of shots in Raw+JPG mode, the battery hadn't even drained halfway. Of course, along with the new battery comes a new charger, so professionals or companies that have invested in extra batteries and chargers for older 1D models may be annoyed to find that they have to buy new spare batteries and chargers. The charger that comes with the Mark III can charge as many as two batteries at once, though only one battery comes with the camera.

Image Quality
Images shot with the Canon EOS 1D Mark III can be absolutely stunning. Colors look extremely accurate, and the automatic white balance does an excellent job of neutralizing colors under a variety of lighting situations. The only times it became confused was in situations in which there was mixed lighting, and even then it produced pleasing, if not absolutely spot-on results. If paired with a sharp lens, the 1D Mark III can produce images with a vast amount of fine detail.

However, where this camera really shines is its ultralow noise. Even at its highest sensitivity setting of ISO 6,400, we were able to make pleasing prints. On a monitor you'll see a covering of fine, multicolored grain, but there's still an impressive amount of shadow detail and finer detail, especially for such an extreme setting. At lower sensitivities, images are extremely clean, and noise doesn't even begin to show up significantly on monitors until you reach ISO 800

If you can afford the cost of the 1D Mark III, and are a Canon shooter who doesn't absolutely need the higher resolution of the 16.6-megapixel 1Ds Mark II, then this camera is a no-brainer. Nikon shooters who are reading this might even begin to second-guess their beloved brand, but with rumors flying about a possible D3, you'll probably want to wait and see if Canon's top competitor can match this. It's going to be extremely difficult, though, as this is one of the best digital cameras I've ever used.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon EOS 1D Mark III
0.1 
0.5 
1.1 
0.4 
Nikon D2Xs
0.2 
0.7 
1.1 
0.4 
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100
1 
0.5 
1.6 
0.4 
Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro
0.5 
0.8 
1.2 
0.4 
Pentax K10D
0.5 
0.5 
1.6 
0.5 
Nikon D80
0.1 
0.3 
0.9 
0.5 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate faster performance)
Canon 1D Mark III
9.9 
Nikon D80
2.9 

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Canon EOS 1D Mark III

Part Number: 1888B002

MSRP: $6,149.95

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type SLR
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 10.0 Megapixel
  • Optical Sensor Size 18.7 x 28.1mm