Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (Body Only) review: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (Body Only)

In our field tests, the 1Ds Mark III yielded remarkably accurate exposures and was rarely fooled by tricky scenes, but the 3D color Matrix Metering found in Nikon's D3--with its 1,005-pixel sensor and onboard database of comparison image data--barely edges out the 1Ds Mark III's evaluative mode when it comes to very tricky situations. Ultimately, though, this may be a matter of preference on my part, since the Nikon tends to err on the side of caution in preserving highlight detail by slightly underexposing in some situations, while the Canon will serve up what is traditionally a proper exposure. Really, you can't call either approach "wrong." If you're really worried about highlights, though, you can activate the Mark III's Highlight Tone Priority custom function, which makes use of the camera's 14-bit digital conversion to extend the upper portion of the dynamic range to help preserve highlight detail. There's an example of this in the slide show that accompanies this review.

Another feature the 1Ds Mark III shares with its 1D cousin is the Picture Style menu in which you can quickly adjust sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone to change the overall look of the images you capture. In addition to six presets, which can each be modified as you see fit, there are three user-defined settings so you can make up your own. Among the presets is a monochrome setting, which includes filter effects that mimic traditional (yellow, orange, red, and green) black-and-white filter sets. In addition to the filters, there are also toning effects, such as sepia, blue, purple, or green. The black-and-white filter effects are subtle, but do a decent job of approximating the effect of real filters. Best of all, you can access the Picture Style menu from a dedicated button next to the FUNC button, so if you want to create different styles for different situations, it's easy to switch between them quickly.

As has become the norm on high end dSLRs, the 1Ds Mark III includes a slew of custom functions, so you can tweak the camera to your heart's delight. That means you really should sit down and read the manual--at very least the section that details the custom functions. If you don't you'll be missing out on a lot of the things this camera can do. For example, you can extend the sensitivity range from its default of ISO 100-1,600 one stop in either direction, to cover ISO 50-3,200, though the camera displays L and H respectively for these extremes. You can also limit sensitivity to a tighter range, or do the same for shutter speeds or apertures. Some of the buttons, such as the aforementioned AF-On button, can be changed to perform slightly- or very-different functions. With the AF Microadjustment function, you can fine tune the AF so that it focuses slightly ahead or behind the point that it normally would focus to. This can be set to apply only to certain lenses, or all lenses. Nikon offers a similar adjustment in the D3. Canon also lets you save up to three sets of custom functions, so if you share the camera, or want certain settings for certain types of jobs, you can save them and switch among them quickly and easily.

As usual, the 1Ds 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 is a strange area for the 1Ds Mark III. Although it has two Digic III processors to crunch all the bits that constitute 21.1MP of image data, the sheer number of pixels means that it can't keep up with Canon's own 1D Mark III, or Nikon's D3, when it comes to continuous shooting. That said, it does excel at all other areas of performance.

Part of the joy of shooting with a camera of this caliber is its consistency of operation. The 1Ds Mark III delivers very consistent results. Its automatic white balance is a great example. Not only does it do a phenomenal job of neutralizing colors under tough conditions, but it also serves up predictable results when returning to similar conditions. I have been shooting a lot in the New York City subway system, which has some nasty (from a color standpoint) fluorescent lighting. The 1Ds Mark III handled it with aplomb and yielded almost identical results when returning to the same shooting situation on different days. Its numeric color temperature mode, along with its white balance shift, helped me get just the results I wanted from a nighttime outdoor shot lit largely by bizarre-colored streetlamps. The result, which can be seen in the accompanying slide show, might not be absolutely true to life, but it's extremely close and is precisely what I wanted and the camera's LCD gave a very good representation of the final color on my calibrated monitor.

In our lab's speed tests, which were conducted using Canon's EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens, the 1Ds Mark III fared very similarly to the 1D Mark III, though this 21.1MP beast took slightly longer to rouse from its rest. The 1Ds Mark III took 0.3 second to start up and capture its first JPEG, compared to 0.1 sec for the 1D Mark III. After that, the 1Ds Mark III took 0.4 second between JPEG or RAW shots. Shutter lag measured an impressive 0.4 second in our high contrast test and 0.9 second in our low contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively.

Continuous shooting yielded an average of 5 frames per second, just as Canon claims. The camera can capture up to 12 consecutive RAW images or 56 full-resolution JPEGs with JPEG quality set to 8 instead of its top setting of 10. A little counter in the viewfinder shows you how many more images can be stored in the buffer while you're in continuous shooting mode. The 1D Mark III is the real speed freak of the Canon tribe, turning in 9.9fps in our tests, though it has just less than half the number of pixels that this camera has.

The 1Ds Mark III uses the same battery as the 1D Mark III, which is a change from the batteries used by previous 1D models. This will be a hassle for pros and businesses, who usually have extra batteries and chargers. Canon rates the battery life at about 1800 shots and I would believe them. Suffice to say, you'll get a lot of shooting time from each battery charge.

Image quality
The 1Ds Mark III can capture beautiful, amazingly detailed images. Colors are extremely accurate and, as mentioned above, the automatic white balance system does a great job of keeping color neutral across a wide range of lighting. As usual for a higher end camera, the auto white balance keeps a slight warmth to incandescent-lit shots, though the tungsten preset can eliminate that if you prefer, or you can set a manual white balance if you have the inclination.

One of the nicest things about the 1Ds Mark III is its low noise. You can make pleasing prints across the entire sensitivity range of this SLR, which is a liberating feeling when you're out shooting. Too often I find myself setting limits on sensitivity when shooting with some SLRs. This isn't to say that there is no noise present in the 1Ds Mark III's images. Mostly, it remains a very fine multicolored grain, and that doesn't even manifest itself in a noticeable way until ISO 800. Even then, the 1Ds Mark III maintains very vibrant colors, ample shadow detail, and plenty of fine detail. If you want extremely clean images you should probably stick to ISO 400 and below, but I was happy to shoot with not-very-reckless abandon even with the sensitivity range widened.

The Canon 1Ds Mark III isn't for everyone. You really have to have a need for a lot of pixels to warrant buying one instead of the 1D Mark III, which offers very similar image quality, an extra stop of sensitivity, and double the burst speed for thousands fewer dollars. For my style of shooting, I'd opt for the 1D Mark III and spend the savings on some primo lenses. That shouldn't diminish the 1Ds Mark III in any way though. It is a unique imaging powerhouse and that can't be denied. If money were no object, I'd want one. The bigger question is whether current 1Ds Mark II owners should step up. That's a tough question. There, the difference in megapixels is more negligible. The real difference comes down to whether those extra pixels really mean something to you and whether you value the 1Ds Mark III's improvement in noise over its predecessor, which can't be discounted. Ultimately, you have to ask if you've been disappointed in, or felt limited by, the 1Ds Mark II's performance and image quality. Of course, the 1Ds Mark III's larger screen, live view shooting, and beefed up AF and exposure systems also give a reason to step up, though these aren't as big a motivation. Overall, I'd go for the upgrade, especially if it can be considered a business expense.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Olympus E-3
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III
Nikon D2Xs
Canon EOS 1D Mark III
Nikon D300
Sony Alpha DSLR-A700

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Nikon D300
Canon 1Ds Mark III

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Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (Body Only)

Part Number: 2011B002
MSRP: $11,999.95 Low Price: $5,999.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type SLR
  • Sensor Resolution 21.1 Megapixel
  • Optical Sensor Size 24 x 36mm
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS