Canon 1D Mark III brings new sensor, processor to SLRs

Canon's EOS-1D Mark III upgrades the company's SLR image sensor, adds new Digic III image processor, and adds a bevy of other new technologies.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

Canon has countered Nikon's competitive new SLR cameras, revamping its high-performance line with the EOS-1D Mark III. The camera introduces a bevy of new features: a higher shooting rate, a new image processing chip, a live display, a more sensitive image sensor and a self-cleaning sensor.

Canon's EOS 1D-Mark III digital SLR
Canon's EOS 1D-Mark III digital SLR Canon

The 10.1-megapixel camera, announced late Wednesday, can shoot 10 frames per second. That's a notch up from the 8.5 per second of the preceding model, the 8.2-megapixel 1D Mark II N. It can shoot a burst of as many as 30 raw images--those pulled directly off the sensor without camera processing--or 110 JPEGs.

That frame rate is aimed squarely at the photojournalists who gravitate toward this line--the kinds of people who have to get the shot of the sprinter crossing the finish line. It's got a price tag only a pro could love, though--about $4,000, not including a lens.

The camera also is the first Canon SLR to sport the new Digic III image processing chip that debuted in point-and-shoots last year. To cope with the high frame rate, though, the 1D Mark III has two Digic III chips. The chips process images 50 percent faster than the Digic II and cut down image noise in darker areas. And the new chips' horsepower lets the camera employ 14 bits of data per color, up from 12 bits from earlier models, which means finer tonal distinctions such as the subtle shades of a white wedding dress in the sun.

Another major change is a redesigned and more sensitive image sensor, the heart of the camera. Canon says it's the most sensitive yet, with an ISO speed rating up to 6400 compared to the 3200 top of previous higher-end Canon SLRs. That's useful for capturing fast-moving subjects or those in low-light conditions. The camera also is Canon's first with an ISO 50 setting for the highest quality images.

The sensor has new microlenses and packs pixels more efficiently, Canon said, a key part of the effort to minimize image noise such as off-color speckles by maximizing the sensor area devoted to actually gathering light. As with the 1D Mark II, the sensor is the APS-H size that shrinks the field of view by a factor of 1.3 compared with traditional 35mm film SLRs. That means a 50mm lens on a Mark III has the field of view of a 65mm lens on a traditional film SLR. (The APS-H size is right between the APS-C sensor, which has a 1.6 crop factor and is used in the Rebel XTi and 30D SLRs, and the full-frame sensor that's the same size as a 35mm film frame and that's used in the 5D and 1Ds Mark II.)

The 1D Mark III also is the first Canon SLR to include the live preview feature that first arrived on Olympus SLRs. Point-and-shoot camera users are typically accustomed to composing their shots using the camera's LCD--indeed most new cameras have no other way--but most SLRs can show the image only after it's been taken. Canon's Live View mode lets photographers compose using the camera's 3-inch LCD if they desire, and the camera can send the preview image to a computer connected with USB or wirelessly with the new WFT-E2A transmitter transmitter.

Canon's EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens
Canon's EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens Canon
Speaking of wireless communications, the transmitter also can send images for remote storage. And the camera can store data locally with both Compact Flash or SDHC memory cards.

The 1D Mark III also includes a sensor cleaning technology that shakes the sensor when the camera is turned on or off to dislodge dust specks that often mar SLR pictures. Sensor cleaning first showed up in Canon SLRs with the Rebel XTi introduced in 2006.

Also new is a 45-point autofocus system, a lithium-ion battery that lasts 2,200 shots compared with the 1,200 of the 1D Mark II N's nickel metal hydride battery, a shutter rated to last 300,000 exposures, and a new "sraw" image file format. Canon said sraw has a quarter the resolution and half the file size and a quarter the resolution of conventional raw images.

Canon also announced a revamped high-end L series wide-angle zoom lens with a focal length range of 16-35mm and a relatively high speed of f/2.8. The new model has better image quality around the edges of the frame, Canon said.

The company also announced the 580EX II flash, which is sealed against moisture and dust and has a more durable attachment mechanism than the earlier 580EX.