Canon ups the ante with its 8-megapixel EOS-1D Mark II, the fastest-shooting digital SLR on the market. Made for magazine photographers covering news and sports, the Mark II also works well for portrait shooters who want a versatile, small-format digital camera. The Mark II replaces the EOS-1D--which was already at the top of its class--and makes improvements across the board.
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: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
The body design of the Canon EOS-1D Mark II is very similar to that of its predecessor, the EOS-1D. At 3.4 pounds without a lens, the Mark II 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 EOS-1D in the snow knows how difficult it was to change out CompactFlash cards with gloves on. On the Mark II, the tab protrudes a little bit, making it much easier to open.
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You can change several basic settings by pressing these buttons on the left of the camera top while turning a mode dial with your right hand.
As with the original EOS-1D, the Mark II 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.
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The Mark II's vertical grip is comfortable to hold and incorporates a second set of shooting controls.
The Depth of Field mode available on the EOS-1D has been omitted on the Mark II, so the shooting modes you cycle through with the command dial now include only Program, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Bulb. If you're 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.
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The top status LCD shows information regarding the photographic operation of the camera, including exposure parameters, as well as Metering, Drive, and Focus modes. You can select continuous ISO display via the Mark II's custom functions.
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The rear status LCD shows digital settings, and also confirms which of the Mark II's two card slots is currently active. The well-organized main menu system has been updated. It still requires that a button be depressed twice to delete images, but it now takes four pushes to format the card. This is to prevent accidental loss of images.
Canon's EOS-1D Mark II is one of the most customizable cameras on the market, with 21 custom functions and 27 personal functions that you set via the included desktop software. Plan on spending some time setting up the camera before you begin shooting. I developed a set of basic recommendations for Sports Illustrated photographers, which you can view here. Canon has dropped the Depth of Field mode that was available on the original EOS-1D. Because this camera does not use the electronic shutter that let its predecessor achieve shutter speeds of 1/16,000 second, its top shutter speed is 1/8,000 second--still pretty fast. You can now choose from 40 different JPEG compression levels without hooking the camera up to a computer. Among the new image adjustment controls are contrast and auto-white-balance correction. The Mark II's lowest ISO setting has been dropped to a clean ISO 50 while its top ISO setting remains ISO 3200.
The Mark II is compatible with Canon EF-mount lenses. Like its predecessor the EOS-1D, 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 Nikon's D2H 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.
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You can shoot to either a CompactFlash card or an SD card with the Mark II. When you activate the Backup function, your images will be saved to both media simultaneously.
Equipped with two card slots, this camera lets you shoot to either CompactFlash or SD media. While you can use the SD slot for backup, that feature could be much more useful. For example, the Kodak DCS Pro SLRn can write raw files to one card and JPEGs to the other when in RAW+JPEG mode. I can only hope that Canon is planning on using the SD slot for future upgrades, such as wireless transmitting or Bluetooth connectivity.
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 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.
Canon wisely stopped using the TIF suffix for raw files some time ago, so unlike the EOS 1D, the Mark II uses the new CR2 extension. This eliminates any confusion between the different TIFF formats available to photographers. The image filenames are always eight characters--the first four are specific to a particular camera body, and the last four are a sequential number starting at 0001. However, when shooting in the Adobe RGB color space (which many prepress departments require for magazine reproduction), the Mark II changes the first letter to an underscore character. I preferred the consistent filenames from the EOS-1D. Canon has managed to slightly increase the EOS-1D Mark II's fastest full-resolution drive speed over the original EOS-1D's to 8.5 frames per second in optimal conditions--and that's while doubling the resolution. In addition, the buffer will now hold 40 JPEG images or 20 raw files before reaching capacity. Another small but useful improvement over the EOS-1D is that 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.
While the Mark II's fast write speed is to be commended, the camera still takes almost a minute to clear the entire buffer after shooting a burst of 20 RAW+JPEG files. That can seem like an eternity in the middle of a shoot. Although you can start shooting again as the buffer clears, the shot-to-shot time is much too slow for capturing action. However, if you're simply taking low-quality JPEGs, you can get as many as 150 shots in a continuous burst. The Mark II actually writes to an SD card about twice as rapidly as it does to the equivalent CompactFlash card. Unfortunately, SD cards lag behind CompactFlash in capacity and cost more per megabyte, a disparity that I hope will change in the future.
The Mark II's 21-zone evaluative metering system is excellent, and its automatic shooting modes do an amazing job at getting the exposure just right. Canon has apparently made improvements to the 45-point autofocus system, but it was already so good in the EOS-1D that it's difficult to notice a difference.
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The bright viewfinder gives you a 100 percent view, and there are nine interchangeable focusing screens available. A built-in eyepiece shutter prevents light leaks during long exposures.
This camera has a brighter, higher-resolution main LCD than its predecessor, but it's still the same 2-inch size and appears small compared to the 2.5-inch screen on its main competitor, the Nikon D2H. Like the 11-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds, the Mark II can zoom in on images in review mode, but at 10X magnification, you can't judge focus because nothing looks sharp on the screen. Unlike the 1Ds, however, you don't have to activate the zoom feature with a personal function--it's ready to go out of the box.
Compared to the Nikon D2H, the Mark II is slow to review images on the LCD, and there is a noticeable delay when switching from frame to frame. In all fairness, the files are twice the size of the D2H's, so it takes more time to write and generate thumbnails. When you first pull up an image, it appears to be out of focus, but it sharpens as the higher-resolution thumbnail appears.
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Canon rates the rechargeable NP-E3 nickel-metal-hydride battery pack for 1,200 shots at 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 800 shots at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Mark II uses the same rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride battery as its predecessor. 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. The good news is that the Mark II's CMOS chip consumes less power than a CCD, so the battery lasts three to five times longer than it did in the EOS-1D.
Another welcome addition is the new E-TTL II flash mode. One of the biggest problems with digital cameras has always been getting accurate on-camera flash exposures. The new metering system appears to have solved this, since it's difficult to make a bad flash exposure with E-TTL II. 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.