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Canon EOS 1Ds review: Canon EOS 1Ds

Canon EOS 1Ds

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
7 min read
Canon's latest foray into the high-end photography market, the EOS-1Ds, may be the most capable digital SLR sold today. With an eye-popping 11.1-megapixel effective resolution, this model trounces its 3- and 6-megapixel EOS ancestors. Based on Canon's 1V 35mm-film-camera body, the 1Ds should appeal to pros and other serious shooters who have been eagerly anticipating this level of quality and flexibility in a digital camera. The downside: This Canon is priced according to its feature set.

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.


Canon EOS 1Ds

The Good

Tremendous resolution; full-frame sensor; professional body; weatherproofed; excellent handling.

The Bad

Very expensive; large and heavy; top continuous-shooting rate of only 3fps.

The Bottom Line

The 1Ds is a state-of-the-art digital SLR that meets professional imaging and performance standards, with a price to match.
The 1Ds's black, magnesium-alloy body has a comfortably reassuring build that feels much like Canon's EOS 1V film-camera body. Protected from rain and snow by rubber grommets and O-ring seals that line buttons and openings, this camera is made to last. The downside: The 1Ds is bulky and weighs 3.5 pounds with a battery installed and without a lens. This model is comparable in size and weight to a professional film camera that's outfitted with a battery pack and a vertical grip, the latter of which is incorporated into the 1Ds. But this Canon is still hefty by digital-camera standards.
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On the lower-right corner of the camera, you'll find a second set of controls to facilitate vertically oriented shooting. The switch on the left turns them off to prevent accidents.
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The status LCD on the camera's top shows current settings, most of which are changed via button/dial combinations.

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Buttons on the left side of the 1Ds's top activate settings that can then be changed using one of the dials on the camera.

The relatively straightforward control layout is very similar to that of the 4-megapixel 1D and improves upon earlier Canon digital SLR designs. However, photographers who aren't accustomed to Canon cameras or pro models in general should expect to spend some time learning what all the button/dial combinations do. And reading up on the many fine-tuning options available through the main LCD menu will benefit anyone new to the 1Ds.

The control dial on the camera's back allows you to scroll through LCD menus and change settings by pushing buttons; you can deactivate it to prevent accidents.
Three LCDs on the camera provide a wealth of information. Beyond the usual pair on the top and the back of the camera, there's a third display on the back that provides information about image-processing and -quality settings. One innovation is the fact that you can switch information--such as the number of images remaining and the ISO rating--between the top and back status LCDs. A blue backlight on the top status LCD comes in handy for night photography, and a display inside the viewfinder shows how many pics you can take before the camera needs to pause and write them to a permanent storage medium.
Anyone used to the layout of Canon's D30 or D60 will undergo a brief adjustment period with the 1Ds. Scrolling through its menus requires you to hold down one of two buttons (the appropriate button depends on the menu level) while turning a control dial. Using this process instead of pressing and releasing a button to activate the menu guards against accidents but requires a little more attention.
Two key features combine to put the 1Ds at the top of the digital SLR market: Its 11.1-megapixel effective resolution and its ability to use wide-angle lenses to their fullest potential. Because the 1Ds has a CMOS sensor of the same size and aspect ratio as a frame of 35mm film, it doesn't impose the 1.3X or 1.6X focal-length increases that have been the bane of so many other digital SLRs. It's finally possible to use a fish-eye or another ultrawide-angle lens without having it turn into a moderate-wide-angle or--worse yet--a near-normal lens.
Like the 1D before it, the 1Ds supplies a full range of automatic and manual settings, and the camera can use any of the lenses that are compatible with other Canon EOS models. You'll find plenty of high-end features--such as a depth-of-field exposure mode and interchangeable viewing screens--but don't expect any consumer-oriented options such as scene modes or a pop-up flash. As is the case with the company's other digital SLRs, the 1Ds can't use older Canon flashes such as the 540EZ. However, in our tests, this model did a superb job with the 550EX.
Among this camera's plethora of advanced controls are 21 Custom functions that you set on the LCD, as well as 26 Personal functions, which may be configured only by linking the 1Ds to a computer through its FireWire interface. The wealth of options includes everything from whether to illuminate autofocus points to the number and the sequence of shots being bracketed. Few photographers will use all of the functions--or even most of them--but they make the 1Ds impressively configurable, even down to reversing the direction of the dials. The only drawback: The values of the Personal functions can't be changed without having a computer nearby, although they can be switched off and on.
One unusual feature is the 1Ds's digital-signature function, which electronically signs images with the camera's serial number at the time of exposure. Any subsequent alteration will void the digital signature and expose the manipulation, which makes the 1Ds useful for forensic photography that may eventually be introduced as evidence in court. Like the 4-megapixel 1D, the 1Ds is a shooting-priority SLR; when you turn the camera on, it will be ready to shoot at a moment's notice. However, this model lags far behind the 1D in terms of shooting speed. In continuous-shooting mode, the 1D can take 8 frames per second (fps), while the 1Ds captures a mere 3fps. That won't be a hindrance for landscape, fashion, or portrait photography, but it may pose problems for photojournalists and makes the 1Ds far less useful for sports shots. Action photographers accustomed to the 10fps speed of Canon's top film camera, the EOS V1, will find the 1Ds downright poky. We're willing to bet that Canon has a faster successor to the 1Ds in the works already.

A large, rechargeable, nickel-metal-hydride battery pack slides into a compartment on the camera's bottom.

If a superfast drive mode isn't on your list of necessities, you can expect to be pleased with this camera's performance. The 1Ds's rated 55ms shutter lag is speedy, and it can buffer as many as 10 images before having to write them to permanent storage. Canon's Active Mirror Control technology minimizes shutter vibration, and blackout time between exposures is rated at a minimal 87ms.
In our tests, the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack lasted through a busy day's shooting, though one charge did not eke out two full days. We also saw a significant drop in battery stamina when shooting in very cold conditions (less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit). Canon rates the battery at about 600 images per charge, which seems accurate under typical conditions. One odd feature is the red light on the battery charger. It remains solid when charging and flashes when the process is complete, which we find counterintuitive. However, we do like the fact that you can attach two batteries to the charger at once.
The 2-inch LCD is bright and viewable in bright light, though it seems to reflect more glare than those found on Nikon's professional digital SLRs.
The most impressive feature of the 1Ds is its full-frame, (24mm-by-36mm) 11.1-megapixel sensor, which yields extra flexibility when manipulating files in Photoshop and allows stunning prints up to 13x19 without apparent loss of quality. The dynamic range, the detail, and the color fidelity of the camera are--as one would expect from a model of its class--excellent.

The 1Ds does an excellent job in low-contrast conditions.

Skin tones captured by the 1Ds were superb, without the oversaturated look that the Canon D30 often generated. There are several color matrices that you can set on the camera--or in the RAW software--to produce various looks, much in the same way that you would use different film types. In our tests using the default color matrix, images from the 1Ds showed excellent balance.
When using Canon's supplied 16mm-to-35mm, f/2.8 lens, we noticed vignetting when it was wide open--at 16mm and f/2.8--but not when the lens was stopped down. That effect also appears when the same lens is attached to a film camera.
So what are this unit's minuses? A slight purple discoloration was visible on the edges of high-contrast areas, especially if there was any blue or light blue in the background. Boosting the ISO to 800 at sunset showed a slight dappling of green around high-contrast winter tree branches against a slightly red sky. However, we don't expect these minor flaws to be visible unless you make very large prints or crop in extremely close. You will see visible noise levels in enlargements if you shoot at the camera's maximum light-sensitivity setting of ISO 1250 in dim light.

As you'd expect, the 1Ds nails fine details such as hair.

Some reports have noted a moiré pattern in shots of closely spaced parallel lines, more so than with the D30 and D60 cameras. But the only place that we noticed even a subtle moiré effect in our many test shots was in finely woven fabric when viewed at 200 percent magnification. Unless you're planning to shoot fashion billboards, we don't expect moiré artifacts to be a problem.
Canon allows you to save images in both RAW and JPEG formats at the same time; this approach uses more space, but it's a nice touch and causes no noticeable performance differences. As you'd expect, the RAW images bring out far more detail than the JPEG files, and they can be converted to TIFF or JPEG with Canon's provided software. The file-format conversion process is acceptably fast on a 1.6GHz computer but would be painful on a machine much slower than that.

Canon EOS 1Ds

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Image quality 9