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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2004-06-30

New Canon Pro Camera Hits It's Mark
By Rod Mar, The Seattle Times

Photo by
"Faster, higher, stronger".

The Olympic motto? Yes, but also the motto of most sports photographers when it comes to our cameras.

With Canon's newly - released Canon EOS 1d Mark II, shooters get their wishes answered and more.

After a month of putting the new body through it's paces, I came away impressed. In fact, I must admit that when the new camera was first announced, I wasn't sure it was going to be a major improvement for newspaper shooters at all.

A larger megapixel sensor seemed like it might be overkill -- after all, we already downsize large-jpeg files from the 1d before publication. A faster frame rate seemed like a nice idea, but like most of you, my best frame seems to be the first in any multi-frame burst. Bigger buffer? Also nice, but even though I can hammer the shutter with the best of them, I never recalled running out of buffer space.

I was wrong. The new camera is sweet as Barry's swing, as fast as Marion in the 200, and as durable as Lance in the Pyrenees. It's as if this camera is a joint venture between Canon and Balco. 8mp CMOS sensor and steroids all encased in a magnesium alloy body? I wouldn't be surprised.

(Let me digress here: if you're looking for a technical review, you're looking in the wrong place. If you want some brief initial impressions by a working shooter who will never work for NASA, keep reading.)

FASTER

Everything about the camera is supposedly faster. Faster auto focus. Faster microprocessors. Faster shutter lag. Faster fps.

Now, do I believe them? Sure. Did I notice a fps speed difference? Not really. Let's be serious. If you can honestly tell the difference between 8.3 fps (EOS 1d) and 8.5 fps (Mark II), then you're...lying.

That said, the camera does process noticeably faster, and the 40 frame (in jpeg mode) buffer is luxurious. But for the raw shooters, the 20 frame buffer will be especially nice.

The auto focus is still fast. Faster? In single-point AF, I couldn't really tell. But using the full 45 AF points, the auto focus does seem to lock in faster. Something about new algorithms. But algorithms remind me of math, which reminds me of school, which I hated. Suffice to say it seems faster when using all the AF points.

The vertical shutter button is especially fast, and apparently a number of folks have complained about it. It's a little quick, but was never a problem. Actually it was fun to see if I could squeeze off "just one" frame at a time.

HIGHER (ASA, that is ...)

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

Full frame image - 1600 ASA.
I'll just say it. You can shoot this camera at ASA 1600 with much more comfort than on the 1d. I tried it, and the images were amazing. I shot ASA 1600 at a major league baseball game at night. In a dark high school gym, it could be different.

According to Canon, the explanation for this involves words and phrases like "fixed pattern", "flexible boards wiring" and the always popular "signal path". It's all very technical and miles above the "signal path" of my little brain. Trust me, it looks better.

From Canon: "... the circuit-driving standard current and the power to the output amp are cut off and the camera applies Dark Frame Subtraction automatically..."

Like Renee Zellwegger said to Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire", "you lost me at hello".

(Apologies here to all the research and development folks at Canon, I know you went all out to create this camera, so don't take offense that I can't understand "the big words").

STRONGER

More megapixels, new sensor. Well, there should be more megapixels. It's a new camera for goodness' sake.

(Note to newspaper and magazine purchasing agents: More megapixels = MORE FLASH CARDS!)

Now, when shooting large jpegs, this bad boy eats card space faster than Hanashiro and Taniwaki at a Brazilian BBQ joint.

This is where you have some hard decisions to make.

Buy more cards, or shoot at a lower setting. It's obviously up to each user's needs, but keep in mind that at the M1 setting (one lower than Large jpeg), you still get the equivalent of a 6 megapixel image. This would be more than suitable for most newspapers.

But what besides sensor and buffer make this a better camera than the original 1d?

Well, the most important improvement I found is that the FLASH WORKS!!!

No, I didn't just stutter --- it actually works. Coupled with the EX550 flash, the exposures are accurate, and most importantly, consistent. Even shooting on program and wandering around the office from dark to light spaces and back, the flash was nearly flawless. Canon attributes this to another new "algorithm". Whatever. It works. Accurately.

If you're like me and struggled with the flash on the 1d outside at night covering spot news, it's enough reason to buy the Mark II right there. No more Photo Mechanic contact sheets looking like when you were trying to learn the colors and ratios on the old Vivitar 283 ...

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

800 ASA with fill-flash.
In a nightclub, with the flash off-camera in constantly changing light conditions, exposures were 95% accurate. With the old system, I'd look like be the poster boy for Shoot-And-Chimp Magazine (shoot, chimp, change flash exposure, shoot, chimp, change it again, shoot, chimp, change it back...if you have a 1d, you know the drill).

The other HUGE improvement is in battery life. Using an old (and I mean OLD -- the first one I had with my original 1d), I was able to shoot two full baseball games without even the battery seeming to break a sweat. With my 1d, I can shoot about half a game before my camera only shows "one bar" of battery life. After 18 innings with the Mark II, battery life still showed a full "three bars". To me, this is truly amazing. Perhaps this is where that partnership with Balco comes in. Hmmm....battery doping?

What else is new? Canon users finally get what Nikon shooter have enjoyed for years -- something I'll call "Zoom-and-Chimp". Canon, along with improving the resolution of the playback screen, has incorporated zooming, rotating and scrolling so us "chimpers" can take a better look at what we just shot. Some have complained that the zoom feature renders images slightly soft, but remember, it's only a preview screen. Plus, if you're taking the 30 seconds or so to zoom and scroll around and image, you're probably missing the next picture anyway.

Other improvements include a better mechanism on the door to the flash cards (takes compact flash and secure digital formats), and a strengthened hot shoe assembly (which my boss will love, since I was forever bending them).

FINISH LINE

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

Full frame image - 100 ASA.
I love it. Without getting into a Canon vs. Nikon argument (which is always fun until some killjoy says "haven't we done this enough?), the Canon Mark II is a gold medalist. Yes, it's not EVERYTHING TO EVERYBODY, but it does what it's supposed to do, and does it better than the other cameras on the market.

The bottom line is that this is a camera that will allow me to do my job without worrying.

The camera is quick and responsive, has great control of noise and is built bomb-proof. And finally, the flash works.

If I fail to make strong images with a Mark II, I won't have the camera to blame.

Minor complaints? A few --- the images from the CMOS sensor seem to be slightly softer than the one from the CCD on the EOS 1d, but there is in-camera sharpening available (which I didn't use). And, sharpening in Photoshop seems to make no difference in the finished product.

Also, some might not like the hair-trigger vertical shutter button (I honestly thought it was only on my test camera, but others have mentioned it as well).

My only real complaint is that now I have to return the camera to Canon (thanks to them for allowing Sports Shooter to test one)

On the other hand, perhaps a little more testing is in order ... say for the next three years?

Canon, are you listening?


(Rod Mar, a sports photographer for the Seattle Times, spent the last month doing a "hands-on" test of the EOS 1d Mark II for Sports Shooter. Special thanks to Deborah Szajngarten and Geoffrey Coalter at Canon USA.)


Related Links:
Rod Mar's member page

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