There has been no shortage of speculation in recent months about the future of Canon's DSLR lineup. Conventional thinking predicted there would be a fourth generation of the 1Ds line, answering the needs of professionals who needed a high-resolution, full-frame body that pushed the quality envelope of the 35mm format. Meanwhile the amazing success of the full-frame 5D II, both as a still camera and game-changing video platform, complicated the issue.
Well, two days ago Canon ended the rumors and suspense with the announcement of the 1DX. While it remains to be seen whether the new features will live up to the estimated $6800 price tag, I'm definitely interested.
What's Currently in My Bag
My normal working kit consists of a 1D IV and a 5D II... occasionally I'll have a third 1D IIN along for insurance or to act as a remote. The 1D MK IV handles all the action with it's advanced Auto Focus, 10 fps and 1.3 crop factor. It incorporates both a Compact Flash and SDHC card slot; the latter coming in very handy for wireless tethering via an Eye-Fi X2 to iPad running ShutterSnitch. In contrast the 5D II handles static shots (it's AF is terrible and its AF point coverage inadequate) but as a full-frame camera it doesn't compromise the focal length of my wide angle lenses.
What appears to be a good division of labor actually is quite frustrating to work with. Don't get me wrong the 5D II is an amazing camera and a great bang-for-the-buck but operationally jumping between the two is awkward. Little things like a mode dial that's prone to move, a battery grip that likes to unscrew itself, software differences and the aforementioned AF limitations seem to show themselves at precisely the wrong time (read any time the camera is stretched beyond it's static sweet spot).
It's not clear yet whether the 1DX's lineage will make it a better working partner for the 1D IV but I suspect it will. If it's not a seamless partnership I'll have to accept the expensive reality of a pair of 1DX bodies. If I sold my 5D, 5D II, 1D IV and 1D IIN plus an assortment of lenses I don't use much I might just get within shouting distance (and out of Juli's shouting distance) of that purchase.
X Marks the 1DX Spot
The switch to a new 18 MP full-frame sensor is a great call. Minus the 1.3 crop I can live with the reduced reach with my telephotos in exchange for the benefits of true focal length at the wide end. 12 fps (and the possibility of 14 fps shooting jpgs) will be a boon provided the new 61-point AF matrix lives up to its billing. The 1D IV certainly improved on the poor AF performance of it's predecessor but it still is quirky and unpredictable at times in bright sunlight and when subjects are moving straight at the camera.
I like the move to dual Compact Flash slots. The mixed storage option always struck me as odd. Yes, I'll miss the Eye-Fi functionality (unless Eye-Fi announces a change of heart and develops a CF option) but the 1DX's built in ethernet should fill the gap via Canon's compatible wifi transmitter or a third-party mini router.
The addition of a second multi-controller gives vertical shooting ergonomic parity, and Canon has enlarged and moved the AF-ON button leftwards from its strange angled-surface position on the 1D IV (more on that in a bit). I'm not sure how the touchpad will operate within the quick control dial but let's assume it's a positive development that will speed command and control. The front of the camera plays host to two pairs of programmable buttons that will surely provide new utility. Their position suggests photographers who can play the accordion will have a head start putting them to use.
Most importantly with a new sensor and processors 1DX image quality promises to be better. If Canon has in fact closed the 2-stop advantage Nikon now enjoys at ISOs above 1600 I'll be ecstatic. In truth I've been seriously considering switching sides because of that strategic advantage alone. Armed with two Digic 5+ processors and a Digic 4 dedicated exclusively to AF and exposure the 1DX is going to be capable of some incredible in-camera processing throughput.
The creative possibilities of the new in-camera multi-exposure feature appear limitless. I can imagine photographers carrying small libraries of images shot with the 1DX to be used as the starting point for future in-camera composites. Landscapes with better skies, scenes with new protagonists and perhaps, the possibility of journalistic abuse (meta data traceability not withstanding). The moment of capture becomes a performance.
So What's Missing
I noted before that Canon has resized and moved the AF-ON button. They recognize that we sport shooters use our thumbs to activate AF and our forefingers to fire the shutter. On the Mark IV I continue to use the (*) button. Why? Because it's immediately adjacent to the button that activates focus point selection. My thumb darts back and forth between these two buttons constantly.
If it turns out that it's possible to shift the focus point selection functionality to the (*) button on the 1DX then the new AF-ON button will work for me (the two functions will still be triggered by two adjacent buttons), if not I'd continue with my current ergonomic pattern. Sorry if all of this is confusing without a diagram.
I mention this because I think Canon continues to miss the point here. Instead of independent buttons to initiate the two functions, we should have a single large button that behaves like a multi-controller to select the focus point with a light pressure and when stabbed with a heavy pressure triggers AF. One button, two intrinsically-linked functions and my thumb never has to move. Short of eye-tracking to establish my focus point there's no better way to marry/decouple these critical functions.
The last thing I'd hoped to see was effective Liveview AF (and I'm not talking about video AF). Canon has yet to realize that there are times when we'd like to use the LCD for active composition and focus, and we'd like it to behave just like the viewfinder. Somewhere down the line we may have an articulated LCD or even an off-camera remote viewfinder. I'm not looking to be completely separated from the camera (as in a true remote) but be able to put the camera through fences, under and over barriers etc. and still have full AF control. Next time perhaps.
Beyond the camera, Canon still needs to catch up with Nikon by improving the EOS flash system. I continue to dream about a "white" 50mm, 85mm or 100mm in the arsenal. In the meantime I'm looking forward to the arrival of 1DX field tests from Rob Galbraith and others. AF is critical. If Rob declares the 1DX superior to the 1D IV I believe I'm going to have to bite.