I always get asked about my current camera system and what its like to shoot with the Canon 1Dx on the daily, wether its under reasonably light conditions or very demanding ones. Having both the 1Dx and my backup camera, a Canon 7D, means I have access to some serious performance. The closest thing I've been able to compare it to would be driving a Ferrari to work every day. Its expensive to buy, expensive to maintain, but it has some serious benefits that have come in handy quite a few times over the past year.
(Photos in article are taken and copyright protected by Chris Morairty Photography.)
The Ferrari 458 and 599 photos, also seen on the Automotive Page, taken with a 5d Mk2 at Ft. Point, San Francisco CA.
Late November of 2016 I was at a small park in the Sacramento Area, a park that ive come to love for its fall leaves and vibrant colors. November in Northern California is peak time for fall colors, and also fall family portrait sessions, some of which are available for viewing on my Family Photography page. At the time I was shooting primarily with a Canon 5d Mk2 and loved its color, clarity, low light performance and its ability to render images with excellent printability. I had this camera for nearly 2 years, and in that time I had racked up a shutter count of approximately 270k, or almost DOUBLE the expected life of the camera. I had pulled out my camera and began prepping it for the session just as my clients arrived, and to my surprise my camera simply wouldn't turn on. I tried swapping batteries and memory cards with no luck, my camera seemed to be completely dead. I always keep a backup system, in recent years its been a Canon 7D, and was able to continue and pretend like nothing happened and my clients still loved their images. After looking into the issue with greater detail I found that the camera had developed a fault with its firmware, which was easily remedied. However this incident was a wakeup call, and I immediately started shopping for a replacement main camera system.
For years I had drooled over the Canon 1Dx platform, it being the peak of Canon camera performance, but had swayed back and forth between it and the 5D mk3. The 5D mk3 was quickly adopted by professional photographers and videographers worldwide, professionals loved it for its similar low light performance characteristics and image rendering as compared to the 1Dx, and also for it being sold for half the price. the choice was tough. Both of these cameras are built pretty tough, and buying slightly used body on eBay or Amazon is not a bad way to save some cash, but even with the savings I was left with the decision of whether I should be responsible and save the overhead by purchasing the 5D mk3, or should I make the jump for my dream camera system?
I bought the 1Dx (if it wasn't already obvious) and I never looked back.
A lot of photographers that I talk to, mostly in the wedding industry where I live most of the time, tell me that the 5D mk3 is enough, plenty of camera and that the 1Dx is just overkill. I get a lot of flack for using the 1Dx due to its purchase price, prices of accessories, its size, and its weight. I do admit, it is a very heavy camera. Sometimes when I cary it around with the 70-200 for a few hours my neck and arms get tired, as this configuration is somewhere near 7 pounds. That being said, with the weight comes quite a mean mixture of features.
If you'd like to know all of the technical specs, you've come to the wrong place. Those of you who know me might be quite surprised at this point, as I am known for having basically memorized the user manuals and specs for many many cameras, but I would like to take a minute to point out some of my favorite features. As I mentioned above, the body has significant weight. This weight is due to its fully magnesium alloy frame and a battery that is the size of an ice cream sandwich. The battery life, if you opt for the high performance and really expensive N-class batteries from Canon, is enough for me to shoot at least 2 full weddings on a single charge if not more, or somewhere over 5k images. The camera has not 1, not 2 but 3 processors built into the system to give the highest speed and accuracy for autofocus, focus tracing and color / detail rendering. I greatly appreciate the dual CF memory card slots that allow you to change file saving configurations to your liking. I bounce between the overflow method where the camera will automatically switch to the second card once the first is full, or the double redundancy method where the camera saves the RAW files on two cards at the same time. I would like to add that the ability of this camera to do so on the fly without any inclination of stress or decline in performance is mind blowing. So to sum it up, you get a very tough and durable camera that can shoot at 12 frames a second while autofocusing and metering the light and color between each shot, and save thee images to two different memory cards at the same time. Whats not to love? There are a long list of features for the advanced shooters as well, which includes things like the various AI Servo motion tracking modes and configurable CAT 5 LAN port or HDMI output and blah blah blah. This isn't the post for that, you can google all of the tech stuff and drool over it another time.
Somehow owning a Canon 1Dx for a little over a year I was able to use this camera nearly to its full design potential in nearly all weather and lighting conditions that it was designed to handle, with the exception of high-end studio work since I don't work for any world-scale magazines. The images below show the range of conditions this camera faced and demonstrate just how capable of a system it really is.
Cold Weather / Snow
During the early part of 2017, the Lake Tahoe area experienced heavy snowfall. In January I was hired to head there for a family portraits session that was actually a surprise proposal. During this family session, the wind and snow were brutal, and in the 2 hours on location we received 1 foot of snow. The family portraits went as planned, but shortly into the surprise proposal my camera started to get a little frosty, and my UV filter actually completely froze over. You can see part of this lens frosting happening in the image above. My hands, face and lens were feeling the cold weather, but the camera conducted business as usual.
Spring Greenery / Spring Haze
Sacramento in the Spring can sometimes have a challenging pallet of colors to work with. One of my pet peeves is working around dense greenery, and in the Spring our golden grassy fields turn a vibrant green with the onset of Northern California's rainy season. The greens often bring out unwanted red hues in skin tones, but the 1Dx is fantastic at capturing colors, and your images can be saved with a little cleanup in post, something that I always found myself fighting when shooting with the 5Dmk2.
Summer Heat and Bright Mid-Day light
The summer temperatures in the Sacramento Area have been known to hit the triple digit range, with heat waves over 100 that can last for over a week at a time. This camera has been designed to hold its own in low temperatures as well as high. Its ability to focus and capture images in the bright mid-day sun is also impressive. The image above was taken at about 3 pm, hours before sunset.
Fall Colors and Leaves
Again, I can't make it more clear that the colors this camera captures are amazing. During fall the su sits lower in the sky and the golden hues are incredible. With this low hanging sun you will also have to deal with darker sessions towards sunset as compared to summer time causing a necessary increase in ISO, and often a shot that requires shooting towards the sun. The colors remain great at the higher ISO ranges, and the autofocus has no hesitation finding focus.
I noticed right a way that this camera renders an incredible amount of detail. Editing is made say because of the color rendering and also this ability to capture detail, as well as some help from a very wide dynamic range. The only way I can really describe it is that portraits taken with this camera just seem to have more life.
Concerts have their own set challenges that are only really handled well by the later camera bodies. The 1Dx has a killer autofocus system that has yet to let me down. Often times at larger venues you'll be shooting towards some sort of large stage light, and as seen above, through smoke or stage effects. The center focus is usually the strongest on any camera body, and the 1Dx has an unbelievable ability to both find and track focus on subjects running around, jumping, standing in front of large lights or moving through smoke, Its ability to capture subjects while they are moving in front of and behind other subjects/objects even when they are obscured is just superb.
Landscapes, Collages and Print Work
One thing I was warned about from other photographers, though they did not use this system themselves, was that the 18Mpx sensor would not render prints as well as the sensor on the 5Dmk3. Many portrait photographers assume the difference in sensor resolution will hinder the quality of larger prints for clients, but I have yet to have any issues with any media I've printed with. The above images were taken and printed on 3 separate 20x20 canvas prints and sold as a collage, and I was blown away by the detail even the printed on canvas. Ive printed images as large as 24x36 with no issues. This camera has no problem retaining detail in printwork, and any small issues can be adjusted for in Photoshop pretty easily.
Macro Photography using Focus Tracking
One of my favorite new features on the newer Canon cameras is the fine point focus option when setting up you focus points. I shot the image above at the butterfly house on Mackinac Island, MI with an off-camera lash setup and with a single fine focus point set to AI Servo for focus tracking. Im not the most stable when bending down with this beast of a camera in my hand, but the camera is able to hold a tight focus tolerance even with me swaying back and forth. The larger batteries are able to send more juice to the lens focus motor making focus adjustments quicker than on smaller cameras.
High Dynamic Range
A large part of my business is wedding related. The image above was taken at about 1pm under a group of shade oaks during a late spring wedding in Brown's Valley, CA and this partially shaded area offered up a great test for this camera's very high dynamic range. The dynamic range of a camera is how far into both the highlights and the shadows that it can see in a single image, and this image clearly demonstrates just how much detail it retains in the highlights and the shadows.
Hawaii offers beautiful scenery and also one of the toughest climates for any camera system. Unlike rain, humidity in the air consists of very small particles of water that can get in through cracks or weak points in a camera body. The nearby ocean also adds salt to the air which can be very corrosive. Canon has fitted the 1Dx with some pretty amazing weather sealing, and they went so far with this that they even removed the mode selection dial from the top of the camera. This did take some time to get used to, but ill gladly take the tradeoff. The image above was taken while on location at a beach wedding in Kauai that was published in the Spring/summer Issue of Sacramento Bride and Groom Magazine.
Rain and Cloudy Weather
Cloudy days can offer a challenge to some cameras, the reduced light creates a need for higher ISO work. Adding rain will normally ruin a session for both the clients and the photographer. The weather sealing on the 1Dx mentioned above, paired with a lens that also has some weather resistance, means that you can shoot even in a total downpour of monsoon proportions and still be able to walk away with some great images. I haven't tried this myself, but I have seen some videos on youtube where camera owners will pour an entire bottle of water over the camera and keep using it like nothing ever happened, a stunt that would induce a heart attack for the owners of other camera systems.
Normal ISO Range Detail and Color
At normal ISO settings, ranging from 100-400, the detail captured by the 1Dx is mind blowing. The above image was taken with a Canon L 135 F2.0 prime, AKA the "Lord of the Red Rings" and one of my favorite go-to's for capturing the highest amount of detail in a subject. The colors again are just great, the automatic white balance calculator is usually pretty close if not perfect. Most of the time using this lens or any of my Sigma Art primes the clarity and detail are such that you can see the surroundings and even the weather conditions in the small reflected area in the subject's eyes.
Mid Range ISO Detail
The image above was taken at somewhere around 2000 ISO while shooting a mid-summer wedding n Sacramento. The indoor area where the reception was being held had large windows, but in the mid-day sun not much light was entering the room. To my surprise, even at this higher ISO the fine details remain. If you look closely you can indeed see some grain, but the weaving pattern in the napkin fabric is still visible. I used to be nervous shooting reception photos near 6400 ISO, but with the 1Dx the detail is still rendered perfectly in between the grain. I can't actually tell a difference in focus times between 100-6400 ISO on this camera, or a lighting difference of top to 6 stops with no hesitation.
Low Light Focusing and Very High ISO Detail
Sometimes you come across a situation where the scene is so dark that you feel like there is now way in hell you'll be able to get a great picture. The above image was captured during a performance at a small music venue with minimal indoor lighting, meaning I had to crank the ISO up beyond comfortable levels. I was pleasantly surprised with the results, the 1Dx had no issues finding a focus when using the center point, and the images like the one above were captured at 16,000 ISO and rendered a surprising amount of detail with an equally surprising grain tightness.
In conclusion, the 1Dx is an absolutely fantastic camera system and I have no regrets spending twice as much on this body as compared to a used 5Dmk3. I will be using the ethernet port to tether the camera during a session in the near future, as well as construct my own WIFI antenna so keep an eye out for future updates to this post.
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