Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


 

Canon EOS 1D Experience Report

A review by Uwe Steinmueller @Digital Outback Photo

Also photos by Bettina Steinmueller

 

Last Updated (01/05/2002)

 
 
 
12/18/2001 Warming up for the Canon EOS-1D
 
The arrival of our Canon EOS-1D review sample is scheduled for 12/19/2001. As usual we plan to write this experience report as we go. Here are some of our thoughts why we are so excited to get hands on this new camera.
 

Wildlife and long glass

If you want to photograph birds and other small wildlife you learn that the focal length of your lens cannot be long enough. The max f-stop is crucial to keep high shutter speeds and low ISO. Also the base lens from 300-600mm is often planned to be used with one (or even more) additional tele adapter (1.4x/2x).

Even with the digital multiplier 1.5 of the D1x my current AF-S 300mm f/4 + TC-14E limits me to 630mm effective focal length @ f/5.6. To be honest this is not bad but also not really enough to capture a Belted Kingfisher full frame. With the TC-20E you then can get to 900mm effective @ f/8. The pictures are slightly soft and the auto focus suffers. You also have to use higher ISO values (which increases noise) to get decent shutter speeds in the evening.

Possible solutions are:

  • Get a longer lens. Besides the fact that these lenses are a big investment they are also huge and heavy. At some point I was ready to take the financial hit but then realized that the weight and size was not for me. I like to hike a bit (not really extreme) but not with one of these monsters.
  • My AF-S 300mm f/4 + TC-20E might be even do it for me if there would be some image stabilization support. The only image stabilized lens from Nikon is the 80-400VR which is quite a decent zoom but not in league of prime glass. If you use this VR lens with Nikon's tele extenders not even the AF is supported and don't even think of image stabilization.

Let's dream

What about a fast state of the art digital camera, a light image stabilized 400mm f/4 lens and also the tele extenders which keep image stabilization plus AF.

A dream comes true?

Now Canon released the Canon EOS-1D which got rave reviews (Michael Reichmann, Phil Askey) and also the revolutionary compact and light 400mm f/4 DO IS USM lens (Reichmann). The tele adapters fully support IS and AF. As the EOS-1D has only a multiplier of 1.3 (which is very nice to have for wide angle shots) we get the following effective focal length/aperture combinations from the 400mm f/4 plus the different adapters.

400mm f/4 f/4 ~520 mm
400mm f/4 + 1.4x f/5.6 ~728mm
400mm f/4 + 2.0x f/8 ~1040
400mm f/4 + 2.0x + 1.4 f/11 ~1456

All comes with image stabilization which can save you up to two f-stops on slow moving objects.

All this is reason enough to check whether our dream might come true. We are already sure that it is not a cheap package. While the Canon EOS-1D is only slightly more expensive than the Nikon D1x the 400mm DO lens costs a fortune. But if this lens is as good as Michael Reichmann reported than it opens new ways in portable wildlife photography.

 


Nikon D1 (AF-S 300mm f/4 + TC-14E, strong crop)

 

We see this guy (even two) at the Los Gatos Creek park very often but mostly at the wrong spots. Kingfisher, we are coming.

 
12/19/2001 Camera is in
 
Just received the camera and lenses (16-35 + 400DO + 1.4x + 2x + 550EX flash).
 

This is the first professional Canon body I had ever in my hands and I must say it feels pretty good. Of course I have to learn the "Canon Way" over the next few days, but it will be fun.

Tonight I only played with the flash to learn the camera and software.

Here is just one quick&dirty banding test at ISO 1600 with the 550EX flash. I think most other cameras deliver worse result at this ISO setting. But anyway I probably don't want to go higher than 400-600 for nature shots.

 

ISO 1600 (crop, 100% pixel size)
 
 
Software
 
 

Canon use an updated version of its Photoshop plug-in to convert EOS-1D RAW photos. I you have followed our other reviews than you might know that we only use RAW files for quality reasons.

Believe me it is not fun to bash Canon on their software. With the D30 Canon could argue that is was their first try. This software is not rellay impressive either. Here are some details:

  • While EV compensation is useful and a standard by now, it does not make that much sense if there is no histogram to show the amount of compensation needed and the effect of the performed compensation.
  • A TWAIN import does not keep the filename which is not very practical. Better would have been a plug-in for the file type (might be even difficult as Canon used the suffix TIF for their RAW files which are not real TIFs) or a standalone application.

Just found the batch conversion functionality ("Save as File") which makes the workflow much more usable. Batch processing is also reasonable fast. The resulting 8/16-bit TIFs are not tagged with a color space (I use Adobe RGB which is camera setting "Color Matrix 4") which is somehow unfortunate.

 

You have to understand that there are two issues with software quality for digital SLRs:

  1. Related to the quality of the final image
  2. Related to usability and "workflow"

In the end I will take the system with the better image quality over the one with the better workflow and inferior quality. The issues discussed with the Canon software were only related to the workflow.

The rest of the review we will only concentrate on image quality.

As always this might be an incentive for 3rd party SW vendors to help getting the job done with fewer hassles.

 
12/20/2001 Rain in California
 
It looks as if I won't able to do any real photography today as this is one of the really bad days here (get some in winter).
 
(repeated from above) Just found the batch conversion functionality ("Save as File") which makes the workflow much more usable. Batch processing is also reasonable fast. I am very happy about this as batch processing makes the camera software much more productive.
 
12/20/2001 First test shots with the 400mm DO IS lens
 
As mentioned above, today was pretty bad weather here in the Bay Area. Still got some few sample shots with the DO lens.
 

1D + 400mm f/4 DO + 2x tele, IS mode 2, 1/400, f/8 (full open), ISO 400, monopod
 

    
crops at 100% pixel level

 

The above photo was converted in the Canon RAW convertion software (EV +1.0/click white balance/ low sharpening). Then in Photoshop levels were adjusted and finally sharpened with Fred Miranda's EdgeSharpening action.

I think the performance of this camera and lens is very impressive. First of all the images are sharper then other digital SLRs I have used. The lens combination was at 800mm (which is a ~1040mm equivalent if we consider the 1.3 multiplier of the EOS-1D). Holding 1040mm on a monopod at 1/400s demonstrates the power of Canon's image stabilization technology (IS). The slight softening compared to a solo 400mm DO lens photo is probably due to the 2x tele converter which otherwise does a great job here.

AF (Autofocus) works like a charm. Of course at 800mm/f/8 AF is a bit slow but still very reliable.

Do I still sound excited? You bet! Hopefully we have better weather here tomorrow so that we can chase the Kingfisher.

 
12/21/2001 Some Los Gatos impressions
 

With every new camera I take some photos in Los Gatos (place we love) and today was the EOS-1D's turn (using only the EF 16-35mm f2.8L USM lens).

Here is our standard image processing procedure:

All photos are shot in RAW format. Then converted using the 1D Photoshop plug-in. If needed some perspective correction, levels (getting the best contrast), curves (lighten up shadows) and finally Fred's Edge Sharpening are performed in Photoshop.

 


ISO 200

 
This is one the best results I got from this beautiful 'Ristorante" with any 35mm digital SLR we have used so far (and we nearly used all of them). Color is very good, sharpness is first class and very low noise.
 
Counting Pixel
 

Since the time I used the Nikon D1 I am a strong believer that there are the number of pixels and also the quality of pixels. A 2.7MP D1 can easily outperform a 5MP consumer camera due to the lower noise and better sharpness.

For the EOS-1D there are only two real competitors the Nikon D1x and the Kodak DCS 760.

Kodak DCS 760: This is the only true 6MP SLR in the market. Probably in term of resolution it is slightly ahead of the EOS-1D but the 1D delivers in my opinion a sharper and less noisy image

Nikon D1x: The D1x has an odd CCD layout with more horizontal than vertical resolution. The 1D and D1x will probably deliver the same final resolution but the 1D presents better sharpness without a lot of processing tricks.

 

ISO 200
 
The EOS-1D delivers contrasty photos but still avoids to blow out the highlights. And did I say "sharp"!
 

ISO 640

Crop at 100% pixels
 
This ISO640 photo was taken through the window glass and still shows wonderful details.
 

ISO 640

Crop at 100% pixels
 


ISO 200 (slight crop)


Crop at 100% pixels

 

Again the EOS-1D handles the contrast very well and the colors are the best I have seen so far (in term of matching the original color impression).

I don't think I have gotten so many useful pictures at my test trip through Los Gatos like with the EOS-1D.

 

Hunting the Kingfisher

 

Still not close enough (strong crop)
 
The afternoon we took some bird shots in our loved Los Gatos Creek park. Our findings and some photos are part of the "Canon 400mm f/4 DO Experience Report".
 
The EOS-1D RAW files produce very good greens.
 
12/22/2001 High ISO artifacts
 

ISO 1600
 
At ISO 1600 we find a horizontal dark line at about 68 pixels from the top. Also Steve Sanders and other people have reported this behavior (even at ISO 800). We will follow up on this issue. So far we did not see the vertical banding shown by other reviewers.
 
12/23/2001 Some Dust
 

400mm f/4 DO + 1.4 tele + ISO 320, f/20,1/400, handheld
 

The shots against the blue sky and at high apertures tend to show the dust on the CCD. And it is there:


100% pixel size

 
As a Nikon D1x user this cannot scare me at all, so please don't panic. First I have seen much worse and also it can be corrected quite easily in Photoshop. That does not mean that we don't hope that Canon might also support the "Sensor Swabs" for cleaning (as Kodak and Fuji do) as just using a bulb blower probably won't work and sending the camera in to Canon is also not a practical solution.
 
Otherwise this photo again demonstrates how well the EOS-1D handles colors. I only lightened up the shadows a bit.
 

400mm f/4DO IS, ISO 400, 1/200, f/14, tripod
 
This photo was only taken to see how much detail the EOS-1D (in this case with the 400mm DO lens) can resolve.
 
  
Crops at 100 pixel size (second image with final sharpening)
 

The right crop was from Canon's RAW conversion plug-in (I now mostly use the batch conversion tool). Then it was sharpened with Power-Retouche.

The resolution we see here is probably only limited by the 4.15MP sensor. Larger sensors make only sense if they maintain the same low level of noise as the EOS-1D and we are talking here about an ISO 400 image! We don't think that the Kodak 760 and Nikon D1x have an advantage here. The Kodak might get more resolution but a lot more noise at ISO 400. The D1x has more horizontal than vertical resolution which does not show such clean images at 100% pixel size.

Canon's IS System makes as Difference

Canon also has with it's IS system a clear winner. It is just wonderful to photograph with long lenses at lower shutter speeds.

 
Handling Overexposure
 


Overexposed by about +1 EV

Was also indicated by the camera histogram

 

While the Kodak 760 is more fogiving in case of overexposure the D1x is not at all. How does the EOS-1D behave?

We used the EV compensation tool of the Canon Photoshop plug-in and corrected by about 0.8 EV. Here is the result:

 

corrected
 
The software pulled a bit out of the whites and we get better results than just burning the blown out highlights. Still the rule holds: avoid blown out highlights. But there is some latitude for EOS-1D RAW images. This can save your day!
 
24/12/2001 Some banding
 
 
Today I had some slight banding with this ISO 320 photo.
 

   

left (original banding), right (some banding removed)

 

This high contrast photo had underexposed shadows. I tried to fight the banding using the following measures:

  • Corrected +0.3 EV in the Canon SW
  • Used "Band Aid" from Camerabits which was designed to remove Nikon D1 banding (banding was later fixed by Nikon through a hardware update)
  • Sharpened a bit stronger to compensate Band Aid's softening
 
So banding is real, but the image was clearly underexposed.
 
12/26/2001 A take on higher ISO
 

Even if the EOS-1D might have low noise compared to other cameras at ISO 400 and above we will try to stay with ISO 200 as often as possible. ISO 400 (and higher even more so) look clearly more grainy than ISO 200 photos (if seen at 100% pixel level). Once you have seen the low noise of ISO 200 shots you want it all the time.

I would recommend to use ISO 200 if you plan larger prints (above 8"x10"). Of course ISO 200 is hard to keep with long glass and low light. Fortunately the image stabilization (IS) of the longer lenses also helps a lot.

 
12/27/2001 Canon EOS-1D vs. Nikon D1x
 
As noted above the benchmark in resolution for the EOS-1D are the Nikon D1x and the Kodak DCS 760. I don't do scientific comparisons on resolution and sharpness. But I want to show one example.
 

Nikon D1x + AF-S 28-70@42mm(~63mm) , ISO 125, 1/200, f/11, handheld
 

Canon EOS-1D + 16-35@35mm(~45mm) , ISO 200, 1/320, f/9, handheld
 

You easily recognize the effective difference in focal length. The D1x photo is pretty sharp as is the EOS-1D photo and the lenses are also in the same league.

The D1x photo was converted with Nikon Capture 2 and the EOS-1D with the Canon plug-in. For the comparison of sharpness I upsampled the EOS-1D photo to the same size as the D1x shot (3000x2000).

 

Crop from the D1x photo

Crop from the EOS-1D photo
 

I think both photos are pretty close in terms of resolution. The higher pixel count of the D1x might pay off if you print beyond 15x10".

This is again for me the proof that not only the number of pixels count.

 
Printing files the EOS-1D
 

ISO200, 1/160, f/8,natural light, monopod, no crop
 

I sent this file to Greg Governale who is a wildlife photographer and wide format printer. Here is his analysis:

"After I downloaded your file, I resized it to 20"x30" at 300dpi, this created a 155MB file. The file looks to be very free of noise. It looks like it could use a little increase in contrast, and or a little unsharp masking. The colors look realistic, but a little muted compared to files from the D1X or 760. I believe a print of 20 in. by 30 in. is well within the capabilities of the camera, I do not see anything that indicates that it would not look good if printed at that size. "

We also printed the file at 15"x10" on Crane Museo paper with the the Epson 2000P and it looked really good. The EOS-1D is in the same league as the Kodak DCS 760 and Nikon D1x if it comes to larger prints.

 
12/28/2001 8-bit/16-bit TIFF and JPG Conversion
 

You might already know that staying in 16bit color mode as long as possible improves your final results. If you change levels, curves and more you won't get that easily gaps in the histogram if you are working in 16bit mode. Also standard USM (Unsharp Mark) does not amplify so much the noise and grain for 16-bit TIFFs. But on the other side you get larger file sizes (23MB for the EOS-1D) and longer processing time.

But we were very surprised to find that even the image produced to begin with is very different with the Canon RAW conversion SW.

The following images have not been processed in any way after the RAW conversion step in the Canon software.

 

 
16-bit TIFF 

 
8-bit TIFF


8-bit JPG (highest quality setting)

 

Attention: These sample photos are in Adobe RGB color space. So you can only see the real differences with a calibrated monitor and applications which use monitor profiles.

Recommendation: Use the JPG conversion only for preview images and for final fine art only the 16-bit TIFF files.

 
Sharpness Settings
 
It is always tricky to find out how much sharpness you want to get from the RAW conversion software and how much you leave to Photoshop. I will show some findings here but there are too many options to really get to an optimal solution (also depending on your final print size).
 


Canon Digital Camera 4.0 RAW Processing Settings

 
The sharpness level can be selected in 6 six steps (0-5, 0 = no sharpening and 5 strongest sharpening). The "Object" setting ranges from 1-5 and is kind of the same as "Threshold" in Photoshop. Canon defines it in term of of object sizes (1 = small and 5 = more coarse).
 
We tested 3 different settings and show the results here. The smaller crop shows the image resized by 400% (the full image would then be 21"x32"@300DPI) in Photoshop to get an impression what the effect would be for larger prints.
 



Level = 0

 


Level = 2 & Object = 2
 


Level = 5 & Object = 5
 
You can see the halo with stronger sharpening. We probably will not use the plug-in sharpening as we get too much halo with some photos. Sharpening is kind of the black art of digital phtography!
 
01/01/2002
 

The British professional wildlife photographer Steve Bloom asked me to get one shot of the pelican in Santa Cruz to analyze the image quality. Here is his comment:

"As a wildlife photographer I can see a number of advantages with the 1D. Although I have not been able to get hold of one here in the UK yet, the advantage offered by the 1.3 lens compensation (and consequent saving in weight) is tremendous. Add to that the fact that I routinely travel to remote regions with 350 rolls of film and the thought of replacing film with a bunch of small cards (and a laptop) is like a gift from the heavens. I struggle in low light situations, seldom shooting above ISO 100, and the low-noise/higher ISO advantages of the 1D sound ideal.

Will I switch now? I won't decide until I have done an accurate comparison of the same subject with Velvia and Provia film. From what I have seen so far in a not very scientific test, the results are close. My pictures sell in art and poster shops as 24"X36" fine prints and posters. My poster clients demand 200mb files, even though a 60mb RGB drum scan almost fully resolves a 35mm film frame. Canon have done a wonderful job of extracting maximum resolution from the given pixels in the 1D. I am concerned that with certain subject matter involving crisp diagonal lines and circles, there are not enough pixels in the 1D to anti-alias enough to eliminate stepping. At the back of my mind is the nagging doubt that there are just not enough pixels in the image for fine-art prints at 24X36. Personally I would be more confident with a 20% increase in pixels. From the images I have seen I am confident that the 1D is fine for most purposes, but the resolution of fine detail at very big enlargements remains questionable for me until I am been able to perform a better comparison test."

Of course an EOS-1D with a 6-8 MP would give this extra resolution. This camera was designed for the sports photographers and they need speed, speed, speed and the EOS-1D delivers.

Personal Note: Would not like to see a full frame sensor here as I would lose to much in the tele range but we also hardly photograph with extreme wide angle.

 
 
Conclusion
 

We really love the EOS-1D. Before I had this camera in my hands I only heard the praising of Canon cameras by other great photographers (e.g. Michael Reichmann, Art Morris and Neil Turner). Now we know what a Canon Pro camera looks like and it is quite impressive

Pros

  • High frame rate and fast writing of images to the Microdrive
  • Very good viewfinder
  • Fast and precise auto focus
  • Good ergonomics
  • Sharp images (due to less strong AA filter, the way we like it)
  • Color is very good (in terms of being truthful)
  • Low noise even at higher ISO
  • There is probably hardly to get more information from a 4.1MP sensor
  • Pretty fast RAW conversion
  • Blown highlights can be recovered using the EV compensation for RAW files.
  • Exposure was easy to control
  • Flash use (550EX) is very effective

Issues

  • Banding: Yes, banding is there even at ISO 320. It happens in underexposed areas of the image. We think it can be quite easily fixed using software like "Band Aid" and we are therefore not really scared about the banding. Of course we will follow what Canon's response will be and keep our readers updated. Also have a look at Fred Miranda's Linear Pro action (see below in the "Tips & Tricks" section) as we just found that we get less banding using these actions. This also means that Canon can do a lot with their software to minimize banding. Here you can find a banding removal solution.
  • Dust: Dust on the CCD is there at about the same level as we have seen with D1, D1x, 760 and S1. D30 owners easily get shocked here (they were lucky). As a D1/D1x owner I just clean the spots up in Photoshop. We would like to see an official support of Sensor Swabs by Canon, although it is very unlikely. You may ask why can Kodak support the Swabs? They have a different design: The AA filter is not fix mounted onto the CCD so that the CCD cannot that easily get damaged by the Swabs.
  • Resolution: The quality of this camera will let you long for even more resolution (6-8MP)
  • Software: A histogram is urgently needed. Even if we could see many other useful improvements to the software we finally liked the uncomplicated workflow.

Highly recommended!

 
 
 
Some random findings
 
  • (+++)The 1D can save both a RAW and a JPG file at the same time. This costs some extra space on the Microdrive but also saves you all the conversion on your computer to find the photos worth some extra work. The Kodak 760 also has this feature with the latest firmware.
  • (-)The conversion software should provide an automatic way to transfer the EXIF information to an IPTC comment (as done by Bibble and Nikon Capture 2)
  • (+++)The battery charger can charge 2 batteries at the same time.
  • (+)Low shutter noise/mirror noise
  • (+++)Excellent viewfinder
  • (--)Images cannot previewed at full pixel size on the LCD (zoom function)
  • (+) The RAW conversion software comes free with the EOS-1D. Nikon Capture costs about $198 but also is somehow more sophisticated than the Canon software. The essential quality of the Canon conversion looks very good.
 
Tricks & Tips
 
  • (PC only) If you use the twain plug-in you loose the filename and also cannot see the EXIF information in Photoshop. I use 3 applications: Photoshop, Thumbsplus and PictureWindow. Then I only run the Canon TWAIN plug-in inside PictureWindow (which is a great photo editor by itself), perform some WB and EV corrections and run the conversion by using the "Save file.." feature (also used by the batch processing). Once the image is converted it can be opened by Photoshop (drag&drop from Thumbsplus). As said this is not really a work"flow" but now I can look at all the settings in the Canon Digital Camera 4.0 plug-in and work in Photoshop at the same time. The plug-in now acts like a stand-alone application.
  • Use the RAW conversion software in linear mode and then process the image with Fred Miranda's D30 LinearPRO actions
 
 
 
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