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Wildlife Photographer’s Field Review- Canon 1DX Mark II

Wildlife Photographer’s Field Review- Canon 1DX Mark II

Canon 1DX Mark II, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 IS II

Canon 1DX Mark II, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 IS II

Wildlife Photographer’s Field Review- Canon 1DX Mark II  
1DX vs. 1DX II

Brief:                                                                                                                                     Canon noticeably improved the functionality of the new Canon 1DX Mark II over its predecessor.  Many features including auto focus speed, auto focus accuracy, FPS improvements, and ISO noise characteristics are hard quantify on spec sheets, however are noticeable to any photographer using the original 1DX.  

Full Review:
The announcement of the Canon 1DX Mark II upgrade, over the original 1DX, divided potential buyers into two camps: people happy to upgrade, and others underwhelmed by the specs listed on paper.  How can it be possible to have noticeable improvements in auto focus over the previous generation, which is a staple for action photographers?  Visually there isn’t much of a difference (improved joystick near the thumb area, minor improvement in ergonomics when held, the return of red auto focus points…), however the camera is drastically different in features not well conveyed on spec lists.  The 1DX mark II upgrade enhances the capabilities of the camera compared to the mark I by focus, FPS/ buffer, low- light capabilities, and GPS; however, improvements come with downsides.

Canon advertised a full new 61 point auto focus system (High- density Reticular AF II), complete 61 AF point at f8, -3EV sensitivity, and a 360k pixel RGB+ IR meter.  Many people, myself included, were underwhelmed with the announcement, however after the camera’s introduction people are realizing the benefit of hard- to quantify features.  After using the camera extensively, the auto focus shows noticeable improvement in two categories: speed and accuracy.  To test the auto focus I used my custom settings on Least Terns, which are one of the smallest (fastest flying) terns.  The improvement in acquisition speed is noticeable for anyone transitioning from the original 1DX, and especially noticeable for people upgrading from the 7D mark ii or 5D III.  The improvement is hard to quantify, and is an estimated 30% faster over the previous generation.  

There is a noticeable improvement in auto focus speed when using extenders (2x III and 1.4x III).  With the original 1DX, photographers were limited to the center auto focus point when using the 2x III with f4 lenses; the auto focus was slow, and I wouldn’t have even considered using if for tracking fast- moving subjects.  The 1DX Mark II improves focusing speeds drastically with 2x III converters (>50%), while offering full 61 auto focus points.  Now, you have the ability to shoot fast- moving action at 1200mm.      

Canon 1DX Mark II, Canon 600mm f4 IS II, 2x III

Canon 1DX Mark II, Canon 600mm f4 IS II, 2x III

Focus accuracy on the new 1DX Mark II is hard to quantify from the specs offered, but offers photographers drastic improvements.  The original 1DX’s auto focus system, at that time, was best in class.  However, with subjects rapidly coming straight at the camera the original 1DX struggles, and normally yields 1-4 critically sharp photos in a burst. The new auto focus system shines with subjects coming straight towards the camera allowing you to capture a full burst of tack sharp images.  

Canon 1DX Mark II, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 IS II

Canon 1DX Mark II, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 IS II

Focus accuracy is also improved over the predecessor in many other ways including improvements in low- light acquisition, subjects in challenging environments, and when used with tele- converters.  The stated -3 EV auto focus works extremely well when photographing wildlife.  I was able to capture images of nesting shorebird well after sunset (>30 minutes) without having to worry about accuracy from lack of contrast.  Furthermore, all previous canon camera sometimes struggled with photographing baby white shorebirds on a white background with the Florida sun moderately high in the sky.  The upgraded 1DX Mark II was able to tackle the task without any hiccups.  Lastly, when using tele- converters, especially the 2x III, the auto focus system shows noticeable improvement in accuracy.          

Canon 1DX Mark II, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 IS II (photo taken after sunset)

Canon 1DX Mark II, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 IS II (photo taken after sunset)

If you are constantly filling the buffer on the 1DX Mark II, then you should reassess your techniques. The version II boasts 14 fps with a 170 RAW buffer depth (CFast 2.0) compared to the original offering 12 fps with a 40 RAW buffer depth.  The numbers alone don’t seem like much, but that’s a 17% improvement in FPS/ 325% improvement in the buffer depth.  Going from 12 to 14 fps doesn’t seem like much, but you will sure appreciate it when capturing peak action.  The combination of faster/ more accurate auto focus with an unlimited speedy buffer are lethal in wildlife photographer’s hands. 

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm

The new flagship offering from Canon didn’t improve much in ISO noise performance, however the noise cleans up much better in post compared to the previous offering.  For me, the camera will ideally be used at a maximum of 12800 ISO.  

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm f4 IS II

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm f4 IS II

For the past couple of years, I have been syncing my Garmin with the 1DX to add GPS to the metadata.  Now, the Canon 1DX Mark II comes with a built- in GPS system simplifying my workflow.  The integration saves photographers time and money by not needing an external unit.  Geo-tagging images enables you to remember exactly where that rare sighting occurred, so you can revisit the location.     

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm f4 IS II

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm f4 IS II

Just like anything, with many upsides there are downsides.  Canon’s integration of only one CFast 2.0 card slot now requires photographers to carry two types of cards.  I imagine Canon wanted to ease into the transition slowly, but a Lexar 256 GB 3400x 510 MB/s can be acquired for $350.  There are some corruption issues with many CFast cards, however Canon is rolling out a fix.  Lastly, I wish Canon would unlock the rear LCD’s touch screen capabilities to the other non- video functions.

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm f4 IS II, 2x III

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm f4 IS II, 2x III

Overall, Canon noticeably improved the functionality of the new Canon 1DX Mark II over its predecessor.  Many features including auto focus speed, auto focus accuracy, FPS improvements, and ISO noise characteristics are hard quantify on spec sheets, however are noticeable to any photographer using the original 1DX.  The marginal cost for me to upgrade to the newer version was about $2,500, and was worth every penny. The original 1DX was a leap up from the 1D Mark IV, and the same holds true for the 1DX mark II.  All the cameras mentioned are capable of creating jaw- dropping images, however if you want the best- in- class camera, today, you should consider upgrading to a 1DX Mark II.  
  

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm f4 IS II

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm f4 IS II

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