Ferociously fast and feature-packed, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III introduces a number of full-frame EOS DSLR firsts, including RAW video, an all-new DIGIC processor and revolutionary intelligent autofocus.
Professional sports and wildlife photographers have particularly relied on the advanced autofocus system of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II to capture fleeting moments. Now its successor the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III takes AF performance to the next level with the addition of deep learning technology. But what exactly is it, and how is it implemented in the EOS-1D X Mark III?
"Photographers ideally want their camera to recognise what it should be focusing on and possibly to track that subject," says Canon Europe's Professional Imaging Product Specialist Mike Burnhill. "They want to have a camera as smart as them. That's never really been feasible before, but deep learning technology allows the camera to be programmed to evaluate the subject in the same way a photographer would, and to track the subject better as a result.”
"The technology is related to artificial intelligence (AI), in that it teaches itself and builds the autofocus algorithm by analysing millions of bits of information from a large database of images,” explains Mike. “Unlike AI, which never stops learning, deep learning stops development after completing the analysing of the database of images. Deep Learning is about the most powerful technology you can get in a camera right now, while real AI systems available today connect to large servers and only operate with an internet connection."
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III's autofocus speed and accuracy are enhanced by a new AF sensor with about 28x the resolution of its predecessor. This not only enables greater autofocus precision, it also expands the brightness range that the AF system can work in – "so it can focus in darker conditions and brighter conditions," says Mike. "It's more accurate in a wider range of situations."
Canon Ambassador Marina Cano, who used the camera to photograph wildlife in the Kalahari, was blown away by it. "Seconds are precious in wildlife, so the autofocus on the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is fantastic because it’s so fast.”
To keep pace with the rapid autofocus, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III's frame rate gets a significant boost. Not only does it hit an extraordinary 16fps when shooting with the optical viewfinder, it offers 20fps in Live View mode – using either the mechanical or electronic shutter.
"The 16fps top speed when shooting with the optical viewfinder is a massive improvement," says Mike. "Being able to move the mirror that fast is a major mechanical achievement.
"Although hitting 20fps in Live View is less complicated to achieve, this is now offered with full autofocus tracking and metering performance. As some people are saying, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is an awesome mirrorless camera, which just happens to have a mirror."
Surf photographer Ben Thouard, who used the camera to capture remarkable action shots in Tahiti, was delighted with its performance. "Being able to shoot up to 20fps is a game-changer," he says. "Now instead of having one good frame, I can choose between two, three or even four frames."
One of the reasons the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III can hit these extreme speeds is the adoption of dual CFexpress card slots. "Entry-level CFexpress cards are three times as fast as CFast 2.0™ cards and eight times as fast as CompactFlash cards, and they have the potential to go faster in the future," explains Mike. The data transfer speeds of CFexpress enable the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III to offer a RAW burst depth that's five times greater than that of its predecessor.
At the heart of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is a DIGIC processor that sets a new benchmark in professional performance. Working in tandem with the new Canon-developed CMOS imaging sensor, the DIGIC processor delivers more refined picture quality at even higher ISO sensitivities, along with the ability to record images in 10-bit as HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format) files.
"JPEG has been around for a long time," says Mike. "It's a fantastic, universal format, but it's blocky, you get artefacts from over-sharpening, and you're fixed at 8-bit. Shooting 10-bit HEIF files gives you a greater colour depth and a better dynamic range for the same size file as a JPEG."
Video quality has been significantly improved, too. New DIGIC processing and the introduction of ultra-fast CFexpress card slots allow for a greater range of movie recording options than ever before. As well as shooting 10-bit 4K movies at 60p with Canon Log, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III can capture RAW video – both of which can be recorded internally.
The speed and ease with which images and video clips can be shared is just as important as the rate at which they're captured. The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III comes with built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy and GPS. For delivering content at even faster speeds or over greater distances with less chance of interference, the built-in Ethernet port or the optional WFT-E9 wireless file transmitter offer transfer speeds up to twice as fast as those possible with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.
The process of setting up a network has also been made easier, with a simpler interface. “Some of the best photographers are the least technical people I've ever met,” says Mike. “So helping them to deliver images more quickly is really important."
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III shares the same robust, weather-sealed construction and intuitive control layout as its predecessor, with a number of refinements. Softly illuminated buttons on the rear of the body make the camera that much easier to operate in dark and dimly-lit conditions, while a new control for quickly selecting AF points is built into both of the AF-ON buttons.
Despite the potential power demands of the new features, battery life has been dramatically improved using the same LP-E19 battery as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.
Another small but significant upgrade is the brighter viewfinder. Being able to offer a high-quality optical viewfinder is one of the reasons that, in spite of the burgeoning mirrorless camera market and the launch of Canon's groundbreaking full-frame mirrorless EOS R System, the flagship pro EOS body is still a DSLR.
"This type of camera is obviously very popular with sports photographers," says Mike. "An SLR viewfinder is still superior for that kind of activity because you're seeing things in real time ¬– what you're seeing in the viewfinder is travelling at the speed of light.
"With an EVF there will always be a lag. To convert photons into electrons and go through a processor, then through some circuitry to another processor that feeds into a screen before the image hits your eye, you get a delay of between 100 and 200 milliseconds – which doesn't sound a lot, but when you're shooting at 20 frames per second that's three to four images. So the photographer with the SLR can shoot three or four images before the photographer with the mirrorless camera has even seen what's happened.
"Mirrorless cameras are fantastic for many different types of photography, but in this marketplace, SLRs are still the weapon of choice."