Canon’s flagship EOS 1D Mark IV DSLR is a solidly-built, pro-grade camera with a heavy feature set and price tag.
The Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, the latest evolution of Canon’s DSLR line, was released in December 2009. Along with the higher resolution 1Ds Mark III, the IV is the faster-shooting member of Canon’s one,two punch for professionals and serious amateurs (really serious given the $4,999 USD MSRP). The camera’s predecessor, the 1D Mark III, remains on the Canon website at the time of this review (at a relatively bargain-priced $3,999), but the IV has some significant specification differences to consider when deciding which camera is the better deal.
Resolution is up to 16 megapixels (a 60% increase) on a nearly identically-sized APS-H sensor that produces a 1.3x crop factor (35mm film equivalent) for the about 50 Canon EF lenses that can mount on the body. Dual Digic 4image processors support 14-bit data conversion, the 10-frame per second (fps) continuous shooting rate carries over, and 1080p HD video at various frame rates has been added. Oh, and the ISO sensitivity range goes from 100 to 12,800 nominally, with a low (L) stop at 50 and three additional stops on the high end (H1, H2, H3) that ring up at 25,600, 51,200 and 10,2400 respectively – simply the widest range of ISO sensitivity for any Canon camera yet.
The new AF system is described as Canon’s most advanced to date, featuring a 45-point AF sensor with 39 cross-type points and an all new AI Servo II AF mode featuring “improved algorithms that help improve stability, reliability and focus, no matter the situation.” That cross-type point count is more than twice that of the Mark III. The 3.0 inch LCD monitor is the same size as the Mark III, but with enhancements to improve clarity and sharpness. There are memory card slots for CF type I/II as well as SD/SDHC media.
Canon includes an eyecup, neck strap, stereo AV and USB cables, battery and charger, instruction manual, and CD-ROM software with each camera, which is available as a body only.
We had two lenses available for use with the IV, the new hybrid stabilization L series 100mm macro (which is the subject of its own review on this site and the stabilized L series 24-105mm f/4 zoom which ended up getting most of the work by virtue of its variety of focal lengths. Here’s what the focal range of the 24-105 looks like:
The specs on the 1D Mark IV are certainly impressive, so let’s see how it gets along in the field.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Mark IV is a large, heavy DSLR, festooned with buttons and controls. It has the taller body that accommodates the larger battery found in professional level equipment and always seems to elicit the “that’s some camera – are you a professional?” type comments from onlookers. Materials, fit, and finish keep with the lofty price of admission to adopt the Mark IV.
The body is weather-resistant thanks to 76 gaskets and seals that surround the buttons and seams, and when paired with most “L” series lenses and/or the Canon Speedlite 580EX II, the entire system also remains weather-resistant. Coming home to southern California from the Winter Olympics in Whistler, B.C., we opted to drive most of the way on the more scenic U.S. Highway 101 rather than the interstate. Much of the trip was spent in winds of 25 to 35 mph (gusting to 50) and heavy rain, and the Mark IV was used often for photo ops.
Even protecting the camera and lens as much as possible from wind and water while limiting time outside in the inclement weather, it was comforting to know the camera was hardened against the possibility of an errant raindrop getting in someplace it shouldn’t.
Ergonomics and Controls
Most folks will know right away if they need or don’t need a Mark IV based on specifications or price alone, those of you still on the fence could start your decision-making process by just picking the camera up. If the weight doesn’t scare you off, the ergonomics should help win you over. It’s big and heavy, but Canon has done a nice job of contouring the grip portion of the body to the right hand. When I’m just walking around, I tend to carry the camera rather than sling it over my shoulder, and the Mark IV grip stays pretty comfortable for extended periods.
I’m not a fan of the multicontroller button for menu selection. The proximity to the raised portion of the body adjacent to the monitor seemed to interfere with moving from menu to menu and I’d get inadvertent selections of menu items rather than the next menu. A much better option was to use the main dial to move between menus. Folks with smaller fingers might be fine, but my hand is average size, so I can’t imagine anyone with big hands having an easy time using the multi-controller for menu work. I also don’t care for the on/off switch location, which basically requires a two-handed grip on the camera to operate that involves holding the camera with the right hand and flipping the switch with the left.
For vertical format shooting, the camera has a second set of controls and a shutter button arrayed at the bottom right of the body (which becomes the top right when you shoot vertical) so the user doesn’t have to wrap the shooting hand over the top of the body to reach the regular shutter button.
Shooting information and settings are displayed on the top or bottom LCD panels as well as the 3.0-inch monitor, which depend on individual camera settings. External buttons or controls permit fairly quick access to many settings likely to be useful when shooting on the fly.
Menus and Modes
The Mark IV’s menus and displays are relatively straightforward, but since this is a professional-level DSLR, you get custom function menus with a host of sub-menus to tailor camera performance to your particular preferences. For example, there are 17 sub-menus for the “exposure” custom function alone (and a total of 62 sub-menus for the four custom functions). It’s probably not a bad idea to review the menu options before shooting to familiarize yourself with them. I did, and still managed to miss that the default setting for “auto power off” on the IV is “off” – as in the camera won’t shut itself off if you leave the power on. I left the power switch on for a day or so, and when I pulled the IV out to get a shot of the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver, the camera battery was dead.
Shooting modes are what you’d expect from a professional camera and include manual, semi auto and one auto mode only.
- Aperture priority: user sets aperture, camera sets shutter speed.
- Shutter priority: user sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture.
- Program auto: camera sets shutter and aperture. User can access “program shift” to select different combinations of shutter speed/aperture to suit conditions.
- Manual: user sets aperture and shutter speed.
- Bulb: shutter stays open as long as shutter button is fully pressed.
- Movie: can capture video at 1920 x 1080 resolution and 30, 25 or 24 frames per second (fps);1280 x 720 at 60 or 50 fps; 640 x 480 at 60 or 50 fps.
The 3.0 inch liquid crystal monitor has about 920,000 dot composition and is adjustable for seven levels of brightness. The monitor is usable for image composition and capture under most conditions, but struggled in the bright sun and snow-covered slopes at Whistler, where reflections were a constant problem. It’s a good monitor, but the Olympic Alpine and Nordic events proved a tough nut to crack for live view and movie capture. Coverage is about 100%.
The viewfinder offers about 100% coverage and has a diopter adjustment to fit varying eyesight levels.