Canon releases a 1-series body every four years, which coincides with the Olympic Games. They are designed for speed and performance and these four years serve to perfect the next-generation professional marksman. And what Canon has done is perfect. The EOS 1D X Mark III is one of the best cameras currently available – be it mirrorless or DSLR.
And the 1D X Mark III is a bit of both – while at heart it's a DSLR, the 1D X Mark III delivers spectacular results when the mirror is locked. If Canon had decided to completely do without the mirror, the 1D X Mark III would have been a damn mirrorless miracle. So much so that we compared it to Sony's latest sports camera, the Alpha A9 II.
This is definitely the direction cameras are heading ̵
If it turns out to be true, Canon DSLRs go off with a bang. The 1D X Mark III has some interesting technologies under the hood that give us an insight into the future of Canon cameras – starting with the new Digic X sensor. This chip, currently only found in the 1D X Mark III, is so fast that you can watch the focus box capture a subject and track it in real time with virtually no delay. With most other cameras, including the Canon EOS R, you will always find that the focus box takes some time to grasp the subject. Not so with the 1D X, and that helps keep the autofocus in focus.
We were lucky enough to spend a long time with the new DSLR and were able to test it in various scenarios – from the inside Tennis for surf shoots on the beach in the rain and even in bright sunshine in the zoo. We even tried still lifes. No matter what we threw on it, the 1D X Mark III delivered fabulous results.
When used as a DSLR, ie with the mirror folded down, there are 191 AF points to choose from. And like any DSLR, these points are all centered around. Lock the mirror and use the 1D X Mark III as a mirrorless camera. There are so many other selectable items. They are spread over the entire frame. So if your subject ends up on the edge of a frame (as is the case with many sports), you can still take pictures that focus precisely on the face.
This is also due to the fact that, as a mirrorless camera, moving motifs are tracked almost seamlessly in real time. We say "almost" because it is not absolutely perfect. As you pursue and get in the way of others (be it posts, referees, or other athletes), the camera loses the subject, but it's pretty much only for a very short time. Tracking with the 1D X Mark III is a breeze, and we would even say that it performs better than Sony tracking on the Alpha A9 II.
That doesn't mean that we are going to do tracking and tracking Autofocus from Sony complains of performance – The A9 II takes a little longer to find the lost subject, while the Canon does it much faster. And in the competitive environment of sports photography, it could be the split second that makes the difference to capture a successful moment. It is by far the best tracking performance of a Canon shooter so far.
But where the Sony A9 II excels is eye AF. It's almost always right, while Canon's face and head detection is appealing. However, Eye AF is not as important in sports photography as it is in portrait photography.
Another factor that makes the AF performance of the 1D X Mark III a winner is the new Smart Controller. This optical, touch-sensitive pointer is much faster to use than the conventional joystick of a modern camera. In fact, it's also much faster than using the Mn-F touch bar that Canon has on its current EOS R flagship. The slightest touch and the slightest movement of the thumb are enough to move the focus point. If it is too sensitive for you, there are options in the menu system to change this.
In fact, Canon's auto focus technology on the 1D X Mark III is good enough not to even need the smart controller. Most of the time, the camera snaps to the right subject, unless too many things happen in the frame, and we can't complain about that. It's a shame that Canon didn't transfer the smart controller to the upcoming mirrorless EOS R5 camera, but we expect the AF system of the next full-frame mirrorless flagship to be as good as that of the 1D X Mark III.
Of course, it is hardly fair to talk about autofocus performance without considering which lens you are using. Older lenses – such as the Canon EF 200-400mm 1: 4L IS USM Extender 1.4x (introduced in 2013) that we used during a surf competition in Sydney – can be comparatively slower than newer ones like the EF 70-200mm 1: 2 , 8L IS III USM (released in 2018). Still, the camera is able to handle it and you get a lot of great shots no matter what lens you use – especially since there are so many excellent native options to choose from.
The Digic X is not the only processor under the hood. The 1D X Mark III also has a Digic 8 engine that is used to measure exposure when using the camera's optical viewfinder (OVF). There is also a new RGB + IR measurement sensor with 216 zones and 400,000 points (compared to the 370,000-point variant of the 1D X Mark II), while Live View uses a 384-zone measurement system.
The upgrades contribute significantly to the fact that you can correctly expose for different scenarios. For example, when shooting dark subjects against a light background, it can be difficult to capture details in shadows. Choosing the right ISO and using spot metering for individual subjects make work easier.
In addition, the ability to take HEIF images means that you can get a lot of details during post-processing, as we did the chimpanzee image above. While the chimpanzee's face was perfectly exposed, even though the sun behind the animal was too bright, the rest of her body was lost in the shade and there was no trace of the sexual swelling that this female had in the original file. A few minor changes with a simple photo editing app (in our case, Apple's photo app on a Mac) were enough to highlight the lost details.
Recording with high ISO values (e.g. ISO 8000 in the case of the picture above) is also not a big problem for the Canon 1D X Mark III. There is no sign of noise at ISO 8000, although the sensitivity goes up to ISO 21,800 and Sony does a little better. Still, the current king in low light is still the Nikon D5, and we expect the D6 to perform as well, if not better, in these situations.
The need for speed
The speed of the 1D X Mark III also distinguishes it from mirrorless cameras such as the Sony A9 II Both cameras are shot at 20 frames per second, but the Canon can do this in mirrorless mode using its mechanical shutter. On the other hand, the A9 II with its mechanical shutter can take continuous shots at 10 frames per second. In silent mode, Sony can manage bursts with 12 frames, but only reaches 20 fps if you want to capture compressed RAW files. The Canon achieves this speed by spitting out RAW files in full resolution.
And then there is the buffer depth, which is hardly unlimited (while the Sony A9 II is designed for 361 JPEGs). Add to that the introduction of CFexpress memory cards for the 1D X Mark III, and you can save hundreds of images almost instantly.
We will admit that we were distracted at one point during the ATP Cup tennis finals in Sydney and pressed the trigger longer than we wanted and / or needed, and ended up with more than 2,000 RAW + JPEG files III hardly blinked before it was ready for use again and all files were saved on the card. We would never recommend doing this unless you have tested the feature, but this one bug gave us a very good idea of how quickly the camera was processing files.
You would think that a lot of the pictures were taken during this time burst would have caused the vast majority to be out of focus – we were really surprised that the vast majority got to the point with only about 50 out of focus shots, and ourselves if they were not cut to zoom, they were usable in the subject. This shows that the 1D X Mark III simply continues the task at hand without requiring too much of you.
Do what you want
The 1D X Mark III is a big animal. It is not a travel companion and not cheap. While it is very tempting to recommend the camera to practically any advanced photographer, more than a change is required to purchase it. That said, it's a camera that lets you do anything, even if you're not a sports or press photographer.
You may not need intelligent autofocus, which is fast and accurate as a landscape photographer, and as a wedding or wildlife Photographer probably won't need 20 fps bursts, but the 1D X Mark III can handle it all. Even video.
For a company that was reluctant to offer 4K video at a time when the competition had made it the norm – and when it arrived it didn't use the full sensor – the video features of the Mark III are impressive. The 1D line was never designed to be used as a hybrid camera – they were historically designed for still images – but Canon has shown that it can keep up with the times and we look forward to seeing what the EOS R5 can do.  Canon EOS-1D X Mark III DSLR …