- Samu's photo blog - Photography - Equipment - Cameras - 1D mk3


Canon EOS 1D Mark III

At beginning of 2008 I decided to buy Canon EOS 40D in order to try the live view functionality and integrated cleaning system. Those were so good that I decided to sell 5D and planned to use 40D until 5D Mark II would be published PMA 2008 - but like many others I was disappointed by Canon. After while I ended up purchasing Canon EOS 1D Mark III. In this page I tell my opinions about the camera. Comparisons are mainly done agains Canon EOS 5D unless I otherwise mention.

NOTICE! This page is under construction for a long time, I add here stuff when I get change to take more photos with the new camera. After major changes I try to maintain this change log.

Change log

2008-02-23 Initial versio added
2008-02-26 Added initial comments about image quality
2008-03-09 Added autofocus comments to handling/usage section

Canon EOS 1D Mark III basics

- Dimensions 156mm x 156mm x 80mm, weight 1335g (camera 1155g, battery 180g)
- Sensor size 28.1mm x 18.7mm, crop factor 1.2818x
- Image size 3888 x 2592, 10 077 696 pixels, 14bit
- Memory: CF1, CF2, SD, SDHC
- LCD displays: 1 info display on top, 2 on back (color 230000 pixels + info display)
- Max 10 frames/s, max shutterspeed 1/8000s, max flash sync speed 1/300s, 300000 cycles shutter
- Min ISO 50, max 6400, 1/3 stop adjustments
- Exposure compensation +-3 stops
- Sound recording (30s), custom naming and folders
- 19 cross type autofocus sensors
- Live view
- Integrated Cleaning System

Canon EOS 1D Mark III with
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8

Why I selected 1D Mark III?

Live view

For me the reason to get rid off of 5D was the lack of live view. I mainly shoot manual focus and from tripod so live view is best new feature for ages in camera industry for me.

Integrated cleaning system

5D was a dust magnet. Compared to 20D and number of pictures taken I had to clean the sensor about 8 times more often than with 20D.


New Canon cameras with Digic III processor use 14bit. This makes possible to have smoother gradients, which is very important for better bokeh.

Handling and robustness

I have always liked the 1 series handling better.


Enough but not too much megapixels

20D did have enough megapixels. I have printed landscapes to size of 75cm x 50cm and I was happy to the quality of the poster. Therefore extra resolution would be just extra burden in image processing. Less resolution also causes less problems with diffraction.


After evaluating various lens tests it seems that with Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III when using apertures smaller than f/5.6 contrast starts to decrease due to diffraction and resolution at f/8.

Corner resolutions

After studying MTF-charts, testing my self and reading other's tests it seems that even the best of the lenses cannot resolve details very well in corners.


"Pro features"

1D-series cameras have a lot of nice features like +-3 EV exposure compensation and bracketing (+-2 is not enough for HDR) and sound recording.


At 2008 Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III is 4000EUR more expensive than 1D Mark III. With 4kEUR you can buy helv a lot of glass and gasoline to car to get new places. On other hand 1D Mark III is twice the price of 5D.

Usage and handling

Generally speaking...

1D series cameras are much nicer to use than Canon's non-professional cameras. This doesn't come from any single individual thing, but when overall you have 100 features which work better it starts to have big effect. Here is a short list of this kind of small things, these are just examples:
- Exposure compensation is +-3 stops instead of +-2 stops => you don't have to switch to manual from Av so often on difficult lightning conditions
- Better viewfinder than in non-professional Canon cameras. Personally I prefer the layout of displayed information in 1D Mark III. Also diopter correction is from -3 to +1 instead of -2 to +1.
- Viewfinder displays exposure correction and flash exposure correction at same time
- By using same lenses in same conditions the AF is faster (compared to 40D, cannot say that I would have focus accuracy problems with either of the cameras)

For alternative lens users there are many befits, most important being:
- It's possible to meter closed down and metering is pretty accurate. For reason or another this caused 1.5-2 stop exposure error in 20D, 40D and 5D. Therefore it's possible to do fast point-focus-stopdown-shoot action with alternative lenses on Av-mode.
- Same behaviour on stopped down metered flash photography, I had really hard time getting proper flash exposure with stopped down metering with Canon EOS 5D but with 1D Mark III the flash exposure works as well as with Canon lenses.
- Sound recording functionality: you can record which lens, which aperture and something about the location or subject. Camera saves these files to card with same name as picture but with suffic ".wav". Any sound program and operating system can then play these files.

When considering that I get these benefits and I don't even use functionalities for which the camera is made (sports- and action-photography).

Live view

The main reason to change from full frame Canon EOS 5D to 1D Mark III was the live view. It makes framing and manual much easier. Also simulated exposure is great on some situations, however I have switched it off since I find 1D Mark III exposure metering (evaluative) so good that I don't see no need for simulating exposure on screen. On rare cases when I get bad exposure I adjust and re-shoot, simple.

Live view makes it easier to manage composition, depth of field and background "clutter" - at least for me. On handling point of view live makes it much easier to shoot from very low or very high angle. I haven't yet tried but I would imagine that very different angle could be used in photos by putting 1Ds Mark III + light lens to monopod and use external display (e.g. portable DVD-player) via the composite cable for framing while raising camera to 3.5 meters with the monopod.

Using Live View and mirror lock-up

There is one negative thing in how live view is done in 1D(s) Mark III cameras; the live view functionality doesn't work as well as it does on 40D. The sensor of 1D Mark III requires shutter to be used in order to reset the sensor before taking the photo. And shutter closing causes vibration, not as big as the mirror but still considerable amount. More detailed information from Juza Nature Photography forums:

When you are using live view and you press the shutter release, the camera must "reset" the sensor.

With 1D or 1Ds, to "reset" the sensor the camera
A) closes the shutter curtain
1) opens the shutter curtain
2) when the exposure is complete, it closes the shutter curtain
3) it opens again the curtain to come back to live view

the step A is very strong, and it is enough to create vibrations

If you activate MLU, instead:

1) first, you have to exit from live view, otherwise MLU does not work
2) when you press the shutter release for the first time, the camera lock the mirror
3) when you press again the shutter, the opens the shutter curtain
4) when the exposure is complete, it closes the shutter curtain

so you eliminate the step A, and you don't have vibrations

My routine for taking photos with live view: 1] Get camera and lens from camerabag, attach to tripod
2] Switch on live view; compose and focus
3] Switch live view off; use either the 2 second self timer or remote switch Canon RS-80N for vibration free picture
Not the fasters way of doing it but I can be sure that there ain't vibration in photos - Earlier in my life I have ruined few masterpieces due to vibration from mirror and with 10Mpix camera one has to be much more careful than with old film days.

Autofocus point selection

Autofocus point is selected by pressing autofocus selection and then using the index finger wheel (horizontal selection) and thumb wheel (goes rounds in selected horizontal region). After using D30, 20D and 40D this was obvious usability downgrade - thank god I don't use autofocus that often.

Also only 19 of the focus points are selectable, others cannot be selected, but when camera is on automatic focus point selection mode camera can select those. There are few situations when I have found this to be limitation. As an example taking tight portraits this can be problem since Canon has disabled those focus points which I would most probably position to eye of the subject of portrait. Due to this continuos focus and re-compose action is needed and that will cause focus errors if you use Canon EF85mm f/1.2 USM Mark II wide open on close distances.

Handling handheld

For me the vertical grip was a new experience, I have never bothered to purchase vertical grip to my earlier cameras. The vertical grip makes naturally taking vertical photos easier. However if you use quick release plate or L-bracket it feels little strange when holding camera vertically, but still quite OK. If I ever have to photograph wedding, or similar event where I have to lot of handheld photographing, I will definitely remove the L-bracket.

Weight gives additional stability but also will be quite burden if you carry camera all the time in your neck or in hand. At least I get quite soon tired holding Canon EF85mm f/1.2 L USM Mark II or Canon EF180mm f/3.5 L USM, which both weight over 1kg. But also good point is that with these heavy lenses is that camera+lens combination is less nose heavy and makes carryin Canon EOS 1D Mark III - Viewfinder a little bit easier. I would advice to not use the Canon neck strap and instead get some wider and properly padded neck strap, for example one from OP/TECH USA.

Naturally on handheld photography you cannot use live view, at least I don't find it usable, except on rare cases I need to take photo either from very high viewpoint or very low viewpoint. However the viewfinder is great and with optional focusing screen Ec-S even manual focusing is pretty good, not as good as with the 5D but quite close.

Handling on tripod

On tripod camera does seem to have higher center of gravity compared to same lenses on 5D/40D. Due to placement of battery and connections (USB, remote switch etc.) camera specific L-bracket is required (at least Kirk and Really Right Stuff are manufacturing those). However be prepared for the extra $200 expense due to this if you need L-bracket.

Shooting tethered

Canon's new live view cameras allow photographer to view the image from sensor on the computer screen. I have tried this functionality and it seems quite useful for "studio shooting". However if you shoot anything which is moving it's quite useless functionality. Of course this functionality can be used with nature photography but you have to bring laptop to outdoors and use some extension to USB-cable or buy the ridiculous expensive WFT-E2 wireless transmitter. Also 1D Mark III package included AC-adapter, ACK-E4, which is included and not optional accessory like with the non-professional Canon's.

Top and rear LCD displays

For a former consumer DSLR user the rear LCD display was completely new concept, however I learned very soon to like it. Only complaint is that EV-scale is not visible on top LCD on M-mode, and therefore user must turn on live view or look through viewfinder to utilize information from auto exposure metering system. This may sound "so what"-issue but I take most of my photos using tripod and compose, then I typically have adjusted the aperture and shutter speed by using the top LCD of Canon EOS 5D.

Shooting with gloves

At winter when it's freezing temperature outside you cannot be there without cloves. Therefore it has to be possible to shoot without removing gloves. With 1D Mark III it's quite easy to use basic functions with gloves.

Battery life

The non-professional cameras from Canon use BP-511 or similar battery which is 7.4V / 1390mAh (10.28Wh). The battery life has not been issue for years (20D has excellent battery life), but since introduction of Live View the small battery has become a slight problem. I have been out few times with 40D now and chilling temperatures combines with Live View usage has shortened the battery life to very poor, only 50-75 shots/battery. Indoors it has been slightly better but not much. However in 1D Mark III has battery which is rated 11.1V / 2300mAh (25.53Wh) and the battery life seems much better when using live view.

Image quality

"Optimal" crop

After extended studies of various lens reviews and reading endless MTF charts it started to look like that even the best lenses (below 100mm) are not capable to perform on corners of full frame. Also vignetting is smaller problem wide open and disappears about 1 stop earlier when closing down the lens compared to full frame camera.

"Optimal" number of megapixels

Many reviews gave hint that with Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III that at f/5.6 and smaller apertures contrast starts to decrease. On the other hand the tiny pixels will make most of Canon made lenses to perform non-optimally unless stopped down at least 2 stops. I prefer not to be so limited on apertures and sometimes I want to close down the aperture down to f/11 where also sharpness takes big hit with the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III !!

Personally I haven't had issue of enlarge-ability since 20D. I have printed good quality 75cm x 50cm posters with 20D. The pixels level quality is at same level as with Canon EOS 5D to my eye on low ISO levels. On high ISO levels Canon EOS 1D Mark III is slightly better.

An interesting writing about 1Ds Mark III at Pebble Place. In that article also is commented the limited dynmic range due to tiny pixels, even with 14 bit there is tendency to clip the highlighs.


I have noticed slight improvement on color slides in image bokeh on both 14bit cameras I have compared to 5D and 20D. However to proof this scientifically would require more effort than I'm willing to do - real camera testers to do this test... The smoother gradation from is definitely lost on web quality sRGB images, but on prints there seems to be something more.

Long exposure performance

Custom function "C.Fn II - 1 Long Exposure Noise Reduction" has three options 0. Off (default), 1. Auto and 2. On. I don't know how the auto works but I haven't seen it doing the dark frame exposure even I have tried to trick it to work by taking 226 second exposure of night sky with ISO 100 and with ISO1600 8 second exposure of the night sky. To me it seems better to use option 2 if you want the camera to take the dark frame.

When dark frame is taken the long exposure performance is best I have seen this far, exceeding performance of Canon EOS 5D.


NOTICE! These pros and cons are listed based on my usage of camera - I'm not typical user of 1D Mark III - I don't shoot sports or birds, just landscapes, macros and other nature stuff. However camera may have effect also what I shoot: for reason or another I feel great need to go to some local rally race and take my tele lenses (200/2.8 and 135/2) and 1D Mark III to take some great rally photos, a kind of photography which I haven't never done before neither had much interest to do...


+ Live view, Integrated cleaning system, 14bit
+ Image quality
+ 10fps makes it possible to do handhold HDR assuming shutter speed is otherwise handholdable
+ Metering system (+-3EV, stop down metering, viewfinder display)
+ Sound recording + Battery life


- Weight and size
- Even camera has live view separate routine is needed for vibration free mirror locking
- Price (compared to 5D, 40D etc. but cheap compared to 1Ds Mark III)
- Autofocus point selection clumsy and camera software limits which focus points can be selected leading to focus and recompose specially with portraits

Canon EOS 1D Mark III links (Link to parent category)
Imaging Resource
Ken Rockwell
Rob Galbraith

Huuhaakuukausi 4th, 2008