Canon announced the EOS-1Ds digital SLR (D-SLR) camera last September, but it only reached the UK recently. It’s remarkable on two counts. First, it has an extremely high output resolution of 11.1 megapixels (4,064-x-2,704 pixels). This would be the highest-resolution D-SLR on the market but for Kodak’s 14mp DCS 14n, announced at the same time and likewise only just hitting the streets.
But while Kodak struggled with image quality on early production models, the Canon won instant praise from professional photo magazines and Web sites. Announced at around £6,000 (excluding VAT), the street price is already down to about £4,700.
The EOS-1Ds is also notable for its full-frame CMOS image sensor. Most D-SLRs have sensors smaller than a 35mm film frame, so they ‘see’ a narrower angle of view. The EOS-1Ds CMOS is exactly same size as 35mm film, so you capture the same view through
your lenses. The Kodak DCS 14n likewise has a full-frame CMOS, in a body that accepts Nikon lenses and accessories.
As its name suggests, EOS-1Ds is based on Canon’s top professional film camera, the EOS-1v, so it accepts the same EF autofocus lenses and other accessories (including flashguns, remote controls and focusing screens). Made from tough magnesium alloy with rubber grips, it’s bulky and heavy (1,600g with battery
but without lens), but it’s shock resistant, with water and dust seals, so it’ll withstand serious punishment.
The fast autofocus system has 45 sensing zones, which can be selected individually (fiddlesome), or left on auto-detect. Canon’s AI Server technology predicts the trajectory of fast-moving subjects and adjusts focus accordingly. The shutter is built to last, and offers a huge range of 1/8,000th to 30 seconds, while the shutter-button response time is the same as EOS-1v – 55 milliseconds. Exposure metering is super-sophisticated with six modes, including a 21-zone
matrix and a multi-spot that lets you measure up to eight points in the same shot.
That bulging base holds a massive lithium battery, but doubles as a hand-grip with a duplicate shutter button
and main controls for when you hold the camera vertically. The hefty battery charger has two connectors, for either two batteries or one battery plus mains supply to the camera.
Canon sells another D-SLR based on the EOS 1v body – the EOS-1D, which was introduced in 2001 and is still in production with a street price around £2,800 (excluding VAT). It’s primarily a photo-journalist’s camera, built for speed more than resolution. It can hit eight frames per second (the fastest on the market), but its 4mp CCD sensor isn’t full-frame. The higher-resolution EOS-1Ds hits a still-respectable 3fps for up to ten shots, thanks to new twin-channel sensor reading.
The menu display on the two-inch rear playback monitor is comprehensive, with four tabbed levels. However, the user interface requires that you remember which of several changing buttons to hold down while selecting options with the rear command wheel.
The main camera controls will be familiar to any Canon EOS 1 film camera user, with additional digital controls for ISO sensitivity (100 to 1,250 plus an extended 50 ISO setting for less noise but a slightly restricted dynamic range) and white balance. Despite using internal and external sensors, the auto white balance is so-so in artificial light, though the pre-set values are good. You can input your own balance by shooting
a white reference object. There’s also a colour temperature menu, so if you know the value for your studio lamps, you can use this instead.
There are five colour matrix settings for a choice of colour space and saturation – most are sRGB, but one is Adobe RGB 1998, suitable for professional print.
The 11.1mp resolution gives 31MB files, which might seem like overkill given that 6mp/18MB is enough for
an A4 magazine page. The real advantage of the extra resolution is that you can crop in close to a subject that occupies only part of the frame, and still print a large image.
Big files put a strain on RAM and disk space. The camera’s best-quality JPEG setting occupies between 3.5 and 5MB, depending on image content. However, many professionals prefer the RAW option, which preserves full quality and allows you to tweak the major settings after downloading. RAW files occupy around 9MB on the memory card. The EOS-1Ds can optionally save RAW and faster-access JPEG versions of the same image simultaneously.
You can download straight from the camera through the standard FireWire port and cable provided, or you can use a card reader – the camera takes a Compact Flash II or IBM Microdrive card.
The main software is Canon’s Image Browser, which previews and downloads camera or card images, plus the (very slow) File Viewer utility, which lets you edit Raw files then re-save them as TIFF or JPEG. Adobe’s £65 plus VAT EOS-1Ds-friendly RAW filter for Photoshop is faster. Canon’s RemoteCapture
lets you operate the camera via FireWire from a computer, while PhotoStitch will assemble multi-image tiles and panoramas. A copy of Photoshop 5.0 LE is also bundled.
The Canon EOS-1Ds is very much a professional photographer’s tool – built to last, and compatible with a huge range of Canon and third-party lenses
and accessories. Its wide range of controls, plus the resolution, responsiveness, metering and selectable colour temperatures, make it suitable for both still life and portraiture work as well as action shots out on location.
Image quality is excellent, with good colour saturation, and a decent dynamic range. This is one of the first D-SLRs to capture details that aren’t obvious to the naked eye. Canon’s advanced CMOS technology means that there’s little noise below about ISO 800.
On the other hand, Canon’s superb 6mp EOS-10D enjoys a street price under £1,100 (plus VAT), yet produces images that aren’t far short of the sharpness and detail of the EOS 1D. Then there’s Kodak’s Nikon-compatible 14mp DCS 14n at £3,600. Neither matches the build quality and electronic sophistication of the EOS-1Ds, but they cost a lot less.