Review Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

In 2011, Canon released its first Cinema camera, the C300. A year later, the C100, C500 and 1DC followed. The latter was the first SLR camera in the Cinema line, based on the Canon 1D. Professional system cameras were not yet available, and, with the success of the 5D Mark II as a video camera, this was a logical addition to the Cinema series. The 1DC remained in production until the end of last year, in addition to the 1D and 1D X cameras that also have video functions. With the EOS-1D X Mark III, these two lines seem to come together again.

 

MAKING VIDEOS WITH A SPORTS CAMERA

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is actually a worthy successor to the 1DC and also to the 1D X Mark II. Meanwhile, the Cinema series has its own full-frame film cameras in the form of the C700FF and the C500 Mark II. In addition, Canon now also has system cameras with high-quality video functions. A 1DC Mark II is therefore no longer to be expected. It could also very well be that the EOS-1D X Mark III will be the last professional SLR camera from Canon. Now that video is an additional source of income for more and more photographers and the electronic viewfinders are getting better and better, a professional system camera as a successor seems more likely. The 1D X Mark III was already thoroughly examined as a photo camera in Focus 4 of this year and here on Camerastuffreview.com. In this article, I want to discuss the new video features. At least a few of them, because this new 1D X also has enormous capabilities in terms of video.

Video QUALITY

Like photos, videos can be stored in two ways: RAW and compressed. Compressed video is instantly usable just like a jpeg from the camera. You select and set color reproduction, resolution, contrast and compression in advance. Any additional color information, resolution and information from the lightest and darkest areas that is not used for the final image is discarded. This makes compressed images smaller in size and therefore often suitable for sending. The target group of the 1D X Mark III will often use this option. They are often photographers and videographers who work for the media. Being able to provide ready-to-use images as soon as possible is essential for them. The specifications for end use, such as for newspapers, television or internet, are usually known, and delivering a higher quality than necessary is undesirable, due to the speed at which the delivery must be completed. However, these quality requirements are getting higher and higher. Think of 4K video, but also HDR images. Thus, not only is more and more resolution required, but also more color information and a bigger dynamic range. The large amount of data required for this is difficult to manage even for the current fast data connections. Smarter compression methods are therefore necessary in order to be able to deliver the required quality. Canon has made the Mark III future-proof by using the latest technologies to combine the high resolution, with which its predecessor could also record, with more in-depth information. This could only be done by using advanced codecs to keep the large data flow within bounds.

A LEAP FORWARD

Until now, this additional color information has been the major lack with Canon’s photo cameras, and those of many other brands, as well as an important reason for videographers to switch to Cinema cameras.

With the EOS-1D X Mark III, Canon is taking a huge step forward in this. Compared to its predecessor, the Mark III has two additional strong codecs; the ability to internally record 12-bit RAW video with a resolution of 5.5K (5496 x 2904 pixels) and the ability to record compressed DCI 4K video (4096 x 2160 pixels) in 10-bit 4:2:2. The Mark III accomplishes the latter using the new H.265/HEVC codec when you enable Canon-Log. This relatively new High Efficiency Video Codec ensures higher compression, i.e. smaller files, without sacrificing image quality or better video quality with the same file size as if the H.264/AVC codec were used. However, this efficient codec has consequences for your workflow. The processor of your computer has to work extra hard if you want to edit video recorded with H.265/HEVC. Decompression takes a lot of extra processor power and demands more from your graphics card. With older or less powerful computers, the video material in the editing software will probably play less smoothly. There are many tutorials on the internet on how to convert H.265 video to video with an H.264 codec, such as Apple ProRes. 

Another method is to first create proxy files and to edit with those. However, the Mark III is a camera with which you want to be at least five years ahead, and in a few years the computer world will look very different. With Canon-Log disabled, recording is just done in 8-bit 4:2:2 for UHD or 4:2:0 for FHD with the H.264 codec. Compared to the Mark II, the color information in 4K has thus increased from 8-bit 4:2:2 to 10-bit 4:2:2 and in RAW even to 12-bit 4:4:4. Canon does not call it Cinema Raw Light as used for Canon’s Cinema cameras, but it is a compressed RAW, and Adobe Premiere Pro just sees it as Cinema Raw Light. Given the data stream, the compression only seems slightly lower than with the Cinema Raw Light from the C200, for example, if you correct for the resolution difference. Compared to its predecessor, the crop factor in 4K has also disappeared, and the Mark III thus uses the entire surface of the sensor for the registration of 5.5K RAW and 4K compressed and a small 1.1x crop for UHD (3840 x 2160 pixels). In all settings, you can choose between 25 or 50 frames per second in PAL. At 5.5K RAW and 4K in 50 fps, the AF does not work. It does work in FHD and in the high frame rate setting for slow motion. The Mark III also does not use crop for recording slow motion. This can be done at 100 images per second (PAL) in Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels). The 1D X Mark III uses two CFexpress cards to store both the photos and the videos. These are fairly expensive cards, but due to their high write speed they are necessary to be able to process the large data flow of RAW video and slow motion recordings.

Cinema Raw Light

RAW video can only be shot in full resolution and with the full color depth of 12 bits. This ensures a data flow of around 2600Mbps at 50 or 60fps and 1800Mbps at 24, 25 or 30 frames per second. This will fill a 64Gb card in three or four minutes, respectively. Apart from the fact that you have to invest heavily in CFexpress cards, you will also have to reserve a lot of storage space for post-processing if you want to work in RAW. To ease that post-processing a bit, the Mark III can also record a lighter 4K MP4 file on the second card at the same time as the RAW video. This can be used as a quick preview and for a proxy edit. It is a shame that there is no room for an additional SD card slot with a photo camera, such as the Canon C200, so that you could use both CFexpress cards for the RAW video and record your proxy on the cheaper and easier to read SD card. You can open and edit the RAW video from the 1D X in color in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional. The RAW video tool used for this only works with a powerful graphics card. The RAW video can also be processed directly in NLEs like Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro. The latter uses a plug-in for this. The latest version of the free video editor of Black Magic, DaVinci Resolve 16.2.4 also has support specifically for the 1D X video. It works fast, even on an older computer, and it gives very good results.

FILMING WITH AN SLR CAMERA

An SLR camera is by no means the most convenient device for filming. But if, as a nature photographer, photojournalist or sports photographer, you also have to shoot moving images, that works well with such a camera. With its Dual Pixel Autofocus, Canon has largely eliminated the restrictions on focusing on video. The autofocus is, even with the mirror folded, fast, accurate and reliable. The Servo-AF in video mode is even amazingly good. Fast-moving subjects are easily tracked, almost without searching or overshooting, and if you move the focus point manually during shooting, the automatic focus makes a nice, smooth transition to the indicated subject. The speed of the transition is also adjustable. However, the AF motor of the lens can be heard in this mode. A microphone on the camera will definitely pick this up. So it is better to record audio separately from the camera. With the new Smart controller, you can easily and quickly move an AF point with your thumb over almost the entire image in live view and video mode, without actually having to touch the button. The ingenious button “sees” your movement, even when you are wearing a thin glove. For video recordings by hand with the Servo-AF activated, this is very pleasant, because it prevents movement and vibrations that you sometimes get with the multi-controller. In addition, it is a convenient way of working if, for example, you use an LCD viewfinder, external EVF or monitor when filming and therefore cannot use the touchscreen of the camera to move the AF point. It is very unfortunate that the EOS R5 and 6 did not inherit this super convenient button from the 1D X Mark III.

HDMI

For longer video recordings, you will probably use the 1D X with an external monitor or EVF. When you connect a monitor or EVF via the HDMI output, you have the choice to transmit image and information about your settings and selected AF point, but the camera’s LCD goes off. If you also want an image on the screen of the camera, no information about your settings will be sent via HDMI. If you use an external EVF connected via HDMI and would also like to continue using your touchscreen, this will not work that well. You will not be able to see your selected focal point in the EVF and will therefore not be able to move it simultaneously via the touchscreen or the smart controller. If you use an external monitor, you could choose to use both screens; the monitor then only displays the image without information, and the camera’s LCD can be used to move the AF point and possibly adjust the settings. A mini HDMI port is available for the HDMI connection. A very vulnerable connection. Canon supplies a plastic holder with the camera, which allows you to protect the HDMI and USB ports a little. However, the use of an L-bracket or half-cage is highly recommended.

Slow motion

The Mark III offers frame rates up to 120 frames per second (NTSC) or 100 fps (PAL) in FHD and without crop. Beautiful slow motion shots are therefore within easy reach with this camera. The reliable AF of the Mark III is particularly useful here. Only the ability to record sound is disabled. If you want to make a quick slow motion recording, that’s unfortunately a bit difficult. You do need to go into the menu to activate it. Unfortunately, it is not a choice in the Quick menu, and it is also not possible to assign it to a function button. If you have enabled high-frame rate in the menu, the shutter speed is automatically increased to 1/100 of a second if it is still at 1/50 of a second. According to the 180 degree rule, this should be 1/200 of a second, but apparently Canon does not expect any problems with a slightly longer shutter speed at this setting, and it does indeed look good. In the Quick menu on the LCD, the ability to change the film quality is now gray and therefore cannot be activated. If you want to return to your regular video settings, then you will first have to switch the high-frame rate option in the menu. Less convenient is that when you disable this option again, the camera does not return to your last used video setting but to a default setting. This is also the case when you use one of the custom recording modes C1 – C3 for your video settings.

WHITE BALANCE

Switching between photography and video, on the other hand, is problem-free. The camera remembers your last used settings for both modes, which works very well, only the manual white balance settings are shared, and for this the camera can remember five of your own measurements. If you want to create a new manual white balance with the camera in video mode, it is a bit cumbersome. Using the Quick menu, you can only select your own white balance settings that have already been saved but not create new ones. Also, the combination white balance button and key button (image protection, memo recording) for quick creation of a manual white balance does not work in live view or video mode. Also, you will search in vain in the menu for the option of making a reference recording. The last shot is ready by default to be used as a reference shot, but the ability to create a new one is not available in the video mode. To do this, you first have to go back to photo mode and then use the menu to create a new reference shot for the current situation. That’s quite a few steps to go through. But it becomes even more difficult if you have taken your last photos outside and now want to quickly create a new manual white balance inside. In photo mode, your ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings are still set to the outside situation. If you want to take a reference shot directly from the menu, this is not possible because it is underexposed. You will therefore first have to adjust your exposure settings to the new situation before you can take a reference shot for the new manual white balance. This is where the fact that the camera holds the last setting for photography has an unfortunate effect. A short cut in the photo mode is to use the white balance button on the camera. Then you use the image protection/memo button (the button with the key symbol) with which you can immediately make a reference shot without having to go into the menu. But this reference shot is not saved and therefore not reusable.

Crop

In addition to the full sensor view, you can also opt for a 1.3x crop. In this crop mode, the autofocus also works at the higher frame rates of 50 and 60 fps. Unfortunately, there is no S35 crop that would correspond more to that of the Cinema cameras for which the 1D X will sometimes serve as a B-cam. If you want to focus manually, Canon’s focus assist is a very useful feature. You can move the square with arrows easily over the entire image field with the smart controller, and it turns green when you have found the sharpness at that point. Even more convenient is that the four arrows indicate whether your sharpness is in front of or behind the chosen point. So you know exactly which way to turn. That works great, but unfortunately only with AF lenses.

ConclusiON: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is a camera that can record very high quality video. Relative to its predecessor, both quality and capabilities have greatly improved. A number of things that make it such a beloved photo camera also benefit the videographer: the sturdy, durable construction, the big battery, the very thoughtful layout of the partially illuminated controls, and the good grip. In addition, it’s still an SLR camera, and that means restrictions for video use. You can’t expect the same functionality for video as a Canon Cinema camera in the same price range. This has to do partly with the nature of the camera and partly with the fact that the emphasis with this camera is still more on photography. However, if you need to be able to switch between photography and videography quickly on a regular basis for your assignments, then the high-quality video recordings that this camera is capable of are certainly an added value. 

With the Canon EOS R5 and 6 just introduced, I find it difficult to recommend this camera for video. In addition to 8K, the R5 has even more video capabilities than the 1D X Mark III; the R6 inherits the same 20 Mp sensor, Digic X processor and corresponding good ISO values from the Mark III. The R6 lacks RAW video but does have an LCD screen that turns, electronic viewfinder, RF mount, DualPixel 2 AF and image stabilization with the sensor. However, there are reasons why you might prefer a 1D X over an R camera. If you have been working with a camera from the 1D series for a long time, the familiar and proven placement of the controls will certainly appeal to you. Perhaps you can accept the inconvenience of an optical viewfinder for videography when you mainly photograph. In addition, the 1D series remains the choice when you are looking for a camera for extreme weather conditions and intensive use. Then the EOS-1D X Mark III continues where almost any other camera would throw in the towel.