The newly-arrived Canon EOS 1DX camera.

Nearly a year after its announcement, the EOS 1DX is finally here. On my return from our recent Kruger Park visit, I was informed that my one had arrived.

In the intervening period, much had been written on the Canon Professional Network about the camera. In June Canon had put out a detailed AF Setting Guidebook detailing how to utilise the various high precision AF features and, of course, the recently introduced 5D Mark III has a very similar autofocus system, which proved valuable in getting to know the intricacies of the entirely revamped autofocus system. The autofocus system is certainly different from any of its 1D Series predecessors, but with the help of the above, I had learned much about the settings long before the camera arrived. However it is still a complex process and only when you actually have the body, with a fast lens attached, in hand, do you begin to appreciate the benefits and complexity of the new system. But the autofocus system is not the only difference and improvement over the previous 1D Series bodies.

Key Features

17 October 2012 News Flash! ! ! The updated firmware version 1.1.1 now allows AF, although only using the centre focusing point, with lenses or lens/extender combinations having a maximum aperture of f/8 instead of not greater than f/5.6.  Thanks Canon – just why did you not do this in the first place ?

There is lots of documentation on the specifications of this camera, so I will not dwell on them, but rather concentrate on how to set up the camera. In essence the key features of the 1DX can be summarised as follows:

  • 18 megapixel full-frame (36mm x 24mm) CMOS sensor
  • Dual Digic 5+ Imaging processors
  • 14 bit data conversion
  • Capable of shooting an incredible 12 frames per second (14 frames in JPEG with mirror up)
  • 61 – Point High Density Reticular AF system with AF configuration tool and EOS iTR AF setting (can use colour to focus)
  • Two Compact Flash Card slots
  • Multiple exposures in continuous shooting priority
  • 8.1 cm (corner to corner) LCD Monitor with approx. 1.04 million dots
  • 31 Custom functions which includes customising 11 buttons for a choice of 35 settings
  • Ability to register 3 Custom shooting modes

Setting up the cameras shooting mode (Normal settings, excluding the custom functions)

Herewith a list of my normal shooting settings:

Shooting functions

  • Shooting Mode                      Av
  • ISO                                           200
  • AF Mode                                 AI Servo
  • AF Area Selection Mode    Single Point
  • AF Point                                 Center
  • Metering Mode                     Evaluative
  • Drive Mode                            High Speed (12 fps in certain conditions)

These settings can be changed, together with some of the custom functions and then registered as a Custom Shooting mode. I have three custom shooting modes set up – normal (as above), Birds-in-flight and landscape. (details later)

Menu and Custom Function Settings

The following table sets out the menu functions and custom functions for my normal shooting mode. Comments on some of these follow the table.

Note: Blank spaces denote either not used or left at default.

Menu Functions
Shooting (Red)
No1
White Balance AWB
Set Custom WB
WB Shift/Bkt. 0,-0/+0
Color Space Adobe RGB
Picture Style Standard
Lens aberration correction
      Peripheral Illumination Disable
      Chromatic aberration Disable
Multiple exposure Disable
No 2
Jpeg Quality
Image type/ size RAW
ISO Speed Settings
       ISO Speed 200
       ISO Speed Range 50-25600
       Auto ISO Range 100-1600
       Min. shutter speed Auto
Auto Light Optimizer OFF
Long Exposure noise reduction OFF
High ISO NR OFF
Highlight Tone Priority (IN MY MENU SETTINGS) OFF
No 3
Image Review 8 sec.
Beep Enable
Release shutter without card OFF
Mirror Lock-up (IN MY MENU SETTINGS) OFF
Dust Delete Data
External Speedlite control (on flash)
No 4
Live View Set Stills
AF Mode Live Mode
Grid Display 3 x 3
Expo Simulation Enable
Silent LV Shoot Mode 1
Metering Timer 16 sec.
AF (Purple)
No 1
AI Servo Characteristics Case 2
No 2
AI Servo 1st Image Priority Focus
AI Servo 2nd Image Priority Focus
No 3
USM lens electronic MF ON
AF-Assist beam firing ON
One-Shot AF Release priority Focus
No 4
Auto AF pt. selection,:EOSiTR AF ON
Lens Drive when AF Impossible (SEE MENU SETTINGS) ON
Selectable Autofocus point 61 points
Select AF area selection mode ALL
AF Area Selection Method M-Fn
Orientation linked AF point separate for H/V
No 5
Manual AF point selection pattern continuous
AF point display during focus All (constant)
VF Display illumination ON
AF Status in Viewfinder in field of view
AF Microadjustment ON
Playback (Blue)
No 1 
Protect Images
Rotate Images
Erase Images
Image Copy
No 2
RAW Image processing
Resize
Rating
Slide Show
Image transfer
Image jump with wheel 10
No 3
Highlight alert Enable
AF point display Enable
Playback grid OFF
Histogram Display RGB
Movie play count 1
Magnification (apx) 1x
Ctrl over HDMI Disable

 

SET UP (Yellow)
No 1
Record func + card/folder select
       Record func Standard
       Record/play 1
       Folder 100EOS1D
File numbering Continuous
File Name
Auto Rotate computer only
Format Card
No 2
Auto Power off 15 min.
LCD Brightness -1 from full
Date/Time/Zone
Language English
VF Grid display Disable
INFO Button display options VF level only
No 3
Video System PAL
Battery info
Sensor Cleaning Auto
Communication settings
GPS Device settings
No 4
Save/load cam settings on card
Custom Shooting Mode (C1 – C3)
Clear all camera settings
Copyright information
System Status Display
Firmware version/update 1.0.2
Custom Functions (Orange)
C.Fn 1:Exposure
Exposure level increments +1/3
ISO Speed setting increments +1/3
Bracketing auto cancel ON
Bracketing sequence 0 – +
Number of bracketed shots 5
Spot Meter linked to auto focus point Active point
Safety Shift Tv/Av
C.Fn 2:Exposure
Restrict shooting modes none
Restrict metering modes eval. only ON
Metering used in manual exposure Evaluative
Set Shutter speed range 30” – 8000
Set Aperture range 2.8 – 32
AE Microadjustment OFF
FE micro adjustment OFF
C.Fn3:Drive
Continuous shooting speed
       High Speed (H) 12 shots/s
       Low Speed (L) 5 shots/s
Limit continuous shot count Disable
Restrict Drive modes None
C.Fn4:Disp/Operation
Focusing Screen Standard
Viewfinder info during exposure OFF
LCD Panel Illumination during Bulb OFF
Rec card, image size setting Rear LCD panel
C.Fn5:Operation
Dial Direction during Tv/Av –   +
Av Setting without lens OFF
Multi function lock Quick Cntrl. Dial
Custom Controls Refer Separate
Key/mic button function Rec. memo
C.Fn6:Others
Add cropping information OFF
Timer duration 6 sec.
Shutter release time lag Shortened
Memo audio Quality 48kHz
Default erase option Cancel(selected)
C.Fn7:Clear
Clear all custom functions (C.Fn)

 

An example of a menu screen (AF No 1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a pretty complex procedure. However, once you have your basic settings done, then you can work on the custom functions, custom shooting modes and setting up your custom controls.

Explanation of some “Shooting Menu Functions” settings (Menu no 1)

1.  Shooting mode. I generally set the camera up for Aperture priority mode. However I also quite often use Manual mode and this is where the custom shooting mode settings come into there own. By applying different shooting functions and assigning them to a custom shooting mode , you can instantly change the shooting parameters (see below).

2.  ISO Speed.  My standard setting is 200. There are different settings in the custom shooting modes that I use.

3.  AF Mode and rear focus (IMPORTANT!) .  This is a critical setting and focus can be made  much easier and more versatile by setting up “rear focus”. I always have the camera set to “AI Servo” which is the standard setting for focusing on moving subjects. In other words the focus will set on whatever the active focus point is covering. The camera’s default setting for AI Servo is programmed to start focusing as soon as you half press the shutter button and then it will follow focus on whatever the active focus point is covering, whereas in”One-Shot” AF Mode the focus will lock on the subject that you initially focused on if you keep your finger on the shutter button (half way down). Normally this would necessitate swopping between the two modes depending on your subject movement and the need to lock focus in some circumstances. Setting up “rear focus” makes all this much easier.

Go to Custom Function C.Fn.5 (Operation) – “Custom Controls” and change the setting for the shutter button to Metering Start only. Then set up the AF-ON button for AE lock (locks exposure while held down) and the * button for Metering and AF Start. In effect you have swopped the functions of the AF-ON Button and the * button and disabled the shutter button for initiating focus. I find my thumb automatically goes to the * button rather than the more distant AF-ON button The AF-ON buttons is even further from the right top edge of the 1DX camera body than the previous 1D Series bodies.  It is however a little more difficult when shooting in the vertical format as the vertical format control buttons are much closer together. Now when you PUSH AND HOLD the * button,  AI Servo AF Mode operates (because you have set AI Servo as your standard setting :D). If you now lift your thumb from the * button – focus is locked at the last focused object. You can then recompose your image as if you were in One Shot AF mode and held the shutter button halfway down and recomposed your image. No need to swop between AI Servo and One Shot Mode anymore. Always keep your thumb on the * button and if you want to lock focus, lift it. The shutter button will set the exposure and initiate the image stabilisation of the lens (if it is an IS lens). I have used “rear focus” for many years – in fact since the 1D Mark III was introduced.

If I am doing just landscapes, then I may change to One Shot AF Mode, but still use the * button to initiate focus.

If you find it more intuitive to hit the AF-ON button, then leave the function for this and the * button at the default setting, but still change the shutter button to Metering start only. Right-eye shooters may prefer this as you don’t have so much of your face (nose) near the control buttons.

See later for “Assignable Functions to Camera Controls”

4. Metering Mode.  Always set at Evaluative Metering. In fact to simplify things, all other modes are disabled. (C.Fn2 – restrict metering modes)

5. ISO Speed. Standard setting 200. Can easily change using top right-hand button and control wheel. To make it simpler the ISO Speed Range is restricted to 50-25600 and auto ISO (if needed) to 100-1600. Remember if you have Highlight Tone Priority set then the minimum ISO can only be 200.

6. Highlight Tone Priority. Have set this to OFF. However, it is part of “My Menu Settings” (see later) so that it can be enabled quickly. Will use it when there is a prevalence of lighter colours.

7. Mirror Lock-up. This is disabled but forms part of “My Menu Settings”.

8. Live View Set. On the 1DX there is now a live view button (placed on top left, right back-edge, nearest the viewfinder). The setting (under shooting menu 4) is set to “stills”. Pushing the LV button lifts the mirror and enables live view for still photography. If movies need to be shot then a menu change hass to be done. May put this in “My Menu Settings”, but will have to delete an existing option in there.

AF Functions (Menu No 2) – Important and complex settings

General.

Before going on to the settings within Menu No 2, I briefly want to outline the AF Area Selection Mode. This can be set to Single-point Spot AF, Single-point AF, AF point expansion (four surrounding points), AF point expansion (eight surrounding points), Zone AF and 61-point automatic selection AF Modes. The lens used also has a bearing on the AF system. Of the 61 point AF points, 5 points are dual cross-type, 36 additional points are cross-type focusing and a further 20 points are vertical focusing. The behaviour of these points and the total number of available points depend on the lens’s maximum aperture and lens type. It largely depends on whether the maximum (widest) aperture is f2.8 or larger, f/4,  f/5.6 or smaller. This maximum aperture also includes tele-converters. For instance an f/4 lens, like the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS lens with a 1.4x TC would have an effective maximum aperture of f/5.6. The camera is unable to autofocus with a lens (or combination TC) with a maximum aperture which is smaller than f/5.6. That means a lens such as the  Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with a 1.4x TC or an EF 500mm f/4l IS lens with a 2x TC will not be able to autofocus with the 1DX. A major drawback.  There are many places on the internet which show the detail of this AF sensor and lens categories.

The settings below mostly refer to the AI Servo AF mode

1. AI Servo Characteristics.  This setting, or group of settings, determines how the AF will track a moving subject. There are six “standard” presets, each with default settings for the three parameters which determine the AF behaviour depending on the subjects’ movements. Case 1 is for versatile multi-purpose shooting, Case 2 will continue to focus-track even when the subject momentarily moves from the selected AF point(s), Case 3 will focus instantly on subjects that move into the AF point(s), Case 4 will track subjects that accelerate or decelerate quickly, Case 5 will focus on subjects with erratic movement whilst Case 6 will focus on subjects with erratic movement and changes in speed. Each of these case can be changed in regard to sensitivity for three parameters – tracking sensitivity,accel./decel. tracking and AF point auto switching. This means that within any of the cases above you can change any of the three parameters. If for example, you are photographing a subject that is moving at a fairly constant speed across a varied or “busy” background and you want to ensure that the focus does not jump from the subject to the background if the focus point moves off that subject briefly, then you can use Case 2, but increase the parameter setting for Tracking sensitivity from the default of -1 to -2. As these settings cannot be included in custom shooting modes, it is best to include them in your “My Settings Menu” so that you can access them quickly to make the necessary change.

2. AI Servo 1st and 2nd Image Priority.  I set this to focus priority. You may find it slows the initial frame rate in High Speed Mode but the camera will try to achieve focus before activating the shutter. If you are not that concerned with focus, but in just getting the shot, you can set this to Speed.

3. AutoAF point selection.:EOS  iTR AF.  If 61-point automatic selection or Zone AF is selected, focusing can take place using the subject’s colour or face detection.In AI Servo AF Mode the colour of the area where initial focus was achieved is used to continue the focus. The camera then tracks that colour by switching AF points. It is for this reason that either 61-point Auto or Zone AF must be used as the AF selection mode.

4. AF Area Selection Method.  After pushing the AF point selection button, you can cycle through the AF Area Selection Modes using either the control wheel or the M-Fn button. I prefer to use the M-Fn button. I also use the M-Fn button to cycle through the Custom Shooting Modes (see later), but the AF Area Selection Mode cycling is only activated after pushing the AF point selection button.

5. Orientation Linked AF Points.  This is a useful feature if you are shooting in the horizontal format and let’s assume you are using the top middle focusing point, then if this feature is set, when you turn the camera to the vertical position the focus point will be in the middle at the top. Useful if you are focusing on the head of a taller, upright subject and you feel the composition would be better in the vertical format. No need to change the focus point – just turn the camera. This can be set for whichever way the camera is held in the vertical position – grip on the top or grip on the bottom. Set the AF Menu No 4 “Orientation linked AF point ” to “select separate AF points”.

6. AF Micro-adjustment. This is a pretty involved process which can be read up on separately. I do micro-adjustment for all my lenses using Lens Align®. This is pretty critical for the super-telephoto lenses, where depth of focus can be very small.

Custom Functions

The table above shows the respective settings used. Comment is necessary regarding C. Fn.5 Operation – Custom Controls

There are 11 buttons (camera controls) that can be assigned specific functions: My set up is as follows:

Shutter Button

AF-ON

*

DOF Preview

Lens Button (super-teles)

M-Fn

M-Fn2

SET

Main Wheel

Quick Control Dial

Multi-Controller

Metering Start

AE Lock

Metering and AF start

Switch to Registered AF Point

One Shot = AI Servo

Cycle AF Selection Modes/FEL

Switch to Registered AF Function

Magnify/Reduce Playback

Shutter Speed setting in M Mode

Aperture setting in M mode

AF Point direct selection

 

As explained under “AF Mode and rear focus” above the functions of the * and AF-On buttons have been reversed and the shutter button activates metering only. The other functions assigned are self evident. As there is no button assigned to VF level, I have set the info button to show VF level when pushed. I don’t need shooting data to display as I can see that in the viewfinder. That can be done in Set-Up Menu 2 – “INFO button display options”.

Assigning Custom Shooting Settings (Set-Up Menu No 4)

One of the excellent features of the 1DX is the ability to have three “shooting set-ups” and being able to quickly cycle through them.

I have set up three shooting modes, namely, one for normal shooting, one for birds in flight (action shooting) and one for landscapes.  In each of these I have set up the shooting mode, menu settings, Custom Function settings and other current camera settings to the C1>C2>C3 Custom Shooting Modes. Remember to enable these modes in C.Fn2 (restrict shooting modes) by ticking all of them. My normal setting would be Aperture priority, starting aperture – f/5.6, ISO 200, A1 Servo, appropriate Custom Functions and AF settings. For action shooting, my starting ISO setting is 400, the shooting mode is Manual, the starting aperture is f/5.6 and starting speed 1/1250 sec. If the exposure needs adjustment, it is easy to do with the main dial or control wheel. The AF configuration tool is set to whatever “case” is appropriate. This is normally case 2  with tracking sensitivity set to -2,accel./decel. tracking to +2 and AF point auto switching to +2. Case 4 and 6 may also give good results. For Landscapes, the starting aperture is f/11, shooting mode is Aperture priority and ISO 100. Here I use One-shot focusing mode. The M-Fn button is set to cycle through C1>C2>C3. If you need to change altogether you can hit the Mode button (top left front) and using the main dial to select a shooting mode, like shutter priority. All the other settings that were in the last used custom function will apply. Use this feature carefully as you can get confused with the settings.

An option is also to save all your camera settings to a file on a compact flash card (leave it in the second slot). When this file is loaded by the camera, the respective saved camera settings will be applied. This takes quite a few more button pushes, but if your files are easily identified then this is a good way to register settings as all the camera settings can change, whereas with the above Custom Shooting Settings (C1>C2>C3) some can’t be changed.

My Menu Settings

Under “My Menu” Tab in the menu, you can also register up to six menu options and Custom Functions whose settings you may often change. It is then easy to change the tracking sensitivity, the acceleration/deceleration tracking or the AF point auto-switching settings. I also have Mirror lock-up, Highlight Tone Priority and Lens Drive when AF Impossible included. As I work more with the camera, these settings will be refined.

 

In Summary

As you can see, the set up is complex and I am sure that the more you use the camera, the more the settings will be refined and there may well be some other shortcuts.

In short, I have been using the camera for about four weeks and I think it is amazing. The image quality, high ISO quality, Autofocus and ergonomics are the best I have ever experienced with a Canon body. The downsides are weight and the inability to autofocus with a lens and TC combination with an effective maximum aperture of greater than f/5.6. As I often use an 800mm f/5.6 lens with a 1.4x TC  the 1D Mark IV body will still be a key part of the armoury.