Canon 1D Mark IV Hands-On Review

by on October 23, 2009

in Canon

After getting some hands on time with the 7D before, my impressions going into Photo Plus with the 1D Mark IV were that it was basically a “grown up” version of that camera. In some ways I’m wrong, and in some ways I’m right. The 1D Mark IV is a camera that Canon users of all types and backgrounds will drool over. From the amazing high ISO photos to the lovely HD video modes, there is lots to love in this camera.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV Specifications and Features


If you aren’t familiar with the specifications of the Mark IV, we’ll take a brief look at what it has under the hood and compare those features to the Canon 1D Mark III.

Image Credit: Canon USA

Image Credit: Canon USA

16.1-Megapixel CMOS Sensor

The 1D Mark IV features a new 16.1-megapixel APS-H CMOS sensor (i.e., 1.3x crop), whereas the Mark III offered a 10.1-megapixel APS-H sensor.  Canon claims that even with the smaller pixel size, the Mark IV’s more sensitive photodiodes, with higher signal to noise ratios and larger capacities, allow the camera to use higher ISOs with cleaner resulting images.  The Mark IV also uses gapless microlenses to maximize light gathering ability, aiding in noise reduction and increased dynamic range.

10 Frames Per Second

What’s more, the Mark IV maintains the frame rate of 10 fps thanks to the dual DIGIC 4 image processors.  This figure was impressive in the Mark III (without consideration given to the AF shortcomings), but increasing the resolution and maintaining that volume of data flow is impressive in its own right.  However, when you consider that the dual DIGIC 4 processors offer six times more processing power over the DIGIC III, you can see how Canon is able to push so much out of this camera.

Image Credit: Canon USA

The Mark IV edges out the Nikon D3s, which is a full frame camera, at 10 fps to 9 fps, respectively;  and, the Mark IV is also squeezing out four additional megapixels of data from each frame.  Canon specs the Mark IV for capturing up to 121 Large JPEG or 28 RAW image files in succession at 10 fps when using a UDMA Mode 6 CF card (think SanDisk Extreme Pro, Lexar 600x and Photofast 533x Plus).

ISO 50-102,400

Image Credit: Canon USA

The 1D Mark IV’s native sensitivity range covers ISO 100-12,800 and can be expanded to cover ISO 50-102,400.  Noise reduction can be applied through custom functions, and Canon claims that the Standard and Low settings for high ISO noise reduction have no effect on frame capture rates, so you can still capture images at 10 fps.

Improved Autofocus System

The real headline feature for the Mark IV is the completely new autofocus system.  The new AF system features 45 manually selectable points, including 39 cross-type, high-precision AF points. The cross-type sensors are sensitive to vertical lines in manual AF point selection with lenses offering a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or faster.  Additionally, certain EF lenses with effective apertures of f/4 are capable of using the cross-type AF points in the Mark IV.

Image Credit: Canon USA

Canon’s new algorithm, called AI Servo II, is the backbone of the redesigned AF system.  According to Canon, the new AI Servo II algorithm is optimized to eliminate focusing errors by ignoring “missing moments” during continuous AF (e.g., the subject passes behind an obstacle or the photographer loses the subject in the frame).  The algorithm then waits until the subject is reacquired to take the next focusing measurement.

The Mark IV offers an orientation linked AF point for prioritizing certain AF points depending on the orientation of the camera.  It is possible to select up to 3 different points for the respective orientation positions – horizontal, vertical (grip on top), and vertical (grip on bottom).  This feature is a real boon to those of us who constantly keep our thumb on the AF point selection button and finger on the scroll wheel when changing orientation.

Canon has also brought back “Release/Tracking Priority” into the custom AI Servo custom function of the Mark IV.  This setting gives priority to focus tracking for all images subsequent to the first frame and, as a result, shutter release may be delayed depending on shooting conditions such as blur, contrast and brightness.  Release/Tracking Priority should give some of the control back to photographers to help ensure that critical focus is achieved in tough lighting conditions.  For whatever reason, this setting was not available in the Mark III; however, it had been present in all previous 1D models.

The last AF feature we’ll touch on (although this is nowhere near a comprehensive overview of the new AF system), is AF point expansion, which is also enabled through a custom function.  AF point expansion allows a single AF point to be selected and then automatically expanded by the camera as the primary focus point as the subject moves throughout the frame.  It can be prioritized to only allow expansion to one or two other AF points, a small group of AF points or the entire 45 points.  This is a potentially powerful tool for tracking fast or erratically moving subjects.  At first blush it appears very similar to Nikon’s 3D focus tracking system found the the D3s and D300s (among others), which works well in many conditions; however, there are some conditions that proved too difficult for Nikon’s system to track in our recent D300s review.  It will be interesting to see how well Canon’s AF point expansion can deliver in those tough lighting conditions.

Initial Impressions

Moving on to initial impressions of the handling and overall feel of the camera, the body hasn’t really changed much from its predecessor. The layout and controls still feel the same for the most part. Like the 7D, you can pretty much operate the entire camera without ever moving your eye from the viewfinder. 7D and 5D Mark II users will find the layout familiar to them. Unlike the 7D, the on/off switch is still towards the bottom as it is with the camera’s predecessors. The Mark IV still has a tough and rugged feel to it and a photographer can be confident that it can handle abuse if such is asked of it.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to put a memory card in the Mark IV because the camera that we tested was pre-production model. Autofocusing does seem better and more improved than the older version and many photographers will be ecstatic about that. The initial flexibility of the additional AF points are immediately apparent.  The Mark IV on display was coupled to an EF 200mm f/2.8, which is compatible with cross-type autofocusing and seemed to work well, although we’ll need to see more controlled testing to see just how good it really is.  Hopefully, Canon has produced a AF system that will do well for sports or wildlife photographers.

The info screen layout looks a bit different now. The light meter is on the side of the screen which I actually like more than it being on the top left with my 5D Mark II. The LCD is still very nice, crisp and razor sharp. It seems no different than that of the 5D Mark II.

The dual DIGIC 4 processors really helped quite a bit with the 16MP image processing at 10 fps. With the incredible image buffer in the Mark IV, it felt as if I was able to shoot forever with this camera.

The camera overall handles very well and actually seems to be feel lighter than the 1D Mark III even though it’s only about 25 grams lighter.  But we’ll take every bit of weight savings we can get in these full-size bodies.

The high ISO images look extremely clean on the camera’s LCD. ISO 6400 looks as clean as on my full frame 5D Mk II, which simply floors me. Even ISO 102,400 seems to be usable for some situations; however, we’ll hold our final thoughts as to just how good the 1D Mark IV handles noise when we get some full-res images from a production model to inspect.  Initially, though, this thing looks to be a real game changer in low light.

Video mode works similarly to the the 7D and 5D Mark II. Frame rates are still selectable through the shutter wheel. One can still control the aperture while filming as well as the ISO. The only exception is that in order to start shooting one must hit the FEL button right by the shutter release. With the 7D, there was a dedicated button for this and with the 5D Mark II pressing the “set” button gets video rolling.

So how good is the video?  Again, no samples to share yet, but look at what Vincent Laforet has done with Nocturne, the recent short film shot with the 1D Mark IV at ISO 6400 in available light.

Overall, I feel that this camera is a big upgrade in certain key aspects. The autofocus system is totally revamped but has yet to be truly tested. The video mode was not in the predecessor and, in this camera it is phenomenal and can certainly be considered state of the art today. I’d be very excited if I were a filmmaker using this camera. It still shoots at 10fps, which is still smokin’ fine for the increased resolution. The high ISO output due to the dual processors is a welcome addition. There are no different ergonomic upgrades except that the camera feels a bit lighter. It is definitely large enough of an upgrade to want to go out and buy the camera instead of waiting until the Mark V comes out.

You can check availability for the 1D Mark IV on Amazon, B&H Photo and Adorama.

Certain technical aspects of this article were co-authored by Photography Bay Editor, Eric Reagan.

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{ 3 comments }

1 Micah October 23, 2009 at 1:56 pm

The 1D mkiv appears to potentially have a better AF sensor than the D3/s, which has a wider spread of more crossed sensor points. However there’s nothing which distinguishes it as being superior on paper.

The sensor has the same pixel pitch as the 1ds mkiii/5d mkii sensor, so I expect sensitivity to be at least as good if not better. Not 102,400 better though.

I have to say that it’s nice that Canon and Nikon have brought the fast PJ/sports camera up to this level. These cameras are simply amazing.

One Achilles heel for this new Canon though: 28 frame raw buffer? Nikon’s is almost double. Will Canon offer an upgrade? And why isn’t it standard if they do?

2 canonmonster October 23, 2009 at 3:45 pm

cant wait til i get my mine.
you’re so lucky.

3 sonorman October 24, 2009 at 4:39 am

For me as a long time Canon user and Mark III owner the new Mark IV is a big disappointment. I was hoping for a new “game changer”, not for a face lift.

The good thing is, I can save my money on that.

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