Digital info for serious shooters: specializing in Nikon & Canon

Canon EOS-1Ds:
Counting every Pixel
--David Cardinal, October 2003

We've all heard the expression, "Make every pixel count." If you want to have more pixels to count, the Canon EOS-1Ds is ideal. At just over 11 million pixels the 1Ds has more raw imaging power and detail than any other current 35mm D-SLR. I spent two weeks shooting with one of the first true production EOS-1Ds cameras and I was really impressed by both the images and their color. Canon has put some real effort into further improving the already awesome images from the D60 and 1D.

The headline news with the 1Ds is its 11.1 million effective pixels, creating native images of 4064 x 2704 resolution. The sensor is CMOS and records RGB. It is full-frame so there is no focal multiplier. The 1Ds will record up to 10 of these 11MP frames in a burst, in any image mode. At 55ms the shutter lag is very similar to the D1 family.

Colors right from the camera are bright
This is a Matrix 1 JPEG

Full-frame: Big and Bright

For birds, a full-frame camera isn't always an advantage!
400f/4 DO with TC 1.4 at the MFD of the lens
The full-frame CMOS sensor on the 1Ds provides a big bright 100% coverage viewfinder image. This is one feature sorely missed in digital up until now. It makes it easier to focus and more fun to shoot. Whether you're ready to go back to a full frame image though, may depend on your style of shooting. For wildlife and sports, I've grown very used to the 1.5x focal multiplier on my current cameras. Sure, I know it is really just a 'cropping' of the image to a smaller sensor size, but it has the effect of extending my lenses by 50%. That lets me do a better job of isolating my subject.



But for scenics and portraits, I loved having the full-frame image back. It felt very comfortable using lenses at their rated focal length and having an easy to focus image in the viewfinder. The extra detail provided by the 11MP sensor also gave me more confidence experimenting with perspective correction after the fact in Photoshop for architectural shots. The accompanying image of a historic barn was shot from below and corrected to look more natural. With that much detail to work with I could correct the perspective digitally and still have plenty of image for publication purposes. I could have done the same thing with a PC lens, but I don't do it enough to own or carry one.

With 11MP, it is easier to use software filters 
like Perspective Correction without ruining the image.

There have been reports of oddities in images taken with wide angle lenses on pre-production 1Ds cameras. However, the widest lens I had to shoot with was the 24-85 zoom (a very nice little lens, similar to Nikon's small 24-85), so I can't confirm or deny issues with wider lenses.

Even the LCD monitor on the back of the camera has essentially 100% coverage, a useful advantage compared to the cropped LCD display on most D-SLRs.

Image Quality

The images from the camera right out of the box are stunning. Even leaving the 1Ds on the default Color Matrix 1 and just firing away yielded brilliant colors and excellent detail. Canon should be commended for optimizing the "out of box" experience so photographers can pick up their camera, shoot with it, and create great images without changing any settings on the camera or further processing the images on their computer. To get color as good from my D1X or D1H I need to use a custom profile or a color managed workflow.

Flushed faces are tricky with the 1Ds
The one exception to this was certain skin tones. Some skin tones turned an unfortunate reddish shade as you can see from the face of the girl playing soccer. This was the case no matter which color mode I used. Hopefully there will be a fix from Canon for this. Otherwise anyone shooting people with the camera will probably want to invest in a custom profile to correct this condition. My speculation is that it is similar in nature to the original D1 'magenta caste' and is caused by a metamer-two colors which are different but appear the same to the camera--in the sensor, but in any case it is best corrected with a custom profile, although I'm sure we'll see Photoshop actions that will also help.

The 1Ds has the usual set of white balance presets, but also includes an option for dialing in your favorite 3 white balance settings or reading the white balance from a gray card or another image.


The 1Ds is no speed daemon. It is rated at 3fps, like the D1X, although frankly it felt faster to me and I didn't miss the speed nearly as much as I thought I would. Clearly it is not a replacement for the 1D's 8fps, but it was very respectable. The shutter action was very smooth and I had no problem using it for extended periods to take sequences of images. For wildlife photography, though, the 6fps of the D1H or 8fps of the 1D are still king.


Similar to the 1D, the 1Ds has an excellent evaluative metering system. I'm sure that like any other meter it can be 'fooled', but it performed excellently in all situations I used it with. As long as I kept the image being captured within the dynamic range of the sensor I never had to dial in any exposure compensation or take the camera off evaluative metering to get a correct exposure. Note that I didn't have a Speedlite to use with the camera so I can't comment on flash exposure.

Secret Weapon?

Well, it's not so secret, but the Canon 400f/4 DO lens is a killer combination with the 1Ds. It is light enough to shoot handheld, and fast enough to improve any camera for action photography. Using the 1Ds + 400DO I was able to photograph a soccer game without really missing my D1H very much at all. And frankly, the colors were brighter and bolder right out of the camera, so the images were very popular.

As an experiment, I took the image of a Mule Deer Buck hand-held with the 400f/4 DO lens and a 1.4x Teleconverter, at 1/100th. While the result wasn't as sharp or possibly as well composed as it would have been had I been using a tripod, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the combination worked.

Even hand-held at 1/100th with a Tele-converter 
the 400f/4 DO did a good job, 
but the image would still have been better with a tripod.

Color Matrices

Canon offers 5 color settings for the 1Ds, suitable for a variety of requirements. In general these settings are probably best thought of as different types of film for the camera. I do wish they'd start using names for them, which would be easier to remember than numbers, but it's a step forward that they are starting to offer these options in the camera. It makes your computer workflow that much simpler when you can get the color the way you want it when you capture the image.

There is one matrix setting worth calling out in specific: setting #4 or Adobe RGB. This space has the widest color gamut and is the one most suited for use when you are going to do your own color correction or color management using ICC profiles. It will bring out the full power of the camera, but images shot in Matrix #4 will not have the same pop as other settings until they are processed. So for images going straight to the web, I preferred just leaving the camera in Matrix #1.

Color Matrix Number   Description
1 Natural Close to sRGB-no need for post processing
2 Skintones Ideal for portraits
3 Color contrast Enhanced colors
4 Adobe RGB Native Adobe RGB-requires post-processing for best results
5 Low Chroma Reduce contrast like some negative films

Nice Touches

The 1Ds can use either FAT 16 (the normal standard) formatted CF cards or the higher-capacity FAT32. The near term advantage of FAT32 is increased compatibility with Windows XP, which uses FAT32 as its default for formatting CF cards. Longer term FAT32 allows the use of CF cards over 2GB when they become available.

Sound recording is also built in, a nice convenience for those who prefer audio as the way to document their photographs. A unique option for the camera is a security card for your PC which allows a user to verify that an image has been taken directly from the camera and not edited. This should be of great value to law enforcement agencies in ensuring that images are un-retouched and can be used as evidence.

Canon also provides a wide variety of AF sensor options to fit a wide variety of shooting styles. Personally I grew to like the ability to move the active AF sensor(s) around the 'clock face' of the image by using the large dial on the back of the camera.

The Canon battery charger allows you to charge 2 batteries at once. This is certainly cheaper and more convenient than carrying two chargers for days of heavy shooting on location.

Like the D60, the 1Ds features a CMOS sensor with advanced noise reduction. This allows for nice clean scenics even at fairly long exposures.

The 1Ds has an option to record both JPEG and Raw images when shooting in Raw mode. This allows users to take advantage of industry standard image management software to organize their images.


The 1Ds relies on NiMH batteries. I'm still looking forward to the day when there is a pro level D-SLR that can use Lithium batteries. But in the meantime the 1Ds does quite well with its NiMH battery. I only had one battery so I didn't want to risk completely draining it while working, but I was able to shoot several hundred images at a time with no incident. Canon rates the battery at 600 images per charge and I can easily believe that many users will get close to that number.

The 1Ds has a 1/250th top flash sync speed, lower than the 1/500th of the 1D. For any type of outdoor flash fill this is a limitation, but for most of the intended uses of the 1Ds this should be okay.


Canon continues its tradition of including image software with the camera, usable for 'developing' raw files and controlling the camera when tethered. The image browser provided, ZoomBrowser, may not win any converts as a general image management system, but it includes tools for correcting Raw images. This is a nice option for those used to having to open Photoshop and use a TWAIN Import driver to access their images. I haven't seen the all important software developer kit for the 1Ds yet though, so I can't comment on how easy it will be to integrate the processing of Raw files into other image management products. The JPEG+Raw option creates two separate files, which I find a little more clumsy from a management perspective than the more elegant approach of a 'multi-page' TIFF file with both the JPEG & the Raw image in it as consecutive 'pages'. This way you need to worry about two files and keeping them together through your workflow.

One nice feature is that the 1Ds allows the user to download an RGB tone curve, instead of the 'monochrome' tone curve supported by Nikon D-SLRs. Most users will never need to bother with this, but if you have tricky shooting requirements this feature could allow you to create a custom response curve to maximize your results.

11 Million Pixels: Pro & Con

You can download the original JPEG of this image here.
Note: It is about 4.5MB!
The obvious and significant advantage of an 11MP camera is tremendous detail in the image. 1Ds images hold detail in every pixel. Using the DigitalLoupe in DigitalPro for Windows I looked pixel by pixel at some of my images and found that every pixel contributed to the final image. That in itself is quite impressive.

But, the resulting JPEGs are anywhere from 4MB to 6MB and take much longer to open and process than the images from a D1H, 1D or even a D1X. So if you don't need all the detail it will slow down your workflow. You can set the camera to shoot in a lower resolution, but if you do that often then it probably isn't worth the extra money in the first place.

Since the 1D creates wonderful images even at fairly large print sizes, the extra cost and overhead of the higher resolution image is probably best suited for commercial studio and fine art enlargement work, perhaps in applications currently using medium format that have been looking for a cost effective way to go digital.

You can download the original JPEG of this image here.
Note: It is about 4.5MB!

1D vs 1Ds

Choosing between the 1D and 1Ds shouldn't actually be that hard for most shooters-even though the 1D and 1Ds are identical in size and weight as well as most of their controls. If you want the high speed or focal multiplier of the 1D-or simply can't justify the added cost of the 1Ds at a street price of close to $8000, then the 1D is the camera for you. But if you have been looking for a 100% full-frame D-SLR with no compromise image quality and have the money, the 1Ds is a killer camera for commercial and scenic work. Those using medium format and considering digital should take a serious look at the 1Ds. For others it will be hard to justify a price tag nearly twice that of the EOS-1D. The great news is that Canon D-SLR users now have a family of three excellent cameras, each one suited to a different market and to different uses.

--Text & images by David Cardinal, November, 2002



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