Canon EOS 1D Mark 4 Review
- Very well built with good environment sealing
- Great low light performance, the sensor is noise free at ISO 3200
- Excellent resolution and sharpness
- Fast and responsive
- Expensive - some full frame cameras are cheaper
- Bulky and heavy
- Button placement not as good as the 7D
- Not compatible with EF-S lenses
The 1D Mark 4 is a joy to shoot with and an extremely well built and great performing dSLR - a true pro photography tool. We'd like button placement to be a little more optimised (like the 7D), but that aside, there's little to complain about. The real competition comes from full frames like the Canon 5Dmk2 and Nikon D3s. For Rs. 2,59,995, the Mark 4 is very expensive and strictly for those pros who value speed, work in low-light, and want the best non-full frame sensor around.
Many pros question the existence of the 1D Mark 4, or rather, they question the need for one. After having reviewed it, and spending the better part of a month with it, we cannot help but agree with this fraternity. Don't get us wrong, the Canon EOS 1D Mark 4 (simply called Mark 4 here on), is a great camera, but let's face it - an APS-H sensor in a Rs. 2.5 Lakh body was never meant to be a crowd puller. For the lost souls, let us explain. Canon has two sizes of crop sensors, the 1.6x crop (APS-C) factor, on cameras like the EOS 550D and 7D (reviewed here), and a larger 1.3x crop factor also called an APS-H sensor, that is about as common as a solar eclipse. Now the question is, Nikon has a much larger, full frame sensor-based camera in the Nikon D3s (reviewed here) for around the same price, and Canon's own EOS 5D Mark 2 (called 5Dmk2 here on) is available for around half the price, so why the need for an APS-H sensor, which is basically smaller than a full frame sensor, and that too in such an expensive body?
The answer to that is no less complex, and if we were to guess, (and remember that this is our theory and not necessarily fact), would be binary. For one, Canon doesn't have really fast full frame cameras, with the 5Dmk2 managing 3.9 fps, and the 1Ds Mark 3 doing 5 fps. But reduce the sensor size, lower the megapixel count, and you can push through more images, and Canon needed something for the sports photographer for whom 8-9 fps is bread and butter. After all, you don't want to miss a world record being broken, shooting at 4 fps and discovering that none of the shots capture the "magical" moment, do you? So the Mark 4 was born of necessity. There is another reason. Such a sensor is cheaper to manufacture than a full frame, meaning Canon probably makes a larger profit on each Mark 4 sold than Nikon does on their D3s, conversely, this leaves more headroom for research spending on other components. Thirdly, full frames are known to be soft at corners, vignetting or light fall off, is more of a problem on these larger sensors. The 1.6x crop factor is good, but it was never going to be great at low light photography, therefore the answer lay in the middle ground i.e. the APS-H sensor.
Look and feel
The 1D Mark 4 is a solidly built camera with an integrated vertical grip. Compared to the D3s, the rubber grip feels a lot less luxurious and a little "skimpy". The D3s is also heavier by at least 150 grams, but this is attributable to the larger sensor and surrounding elements. One plus is that while the Mark 4s grip seems imbued with thinner rubber, and is harder, the rubber seems to react less to sweat. We found the D3s grip a little more susceptible to wearing with a lot of sweat on it, the rubber seemed to loose its outer finish and gradually erode, (for lack of a better word), while the Mark 4 seemed to wear better. Both cameras feel comfortable. The Mark 4 is the same width as the Canon 7D , and a little narrower than the 5D Mark 2. Sitting next to the Nikon D3s, its higher than it in height but a little narrower in depth, with a noticeably smaller pentaprism bulge, which is obvious given the huge viewfinder that full frame cameras have. Interestingly, the viewfinder bulge is no larger than the 7D.
The battery slides into the vertical grip and the locking mechanism is fixed to the battery and not detachable like the D3s. The battery is rated at 2,300 mAh at 26Wh. Just above the battery bay are three rubberised flaps concealing various ports like the mini HDMI, mini USB AV out, microphone and wireless flash and GPS port. These flaps are soft enough to weather seal properly and the Mark 4 boasts of environment sealing with dust and moisture gaskets around controls, bays and body seams. The chassis is built of magnesium alloy and the Mark 4 feels like a brick. It doesn't take a genius to spot the rubber surrounding buttons, and there are sure to be gaskets inside as well, Canon boasts the Mark 4 has seen numerous trips to harsh environments like deserts and the Antarctic without any problem, and this seems a a viable claim. Incidentally, like the 7D, the Mark 4 has toughened glass on its LCD, which is pretty resistant to scratches. Therefore the LCD doesn't need (or ship with) a hard plastic cover like Nikon ships with their cameras. Likewise, the buttons and especially the dials seems very well built, just like the ones on the EOS 7D. We love Canon's top dial and its clicky feedback. It is much better than the front-facing dial that Nikon uses, which in our experience gradually recedes into the body over a couple of years with the pressure required to operate it; we've recorded no such issue with Canon dSLRs.
The memory card bay is revealed via a twist control that raises a flap. Inside are two memory slots. The Mark 4 has one CF card and one SD card. As expected from a camera of this calibre, the Mark 4 misses a flash unit. The control and dial system is classic Canon, and people migrating from a 50D or 7D will be right at home, with one very significant change which we'll talk about a bit later. The vertical grip has quite a few controls too, and we love the recessed power on/off switch for the vertical grip controls, which means you cannot accidentally use any of these controls - a good feature, and one the D3s misses. Like most vertical grip bodies, the Mark 4 has two status LCDs, one on the top and one beneath the main LCD. The backlighting is blue, and while this looks less cool compared to the D3s' green colour, it is a notch up from the likes of the Nikon D300s and the Nikon D7000, as the LEDs lighting the displays are not visible and the backlight is even. The display LCD on top is smaller than the one on the 5Dmk2, and the battery status indicator is not as detailed as the one on the 7D. A quick word on the viewfinder. It is quite large and bright, and positively huge for people who have worked with the likes of Canon's EOS 450D and 500D that have paltry viewfinders, dim little things that will have you squinting even in mediocre light. However, it is not up to the bright, large viewfinders found on full frame cameras like the 5Dmk2 and D3s, and shockingly, feels smaller than the viewfinder on the EOS 7D which seems marginally brighter. Incidentally, there is a shutter that blocks the viewfinder (like the D3s has), useful when shooting long exposures and you don't want light leaking on to the sensor via the viewfinder.
Unlike the 7D and for the most the 5Dmk2 that nailed ergonomics spot on, the Mark 4 has a few issues with key button positions that prevent it from being termed as really ergonomic. First of all lets compare the vertical grip component. The controls clustered around the vertical grip are not very useful in manual mode, and neither is either LCD, because unlike the D3s, the Mark 4 doesn't display the same controls on the bottom LCD, and one needs to keep tilting the camera to peek at the top status LCD to know what settings are being changed, and as a . You'll also have to use the buttons around the top status LCD - not very convenient when using the Mark 4 vertically oriented. We mentioned a significant change in the beginning of the previous para - all the buttons that we're using to seeing on the left side of the LCD are gone! These buttons are now placed below the rear status LCD. The uber useful one touch RAW button found on the 7D is absent. Gone too is the dial on the top left, replaced by three buttons for mode, AF drive and a single button that serves as a control for metering or exposure compensation depending on which dial you use.
While the absence of the mode dial is understandable given the pro nature of the Mark 4, there's no escaping the fact that the buttons are more cleanly and intuitively laid out on the 7D, which is quite a shame given the fact that it is one third the price of the Mark 4. The D3s has a much better layout, and while there are some duplicate controls, you can use it horizontally and vertically without feeling a pinch in ergonomics either way. To put this into perspective, the Mark 4 will be perfectly usable once you get used to it, and is not "bad" by any stretch of the imagination, however, it could have been, and should have been, a little more intuitive. Compared to the 7D that released about the same time, it seems Canon gave up a bit on ergonomics, but then the 7D is about as close to perfect as we've seen. The Mark 4 has incredibly detailed menus, and while this will be overwhelming to some, pros will feel right at home. Although we occasionally found ourselves lost in the custom menu, it is easy to appreciate the fact that nearly everything is customisable to your needs.
Let's take a look at some of the salient features on the Canon EOS 1D Mark 4:
- 16 megapixel APS-H sensor
- 45 point autofocus system with 39 cross-type points
- Native support for ISO 12,800
- Support for EF lenses only
- Dual memory slots - one CF and one SD
- 10 fps burst mode
- 2,300 mAh battery
- 1080p video recording
One of the theoretical pluses of having an APS-H sensor versus a smaller APS-C sensor is the larger photosites per pixel given the same resolution. Compared to the 7D, the Mark 4 has a slightly lower megapixel count as well, and this coupled with a larger sensor means the Mark 4 should really retain more detail and show less noise at higher ISOs. However, the pixel density of the Mark 4 is greater than that of the 5Dmk2, meaning the latter will have even less noise at the same ISO. But the Mark 4 wasn't intended solely for low light work, rather it seems to be more for sports and studio work given its rather fast speed of 10 fps.
Similar to Canons full frame offerings, The Mark 4 has only a red dot above the lens mount, this means it will only work with EF lenses, and not EF-S lenses. This will be a minus for some, as the 7D supports both types of lenses, but Canon figures if you're buying a Mark 4, you're a pro, and you'll probably want the quality offered by L-series glass.
Read about its performance and our closing thoughts, on the next page...
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