The Canon 1D X Mark III has been shipping for quite some time and with its capability to record up to 5.5k RAW video internally, it promises to be a leader in its class. Together with the upcoming EOS R5, Canon is showing muscle flexing and an explosion of technical generosity. To me, it looks like a true come back for the creator of the VDSLR segment and a former leader of that field.
My Canon 1D X Mark III review article and video were created during the beginning of March and originally I was planning to release it back then, but different circumstances led me to delay the publication. First, it was the awfully poor customer service by Apple Japan who miserably failed to supply my new MacBook Pro 16 in time (zero support in the English speaking hotline), and as I needed this laptop for reading and transcoding the Canon 1D X Mark III .crm RAW files, I saw my initial deadline getting further away. Then, we at cinema5D went full swing ahead with producing and publishing videos to our very successful “Virtual Show” and of course, when entering such a project, other tasks are at risk of being delayed, so apologies to you guys as many of our loyal followers were asking about that camera review by sending us private emails.
So the original draft of this article was written during the middle of March when toilet paper was still a bit hard to find here in Tokyo (I guess many of us will remember these strange times by having a picture in mind of empty shelves and the absence of toiletry products). And while the world was almost coming to its end, I chose to isolate myself from the stress by exploring the combination of having a short meditation session and drinking a cup of Japanese green tea. To my aid came Rica, a young Japanese woman who developed her own method of reducing stress and help humanity to calm down. Her family roots are heavily tied to the Japanese traditional green tea industry but her independent set of mind drove her to explore an alternative way.
Rica contributed from her time by introducing me to her lovely family and agreeing to be featured in this camera review. If you are into exploring her method to reduce stress, I encourage you to visit her homepage by clicking here.
Canon – “Back to the Future”
A short lesson in history… The year is 2008 and the Canon 5D Mark II has been announced. It is the second DSLR camera that can shoot High Definition video (The first was Nikon D90 but it was limited to 720p). Canon’s move took the world of filming by surprise and changed the way we produce content FOREVER. Four years later and Canon keeps its dominance in the VDSLR growing market by introducing the first DSLR camera that can shoot 4K internally. The 1D C has arrived, but with its hefty price tag ($10,000+) its success was very limited. Next to introducing a DSLR that can shoot 4K video internally, Canon also took the opportunity to create a new “sub-brand” and during 2012 lifted the curtain over its EOS Cinema line (C500, C300, and 1D C were the first to be introduced). In reality, someone at Canon decided to kill a market they have created by crippling every DSLR camera since then (For video usage). One camera wouldn’t use the full frame sensor when filming video, the other won’t have C-log and such. Maybe (Just maybe), that was done in order not to compete internally with its own EOS C line.
We as users moved on to explore other attractive possibilities as more camera manufacturers discovered this emerging market segment. When mentioning manufacturers, one of their challenges is to find out why people are actually buying their merchandise. Is it for photo? Or is it for exploring its video capabilities? The lack of information can lead to crucial marketing mistakes. And as for Canon, without being disrespectful, we saw a huge drop of people from our industry who uses their VDSLRs or mirrorless cameras to shoot video.
Canon 1D X Mark III
I was one of those who paid $10,000 for the Canon 1D C. I fell in love with the possibility and opportunity to create 4K moving images with such a (relatively) small piece of equipment. I polished my “one-man-band” documentary expertise, earned nice money with it, but felt very much disappointed. This special camera under the EOS Cinema line had been completely neglected by Canon and at the end of the day, without real useful video related updates, it was clear that its days are numbered. And indeed, Canon never released a successor for that camera.
And now comes the new Canon 1D X Mark III and a moment before the EOS R5 takes all the possible glory, it shows what a leading camera manufacturer can produce when the inner restrictions are being eased. This camera (or a variant of it) could have easily been under the EOS Cinema roof, but I can only guess that internal discussions prevented it from being so. Instead, Canon chose to market their best ever photo camera with explosive video capabilities to photo journalist. I will touch this topic briefly later, but hard for me to imagine the declared targeted users filming anything in 5.5K RAW… So why this camera has no Cinema EOS badge? The answer might be known to Canon executives only (and yes, of course, I’m aware that the 1D X family of cameras were always at the front of what Canon has to offer photographers, but such a high level of video quality certainly deserves greater attention).
Canon 1D X Mark III – What is new
I would like to come up front and write in a very transparent way that this is NOT a full review. The 1D X Mark III camera has a lot to offer with its diverse functionality (recording formats and resolutions flexibility) so for the limited time I had it for, it felt almost impossible to check all its video functionality. As such, when filming, I decided to concentrate on a single “winning feature” and chose to explore its’ 5.5K internal recording RAW functionality.
For the last days I ran around filming different sceneries and objects, day and night, and I’m happy to report that when it comes to image quality, this 1D X Mark III is truly exceptional. RAW recording is a mixed bag of possibilities and limitations. While it’s great having a 12bit RAW video to work with in post, managing recording on expensive CFexpress media and dealing with a large amount of data is not for everyone and certainly not for every project.
Here is a shortlist of what I liked while filming in RAW 5.5K (5472 x 2886):
- Full sensor readout at 5.5k resolution and internal 12bit RAW recording (CRM file)
- Exceptional video quality
- Highlight Roll Off is very pleasing
- The BT709 view Assist is accurate and helps A LOT in achieving the correct exposure
- Up to 5.5K/60p recording in RAW mode (Note that some CFexpress media cards can not sustain the required recording high data rate)
- Dual recording. High quality RAW+4K proxies (the 4K video proxy files are of high quality and can easily serve as “new masters” when very fast turn around is needed)
- During editing: As expected, manipulating the RAW video files can become very beneficial. In the above video, I chose filming in some challenging places. I think that all in all the results speaks for themselves, especially when it comes to manipulating the highlights.
Note: We haven’t conducted a Dynamic Range test for the Canon 1D X Mark III yet. To my eyes, the footage seems to hold very nice also in difficult lighting situations so we will try and get it soon in order to put it through its paces.
Here is a shortlist of what I would like to see being improved:
- Dual autofocus functionality is disabled when filming in 5.5k RAW at 50/60 fps. Actually it is missing from all other 4K resolution filming modes UNLESS you are filming in Crop Mode. (1.3x crop)
- Camera RAW video playback in BT709 or BT2020 picture profiles is not supported. It is in LOG picture profile only.
- As a side note, while filming 5.5K RAW+Proxies in 60p and 24p, it happened that the camera stopped recording without prior indication. I guess that the data rate was simply too high to handle
Canon 1D X Mark III – Other Advantages
True, the highlighted feature of this camera is 5.5k internal RAW recording, but there are so many other things that deserve applause. Here they are with no particular order:
- The lowlight capability of this camera is simply great. Not even once that I felt that clips captured at high ISO settings are not usable. Choose any ISO above the native 400 and the camera will respond well. Of course, there is some noise in the higher values, but nothing that will stop you from filming and using the footage
- The Canon 1D X Mark III is a very flexible camera to work with supporting many resolutions, frame rates, and codecs. Canon moved away from Motion Jpeg, instead, they implemented mp4 recording. There are different recording options depending on if C-Log is enabled or not. Choose any other than C-Log picture profile and you will be recording in H.264, 8bit, 4:2:0. Chose C-Log and the camera will record in H.265, 10bit, 4:2:2. Like with many other Canon DSLR cameras, there is a choice between All-I and IBP compression.
- The new AF-ON button is simply genius and reinventing joy stick. It uses a similar technology found in an optical mouse. The usability is great as it is faster and accurate. What a great innovative way to control autofocus. Speaking of autofocus, selecting focus points or changing AF points while filming is buttery smooth. Couple this with Canon’s Dual Pixel autofocus technology and you have a true winner. One slight enhancement that I would love to see is the ability to find the AF square faster. Yes, when filming outdoor and the sun is showing no mercy it is very hard to find that AF square at a glance. In this section it is worth mentioning that DPAF (Dual Pixel Auto Focus) will function in 5.5K RAW @24/25/30p, the various 4K resolution flavours up to 30p, and in Full HD at 120fps. Last but not least, the camera supports eye and head AF.
- Recording 4K, 10bit, 4:2:2 over HDMI is possible (not tested). The benefit is recording straight to an external recorder like Atomos Ninja V. (So longer than 30 minutes of recording time becomes possible and capturing footage in let’s say ProRes makes editing easier).
- Battery life seems to be similar to the 1D X Mark II and I think that with 3-4 batteries one can easily pass the shooting day.
- Battery placement: As with all 1D X cameras, the side battery position is perfect when it comes to flying the camera on a gimbal. In many cases, there is no need to detach the camera in order to change the battery.
- Great weather-sealed built quality. Really one of the best out there. Built like a tank.
- Fanless design. Whatever Canon is doing here, they are doing it right! Filming in quiet places should not raise any issues.
Canon 1D X Mark III – The limitations
As with any other camera, “limitation” is a very subjective thing. As an example, 29:59 minutes of recording time can indeed be limiting, but it really depends on your shooting style and the projects you do. For me personally 30 minutes are more than enough as I don’t film long concerts or sports events. What I do consider as a limitation, is the DSLR form factor… After working for so many years with mirrorless cameras, it was not easy to get used again to the size, absent of EVF, and absent of a true IBIS (well, that’s what the 1D X Mark III is, a top of the line DSLR camera that can shoot exceptionally high quality video, yet I thought I would write it here. Feels better already)…
- Audio quality: To my none professional ears, the sound quality of the recorded audio was noisy.
- A small thing that has to do with “usability”: Finding how to increase headphone volume can be a challenge (if you find a fast way of doing it, please share it with me).
- Exposure meter will despair after starting recording. If you find a method to leave it on during recording, let me know.
- Editing related: Currently, Canon has a RAW plugin for managing CRM files for FCX and Avid. Blackmagic Resolve 16 is also supporting those 1D X Mark III CRM video files. I hope that Canon will add additional support for editing the material in Adobe Premiere CC soon.
Canon 1D X Mark III – In the Field
Not touching a Canon DSLRs or a Canon mirrorless camera for quite some time, it took me a few seconds to orientate myself with the visually familiar Canon menu. But when I was on it, I’ve noticed that nothing has really changed. The photo and video functions are still not separated as I would have expected from a modern camera like this. Saying that, in no time I’ve realized I have a “beast” in my hands! The built and video picture quality is simply very impressive. I keep hearing people mentioning that this camera can function as a good “B” camera, but in all honesty, I would not hesitate to use it during a high profile project as an “A” camera. The thing that might paint the border here is “connectivity” (surly a dedicated “C” line of cameras have the advantage here, but in terms of picture quality, this is an extremely capable camera that only an operator can prevent it from shining).
I talked about the RAW video images coming out of it, but as I briefly mentioned before, even more, improvise is the flexibility this camera offers. Unfortunately, it was beyond the scoop of this initial review to check all resolutions and frame rates, but even the MP4, 10 bit, 4:2:2, ALL-I files this camera produces are robust and lovely to watch – talking about video picture quality, the “Low Res” IBP proxy files can give a good run the money for some other cameras out there…
I did try shooting handheld with the digital stabilizer enabled and the results are fine, yet of course not as good when using a camera with IBIS. One thing to note: If you enable the digital stabilization option and later try to film in RAW (without turning off DIS), the video RAW recording options will be greyed. As I left the camera and came back to it later that day, it took me some minutes to understand what had happened and why I do not see my RAW recording options. I hope Canon will consider disabling DIS automatically when switching the camera to video RAW recording mode so this “hiccup” won’t happen.
If you prefer movements in your production, prepare to have a suitable gimbal to fly the camera with (extra equipment/wight for the individual shooter).
Not sure how many times it happened to me before that after finishing reviewing a camera I felt that touching it was only “the tip of the iceberg”. I won’t be exaggerating if writing that this piece of equipment is simply a masterpiece and a great technical achievement. For me personally, and as a documentary filmmaker, I would prefer running & gunning with something a bit smaller that have an IBIS and EVF. Actually, the same video capabilities of the 1D X mark III in an EOS R body will be great to have… Now, one question is left open. Who is this camera for? Photographers for sure as this is one of the best (if not the best photo camera I’m being told). But do photographers really need that kind of high end video capabilities found in this body? I guess that if you are a filmmaker too (event photographers/filmmakers for example), then the answer is yes. You might also love having this camera if you are a proud owner of any other Canon Cinema line of cameras. And last but not least, this is an exceptional demonstration of technical capabilities by Canon. Now that we know what the future will bring (EOS R5), all that is left is to wait and see where this new chapter in Canon’s history is going to take us to.
Well done Canon!
In regards to the above video: All but the Shibuya crossing scene was shot on 5.5k/24p, RAW, C-Log. CRM files converted in Resolve 16 to ProRes 4444 for finalizing in Adobe Premiere (yes, I need to move on and start using Resolve solely). Graded with FilmConvert. Get a 10% discount when using our link. Music: epidemicsound
EDIT: Adobe Premiere CC is now natively supporting the Canon 1D X Mark III .CRM RAW files.
I can presume that many of you guys are already working with the Canon 1D X Mark III. It will be lovely if you can share your experience and thoughts regarding this camera.