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Hands On with the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV

By David Flores

The EOS-1D Mark IV represents Canon's flagship DSLR for creating professional photo and video content. Though nearly identical in form to its predecessor, the Mark IV boasts an expanse of new features and refinements for discerning image makers. With an all-new 16.1 megapixel sensor, expanded ISO sensitivity, 10 frames per second continuous shooting mode, advanced AF system, and powerful HD video capabilities, this workhorse continues the full-featured legacy of the EOS-1 series.

Design and Layout

Since the launch of the original EOS-1D, all of Canon's flagship bodies have featured robust magnesium alloy construction, weather-resistant seals and gaskets, integrated vertical grips, and the highest levels of durability and reliability in EOS line. From an ergonomics and design stand-point, the previous generation EOS-1D Mark III was a radical departure from everything that came before -- and a near-perfect rethinking of the EOS-1. Controls and menu architecture were simplified from the previous generation, and a shift to the LP-E4 lithium-ion battery improved both weight and performance. Taking a rather conservative approach to the redesign, the new Mark IV closely mirrors the Mark III. In fact, the bodies are essentially indistinguishable save the 'Mark' numeral on the front badge.

Rear and top views of the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV

Menu and Info buttons are separated by a well-placed ridge at the top-left rear of the camera. This encourages touch-memory for these controls, and provides enough spacing to accommodate users wearing gloves. The Play button sits just below the bottom-left corner of the LCD screen. There are no neighboring controls present to throw off the playback operation. Trash, FUNC. (for file type, memory card, and white balance selections), and Picture Styles (with Image Lock and Voice Memo Recording control) are in the same location as before, evenly aligned just below the rear Info LCD. Zoom In / Zoom Out and the AF On buttons are placed at the top-right and bottom-right rear of the body for ease of use in the horizontal or vertical grip position.

Like the 1D Mark III, the Mark IV boasts a 3.0" rear LCD screen. Resolution has been raised from 230,000 to 920,000 dots. This resolution jump makes reviewing tonal gradations and critical focus significantly easier. As with the EOS 7D, the new LCD design employs an optical glass cover and impact-resistant filler. These not only eliminate unwanted reflections, but also provide a superior level of scratch resistance and durability. Menu text looks great, but the resolving power of the new screen really shines in Live View and Video mode.

On the top panel, simple push buttons offer one-touch control of ISO, Camera Mode, and Exposure Compensation. Autofocus and Drive Mode share a control, as do Metering and Flash Exposure Compensation. A programmable FEL (Flash Exposure Lock) button is set close to the shutter release and a dedicated Light button provides a pleasing blue glow to the top and rear Info LCDs. EOS-1D III and 1Ds III shooters will be right at home with this layout.

Like other EOS-1 cameras, the Mark IV has slots for both CompactFlash and SD/SDHC memory cards. Either card can be selected for primary storage. The second card can be configured for overflow, mirror capture, or video recording. RAW and JPEG files can even be saved to separate cards. It's also possible to copy files between cards for backup and sharing. Because the camera conforms to the latest UDMA 6 standards, speed-intensive appilcations like burst shooting and video recording are best served by a UDMA CF card.

In terms of I/O, there are a few minor differences between the Mark III and Mark IV. My personal fave is the rubber seal added to protect the multi-connector on the right side of the body. I've lost so many of the old screw-type covers on my Mark III that the port is now covered by piece of gaff tape. On the left side of the body, you'll find a mini-HDMI port, 3.5mm stereo audio input, and a USB 2.0 multi-connecter (with support for composite video out). The PC terminal and N3 remote connector remain unchanged from the Mark III.

On the front of the camera, just below the EOS-1 badge, there's the video-friendly integrated mono microphone. On the back of the body, a small speaker has been added for audio playback of video recording.

Resolution + Speed

Canon has traditionally divided their flagship bodies into 2 separate camps: Speed and Studio. The Mark IV is incredibly capable in both.

Nearly 3 years since its release, the EOS-1D Mark III is still faster than any competitor flagship at 10 frames per second. The Mark IV owns the same frames-per-second specification, but with significantly higher resolution thanks to a newly-developed 16.1 megapixel CMOS sensor. It wasn't that long ago that Canon's 1Ds Mark II (another 16+ megapixel contender), was reigning champ of studio photography. Studio quality files at sports journalist frame rates? That's big. Industry-leading big.

There are some other pro bodies on the market that offer impressive burst rates. But there's a compromise for Nikon's flagship D3/D3S spec of 9 frames-per-second. For all of the speed you can get out of the cameras, file processing quickly drops from 14 to 12-bit analogue to digital conversion during burst shooting. Like its predecessor, the Mark IV crunches 14-bit files at full resolution regardless of frame rate. The larger bit-depth translates to finer tonal gradations and noticeably better detail. All Mark IV image files, but particularly in-camera JPEGs, have richer color and a greater level of sharpness and contrast. By breaking the speed and resolution ceiling, the Mark IV is an excellent choice for both journalism and studio photography.

There are some considerations that have to be made when using such a capable imaging sensor. This should go without saying, but you really need to use premium glass to get the most out of the Mark IV. The pixels are a bit smaller than what you'll find on most high resolution image sensors. High resolving lenses from the 'L' series are always a good choice. For applications requiring the best possible image quality, you'll want to use primes.


The AF system of the 1D Mark IV is Canon's most refined to date. Featuring 45 AF points (39 of which are cross-type), the camera grabs initial focus faster and tracks action better than any previous generation EOS-1. All AF points are now user-selectable -- one of the most requested features from the pro base.

One-Shot AF Mode is still the fastest means of establishing AF. It allows the user to focus on a stationary subject and lock focus by halfway depressing the shutter button. As long as the user keeps a finger on the shutter, focus stays locked. This makes establishing focus and recomposing simple and easy. This is the preferred method of focus for many wedding and portrait photographers.

AI Servo AF Mode tracks subjects in motion across the frame. All 45 AF points actively follow a subject's movement using advanced algorithms for improved precision and accuracy. This is obviously aimed at action photographers and sports journalists.

When Canon released the EOS-1D Mark III almost 3 years ago, the AI Servo Mode got a lot of attention in the blog-o-sphere. There were people who loved it, people who hated it, and not much in-between. I found the Mark III to be quite good at tracking action moving across the frame, but not quite as accurate with subjects moving towards or away from the lens. Many photographers, myself included, discovered the Nikon D3 as a better choice for capturing this type of motion. The Nikon AF array was/is concentrated in the center of the frame -- great for action in the middle of a composition, but a bit tricky for subjects framed asymmetrically right or left.

With the 1D Mark IV, shooters get the best of both worlds. Canon's wider spacing of AF points is a definite plus for right/left subject framing, and the new AI Servo II algorithms capture centered subjects just as well as Nikon's contemporary D3S. However, the Canon is noticeably faster in obtaining initial focus. Whether in One-Shot or AI Servo, the system is just more responsive out of the gate. For certain types of work, initial focusing supersedes all other camera features. The Mark IV has won back the AF crown for the time being.


Keeping the same CMOS size, bumping up the resolution, and increasing light sensitivity? This must have been quite a challenge for Canon engineers. The use of 'bigger pixels' is the most practical way to increase ISO sensitivity. The original 5D followed this design logic. Competing Nikon cameras did the same. The EOS-1D Mark IV took a different route. Canon's latest approach to light sensitivity defies everything that everyone seems to know about the high ISO formula.

How in the world did they pack 60% more megapixels into an APS-H size chip, and still manage to increase light sensitivity? The powerful marriage of advanced hardware and software is the answer. Canon designs and builds their own CMOS sensors. They also write their own software. While some companies prototype with a mix of original and acquired technologies, Canon does the whole banana. This approach has enabled the company to remain nimble when developing new products and features. The coupling of premium hardware and software goes beyond a discussion of the personal computer. Perhaps now more than ever the union is critical in the development and manufacture of digital cameras.

The EOS-1D Mark IV has an expanded ISO ceiling of 102,400. Depending on how many carrots you ate as a kid, that's roughly 7x more sensitive than your naked eye. Granted, this high setting looks a little rough for a front page spread -- but in a pinch it certainly yields a usable file. The biggest implication of the new ceiling is the use of ISO 3200 and 6400. With little noise (there's almost nothing present at 3200), expect these higher settings to become the new baseline for available light journalism.

Advanced Video Capabilities

The 1D Mark IV is not the first DSLR to offer HD video recording, but it is unequivocally the best Canon hybrid to date. Like the 7D, the body is fully compatible with all EF system lenses, and offers variable frame rates + manual exposure control. With its prodigious battery life and Canon's highest ISO sensitivity to date, the Mark IV is destined to be become the preferred tool of professional filmmakers, DPs, and other creative types.

There is no greater draw to DSLR filmmaking than optics. Canon has over 60 lenses in production that are fully compatible with the 1D Mark IV. From the wide angle capabilities of the 14mm f/2.8L II to the super telephoto effect of the 800mm f/5.6L lens, there's enough diversity in glass to meet or exceed the needs of the most demanding filmmakers. It's important to note that the Mark IV is not compatible with EF-S mount lenses. If you're planning on using EF-S optics on your next production, you're limited to the EOS 7D, Rebel T2i, and Rebel T1i.

The 5D Mark II, Canon's first video-enabled DSLR, records beautiful HD footage at exactly 30 frames per second. This is great for producing direct-to-web content, but very difficult to work with on the timeline of a nonlinear editing (NLE) system. The fixed 30fps causes a host of problems. Not the least of which involves poor sound sync and incompatibility with the 29.97fps footage from other dedicated HD/SD video cameras. While Canon will be updating the 5D Mark II's firmware to address this issue later in the year, the 1D Mark IV ships with appropriate capture rates under the hood. Whether your project uses a 29.97, 23.976, or 59.94 frame rate, the Mark IV captures the footage appropriately. Full 1080p HD is recorded at both 30 (actual 29.97) and 24 (actual 23.976) frames per second. In 720p HD, the camera records at 60fps (actual 59.94). For filmmakers, these edit-friendly frame rates eliminate the need to conform the footage, saving significant post-production time. PAL shooters will also appreciate standardized recording with 1080p at 25fps and 720p at 50fps.

Coupled with frame rate selection, manual exposure settings give shooters amazing control over motion and depth of field. With so many possible combinations of shutter speed and aperture values, the aesthetics of the moving image can be adjusted precisely to match the desired aesthetic. If you're aiming for a smooth, cinematic look, you'll want to set your shutter speed to twice the selected frame rate. In short order: NTSC 30fps looks best at 1/60th of a second; 24fps at 1/50th (there's no 1/48th option); and 60fps at 1/120th. PAL settings follow the same rule: 25fps should be shot at 1/50th; 50fps at 1/100th. This isn't to say that faster shutter speeds don't have their place. The fast, choppy look lends itself well to action and high drama content. It's also possible to shoot at the same speed of the selected frame rate. This produces a slightly stroboscopic, dragy look.

For many, shallow depth of field control is the reason to own the 1D Mark IV. By limiting DOF, subjects are magically lifted off of the background, placing powerful emphasis on the plane of focus. These characteristics are made possible by a combination of the camera's large image sensor and fast EF lenses. With a CMOS design slightly larger than the 7D chip and just a bit smaller than the 5D Mark II, the frame size on the Mark IV is in the same neighborhood as a Super 35mm motion picture camera.

On the audio front, the camera employs an integrated mono microphone to record audio with video. Higher quality mics, mixers, or wireless transmitters can be connected to a 3.5mm stereo input jack. Like the 7D, the audio sample rate is 48khz. If you don't require sound, audio recording can be disabled for video-only capture.

The Mark IV employs the Canon proprietary LP-E4 battery. This lithium-ion powerhouse boasts 2300mAh, and during testing provided me with almost 3 hours of video performance. That's almost 3x the battery life of the LP-E6 in the 7D. The LP-E4 also has a 6-level power indicator and a menu-driven fuel gauge that reads in 1% increments. Extra batteries are light, easy to carry, and a must for professional use.

Earlier in the article, high ISO was mentioned with regard to still photographs. The same light sensitivities are also available while shooting video. That's right -- you can now capture moving images at ISO 102,400. No lighting kit? No problem.

It's important to note that the 1D Mark IV uses the same H.264 encoding as the rest of the current Canon hybrids. This compression codec looks great through QuickTime playback and ports nicely to the web. The downside: H.264 is not very stable on an editing timeline. Dropped frames, inaccurate scrubbing, and the need to constantly render the timeline to view the simplest effects, is inefficient and time consuming. The answer to this problem is proper transcoding. This changes the original files into a format that's more stable for post-production.

Canon recently announced the E1 Plug-in for Final Cut Pro. The software will be available as a free download in early March 2010 and is compatible with Final Cut versions 6.0.3 through 7.0.The software promises to bring Log and Transfer functionality to the Canon video DSLR workflow. During import, this allows editors to automatically transcode original H.264 files into the highly stable Apple ProRes or Intermediate Codec.

If you can't wait for E1, check out my article The DSLR Filmmaker's Editing Workflow. I walk you through the transcoding process using Compressor. You can even view our video of the process here.

It goes without saying that HD video takes up a lot of memory card space and pushes the speed requirements of modern solid-state media. If you plan to flex the might of the 1D Mark IV's HD capabilities, the appropriate memory cards are required. SanDisk Extreme and Extreme Pro cards provide fast, UDMA-enabled file transfer in a variety of capacities.


As modern digital imaging demands the best still and moving pictures, the tools of the trade must evolve. Like last year's EOS 7D, the EOS-1D Mark IV embodies Canon's commitment to the modern hybrid photo and video system. With its unparalleled build quality, powerful imaging features, and seemingly limitless customization, the EOS-1D Mark IV is perhaps the most refined tool on the market for capturing professional photos and video.

By rethinking their AF system, raising resolution, and expanding light sensitivity, Canon has addressed the needs of the industry and set the bar high for the competition. Priced under $5000, the camera is an exceptional value when compared to purchasing separate professional photo and video systems.

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