Monday, 3 November 2014

Canon EOS 1D Mk2

Last post I wrote about my experiences shooting a motorcycle street race event with a Canon 50D and Pentax K10D. Not surprisingly, the 50D stomped all over the K10D in terms of focus speed, ISO quality and frames per second, and was a joy to use. It also gave me some fantastic images!

Canon 50D with 400mm f5.6L @ 1/2000th. ISO 800
While I don't do a lot of hi-speed action shooting, I really enjoy it when I do. It's such a buzz, and I definitely want to do more in the future. We actually have quite a few local events like the street racing, surfing, rodeo, motor cross, karting, and even local sports like rugby, league and hockey, that I would like to try and capture a bit more. Sadly, my Pentax K10D (and some may argue the Pentax system in general), isn't really up to the task.

So I am in the process of, somewhat regrettably, selling my existing Pentax kit, and looking at replacing it with something that has a lot more horse power (i.e fps and focus tracking). And I think I've just bought the very thing....

Enter the Canon 1D Mk2, my newest camera acquisition.

I really enjoyed shooting with the 50D, and still have it on 'permanent' loan from a friend. It will now be my 'back-up' for the 1D. But why didn't I just get another 50D and use a matching pair? Great question. Let me answer that by going through my thought process before buying the camera shown here.

Firstly, though, a run-down on the specs for the 1D Mk2. It's an 8.2 megapixel camera shooting at 8.5 frames per second. I know that 8.2 doesn't seem like a lot of megapixels, but it uses a large 28.7 x 19.1mm sensor at 3504 x 2336 pixels, for a large than APS-C 1.3x crop factor. Apparently this sensor was used to give sports shooters a slightly bigger crop than full frame, while still having a larger sensor size that the x1.6 crop on APS-C sized sensors. Call it 'the best of both worlds'. So 8.2 megapixels on a sensor this size is 'more' than enough resolution for detailed A3 prints - and I've argued in the past that between 8 to 12 megapixels is my happy medium. Not too large and not too small. The 'goldilocks' sensor size if you will :-)

The sensor is double the mega pixel size of the original 1D (from 4 to 8), but is also reported to have better noise control. It only shoots natively up to 1600, although this can be expanded to 32,00. For me and my style of shooting, if it's clean at ISO 800 (and from reviews I've read and samples I've seen it is), then I'll be a happy camper.

The 1D Mk2 is also dual format, taking both CF and SD. You can use them at the same time to shoot RAW to one card and a jpeg back-up to the other, or shoot until one is full and then direct the camera to start shooting to the other. That's a feature I've never had in a camera, but something I'm looking forward to using.

The viewfinder is 100%, it has an amazing 45 point autofocus system with incredibly accurate focus tracking (this camera was specifically designed for sports shooters and photo journalists), and as a professional 1 series body, is built like the proverbial brick.... house. The buffer is fantastic, allowing for 40 jpeg or 20 RAW images in a burst before the camera slows somewhat to read to the card. This is miles better than Nikon's equivalent D2x with a buffer of less than half the Canons. So what's not to like?

Well, it is 'older' technology. Things have, not surprisingly, moved on a bit since this camera was first released ten years ago (in 2004).

The lcd screen is only 2" (the Mark2N upped this to 2.5") and it uses the older (and heavier) NP-E3 Ni-MH battery pack, rather than the newer, smaller and lighter Lithium packs introduced with the Mk3. That said, apparently the Ni-MH battery lasts all day, so the slightly extra weight might be worth it for extended battery life? The lcd is also only 230,000 pixels - although again from reviews I've read it is plenty sharp enough (probably because it's only 2"). The 'newer' 2.5" screen on the Mk2N is also only 230,000 pixels, so there's really not much gain to be had there.

Which leads me nicely into the question of why the 1D Mk2 and not something else?

For me, the Canon EOS 1D Mk2 ticked all the right boxes. It has enough megapixels on a nice big sensor. It shoots at a blisteringly fast frame rate and uses an incredible autofocus system. It doesn't have anything I don't want (video, live view, scene modes, art filters), and it does have everything I do want.

The Mk2N is only a minor upgrade, with a 'slightly' larger lcd screen, but with the same processor, sensor, autofocus system and speed as the Mk2, so I didn't really see the need to pay a little more for the 2N.

I did look very seriously at the Nikon equivalent, the D2x, but with a 12MP APS-C sized sensor, lower frame rate (unless you choose the smaller 6MP resolution crop mode) and only single card slot, I felt the 1D Mk2 was the superior product for my needs. That, and the fact that there weren't any really 'clean' D2x's on auction for what I was prepared to pay.

And really, that's also ultimately what it boils down to for most of us in the end - price. I looked for a clean Canon 40D, 50D or 60D, but they were surprisingly all going for as much as - if not more - than the 1D Mk2 I eventually ended up buying. Same with a Nikon D200 or D300. They were more expensive that the 1D, sometimes by a very high margin.

So why are 1D Mark 2's going for such a good price at the moment? I think it's two-fold. First, it is older technology. And older technology is perceived as bad (or worse than, or less than - however you want to put it). Which is why even top end film cameras are now dirt cheap. They are really old technology :-) But they are still damn amazing cameras! Out with the old and in with the new. And the price drops radically.

Second, and perhaps somewhat more importantly, because these are professional cameras, they do get a fair bit of use. And some of them even more than their fair share! Of course they are built to take this abuse (to a certain extent), which is why they are big and heavy. But even they can only take so much punishment before something gives. And that something is usually the shutter. Especially on a camera built for sports shooters to shoot at 8.5fps.

The camera I've purchased has done 142,115 shutter actuations! That sounds like a lot - and it is. Especially when you start using those sorts of figures with a 40D or D200. However, the shutter on the 1D Mk2 is rated for 200,000 actuations - which is its general life expectancy. Sites I've visited in the last day or so would indicate that many can get their cameras to at least 250,000 shutter actuations, and beyond. So I may be able to get another 100,000 out of the camera before the shutter goes - or I might not. That's the gamble. And I think this gamble is reflected somewhat in the lower prices you can find them for. But mostly, I do think it's the perception of 'older' technology.

I must admit to being slightly alarmed when I saw how many shutter actuations the 1D Mk2 I've purchased has done. But for the 'relatively' cheap price I payed for it (cheaper than most 40D's were going for), I think I'll have to live with the fact that these cameras all see a fair bit of use. But that's what they're built for. And many got to 'infinity and beyond' because of it -)

It hasn't arrived yet, but I'm hoping it will get here this week so I can take it with me on a photography field trip my local camera club are doing on the weekend. Unfortunately I don't really have any lenses for it (the two canon lenses I have with the 50D are EF-S lenses which won't work on the 1D). So I may have to 'borrow' another lens for the weekend?

Lenses, and lens choice, is one of the other major reasons why I've decided to go back specifically to Canon. I love their lens range, their lens choices, and their 'L' series lenses in particular. The Canon 'L' lenses ooze quality and that's the way I will go with my first lens purchase for the 1D Mk2.

If I can get enough money together from the sale of both my Pentax K10D's, I'm hoping to find a Canon 24-105mm f4L in good condition. On the Mk2 this will 'roughly' equate to a 30-135mm f4 'walk around' lens that would probably be on the body 90% of the time.

The other option is the Canon 24-70mm f4L which would give a shorter reach, but a newer IS system and perhaps very slightly better image quality? Again, it will depend on what's available - and for what price - when I'm finally in the position of being able to purchase a lens.

Eventually, I would also like to get a Canon 17-40mm f4L, as well as the 70-200mm f4L IS. This would give me a trio of f4 lenses for an ok price. I'd probably try and pick up a fast 50mm f1.4 for low-light if/when it was needed. That would be a pretty cool kit.

Finally, I know this has been a long post, but I want to say one last thing about my 1D Mk2 purchasing decision. The other option, the option that almost every man and his dog is going for nowadays (and perhaps another reason why dinosaurs like the 1D Mk2 are such a reasonable price), the option that I could have gone for but resisted with every fiber in my being, is the smaller, lighter, holy-grail answer to all photographers prayers; the micro four thirds (or similar) system.

So many 'cool-cat' hipster photographers are publicly (and loudly) declaring the death of the SLR camera with a passion and fervor reaching biblical proportions. "Since converting to mirrorless cameras, my poor 1D Mk3 (or D4) has sat on the shelf collecting dust. I don' know what to do with them", they cry. I know what to do with them. Give them to me and I'll actually use them!

I have owned, and used, several mirrorless - micro four thirds cameras over the last few years, and they just don't do anything for me. As much as I try - and believe me, I have tried - I just don't gel with these smaller system cameras. Maybe the image quality is better (maybe). And maybe they are more convenient to carry around. But I just hate using them.

So I have - perhaps even purposefully - gone 180 degrees in the other direction. I've gone for the biggest, heaviest, chunkiest, manliest, beast of a camera I could find and said "yep, that'll do nicely". And I can't wait to have it in my hot little hands. Good times.

P.S. If you do have a Mk4 or D3 floating around gathering dust and you're never going to use it again, then please feel free to send it to me. I'd love to give it a good home :-)

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