Canon EOS 1D Mark III User Review

An All Round Excellent Professional DSLR Camera - But it is Big!

Canon EOS 1D Mark III User Review (2007) - This is so frustrating. I wanted to get this review out in time for the September 2007 newsletter, but there is just so much to this camera it is impossible. I will give a general run down now and add images and videos as and when I get time.

Canon EOS 1D Mark III User Review
Canon EOS 1D Mark III User Review

This review is important to all Canon fans, not just the pros (or wealthy). Much of the technology in this professional camera is making its way into the "semi-pro" DSLR range now. Having used the Canon EOS 1D Mark III in real life, testing conditions (for a few weddings), I now feel I am able to write a more comprehensive user review on this remarkable camera.

Note: First of all I want to cover the comments regarding the focussing issue. As far as I can see there are none, at least not with the camera I have. There were some pre-production models out there with an obvious issue that Canon admitted to. However, the model I have (bought September 2007) seems to be ok.

Note 2: Before you part with your hard earned cash, take along a memory card to the store. Give it a good testing before buying. Check the images on a PC and not the rear screen too.

Its needs practice

What many people need to realise is that this is a professional camera and requires a lot more practice than a typical high end point and shoot or even a semi pro DSLR. Of course, I had a few shots out of the thousands I have taken so far that were blurry or "non-focussed". That was more than likely down to me being:

  • Complacent with the settings
  • Too quick
  • Not paying attention

Overall, this camera is pin-sharp especially when used with Canon "L" lenses. If you can afford this camera, why put low quality glass on it? If you are buying or have bought this camera it is worth spending at least "one battery" wasting shots. Do this to get used to the feel and focussing system…it will pay dividends.

"Back focussing" can be a result of the focus point falling off the subject for an instant when in servo mode. It takes practice, practice and more practice! I tend to use One Shot, center-point focussing with my tap-beep-click method as it is what I feel comfortable with.

Sample images

Check out the images below to see a shot pretty much straight from the camera and then a 100% crop. Sharp as you like!

Note: The first image was originally portrait orientation and much bigger, I reduced it and made it landscape to fit the page but the 2nd shot is still a 100% crop…you get the idea!

Canon EOS 1D Mark III User Review
Canon EOS 1D Mark III User Review

Update Oct 4th 2007 - I have just updated the firmware to version 1.1.0 and ran a quick focussing test to put my mind at rest. For the 100% cropped images below I went to extremes. I set the camera to Av (aperture priority) at F3.2 using 100 ISO. Focus mode was "AI Servo" using just the center point (which I use 99% of the time) and I used the Canon EF 70-200L 2.8 IS set at 200mm.

I set the drive to low continuous mode and focussed the center point on the chimney stack in image one and took a shot. As I shot, I kept my finger pressed on the shutter and moved the center point a few degrees as the second shot fired. It focussed immediately on the sign behind. The sign is more than 500 meters away and as far as I am concerned, the results are more than satisfactory.

Canon EOS 1D Mark III User Review
Canon EOS 1D Mark III User Review

Ok, now that's over…where do I start?

Look and Feel

After using its predecessor, the Canon EOS 1D Mark II, the new Mark III immediately feels lighter and more ergonomic although it remains the same sturdy, well built size. The rubber used for the outer casing and surround is different and more "tacky" for better grip.

The first thing I noticed, and loved, was the interface and set up of the exterior controls. Whilst I loved the Mark II, the menu and button set up was so confusing it put you off exploring and pushing the camera to its limits.

When I bought the Canon EOS 5D I gushed at the fact that it had kept the same or similar layout to the EOS 20D, simple, easy to use in all situations.

To my absolute delight, the Canon EOS 1D Mark III has a very similar layout to the 5D…sweeeeet!

Why does this make me happy? Well, as a wedding photographer I am constantly changing cameras for different shots. I have the 5D with 24-70L 2.8 for 60-70% of the standard shots and the 1D Mark III with 70-200L 2.8 for my "stealth" or reportage stuff.

When I used to swap from the 5D to the 1D Mark II it sometimes got confusing as to what settings I had and how to change them quickly…time is a rare commodity when shooting weddings, every second counts!

Check out the images below to see the rear of the 20D and 1D Mark III v the 5D and 1D Mark III.

Canon EOS 1D Mark III vs 20D
Canon EOS 1D Mark III vs 5D

Now that the 5D and 1D Mark III are so similar, it makes my life a lot easier.


Many photographers will argue that it isn’t the kit that matters but what you do with it.

I agree wholeheartedly with that comment. However, I cannot hide the fact that carrying this camera for the first time made me feel like a 10 year old kid who has his first Swiss Army Knife hidden in his pocket, complete with 258 different blades and utensils.

As I walked along the Spanish seafront carrying the 1D Mark III with the 70-200 attached, I stooped like John Merrick (the Elephant Man) as the weight tilted me to one side and stretched my arm to the floor. Who cares? I never carry this around my neck, I would rather have one long arm than a bad back!

Whatever people say about kit and what you do with it, it doesn’t matter. When you have any new camera or kit the anticipation and excitement at the very least makes you FEEL like you can take expert pics! If you think, work and act like a pro for long enough, you will become one.

Spending this amount of cash on a camera makes you THINK about what you are doing. Each shot HAS to be good to justify the cost. It certainly got me thinking about the RAW basics again. It has all the features required for anyone to take great pictures but be aware that it can lead you into a false sense of security.

You still need to know what you are doing. You need to understand the basic principles of light and composition and then push this camera to its limits to get the best images.

Speed…Oh, the speed!

More of that later! Rather than going into everything here, I have broken it down into bite-size chunks concentrating on the major new features that I have personally found the most useful.

Welcome Additions and Improvements

  1. 1
    Image Quality - One of the first things I noticed was the quality of the RAW images straight out of camera. I usually tweak the EOS 5D pics a bit in Canon's DPP first and then play about in Photoshop. However, when I loaded the DPP processed images from the 1D Mark III into Photoshop I was a little confused as I had very little to do in most cases. My workflow is much quicker with these images because of it. Exposure and colour is good, skin tones realistic and very little, if any, sharpening is needed. Noise is mostly non existent at ISO’s that I use every day up to 800. Even when it is present, a little Neat Image soon loses it.
  2. 2
    Silent Mode - I have used this at a couple of weddings so far and the stealth factor just gets better. The shutter sound is a vast improvement although the lag effect (hard to describe, you have to hear it) does put me off a little. It can’t be used at high speed for wildlife…still, beggars can’t be choosers!
  3. 3
    Jog Dial - Thank you Canon! One of the most useful features from the 20D and 5D has now been added to the pro range...excellent! I am constantly examining (chimping) images in zoom mode on the rear screen and this helps enormously. It is also the only button you need when navigating the menu (except the Set button when you choose a feature).
  4. 4
    Single push buttons/Button Layout - Thank you again Canon! For getting rid of the need to hold down one button as you pushed another to access certain features. The cleaner layout and ease of use is now so simple even I can use it…quickly!
  5. 5
    3" Screen - Whilst not the most important feature, you cannot fail to be bedazzled by the clarity and colours shown on the large rear screen. Although some say they are not entirely representative of the actual colour saturation. Clients love it when I show them their images just taken on it though. Looking at the screen in Live View mode is excellent with smooth, colourful representation. One downside is that when previewing images and zooming in, you are seeing a smaller thumbnail rather than the original JPEG or RAW images. I have been wound up a few times thinking images were not sharp until I got them on the PC and noticed they were spot on. Glad I didn't delete them "in camera" because of this.
  6. 6
    ISO Button now next to shutter release - This is a very handy feature for people like me who like, or need to change ISO "on the fly". Just move your finger back from the shutter button whilst looking through the viewfinder and you are on the ISO button. Superb!
  7. 7
    Safety Shift - Thank you Canon! Oh my beautiful new safety shift. This is one of the most important features and way to go for new technology that I guess will be apparent in all new DSLR's. Here's how it works…for me anyway.

Example: I am shooting a wedding in bright sunlight using Tv or shutter priority set at 250th/sec (letting the camera set the aperture) so I know I won’t get camera shake. Then I swing the camera into the shade to catch a fleeting moment at a wedding. The light vanishes and the aperture blinks at f2.8 telling me I need to slow the shutter down to get a useable exposure. By the time I reduce the shutter speed, the moment is gone…forever,

Safety shift

Now I switch the safety shift on: Same situation but now as I swing the camera into the shade, rather than the aperture flashing at F2.8, the camera automatically increases the ISO to compensate. This means I get the shot…immediately!!! I am shivering with excitement as I write this. Yes, I am sad but this is so important for a wedding photographer as lighting situations change in an instant. This also means I can set the shutter speed to 250th/sec and leave it there all day knowing:

  • I won’t get blurry images through camera shake
  • I won’t lose a shot due to having to fumble with settings
  • I can concentrate on simply getting the shot leaving the camera to do the hard work
  1. 8
    High ISO Quality - I thought the 5D had the crown for this until I tried the 1D Mark III. In some ways I still prefer the images from the 5D. They are somehow slightly clearer but for dark church interiors and outside, night time receptions, the quality of the Mark III is amazing at anything up to 3200 ISO. 6400 is still useable if necessary and a spot of "Neat Image" helps too.
  2. 9
    Very much improved one touch menu and buttons - As I mentioned earlier, the exterior layout is significantly improved without the need to play about with "hold-this-button-whilst-pressing-this-and-now- release-to-access-area…damn-I-am-in-the-wrong-bit". The reduction in number of buttons around the screen is a welcome thing too. This is mostly due to the addition of the "set" button in the middle of the rear dial. Keep it simple! The menu is extremely pleasing to use and simple to navigate. Finally, I actually bothered to have a good old rummage around and work out what everything does. There is a lot in there!
  3. 10
    Live View - Gimmick or useful? For me it is useful. When shooting "table portraits" at a wedding reception, I like to hold the camera up high and get a looking-down perspective on the guests. It means the people at the front don’t cover the people at the back. I don’t set up a tripod and stand on a chair as that is way too time consuming. Now with the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, I just:
  • Turn on live view in menu
  • Hold camera up, point at table and focus
  • Hit the "set" button to activate live view
  • Compose and shoot
  • Swiftly work around the tables repeating this process
  • Good for press photographers too!

Studio shooting

Studio: Of course, this feature is also useful in a studio environment especially if tethered to a PC making manual focus a breeze with the 5 and 10x magnification. Live view is seen in real time on your PC or laptop and you can operate all the controls from a distance including the new Canon 580 EXII Speedlight.

I am going to practice with this using a set up with a bird table. I will have the camera outside pre-focussed and exposed directly on the table, tethered to my laptop inside and hidden from view and then wait. I will post shots if and when it works. It is also a great feature for teaching or training a photographic class by projecting the images directly onto a large screen for large audiences. The live view function also has the option of adding a grid to the screen which is incredibly useful for architectural work

  1. 11
    Battery - When I first took the battery out to charge, I couldn’t believe the size and weight. It is tiny compared to the 1D Mark II and obviously makes a huge difference to the overall weight of the camera. The Ni-MH battery has been replaced by the new Custom Li-ion which charges super fast and lasts noticeably longer…nice one Canon! It is easier to remove in a simple twist and pull fashion rather than twist, push button in and pull as on the Mark II. It also shows the charge in % and how many shots you have taken so far…its all good!
  2. 12
    External Speedlight Control - Quite a handy feature and only available with the EOS 1D Mark III and 580 EX Mark II combined (the 580 EX won’t work). You are able to access all the custom and regular functions of the speedlight through the camera’s menu which I personally think is most useful when tethered and used remotely. Otherwise, for me, there is no great difference or time saving using either camera or speedlight menu under normal shooting situations.
  3. 13
    Highlight Tone Priority (C.Fn. II-3) - Rather than try to compete in the megapixel race, many manufacturers are concentrating on dynamic range and the importance of picture quality. Once again, this feature is great for wedding photographers who constantly find themselves challenged with bright dresses against dark suits in bright sunlight. Blown highlights, even when shooting RAW are impossible to retrieve sometimes. To illustrate this feature quickly, see the two images below. The one on the left is with HTP switched off and the one on the right with it on. The extra detail in the bright areas with HTP switched on is quite apparent.

HTP (highlight tone priority) sample

Note: When in this mode, the ISO range is 200-3200 and all ISO’s show as smaller digits to let you know you are in that mode.

Canon EOS 1D Mark III User Review HTP

Example: In the sample, unprocessed, RAW images below, you can see the difference clearly with the extra highlight detail in the image on the right. Both were shot in manual at 250th/sec F5.

The shot on the left has Highlight Tone Priority switched off and the image on the right has it on. If you can see this much difference from an extremely bright light bulb, the benefits when shooting wedding dresses is obvious.

  1. 14
    Sensor Cleaning - Professional EOS Integrated Cleaning System with Self-Cleaning Sensor Unit, Dust Delete Data acquisition - As many people have noticed, the Canon EOS 5D seems to be a dust magnet which is really annoying as the rest of the camera is close to perfect. My old 1D Mark II had barely a spot on the sensor after 2 years and now the 1D Mark III has a built in sensor cleaning system. When you switch the camera on or off, the sensor automatically vibrates any dust away which is attracted to areas around the sensor designed to "catch" it. This is overridden by either commencing operation of the camera or via the custom functions. I haven’t used the camera enough to notice any dust but this will (or not) show up as time goes on.
  2. 15
    File Name Setting - This is a handy little feature where I can name the first 3 digits of files to correspond with the name of the wedding couple. I.e. "nik_0001, bob_0002" etc, rather than just IMG_0001.
  3. 16
    Speed - Kapow! This camera is fast in all respects…except maybe the servo focussing. I have yet to push and test this function fully. Almost instant start up, focussing and exposure! The sound of the shutter is so quick compared to the 5D it actually made me want to say "Sorry! What was that? I missed it". When shooting in high speed mode for sports and wildlife, the difference between 8.5 and 10 frames per second isn’t much but it certainly gets heads turning. I use it for confetti shots and the throwing of the bouquet…a great sequence for slideshows…almost video-like but more images to process…a lot more. The menu is quick loading and the formatting is blistering fast.
  4. 17
    Weather Sealing with Speedlight 580 EX II - Lastly, for now, the weather sealing has been made even better with the new 580 EX II speedlight. The connection is simple with a lever that you simply pull across which "pulls" the speedlight onto the hotshoe sealing it with a rubber surround…nice touch. Also, both connections on the camera and speedlight are made of metal so no more metal showing through black paint that has scratched off.


Sigh. So frustrating given the time I have to write this. As I said, I will post more images and experiences as they happen but for now this camera is a keeper. In fact I am starting to reluctantly let it take over from the 5D as main camera for shooting weddings (until the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III is released that is)!

It is ergonomically sound, fast, very fast, and easier to use than its predecessor but most importantly, the image quality is superb and it helps you "get there" better than ever. This review is simply from a user’s point of view, as I said, I hope to add to this and all future reviews as my time spent on the website gets longer.

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