Despite the natural disasters of 2011 in Japan and Thailand, four major camera companies have come out with new DSLRs of great interest to professional photographers: the Canon EOS-1D X, Nikon D4, Sigma SD1 and Sony SLT-A77. Here's a rundown of what each offers the pro.
Historically, the trend has been for each new generation of pro DSLRs to increase the pixel count noticeably. From first-generation models that had 4-megapixel resolution to the 20-plus-megapixel models of the past couple of years, the progression has been consistent. Today, this long-standing trend is changing; at least for Canon's and Nikon's pro DSLR lines, it seems to have reached its end. Canon announced that the new 18.1-megapixel, full-frame EOS-1D X will replace both the EOS-1D Mark IV and the EOS-1Ds Mark III, while Nikon calls the 16.2-megapixel, full-frame D4 its new flagship model, replacing the D3S and ostensibly the D3X. In each case, the new camera falls in pixel count between the two models it replaces.
The thinking seems to be that a moderate pixel count will result in better image quality over a wider range of ISO settings than a higher pixel count, while keeping file size down so that high shooting speed is still possible. Neither camera is available for testing as of this writing, so we haven't had a firsthand opportunity to judge image quality, but both the EOS-1D X and the D4 have the potential to produce the best image quality of any of their predecessors, while shooting at even faster rates.
Canon EOS-1D X
Canon's new top pro DSLR has a lot going for it. The full-frame EOS-1D X can shoot full-res, 18.1-megapixel RAW files at 12 fps, with phase-detection AF for each frame, and JPEGs with the mirror locked up at 14 fps (no AF during shooting).
Viewfinder & LCD. Similar to the EOS 7D's, the EOS-1D X's Intelligent Viewfinder shows 100% of the actual image area, with superimposed LCD display. For live view and video, the 3.2-inch Clear View II external LCD monitor features 1,040,000-dot VGA resolution.
Rugged, Sealed Body. Like previous 1-series EOS cameras, the EOS-1D X has a rugged magnesium-alloy cover and chassis, with 76 gaskets and seals to keep out moisture and dust. The accessory Speedlite 580EX II, Wireless File Transmitter SFT-E6A and GPS Receiver GP-E1 are also sealed against weather and dust, as are many of the L-series EF lenses. A new Ultrasonic Wave Motion Cleaning system provides more effective sensor-dust removal than previous EOS cameras.
Dual CF Slots. The EOS-1D X has two CompactFlash slots, each accepting Type I and Type II cards and compatible with UDMA 7 cards (recommended for high-speed still and video shooting).
Improved HD Video. The EOS-1D X can do 1920x1080 full HD at 30 and 24 fps (25 fps PAL format), 1280x720 HD at 60 fps (50 PAL) and 640x480 SD at 30 fps (25 PAL). For the first time in a DSLR, you can choose All-I or IPB compression, and Rec Run or Free Run timecoding—things of interest to serious videographers. You now can record up to 29 minutes 59 seconds per clip, with automatic splitting of longer files. Sound is still mono via a built-in microphone or stereo via an optional external mic, but now you can adjust the audio level while shooting.
ISO 204,800. The EOS-1D X has a normal ISO range of 100-51,200, settable in 1⁄3-stop increments, which can be expanded down to ISO 50 and up to an amazing 204,800. That performance blows away the EOS-1Ds Mark III's 5 fps, and even the EOS-1D Mark IV action camera's 10 fps, and also smokes their ISO capabilities (normal range of 100-12,800 and high of 102,400 for the Mark IV, normal range of 100-1600 and high of 3200 for the Mark II). Importantly, image quality is touted to be better than that of either predecessor despite these new capabilities.
New AF System. A totally new High Density Reticular AF system features 61 points, 41 of them cross-types with lenses of ƒ/4 or faster and 21 cross-types with lenses of ƒ/5.6 or faster (versus no cross types at ƒ/5.6 with previous cameras). There are even five central dual cross-type points for extra precision with lenses of ƒ/2.8 or faster. The 61 points cover 52% of the frame area (vs. 41% for previous EOS-1 cameras), and you can select any one of them manually. A new AI Servo II tracking algorithm promises the best performance yet in an EOS camera. Unfortunately, lost in all this is the ability to autofocus at ƒ/8.
New Metering System. The newly developed system in the EOS-1D X features a 100,000-pixel RGB metering sensor and its own dedicated DIGIC 4 processor. The system provides 252 metering zones for general shooting and 35 zones for low light. Intelligent Subject Analysis uses face detection and color recognition for added accuracy. It also includes partial and spot metering (exact area not yet stated), as well as center-weighted average metering.
Dual DIGIC 5+. Two new-generation DIGIC 5+ processors, each 17 times more powerful than the DIGIC 4s found in the EOS-1D Mark IV (which, in turn, are 6 times more powerful than the DIGIC IIIs in the EOS-1Ds Mark III), speed camera operation and make it possible to use new higher-performance noise-reduction algorithms, on-the-fly chromatic-aberration correction and an improved video codec.