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Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III Review

by Philip Greenspun, January 2008 (updated March 2008)

There has never been any question that the Canon EOS 1Ds produces the best quality images of any handheld digital camera on the market. The only question has been whether or not you wanted to pay $8000 and crush your shoulders under the weight of this monster.

What do you get with the Mark III incarnation of the EOS 1Ds? The weight, with battery but not lens, has come down from a ridiculous 3.5 lbs. to a painful 3 lbs. Resolution is up to 21 megapixels (from 12 in the original 1Ds and 16 MP in the Mark II version). That is 5600x3700 pixels, large enough to make superb prints at 20x30" and acceptable prints beyond 30x40".

Dynamic range in RAW files is 14 bits per color, up from 12 bits in previous 1Ds bodies.

Operating Speed

The 1Ds Mark III turns on almost instantly and is very responsive, on par with the cheaper Canon bodies that are not tangling with 25 MB RAW images. The camera can capture 5 pictures per second, but it can't write them to the memory cards that fast. After you've captured about 56 JPEGs or 12 RAW images, the viewfinder and top-deck LCDs will read "BUSY" for a few seconds until some of the images have been saved, freeing buffer memory for additional photos.

The 5 frames per second capture rate of the 1Ds Mark III is similar to the best film SLRs (without accessory power boosters), but significantly slower than the 10 fps of its sports photography crop sensor cousin, the 1D Mark III. It is also slower than the EOS 40D body, which offers a 6.5 fps rate. This can make a difference when trying to capture peak action during an atheletic event, for example.


At first glance, the 1Ds Mark III appears easy to operate. There are the familiar Canon control wheels, one just behind the shutter release and a thumb-wheel on the back of the camera. The first hint that the camera might not be so simple is the presence of three external LCD displays: top deck, rear monitor, rear icon panel. Where should you look to find a particular piece of information or verify a particular camera setting? It isn't obvious.

The familiar top-deck control wheel ("mode dial") from Canon's cheaper digital SLRs is chucked due to its susceptibility to dust, moisture, and failure. To change among exposure modes, you press a couple of bottoms on the top left of the camera while simultaneously turning the main control dial.

In some ways the interface is simpler than on Canon's lower-end bodies. There are no idiot modes so you don't have to wonder what the camera will do when set to the flower icon, the "running guy" icon, or the "green box" icon. You choose among Metered Manual, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Program autoexposure. You choose between One Shot (subject not moving) and AI Servo (subject moving) autofocus modes.

In most ways, however, the interface is much more complicated. The menus are deeper. There are more buttons. There are choices about which of the two memory cards you would like the camera to write to. Or maybe you want it to write to both simultaneously?

The camera includes a fast processor, massive internal memory, and high-resolution 3" screen. Would a "help" or "more info" option on the menu choices and custom functions be too much to ask for?


There are 45 autofocus sensors in this camera. With an f/2.8 lens, all 45 sensors function, 19 of which are high-precision sensors, reponding both to vertical and horizontal lines. With an f/4 lens (or f/2.8 lens with 1.4X teleconverter), only the center AF sensor responds to vertical lines; the other sensors look at horizontal lines only. At f/5.6 (kit zoom lens or f/4 + teleconverter), the central sensor loses its vertical sensitivity. At f/8, a maximum aperture at which Canon consumer bodies don't even try to autofocus, the central AF sensor responds to horizontal lines. This is useful when trying to do wildlife photography with a compact kit, e.g., 300/4 and 2X converter or 400/5.6 and 1.4X teleconverter.

Autofocus is supposed to function in light as dim as EV -1 (ISO 100), i.e., light that would require an exposure of 1 second at f/1.4 with an ISO setting of 400. With an external flash attached in dim light, the camera will instruct the flash to shine a red "AF-assist beam" on the subject, unless Custom Function III-14 is set to disable the beam.


The viewfinder image is large, bright, and shows 100 percent of the image to be captured... just like a 1959 Nikon F. The in-viewfinder displays, one underneath and one on the right side, show more information than the heads-up display on an F-16 fighter jet. The bottom LCD shows metering pattern, f-stop, shutter speed, autoexposure lock, flash ready, exposure or flash exposure compensation, white balance correction, capacity of storage media, ISO speed, focus confirmation. The right-side display shows ambient and flash exposure meters (+/- 3 f-stops), the number of photos that can be stored in the camera's burst buffer, whether RAW or JPEG format is selected, and a battery charge level icon.

It is easy to view the entire viewfinder image and the one-line LCD display underneath, even while wearing eyeglasses. It is not easy, even without glasses, to see both in-finder LCD displays and the image. To facilitate use without eyeglasses, the Canon 1Ds Mark III has a built-in diopter adjustment (-3 to +1).

Live View

If the Canon 1Ds Mark III is mounted in a place where you can't see through the optical viewfinder, you can view the image to be captured on the 3" rear LCD, on a television set connected via an included cable, or on a personal computer connected via a USB cable (software included).

How does Live View work? The mirror is flipped up, darkening the optical viewinder and sending all of the light to the sensor. This disables the autofocus system, whose sensors are in the viewing path, upstream from the mirror. To focus, press the "zoom in" button on the rear of the camera for 5X or 10X magnification, set the lens for manual focus, and turn the focus ring on the lens.

Pressing the depth of field preview button stops down the lens to taking aperture and simultaneously enables "exposure simulation". The LCD image gets brighter or darker as aperture and shutter speed are changed in metered manual (M) mode.

Battery life in Live View mode is short; Canon says to expect to capture about 300 images on a fully charged battery.

Those who have the patience to read every page of the owner's manual will learn that Live View heats up the sensor, degrading image quality. Internal temperatures can rise enough to become damaging, resulting in an obscure thermometer icon appearing. The photographer is supposed to recognize this icon and turn off Live View. The rear high-resolution LCD could display a text message: "Your $8000 camera is heating up to damaging temperatures; please turn off Live View." But it doesn't, on the theory that the owners will have read and remembered every page in the owner's manual.

Mirror Lock-Up

For maximum sharpness at high magnifications, either with macro or telephoto lenses, it helps to swing the mirror up in advance of opening the shutter. This is most important at shutter speeds between 1 second and 1/30th of a second.

The Canon 1Ds Mark III offers mirror lock-up capability via Custom Function III-15. Once enabled, a single press of the shutter release locks up the mirror. After the vibration of the mirror slam has subsided, a second press will take the picture. How can this reduce vibration and increase image sharpness if a clumsy human keeps touching the camera? It can't, unless you attach a remote release or use the self-timer. For landscape photography, put the camera on a tripod, set exposure and focus manually, enable mirror lockup, set the self-timer mode to 2 or 10 seconds, and press the shutter speed just once for each image. The mirror will lock up as soon as the shutter release is pressed. Two seconds later, the shutter will open and the picture get taken. Two seconds should be enough for the vibration of the mirror and the vibration of a finger on the shutter release to dissipate.

Some of Canon's film bodies had a mode in which mirror lock-up was enabled only with the self-timer. This was very useful for travel photography when the camera was on and off a tripod because it is so easy to switch in and out of self-timer mode (the "drive" button). The EOS 1Ds lacks this capability; switching in and out of mirror lock-up mode involves wading through a series of menus.


The Canon 1Ds Mark III has two card slots, one for Compact Flash card, either Type I and II, and one for an SD card. Each RAW image is 25 MB, which means that you can store about 40 images per gigabyte (GB). Start with either a 16 GB CF Card or the announced-at-CES 2008 32 GB SD cards from Panasonic.

Busy photojournalists will appreciate the ability to write images simultaneously to SD and CF cards. The camera can be set up to write RAW files to one card and JPEGs to the other. Hand the JPEG card to a newspaper editor; keep the RAW card for a possible book.

To make it easier to caption images back at the office, the camera can associate a 30-second sound clip with an image. Simply press and hold the microphone button while an image is being reviewed.

I had trouble formatting two SanDisk Ultra II 8 GB cards in the camera. These cards had previously worked perfectly in a 5D body, but the 1Ds kept saying "Could not format. Change card1." Supposedly this problem has been fixed with the 1.0.6 version of the firmware.


The Canon 1Ds Mark III does not have a built-in flash, but it can control the full range of Canon's external flashes. See our Canon EOS system guide for more information.

Adjusting flash settings is about as easy as using Windows Vista. Want to show a natural looking motion blur behind a sharp flash-exposed subject? Second curtain sync for the flash requires the following steps:

  1. press the menu button
  2. press the four-way nipple to the right seven times to get to the custom function page
  3. press the four-way nipple down to highlight the custom function II section
  4. press the set button to navigate down into the custom function II section
  5. scroll the thumb wheel four steps to the right to CF II-5
  6. press the set button again
  7. scroll the thumb wheel again
  8. press the set button again

Resume taking photos with a 550EX flash and you'll find that... the flash fires when the first shutter curtain opens. Give up and take a bunch of photos, like the one at right, where the motion blur is in front of the moving subject. Return home, pull out the manual and discover that settings on the flash override those on the camera. Search in vain for a second curtain sync switch on the 550EX. Press all of the buttons on the flash. Go to the Canon USA Web site. Navigate through the menus. Discover that the owner's manual for the 550EX is not available. Do a Google search and discover that some kind soul has uploaded the PDF file. Go to page 98 and discover that second curtain sync is settable on the flash. You only need to press the + and - buttons simultaneously. That puts the flash into "high speed sync mode". The press the + and - buttons simultaneously again. That puts the flash into second curtain sync mode, indicated by a multi-segmented arrow.

[Why no built-in flash for $8000 you might ask? It would be difficult to maintain effective weather sealing with a traditional pop-up flash. In addition, the prevailing wisdom is that professional bodies should not have built-in flashes because professionals travel with assistants carrying a full complement of powerful external flashes.]

Here are a few photos from an indoor skateboard and BMX bike park (Rye Airfield in New Hampshire). The lens was a 50/1.4 with autofocus set to "AI servo" (continuous).

mostly flash
ISO 1600, f/2.8 and 1/250th
no flash
ISO 800, f/5.6 and 1/15th
ISO 800, f/5.6 and 1/15th
ETTL flash -2/3 stop

Available Light

Despite having physically smaller sensor sites than the EOS 5D, the 1Ds Mark III tested slightly better in noise control at high ISO settings. See image at right of a Cessna Mustang interior, captured at ISO 1600, for an example of the value of ISO 1600 in practical situations.

Autofocus performance in low light is slightly better than the 5D, down to EV -1 compared to the 5D's EV -0.5.

To compare the 1Ds Mark III to the 5D, I photographed a bookshelf at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, with the 24-105/4L IS lens. Exposure with both cameras was f/4 at 1/30th for ISO 1600 and f/4 at 1/60th at ISO 3200. I compared the images, which were all too unaesthetic to display here, in Adobe Photoshop. With both cameras, ISO 3200 was visibly noisier than ISO 1600. Viewed at the same image magnification, images from the 1Ds looked slightly less noisy than those from the 5D. Enabling Custom Function II-2, "High ISO speed noise reduction", did not improve the quality of the 1Ds RAW images nor did a simultaneously produced JPEG look better than the RAW once opened in Photoshop. The 5D does not have a comparable custom function.

Verdict: Don't spend an extra $6,000 over the 5D for acceptable 8x10 prints at high ISOs.


Despite what must be a power appetite on par with a gamer's PC, Canon claims that the enormous Lith-ion battery is adequate for capturing 1800 photos at room temperature; 1400 when freezing. To recharge the battery, you must travel with a charger that is larger than a Digital Rebel XTi.

For important photographic projects, carry a backup LP-E4 battery.

In our testing, the battery held a nearly full charge for three calendar weeks with light usage.

Transferring Files

Want to transfer a file from, say, the SD card in the camera to your personal computer? It is as easy as unplugging the card from the camera and plugging it into the SD card reader on your PC. Then you discover that the SD card reader won't read "SDHC" cards, i.e., those with capacities greater than 2 GB. So you say "It might be a little slow, but I'll just plug a USB cable into the camera and transfer the files over USB 2.0." Then you discover that the camera shows up in Windows Explorer, but not as a disk. Nor can the Microsoft Camera Wizard figure out how to pull files out. That is when you turn to the software CD-ROM included with the camera and install the "EOS Utility" that can pull files from the camera's cards over USB and onto the local hard drive.

You'd expect a camera this heavy to include Wifi and cell phone data network communications capabilities. What good is a photo if you can't share it with someone else? Canon offers a bag-on-the-side WFT-E2A "wireless file transmitter" for about $800, i.e., roughly the cost of a note PC that would include Wifi, Bluetooth, and cell phone data network. The WFT-E2A lacks cell phone data capability and Bluetooth and offers only Wifi. It is therefore is useful in the studio, but not in the field. The WFT-E2A is not compatible with the current 802.11n standard, only the older and slower 802.11b and 802.11g standards.


The Adobe Camera Raw 4.3.1 plugin (for Lightroom and Photoshop CS3) can decode RAW images from the Canon 1Ds Mark III. The JPEGs on this page were generated with Photoshop CS3 and my personal scripts that you can download. The Picasa program from Google should eventually understand the 1Ds Mark III's RAW files.

If you decide to go the Photoshop/Bridge route, you might find The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers (Peter Krogh; O'Reilly 2005) helpful.

Make sure to enable "auto rotate" (first tools menu) so that an image captured with the camera held vertically will appear on a computer screen in a vertical orientation.

Canon includes software with the camera, but it is not as good as Picasa (free), Adobe Lightroom, or Adobe Photoshop/Bridge. Working with the 25 MB RAW images is painfully slow. In Adobe Bridge, for example, when trying to decide whether a photo is a keeper, the software gives you the ability to zoom in on a portion of a thumbnail. On a dual-core 2.8 GHz Pentium with 3.5 GB of RAM, this takes 15 seconds, compared to 7 seconds for a 12 MB image from a Canon 5D. A top of the line personal computer starting in mid-2009 should be able to handle these images without frustrating delays.

Reliability and Durability

The 1Ds Mark III is Canon's most durable body, designed to withstand heavy rain, hard knocks, desert sand and dust, etc. The camera can be set to write images to two memory cards simultaneously, thus preserving the images even when half of the camera has been shot away by hostile fire.

An automatic sensor cleaning function activates when the camera is turned off.

Compared to the Other Canon Bodies

If a photographer had infinite money, would he or she buy the 1Ds Mark III? Maybe not. The pain of spending $8000 might soon be forgotten by some folks, but the 3 lb. weight will be a constant reminder that an adequate job could have been done with the full-frame 5D (2 lbs.).

Sports photographers will prefer the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, (buy from Amazon) (review) for its higher frame rate (10 fps versus 5 fps).

Compared to Nikon

Nikon is the only company that might conceivably make a competitor to the 1Ds. So far they haven't tried. The closest that Nikon comes to an attempt to compete with the 1Ds is the Nikon D3. The D3 has a full-frame sensor, but with about half of the resolution of the 1Ds Mark III. Where the D3 is superior to the 1Ds Mark III is in the ability to capture usable images at an ISO setting of 25,600, three f-stops more sensitive than the 1Ds Mark III's ISO 3200.

Nikon, starting with their D40 camera, seems to be ahead in the user interface department, exploiting the personal computer-like capabilities of the camera to explain settings with text and example photographs.

Compared to Medium Format Systems

Can you get better image quality from any camera than from the 1Ds Mark III? Sure, but not in a camera that you would want to handhold all day. The realm of higher quality belongs to medium format digital backs, rolled into systems such as the Hasselblad H3D, the Leaf AFi, and the Sinar Hy6. These systems are intended for studio use, weigh even more than the 1Ds, and cost $30,000+. The medium format systems are designed to work with studio lighting and therefore may underperform the 1Ds at higher ISO settings.

If you have an extra $20,000, a tripod, and a lot of light, look into the medium format backs. These systems will get very interesting when a large square sensor is available, e.g., close to the 56x56mm full frame of 6x6 film camera. Currently the sensors are 36x48mm, which wastes a lot of the image circle and has all of the disadvantages of a rectangular format, e.g., figuring out a way to tilt the camera sideways or rotate the back.

Compared to Large Format (Very Large)

Elsa Dorfman uses a 20x24" Polaroid camera. We decided to see how a print made from an EOS 1Ds Mark III RAW file would compare to a 20x24" original. The images below were taken using ISO 50, available only after enabling extended ISO range from a custom function menu. This is slower than the native resolution of the camera and is probably slightly lower image quality than ISO 100, but it was useful because it enabled us to use an f/8 aperture with the powerful strobes in Elsa's studio.

Lens Original 100 percent crop


50/2.5 macro


Note: The inset images were filtered with Unsharp Mask at the following settings: 75 percent, 1 pixel radius, 0 threshold. They were then saved in .png format.

We sent the RAW files to Pictopia and gave them no instructions other than "make the best 20x30 print that you can". In a side-by-side comparison with a few Polaroid originals, Elsa and three other viewers agreed that the 1Ds Mark III images had at least as much detail as the Polaroid. It was a little tough to compare because the Polaroid images have less depth of field and the papers were very different. The Polaroid paper is super thick and glossy; Pictopia's least expensive RA-4 paper has a matte finish and is much thinner. The digital image was much cleaner, while the Polaroid had a lot of waviness and character in the background. As an imaging system for making 20x30" prints, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III combined with Pictopia was the clear victor. As artistic statements, the Polaroid images were more interesting.


Most new cars have GPS. The EOS 1Ds Mark III plus an L lens feels about as heavy as hanging a Hyundai around one's neck. Why shouldn't the camera body include a GPS chip and geotag images with the latitude and longitude of the exposure location? Canon's theory for how you would do this is to buy a WFT-E2A "wireless file transmitter" to attach to the side of the body, then buy a separate GPS and plug that into the WFT-E2A via a USB cable.

As noted previously, the EOS 1Ds Mark III includes a fast processor, massive internal memory, and high-resolution 3" screen. Why not add a tiny touch of software and text strings to include a "help" or "more info" option with most menu and custom function controls? The information in the owner's manual wouldn't occupy more than 1/1000th of a RAW image; why should the photographer be forced to carry around the owner's manual on paper?


The EOS 1Ds Mark III is a remarkable display of engineering prowess. Do you need a weatherproofed camera that is strong enough to drive nails while producing the world's best image quality? If so, the 1Ds is a bargain. If not, the Canon EOS 5D, (buy from Amazon) (review) is a better value.

I never wanted a 1Ds. Now I do. But probably I'll wait for the revision of the EOS 5D.

Where to Buy

Compare prices and delivery times from various merchants at amazon.com. Add a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, (buy from Amazon) (review), Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, (buy from Amazon), and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, (buy from Amazon) (review) for the standard professional kit. Supplement with a Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash, (buy from Amazon) (review) for filling-in shadows or bouncing off ceilings indoors.

Manufacturer's Specifications

  • Effective resolution: Approximately 21.1 million pixels (total pixels: approximately 21.9 million)
  • Recording pixels: 5616 x 3744
  • Sensor type: Full-frame CMOS sensor, with primary R-G-B filtration (36 x 24 millimeters)
  • Pixel size: 6.4 microns square
  • Lens focal length factor: None (1x)
  • Imaging processor: Dual DIGIC III image processors
  • Maximum frames per second: 5 frames per second (fps) at shutter speeds 1/500 second or faster, in all recording modes
  • Drive modes: Single; silent (single-frame); high-speed continuous (5 fps; adjustable 5 to 2 fps); low-speed continuous (3 fps; adjustable 4 to 1 fps)
  • Maximum number of frames / burst: JPEG: 56 (full-resolution, Level-8 fine compression); RAW: 12; RAW plus JPEG: TBA
  • Flash sync speed: Up to 1/250, with EX-series Speedlites
  • Shutter "lag" time: Approximately 55 milliseconds (from half-way to fully depressing shutter button)
  • Start-up time: 0.15 seconds
  • Image type: JPEG, RAW (14 bit); improved A/D conversion to 14-bit processing for 16,384 individual tones
  • Highlight tone priority: Improve tonal range in highlight areas by approximately 1 stop (C.Fn II-2)
  • Noise reduction: Long exposures 1 second and longer (C.Fn II-1); high-speed ISO images (C.Fn II-2)
  • Storage media: Compatible with two card slots and external storage media; CompactFlash (Type I or II, including MicroDrives); SD card slot (SDHC-compatible for 2GB higher SD cards); USB external hard drives (requires optional WFT-E2A wireless transmitter)
  • Recording options: Multiple media recording options: record to only one memory card; record the same image to both SD and CF card; record RAW image to a CF card and JPEG image to a SD card
  • New additional features: Files can be automatically written to another media if card beomes full; select different image sizes and save to different media (example: different JPEG sizes); record same image using all three media options, including external hard drive; copy files manually from one card to another, or to connected USB hard drive
  • Image format options: JPEG (compression adjustable in 10 steps on menu); RAW ("CR2" RAW file format); RAW + JPEG (selectable on rear LCD panel); sRAW ("CR2" small RAW file format; 1 /4 file size of full-resolution RAW, approximately 5.2 megapixels)
  • Resolution options: Large: 5616 x 3744 (approximately 21.0 million pixels); "Medium 1": 4992 x 3328 (approximately 16.6 million pixels); "Medium 2": 4080 x 2720 (approximately 11.0 million pixels); "Small": 2784 x 1856 (approximately 5.2 million pixels); "RAW": 5616 x 3744 (approximately 21.0 million pixels); "sRAW": 2784 x 1856 (approximately 5.2 million pixels)
  • Data recording format: DCF 2.0 and EXIF 2.21; EXIF 2.21--applies "Adobe 1998 RGB" color space tag to images
  • Sound recording: Maximum 30 seconds per sound clip (more than one clip can be assigned to each image)
  • Folder settings: Create new folder and select on memory card
  • 3-part approach to dust reduction: EOS Integrated Cleaning System; self-cleaning sensor unit--low pass filter in front of the sensor vibrates at a very high frequency for about four seconds to "shake" off loose dust and dirt; occurs on start-up and shut down--can also be activated by user or totally disabled; Dust Delete Data: a test shot is taken and any dust spots are "mapped" and added to each image's text data; automatic removal possible in Canon DPP software; manual: user can lock up mirror to blow off any dust or have service technician wipe sensor clean
  • LCD monitor: 3.0-inch (diagonal) TFT color; approximately 100% coverage; approximately 230,000 pixels
  • Playback options: Single image; single image with info and histogram; 4-index or 9-index image; magnified zoom display
  • Live View type: Electronic viewing of scene, directly off imaging sensor, on LCD monitor
  • Coverage: Approximately 100%
  • Metering: Real-time evaluative metering (off CMOS imaging sensor)
  • Grid display: Two vertical and two horizontal lines; can be turned on or off by user
  • Aspect ratio: Masking for 6:6, 3:4, 4:5, 6:7, 10:12, and 5:7
  • PC live view: Enabled using EOS Utility (v.2.0) (use computer monitor as viewfinder)
  • Shutter speed range: 30 seconds to 1/8000, plus bulb (1/3, 1/2, or full-stop increments when user-set)
  • Maximum flash sync speed: 1/250 second
  • Anticipated shutter durability: 300,000 exposures
  • ISO range: 100 to 1600, in 1/3-stop increments; ISO 50 and 3200 can be added via ISO extension on menu; new ISO safety shift (camera shifts ISO in Tv or Av mode if needed to preserve exposure)
  • Exposure modes: Manual, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, Program, Bulb
  • Metering: 63-zone metering linked to 19 AF points; Evaluative metering (63-zone, linked to active AF point); Center-weighted metering; Partial metering (approximately 8.5% of the picture area); Spot metering (approximately 2.4% of the picture area); Options: Center only; linked to any of 19 AF points; and Multi-spot metering up to 8 readings
  • Metering range: EV 0 to 20 (all patterns; at normal temperatures)
  • Exposure compensation: Possible in any Auto exposure mode; up to +/- 3 stops, in 1/3-stop increments
  • Exposure bracketing: 2, 3, 5, or 7 shots (selectable with C.Fn I-6); up to +/- 3 stops, in 1/3-stop increments; Standard Auto bracketing, via aperture and/or shutter speed
  • Compatible flashes: Canon EX-series Speedlites (TTL flash not possible with non-EX speedlites)
  • E-TTL II: 63-zone metering with EX-series speedlites; evaluative E-TTL flash metering (can be averaged over all 63 metering zones); distance information now used from compatible Canon EF lenses for flash calculations
  • Flash metered manual: Possible with flash in Manual mode, via FEL button
  • Flash exposure lock: 2.4% Spot metering of pre-flash illumination
  • Flash exposure compensation: Possible on body for certain speedlites (up to +/- 3 stops, in 1/3-stop increments)
  • Flash exposure bracketing: Possible with 580EX II, 580EX, 550EX, MR-14EX, and MT-24EX (set on Speedlite)
  • Hi-speed flash speed: Possible with EX-series Speedlites, up to 1/8000 second , normal maximum x-sync is 1/300
  • PC socket: Standard; sync line voltages up to 250v are OK through PC socket or hot shoe
  • Number of AF points: 45 (inside of ellipse area of focus screen); 19 high-precision cross-type points (require f2.8 or faster lens for cross-type coverage); 26 assists points (require f5.6 or faster lens)
  • Number of cross-type points: 19 points--any of these can be user-selected with manual AF point selection (high-precision type points; require a f2.8 or faster lens; center point requires f4 or faster)
  • Focus modes: One-Shot AF (for stationary subjects); AI Servo AF (for tracking moving subjects)
  • Manual AF point selection: 19 AF points ( default); inner 9 AF points (via C.Fn III 9-1); outer 9 AF points ( via C.Fn III 9-2)
  • Automatic AF point selection: Possible in both One-shot and AI Servo AF modes
  • AF On button: AF button on rear of body executes AF and metering; AE Lock button can switch functions with AF On button via C.Fn IV-2-1
  • Viewfinder coverage: 100%, vertically and horizontally
  • Eyepoint: 20 millimeters
  • Magnification: 0.75x
  • Focusing screen: Ec-C IV (new standard focusing screen); interchangeable with Ec-series screens from all previous EOS-1 series cameras
  • Diopter: -3 to +1.0 (user-adjustable); further adjustment possible with Eg series diopter lenses
  • Mirror lock-up: Possible via C.Fn III-15; new: option to have mirror remain up for multiple pictures, until SET button is pressed
  • Eyepiece shutter: Built-in; activated by lever to right of eyepiece
  • White Balance modes: Auto (WB is read off of CMOS imaging sensor only); Pre-set (Daylight, Shade, Cloudy Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash); Custom (reading taken off 18% gray card or white object; up to 5 custom readings can be stored); Color Temperature (range 2500k to 10,000k; 100k increments); Personal WB settings--PC-1 to PC-5 (up to five, created in computer and uploaded into camera)
  • White Balance compensation: Alter white balance in amber-blue direction, and/or magenta-green direction +/- 9 levels
  • White Balance bracketing: Alter White Balance in amber-blue direction or magenta-green direction, up to 15 mireds
  • Picture Style: Allows user to easily adjust the "look" of JPEG images, or RAW files processed with Canon software; six presets: Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Monochrome, Faithful; adjustable settings: Sharpening, Contrast, Color Saturation, and Color Tone
  • Digital terminal: USB 2.0 Hi-speed (Type B port)
  • Video output terminal: NTSC/PAL
  • System extension terminal: 15-pin terminal (connects new wireless file transmitter WFT-E2A)
  • Remote control terminal: N3-type terminal
  • Custom functions: 57 Custom Functions (personal functions built into Custom Functions)
  • My Menu: Up to six menu settings can be stored separately for quick access
  • Battery: Lightweight LP-E4 lithium-ion battery pack
  • Battery information: Current power source in use (battery, AC adapter, etc.); remaining capacity (displayed in 1% increments, on camera's LCD monitor); current shutter count on this battery charge; recharge performance (displays when battery should be discarded; 3 levels)
  • Main switch: Three settings: Off, On, and On with Quick Control Dial active
  • Camera body exterior material: Magnesium alloy
  • Chassis material: Magnesium alloy, including mirror box
  • Operating temperature range: 32 degrees to 113 degrees F (0 degrees to 45 degrees C); 85% or lower relative humidity
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 6.1 x 6.2 x 3.1 inches (156 x 160 x 80 millimeters)
  • Weight (without battery or CF card): 41.3 ounces (1205 grams)

Text and pictures copyright 2008 Philip Greenspun.

Article revised March 2008.

Readers' Comments

Add a comment

Jonathan Farmer , January 28, 2008; 10:52 A.M.

Hi Philip,

You have stated "There has never been any question that the Canon EOS 1Ds produces the best quality images of any handheld digital camera on the market."

How about the Mamiya 645 AF with a digital back, this camera is quite hand holdable and will render cleaner images especially at higher ISO, The Mamiya also has bigger glass which will give better resolution, the platform is bigger 4cmx6cm enabling the use of bigger pixels which produce less noise. The Mamiya 645 AFD may not be quite as portable as a 35mm digital camera but it is very hand holdable and will surly make better images than the 1Ds Mk.3; it is also advertised at under $10,000.00.

The 1Ds Mk.3 would be better in the field having faster shutter speeds and also has the use of more lens selection, but to say it will produce the best handheld images of any digital camera is not so.

Regards Jonathan

Philip Greenspun , January 28, 2008; 05:51 P.M.

Good question, Jonathan. Are you talking about the "ZD Back" for the Mamiya? I wouldn't call it a handheld camera due to the weight and bulk (already becoming excessive on the 1Ds!). As for high ISO performance, the Mamiya back only goes up to ISO 400. The frame rate is only 1.2 frames per second. Everything about the Mamiya says "studio" to me.

Quang-Tuan Luong , January 29, 2008; 01:19 P.M.

Some great points (like the lack of self-timer/MLU coupling, or on-camera 2nd curtain sync that every other reviewer missed).

There are a couple of custom functions that assign more useful displays to the rear screen, therefore making mostly unnecessary to look at the top and bottom small LCDs.

The problem experienced with the Ultra II cards has been fixed with the 1.0.6 version of the firmware.

With a built-in GPS, given the speed at which batteries would be drained, you'd need to go back to 3.5 lbs or more.

peter christoph , January 30, 2008; 11:38 P.M.

bh and calumet don't have these in stock. where did you buy yours at? Anybody? after reading your review, its obvious this camera is a must-have. no other camera comes close in pixel count.

Landrum Kelly , January 31, 2008; 11:41 A.M.

I am grateful for this camera. When it came out, I was able to pick up the Mark II version (16.7 megapixels) brand new on eBay (zero shutter actuations) for $4500. After I knock off a couple of convenience stores, I can get out of debt and have a decent DSLR and portable dumbbell.


Julius Wong , February 01, 2008; 03:38 A.M.

With Sony's recent announcement of developing a 25 megapixel full frame sensor: http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/News/Press/200801/08-010E/index.html I would hold off buying the 1Ds Mark-III. Nikon will likely come out with a D3X as soon as this sensor is available (say end of 2008) and so will Sony itself.

Phil Lewenthal , February 01, 2008; 10:57 P.M.

Thanks for the review. Did I miss it or did you comment on the comparison between the Canon and the Polaroid camera?



Philip Greenspun , February 02, 2008; 12:51 A.M.

Philip: I am waiting to get some prints made before I can ask Elsa to compare the results from the 1Ds to her Polaroid. I will edit the review in a month or so when we have the prints.

Chris Voelker , February 02, 2008; 12:41 P.M.

Having the DS & DSMk2 I am looking forward to the Mk3 with great anticipation. Who has these overpriced cameras ? How do you determine if you are getting one that has an alignment issue that has caused the delay in getting these bodies in the hands of studio shooters like myself in the first place. I have read about this issue and wonder if Canon has corrected the problem yet & if there are still bodies floating around with this problem. I would be most unhappy to spend 8K on a body only to have to square up my images in Photoshop.

Mark Vaughn , February 03, 2008; 02:08 P.M.

NIce Review On the Mark 3

But I'll wait for the Mark 4 version to appear.... Maybe by then canon will have a REAL fix engineered to replace that stupid USB cable.... Tethering to a laptop is my only real complaint with the Mark 2... Their USB cable is for ever working loose....

Re Medium Format... They need a Wide Angle Lens like cannon offers... My 17-40 Is simply awesome for the money.... That would be the only way I'd switch from Canon...

Everett Cavazos , February 08, 2008; 03:42 P.M.

"There has never been any question that the Canon EOS 1Ds produces the best quality images of any handheld digital camera on the market."

This is subjective, and personal opinions used to kick off a review can damage your and the review's credibility. I shoot Nikon but in my opinion the Fuji S3 and S5 hold the title for "best quality" images. Once again though, that's my opinion.

Rolf Hicker , February 09, 2008; 07:56 A.M.

Great review... we are on location right now and got the first 6000 images shot. here is a short note from location in Spain:

1. super strange is: we are using the grid screen - something must be offset. if we adjust via the grid screen we are about 2-4 degrees off level. We leveled the camera on a ocean horizon, absolute straight - then we switched on the live view mode and the horizon was off about 2-4 degrees?? Anyone else seeing this?

2. about mirror up - you wrote: "was on and off a tripod because it is so easy to switch in and out of self-timer mode (the "drive" button). The EOS 1Ds lacks this capability; switching in and out of mirror lock-up mode involves wading through a series of menus." If you load the mirror up function in your custom menu then you can have it with one scroll - actually the custom menu is one of the "greatest small new features".

Beside that - I love the M3 - the images are absolute awesome! More when we back.

Some of the new images should come up on our website in about a week on my website:
Rolf Hicker travel photography

Thakur Dalip Singh , February 13, 2008; 03:05 A.M.

Map of India

why I should buy WFT E2 to use GPS when with Nikon it can be connected directly, even to cheaper models like D200? If not built in GPS even then it should have direct port connection for that. It is shame for canon for asking to spend 800/$ on WT E2 just to use GPS. I am waiting eagerly for this camera but is not available.

Rolf Hicker , February 15, 2008; 02:38 P.M.

Hi Brad,

sorry don't have any experience with the calibrating. Rolf

Erick Boileau , February 19, 2008; 03:07 P.M.

I own a 5D and got the 1Ds Mark III 10 days ago, for shure I'll not keep the 5D :-)

David Lau , February 20, 2008; 03:44 A.M.

I got my 1Ds3 one month ago and took it with me in my New Zealand trip. The details in the landscape photos I got are amazing, especially after putting them through Photokit Sharpener.

I have also sold my 5D and 40D after getting the 1Ds3. But when 450D comes out I may buy one. It is useful when I do not want to carry a heavy camera around.

Tony Lebrocq , February 22, 2008; 08:25 A.M.

You are right when you say that the 1Ds is quite heavy - especially with lenses such as the 85mm 1.2 - and you probably wouldn't want to walk around all day with it. But the images produced by this camera are better than anything I have ever experienced (I admit I have little experience with medium format). My 5D is also produces great images but the 1Ds smokes it with it's speed and ease of operation, superb quality feel and extra functionality. Is it really worth the money? - probably not. The law of diminishing returns means you pay a lot more for smaller and smaller improvements. Am I glad I doled out over 5K sterling? - You bet. I think this camera will be with me for quite a few years (so does my wife!). If you can afford it go for it - I don't think you will regret it. If not, I'm sure that an improved 5D will also be a great camera

Charley Clarke , February 22, 2008; 04:16 P.M.

I dont see what the big deal is with the weight of this camera. I use a Mark II which is just a couple OZ lighter and have never found the weight of the camera to be an issue. If someone has that big of a problem with buying a camera because of its weight, maybe they should just get a rebel and a gym membership.

Kah Kit Yoong , February 27, 2008; 02:44 P.M.

I used the 5D for the last 2 years and the 1DsIII on a recent trip. After 3 weeks of solid shooting I barely noticed the weight of the 1DsIII.

chris huzzard , February 28, 2008; 01:10 A.M.

I use a 1Ds3 and have a Mamiya AF. We are not talking the same animal 45 focus points, spectacular accuracy in focusing,rapid fire,etc.etc. Try buying an 85mm 1.2 in Mamiya or a 70-200 is 2.8 for that matter. As for the Nikon; compare it to the 1D Mk3, it is closer to that. It's fun to make all the comparisons but let me say this; The 1DS Mk3 is one hell of a camera. They have fixed the gripes I had with the Mk2 and I am loving it!! Roll on bigger chips from anyone - lets just hope the get the rest of the camera as usable as this one. Cheers Chris

Guy Carnegie , February 28, 2008; 04:23 A.M.

Philip, You mention that the sensor of the Mk3 is smaller than that of the 5D - is that really true? Is it the case, that all 35mm full frame cameras were created equal, but some are more "full frame" than others!?

thanks guy

Adrian Hickson , February 28, 2008; 12:18 P.M.

I've just ordered mine from www.pictureline.com @ $7995. I've been looking for one for a while too....

John Webb , February 28, 2008; 05:49 P.M.

Nice review mate and some ggod shots, that said however what I would like to see in a test of a camera of this quality are shots taken at 50 ISO with Canon's 135mm F2L, said to be one of the sharpest lenses ever made. I've tried finding such test shots and they just aren't available, also this is the one Camera that Canon has never released sample shots for! If I am going to shell out around AU$13,000 I'd like to know before hand exactly what I'd be getting for such a huge price tag! The noise I see in the darker areas of all the shots I've seen has not impressed me, big megapixel numbers doesn't particularly mean better quality only more noise produced over a given surface area. The only thing I like about the 1ds's are they look professional and seem to produce better skin tones, which is fine if thats all you want to use it for, but I think my 5D is superior when it comes to pixel noise and as an all round performer, we won't mention the bunnies here though(I swear someone uses mine as a vacumn cleaner when I'm not around)! :))

Tony Brown , March 06, 2008; 08:20 P.M.

Philip - I enjoyed the review. That said, I've ordered my 1Ds mk III. My 5D with the battery grip is a just 2.6 ounces shy of the 1Ds mk III - so I don't thing I'll notice the difference. I welcome the ability to autofocus with a 1.4X multiplier, which sadly was not possible on the 5D. While I'm waiting for my 1Ds mk III, I guess I'll memorize the manual. Best wishes, Tony

Jonathan Farmer , March 11, 2008; 10:26 A.M.

To Tony Brown, The 5D will auto focus with the Canon 1.4 TC!

Tony Brown , March 16, 2008; 06:47 P.M.

Jonathan: you are right, but only with fast lenses. For fast nature/bird photography with a handheld 400mm zoom at f4.5 the 1.4x TC and the 5D does not work.

Matt Snider , March 22, 2008; 09:35 P.M.

If you're looking for a 1Ds Mark III, I just picked this off of dealmac.com:

$6,800 + free shipping Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 21.1MP Digital SLR Camera Body Dell Home offers the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 21.1-Megapixel Digital SLR Camera Body, model no. 2011B002, for $7,999.99. Apply coupon code "5006SW$MG$KP3Q" and the price falls to $6,799.99. With free shipping, that's the lowest total price we could find by $979. Sales tax is added where applicable. The Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III features a 21.1-megapixel full-frame Canon CMOS sensor, Dual DIGIC III Image Processors, 3" LCD monitor, 45-point AF system, and much more. Coupon ends March 27. Note that the estimated ship time is "6+ weeks."

Best wishes,


Simon King , March 23, 2008; 05:43 A.M.

nice review - thanks

The bottom line for me is detail in landscapes, not the other features , although they may be important they're not the deciding factor (e.g.wheight, operability, functions etc) AFAIC so I'd love to see some pics at 100% - but preferably not until the 5Dmk2 comes out ;-) - The advantage over the current 5D is obvious but the question in my ( and others'?) mind is whether it will be worth it over the 5D mk2 when it comes out,( in terms of detail you can pull for those big juicy enlargements. )

Darek M. , April 05, 2008; 06:25 P.M.

Today, after 5 weeks of using my brand new canon 1ds mark iii, it went dead with permanent err 99:) I had 24-70 L lens at the time when it happened (shooting rapidly in Ai servo). I heard mirror/shutter curtains? unusual action (loud click) on pressing shutter button, before it developed err 99. I'd add that I had a problem with a lof of sticky crud on the CMOS sensor when it arrived. Ubelievable, 8k camera!? Shame on Canon! True, the pictures from the camera are the best that I have seen so far, leaving 5d behind in a different league.

Charles Griffin , April 06, 2008; 11:31 A.M.

Hibiscus up close

Bit the bullet and bought the 1DsM3. CF card slot pin bent on second day. Alignment of card slot might need something, but I fixed the bent pin and will wait to see if it happens again. Previous cameras have not had a problem in this area.

Camera performs quite well. I'm pleased with resolution. The attached image is 25 percent of the full frame. I used a Leitz 60mm f 2.8 macro at f16 and 1/160s, ISO 1250.

Notice the aphids at work.

Tony Brown , April 19, 2008; 06:33 P.M.

I've had my 1Ds mk III for about 4 weeks and shot over 600 wildlife photos. Compared to my 5D, with its 8000 wildlife photos, the 1Ds mk III outperforms the 5D in every way. The shere joy of experiencing the great colour depth and very sharp photos was worth the extra cash.

Image Attachment: canada-goose_08R0745.jpg

Bob Bernardo - LA area disabled , April 29, 2008; 04:50 A.M.

After shooting with the 1Ds mk3 and then using the 5D I was surprised how much slower the shutter sounds on the 5D. The mk3 sounds so crisp.

The auto focus to me is a lot faster on the mk3. Sometimes the 5D hunts around to find the focus area causing the lens to zoom in and out.

Doyne Loyd , May 16, 2008; 04:01 P.M.

I truly do not understand all of the complaints or comments about weight and size. The camera does get heavy if you are shooting hand held with a 500mm lense. Otherwise I have never noticed that it is heavy. The weight adds to the overall stability of the system. I have shot around 30,000 pics with either a 1ds Mark ii or a 1d Mark II some of them at 11,000 feet after a two mile hike with multiple lenses and a heavy tripod. Oh, and I am old enough to collect SS. Most pictures are much better shot off a monopod anyway. I have shot all day with a 1ds on a monopod with a big lense. The reason there is no need for a flash on a pro camera is that the flashes that you find on lower level cameras basically don't work. Or at least I have never been able to get a satisfactory picture with one.

Quite frankly, my opinion is that if you can't carry around 3 or 4 pounds you need to exercise more. Are these comments blunt enough? I have been reading complaints about the weight of these cameras for several years.

Robert Varipapa , June 23, 2008; 10:27 P.M.

My 'old' Mac Pro with 2 x 2.66 GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeons handles output from my 1Ds just fine (currently you can go to 2 x 3.2 GHz Quad-Core Xeons). I have been using Aperture which handles everything nicely. Even my Mac Book Air does reasonably well, albeit at a slow but usable pace.

Mark O. , August 22, 2008; 03:47 A.M.

Regarding comments about the "weight" and that one should be able to carry 3-4 pounds, I agree that 3-4 pounds is easy to carry, but for me, it's the size of the 1DS series that is a problem. Why do they need to make it so large? No, seriously. It's bloody huge, and I think it's unnecessary. Cameras have been increasing in size like a Montesorri class on acid and where does it stop?

Pierre C , September 04, 2008; 11:48 A.M.

> Quite frankly, my opinion is that if you can't carry > around 3 or 4 pounds you need to exercise more.

Sure, when the camera is in the backpack, heavy is OK...

The nice landscape will wait for you to pull the camera out of the backpack. Well, perhaps that beautiful light will be gone by the time you attach the lens... but generally it's OK.

I'm going to spend a month in Taiwan. I will take many shots. Therefore, I am going to dump my 20D and get a 450D. It will save weight. I'm fed up of having neck pains because I'm carrying a brick attached to a camera strap. I was about to get a 5D but then my neck would hurt like hell after one or two weeks of carrying it 12 hours a day. Therefore it will be a 450D and a Tamron 17-50 2.8. Sure a heavier camera would get a better quality shot. But would I carry it all day ? Not sure about that.

Birte Ragland , September 13, 2008; 01:16 A.M.

I agree with everything Madelaine says.I am also in heaven, what a camera.The resolution is out of this world.My 20D went over the rocks after 5 years of constant use.So now I use the 5D as backup and the Ds mark 111 as the main tool of trade.Most of my photography is outdoors and nature related.Funny I don,t find it heavy at all and I am no spring chicken.I also do not use tripods,hand hold the camera with the 400mm lens for all my bird photography.The camera is worth every penny it costs.

Sarah Magdasoc , November 12, 2008; 02:39 P.M.

This camera definitely goes to my wishlist. I've heard and read a lot of reviews about this monster cam----and so far they're all good. I'm expecting to have this awesome cam miraculously made its way on my hands by the end of the year ;-)

Mark Maxon , December 05, 2008; 04:24 P.M.


You are obviously a "Canon whore" like (most of) the folks at Shutterbug. The list of better hand held cameras is getting crowded with Nikon's D3X (a better camera all the way around, when the dust settles, I'll bet). The Mamiya is easily hand held and is anything from Hasselblad.

As to what constitutes a hand holdable camera - didn't we used to hand hold Speed Graphics? You need to put down your Canon sales literature, pull up your pants and go lift some weights.

Good luck on that weight training program!

Tony Brown , December 15, 2008; 01:23 P.M.

Hi Philip, I guess one of the benefits of writing such an informative piece on Canon equipment is that people get to hold you accountable for every nuance of each little detail. You have my sympathy. That being said, your section on Available Light concluded that the 1Ds Mark III had very little noise improvement over a direct comparison with the 5D. Here the key phrase is 'a direct comparison'. However the 1Ds Mark III brings with it two extra bits in the highlight area which are very useful in reducing noise. Following procedures outlined elsewhere one can sometimes get as much as two stops improvement in the 1Ds Mark III noise. I often use this technique, overexpose in camera and then underexpose in photoshop camera raw. It works a treat. After 9 months of joy with the 1Ds Mark III I have to confess my 5D has barely been used. "Expose to the Right" is described at: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/expose-right.shtml

Mark Maxon , February 06, 2009; 04:29 P.M.

Don't look now, Phil, here comes the Leica!

Mark Maxon , February 06, 2009; 04:29 P.M.

Don't look now, Phil, here comes the Leica!

Mark Maxon , February 06, 2009; 04:30 P.M.

Don't look now, Phil, here comes the Leica!

paul williams , March 03, 2010; 08:59 A.M.

If your a pro dont buy this camera was just on a fashion shoot camera wouldnt fire gave Error 99 , since found out its a known fault you can find it on all the Canon websites You dont want to spend that much money on a the top of the range camera that has a known fault , canon should have re called this model to sort out the problem You get what you pay for in this world , when you pay top wack you expect top quality if you dont get it you can pay the same money for something else maybe a Nikon

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