Canon 1Ds Digital SLR Camera


I was quickly disappointed by the Canon D60 digital SLR which I bought in April of 2002, in the weeks immediately after its initial release.   The main problem I had with it centered around its auto-focus system, which consists of just 3 sensors placed along the centerline of the viewfinder.   Although many people have criticised its poor performance in low-light conditions such as inside a building, the situation where I had problems was in my airshow photography and bird photography.   Most of the time the camera couldn't achieve sharp focus on flying aircraft or birds.   When it did focus properly I was extremely impressed by the quality of the images it produced, which were much cleaner than I'd ever achieved using a manually focussed Tokina ATX 150-500mm lens on a Pentax MZ-5 or Z-1 loaded with various brands of ASA 400 film.   The sheer number of photos I was taking with the D60 also ensured that I got far more "keepers" than I'd achieved with film, but I was still very disappointed that Canon chose to put such a poor auto-focus system into a camera body for which I paid $US2200.   Come December of the same year, and I was the new owner of a Canon 1Ds, the new top-of-the-line Canon digital camera, sporting a price tag of $US8000!   This, I hoped, would solve my problems.


The 1Ds sports the same 45 point auto-focus system as  its predecessor,  the 1D.   Users on the Canon chat group I follow insisted that the auto-focus system is not only effective in achieving sharp focus, it also does so blindingly fast.   One story I remember hearing is that if you point a 1Ds and a D60 at the same object at the same time, and someone walks between the cameras and the object and keeps walking, then the 1Ds would refocus on the person and then back on the object, while the D60 wouldn't react to the person at all!

Another feature of the 1Ds which was highly desirable to me is that its CMOS image sensor is the same size as 35mm film, meaning that my 15 - 30mm Sigma zoom lens would cover the same area of view on the 1Ds as the 15 - 30mm Sigma lens which I also had in Pentax mount.   In contrast, the D60 sensor is smaller than 35mm film, resulting in an in-camera crop of the frame which turns a 15 - 30mm lens into the equivalent of a 24 - 48mm lens.   The 1Ds therefore freed me from dependence on the Pentax camera and lens which I'd kept to allow me to do true wide-angle work, and also freed me from film photography and its attendant nightmares!

One nightmare of digital photography is dust on the sensor, or in the case of the 1Ds and D60, the filter in front of the sensor.   The D60 designers foolishly decided that the camera sensor couldn't be cleaned if the camera was being powered by battery.   Thankfully, the 1Ds doesn't have this limitation, which means that the sensor can be cleaned even when you're in the middle of a several day hiking or camping trip.


The 1Ds is a professional grade camera, which means that it's a massive, heavy beast.   The Pentax film cameras I was used to have a reputation for smallness, which fits in very well with the type of mobile photography I do while travelling and photographing wildlife.   It's unpleasant to move to a system where part of the aura of "professional" seems to mean large size.   The size of the 1Ds might or might not be justified in engineering terms, but I for one will be very pleased if the day ever arrives when a rugged, full-featured digital SLR comes in a smaller package.

The 1Ds uses the same NP-E3 NiMH battery as the 1D.   Unfortunately, the other two Canon cameras I use, the G2 and the D60, use a completely different battery.   This is a considerable drawback when you're travelling around the world as I do, because it means that you're forced to carry several different chargers and their corresponding cables.   The 1Ds charger, the NC-E2, is particularly burdensome because of its large size.   If you're going to use an external power supply, than you also have to carry around the AC adapter and the DC adapter which it plugs into, which is the same size and shape as the battery itself.   Not only is the NP-E3 battery bulky, it's also very expensive, at $US125 each.   If I'd followed the same route I did with the D60 and bought 3 spare batteries, this would have been a very expensive proposition.   However, the solution I ended up taking was to buy something called the digital camera battery, an external NiMH battery pack which has two outputs and uses different cables to provide appropriate power levels to different devices.

Another area where the 1Ds isn't very user friendly is in its remote control operation.   In contrast to the simple and cheap Pentax cable releases I was used to, the Canon RS-80N3 cable release is expensive, at $US50.   Even the Canon G2 point and shoot camera I bought comes with a simple wireless remote control as a standard option.   The LC4 wireless controller for the 1Ds is doubtless very nice, operating up to 100 meters from the camera, but it requires you to lug around an adaptor which plugs into the camera, and it costs $US380.


Supposedly, the battery doesn't hold its maximum rated charge until its been completely drained and recharged three or four times.   This is presumably an inherent deficiency of the Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery which it employs, so Canon isn't really to blame.

The main communications link between the camera and computer is an IEEE 1394 "FireWire" link.  Windows XP has support for FireWire built into the operating system, but previous version of Windows don't.   I installed FireWire drivers on my PC, which is running Windows 98 upgraded to 98SE standard, but I still haven't been able to talk to the computer.   Numerous other people have had similar experiences, apparently there are some tricks to getting it working, like you might have to have the camera switched on and connected before you install the drivers.  I haven't had time to try these suggestions, so I don't know if it'll make any difference in my case.

I'm quite content to download my photos over a slow USB link instead of FireWire, but the FireWire link is necessary to program your name into the camera, which could be useful if it's lost or stolen.   There are also a set of "personal functions" in the camera which can only be set using the FireWire link, which seems like a very poor decision by Canon.   These "personal functions" are very similar to other "custom functions" which can be set using the 1Ds menu displayed on its LCD.   It's not obvious why some functions are classified as "custom" functions and others as "personal" functions, or why the "personal" functions can't be set from the menu.   I want to enable the "enlargement" function in the camera, which can be used to check if the photo is in focus, or if there's major dirt on the sensor, but this is a "personal" function and so I can't set it.   It's beyond me why this function is disabled by default, it seems like another strange decision.   It isn't obvious how to invoke the enlargement function, either - for the record, you need to display the photo on the LCD, hold down the "display" button and then also press the button immediately to the left of the "*" button.