Canon v Nikon - The Next Round

Canon's latest digital model is a very special launch for the company. For the first time, professional photographers now have an alternative brand to Nikon when it comes to top-end digital SLR cameras. But is it too little, too late?

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By  Kieran Potts Published  April 29, 2002

Introduction|~||~||~|It looks like the 1v. It feels like the 1v. It even operates like the 1v. As with Nikon's pioneering professional digital SLR camera, launched late 1999, Canon has modelled its new EOS-1D on its top-end film-based models.

Aside its appearance, even the specifications are almost identical: 45-point auto-focus, 21-point evaluative metering system, ES lens mount, 21 custom functions plus 25 'personal' controls for fine-tuning, and a strong body resistant to nature's elements.

But the 1D has been a long-time coming. The Nikon D1 has now even been replaced by two younger siblings, the D1X and the D1H, launched earlier last year. Both specialise in different types of photography: the D1X is optimised for studio work, portraiture, wedding and catalogue photography (large resolution but low continuous fire), and the D1H for fast action and sports photography (high continuous exposure but lower resolution).

All this time, though, Canon professionals have been left without any equivalent model.

Canon Middle East told us that, 'in line with the philosophy of the company', considerable effort has been put into the research and design of its first digital high-end EOS, to ensure reliability and superior design and performance. Finally, though, the wait is over. The first working model of the Canon EOS-1D arrived in the Middle East at the end of February.

With the D1X and D1H already well established as the most popular professional digital outfits, it was necessary for Canon to find a niche for the 1D.

Aside from being a long-awaited and very welcome update for EOS users wishing to go digital without the expense of replacing their entire collection of lenses, the biggest selling point for non-Canon users is the 1D's staggering 8 frames per second continuous exposure speed (lasting for up to 21 shots).

The fastest gun in town, the 1D is clearly ahead of the D1H's 5 frames per second for 40 shots, though at a slightly lower resolution. Optimised for the needs of photojournalists and sports photographers, the 1D will be in direct competition with the D1H.
At $6,500 for the body alone, though, few of us will be considering this a worthy contender for our birthday lists. Within a year or two, though, expect to see the 1D there amongst the thick of the action as the press gang and sports pros capture every nanosecond of the drama!

The EOS-1D's specifications are particularly impressive. It incorporates a newly developed 4.48 megapixel CCD sensor (4.15 million effective pixels), with the largest imaging area to be found on any interchangeable-lens digital SLR, making the camera's effective focal length only 1.3-times longer than it would be with 35mm film (it's one of the best digital SLRs for wide-angle photography, therefore).

Canon has also designed a new 'imaging engine' for high-speed data processing.

It could have been a 5-megapixel model, of course, or even 6. However, the EOS-1D is all about speed. At 8 frames per second, first-class image quality will be maintained with 4-megapixels until processing speeds are improved. As with the Nikon D1H, mind you, this resolution produces adequately sized prints for most magazine and newspaper commissions.

Other specifications compare favourably with rival models. It has a maximum shutter speed of 1/16000 second and a top X-sync of 1/500. There are no less than 10 white-balance settings, including three customisable, allowing complete control over colour temperature matching (it is the only digital SLR to allow this to be adjusted in terms of degrees Kelvin).

A white-balance bracketing feature is incorporated, up to 3 stops either way in 1-stop increments.
As for colour-coding systems, several different matrixes can be stored and adjusted (for instance, one may be optimised for bubblejet printers). Users may choose to upload image manipulation tools, such as curve control, image sharpening, JPEG compression rates, and so on.

Canon has invented an innovative feature that allows users to organise folders in which different photographic assignments are stored. The 1D also comes equipped with a built-in microphone allowing the photographer to record audio annotation to any image.

There is, of course, ISO-speed bracketing and histogram display to check the overall exposure of each photo (warning signals are automatically triggered if parts of any image are significantly overexposed).

Canon users will not have any problem migrating to the 1D. The arrangement of camera controls is very similar to those found on the entire range of EOS models; most of the additional digital functions are operated through a series of buttons on the back panel. They are clearly marked and their basic functions do not take long to master, even if you are an infant when it comes to digital photography.

Build quality, like the analogue EOS-1s, is superb. The body alone is surprisingly lightweight yet solid; all compartments and sockets (there are over 70 in all) can be completely sealed. The contours and handgrip (both vertical and horizontal) make the camera's bulk easy to control.

It also incorporates a FireWire interface, as well as USB, for data transfer rates of approximately 400 Megabits per second - particularly useful for studio shoots.

The standard features are more or less the same as those found on the analogue EOS-1v: 45-point auto-focus system; a wide range of through-the-lens metering patterns (including 21-zone evaluative); 100 per cent viewfinder coverage; and the usual array of exposure modes.

Overall, the EOS-1D is well out of the price range of most enthusiasts and hobbyists: if you are in that category then, even if you could afford this camera, it is likely you will get more from a comprehensive 35mm or, better still, medium format outfit. It is likely, however, this camera will be of great appeal to sports and press photographers, especially those who have Canon lenses.

Nevertheless, using the 1D for a few days has taught a few of the sceptics here at Photography Middle East that the future may well, indeed, lie in digital. With a camera like this - almost identical in design and functionality to its 35mm counterparts - the additional digital features can only add to creative picture-taking potential. In particular, the ability to review, save, delete or transfer images instantaneously is a major selling point of digital now; when performance matches rival 35mm models as it does with the 1D, it seems there are very few reasons why not to go digital.

The EOS-1v is a highly praised professional film-based SLR camera. The 1D only improves upon that. But, to what degree it will replace the Nikon D1s, remains to be seen.

If you're thinking of buying, then expect a lengthy wait. Although the first 1Ds are being shipped in the Middle East even as you read this, most have already been sold and the waiting list is long!

We asked Sreedha Sreekumar, digital imaging manager for Grand Stores, one of the largest distributors of Nikon cameras in the Middle East, how he thinks the arrival of Canon's EOS-1D will impact upon the popularity of Nikon's top-end digital SLRs. He replied:

"It's not at all going to have any effect on the Nikon D1 series! Nikon has for three years now firmly established itself as the only professional brand when it comes to digital. For professional models, Nikon has a 95 per cent market share, both in the Middle East and globally. All professional photographers have Nikon cameras. For anyone to now jump to Canon, it is not just the cost of replacing the camera body they have to think about, but replacement of their entire set of lenses - the most expensive part of every photographer's outfit.

"Also, after the D1, Nikon created two new models, the D1X and the D1H. Both are intended for different types of photography - the D1X for studio and the D1H for outdoors photography. The EOS-1D is trying to be somewhere between the two, but I just don't think photographers are going to buy that. Professionals want the optimum performance, and the D1s are far better equipped to deliver that, respective of the type of photography being undertaken.

"It may be that the 1D is also trying to fill the gap between professional digital SLRs and those for enthusiasts and hobbyists - there is still a big void between these two. However, Nikon will soon launch a new intermediate digital camera, the D100 - perhaps to be released in the Middle East in the next month or so. It will have 6 million pixels and at half the price of the D1X. It is certainly a viable alternative for many aspiring photographers, although it is intended primarily to give Fuji a run for its money, competing with the hugely successful S2 Pro."
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