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Question of the Month
March 2010

What do I think of the Canon 1D Mark IV?

Days before my recent trip to Costa Rica for our nature photo tour and hummingbird shoot, I received my first Mark IV. From a retailer -- Allen's Camera in Levittown, PA, not from Canon USA, so my opinions here are unbiased and without obligation.

First thing I can say is the camera can take a hit, I think, since I dropped the darn thing two-thirds of the way through my trip and in doing so jammed or smashed the lens locking pin in the camera mount. This prevented a lens from locking onto the camera, although the camera still worked and I had to be careful that when I carried it, or rotated the camera to a vertical position, I did so by turning the lens barrel of the telephoto and not the camera body, which would have twisted the camera off the lens!

As I write this the camera is off to Canon for repair, and I expect an easy repair. I will certainly amend this report if Canon comes back with a 'beyond economical repair' statement!

guanThe subjects we shot -- hummers, reptiles, animals in the deep forest, at open bird feeders, etc. -- did not challenge the follow-focus capabilities of the Mark IV, and indeed on the entire trip I only had one chance to follow a flying bird as it flew parallel to me, not straight at me. The bird, a crested guan, is the size of a turkey and its wings often extended far from its body, and its flight, a labored bobbing flight, made it difficult to keep the sensor on one spot. Still, the camera did a good job of keeping the bird in focus, despite the 1/200th sec shutter speed I used. The flight happened faster than I anticipated, and in retrospect I should have raised the ISO higher so that my shutter speed would have increased. The same thing as I should have done with an owl (see the Tip of the Month).

While photographing hummingbirds, I did not see any noticeable difference between my Mark III 1Ds and the Mark IV, as I used them both. Both did a good job of acquiring focus on the hummingbirds as they hovered, although I used the Mark IV with my 500mm, and it functioned well there.

I was a bit surprised that vertical lines, like tree trunks or twigs, sometimes were not recognized, especially when I was in a vertical format. Like I've had to do with my other cameras, I had to point the lens at a more obvious, and sometimes horizontal, target, acquire focus, and then swing back to my subject's position. To be fair, I had this problem when I was aimed at small branches where I expected a hummingbird to perch, and when a hummer landed there the camera picked up the bird quickly.

What I was truly impressed with was the ISO capabilities. My default ISO was 400, the same as I use with my Mark III cameras, but I used ISO higher ISOs most of the time. In fact, in looking at my initial 'selects' of images used for our Tour Report virtually all of my non-full flash shots were made at ISO 800 or higher, and went as high as ISO 4000
oncilla noiseoncilla cub

This wild oncilla, or tiger cat, kitten was photographed at the edge of a forest clearing at about 6:45AM, about 30 minutes after sunrise had there been any. However it was a dreary, rainy day, and this oncilla was shot at ISO 4000. You can see the detail in the enlargement, which was quite good. There is definite noise visible at 100% on my RAW converter, but I don't think that it is enough to disqualify the image from being salable. The exposure was 1/125th and without flash.

Unless future flight tests prove otherwise, I'm extremely enthusiastic about the Mark IV. It was a real joy to be able to raise my ISO to 2000 whenever it was required, and to get sharp, relatively noise-free images in doing so. Sure, there was some noise, but it wasn't too noticeable or annoying, and the alternative of getting no shots was worth the trade-off.

I used the video feature as well, although I still question why this is incorporated into a pro-level camera. While it was fun to play back a video, I still felt as if I was just playing and using a toy. Professional grade videos are being made with the Mark IV, I've been told, but the fact is, video editting requires a lot of work and a whole new work flow and work load, and I wonder if I'll do anything with the few videos I shot. They would have some neat application as an addition to a PowerPoint program, or similar AV presentation, if the shooter ever gets around to editting the videos.

While it should be commonsense, I found myself taking some great videos when the camera was in a vertical format, and unless I'm mistaken, videos must be shot in a horizontal format for viewing, unless you lay a monitor, or your neck, on the side. So, that's something to keep in mind.

Bottom line, I loved the camera, mainly because of the ISO which provided enormous new freedom for my shooting. So, if anyone would like to buy some Mark IIs or Mark IIIs, please contact me!


Questions of the Month

How do I deal with shaving weight for carrying my gear?
Why do I advocate manual exposure so avidly?
Where can I find Depth of Field reference charts?

What is the Kiboko backpack? Is it the New Best Pack?
Is there a correct position for the upright on a Wimberley actionhead?

How, Who, and Why? The story behind our new web site.

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