Canon 1Ds Mark II Review



Taylor w/ the Canon 1Ds Mark II

In 2005, when I was still an amateur photographer, there was one DSLR that I dreamed of having but couldn’t possibly spend the money on; the Canon 1Ds Mark II. At a price of $8,000 or £6,000 it was way out my budget. In fact, it was way out of most photographers budgets, pro and non-pro alike.

The Canon 1Ds Mark II features a 16.7 megapixel sensor, a 2 inch 230,000 dot LCD screen, 45 point auto focus and is capable of 4 frames per second. A feature set that in 2005 was cutting edge. Seven years later those numbers seem quite antiquated. Especially when you can get a newer technology camera, say the Canon 7D for about the same price as a used 1Ds Mark II. The 7D goes for about £1,000, brand new! The 7D has an 18 megapixel sensor, a huge 3 inch 920,000 dot LCD screen and a burst rate of 8 frames per second. It also does HD video and has much better high ISO performance.

But it isn’t full frame. So, for me, it’s out!

The Canon 5D Mark II is my primary body. I can’t say a negative word about it. It’s nearly everything I’ve ever wanted in a digital camera. But when I needed to purchase a backup body, mostly to photograph weddings, I did my due diligence and chose wisely. I didn’t want another 5D Mark II as I shoot in bad weather constantly and the 5D Mark II has horrible weather sealing. Even the 7D is better weather sealed. I also wanted faster autofocus. If the 5D Mark II has any drawbacks it is these two: weather sealing and autofocus.

My options were: Canon 1Ds Mark III, with its giant LCD screen and the same sensor used on the 5D Mark II with 21.1 megapixels and costing, used, about £2,200. The Canon 1DX, I won’t even comment as it’s still brand new and very cost prohibitive to all but the wealthiest photographers. And then there’s the Canon 1Ds Mark II. The workhorse that many professional photographers lovingly used for a couple of years, including Annie Leibovitz. Well, if it’s good enough for Annie, it’s good enough for me.

Having done my research and not wanting to spend £2,200 or more on an extra camera body I sprung for the Canon 1Ds Mark II. My reasons are:

• The 1Ds Mark II at 16.7 megapixels is still an incredibly capable machine. I never shoot at full resolution unless I know my client if going to need giant enlargements anyway. For a wedding I shoot on RAW 1 or jpeg medium with the 5D Mark II and I shoot jpeg medium with the 1Ds Mark II at its highest quality. Images are huge and I don’t see any need to go larger. In fact, Canon seems to agree with this as they’ve made their new 1DX an 18 megapixel camera, which is a step down from its predecessor, the 1Ds Mark III at 21.1 megapixels.

• The autofocus on the Canon 1Ds Mark II is simply mind-blowing and when compared to the 5D Mark II it really shows why it’s part of the 1D series. Almost before I’ve pressed the shutter halfway down it’s already focused and ready to shoot. Sometimes it’s even faster than I am and I have to catch up to it. Sounds like a weird concept but it’s just that fast.

• I find it captures skin tone incredibly well. It reminds me of film actually, Kodak Portra, or Fuji Provia. It contains visible grain, something that people are trying to avoid like mad, but I think DSLRs are actually getting too good and the pixels are too clean. I like a little grain. Gives the image a bit more depth and flatters a bit more. Again, this sounds like a really odd thing. Most people want DSLRs that have NO grain even at ISO 3,200 and higher and here I am saying I prefer the look that the 1Ds Mark II gives with its grain. There are situations where I would prefer to use a higher ISO, something above the 1,600 on the 1Ds Mark II and for that I would definitely reach for the 5D Mark II. Food photography in dark restaurants for instance.

• Weather sealing. The Canon 1Ds Mark II is nearly waterproof. With an L series lens that has the rubber washer on the base it can be dropped into water and still come out ok. I haven’t tested this, but I have taken it out in the rain and I didn’t worry about it at all. There’s something nice about that. Knowing that even when the weather is bad you can keep shooting.

• Ability to write to 2 cards. This is a huge advantage, especially when photographing weddings. Because there are so many wedding photographers writing articles online to boost their page rank, the average person is much more clued up on what to look for in a wedding photographer. One of the main things these wedding photographers advocate is that whichever wedding photographer you choose has a backup camera or is writing to 2 cards, thus backing up every image they take. It also means I get to use all of those SD cards I bought at various times and for various point and shoot cameras.

In summary, this is not a direct comparison to the Canon 5D Mark II. It is simply my reasons why, if you’re on a budget and are looking for a second camera body, you should look into the 1Ds Mark II instead of doing what everyone else does and spending a fortune to get a machine that will lose 25% of its value the moment you purchase it.

Things aren’t all rosy with the 1Ds Mark II. There are a couple of features that I’d like to see on it, such as:

• A larger, high resolution LCD screen. The current one is just plain rubbish. The low quality 2 inch LCD screen on the 1Ds Mark II is almost unusable. It doesn’t show the image colors correctly and I’m constantly thinking I took a bad shot. However, having used film for 10 years prior to going digital I have a very good understanding of how to make a great image without a preview. It’s just nice to have it. I don’t even mind the size of the LCD screen actually, just the resolution. Awful!

• A self-cleaning sensor would be nice. I love knowing that every time I turn my 5D Mark II on and off it shakes some of the dust bunnies off the sensor and onto, well, someplace else. Only to return minutes later. But still, for a brief time they are redistributed.

• Better high ISO performance. Images on the 1Ds Mark II above 800 ISO are, how can I put this? Not that great! Anything below 800 and you’re dealing with some of the nicest files ever to come out of a DSLR, above 800 and you are going to have a lot of editing to do. I like grain, but not that much.

And that’s it really. So why didn’t I just buy the 1Ds Mark III then? It’s got everything I want on the list above? Price! I wasn’t prepared to spend £1,000-£1,500 more for a camera that didn’t have anything that would really enhance my images. After all, 8 years ago I owned the Canon 1V. A film camera with NO LCD screen, NO self-sensor cleaner (didn’t need it) and film at the time above 800 ISO was nearly unusable as well. I actually like taking a leap back in time and shooting with the 1Ds Mark II. It makes me feel that I won’t have to compulsively buy new equipment every 2 years. And I like having a camera that not many wedding photographers in Sussex have. Everyone shoots with the latest and greatest and here I am with my 7 year old Canon 1Ds Mark II creating images that are far superior.

If this camera does one thing good it’s this; it shows what a great photographer can do and it highlights what a bad photographer is bad at. You need to know your stuff to shoot with this thing. And, having spent 16 years doing this, I do.

I highly recommend this camera to any photographer needing a 2nd body. Let the other people take the hits on the newer gear and in 2-4 years pick that up for a fraction of the cost when new. It’s the smart way to play this new digital game.

***UPDATE*** After shooting with the 1Ds Mark II for the whole of the 2012 wedding season, I decided to sell it and grab another 5D Mark II to use as my second, which at it’s current price since the release of the 5D III is a bargain. The 1Ds II is a beautiful machine and very capable, but the noise at high ISOs was killing me. The LCD was just too hard to read any data from it and I couldn’t make decisions I was happy with using the LCD as a preview. It constantly had me second guessing my images. The buffer… again, just frustrated me too much. And with the 5D Mark II being so inexpensive, I now think there is a new bargain camera on the market. Perhaps the biggest bargain we have ever seen in digital photography.

 

1Ds Mark II is Great for Skin Detail

Images are Razor Sharp Even with Shallow Depth of Field

 

8 comments


  • Interesting review! My main camera is a 1Ds Mk2. My wife has a 5D2 which has more noise in the shadow areas! As you correctly point out, for the price there is little to compete!
    (I started in film and then 5D, 1D, 1Ds, 1D Mk3 – now only a 1V and 1Ds Mk2).

    June 24, 2012
  • Michael Andersen

    Hello Taylor,

    Enjoyed your very god story about the 1Ds II. Wanted to add that I also got that cam as my main camera and has the 5DII as a spare. Darn good combo, that kicks:-)

    Thanks a lot for your time.

    Kind regards

    Michael

    September 17, 2012
  • Gordon Hartley

    What an informative review. Thank you. I am going to buy a 1DS mk 2 in the morning 23/10/12 and I now feel more comfortable with my decision. Currently, i use a 5D mk 2 and I began to question my reasoning for buying the 1DS but now i’m ok.

    September 22, 2012
  • […] have been shooting with the Canon 1Ds Mark II as my backup for about a month now. If you read my previous post you know that I am and always have been a really big fan of this […]

    October 17, 2012
  • I shoot with the 5d mk2, I use to have the 1ds mk2. Although I don’t miss the LCD, or some of the more annoying controls and high ISO’s, there was that film look and I loved the viewfinder. It just felt so real in my hands. I still miss it. Do you?

    May 13, 2013
    • admin

      I agree.

      I miss the look, the feel in my hand and that film-like quality that no current digital SLRs can match.

      But yes, the points you mentioned are not worth the good points.

      May 13, 2013
  • I own the 1ds II for four years and have used it for that long proffesional, I still love it for the picture quality, that is why I can not gat myself to buy another camera. I overcame the small lcd problem by buying a loop, a digifinder pro wich hangs around my neck and whenever I feel i need to review a shot it just gives me the edge to get an idea of what I did. Its not a perfect solution bit it is sooo much better then nothing, it enlarges the screen and most importantly cuts out all light when reviewing. I still love this camera even with all of its short comings…

    May 14, 2013
  • Oh yeah and I use it at 3200 asa, no worries, in ps raw I put all sharpness settings in the middle as all noise reduction settings also in the middle and files look nice, if you don’t enlarge them insanely that is, at least for my type of photography. And the menu is well…clumsy, You’ll get the hang of it, unless you have no experience at all.

    May 14, 2013

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