Preamble

I’ve only owned one of the Canon 1 series cameras in my time, it was an EOS 1V, the last and most advanced 35mm camera Canon produced. I only had it for a few months, but it convinced me that I had to take my digital rig full-frame and helped me fund the transition. I’ve lusted after a digital 1 Series ever since.

I haven’t bought one because they’re expensive, enormous, heavy, and impractical for my needs. I want one because they’re amazing, probably not that heavy, and I could work around the other issues.

They’re the flagship, top monster in the Canon ecosystem and I want one. I feel like the Porsche Boxter owner who yearns for a 911 or the cheeseburger purchaser who couldn’t stretch to the bacon double cheese. This nonsense aside, they are nice things in their own right; attractive, ergonomic and powerful; the autofocus is amazing, as is the ISO performance. Plus there is still some other functionality that Canon reserve for their top dogs.

A decade or so ago the 1 series was split into two models, one for studio and landscape work that biased resolution and image quality, and one for sport and wildlife work that skewed in favour of autofocus and frame rate. For the last 8 years the top spot has been occupied by the Canon 1DX and and its sequel, both of which are speed machines. Engineered from the ground up to provide insanely fast and accurate autofocus and blistering frame rates they’re entirely geared toward professional sports and wildlife photographers. Aside from everything else this means that they require larger and more expensive batteries, cards and have lower resolution than my current 5D bodies.

The case against:

  • Having a pair would set me back over £10k if bought new
  • I would shrink under their weight
  • I wouldn’t able to crop as much.
  • People would see me coming from a mile away

The case for:

  • It would be cool
  • The frame rate would be useful on the rare occasions that I shoot wildlife or motorsport*.
  • It would be cool

*It might be, but probably wouldn’t. Most likely it would crush my keep rate. One can accrue a lot of crap at 10fps.

The Plan

Back in February I took an original Canon 5D to Cornwall for the weekend and had a great time with it. I shot it like a film camera, took it everywhere and took some pictures I’m really happy with.

My plan this time was to take a 1 series body to London for the weekend and do something similar. I would take some pictures, get a grip on myself and hopefully slay this dragon.

It did not go well.

The Beast

The camera in question is a loaned Canon 1Ds MkIII. It boasts a 20.1 megapixel sensor, a 5fps frame rate, low shutter lag, reduced blackout time and a chassis built from adamantium. It was released in 2007 and sat at the top of the Canon range before being replaced by the Canon EOS 1DX in 2012.

Part two of ‘the plan’ was to use my 85mm f/1.4L because loads of reviewers think it’s amazing and I think it’s a bit crap. Given that the fault must be mine, I thought I should go out and try harder.

London & the Woods

Our time in London was lovely, shorter than we’d planned, and while a very pleasant and sociable trip there were few opportunities to play with the camera. The loan was a short one, and given finite time and some nice autumn light I headed for the woods on the following Monday, in search of something.

What I found were some thorny bushes and further evidence that images are there waiting to be found, one just has to go looking. After bimbling for a bit taking a few pictures with the 85mm I did resort to cliche and decided to try ‘the one where you shift the lens while I the shutter is open” and “the one where you point the very wide lens vertically upwards in a wood”, both of which garnered some attractive results.

Conclusions

The 1Ds isn’t really that much heavier than my current rig. Once you’ve decided to take a full-frame DSLR out with you the variance in subsequent size is moot. The Images that come out of it are unsurprisingly lovely and I still really like the controls, heft and build quality. 

The interesting thing, is that if you were so inclined you could have a 20MP, fanatically well-built, weather-sealed full-frame camera for less than £800. Provided high ISO performance isn’t key to your needs you can climb mountains with this thing and drop it a few times on the way.

I didn’t take anything with this camera that I couldn’t have taken with my own gear, and I’m not going to buy one. The freedom I felt with the original 5D was absent this time, probably due to time-constraints. I’m destined to always want a 1 Series, they way I wanted a Psion Organiser when I was at school, the way I want an iMac Pro now, or imagine having a Leica M10 in few years time.

I will not be led astray*.

*Caveat – Unless a deal/swap/situation occurs that means that I am/do.