Canon EOS 1D Mark IV Review
by Jim Keenan -  2/11/2010

The Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, the latest evolution of Canon's DSLR line, was released in December 2009. Along with the higher resolution 1Ds Mark III, the IV is the faster-shooting member of Canon's one,two punch for professionals and serious amateurs (really serious given the $4,999 USD MSRP). The camera's predecessor, the 1D Mark III, remains on the Canon website at the time of this review (at a relatively bargain-priced $3,999), but the IV has some significant specification differences to consider when deciding which camera is the better deal.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

Resolution is up to 16 megapixels (a 60% increase) on a nearly identically-sized APS-H sensor that produces a 1.3x crop factor (35mm film equivalent) for the about 50 Canon EF lenses that can mount on the body. Dual Digic 4image processors support 14-bit data conversion, the 10-frame per second (fps) continuous shooting rate carries over, and 1080p HD video at various frame rates has been added. Oh, and the ISO sensitivity range goes from 100 to 12,800 nominally, with a low (L) stop at 50 and three additional stops on the high end (H1, H2, H3) that ring up at 25,600, 51,200 and 10,2400 respectively - simply the widest range of ISO sensitivity for any Canon camera yet.

The new AF system is described as Canon's most advanced to date, featuring a 45-point AF sensor with 39 cross-type points and an all new AI Servo II AF mode featuring "improved algorithms that help improve stability, reliability and focus, no matter the situation." That cross-type point count is more than twice that of the Mark III. The 3.0 inch LCD monitor is the same size as the Mark III, but with enhancements to improve clarity and sharpness. There are memory card slots for CF type I/II as well as SD/SDHC media.

Canon includes an eyecup, neck strap, stereo AV and USB cables, battery and charger, instruction manual, and CD-ROM software with each camera, which is available as a body only.

We had two lenses available for use with the IV, the new hybrid stabilization L series 100mm macro (which is the subject of its own review on this site and the stabilized L series 24-105mm f/4 zoom which ended up getting most of the work by virtue of its variety of focal lengths. Here's what the focal range of the 24-105 looks like:

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
Wide angle

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

The specs on the 1D Mark IV are certainly impressive, so let's see how it gets along in the field.

The Mark IV is a large, heavy DSLR, festooned with buttons and controls. It has the taller body that accommodates the larger battery found in professional level equipment and always seems to elicit the "that's some camera - are you a professional?" type comments from onlookers. Materials, fit, and finish keep with the lofty price of admission to adopt the Mark IV.

The body is weather-resistant thanks to 76 gaskets and seals that surround the buttons and seams, and when paired with most "L" series lenses and/or the Canon Speedlite 580EX II, the entire system also remains weather-resistant. Coming home to southern California from the Winter Olympics in Whistler, B.C., we opted to drive most of the way on the more scenic U.S. Highway 101 rather than the interstate. Much of the trip was spent in winds of 25 to 35 mph (gusting to 50) and heavy rain, and the Mark IV was used often for photo ops.

Even protecting the camera and lens as much as possible from wind and water while limiting time outside in the inclement weather, it was comforting to know the camera was hardened against the possibility of an errant raindrop getting in someplace it shouldn't.

Ergonomics and Controls
Most folks will know right away if they need or don't need a Mark IV based on specifications or price alone, those of you still on the fence could start your decision-making process by just picking the camera up. If the weight doesn't scare you off, the ergonomics should help win you over. It's big and heavy, but Canon has done a nice job of contouring the grip portion of the body to the right hand. When I'm just walking around, I tend to carry the camera rather than sling it over my shoulder, and the Mark IV grip stays pretty comfortable for extended periods.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

I'm not a fan of the multicontroller button for menu selection. The proximity to the raised portion of the body adjacent to the monitor seemed to interfere with moving from menu to menu and I'd get inadvertent selections of menu items rather than the next menu. A much better option was to use the main dial to move between menus. Folks with smaller fingers might be fine, but my hand is average size, so I can't imagine anyone with big hands having an easy time using the multi-controller for menu work. I also don't care for the on/off switch location, which basically requires a two-handed grip on the camera to operate that involves holding the camera with the right hand and flipping the switch with the left.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

For vertical format shooting, the camera has a second set of controls and a shutter button arrayed at the bottom right of the body (which becomes the top right when you shoot vertical) so the user doesn't have to wrap the shooting hand over the top of the body to reach the regular shutter button.

Shooting information and settings are displayed on the top or bottom LCD panels as well as the 3.0-inch monitor, which depend on individual camera settings. External buttons or controls permit fairly quick access to many settings likely to be useful when shooting on the fly.

Menus and Modes
The Mark IV's menus and displays are relatively straightforward, but since this is a professional-level DSLR, you get custom function menus with a host of sub-menus to tailor camera performance to your particular preferences. For example, there are 17 sub-menus for the "exposure" custom function alone (and a total of 62 sub-menus for the four custom functions). It's probably not a bad idea to review the menu options before shooting to familiarize yourself with them. I did, and still managed to miss that the default setting for "auto power off" on the IV is "off" - as in the camera won't shut itself off if you leave the power on. I left the power switch on for a day or so, and when I pulled the IV out to get a shot of the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver, the camera battery was dead.

Shooting modes are what you'd expect from a professional camera and include manual, semi auto and one auto mode only.

The 3.0 inch liquid crystal monitor has about 920,000 dot composition and is adjustable for seven levels of brightness. The monitor is usable for image composition and capture under most conditions, but struggled in the bright sun and snow-covered slopes at Whistler, where reflections were a constant problem. It's a good monitor, but the Olympic Alpine and Nordic events proved a tough nut to crack for live view and movie capture. Coverage is about 100%.

The viewfinder offers about 100% coverage and has a diopter adjustment to fit varying eyesight levels.

When you lay out the kind of money to afford a Mark IV body alone, you expect performance of a very high level, and this camera is up to the task.

Shooting Performance
Startup is quick; the default setting is for sensor cleaning when the camera is switched on or off and takes about three seconds to run its course. But you can abort the cleaning on startup by doing a half-push on the shutter button at any time. Single shot-to-shot times are basically as fast as you can push the shutter button, re-acquire focus, and shoot again. Shutter lag and focus acquisition are fast, timing out at 0.02 and 0.17 seconds respectively, but the camera feels even quicker than these numbers suggest.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 0.01
Nikon D5000 0.02
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV 0.02
Pentax K-x 0.03

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV 0.18
Nikon D5000 0.19
Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 0.20
Pentax K-x 0.25

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV >120 10.7
Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 16 7.6
Pentax K-x 17 4.4
Nikon D5000 30 3.9

Continuous high-speed shooting ran about 10.7 fps, a bit better than Canon claims. I quit at 25 consecutive shots, but Canon rates the IV for more than 120 consecutive shots if you're shooting JPEGs at quality level 8 (I shot at 10) with the 16GB UDMA card I used. Suffice to say, the IV will shoot really fast for a really long time.

Does anybody need that sort of continuous speed? Well, yes, on occasion, and that's one reason when you watch a sporting event virtually every pro shooter is carrying one of two brands of camera that can shoot in the 8-9-10 fps realm. Here's a few luge shots to help illustrate how faster can be better. I set up on the rail at the edge of the track in the fastest portion of the course; the track at this point is slightly curved and the racers come into view from out of the curve moving left to right, and travelling 80 to 90 mph. I should also point out that the guys who shoot this stuff for a living were nowhere to be seen at this spot, and I soon found out why.

The two shots below are of a "forerunner," a non-competitor who runs the course just before the competition starts and then reports to the starter on track conditions. No one pays any attention to forerunners, so all the other folks on the rail were standing back waiting for the competition to start. The two shots are 1/10th of a second apart, and the sled travels between 12 and 13+ feet in that time. Because I could lean out with no spectators blocking my view, I was able to get two shots off as the sled went by. These shots aren't presented for their technical merit, but merely to give you an idea of the speed involved.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

Once competition starts, other spectators are leaning out and my sight line up the track evaporated. Luge 1 is probably my best shot out of a handful, and again the technical merit is not great. Because the spectators lean out and block the view up the track, I had to listen for the approaching sled and then start shooting as the sound drew near. Panning was virtually impossible. By the time the sled came into view and I reacted to it, it was usually gone. I took more than 200 shots in this fashion and had maybe five worth keeping. The rest were either partials of the sled, or badly out of focus, or containing no sled at all.

Could someone shooting at 5 fps get a great shot? Absolutely, but the guy shooting at 10 fps has twice as many chances, and on fast moving subjects many pros shoot a burst and then search the shots to find the one or two that come out best.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

The Mark IV features Canon's most advanced AF system to date, equipped with a newly developed 45-point AF sensor featuring 39 high-precision cross-type AF points, and an all new AI Servo II AF. If a 45-point sensor sounds familiar that's because the Mark III series also has one. The III also generated critical comments from some users regarding AF issues, and Canon issued multiple firmware updates and replaced mirror boxes on some cameras in response to the criticism. The good news is the AF system in the IV reportedly shares only the 45-point specification with the III; the latest news is that Canon issued firmware update 1.0.6 about a month after the IV hit the market to "enhance the AF tracking performance of the EOS 1D Mark IV... for receding subjects and for subjects that are approaching at low speed."

Our test unit did not have the firmware update incorporated and while I was aware of the update and on the lookout for AF performance regarding the subjects in question, there was no indication of a problem. The IV missed focus a few times (out of hundreds) on a seemingly simple, slow-moving target, but these were rare occasions and could have been an operator error. Overall, I found AF with the IV to be mostly accurate and quick, but if you opt to move into the camera, make sure to get the firmware update on board.

There's no built-in flash, but a hot shoe is provided to mount an external flash. Canon builds stabilization into select lenses and the Mark IV body is not stabilized. Battery life for the Mark IV is 1,500 shots at 73 degrees F (1,200 at 32 degrees) using the viewfinder and live view figures are 270 and 230, respectively. These figures are based on CIPA standards that typically are quite accurate.

Lens Performance
Since the L series 100mm macro lens got its own review, I'll give just a brief summary of the L series 24-105mm f/4 zoom that took most of the shots in this review. The lens has some barrel distortion at wide angle and a bit less pincushion distortion at telephoto, with corners just a tiny bit soft, and a small amount of light falloff in the corners at wide angle. There are some hints of chromic aberration in high contrast boundary areas, but overall the lens turns in a good performance.

Video Quality
The Mark IV 1080p HD video had good quality, but the camera's size and weight make it a handful to shoot video even with the relatively compact and light 24-105 zoom. Cameras with CMOS sensors like the IV are susceptible to "rolling shutter effect" when panning across vertical subjects during video capture, the upright features can take on a curved look as the camera sweeps across them. The Mark IV does exhibit a bit of this effect when panned at accelerated levels that one would ordinarily not use for serious video capture, but at normal speeds the effect is muted and of little impact on most scenes.

Depending on exposure and metering modes, the "FEL" button can initiate video capture with a single push (you should establish focus with the shutter button first). The camera will not continuously auto focus, but during movie capture pressing the "AF-ON" button will refocus. Manual focus and exposure are also available.

Image Quality
Initial captures with the Mark IV were made at default settings with the exception of JPEG quality being raised to "10" from "8". Images seemed just a bit soft for my taste so the in-camera sharpness for the standard picture style was raised to "6 " (out of 7) from "3". At this level I was still unhappy with sharpness from time to time, and in hindsight, I should have adjusted sharpness to 7. Here's a default shot from the camera and after post-processing sharpening.

Default sharpness

Post sharpened

One advantage of the 16-megapixel resolution of the Mark IV is the ability to crop fairly severely and still retain enough pixel density to produce decent photo prints. Here's the original shot of the winner of the Women's 15KM Biathlon about 100 yards from the finish, and a 18x12 cropped version that still comes in at 208 dots per inch (dpi) for printing purposes.



Captures are output at 72 dpi, which results in images about 68 inches by 45 inches - just a bit too big for internet viewing. As with the 7D, I don't understand the logic behind this - if the images are output at photo printing size (300 dpi) you can print immediately and have to resize for the Internet. With these huge sizes at 72 dpi, you're resizing to print or go online (unless you like to scroll forever to get from one end of the image to the other on a 17-inch laptop).

The Mark IV's evaluative metering worked well for most scenes, and exhibited the same tendency to just lose highlights on many high contrast shots that I found with the 7D. Most of the daylight images in the review were shot with evaluative, but for the separate "On Assignment" low light review, center-weighted got the lion's share of the exposures.

There are also partial and spot metering options available, with partial being recommended for backlit situations. Here's a couple of daylight shots, where the skiers got +.7 of exposure compensation to lighten their faces a bit on their wax-testing run, with an obvious blowout in the background. The gulls look pretty good with no compensation, but an examination of the histogram shows some clipped highlights. And in case you missed the low light review, here is a couple of night shots from the Olympic Village at Whistler.

Color rendition was generally pleasing and accurate. The Mark IV has the Canon "picture style" menu of effects that will be familiar to most Canon DSLR shooters: standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, and monochrome. Here's what they look like:







And here are a few others shot in landscape mode:

I used auto white balance for most shots in the review, and it proved accurate with a broad and sometimes mixed spectrum of light; the Village in Whistler had sodium vapor, halogen and incandescent present simultaneously in some locations. Auto white balance shot warm in the studio with incandescent lighting.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

A big selling point for the Mark IV is that high-end ISO range that tops out at 102,400. Let's dispense with the high-end right now, unless you need the ISO to make a shot that can't be done another way, leave the 51,200 and 102,400 settings out of your shooting plans, and expect to use 25,600 sparingly.

On the bottom end, 100 through 400 are very similar, with a tiny bit of noise showing up in the jump from 400 to 800. ISO 1600 is a bit easier to differentiate from 800, as is 3200 from 1600.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 100
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 100, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 200
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 400
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 800
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 1600
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 3200
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 3200, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 5000
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 5000, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 6400
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 6400, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 10,000
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 10,000, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 12,800
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO 12,800, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO H1, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO H2, 100% crop
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
ISO H3, 100% crop

The jump from 3200 to 6400 brings the greatest quantitative change so far; 6400 is clearly a step down from 3200, but still not bad, particularly if you're just uploading to the Internet or small prints. Another qualitative hit is 12,800 over 6400, with noise becoming more objectionable in the darker areas of the image. ISO 25,600 is worse than 12,800, but still usable for small stuff or the Internet.

While ISO sensitivities of 102,400 make great ad copy, they have limited use in the real world. The true value of a camera with that range is that in addition to the atmospheric numbers, you end up with a lower range, combined with stabilized lenses, that offers usable levels that can open up dim light shooting for hand-holding, while still retaining good image quality for prints.

Additional Sample Images

Canon's newest 1D model has no pretenses about being anything other than the high performance leader of the Canon DSLR fleet. You can pay more for the 1Ds Mark III, but not shoot nearly as fast, and with not all that much more resolution than the Mark IV. No built-in flash, no scene shooting modes, and only one shooting mode that allows the camera to make both decisions on aperture and shutter speed. You have left the entry level/prosumer world obehind and are firmly ensconced at the tip of Canon's technology spear.

Going pro isn't cheap - the body alone will set you back more than $5,000 once sales tax and shipping are levied on top of the MSRP. The premium "L" series lenses that help maximize image quality aren't bargain basement equipment either. The 100mm macro and 24-105mm zoom we had for this review came in at about $1,050 and $1,250 MSRP, respectively. The camera is big and heavy, owing at least some of its bulk to robust construction and weather proofing. Continuous shooting speed at full resolution is the highest of any DSLR, and the camera can sustain this pace for more than 120 JPEG captures. Shutter and autofocus performance are solid, there are custom settings for virtually any aspect of camera operation, and image capture imaginable, and image quality is good.

At this level of camera, the performance gains are incremental over more modest offerings from the same company or even others. The Canon 7D, for example, shoots at 8 fps for about 160 JPEG captures and offers an 18 megapixel sensor and 1080p HD video, at a price that's about $3,300 less than the Mark IV. Shutter lag and autofocus acquisition times clocked in with identical figures for both cameras in our lab tests. Why would anyone spend so much more for what appear to be modest gains in many areas? Perhaps because sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.