With the EOS-1D X Mark II having just passed its third birthday, speculation is emerging over what Canon is planning for its successor. It’s long been mooted that the Mark III will arrive in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, but how will it compare to the competition?
The 1D X Mark II is the staple of vast numbers of sports photographers around the world and, in 2016, it was an excellent choice, albeit with some serious investment. It packs 14 frames per second, offers incredible durability, a fast and accurate autofocus system, and amazing battery life, all in a unit that has a huge array of lens choices. As the flagship camera, it’s still something of a beast. Over the years, whenever I’ve been hired for big commercial jobs that need speed and reliability, I’ve always rented the 1D X, whether it’s been running along walls in Texas or flipping through fields of wind turbines. The upgrade is now thought to be on its way.
Canon is no stranger to pressure, but one has to wonder what the Japanese giant is going to include in the new iteration. Frame rates and autofocus are being superseded by mirrorless cameras, and Canon may not be keen to make huge investments in a new version given that their own mirrorless cameras may themselves offer direct competition in the coming years. Plus there’s this slightly awkward question: could this be the last top-end DSLR that Canon ever releases? Anyone looking to upgrade might be swayed by the prospect of the R system and the increasing number of lenses and worry whether they might be investing in technology that has a lifespan that is even more limited than normal.
At the same time, the 1D X has always been a workhorse: those working with it every day have typically regarded it as being unbelievably reliable, delivering consistent, high-level performance. These concerns are much more important than sweating over whether another camera might offer slightly faster autofocus or slightly less grain when lifting shadows. There might be a camera that has a few different bells and whistles, but there’s very little else that combines so much into one meaty lump of a unit. Sports shooters rely on its familiarity for delivering results in often challenging conditions, and switching to a different camera — even within the same manufacturer — means an unnecessary obstacle in the workflow.
Perhaps the remaining elephant in the room is the question of what Canon is actually capable of bringing to 1D X — other than more megapixels and a faster processor — that it hasn’t been able to deliver previously. Improvements to dynamic range and frame rate will probably be quite limited, and autofocus in mirrorless cameras is starting to make DSLRs look very much like yesterday’s technology. Anything else — WiFi, touch screen, intervalometer — may feel inconsequential, especially given that so few buyers will be concerned with its video features. Can Canon squeeze some magical mirrorlessness into the Mark III, such as a hybrid viewfinder that can show a histogram or a crazy frame rate in live view? If that's the case, why not just take out the mirror completely?
With the Olympics approaching, this might be the Canon DSLR’s last hurrah, and for some, it will be an indictment of the company’s reluctance to embrace mirrorless technology until Sony had already left it in its dust. One of the 1D X Mark III’s main competitions will no doubt be the successor to the Sony a9, rumored for release at the end of the year. I’m trying to imagine two photographers sat facing the starting line of the 100 meters, one wielding Canon’s last ever DSLR, and one wielding Sony’s latest and greatest MILC. As someone who loves the 1D X, I know I’d have a hard time figuring out which photographer I’d prefer to be.
If you’re a 1D X shooter, let us know your thoughts in the comments.