Review: Canon EOS-1D C HD/4K DSLR

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In the beginning…

…there was the Canon 5D Mk II. It wasn’t the first HD-capable DSLR, but it was the first one good enough for serious work. Once Vincent Laforet’s “Reverie” went viral, there was no putting the large-sensor, low-light, super-shallow-depth-of-field genie back in the bottle—no matter how soft the images, how prevalent the aliasing, and how much bother it was (for the two years prior to firmware version 2.0.3) to deal with 30p images in a 24p world.

Fast-forward five years: Canon’s EOS-1D C, announced at NAB 2012, is now shipping. It’s a full-frame DSLR with an 18 Megapixel sensor, full-frame and crop-mode HD recording, and true 4K at 24fps: 4096×2160 pixels. Yep, 4K in a DSLR package. And it’s only… $12,000.

Is Canon mad? Mad! Mad???

Or just crazy like a fox?

Canon lent me a 1D C for a couple of weeks. Maybe we can find out.

Design and Handling

The 1D C is built on the same chassis as the EOS-1D X, Canon’s current top-of-the-line professional DSLR. The cameras share many of the same specs and features: a 24x36mm, 18.1 Megapixel sensor, dual CF card slots, weather sealing, a 61-point autofocus system of such sophistication and tweakability that 43 manual pages are dedicated to it, Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, and 12fps stills capture in raw with autofocus. Indeed, the 1D C comes with the 1D X’s instruction manual, and a supplement to describe the added capabilities of the 1D C. There’s good coverage of the 1D X from Fred Miranda and Ken Rockwell; have a look if you’re interested.

The body is 6.2 x 6.4 x 3.3 inches (158 x 164 x 83 mm) and weighs under 3.4 pounds or 1.55 kg with battery and CF card included. It’s taller than a 5D Mk II because it has an integrated battery holder / vertical grip, but that aside the dimensions are comparable. The added height and the solid magnesium construction add about 20 ounces or half a kilogram to the working weight of a 5D, but it’s still not heavy by cine camera standards.

Front

Canon 1D C, front

The body is smoothly contoured, with a grippy, pebbled rubber finish in strategic areas. Two assignable buttons sit at the 9 o’clock position relative to the lens mount: one normally stops the lens down. These two button are replicated at the 7:30 position, for use when the camera is held vertically. The EF mount lens release is at 3:00.

Left Side

Canon 1D C, left sideFloppy rubber covers hide a number of ports. A system extension connector at top left allows a WiFi or GPS module to be connected. Below that, a door covers 3.5mm stereo mike and headphone jacks, and a jack for a wired remote. At top right there’s a Gigabit Ethernet jack (!), below which there’s a mini-HDMI port and an “A/V Out / Digital” connector, which regrettably combines composite video, analog audio, and USB in one port requiring a custom Canon cable.

I find this annoying: I already carry specialized USB cables for my iDevices (30-pin dock connector), ruggedized pocket camera (Sony proprietary), GH2 and GH3 (two different Panasonic proprietary cables!), and my phone (micro-USB), in addition to the standard mini-USB cable I’ve been using on everything else, including multiple Canon and Nikon DSLRs. Enough, already! I didn’t even bother to unwrap the Canon cable; I just popped the CF cards out of the camera when I needed to read the files. (Canon tells me that a standard mini-USB cable can be used in this port. Pity the manual doesn’t say so, it only says “use the interface cable supplied with the camera”!)

On the bright side, Canon includes a bolt-on cable retainer, which fits around the plugs on Canon’s HDMI and A/V Out / Digital cables, and has a bracket to hold the cables against the body, so that a sharp tug on a cable won’t unplug it from its socket.

The entire lower quarter of the left side is the end-plate of the battery, with its own flip-out-and-rotate locking lever.

 Canon 1D C and its battery

Rear Panel

Canoin 1D C rear panel

The MENU button calls up menus on the 3.2”, Megapixel LCD. INFO. toggles between different playback displays and live-view data overlays, and lets you poke around in Picture Styles once you’ve selected one from the menus.

The optical viewfinder is gorgeous: 100% coverage with a crisp, clear view. It makes the optical finder on my 5D Mk II look coarse and dim by comparison (before I used the 1D C I didn’t think the 5D was anything to complain about, but the 1D C’s finder was noticeably better). Too bad the optical finder isn’t used when shooting motion.

Buried behind the finder’s rubber eyecup lurk a diopter adjustment and an eyepiece shutter (to keep light from entering the eyepiece and fooling the exposure meter).

To the right of the finder there’s a small live view button, the AF-ON button to trigger autofocus, and buttons to lock autoexposure and select autofocus points.

Running down the side of the LCD, there’s an eight-way joystick (the “multi-controller”), a Q “quick control” button, the “quick control” dial with a SET button, and a second multi-controller for use when holding the camera by the vertical grip.

A three-position power switch works just like the one on the 5D Mk II: the extremes are ON and OFF, the middle position turns the camera on but disables the quick control dial… and the multi-controller and main dial, if you so desire. Below the power switch is another flip-out-and-rotate lock, this one for the CF card cover on the right rear corner of the camera. Two CF cards can be inserted.

The CF card slots in the Canon 1D C

Three more vertical-grip buttons live in the lower right corner: AF-ON, AE lock, and AF select for the portrait-shooting crowd. Just to the left is a four-holed speaker for audio playback.

Beneath the LCD there’s a status LED for network connectivity, and buttons for playback, image magnification, image deletion, and image protection / voice memo activation (so you can tag a still with a short audio note, using the four-hole mike next to the microphone icon).

Below that, along the vertical grip, there’s a folder, file, and image-type status LCD; and a pushbutton to quickly set the folder you’re saving stills to as well as the image quality you’re using.

Top

1D C top panelStrap lugs at either side let you attach a neck strap. On the left, the 1D C lacks the mode dial familiar to 5D/7D users; instead, a MODE button works with main dial on the right to determine a shooting mode (program, aperture-priority, manual, etc.). AF•DRIVE works similarly for picking an autofocus mode and a drive mode (single-shot, burst mode, and so on). Press both MODE and AF•DRIVE to set autoexposure bracketing.

On the right side, just in front of the main status LCD, are buttons for backlighting the LCD, setting white balance, exposure compensation, and ISO selection (these are all scrambled from their positions on the 5Ds and 7D, so if your muscle memory is tuned to those cameras, you’ll have some re-learning to do. Yeah, I know, it’s like that USB port: it’s not the end of the world, I’m just whining). Forward of that button row you’ve got the main dial, M-Fn (multi-function) button, and the shutter release.

Right Side

Right side of Canon 1D CVertical grip controls, mirroring their horizontal counterparts, run along the bottom of the right side. An OFF/ON switch is used to enable them; you can turn ‘em all off if you want to: nice.

Underside

There’s not much to see there aside from a 1/4” tripod socket along the optical centerline, a lug for a hand strap (with a positioning hole for 3rd-party attachments), and a serial number label.

Etc.

The camera has a slightly melted look to it, as if it had been left out in the sun too long; the result is a package entirely lacking in sharp edges or corners, so even with a long lens fitted and the camera hung ‘round your neck, there are no poky bits to dig into your side and cause discomfort. I spent five hours one day with the 1D C and a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom on a shoulder strap, and it didn’t bother me in the least. The 5D Mk II isn’t as comfortable to wear;  the 1D C’s gently rounded contours make it less annoying to carry, even though it’s heavier.

All the switches and controls feel solid and secure. The flip-out-and-rotate latches for the battery and the CF card slots are highly resistant to accidental activation, yet they don’t impede intentional use. By contrast, the CF card door, when released, flops around freely; it isn’t spring-loaded to pop open. I found that when I changed CF cards handheld I tended to hold the camera in my left hand, slightly tilted to the left, so that when I opened the door it tended to flop closed again. Not really a problem, just something I had to retrain myself to work around. No, my 5D doesn’t spring-load its CF card door either, but I’m spoiled by my GH2 and GH3, where the SD card doors spring firmly open when released.

Next: Features and Functions

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About Author

Adam Wilt is a software developer, engineering consultant, and freelance film & video tech. He’s had small jobs on big productions (PA, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, Dir. Robert Wise), big jobs on small productions (DP, “Maelstrom”, Dir. Rob Nilsson), and has worked camera, sound, vfx, and editing gigs on shorts, PSAs, docs, music vids, and indie features. He started his website on the DV format, adamwilt.com/DV.html, about the same time Chris Hurd created the XL1 Watchdog, and participated in DVInfo.net‘s 2006 “Texas Shootout.” He has written for DV Magazine and ProVideoCoalition.com, taught courses at DV Expo, and given presentations at NAB, IBC, and Cine Gear Expo. When he’s not doing contract engineering or working on apps like www.adamwilt.com/cinemeter, he’s probably exploring new cameras, just because cameras are fun.

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