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[Part 2] EOS-1D X Achieving High-precision AF and Outstanding Low-light Performance

In this interview series, developers of the EOS-1D X describes superb shooting performances of this new flagship model of the EOS series including high-precision AF and low-light shooting ability that enables even ISO 12800 at clear image quality. Dive into behind the scenes of EOS-1D X, how it combined the two professional lines of EOS series, one with a high pixel count, and the other with a high continuous shooting speed. (Based on the interview held in October 2012) (Interviewer: Junichi Date/ Photos of Interviewees and Edited by: Masahiko Taira)

Pages: 1 2

(From left)
Tomokazu Yoshida, Camera Development Center/ Masami Sugimori, Camera Development Center/ Shintaro Oshima, Photo Products Group/ Shunji Yoshikai, Photo Products Group/ Tomoya Masamura, Photo Products Group

High Tracking Capability of "EOS iTR AF"

About the "EOS-1D X" Key Features!

Point 1
Continuous shooting speed of 12fps befits the flagship model

Point 2
35mm full-frame sensor with about 18.1 megapixels

Point 3
Dual DIGIC 5+ processors for high-speed image processing

The EOS-1D X is the new flagship model of the EOS series, which combines the high resolution of the "EOS-1Ds" series and the excellent continuous shooting performance of the "EOS-1D" series. It boasts an unprecedentedly high continuous shooting speed of about 12fps, while the pixel count of 18.1 megapixels, though lower than that of the other existing 1Ds models, delivers an enhanced level of high ISO speed performance, which is contributed by the little amount of noise.

― The phase-difference AF unit uses a 61-point High-density Reticular AF system. Is it the same as that employed on the EOS 5D Mark III?

Yoshida The secondary image-registration lens of the phase-difference AF unit on the EOS 5D Mark III uses a plastic mold. In contrast, a glass mold that is resistant to changes in humidity and temperature has been adopted for the EOS-1D X in consideration of the fact that this professional model will be used for shooting in harsher environments. Besides the difference in the optical components used, the AF unit of the EOS-1D X basically has the same level of performance as that of the EOS 5D Mark III.

61-point High-density Reticular AF sensor employed by the EOS-1D X.

Also, the EOS-1D X comes with an "EOS iSA System," which employs a 10-megapixel RGB metering sensor and a DIGIC 4 image processor used exclusively by the metering sensor to detect the color, face, and brightness of the subject for enhanced automated AE or AF control. When the AF area selection mode is set to 61-point automatic selection AF or Zone AF, the EOS iSA System utilizes the face and color information detected to operate the EOS iTR AF for selecting an AF point or switching the AF point according to the movement of the subject. The most straightforward example is when a large part of the composition is occupied by the face of a subject. In this case, even when an object comes between the camera and the subject, the EOS iTR AF is capable of selecting the AF point at the eye accurately by activating face detection. This is a feature that is available only on the EOS-1D X and not on the EOS 5D Mark III.

DIGIC 4 image processor used exclusively by the metering sensor

10-megapixel RGB metering sensor

The EOS-1D X comes with an "EOS iSA System," which employs a 10-megapixel RGB metering sensor and a DIGIC 4 image processor used exclusively by the metering sensor to detect the color, face, and brightness of the subject for enhanced automated AE or AF control.

― I was told that as compared to the EOS 5D Mark III, the power for driving the focusing mechanism is stronger when the body of the EOS-1D series is combined with lenses such as a large-diameter telephoto lens. Is this true?

Oshima The EOS 5D and others in the lower series of the EOS lineup do not have the same battery capacity as the flagship EOS-1D series, so the power that can be supplied to the lens is also different. During significant movement of the focusing mechanism, such as when the image is completely out of focus, the EOS-1D series is able to drive the focusing lens elements more powerfully. While such a difference may show up between the EOS 5D Mark III and the EOS-1D X under extreme conditions, they basically share the same level of AF sensor performance and microcomputer processing ability.

The LP-E4N battery pack for the EOS-1D X. Boasting 11.1V power supply and 2450mAh capacity, the power supplied to the lenses are more powerful than the lower EOS lineup models.

― The cross-type sensors are capable of offering stable AF without being affected by the patterns on the subject. Do they also enhance the AF accuracy at the same time?

Yoshida For subjects with lines that intersect with the line sensors, their accuracy is the same as that of the cross-type sensors. However, if the lines are almost parallel or at a slight angle to the line sensors, error is likely to occur even if focusing could be performed, and the level of AF accuracy obtained may be inadequate even though the focus confirmation light is illuminated. In this case, the cross-type sensors, which are capable of detecting both vertical and horizontal lines, not only provide the necessary support to boost the capturing performance, but they can also be expected to offer a high level of precision.

Cross-type focusing at f/2.8

Vertical-line focusing at f/4

Vertical-line focusing at f/5.6

Horizontal-line focusing at f/5.6

Layout pattern of the 61-point High-density Reticular AF sensor. High-performance AF shooting is possible by making use of the f/5.6 sensors widely covering the AF area while the f/4 and f/2.8 sensors placed for high-precision.

― On the EOS-1D X, there are now more cross-type AF points at the peripheral areas to support focusing by lenses with a maximum aperture of f/4 or f/5.6. This allows for cross-type focusing by a wider range of lenses. However, the number of AF points that can be used varies even for lenses with the same maximum aperture. Why is this so?

Yoshida If you look through a lens from the side to be attached to the lens mount, and move the lens in the left and right directions, you can tell that light coming from the front of the lens becomes invisible due to vignetting in the lens tube. The amount of lens movement that causes vignetting differs depending on the optical system of the lens and the structure of the lens tube. If we were to fix the number of AF points to be used based on each maximum aperture value, we would need to choose a number according to the lens with the strongest vignetting effect. However, it would be too wasteful to do so, hence our decision to fully utilize the AF points usable for each lens. This explains why the number of usable AF points now comes in a few different patterns.

― Is there a possibility of expanding the AF area further even for a full-frame sensor?

Yoshida To widen the AF area, it is necessary to upsize the sub-mirror to prevent vignetting from occurring while light entering the lens is directed to the AF sensor. Doing so will give rise to many issues, such as the lack of space to build in the shutter unit, and the need to compromise the continuous shooting performance due to the inability to move the mirror at a high speed.

Considerable enhancement in the high ISO image quality

― After trying out the EOS-1D X, I was amazed by the little noise even at a high ISO speed of ISO 6400. With ISO speeds up to ISO 12800 usable as the standard range, I feel that the EOS-1D X excels a little more than the EOS 5D Mark III in terms of high ISO speed performance. Although the difference in the pixel count between the EOS-1D X (approx. 18.1 megapixels) and the EOS 5D Mark III (approx. 22.3 megapixels) is not substantial, since they both employ the same DIGIC 5+ image processor, can I say that the difference in the high-sensitivity performance is attributable to the difference in the pixel count, or is it because new technologies have been adopted for the CMOS sensor of the EOS-1D X?

ISO speed settings of the EOS-1D X. ISO 100 to ISO 51200 can be set for routine usage while ISO 50 and ISO 204800 are provided for expansion settings.

Sugimori Indeed, there may be some difference in the high ISO performance compared to the EOS 5D Mark III. Although there is no substantial difference in the pixel pitch between 18.1 megapixels and 22.3 megapixels, this slight difference is nonetheless reflected in the image quality of the EOS-1D X.

― What are the specific differences between DIGIC 5 and DIGIC 5+?

Oshima We have increased the width of the bus, or the route of data flow inside the circuit. Doing so allows a large amount of data to be transmitted at the same time. Compared to the 32 bits of the DIGIC 5 for processing voluminous data at a high speed, DIGIC 5+, which handles data with 128 bits, is about three times higher in capacity. While the EOS 5D Mark III is equipped with one DIGIC 5+ processor, the EOS-1D X has two.

The EOS-1D X comes with two "DIGIC 5+" image processors with a processing capability of 128 bits.

― Despite the lower pixel count of the EOS-1D X compared to the EOS-1Ds Mark III, it is said that the same level of apparent resolution can be obtained in terms of image quality. Was image processing performed or were there any other efforts made to improve the apparent resolution?

Sugimori We did not perform any form of image processing, such as reducing the effect of the low-pass filter, to improve the apparent resolution. What we did was basically tuning in the same way as with all past models. As to how detailed an image can be resolved, it goes without saying that the EOS-1Ds Mark III and EOS 5D Mark III, which have a higher pixel count, have a greater advantage. However, this is limited to shooting at low ISO speeds, and the situation is reversed at a higher ISO speed. This is because the EOS-1D X boasts an extremely high level of sensitivity at the sensor level, and so there is no need to apply a strong noise-reduction effect at a high ISO speed. Therefore, there is little deterioration in the resolving power as a result of noise reduction.

The 18.1 megapixel CMOS sensor of the EOS-1D X. This sensor enables equal or even higher image quality than the EOS-1Ds Mark III which have a higher pixel count of 21.9 megapixel.

― I see. In sum, the aim and also the charm of the EOS-1D X lie in the ability to capture scenes not possible before. This is realized by allowing continuous shooting at an overwhelmingly high speed with little deterioration in the image quality even at a high ISO speed. Thank you for sharing your time with us today.

EOS-1D X

Equipped with a 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor, the flagship model of the EOS series realizes a continuous shooting performance of about 12fps. The resolution is 18.1 megapixels.

Click here for detailed specification

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