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Interview with Developers: EOS-1D X Mark II (Part 1) -Fast, Convenient, High Image Quality-

The long-awaited EOS-1D X Mark II has finally made its appearance, with enhancements made in various aspects such as the continuous shooting speed, AF performance and image quality. The following is an in-depth interview with the developers on their passion toward the flagship model as well as the evolution of the camera. (Reported by: Junichi Date)

(From left to right)
Mitsuaki Hattori (Image Communication Products Operations)/ Takeshi Sakaguchi (Image Communication Products Operations)/ Tomoya Masamura (ICP Division 2, Image Communication Products Operations)/ Masato Seita (Image Communication Products Operations)/ Teruyuki Okado (ICP Development Center 2, Image Communication Products Operations)


Achieving a well-balanced enhancement of the 3 pillars – high speed, high performance, high image quality

- This year, 2016, the Olympic Games will be held at Rio de Janeiro. Was the EOS-1D X Mark II developed in conjunction with the event?

Masamura: We need a long development process in order to achieve the high level of performance of our flagship models. Taking into consideration the time required to ensure substantial advancement from its predecessor, we decided to announce the EOS-1D X Mark II and make it available for sale before the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

- What are the major evolutionary changes of the EOS-1D X Mark II compared to its predecessor, the EOS-1D X? Could you also tell us about the feedback that you received from the users concerning the EOS-1D X and what functional enhancements and improvements were made on the EOS-1D X Mark II to address such requests?

Masamura: The EOS-1D X has been rated highly for its AF and continuous shooting performance, as well as for its excellent image quality. However, we continued to receive requests for further improvement in these three aspects.

To respond to these voices, we strived to achieve a flagship model with a higher level of performance, and the camera we arrived at was the EOS-1D X Mark II. It combines the three pillars that form the basic concept of Canon’s EOS range – high speed, high performance and high image quality – at a sophisticated level.

As to the specific advancements made, we have enhanced the image quality of still images by raising the pixel count from approximately 18.1 megapixels to approximately 20.2 megapixels. At the same time, we have also increased the continuous shooting speed from 12 fps to up to 14 fps. While the number of AF points remains unchanged at 61, we have expanded the AF area both upward and downward and enabled support for a low light sensitivity of up to EV-3. With the attachment of the Series III extender, it is also possible now for lenses with a maximum aperture of f/8 to make use of all the 61 AF points.

The shooting capability of the new EOS-1D X Mark II has been enhanced significantly compared to its predecessor, with the image sensor resolution raised from approximately 18.1 megapixels to approximately 20.2 megapixels and the continuous shooting performance increased from 12 fps to up to 14 fps. 

The 360,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor of the EOS-1D X Mark II boasts a pixel count that is about three times that of the EOS-1D X. Performance of the EOS Scene Detection System has also been enhanced, with information obtained by the image sensor processed by the DIGIC 6 processor to detect the colour and shape of the subject and to achieve optimal control such as during AE, AF or white balance adjustment. Worthy of special mention is the greater ability to establish focus on the subject’s face with the Automatic selection AF and Zone AF features, which are able to detect smaller faces than before.

The EOS-1D X Mark II comes with a 360,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor. It is capable of detecting the face and colour of the subject, and has contributed significantly to the precision of the different camera settings.

Also, the camera is equipped with a flickerless shooting feature, which detects the frequency cycle of artificial light sources with the metering sensor. This reduces unevenness in both the exposure between frames as well as the colours even when shooting under a flickering light source. 

In terms of details, we have revamped the shape of the grip to make it easier for users with smaller hands to hold. Consideration has also been given to the camera’s ease-of-use, such as illuminating the selected AF point in red colour inside the viewfinder, a feature that was also found on the EOS-1D Mark IV and earlier models.

The EOS-1D X Mark II is equipped with the Intelligent Viewfinder II, which supports display of shooting information inside the viewfinder. The selected AF point also lights up in red colour for easy identification.


- The EOS-1D X and EOS-1D X Mark II seem to be targeted first and foremost at photojournalists and sports photographers. What other groups of target users do you have in mind for these cameras?

Masamura: The EOS-1 series is able to cover a wide range of scenes, so we did not limit ourselves to a specific genre when developing the cameras. While many might have an impression that this series is commonly used by photojournalists and sports photographers, it is in fact widely employed in many other areas too, such as motor sports, wildlife including wild birds, portraits and wedding photography.

- Prior to the launch of the EOS-1D X, there existed two flagship models: the EOS-1Ds that aimed to offer the ultimate image quality, and the EOS-1D that sought to challenge the limit in high-speed continuous shooting. These two are now integrated into a single model, the EOS-1D X. With this change, it seems that the role to pursue high image quality, or a high image resolution in particular, has now been shifted to the EOS 5D series.

Masamura: Indeed, if we look at the pixel count and resolution, it is true that the role is best fulfilled by the 50.6-megapixel EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R. However, image quality isn’t just all about the number of pixels. While the EOS 5DS family excels in high-resolution depiction, our aim is for the EOS-1D X Mark II to become one of the top models in terms of the overall image quality.

Seita: An example would be its image quality at a high ISO speed. With the pixel count kept at a slightly lower level, the image quality is tip-top when the ISO speed is high.


Spring drive replaced with motor drive for more fine-tuned mirror control

- How did you arrive at the final decision to fix the continuous shooting speed of the EOS-1D X Mark II at approximately 14 fps?

Masamura: The history of Canon’s flagship models can be equated to the history that led up to the high continuous shooting speed today. The EOS-1D, which was released in December 2001, could shoot at up to 8 fps. This was increased to 8.5 fps on the EOS-1D Mark II that was launched in April 2004, followed by 10 fps with the release of the EOS-1D Mark III in May 2007 and then 12 fps on the EOS-1D X, which was introduced into the market in June 2012.

Even though there were users who thought it was no longer necessary to increase the continuous shooting speed any further, some of them changed their mind after they got hold of a new camera that supported a faster speed. To meet our users’ universal demand, or desire, of capturing the decisive moment, it is always better if the continuous shooting performance is more powerful.

Besides capturing the crucial moment, professionals also find it advantageous to have a high continuous shooting speed, as it helps to boost productivity by enabling the photographer to capture more quality shots.

The EOS-1D X Mark II supports a continuous shooting speed of up to 14 fps during AF and AE tracking, and up to 16 fps with AE and AF fixed on the first frame during Live View shooting. This ability to capture fleeting moments in shots of high quality lives up to the performance expected from flagship cameras.


Seita: Many of our users, including professional photographers, were very impressed with the increase in the continuous shooting speed from 10 fps to 12 fps on the EOS-1D X, so we believed it is better to increase the speed, no matter how slight the difference is, rather than to leave it unchanged.

While we also considered setting a goal that is very much higher, there are other factors to take into account such as vibration, power consumption and clarity of the viewfinder. Thus, we decided to focus our efforts on achieving a continuous shooting speed of up to 14 fps .

- That being said, the continuous shooting speed of up to 12 fps on the EOS-1D X still remains top-notch among the DSLR cameras. It must be very challenging trying to raise the continuous shooting speed from 12 fps to 14 fps on a DSLR camera with a mirror drive mechanism. What are the technical elements that made the speed of 14 fps possible?

Seita: There are several elements, one of which is the more advanced mechanical design, particularly for the mirror. The EOS-1D X was the first camera to adopt a balancer mechanism for the secondary mirror. This is further enhanced on the EOS-1D X Mark II by combining a motor with a cam to control the mirror movement directly, thereby ensuring that the main and secondary mirror is stopped smoothly and effectively.


Differences in the mirror mechanism between EOS-1D X Mark II and its predecessor

The EOS-1D X makes use of the instantaneous force of the spring to drive the mirror at a high speed. However, it is hard to slow down the speed, and a lock or balancer mechanism is employed to reduce mirror bound. Meanwhile, the EOS-1D X Mark II controls the mirror directly with a motor and a cam. Doing so eliminates redundant mirror movements, thereby contributing to a higher continuous shooting speed.

A: Deceleration cam mechanism
B: Main mirror balancer
C: Mirror charge motor unit
D: Main mirror holder
E: Main mirror balancer
F: Secondary mirror holder
G: Secondary mirror balancer
H: Secondary mirror lock
I: Main mirror lock
J: Main mirror balancer

Although the same mechanism is also adopted on the EOS 7D Mark II, the level of performance and durability that users look for are different in the case of a full-frame camera that is also a flagship model. This is why we redesigned the camera from scratch, created numerous prototypes, and tried out different options before we finally arrived at a well-balanced design.

Other than the mechanism related to the mirror, we ensured that both AF and AE are able to function smoothly at the same time. Also, we revamped the internal system thoroughly so that the electromagnetic aperture diaphragm is able to keep up with a continuous shooting speed of 14 fps up to at least three stops from the maximum aperture when using the latest professional-spec lenses. With all the above considerations maintained in equilibrium, the fastest speed that we were able to achieve is 14 fps.

- Physically, the mirror, aperture and shutter need to move back and forth 14 times in one second. I suppose it is a tough challenge having to raise the frame rate compared to the case of a mirrorless camera, which has fewer movable parts.

Seita: To add on to the mirror drive mechanism we mentioned just now, the motor has also evolved. While the shape of the motor remains almost unchanged, the internal components have been enhanced, which can largely be attributed to the development of a new coreless motor that is both powerful and responsive.

A higher degree of durability is required in order for the EOS-1D X Mark II to withstand a continuous shooting speed of up to 14 fps. Not only so, we needed to address the problem of heating, so we made enhancements to the motor used on the EOS-1D X.

We have also made it possible to control the motor according to the state of the mirror by grasping the current phase (position and state) of the mirror with a non-contact sensor. This allowed us to control acceleration and deceleration of the mirror movement appropriately when it is flipped up or down.

Detailed diagram of the mirror mechanism on the EOS-1D X Mark II

A: Shock transmission lever mechanism
B: Secondary mirror balancer
C: Deceleration cam mechanism
D: Secondary mirror stopper
E: Main mirror balancer
F: Secondary mirror balancer
G: Mirror charge motor unit


- Isn’t the movement of the mirror determined by the shape of the cam? Why is there a need to understand the state of the mirror in detail?

Seita: The structure of the mirror is such that its movement depends not only on the shape of the cam, but also the link mechanism that moves together with the mirror. Obtaining detailed information on the current phase of the mirror helps to enable more fine-tuned stop control of its movement during high-speed continuous shooting.

The EOS-1D X Mark II now comes with a new Silent LV shooting feature for minimising the release sound during shooting. The mirror cannot be flipped up slowly on conventional mirror drive mechanisms that make use of a spring, and this makes it difficult to stop the movement gradually. With direct control via a motor and a cam, the amount of electrical power to apply to the motor can be controlled while monitoring the phase of the mirror. Doing so allows the mirror to move more slowly than usual, thereby reducing the operating sound of the camera.

- I see. So you have installed a sensor for detecting the mirror phase so that the timing to accelerate or decelerate the motor can be determined more precisely.

Seita: It is also easier for us to create a silent shooting mode with direct mirror drive using a motor, as there are more restrictions if mirror drive was carried out using a spring mechanism.

- The EOS-1D X drives the mirror via power from a spring, while the EOS-1D X Mark II adopts a direct control mechanism driven by a motor. How different is the behaviour, or movement, of the mirror between these two cameras? I would suppose the spring mechanism offers a more powerful instantaneous force?

Seita: Motor is faster if we are talking about the initial momentum. Although the instantaneous force of a spring is no doubt more powerful compared to that of a motor, initial motion is slightly slow. In other words, motor drive is faster when the mirror starts to flip up, but this is overtaken by the spring drive along the way.

- So it will take just a little more time to disengage the lock mechanism for releasing the spring force?

Seita: Yes. However, the duration from the time the mirror is completely flipped up to the time when the mirror comes to a stop is shorter on the EOS-1D X Mark II. It is difficult to slow down the speed with a spring drive mechanism, and it takes time before mirror bound subsides. In this respect, direct drive using a motor slows down the speed of the mirror appropriately just before it is flipped up completely, and doing so helps to minimise mirror bound.

- What about when the mirror is flipped down?

Seita: The same applies. The EOS-1D X makes use of spring force to flip the mirror up or down. Although the flip-down speed may be fast, if we take into consideration the initial momentum and the time needed for mirror bound to subside viewfinder blackout time is shorter in the case of the EOS-1D X Mark II, where the mirror is driven using a motor,.

- Could you give us a specific value for the viewfinder blackout time?

Seita: I’m sorry but we are unable to reveal the viewfinder blackout time. Despite the increase in the continuous shooting speed from 12 to 14 fps, the time that the mirror is flipped down remains almost unchanged. Shortening this duration would adversely affect the clarity of the viewfinder as well as AF during the continuous shooting process.

This is why we tried to shorten the duration for flipping up or down the mirror as much as possible in order to secure sufficient time for AF and also to ensure clarity of the viewfinder for easy identification of the subject.

- Is there any change to the shutter-release time lag?

Seita: Shutter-release time lag remains the same as the EOS-1D X, which is 0.036 sec. if you set it to the shortest (“Shortened”) in the Custom Functions menu, and 0.055 sec. in the default (“Standard”) setting. The value of 0.055 sec. has not changed since the first-generation EOS-1 model.

- As a flagship model for capturing the crucial moments, altering the shutter-release time lag each time a new model is released would disrupt the intuition of the photographers, which is based on their experience with photography. In this sense, it is great that they will be able to choose whether to set the shutter-release time lag to the shortest or the usual familiar duration.


EOS-1D X Mark II


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Junichi Date

Born in Hiroshima in 1962. Graduated from the Department of Image Science, Faculty of Engineering, Chiba University. Besides his career as a photographer such as for magazines, Date is also involved actively in writing using his expertise.


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