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Bonaparte's Gulls and the Canon 1DX
at the
Deer Creek Reservoir, November, 2014

I had been holding off putting up another one of these pages until I could do a general fall summary, which I still plan on doing next month or so. Meanwhile people have been asking me about my impressions of the Canon 1D X. I bought a very lightly used one at a good price last month. The camera has been out for a couple years already and its capabilities are well known, but I wanted to find out for myself.  It has pretty much lived up to the expectations I had from what I have read. You get about an extra stop of speed, meaning ISO 400 on the 1D4 looks a lot like ISO 800 on the 1DX. The 1DX also has a much more advanced AF system. After enjoying the files of the Canon 6D for a few months, I realized that it wasn't well suited for bird photography at all and if I had to carry around 2 cameras I would rather have a 1DX that I could use for birds. I also didn't like that fact the the 6D doesn't show 100% of the image in the viewfinder. I would always find my shadow somewhere in the corners of wide angle shots in the full file. That little thing might seem pretty minor to most people, but if you're used to 100% viewfinders it can be annoying suddenly not having one. After getting the excellent new Canon 16-35 f4 L IS lens I had some wide angle lenses I was willing to sell along with the 6D. My plan was to also sell my 2nd 1D Mark 4 too, but I haven't gotten around to that yet as of the moment.

In central Ohio there are few large birds flying around in camera range to really put the AF to the test on the 1DX.  I had planned to go up to Lake Erie, but with several thousand Bonaparte's Gulls showing up at the Deer Creek Reservoir recently there was no need to spend the extra money on the gas to go up there.


Nov. 10, Deer Creek Reservoir, SW corner looking north
Canon 1D X, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/200th sec., ISO 200

While the Bonies could be found all over the entire reservoir, the above area is where I stood to photograph them. Even with my new 16-35 f4L IS zoom lens covering the 28mm range very well,  I still like to use and carry the little 28mm f2.8 IS lens with me at all times because of its small size and handy focal length on both the 1D X and the 1D 4. Photographing Bonaparte's Gulls here is much more difficult than at a typical harbor along Lake Erie where the birds will be flying back and forth along a pier all day. The AF of the 1DX, while not always 100%, got a far higher percentage of sharp shots on the irratically moving birds against varying backgrounds than the 1D Mark 4 did at Deer Creek. It wasn't even a close contest. The Mark 4 couldn't handle them well at all here I'm sorry to say, although the camera has always done just fine with Bonaparte's Gulls at Lake Erie harbors. The 1DX did best when the birds were flying against the sky of course, but it did very well against the water too. It had more trouble when the background changed to the cliffs or trees, but as you can see below, it did OK with that also with a little bit of effort. The 1DX did best with bare 800mm lens, but with the 1.4x attached I didn't have as much luck with these quickly moving birds. I'm sure it would be fine with slower moving birds that were flying in more regular directions.


Bonaparte's Gull flock
Canon 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS lens + 2x
f5.6, 1/5312th sec., ISO 640


Bonaparte's Gull
Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f7.1, 1/5000th sec., ISO 640


Bonaparte's Gull
Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f7.1, 1/5000th sec., ISO 640


Bonaparte's Gull
Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f7.1, 1/5000th sec., ISO 640


Bonaparte's Gull
Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f6.3, 1/6400th sec., ISO 800


Bonaparte's Gull
Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f6.3, 1/6400th sec., ISO 800


Bonaparte's Gull
Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f6.3, 1/6400th sec., ISO 800


Bonaparte's Gull
Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f6.3, 1/6400th sec., ISO 800


Bonaparte's Gull
Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f7.1, 1/5000th sec., ISO 640


Bonaparte's Gull
Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f7.1, 1/5000th sec., ISO 640

My Canon 1D Mark IV ain't going anywhere anytime soon. I still think it's just about ideal for songbird portraits in the field. I still love the files it makes at low ISO's. The 1.3 crop is useful for small birds. I rarely use any blinds for small songbirds and the farther away I can stay the better. I also use one-shot AF for songbirds and the 1D Mark 4 always nails the focus with my 800mm lens with a 1.4x attached.  I find that you can often tell how long someone has been involved with bird photography by the ISO's they use. Those of us who cut our teeth using slow slide films such as Kodachrome 64 and later Velvia 50 using manual focusing lenses without image stabilization have a very different concept of what high ISO and low ISO are. When Fuji came out with Provia 100 that pushed well to ISO 200 around the same time that Canon introduced their first IS telephotos, it seemed that the heavens suddenly opened up. From that perspective I rarely go beyond ISO 500 or need to with a 1D Mark4, but I occasionally will go up to an extreme ISO 800 if necessary, maybe once a year or so. If the light is so bad that you really need those high ISO's I'd rather just go birding with my binoculars or, better yet, take a nap. I see some "kids" nowadays using ISO's I have never even heard of let alone tried. Those high ISO's look prettty awful to me, but to each his own I suppose. Now with the 1DX I feel free to go up to ISO 800 without hestitation to freeze movements and could go another stop even further if necessary. Canon recently came out with a new 1.6 crop 7D MarkII. I plan to at least try it out when I can borrow one and Adobe has a profile for the RAW files, but after a brief period owning the the original 7D, I doubt that I'll like it much. We'll see. Right now I'm happy to have both a 1DX and 1D4 in my camera bag. Together they make a much more versatile combination than 2 1D4's did. I would worry about not having a spare 1D4 when traveling, though, and I'm not sure I would want to have to rely on a 7DII as even an emergency backup. Hopefully I can try the 7DII for myself within the next couple of months and have a chance to work with the files from it. You can read all you want to about it on the web, but unless you can work with the full-sized files from a camera yourself there is no way to tell for sure how much you're going to like it for your own uses.


Swamp Sparrow at first light
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f11, 1/640th sec., ISO 400