Here's my first impression and review of the 1DX Mark II after owning it for a month with about 100 hours of intensive use:
I would have never believed I would say this.
If you are on the fence of deciding whether to upgrade to the new Canon 1DX Mark II or not, my advice to you, after two weeks of intense use, can be summarized into three words.
Buy. It. Now.
Hate to sound like a Canon spokesperson, which I'm not. But the reality is, the 1DX Mark II is light years ahead of the 1DX.
I admit I bought the camera two weeks ago on an impulse. While reviewing some photos I just took at a recent trip to photograph the burrowing owl, I scrolled to a picture which I had dreamed about but also had haunted me for two years (and the picture wasn't of a burrowing owl. I will explain in future posts) because I missed the shot last time.
This time, I nailed it. Or so I thought. At least viewing from the camera LCD. Then later when viewed 100% on the monitor, I saw the focus was off again. I fell off a cliff into the abyss yet again.
Choosing the high road, I didn't blame on myself.
Must be the camera. I was sure I nailed it when I saw it in the viewfinder...
Immediately I went to B&H to sign up on the 1DX Mark II alert list because everywhere else were out of stock.
But as my next trip was coming up, I still hadn't heard nothing from B&H. I started to panic because the photo opportunities didn't wait for nobody. It's wildlife photography after all. Once I missed the season, I might have to wait for another year, or forever.
Suddenly I remember an email my buddy sent me few weeks ago that Hunt's camera had a few Mark II left. At that time, I didn't even open the email, thinking to myself, nah I don't need another camera. People always wanted new toys. I was better than that. I pride myself for not following the trend this time.
Anyways, I dug up that email and contacted my buddy. He instantly got me the contact of the camera store. "Only one left in stock." I was told. Making sure the $6,000 purchase wouldn't be rejected by the credit card company and eventually making me lose this last unit, I called the credit card company to make sure they okayed this transaction. Then I called the camera store.
"Does it come with that CF...ast card?" I asked, not quite sure how to pronounce it. Didn't quite matter as it's the only one left and I would buy it anyways.
"Yes, it is the premium package."
"And the transaction went thru. You should receive it by Friday."
I was a bit emotional, thinking about the weekend prior to that, where I went to the secret photography location alone. Special thanks to my good friend who told me the spot.
It was 116F that morning. Just two months ago, I was in the Canadian Arctic fighting -45F weather with -55 windchill. I marveled at how human body could endure such a temperature difference (with the correct clothing).
I arrived at 4:50am when it was still dark. I opened the car door, the heat wave cooked the skin of my face and my hands. The immense smell of cow poops reminded me of my days searching for bobcats in Coalinga, which was more effective than Red Bull to wake me up.
I was recovering from an adrenaline rush. Just 15 minutes ago, I was blinded by the high beam light of an incoming truck on the opposite lane while driving on the two-lane highway. Then once the truck passed me, I gained back my vision, and saw a big pair of dark eyes staring at me-- a grey fox was standing right in my lane thirty feet away as I was driving at 70 mile per hour.
Just imagine. I didn't sleep at all after a long day at work and started driving at 1am. It's been nonstop for 3 hours, with me barely staying awake after finishing up the red bull in a new yellow bottle.
I turned the car sideway with the reflex, which I shouldn't have. After a short and sharp tire screeching sound, I pulled the car back to the lane and avoided the impact with the fox. My heart almost jumped out as I grab the steering wheel tight and miraculously I was still in one piece.
At the destination, I stepped out of the car and walked down a slope. I heard a loud screeching sound from a distance and then I saw a dark shadow flying by. Must be a barn owl. Ever since I started wildlife photography, I got to experience many of these unexpected wildlife encounters in wee hours which I treasured a lot. Except if they were on the road.
I continued walking towards a ditch.
I realized the smell was from the infested still water down there. While setting up my tripod among the tall grass up to my knees, I also found out I forgot to bring an important thing-- insect repellent. I attracted all the mosquitoes in the area, probably in the thousands. So many of them landed near my eyes that my swollen eye lids became so heavy I could barely see. The mosquitoes started flying in thru my sleeves, and the opening between my pants and my boots. I heard thunders as they hovered near my ears, which caused me a headache. It was way worse than Alaska. I had to constantly wipe a big chunk of mosquitoes away from my face while trying to look through the viewfinder.
Sometimes you didn't dare to look back at certain moments. It was one of those.
But this time, one week later, not only did I come with the brand new 1DX Mark II, I also sprayed all my exposed skin with insect repellent, except my palms because I didn't want the chemical to melt my camera.
"WOW" was the word that came to mind when I clicked the shutter the first time. I didn't even have time to take the camera out of the box before the trip. So it was the first time I put the battery in and pressed the shutter. The sound was muscular and composed. I guess it must be the sound of 14-frames-per-second. Geez I don't know what I am talking about.
And I always thought the 1DX shutter sounded nice.
The feel of the shutter was much more crisp and solid than the 1DX. I had an instant respect to this new machine. Though I didn't need 14 frames. Anything 8 frames or above was good for me. But I wasn't complaining.
Then I reviewed the first few photos on the camera LCD. The color was so visually different and more accurate to the scene than the 1DX. (Later, I checked the photos at 100% on my 27 inch computer monitor. I couldn't tell the difference on noise level and details for photos taken at ISO 3200 and ISO 8000).
Before I talk about how the auto focus tracking being 10 times better than the 1DX, here's one of the first few pics I took with the 1DX Mark II. I have dreamed about this shot for 5 years. The mysterious setting. The big pupils. The foreground blocking his body and half of his face. When I saw this, everything else, the mosquitoes, the danger on the road, the long drive, the smell, the heat, don't matter anymore.
The ultimate test is incoming flight in varying non-sky background near full frame. Because the shutter speed cannot be assisted by your panning the lens along the flight of the bird if the bird was flying sideway.This is where 1DX Mark II shines. The first time I tried that, I was sure I missed all the shots, 0 out of 10 was my guess from the experience of using 1dx for 5 years. But when reviewing the pictures, many were actually sharp-- and I mean the eyes of the bird were critically sharp! It used to be a complete blur in every single pic, now none of them were blurry with many keepers of critical sharpness.
An exact quantitative analysis is not the goal of this post and I don't have interest in it. But after catching my first few sequences of incoming and landing flight shots of the burrowing owls, I was in disbelief. I immediately texted many of my close friends, "Mark II is 10 times better in AF!"
I don't even know how I came with 10, but it was mind blowing because it allowed me to get many more keepers than ZERO sharp pic before. From zero to one, that's infinitely better.