Review of the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II

This review summarizes my initial tests with and use of the EOS-1Ds Mark II. I have been using an EOS-1Ds for over 2 years and have been very pleased with its performance. The Mark II provides substantially increased performance over the original 1Ds in many areas. However, image quality in prints is only slightly improved in the 1Ds Mark II over those produced by the outstanding original EOS-1Ds.

I use the EOS-1Ds in photography of college gymnastics, portraits, dance, birds, events, and landscape photography. After using and testing the 1Ds Mark II for two weeks and using it at the 2005 NCAA Gymnastics Championship, I think that:
The most important improvements of the 1Ds Mark II over the original 1Ds are (Rank order, most important first):

  1. Fast RAW file processing and writing from memory buffer to memory card;
    The 1Ds Mark II will process and write a RAW file to memory card almost three times faster than the original 1Ds
  2. Much less noise at high ISO settings;
    The Mark II produces useable images at ISO 1600. I found noise at ISO 1000 and ISO 1250 in the original 1Ds to be objectionable.
  3. Fast, accurate autofocus
    The original 1Ds has accurate, but slow autofocus function. I used to miss action shots when I used the camera for this function. The Mark II has wonderfully improved autofocus function.
  4. Fast image review, bright display, fast 10x zoom with easy control;
    Image review with the original 1Ds was slow and tedious with the very slow 3 x zoom. The Mark II review display is fast, bright, easy to use for roaming around and exploring image details. You can find out fast if you got the shot you need.
  5. More detailed, sharper photographs that are noticeably better in prints
    Testing on resolution and MTF charts demonstrates that the 1Ds Mark II has 22% better linear resolution and 8% higher MTF performance than the original 1Ds. This is a substantial improvement in performance. However, this increased performance won't be noticeably visible in most photographic prints unless they are large enlargements with high image detail (e.g., landscape, architectural, technical.) This improved function alone wouldn't be enough to justify upgrading from the original 1Ds (in my opinion).
  6. More accurate exposure:
    The original 1Ds tended to overexpose by 2/3 to a full stop (blowing out subject detail) unless you compensated exposure. This occurred when metering through the camera or using manual exposure with a flash meter. My 1Ds Mark II exposures appear to be correct without compensation.

Other reviews have touched on better flash function, tether control, etc. I haven't assessed these yet. I was very happy with flash function on the original 1Ds (except for shooting wedding parties in churches with large window backgrounds in daylight).

Image Detail in Photographs: Does the Mark II offer any clear advantages over the original 1Ds in image quality?

Answer: The Mark II offers slight advantages in some photographic applications.

After studying all of the images in the tests below, I was impressed at what a great job the original EOS-1Ds did with 11 megapixels compared to the newer, 17 megapixel Mark II

Test Page for Portrait Application with Mannequin Target with EF 50mm f/1.4 lens

Summary Conclusion: The Mark II offers mimimal improvements in working image quality in portrait application over the original 1Ds.
Test Page for Application with Parking Garage Target with EF 24-70mm f/2.8L

Summary Conclusion: The Mark II offers noticeable improvement in capturing complex image detail of buildings and landscape over the original 1DS
Taxidermy specimen with EF 300mm f/2.8 L lens

Summary Conclusion: There is no 1Ds Mark II advantage here. Autofocus function of the Mark II should be a more important improvement for bird photography (especially in flight).

Resolution of Subject Detail Measured Using USAF 1951 Pattern and 50% MTF

Method for calculating resolving power is described here using a Edmund Scientific Resolving Power Chart. To measure 50% MTF, 2003 Koren lens test charts are mounted on the Edmund Scientific chart. The method for 50% MTF measurement is here.

In my tests, the EOS-1Ds Mark II has 21.5% better linear resolving power than the original 1Ds. The increased resolving power of line pairs per mm in the USAF 1951 target (from 51 to 62 line pairs per mm) is roughly proportionate to the 23% increase in linear pixel density in the sensor. This is a major imaging improvement. However, you still are not going to be able to perceive this increased resolution as increased sharpness in most photographs since resolution required to perceive most general subjects as sharply imaged falls well below 60 lp/mm. Microcontrast (50% MTF) is also significantly increased with in the 1Ds Mark II compared to the original 1Ds.

Camera System Camera
Pixel Size
Pixel Array
on 36 x 24 mm

EF 85mm f/1.8 @ f/8
50% MTF

EF 85mm f/1.8 @ f/8
Mid-Central Pattern Corner Pattern
EOS-1Ds 11.1 8.8 4064 x 2704 51 68
Mark II
16.7 7.2 4492 x 3328 62 73.5
Mark II
50% increase in total pixels 18% decrease in pixel size 23% increase in linear
pixel density in sensor
21.5% increase in linear
resolving power of camera
8% increase in microcontrast

Abbreviation: lp/mm = line pair per mm

High Iso Noise

Images produced by the Mark II have noticeably less noise above ISO 400 than the original 1Ds.

EOS-1Ds ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1250
EOS-1Ds Mark II ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1250 ISO 1600

File Process and Write Speed

The following are for ISO 800 files written to SanDisk 2 GB Ultra II cards.

Camera Time to process and write
10 files to CF card
File Size Seconds/file Mb processed and
written per second
EOS-1Ds 70 seconds 11.4 mb 7 1.6
EOS-1Ds Mark II 24 seconds 18 mb 2.4 7.5

Autofocus Function is Much Better in the Mark II than in the original EOS-1Ds

The EOS-1Ds Mark II isn't designed for action photography. However, the autofocus function and frame rate allow application of the camera in this area.

I would have been unlikely to get these shots with the original 1Ds because of its poor autofocus function:

University of Utah's Kristen
Riffanacht at 2005 NCAA
Gymnastics Championship.
EOS-1Ds Mark II, EF 200mm
f/1.8 L at f/2, 1/500 sec, ISO 800
Boise State University's Lindsay Ward at 2005 NCAA Gymnastics Championship. EOS-1Ds Mark II, EF 200mm f/1.8 L at f/2, 1/500 sec, ISO 800

Shadow Detail

No significant improvement in shadow detail was detected in images taken with the EOS-1Ds Mark II. A few examples are presented for illustration purposes. Click here.

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Initially posted 25 April 2005; Last revised 01 May 2005.

© 2005, William L. Castleman