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Rudy Winston
Rudy Winston

Rudy Winston has over 14 years experience with Canon USA's Pro Products team, and has been responsible during that time for training Canon's staff on new products, creating presentations for customers and dealers, numerous writing projects, and providing technical assistance to professional and amateur photographers.

High speed shooting with the EOS-1D X

April 02, 2013

Canon expects many professional photographers and top-level amateurs to experience the virtues of the EOS-1D X in situations like studio shooting, portraits, wedding and event photography, landscape and macro shooting — which usually don’t call for super-fast frames per second (fps) shooting speeds. As Canon’s top-of-the-line pro camera, it offers many other strong points, such as its outstanding high-ISO image quality, that we anticipate will make it very appealing in these types of situations.

However, this new full-frame pro camera does offer the fastest shooting speeds of any EOS SLR to date – a value not strictly for sports photographers. Nature and wildlife shooters are an obvious example of users who may benefit from the camera’s tremendous performance. Even a shooter who wants to shoot HDR (High Dynamic Range) scenic imagery may find that the camera’s speed makes hand-held shooting of bracketed shots a practical option.

In this article, we’ll explore the EOS-1D X’s high-speed shooting capabilities, its options and how it can be useful to different types of shooters in different situations.

12 fps — world’s fastest continuous shooting speed*

Set to its Continuous High Speed setting, the EOS-1D X is capable of shooting up to 12 frames per second with full metering and autofocus for each picture. This includes being able to focus-track moving subjects, using AI Servo AF — which is able to get a fresh reading for updating focus between each frame even at these extreme speeds. The 12 fps shooting also applies whether the photographer is shooting RAW or JPEG images and allows shooting at the camera’s full 18.1 million pixel resolution. The only restriction comes when sensitivities are set to ISO 32,000 (not 3,200!) or above. At these high ISO speeds, the system requires slightly more time for noise reduction and the maximum available fps rate slows to 10 fps (even when set to 12 fps).

Continuous High Speed shooting can be an outstanding option in many situations and pretty much ensures that the photographer is able to capture the “decisive moment.” It’s an obvious choice for sports and action shooters, whether on the sidelines at an NFL game or at an on-location commercial catalog shoot showing models and products in active use. Wildlife shooters, especially those who shoot birds and other fast moving animals, will love the increased numbers of images from each situation that the EOS-1D X allows. It can even find its way into events such as weddings, where a burst of pictures can be taken at key moments like the first kiss or tossing of a bouquet.

* Among full-frame, interchangeable-lens digital SLRs with moving mirror, as of March 1, 2013.

Another situation where Continuous High Speed shooting can be useful is for auto bracketing, especially if the photographer has extended the number of bracketed shots from three frames (the factory default) to five or seven different bracketed frames and if the photographer is hand-holding his or her bracketed images. Being able to fire off seven bracketed frames, each up to three stops apart, in under a second can be a time saver to the user who’s working with HDR imagery or who simply makes Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) shooting a common part of his or her routine in certain situations.

But there are several other important options to the working photographer to influence how the camera’s drive speed works in his or her hands.

Option 1: Low-speed, continuous advance at 3 fps

Obviously, not every situation calls for 12 fps continuous firing. With the EOS-1D X, it’s a simple matter to press the AF-DRIVE button on top of the camera and turn the Quick Control Dial to set Continuous Low as the advance rate. By default, the Continuous Low setting gives three fps advance rate — often, far more suited for everyday shooting situations. Focus tracking of moving subjects, using AI Servo AF, is completely active when shooting speed is reduced, so this Continuous Low setting is not simply for stationary subjects.

Option 2: Change the fps rate for Continuous High and Low

In the 3rd Custom Function Menu, the first item is “Continuous Shooting Speed.” Press SET to enter this choice and you’re initially presented with two menu options:

  • High speed: 12 shot/s
  • Low speed: 3 shot/s

Each shows the current fps rate assigned to it (the figures listed above are the factory default fps speeds). Users can simply highlight either High speed or Low speed, press SET again and then dial in their choice of fps rate for each, up or down. High speed advance can be set anywhere from 2 thru 12 fps; low speed from 1 to 11 fps. The only restriction is that users cannot set the Low speed fps rate higher than the High speed rate.

A still-life or macro shooter, for instance, might want to consider changing their fps rates to 1 fps for Low speed and 2 or 3 fps for High speed. A photographer who shoots high school sports, but who knows they don’t need the full 12 fps for their coverage, might dial in 6 fps for High speed and 4 fps for Low speed advance. A commercial shooter photographing skiers in action might raise the Low speed to as much as 10 or 11 fps, as a slightly lower alternative to the 12 fps High speed setting. It’s entirely flexible and can easily be changed on the spot to match the situation, subjects and preferences of the individual shooter.

14 fps – Super High-speed Continuous advance

This option provides the world’s fastest shooting speed among professional interchangeable-lens digital SLRs with full-frame sensors (as of March 1, 2013). The EOS-1D X can be set to an even faster fps rate for specialized situations where continuous AF and viewing aren’t required, but rapid frame rates are.

This is a truly specialized setting. Important differences to keep in mind when you activate Super High speed Continuous advance include:

  • This setting requires that the mirror be locked up for shooting — you don’t have to do this separately – and it’s taken care of for you whenever the shutter button is fully pressed to begin shooting when Super High speed Continuous advance is active (the mirror returns to the normal viewing position as soon as you take your finger off the shutter button).
  • Accordingly, there is no continuous viewing of your subject, either through the viewfinder or even with Live View, during an actual 14 fps shooting sequence.
  • Continuous AI Servo AF is not possible to track subject movement during a sequence. However, you can easily focus using either One-Shot AF or AI Servo AF, up to the moment when you fully press the shutter button. At that point, focus is locked and AF will not be further updated during a sequence.
  • Automatic exposure (in P, Tv or Av modes) is locked at whatever setting was used for the first frame in a sequence and will not be updated or change continuously if lighting or camera position changes.
  • AEB is not possible when set to Super High speed Continuous. If you engage AEB, the drive setting will internally change to High speed Continuous operation (up to 12 fps) with mirror movement after each frame.
  • Super High speed Continuous advance is possible for JPEG images only. If the camera is set for RAW images, the drive setting will change to High speed Continuous (maximum rate returns to 12 fps) with the mirror rising and lowering for each shot in a sequence. In other words, your Image Quality settings on the menu take priority.
Applications for Super High speed Continuous shooting:

Even though the camera is no longer able to continuously focus-track moving subjects or provide continuous viewing when the 14 fps setting is engaged, there are still situations where the setting may be a very useful option to really capture the “decisive moments.”

The key point is that it’s ideal for situations where you can expect movement to happen in one predictable place. With the EOS-1D X’s superb high ISO capabilities, a sports photographer could use this to great advantage for a remote camera attached to the backboard at a basketball game or inside an ice hockey net. A baseball shooter can visually dissect a pitcher’s pitching motion or a batter’s swing by pre-focusing and firing at 14 fps as the action occurs. A golfer blasting a shot out of a sand trap is another logical application for this new EOS-1D X setting. A photojournalist capturing a moment like a new president taking the inaugural oath of office could use Super High speed Continuous and have many more subtle options in expressions and timing to select from. A nature shooter could pre-focus on a bird’s nest, a watering hole or some other area where activity is expected and fire a tremendous sequence of shots when activity occurs.

So while it’s clear that most EOS-1D X photographers will likely be relying more on either single-frame or Continuous Low speed or High speed (12 fps) drive settings, the option to move to an even higher fps rate from time to time is a compelling one – one we hope EOS-1D X users try occasionally.

Activating the 14 fps Super High speed Continuous setting:

By default, the 14 fps setting isn’t available when you press the AF-DRIVE button and cycle through the choices with the rear Quick Control Dial. You have to activate it first. Here’s how:

  1. Third Custom Function Menu: Scroll to “Restrict Drive Modes,” highlight it and press SET.
  2. You’ll see the different settings (single-frame advance icon, continuous icons, etc.) with a check mark above them. The last setting, “Continuous H” with the number 14 beneath it, will be unchecked as the camera is shipped from the factory. Scroll to highlight it with the Quick Control Dial and press SET. A check mark should now appear above the icon.
  3. Turn the Quick Control Dial to highlight the word OK. Press SET.

Super High speed Continuous advance can now be selected using the AF-DRIVE button and Quick Control Dial, as all other settings can. 

Important: Super High speed Continuous advance is indicated on the top LCD panel by a flashing letter “H” when the Continuous icon appears. If you see a solid non-blinking “H” as you cycle through the different drive speed options, you’re at “normal” High speed Continuous advance and the maximum fps rate there is 12 fps. The 14 fps, Super High speed Continuous setting, does not replace the normal High speed 12 fps setting — it simply supplements it with an additional shooting option.

Summary

Any discussion of the EOS-1D X’s high-speed shooting possibilities run the risk of having prospective users think of this as simply a sports camera and not really one designed for other areas of professional photography. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The EOS-1D X is ready to tackle almost any type of professional assignment and do so with reliability, viewfinder excellence, AF performance and image quality that few digital SLRs have ever been able to match. Its high ISO performance is the best ever in the Canon EOS system. It remains a superb full-frame camera, even for users who rarely move out of the studio.

But its high-speed shooting potential takes it to an entirely different level. Previous high-resolution professional digital SLRs were confined to slower frame rates because of the size of the files they produced. Now, here’s a camera that can crank out 18 million pixel files that open up in Photoshop at approximately 54MB (at standard 8 bit settings) at speeds up to 12 fps with world-class AF capabilities. Or at up to 14 fps, users are able to shoot JPEGs and lock focus on one part of a scene. And even if most of pro or serious camera enthusiasts’ shooting doesn’t need to be done at such high fps rates, the camera allows full tailoring of both its High speed and Low speed Continuous settings to make it easy to set it up for their individual preferences.

High speed shooting can sometimes be useful in situations as mundane as group photos, where it can help ensure a frame where nobody blinks, or as a time saver for those in the studio and on-location. The EOS-1D X provides the professional with quality, features and speed whenever it’s needed.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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