We were airborne for less than 45 minutes and descended over a rich green tapestry of palms. Director, Gaspar Gonzalez, editor, Jorge Rubiera and I stepped off our charter flight onto the tarmac of Havana, Cuba. In tow, a few backpacks strategically packed with the necessary essentials for our second Cuban documentary, Havana House. Canon Professional Services equipped our production with two C300s, a complete set of Canon tilt shift lenses and an 11-24mm f/4.0 lens. 

Richard Patterson Canon 1D X Mark IICuban street still shot captured with Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon 16-35 (16mm) f/6.3, ISO 320

I was most excited about the new Canon 1DX Mark II that rounded out our kit. Solidly built and rugged, this camera evoked the familiar weight and feel of the 1D pedigree I had known since shooting with the original 4mp body as a young photojournalist in 2001.

Camera Overview:

  • DCI 4K Video (4096x2160) up to 60FPS (MJPEG, ALL-I, IPB video compression options) recorded internally to CFast 2.0 Media
  • Full HD up to 120 FPS 
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF during all recording modes
  • 3.2’’ Touch Screen LED for Touch focus 

Test video with the Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon 11-24mm f/4.0, DJI Ronin:

There’s something to be said about a tool that is built upon an established legacy. However, I wondered if any new drawbacks would surface with this camera. Canon’s pace of releasing cameras with various levels of benchmark specs have been scrutinized in the past, slow motion being one of those topics, but I have to say that I’m very happy with the video quality of the 1D X Mark II. 

“Without Canon Log natively available as a picture profile option to allow for the most latitude and match the C300s, we were hesitant.”

The bulk of our short documentary focused on illustrating the tale of our main character and her historic home through dozens of ethereal images. Our footage had to match as closely as possible in the field because we didn’t know if color correction was an option at that time and the footage had to have a delicate aesthetic and lower contrast ratio. 

Off the bat, I would have been more inclined to utilize the 1D X Mark II throughout the video shoot, but without Canon Log natively available as a picture profile option to allow for the most latitude and match the C300s, we were hesitant. This is my main complaint with the camera. We didn’t have the time to load a 3rd party picture profile, but instead loaded a user defined cocktail of: sharpness off, contrast off, and saturation -2, to get us closer to the C300’s tried and true Canon Log image.

Richard Patterson CanonFrame grab captured with Canon 1D X Mark II, 4k at 60 FPS Canon 11-24mm f/5.6, ISO 100

That said, the 4k 60P and full HD on the 1DX MKII looks great and we did utilize the new 4K slow motion feature on several occasions. The camera was recording in the MJPEG codec while shooting 4k 60 FPS. It did produce a large file that consumed the 64-gig card quickly, however it is nice to have the widely accepted .mov available right away. It’s definitely something to consider while in the field on a long shoot when media management may not be available and you still want that format and frame rate. 

The 4k image is very crisp, has a smooth roll-off in the highlights and handles shadows well using the settings. I actually prefer the images a bit to those from my Sony FS7 at 4K in natural light. The 1D X Mark II definitely interprets and captures red hues better than my Sony FS7. In addition, the overall color interpretation seems less heavy-handed and feels more authentic with the Canon. 

Of course, the ergonomics are completely different between the two cameras, as well as the audio capabilities, but if I was shooting on a stabilizer or on sticks, especially in adverse conditions, and didn’t need to worry about capturing sound in camera, using the Canon 1D X Mark II would be a strong contender.

“We worked quickly with the familiar 1DX Canon menus, and personally, I find the Canon menu structure to be one of the easiest to navigate.”

I would also love to test the camera again with a cinestyle profile added to the camera.

I was pleasantly surprised to see nearly no rolling shutter in our shots. This is due to a combination of the cameras dual processor and pixel-to-pixel read out for 4K, which really minimizes the dreaded rolling DSLR shutter effect prominent in other makes and models. 

It was a disappointment to learn that the camera did not have a built-in intervalometer—a surprising choice for such a flagship camera. Do to packing restrictions for Cuba, we had to be very decisive about what to bring. This meant I could not bring even my small Canon intervalometer, so I really missed this option in the camera menus.

We captured a locked off interview wide shot using the 1D X Mark II equipped with a Canon TS 45mm lens. This was our wide C shot. We adjusted the angle of the lens to create an in-camera, dreamy moving portrait of our main character within her majestic home. We worked quickly with the familiar 1DX Canon menus, and personally, I find the Canon menu structure to be one of the easiest to navigate. 

Richard Patterson Canon 1D X Mark IIFrame grab captured with Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon 45mm Tilt-Shift lens, HD, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO 800

Our interview lasted for about 2 hours of continuous shooting, and I shot one more hour of b-roll that night. The camera battery hardly showed any depreciation. 

I was thoroughly impressed with the selective autofocus on the camera. In the test video, you see the AF at work with the 11-24mm on the Ronin stabilizer during our driving shots. The compact, brick like design of the camera made balancing the camera on the Ronin a breeze. At first, we used an HDMI SmallHD monitor with the Ronin, but later resorted to the large LCD screen on the back of the camera. Foregoing the necessary rigid HDMI Y-cord enabled a smoother result from the Ronin. 

“As a stills camera, the 1D X Mark II is kinda like the karate juggernaut in Michael Jai White’s Blood and Bone: You just don’t want to mess with him.”

The video low light capability of the 1D X Mark II is good (12,800 in 4K and 25,600 in HD), but not mind-blowing. Because the camera records in 8-Bit, the blacks and shadows start to get a bit noisy around 8,000 ISO. You can get a perfectly usable image at 8,000 but it’ll need a bit of post-production love. I’ve attached frame grabs at 4096 × 2160 60P from various scenarios to examine. I did not use the camera’s native ability to capture the 8.8 mp still frames while recording, but I wish I did.

Richard Patterson CanonFrame grab captured with Canon 1D X Mark II, 4k, 60 FPS, Zeiss 50mm f/2.0, ISO 8000

I should also acknowledge that we used the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8, 50mm makro-planar f/2.0, and 85mm f/1.4 ZE lenses for the majority of our shoot. Following these lenses, we utilized the Canon tilt shift lenses that do not use AF.  Therefore, apart from the b-roll captured on the Ronin using the Canon 11-24 f/4.0, where it did very well, we did not use autofocus for the bulk of our film. 

I also did not get a chance to test the uncompressed HD video signal exported via HDMI to my Odyssey 7Q+, test the Wi-Fi functionality, or touch screen follow focus as much as I would have liked. 

Finally, the 1D X Mark II can make still pictures. In fact as a stills camera, the 1D X Mark II is kinda like the karate juggernaut in Michael Jai White’s Blood and Bone: You just don’t want to mess with him. As mentioned, I owned the original 1D body in 2001 and after 15 years of evolution, I’m still impressed. 

The auto focus mode is ridiculously fast. In fact, it’s so fast, dependable, and accurate with its 61AF tracking points that it really removes the notion of “focusing” when using Canon AF lenses. The 14 frames per second with the new battery is almost comical; Even while shooting full RAW images, you might giggle each time you press the shutter, as the camera keeps on clicking at a phenomenal rate. The impressive battery lasted for the entire day shooting stills and motion.

To Wrap up…

Video Pros: 

  • 4K 60P 
  • Dual Pixel Auto Focus Tracking 
  • Weather Sealed, Compact, and Solidly Built Camera Magnesium Body
  • High ISO range for still photographs and a respectable range for video
  • Extremely minimized rolling shutter effect 

Video Cons:

  • No Canon Log
  • No Time Lapse / Interval Recording Option 
  • MJPEG Video Compression (I QUICKLY filled up the 64gig CFast card using this compression on 60FPS)
  • 8 Bit Video Recording
  • C-Fast Cards are expensive and go very quickly while shooting 4k due to the compression 

Overall Takeaway: 

At $6000, the camera is not inexpensive, but that was also the price of my extremely dependable original 4MP 1D back in 2001 and it still works today. If you are in the market for a top of the line DSLR that can shoot very reliable 4k 60P video and also have the option to shoot a barrage of 14 fps RAW still images, you’re getting an amazing tool.