1D X and D4: Action in Poor Light

Take-off. January 2013 (Canon 1D X)

Take-off. January 2013 (Canon 1D X)

We continue our high-end camera testing with some practical action shooting in poor light conditions. Previous articles in the series:

This is the story of D4 and 1D X in their natural environment – in poor lighting conditions, catching fast movement.

Photographing athletics championships indoors will push the limits on any camera. I must admit that both cameras felt at home here and started eagerly filling their buffers. Canon 1D X takes lead (with 12 fps), after couple of seconds Nikon D4 passes (with 10 fps) and shoots about three times longer series of photos before the buffer is full. In real life situations 1D X buffer size is sufficient and only once I completely filled it up. This was using full size RAW files. I recommend you to see our upcoming push/pull ISO test to see why I suggest using RAW.

Landing. January 2013 (Canon 1D X)

Landing. January 2013 (Canon 1D X)

This indoors stadium was covered with green surface which gave photographs a strong green cast. Fortunately shot-put sector was alongside the stadium area and that made white balancing much easier.

Shot put. January 2013 (Nikon D4)

Shot put. January 2013 (Nikon D4)

Detail (ISO 12800)

Detail (ISO 12800)

An unexpected surprise.

For fair comparison I equipped both cameras with second generation 70-200mm F 2,8 VR/IS lenses. However, I never expected to get so exact 1/1000 second comparison shot from those two cameras:

 

Nikon D4 F3,5 1/1000 ISO 12800

Nikon D4 F3,5 1/1000 ISO 12800

Canon 1D X F2,8 1/1000 ISO 12800

Canon 1D X F2,8 1/1000 ISO 12800

Martin’s impressions

ISO: Having just recently escaped from the crop sensor world, I was a little too conservative in my ISO selection, trying to stick to 6400 or lower, if possible. This resulted in more motion blur and/or underexposure than would have been possible at ISO 12800. It was a pleasant surprise, however, that even ISO 6400 shots could be pushed in post by about a stop without a significant quality penalty.

Speed: In addition to impressive high-ISO capabilities, another headline feature of these cameras is, of course, pure speed. A little comparison:

5D Mark III - 12 frames in 1.81 seconds

Above is a burst from a “fastish” camera – 12 frames in 1.81 seconds equals 6.6 frames per second, actually a bit more than the Canon spec for a 5D Mark III. The 1D X, however, managed this:

1D X - 23 frames in 1.82 seconds

A new frame every 0.08-0.09 seconds, resulting in a speed of 12.6 frames per second in this burst. By the way, these bursts did not quite fill the buffers on either camera, I just let go of the shutter button.

So, during the same 1.8 seconds, the 1D X gave me nearly twice the frames to select the “winner” from. These particular bursts were for speed testing only and you can see that twice the speed can also just give you twice the amount of useless frames to wade through afterwards. Even at these speeds, the “right” moment can still fall between two frames and it is up to the skill and timing of the photographer to get the one shot at precisely the right moment, or it may come down to just luck. In other situations, however, a faster frame rate can give you greater chance to get “the shot” and the pros using these cameras are sure to appreciate every advantage they can get.

Focusing: the best I could do to assess AF performance was to analyze bursts of triple jump images (with the athletes coming towards the camera) that I shot with both cameras in a similar way. I rated the quality of focus for every photo on a scale of 5 to 1, with 5 being best, 4 OK, 3 usable and 2 and 1 being unusable. These were the results:

Nikon D4

  • 5 – 96 frames, 31%
  • 4 – 85 frames, 28%
  • 3 – 65 frames, 21%
  • 2 – 46 frames, 15%
  • 1 – 14 frames, 4,6%

Usable frames 246 out of 306, ie. 80%

Canon 1D X

  • 5 – 65 frames, 34%
  • 4 – 77 frames, 40%
  • 3 – 28 frames, 14,5%
  • 2 – 16 frames, 8%
  • 1 – 7 frames, 3,6%

Usable frames 170 out of 193, ie. 88%

Certainly this does not represent an absolute truth about the focusing abilities of the cameras – it was my first time shooting sports with either of them and a single focus point was used, making user error in keeping it on the subject a factor. Most of Nikon’s “off” frames were shots of the athlete landing, where it was easier to misplace the focus point and also where the camera may have had problems with the sudden deceleration of the subject; different AF settings may have improved the success rate here.

Handling: just like in the ISO test, the cameras are very close to each other and my keeper rate was similar for both cameras. I do have a couple of small complaints on the system more familiar to me, the Canon. First, at some point during the shoot I discovered that I had been shooting lowest quality JPGs for the last minute or so, even though I had previously set the camera to RAW only. The file quality button is similarly placed on the Canon and the Nikon, but for some reason the setting is easy to change by accident on the Canon. Apparently I am not the only person this has happened to, as Canon offers the possibility to disable the button in its latest firmware update for the 1D X.

Another thing that I disliked on the Canon after shooting with the D4 was the fact that the D4 shows a “slideshow” of the images you just shot while writing a long burst onto the card. The rear screen on the Canon, in comparison, remains blank until the last frame shot is shown after the writing is complete. On the Nikon, therefore, you can immediately evaluate at least the framing of the shots you just took; not so on the Canon.

The approaches that Nikon and Canon have taken to changing camera settings seem entirely opposite to each other (Canon, in my opinion, tries to unify the way various settings are changed, whereas Nikon tries to make the changing of different settings as distinct as possible, using different physical controls for them, such as buttons, wheels, levers, etc). Still, after the cameras have been set up for a particular shooting scenario, it is quite possible to use them interchangeably, without noticing major differences – they both have very similar capabilities and image quality.

D4, f/2.8, 1/800, ISO 6400

D4, f/2.8, 1/800, ISO 6400

1D X, f/1.6, 1/2000, ISO 4000

1D X, f/1.6, 1/2000, ISO 4000

 

4 thoughts on “1D X and D4: Action in Poor Light

  1. HibikiRush

    Can you provide any input on auto white balance for this particular test? It seems that such stadium lighting is always a challenge for AWB calculations. Were your samples matched to a particular kelvin during raw conversion?

    I am really enjoying your D4/1D X comparisons, particularly as a D4 owner who has had mixed feelings with the Nikon in-camera JPG and AWB. I would really love to see a test focused on AWB comparisons of the two cameras if you still have access to them.

    Reply
  2. Martin

    Hi, the photos here were shot raw only in AWB and at least my shots were adjusted by eye. In addition to the actual lighting being what it was, there was also a greenish cast from the surface of the stadium. Looking at the last pair of shots by me and the “triple jumper in the sand box” comparison shots, I think I may have gone too magenta with my corrections to the D4 photos. So the Canon files look a bit greener, but still somehow more natural, with better color and greater separation of the subject. I think we’ll have another go at adjusting the comparison pictures at least and maybe post the unadjusted versions as well.

    We also shot calibration targets under those lights, I’m not sure if Tom used those for something, I didn’t. Unfortunately we no longer have the cameras.

    Reply
    1. HibikiRush

      Ah yes, the Nikon did seem to be far more magenta than the Canon so that would explain it. I would love to see unadjusted versions if you ever get around to posting that. Again thanks for all of the results of your testing!

      Reply
  3. Tom

    I made color profile with (ColorChecker Passport ) and therefore used AWB. Profile helps more with blue and red tones. Otherwise I would have been on manual WB and choose the WB setting on post.
    During ISO tests the measured WB was 2670K (with C-500R ProDigi Color) but Canon 1D X colors were unacceptably off, so we just used “wrong” WB for both cameras to get through the test. In real life Canon AWB looked ok in every way. Still noticed that it was more green in color balance than other Canon models I have used.

    Reply

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