The Canon 1Dx: A Story of Excess

I want to start off by apologizing for an unabashedly gear-focused post–I generally strive to write about technique, creativity, vision, and composition over tech-specs and gear, because I think it’s all too easy to get caught up in the gear and forget what you’re really trying to do. Still, I work with this gear and I think it’s worthwhile to discuss a bit, every once in awhile.

In recent months I’ve spent a lot of time posting about downsizing, making use of less sophisticated equipment, and focusing on art and vision over tech specs. This post is a little different, because even though I believe all those things I wrote, and I’m moving away from DSLRs, my Canon 5D and Canon 1DmkIII and array of lenses are still the mainstays of my photographic life. They are undeniably great tools, and I am reminded of just how great they are every time I pick them up and make photos in just about every sort of scenario.

Above is the Canon 1Dx, with a spec list of dreams: 18mp, full-frame, twelve frames per second, ISO sensitivity up to 256,000 (I had to bold that because it’s so nutso). Introduced on the heels of the 1DmkIV (I think just a year or two instead of the regular 3+ year pro body cycle), The 1Dx promises to be mind-blowingly good, and represents Canon FINALLY jumping into the arena that the Nikon D3 has been playing in for years–now, instead of a bifurcated pro line of a crop sports camera and a high mp “other” camera, you can have your cake and eat it too, all in one glorious potent gear wet dream.

It’s the camera I’ve been waiting for for years, while I cut glances at Nikon and wondered if I shouldn’t have stuck with it and bought a pair of D700s, instead of turning to Canon when I did. I lusted for the amazingly clean files of the D3, dreamed of a day when I could have 1-Series responsiveness AND a full frame in a body that wasn’t $8,000. And finally, Canon has delivered… sort of.

You see, the problem isn’t what the camera can do–as I’ve said, this is the camera of dreams. It, and the upcoming Nikon D4 seem to declare, “If DSLRs are going the way of the dinosaurs, we’re going to make sure they go out with a big &$%!!$ bang, hoo-RAH!” The problem is the price, MSRP of $6,800. When it hits the streets, I’d expect to see something more along the lines of $6,000, but that’s a lot of cheese for a digital gizmo that will be replaced before you know it. True, for many photographers like myself, it sort of represents the acme of all I could ever need in a camera, but that’s sort of what I’m starting to get to in this post–it’s just so… MUCH.

Let me segue for a moment, and talk about rumors of the upcoming Nikon D800 and Canon 5DmkIII. I’ve put off making this post for a bit because I don’t like to discuss speculation as fact, but it’s pretty apparent that the next generation of prosumer bodies from both companies are likely to pack 30+ megapixels. That’s all well and great, you might say–I’m paying similar money for more mexapixels, which means more cropping, bigger prints, etc. etc. That’s super if you shoot landscapes, crop a lot, or have really big walls to hang prints on. I, however, shoot portraits, and 10-12mp is enough. Probably more than enough. I’m sure the new cameras will have reduced resolution modes, but in the case of the 5D, if it follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, it will be hamstrung by good, but not cutting edge, autofocus and other features.

I thought Nikon really hit it right when they came out with the D700–a wedding photographer’s dream. The megapixels are right, the size is right, the functionality is right, the lowlight performance is exceptional. I probably would have switched had I not had so much money invested in Canon, and had I not loved my lenses quite so much. Now we’re headed in a direction that doesn’t quite make sense to me, unless the new offerings can boast both big megapixels AND big lowlight performance.

Getting away from the speculation and back to what we know, why can’t Canon make a 1Dx lite, a la Nikon and the D3/D700? I’m still shooting with the original 5D because I don’t see any great need for 21mp, and because the 1DmkIII is such an exceptional camera that it makes up for anything the 5D lacks. I have learned to live with the strange 1.3x crop, but I long for some consistency across bodies, and I really want my 16mm field of view back with my good camera. Canon has created a dilemma where it’s built a camera that is too good–it’s priced itself out of the hands of folks like myself, who would otherwise find it perfect. My upgrade choices are a 5DmkII, which has more mp than I need and doesn’t really have the sensitivity or responsiveness that I want; I can continue with a crop sensor and get a 1DmkIV and gain better lowlight performance; I can try to find some 1DsmkIII that is a reasonable price and sacrifice the high ISOs, or I can continue to long for a camera to fill the niche. I understand that camera companies can’t please everyone, and I know that there are a lot of professionals who will scoop up the 1Dx and swallow the higher pricetag with nary a wince, but it’s really got me wondering where things are going.

Bringing heat on the other side of things are all of the upcoming mirrorless offerings, with the Sony NEX line making a strong showing, and upcoming Fujifilm bodies that look fantastic. With mirrorless cameras putting serious pressure on entry-level DSLRs and advancements coming apace, how long will it be before these smaller, lighter, cheaper cameras are “good enough,” and cameras like the 1Dx and D4 become overindulgent exercises in excess?

Maybe Canon has foreseen all of this, and that’s why they put the ‘x’ in 1Dx–the know it’s excessive, they know it’s indulgent. It’s a Ferrari, a Bugatti Veyron (yes, I know medium format digital cameras are probably better analogs for high-end sports cars, but stay with me).

And therein lies the dilemma, the quandary–Canon has finally created the camera I’ve asked for, plus some. And it’s out of my reach. It’s too much.

Guess I’ll keeping hoping for the mythical 3D.

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