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Ziv Koren on shooting with the EOS-1D X

Ziv Koren on shooting with the EOS-1D X

© Ziv Koren/Polaris Images

February 2012

Given the chance to put the EOS-1D X through its paces, Canon Ambassador Ziv Koren (Polaris Images) decided to take it on assignment with him to South Africa where he was shooting a story with the British Red Cross on ‘AIDS in Africa’. He travelled to the areas with the highest AIDS infection levels in the world, where he captured the daily life of people living with the disease and the work the Red Cross is doing to help them. CPN spoke to him about the shoot and his first impressions of working with Canon’s new flagship 18.1 Megapixel EOS-1D X DSLR.

CPN: What cameras do you currently shoot with?

Ziv Koren (ZK): “My first digital EOS was an EOS-1Ds and I’ve used almost every professional model since then. Currently my daily workhorse cameras are the EOS-1D Mark IV and the EOS 5D Mark II. They provide different options for different shooting situations and mean I can tackle fast moving action, or more considered photojournalism, just by switching [my] camera.”

© Ziv Koren/Polaris Images

Theresa Khathi, 59, with her grandson, Sthembek Siyaya, 7, Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa. Shot on the EOS-1D X with an EF24mm f/1.4L II USM lens, the exposure was 1/50sec at f/2.2, ISO 1600.

© Ziv Koren/Polaris Images

A 100% crop of the image (shown left) of Sthembek Siyaya, 7, Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa showing detail in the eye. Shot on the EOS-1D X with an EF24mm f/1.4L II USM lens, the exposure was 1/50sec at f/2.2, ISO 1600.

CPN: When you first picked up the EOS-1D X, what were your initial impressions?

ZK: “Because of the plans for my [African] trip, and the fact that the EOS-1D X had not actually been made available to the public at the time I was travelling, the camera I was sent was a pre-production model. In practical terms this means that the manual for the camera wasn’t even written yet and I had to find my own way around it. First impressions showed it to be very different to previous EOS models and yet, if anything, it was more intuitive. I could navigate through the menus and everything was easily understandable, despite the lack of a manual. In short, it feels like previous models but at the same time completely new.”

CPN: Is this the camera you were expecting to be released?

ZK: “In truth, I’d been expecting a higher resolution [camera] but, actually, 18 Megapixels is more than enough. Once I started shooting with the camera, and looking at the results, I realised the quality was so good that it really didn’t matter. There is so much detail, and the files are so smooth, that a few extra megapixels will not be missed.

I’m very happy it’s a full-frame camera too – it suits the way I shoot and, with the 12fps frame rate, it doesn’t matter whether I want to shoot in low light or [shoot] fast moving subjects. In the past I’ve carried two cameras, and hence two sets of batteries and chargers, but now it’s one camera that I can shoot anything with. It’s a camera where no compromises have been made.”

CPN: What were the conditions like where you were shooting?

ZK: “I was in the field, in South Africa, for 10 days. It was dusty, dirty and generally hard going. [It was] certainly not a clean environment and one where you’d expect to get some dust in the camera body that you’d have to clean out. Apart from this, we were bouncing around off-road in 4x4s as well. Despite the conditions there was no dust on the sensor, even though I was changing lenses regularly. The improved dust removal system seemed to do its job very effectively – I don’t care how it works, but I like the fact that it does! The build quality of the camera was as rugged as I expect from an EOS-1 series model; feeling good in the hand and comfortable to use for long periods of time.”

CPN: How have you found the image quality?

ZK: “Because I had the camera so early in the production cycle, the DPP software for RAW conversion was not yet available, so, although I was shooting in both RAW and JPEG, the only images I have so far seen have been the JPEGs – all the images included here are from the JPEGs. I can’t say I’ll give up shooting RAW, but the JPEGs have been very accurate and more than acceptable for exhibition printing, magazine use and publication in the brochure about the British Red Cross.

Even the white balance, which can be tricky in mixed lighting conditions, was so accurate that I barely had to make any changes to the images, in terms of colour, once I’d finished shooting. The resolution was very good too. Because the images are so clean and sharp, the level of detail captured is unbelievable, despite being ‘only’ 18 Megapixels.”

© Ziv Koren/Polaris Images

Nontlantla, 13, Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa. Shot on the EOS-1D X with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens, the exposure was 1/125sec at f/2.8, ISO 800.

CPN: The new sensor technology has meant increased ability to capture shadows and highlights, so how did you find the dynamic range?

ZK: “Dynamic range is not something you instinctively look for in images; it’s part of the overall impression. However, since this was a new camera, I did take a closer look and found it very good. A lot of my work in South Africa was inside buildings with the harsh African sun streaming through the windows and doorways; yet there is a huge amount of detail in the shadows and the highlights look natural even when they’re overexposed. Even in situations where it’s mostly dark with just a shaft of light through a window, the shadows look clean and show detail across the frame.”

CPN: How was the camera performance when shooting at high ISO settings?

ZK: “This assignment didn’t call for me to shoot at any of the really high ISO settings, certainly not as high as I will be using when I shoot some of my military projects at night, where flash is not an option. However, when I did have to start increasing the ISO, the results were sharp and clean. During my time with the camera I did test shots all the way up to 204,800, just to see what it was like. In all honesty, I was blown away by what it could do; it was unbelievable. The high ISO settings give smooth, clean images even in the skies where you sometimes see artefacts.

From my testing, and looking at the images I produced, I think that [ISO] 25,600 is about the same in terms of noise performance as the EOS-1D Mark IV is when shooting around 4,000 to 5,000 ISO. As such, I’d be totally happy to shoot at ISO 25,600 on the EOS-1D X without having to worry about it. Even if I had to go higher, I wouldn’t see it is a major problem because the files really are that good.”

CPN: The exposure metering in the camera is new, with a 100,000 pixel AE sensor that is also colour aware. Did this have an impact on your images?

ZK: “As I mentioned before, many of the situations I was shooting in were full of contrast. It was really not an easy environment for a camera to calculate the exposure, but it was always accurate. I shot in a mix of Av and Manual [modes], depending on the conditions, but every time the exposure meter seemed very precise. I hardly had to change anything, even indoors with dark shadows and light coming in from outside. Being able to trust the exposure system is a fairly basic requirement when shooting but, having used it and found how accurate it is in a wide range of tricky lighting conditions, this does seem to be better than before.”

© Ziv Koren/Polaris Images

Portrait of a woman in Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa. Shot on the EOS-1D X with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, the exposure was 1/80sec at f/3.5, ISO 800.

© Ziv Koren/Polaris Images

A 100% crop of a portrait image shot in Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa. Shot on the EOS-1D X with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, the exposure was 1/80sec at f/3.5, ISO 800.

CPN: How about the new AF system on the camera, did you get time to test it out and see how it performed?

ZK: “As with the highest ISO settings, this assignment wasn’t one where I got to push the boundaries of what the EOS-1D X’s AF system is capable of. Most of my subjects were static, or slow moving, so there was no real need for tracking focus. However, in all situations, even in low light situations or where there was heavy backlighting, the camera performed perfectly. The focus was accurate and fast to find focus and lock on.

I left the AF points with all 61 points selectable to give me the most freedom in choosing which point to use. It didn’t seem to matter which one I chose, the results were the same every time.”

CPN: How did you find the handling of the camera and new button layout?

ZK: “As ever, I'd like [EOS-1 Series] cameras to be smaller and lighter, but this is [my] personal choice. The EOS-1 Series is so well designed that I accept the size and weight in return for the build quality, and the fact they keep working in the harsh environments. It really is the perfect tool.

The new button layout was actually a real step forwards too – although it’s mostly the same as previous models, the addition of the dual Multi Function buttons, depth-of-field preview buttons on the front and the dual multi-controllers on the back make the handling that much easier, whether you shoot in landscape or portrait format.

Working with the Custom Control functions in the camera’s Custom Functions I was able to tailor these buttons to work just the way I felt comfortable with them. I set the M.Fn button on the front of the camera to switch between One Shot and AI Servo. This allowed me to change the focusing mode immediately, without having to take my eye away from the camera. It’s small things like that that make the camera more usable in the real world and show how well thought out it is. Even setting this up without the instruction manual proved simple – the menu shows a picture of the camera and the position of the buttons that can have their functions modified. It’s simply a case of picking the button you want to change and then selecting the function you want to use it for. It is like having a camera custom designed just for you.”

© Ziv Koren/Polaris Images

Patricia, 56, with her grandchildren, Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa. Shot on the EOS-1D X with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens, the exposure was 1/250sec at f/5, ISO 100.

CPN: The camera has switched from CF and SD card slots to dual CF card slots. Is this better for you?

ZK: “Where possible, I always have two cards in the camera, with the EOS-1D Mark IV it’s a CF card and an SD card, but being able to have two CF cards instead is a great advantage. It saves having two different types of cards with you all the time. It’s much easier on a day-to-day basis working with just one card type and I like the CF card format. These cards are very stable and reliable and, in fact, in all the time I’ve been using them I can’t think of a time when I have had a problem with a CF card.”

CPN: Do you have any final thoughts on the camera?

ZK: “Yes, I didn’t want to give it back! Going back to other cameras, even the EOS-1D Mark IV and EOS 5D Mark II, seems like a step backwards. With all other cameras you have to make a compromise somewhere. With the EOS-1D X, you don’t make compromises… anywhere. The most annoying thing about having had the camera for a shoot was that I had to return it. It’s the best tool I’ve ever worked with. It’s now made me think about assignments I’ve had over the last few years and how I could improve on the results if only I could go back and re-shoot them with the EOS-1D X.

In fact, the results from the camera were so good, the printer I use for my exhibition prints even noticed the difference in the files. He was making 120x80cm exhibition prints from the JPEGs I’d shot. The difference in image quality was sufficient for him to call me and ask what camera I was now using because these files where so clear and sharp compared to previous images! My only real complaint, if it can be called that, is, as I said before, I’d like it to be smaller and lighter. Even so, it seems no bigger or heavier than an EOS-1D Mark IV... so it’s not so much a criticism, more of a personal preference.”

  • Please note: all of the images for this article were shot by Ziv Koren on a pre-production model of the EOS-1D X DSLR. No post processing has been made to any of the cropped sections taken from Ziv Koren’s original images – they are 100% crops of the original images.

Biografia: Ziv Koren

Ziv Koren

Hailing from Israel photojournalist Ziv Koren has been a photographer for the Israeli army, the Israeli government press office, newspaper Yedioth Achronoth, and has been freelance since 1998. In 2000 his image of a bus bomb was chosen by World Press Photo as one of the 200 best photographs of the previous 45 years. Currently represented by Polaris Images he became a Canon Ambassador in June 2008 and, as well as his photojournalistic assignments, he is currently working on a long-time project photographing the Israeli Army's Special Forces.


Nosiapo Mhlungo, Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa. Shot on the EOS-1D X with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, the exposure was 1/80sec at f/3.5, ISO 800.