Digital Camera Reviews | Canon 1DX vs Canon 1D Mark III

Digital Camera Reviews // Low light performance Canon 1Dx vs the Canon 1D Mark III

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As photographers, we are constantly faced with low-light situations and decisions that must be made in order to ensure the highest quality image is created.

Noise is a byproduct of the low light situations we all encounter. As we increase the ISO on today’s cameras, the noise quickly follows. The world of photography has been forever changed with the introduction of digital cameras. No one knows what the future holds, but today, when I photograph a wedding, I am most concerned with noise. Don’t get me wrong, some noise is actually a good thing. Chalk it up to artistic interpretation. 🙂

However, with today’s digital cameras touting somewhere in the realm of 215,000 ISO its starting to seem like we can shoot in near darkness. But again, that pesky digital noise issue will creep in. And sure, there are noise reduction plug-ins that can remove some of that and they do a good enough job, but where does it just become impossible to produce a usable image?

That is the task I have set out on. Now, keep in mind, every camera is going to be different. In a certain sense, that’s what you are paying for. Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc all have noise issues. However, each performs differently under certain settings.

For my testing, I wanted to see if the Canon 1Dx is that much better over its predecessor the 1D Mark III.  I sure know the price tag is there at a whopping $6799! But will it give me better low-light performance?

There is nothing scientific about my tests. We are not being paid by Canon to do this. These are my personal cameras that I am putting to the test. And for me, low-light performance is something I am concerned about when selecting a new camera. And so should you.

Below are side by side pictures taken with both the Canon 1Dx and the Canon 1D Mark III. I think the results are pretty obvious.

Here was the criteria, I used a little sock monkey sitting on my kitchen table, don’t ask why I have a sock monkey, it doesn’t matter 🙂 – and used the tungsten light from the kitchen to illuminate the subject. No post-production has been done to the images. In addition, we did not use noise reduction in the camera. You are seeing the raw images.

The Canon 1D Mark III has a max extended range of ISO 3200. So, the comparison stopped there. However, with the new Canon 1DX the range is expandable to 204,800. However, like most things, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

***NOTE*** I erroneously made the statement that the max range on the 1Dm3 was 3200. This is why I am not a scientist. 🙂 The max range on the 1DM3 is 6400.

>>>Click on the images to enlarge<<<

At ISO 800 there is no describable difference between the two cameras.

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At ISO 1600, the Canon 1Dx starts to take the lead. There is a noticeable difference.

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At ISO 3200, there is no comparison. The 1Dx really stands out and takes the lead.

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From here on out, we are in uncharted waters with the Canon 1Dx. The maximum range of the Canon 1D Mark III is 3200.

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In conclusion, the Canon 1Dx is the winner. Canon has upped their game without a doubt and the Canon 1Dx has the price tag to prove it. All kidding aside, with the expanded ISO range, comes much great flexibility, but you have to be careful, too much noise will ruin your imagery to a point of no recovery. However, I feel comfortable pushing this ISO 12,800 and getting a usable image for my clients. And with a little noise reduction this image is good to go. Look, clients understand the challenges with shooting in dark locations. Clients today are camera phone aware and they see how bad those images look, but they dont care, they want something to remember the moment. My point is simple, we have some latitude and the clients understand that with low-light comes noise. That being said, its up to us to understand our equipment and how far we can push it. NEVER, let the equipment get in the way of the shot. Its a tool. And like all tools, its their to assist.

That being said, I will do everything in my power at the time of capture to keep the ISO down to a manageable level, especially when I know I will be creating art work for my clients that will be produced in a larger size. However, most of the time, the church and reception pictures will end up in a smaller size either as a print or in the album, so the trade-off is somewhat manageable and not as noticeable.

The Canon 1Dx gives me the expanded ISO I need to work in some of the most challenging situations, but with that expanded range comes additional digital noise. At ISO 3200, the Canon 1Dx has some significant improvements over the Canon 1d Mark III. Give your gear a test and see how it performs in low-light situations. ~Sal

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Jon Lambert


    I know this article was in 2012, any chance however you still have those iso 3200 images? If so could you email them to me?

  2. Costel

    Your artcile is a little missleading. You sad you compared Canon 1Dx with it`s predecessor, Canon 1D Mark III. The problem is that the prececessor of Canon 1Dx is Canon 1Ds Mark III ( a huge difference).
    I belive that you compared 1dx with 1ds Mark III, because the depth of field looks preatty much the same, and I don`t belive that Canon 1D Mark III has low noise performance soo close to Canon 1Dx.
    Like vgnsnr sad, people pay too much attention too noise capabilities, when most part of the work is done in post processing, where the differences are not so obvious. Anyway, if you care soo much about the noie, after processing the raws, you can aply another coreztion with topaz denoise (a which is excelent) , topaz ninja or others.
    What is more important is the image quality. From your pictures I can shurely say that Canon 1Ds Mark III (if I presumed well) is preatty sharper than 1Dx, because doesn`t aply soo much noise reduction, and picture sharpness is very important in the low light conditions. Another important fact is that dynamic range look a lot better on the Canon 1ds Mark iii, another big advantage, because you get more detail in the shadow. The last thing I like more on 1Ds Mark III pictures you posted, is that it picked a better colour balance than Canon 1Dx (which is warmer), since the the light from the background is bluish.
    The big advantages of the Canon 1Dx are, in my opinion, the possibility to expend more the iso, which is very good option in day light (sunrise, sunset, cloudy day) situations. I low light situation (like churches), I would not go higher than iso 3200 , because the grain will be preatty heavy, and the artistic effect of grain (noise) is ok only on bw photos.
    Another big advantage, which you didn`t even mentioned is the af system upgrade, which is much better than Canon 5d mark III, which is better than Canon 1Ds Mark III. There are other advantages like silent shutter which give a less vibration, resulting less blury pictures, above the fact that I woun`t disturb the wedding ceremony (if you do weddings) or the birds, animals (if you do wildlife).

  3. Dain

    Great review, i own an 1d3 and actual ly looking fordward yo upgrade to a 1dx because of noise advantages, so, great comparisson to me!

  4. Vitalie

    Hey Sal I have a 1d MK IV… don’t you think it will be a better predecessor instead of MKIII for comparing with 1dx?

    1. admin

      maybe. but i dont have one. 🙂 i did the review based on the two cameras i am currently using in a production environment. definitely possible for a future review. ~sal

  5. vgnsnr

    Really? This is what we care about? I personally don’t see anything here that would make a difference in 98% of real life applications. I mostly shoot between 100 and 400 ISO, sometimes up to 800 and in extreme cases up to 3200. And absolutely necessary, PS or LR nicely removes that bit of noise that modern cameras still have for those extreme cases.
    I don’t think there are too many people who seriously chose a 1DX or a 5D3 because of that. They are for different applications and both have excellent image quality. Coming from a 5DII (and still more than happy with it!) I personally would chose two 5D3 over one 1Dx because I don’t shoot sports or wildlife or anything else where you’d want the extra protection or shutter longevity.

    1. admin

      Interesting point of view. Keep in mind, every shooter is different. If you are a wedding shooter and like the thought of using available light vs flash – you will most definitely be concerned about performance with ISO levels at the higher end. I can only speak from personal experience, but I have often pushed my camera to ISO 6400 in churches to avoid using flash – not because I dont know how to use flash, but because the church doesnt allow it or because I personally dont like the artificial look. ~Sal

  6. Craig

    I wonder how the 5D MKIII stacks up against the 1DX for this purpose. I know its its expandable to at least 256000.

  7. David

    🙁 and I just bought my Mark 3, darnnnnnnnnn I knew I should have saved a little more. Thanks for the comparison, awesome.

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