Canon EOS 1Ds mark II review

Last week dear friends of mine got married. They asked me to shoot behind the scenes. I was happy to oblige, even though I have no camera suited to such a job anymore. So I asked Bas to lend me back my old Canon EOS 1Ds II, which he did. Thank you Bas!

The wedding photographer at work…

I know this is an old workhorse but what a delightful machine this is. Quick to respond to the shutter, well balanced and stable in my hands. Once my muscles remembered the button-hold + turn wheel pattern the EOS 1-series (at least upto the mark II) uses everything went smooth. I used my favourite lens on it, the cheap 35 mm f/2, in manual focus mode of course.

The groom in his childhood home, ready to marry.

What’s so great about the Canon EOS 1 Ds mark II?

  • Excellent matte screen standard combined with an excellent prism make for a clear and rather large view through the viewfinder.
  • Very short blackout during mirror up, makes it easier to follow the action while taking pictures.
  • Not too bulky (smaller than a 5 series + grip) but very solid.
  • Full frame sensor has enough dynamic range and colour depth to get excellent photographs from.
  • Good user interface once you get accustomed to it, even with the DOF-preview button in the right spot (right of the lens mount) unlike all other EOS models.
  • Long battery life.

What’s less great about the 1Ds II:

  • Batteries are nowadays getting harder to come by.
  • It does not offer a gazillion ISO or megapixels.
  • No big screen nor video mode.

Regarding the user interface

Even though my opinion is favourable regarding the EOS 1Ds II, and I stand by its pros regarding image quality, response to commands and solid build, there are a couple of things I dearly miss that I have found at other brands:

  • Mirror up using a button (in stead of buried deep in the menu).
  • Direct card formatting using a three-button-combination (in stead of buried deep in the menu).
  • Second curtain synchronization also with the standard flash connections, not only with proprietary flashes.
  • Nikon-style light switch integrated in the on/off button, this is much more intuitive in dark surroundings than fumbling for one of three identical buttons on top of the camera.

Conclusion

These old machines are still capable. You as a photographer are in charge of the images that come out of the camera. The EOS 1 Ds II was a state of the art digital camera when it was introduced and subsequently used by many professional photographers to create stunning images. There is no reason it could not do the same today in my humble opinion. The CMOS sensor with 16.7 megapixels and the electronics behind it are still very good. The body feels and acts as you would expect from a current professional camera, except the screen (which is tiny and fixed). It certainly is a joy to use once you master its slightly quirky interface.

I only sold the Canon because I wanted an even larger sensor which became sort of affordable as the Pentax 645D suffered its first price-drop.

Specifications according to Canon (they should know): https://global.canon/en/c-museum/product/dslr787.html

To see what the EOS 1Ds mark II can (still) do I’d like to finish this post with some photographs used in mainstream publications (either full page in a magazine or as a poster). These were all shot using the 1Ds II:

‘Chocolate head’ – shot in 2009 using the Canon EOS 1 Ds mark II.
‘Fork’ – shot in 2012 with the Canon EOS 1Ds mark II and its 100 mm f/2.8 Macro USM (non-L).
‘Skyline’ – shot in 2012 with a Canon EOS 1 Ds mark II and 100 mm macro f/2.8 (non-L version).
‘Bon appetit’ – shot in 2013 with my Canon EOS 1 Ds mark II.
‘Coffee’ – shot in 2014 with my Canon EOS 1 Ds mark II and Carl Zeiss ZE 50 mm f/1.4.

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