US sports photographers caught their first glimpse of the Canon EOS-1D Mark II over the weekend. The location - Houston - and date - Saturday, January 31, 2004 - were chosen to coincide with Canon USA's annual brunch in advance of Sunday's Super Bowl XXXVIII. On Sunday, pro shooters would be talking about Janet Jackson's half-time "show;" on Saturday, however, Canon's high-speed, high-resolution camera was the subject of discussion for more than 100 photographers and other guests that showed up at La Strada restaurant for a spicy buffet and the chance to handle Canon's newest professional digital SLR.
Not surprisingly, Canon's message focused squarely on the EOS-1D Mark II's unprecedented combination of 8.2-megapixel resolution and 8.5 fps continuous shooting.
"More than any other digital camera that's ever been on the market before, this is truly a general purpose camera that will function for virtually any application," said David Metz, Canon USA's Director, Professional Products, in an interview after the event. "Our launch strategy for this camera is a three-fingered launch in terms of sports photographers, wedding and portrait photographers, and photojournalists. So this is just the first step of what we're doing here at the Super Bowl."
David Metz of Canon USA addresses the assembled throng in Houston
Canon USA is expecting to ship small quantities of the camera in March with significant deliveries in April, May, and June, Metz said. The Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) for co-op advertising reimbursement on the EOS-1D Mark II is US$4499 in the US, and Metz said that will likely be the street price as well.
Photographers interviewed at the brunch were uniformly impressed with the Mark II. All agreed that this new Canon approaches the versatility they expected from their film SLR bodies.
"For me, this will close the bridge between film and digital," said Vincent Laforet, a staff photographer at the New York Times. "With the 1D, I never hesitated to take a picture for the newspaper or the wire. But when I wanted to make a big print for the wall, you started to see it was digital after about 11 x 14. With this camera, I'm not going to have that hesitation any more."
Matt Campbell, New York Bureau Chief of the European Pressphoto Agency, echoed Laforet. "They really seemed to concentrate on what everybody wants, which is file size and frame rate in a single camera."
Campbell acknowledged the obvious adjustment that those 8.2-megapixel images will force. "With this huge file size we are going to end up killing cards more often. We'll have to recirculate through our card stock pretty soon, and start getting some bigger ones." He adds that he and his staff will use the SD card slot to avoid running out of storage space. "The adding of a second card slot was a great idea. We'll probably buy one [SD card] each, and leave it in there for an emergency. It's just a good backup."
Still on Campbell's wish list is a Lithium-Ion battery system, which he thinks will provide better cold-weather performance than the current NiMH batteries.
Bob Deutsch, a staff photographer for USA Today, was impressed with the Mark II but less willing to call it a revolutionary product. "In the old days, each new generation was a huge leap from the one before, which made our jobs considerably different. This camera, as far as I'm concerned, is an incremental change. But doubling the file size and doubling the buffer are very important. When you start thinking about cropping sports images, the file size becomes really important. And buffer size is critical because no bullets, no pictures. It's real simple."
Deutsch acknowledged that the Mark II's largest file sizes may not be suitable for transmitting over the dial-up Internet connections that he still sometimes must use on assignment. "But you can always shrink it down," he says. "You can't make it bigger."
Like many photographers at the event, Deutsch hopes the Mark II's purported flash exposure improvements pan out. "If the flash works like they claim it will, that's a big deal, because the flash almost never worked before."
"One step backward is the 1/250th sync," he added. "That's not a real big deal for me. I'll take all the new features this camera is offering in exchange for the 1/250th sync."
Seeing the Big Picture
With a smattering of EOS-1D Mark II's doled out to photographers covering the game (Canon is tight-lipped as to exactly how many preproduction units were circulating on the sidelines of Reliant Stadium), you may have already seen a photo taken with the camera - without knowing it - on a news web site or published in your local newspaper.
A Canon advertisement in the next issue of Sports Illustrated, however, will offer a guaranteed opportunity to see the printed result from one of the camera's files. Canon USA's David Sparer indicates that the photo, which will be spread across two pages in the magazine, was taken with a preproduction EOS-1D Mark II by photographer David Grapkin.
It was, says Sparer, shot as a RAW .CR2 file at ISO 800, 1/500 at f/2.8 with a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L, then processed on a Powerbook G4/1.25GHz using a beta copy of Digital Photo Professional (DPP). In DPP, Sparer set a click white balance off a near-white jersey in the frame, warmed up the photo slightly using DPP's colour adjustment tools and saved out the result as a 16-bit TIFF file.
The file was then opened in Photoshop CS, where it was cropped down to about 70% of its original dimensions to tighten up the framing and fit the ad's layout. Sparer also applied a 1.0 pixel Gaussian blur to the chrominance to mute image noise, set a black point in Levels and darkened down slightly an area in which white text was to be overlaid.
Sharpening was set to none in the camera, and no sharpening was applied in DPP. The photo likely was sharpened for printing - a standard and necessary step for all photos being rendered as ink on paper - and converted to CMYK for printing downstream from the adjustment work that Sparer performed on-site in Houston. It was expected that few, if any, additional adjustments would be made to the photo before it went to press. The double-truck ad will appear within the first few pages of the February 9, 2004 issue of Sports Illustrated, which is emerging on newstands this week.