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An analysis of EOS-1D Mark III autofocus performance - Continued
February 26, 2008: Canon at the Australian Open; new firmware coming?
After being pointed to a story on a German website about EOS-1D Mark III autofocus difficulties being experienced by photographers at last month's Australian Open, we followed up with a wire service photographer who covered the event. The photographer - who has asked to not be identified - confirmed that representatives from Canon's Japan headquarters did come to Melbourne in response to repeated complaints from EOS-1D Mark III shooters on site, and that they did more than just observe. Here's what we've learned:
  • The contingent from Japan came at the behest of Canon Australia, which had been receiving a steady stream of DVDs full of problem sequences from at least three different agencies' photographers at the event. The DVDs contained mostly or entirely unedited camera JPEGs.

  • The contingent was comprised of two staffers from Canon in Tokyo, and they arrived just prior to the final two days of the 14-day event. One of the two shot with an EOS-1D Mark III on centre court during the women's singles final on January 26, 2008 (fittingly, the Canon-sponsored Maria Sharapova defeated Ana Ivanovic in the match), and may have photographed subsequent matches as well.

  • A key complaint of EOS-1D Mark III photographers at the Australian Open was that when the light was soft, flat or backlit - in other words, when subject contrast was low - that numerous frames in jubilation and other sequences were blurry. The photographer we spoke with couldn't say whether photos were mostly frontfocused or backfocused, only that, in this type of light, relatively few were usably in focus (he reported greater success when the light was more contrasty).

  • He and other photographers that he compared notes with had their EOS-1D Mark IIIs configured to use the centre AF point only (as is common among veteran Canon sports shooters). At the suggestion of Canon staff on site, some photographers experimented with adjusting AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity and certain other Custom Function settings, but these changes didn't noticeably bump up the number of properly focused pictures.

  • The courts in Melbourne Park, site of the Australian Open, are blue (in previous years, they've been green). In the article, their new colour was cited as a significant factor in the autofocus problems EOS-1D Mark III shooters were encountering, but the photographer we spoke with said that the camera's autofocus performance changed with the quality of the light primarily, and that it was far from certain that the blue hues of the playing area were contributing to the camera's autofocus troubles there.
While the article says that Canon Germany officially confirmed the nature of the problem, we've not been able to do the same: Canon USA Technical Advisor Chuck Westfall says only that officially, the company is "continuing to investigate possible improvements to EOS-1D Mark III autofocus, and if anything is developed it will be announced as soon as possible."
Westfall is also not able to provide any details about or otherwise confirm the existence of the new fix that Canon USA pro reps began talking about at the beginning of this month, though from the sheer volume of U.S. photographers and photo bosses that have been told about the fix firsthand now, it's clear the information we published on February 3, 2008 is correct. It's also possible, perhaps even likely, that what Canon engineers learned about EOS-1D Mark III autofocus in Melbourne played a role in Canon USA pro reps beginning to talk - only five days after the Australian Open concluded - about the company's discovery of the "root cause" or "underlying root cause" of the camera's remaining autofocus limitations.
Also this week: we've heard from two photographers, both of whom we consider reliable sources, quoting a Canon internal email shared with them that a fix is coming in the form of a firmware update that's intended to improve EOS-1D Mark III autofocus in specific types of light. The lighting conditions weren't described to the photographers, nor the release date. (Note that each photographer asked that they not be identified by name in this article, though one said it was fine to mention that he was based in the UK and that he's a self-described "vocal critic" of EOS-1D Mark III autofocus in that country.)
We can't say if this firmware update is the new fix that Canon USA pro reps started to talk up at PMA 2008 and Super Bowl, if Canon's Australian Open testing a month ago contributed to its development or, for that matter, whether the update is real and on its way soon. There is, however, mounting evidence that Canon has been busy trying to make EOS-1D Mark III autofocus work better, and that their efforts didn't stop with 2007's sub-mirror fix and firmware v1.1.3.
We'll continue to track developments in EOS-1D Mark III autofocus and report what we find out in updates to this article.
Next Page: March 5, 2008 update
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