Somehow, the rumor (or fact) has spread that the Canon 1DC is indeed a 1DX with a small and relatively simple firmware upgrade. The objective of this article is to determine what physical differences exist, if any; then look at the practicality of getting 4K from a still photography sensor; and finally, whether a small production house can justify paying an additional $6,000 for the privilege.
Important: I am not doing this comparison to fan any flames. I’m doing it from the standpoint of someone who is willing to invest in the system, if and only if it justifies the added expense. More on this towards the end. I don’t care why Canon is doing what they are, only whether or not I’m going to benefit from it.
Canon 1DC vs Canon 1DX: Physical Differences
Take a look at them side by side. For the purposes of this article, I’ve mixed the tops and backs for fun. Can you distinguish which is which?
Hopefully you know the C on the front makes it the Canon 1DC, while the X (the most favorite camera letter this decade) goes to the Canon 1DX. I was just kidding about mixing and matching the bodies, by the way. On the left is the 1DC, and everything on the right is the 1DX.
I can’t spot a single difference worth noting. At best, the outer material has a different color, but that’s it. If you can spot any differences, please let me know.
Lesson? There is no physical difference on the exterior.
But there is one major difference within the ‘flaps’: The Canon 1DC has a 3.5mm headphone jack, while the 1DX doesn’t have a headphone jack.
Canon 1DC vs Canon 1DX: The Insides
- Both seem to have the same sensor, which has a total of 19.3 MP, out of which 5208 x 3477 is used to calculate the 18.1 MP RAW image.
- The RAW image is 5184×3456.
- When shooting JPEGs, the maximum burst speed is 14 fps, and the camera can shoot 180 frames per burst. That’s about 13 seconds at 14 fps.
- As mentioned above, the 1DC has a headphone jack – this alone shows that the internal circuitry is different, even though some might say it is not relevant to the subject at hand.
- The 1DC has a Canon Log Gamma color mode, which shows that a separate optimized system had to be developed that tries to preserve the entire latitude of the sensor. The processors don’t have to change, of course, but it takes work nonetheless.
Which brings us to the sensor, and 4:
Canon 1DC vs Canon 1DX: The Sensor
It is common knowledge that most DSLRs line-skip, which means they leave out lines of pixels to make up the 2MP required for 1080p. Some others, like the Canon 5D Mark III might be using a system called pixel binning, which is the process of combining a bunch of pixels (2×2, e.g.) to form one pixel. This is done in-sensor.
The last option is downsampling or interpolation – the process of reading all 5K (18 MP) of the sensor and using an interpolation algorithm to resample to 2MP.
While I’m not going to spend time speculating what method Canon uses (why bother, it’s the images that matter), for the purposes of this article we could try analyzing what it means in the context of this comparison:
For the sake of simplicity, I’m assuming the 1DX downsamples its image to preserve as much resolution as possible, instead of pixel binning or line-skipping.
A still image has an aspect ratio of 3:2, but video only requires 16:9. I assume the verticals are cropped because the angle of view does not change horizontally in stills or video mode.
This means a 5208 x 3477 image will change to 5208×2930.
From the specifications of the 1DX, we know that a full 5208×3477 JPEG image (best quality) can be shot at 14 fps. That’s 253,515,024 pixels worth of information per second that will be sampled and debayered at 14-bit and recompressed to 8-bit JPEGs. Note that this includes the entire chain of events.
Obviously the heat system of the Canon 1DX is designed for this. According to the clarification that was published on Canonrumors.com, The Canon 1DC has “reworked circuitry and design to dissipate heat for the 4K recording”.
The Canon 1DC shoots 4K 4096×2160 at 24 fps, which translates into 212,336,640 pixels worth of information per second that needs to be sampled, debayered at 14-bit and recompressed into 8-bit JPEGs rewrapped as MJPEGs.
As you can see, if the 1DX can do 253 million pixels a second, it can also do 212 million, right? After all, even for downsampling, the sensor must read a 4K signal and process it. Actually, it includes the additional step of downsampling per second!
More heat is generated from 14 fps to 24 fps, since the sensor is being used almost twice as much. But only half the sensor is being used in the latter case. As anyone who remembers basic science knows, heat dissipation is directly proportional to the area.
So, if the camera is capable of 13 seconds worth of 5K at 14 fps, it would be roughly able to shoot only 15 seconds of 4K at 24 fps. That’s clearly not enough for professional video, and the 1DC is capable of filling a 32 GB card in 8 minutes.
What does this mean? Either the 1DX doesn’t downsample, but does pixel binning or line-skipping, like the other DSLRs; or, the 1DX does downsample, and is already capable of 4K at 24fps with whatever heat system it currently has. See the problem?
The Cost of a Heat Sink
At best, you can cram in a bigger copper heat sink (or something similar) like the one inside a Sony NEX-7, as you can see here. Even if they replaced copper with silver, it still would cost less than $100 (Price of silver is $1 per gram). They could also use a thermal compound like CPUs do. An Intel i5 processor at full speed tops out at about 50oC+, which is higher than the 45oC maximum operating temperature of DSLRs.
So what is the weight difference? According to this source the weight of the Canon 1DX is 1,530 grams including battery and memory card. The LP-E4 battery weighs 278 g and a Compact Flash card weighs about 50 grams. Without these, the weight of the 1DX is about 1,202 grams.
From this source, we know the Canon 1DC weighs in at about 1,355 grams, so the difference between the two cameras is about 150g. Part of this should go to the extra 3.5mm jack, which is metal after all! If someone put in a 150g gold heat sink, then the price is somewhat justified.
I don’t think the sensors are different. You can’t order a few thousand sensors, it doesn’t work like that. It has to be the same sensor.
The last argument about prices is Taxes. Many claim that 4K warrants higher taxes in certain countries. If that’s why the price on the 1DC is high, then what about the JVC -GYHMQ10? We already saw in our comparison how the JVC is also a true 4K camera, at one-third the price. If the cost of 4K taxes was $5,000, then the JVC should be free!
Unless Canon or someone else opens up both cameras and publishes their results for all to see, we’ll never know. But I have to make my choice now. I am pretty sure that even if there are a few changes in-camera, they do not warrant a price increase of more than $1,000.
So let me get back to the main question: Is the Canon 1DC worth $11,999 to someone whose livelihood depends on 1080p delivery?
Is it worth it?
I can’t speak for others and how their business operates. For some it’s not the money, and for others, they can afford anything – including the extra time it will take to downsample 4K to 1080p. I, on the other hand, have to be really careful before investing in a DSLR that’s twice the cost of a Leica.
Whether you’re making movies for couples, corporates, commercials, the internet or even 90% of all cinema (2K), your main delivery format is 1080p (for 2K you upsample a little bit).
Does the Canon 1DC produce 14 stops of dynamic range? In my previous article I mentioned how the footage from the 1DC looks like Cinestyle footage from the Canon 7D or other APS-C sensors. So, one can’t say the dynamic range is an advantage.
4K is shot in 8-bit 4:2:2, and many might say the extra color is worth it. If it’s worth $6,000, by all means. The eye can’t tell the difference between 4:2:0 or 4:2:2, but at least it meets broadcast specifications. Whether or not it holds up as well as 4:2:2 from a C300 needs to be seen. If the Canon 5D Mark III will officially get 4:2:2 from its HDMI port soon, is that going to help its cause?
Here’s the result of a banding test conducted by the brilliant Shane Hurlbut (who else?):
And here’s the ‘available light’ test:
You can read his observations here.
Finally, we come to resolution. I have absolutely no doubt that 4K downsampled to 1080p looks crisper than ‘naturally shot’ 1080p. I have seen this myself. Resolution helps compression. But is that extra crispness worth $6,000?
If someone shooting on the Canon 1DX were thinking of upgrading to the 1DC, is it really going to benefit his or her business? The clients don’t care, and they won’t pay extra for the downsampling time and effort.
Well, I knew the answer all along. Of course it isn’t worth it, especially since few clients will pay extra for it. The clients that want 4K will have the budgets for an Epic or F65. And let’s face it, as I’ve mentioned in the previous article:
“The Canon EOS-1D C digital SLR camera was designed in response to the needs of filmmakers, television producers, and other high-level motion-imaging professionals.”
Just wishful thinking on my part. If I were sufficiently compelled to shoot 4K, just because I’m weak in the knees for it, then the 1DC has one more hurdle to face. That’s what I’ll cover in the next and last installment of this ‘series’.
Are you going to shoot with the 1DC? If you are, I’d love to hear how you plan on recovering the costs of 4K with your business. Maybe I’ve missed something important.