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Canon 1D X Mark III Real World Review for Video and Cinematography

We shot a documentary with the Canon 1D X Mark III. Does it hold up to world-class standards?

The Canon 1D X Mark III (Amazon, B&H) is a video powerhouse on paper. In this review we put it to a real-world documentary test. Does 5.5K RAW really hold up?

Let’s find out!

Review type: Comprehensive
List of sponsored/free gear: Canon India loaned me a 1D X Mark III for five days, along with three L-series lenses. Thanks to Kishore and Prashant from Canon India for making this happen on such short notice.
Did I get paid for this review? No
Warning: The findings of this review are based on the particular sample tested, and might not be true of all samples. Even though I’ve tried to be as objective as possible about image quality and usability a large measure of subjectivity and personal preference is inevitable.

First, watch the video review:

The Canon 1D X Mark III Guide to RAW Video is available right now! Learn to master your camera and Canon RAW in 2 hours. Click here to learn more.

Background

We were shooting a documentary for Grassroutes Journeys, a company helping rural villages with creating jobs through tourism.

I thought this was the ideal time to test the Canon 1D X Mark III (Amazon, B&H), especially because we were a limited crew and autofocus was important.

Features in a nutshell

The 1D X Mark III is probably the last major DSLR. It can shoot 5.5K compressed raw or 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 internally in H.265, up to 60p. It can also shoot up to 120p in HD. All this in full frame.

You also have a 1.3x crop mode for Super35 cine lenses. EF-S lenses will not mount, though.

You need a CFexpress Type B card and the camera has dual slots. You can only write RAW to one card. The other card can be used as a backup/proxy to record 10-bit 4:2:2 MP4 simultaneously.

As far as the body is concerned, the Canon 1D X Mark III (Amazon, B&H) is as a 1D X should be. It’s dust and water resistant, and as tough as a camera can be.

The buttons and dials all allow for quick access. Most of it is customizable, though for video you really don’t need to bother. You can create your own menu, and there’s access to a quick menu button as well.

It has a very useful touch screen. Truth be told, the ergonomics of the 1D X Mark III makes shooting video a pleasure with Canon full frame EF lenses.

I had the LCD setting at medium brightness and I was able to shoot in day and night, in almost all conditions. The screen is reflective and the form factor prohibits a tilt screen. Due to mirror lockup there’s no viewfinder in video. It is what it is.

The coolest thing is Canon was able to get 5.5K RAW in 60p with no fan. Other cameras under this price point with 6K have fans.

Who’s the camera for, really?

In Canon’s own words…

”(for) the established professional photographer to extend their services – episodic televisions, video commercial production,

“the Camera for all seasons”.

The Canon 1D X Mark III (Amazon, B&H) is also intended as a B-cam to a cinema EOS camera like the C500 Mark II. The colors are meant to match, with an acceptable format for Netflix – or anything, really!

Battery life

It’s great – one of the things Canon does well compared to other brands.

Canon claims a solid 2+ hours on each charge, and about 4 hours shooting HD without servo AF. I had servo AF on at all times. I just got addicted to the AF.

I just had two batteries available for the shoot, but I never felt the need for a third. We were shooting long days, from early morning to late night. However, for professionals going to tough shoots, I would recommend at least four batteries. The batters are the exact same as the ID X Mark II batteries, the LP-E19.

As for the charger you get a dual charger with your camera. It takes about 3 hours to charge one battery. The downside is the charger charges one batter after the other. So put two together and they will be done in about six hours.

You can also check the health of the batteries on the charger itself as well as in camera.

What did we test?

We shot for three days, and came back with about 1.5 TB of footage at 5.5K 25p, Canon RAW Lite. A few clips were shot at 60p.

This shoot allowed us the opportunity to really put the camera through its paces, and we were able to form a real-world impression on its video and cinematographic capabilities. We’ll talk about:

  • Image quality
  • The Canon RAW Lite workflow
  • Dual pixel AF and Manual focus
  • Handling and customization
  • Exposure and color grading
  • Audio

Image quality

What can I say? The image quality is outstanding, with gorgeous Canon colors.

I’ll link to the final video here when it’s made public.

The fact you can shoot 5.5K RAW is a game changer.

What are the advantages to shooting 5.5K RAW?

You get the entire width of the sensor (mostly).

Then, because it’s 5.5K, you can crop to 4K DCI or UHD (or even HD) and extend the focal length of your lens. This allows you the creative freedom to frame a bit “looser” so you don’t chop off important things. Very helpful in run and gun situations or gimbal shots.

Next, the AF face detection technology works better in the center, and less so in the sides. So, by framing your subjects closer to the center for a 4K finish, you get better autofocus performance.

If you’re not shooting in RAW, you get access to the 1.3x crop mode as well.

When you shoot in 1.3x crop mode the video isn’t downsampled, so there’s no loss in quality. You can easily match the two in post. This allows you an additional 1.3x extender to your lens.

Moire and artifacts

I could see no visible moire in any of the footage.

In RAW, the ISO is limited between 400-25,600. ISO 400 is the base ISO for Canon Log in this camera, and it gives the cleanest images.

Higher ISOs are only available for stills. In my tests I’ve found amazing performance all the way to ISO 25,600 in RAW.

The max I used for this shoot was ISO 6400. I didn’t need to go higher because I had lenses opening up to f/1.4. In a crunch situation, I wouldn’t hesitate to go to ISO 25,600.

High-end wedding filmmakers are going to love this camera!

That’s the good. Now, for the not-so-good news.

Exposure

The Canon 1D X Mark III (Amazon, B&H) is limited to 12-stops of dynamic range. For consistent cinematic results you need to shoot RAW or 10-bit 4:2:2 Canon log.

The log is the original Canon log, modified to match the C500 Mark II. Unfortunately there’s no Canon Log 2 or Canon Log 3 in this camera at the time of this writing.

Canon log exposure settings are as follows:

  • Black – 128 code bits or 7.3 IRE
  • Middle grey 18% – 352 code bits or 33 IRE
  • Reference white 90% – 614 code bits or 63 IRE
  • 800% full – 1016 code bits or 109 IRE*

*Even though theoretically the full dynamic range goes to super white territory I’ve found the Atomos Shogun I used to test limited the signal to the full range to under 100 IRE. This is 940 code bits.

Important: One thing you’ll note is the Canon log settings are not the exact same as the original Canon log. It’s slightly modified to better match Canon log 3 at the lower end.

If you don’t like viewing log, flat images on the back LCD, you get a View Assist feature that converts log to Rec. 709 so you have a better idea for exposure. The only negative to this is, when you playback your clips in camera, the View Assist doesn’t work. Hopefully Canon can fix this?

How do you expose Canon log on the 1D X Mark III?

Due to the limited dynamic range, Canon recommends you don’t clip your video. In fact, in one of the official Canon videos, they recommend staying below 92.5 IRE.

I found that incorrect. Due to the nature of RAW, I found you can recover some highlight details, and more about this later in the color grading section.

In camera, judging highlight clipping is a problem. The histogram or in-built meter isn’t accurate or reliable. I had turned on both Luma and RGB Histograms to see if the clipping would coincide with RAW clipping – but it doesn’t. You can still try to use it to keep your highlights safe, but it’s unreliable and a stupid way to work. You all know what I feel about histograms anyway!

A day before the shoot I did a quick color and exposure test in log to know where the limits lie.

Most of the time you really have to judge by eye and experience. I wouldn’t recommend this method to newcomers. I’m an outlier in this sense because I have extensive experience with most log formats – but exposing and grading them. This experience helps me understand what I can get away with, and where I should draw the line. I don’t recommend newcomers to video be so cavalier.

So, what do you do, instead?

I would recommend an external monitor definitely. A tough SmallHD Focus should be great without breaking the bank.

You use an HDMI mini cable and you need HDMI 2.0 to get 4K out. With HDMI 1.4 you just get 1080p.

I tested the lag with just the iPhone stopwatch and here’s a screenshot:

img

This camera takes a bit of time to customize, but once that’s done, shooting is easy and a pleasure.

So what’s the downsides? There are two.

Recording limit

The first is minor, the camera has a 30 minute recording limit. It didn’t bother me much because I don’t see this being an event shooter’s camera anyway.

The camera never overheated once even when we were rolling continuously during our interview shoot. Not even in the hot sun bordering on 40 degrees Centigrade. 

The second downside is a  major one:

Rolling shutter

The rolling shutter skew is terrible – like 5D mark II terrible:

Even a slightly quick pan shows visible rolling shutter. This will be a problem in sports or action shoots.

Shooting in 50 or 60p helps a bit, but it comes with its own problems.

Like larger data rates, and also the problem of no autofocus.

Autofocus and manual focus

The Canon 1D X Mark III (Amazon, B&H) really shines in autofocus mode.

You do have manual focus peaking and zooming in which is a pleasure to use. You can zoom in to 5x and 10x, which makes nailing focus simple. You don’t get focus peaking when zoomed in.

The dual pixel face tracking and eye AF is phenomenal. The new head tracking feature works great as well, and is one of those things that make shooting a whole less painful.

For objects other than faces or heads, with just a touch of the button subject tracking is activated and the camera does a reasonably decent job, even in low light, and even in log.

Sony cameras probably have better AF and less rolling shutter for sports and such, but the colors and RAW on this camera are simply on another level. And I’m talking Red camera or Blackmagic camera level colors.

The only downside is there no AF in 60p and 50p RAW. You get AF only up to 30p RAW, but not in 50p and 60p. In 50/60p, you’re going to have to manually focus.

If you use L-series lenses or cine lenses and this camera, there’s really little you can’t do from a filmmaking perspective.

Audio

The Canon 1D X Mark III (Amazon, B&H) records 2-channel, 16-bit 48 KHz Linear PCM audio.

There’s one headphone jack and one 3.5mm jack that will accept most microphones or line level inputs. You can choose to use auto so the levels don’t clip, you can choose a manual setting to set recording levels yourself, or you can select line level if you’re inputting a signal from an external mixer or recorder.

One weird feature is the headphone levels, which is not very intuitive to access. You do that from the Q menu and I’m not sure the volume is loud enough, or maybe it was just the headphones I was using.

Anyway, the preamps in the 1D X Mark III are plenty loud even for low powered microphones, so the audio is perfectly satisfactory.

By the way, the Servo AF makes noise so you don’t want your mic on top of the camera. If you are serious about your video you know that already, regardless of your camera.

Workflow

Now let’s talk about workflow. The Canon 1D X Mark III (Amazon, B&H) records to the following formats:

FormatColorResolutionMax. Data at 25p*Max. Data at 60p*
Canon RAW Lite/Compressed (*.CRM)RAW5.5K225 MB/s312 MB/s
H.265 (*.MP4) ALL-I or IPB10-bit 4:2:24K DCI/UHD56.2 MB/s112.2 MB/s
H.264 (*.MP4) ALL-I or IPB8-bit 4:2:04K DCI/UHD14.5 MB/s27.6 MB/s

*5.5K RAW for RAW, and 4K DCI ALL-I for the rest.

Canon RAW files under 30p are about 225 MB/s and 60p is about 312 MB/s. You can shoot 24p in both PAL and NTSC modes, but you have to pick one.

The data rates are consistent with low compression Red codecs, and with 512 GB CFexpress cards, you’ll get about half an hour of Canon RAW lite at 25p. I believe Canon provides one card and one charger free with the camera, which is great. I don’t know whether this is true in all countries, so please check with Canon or your local dealer.

A Sandisk Extreme Pro 512 GB CFexpress card currently costs about $600, which is steep. How many do you need? At least four, if you’re serious about RAW. I just had one card for our shoot, and it was painful – and scary.

Four cards will set you back a lot of money, and you might want to get a second card reader as well.

You can connect the camera to your laptop via the Canon EOS utility app to transfer files at USB 3.1 speeds. Thankfully, all the cables are USB-C, so if you have a newer laptop like a MacBook Pro, you’re good to go.

We shot 1.5 TB of data for this two day shoot. That’s a lot of data, but manageable it if you’re shooting professionally.

Wedding shooters and journalists can always shoot 10-bit 4:2:2 in H.265. H.265 is really demanding in terms of processing power, and you’ll find you need to transcode your footage to Prores HQ or DNxHR for a smoother editing experience.

Also, I hate H.265 as an acquisition codec. If you clip you lose everything. With all the power that RAW brings you really don’t want to be shooting in any other way. Anyway, each person has to make his or her own choice based on their unique challenges.

Color grading

Please don’t use Davinci Resolve v16.1 or prior – even if those versions recognize Canon RAW lite. The footage has an ugly green cast and is nothing like you see on camera. Also, if you try changing RAW settings, you get weird colors and artifacts. Almost unusable.

Sadly, Resolve doesn’t ship with Canon LUTs but you can download them off the Canon website. Just make sure you’re using the Canon log LUTs.

My suggestion? Upgrade to Resolve v16.2, which was just released a few days ago, and you have much better support and colors. I’m going to be grading this video and publishing it as soon as I can. When it’s ready, you’ll find the link above.

If you’re not using Resolve, Canon has plugins for both Avid and FCP X, and I’m pretty sure Premiere Pro will have full support as well.

Unlike some RAW formats, Canon RAW finds wide acceptance, and is easy on your computer system.

The good news is Canon will also make the files accessible to the professional CRD software soon. This will allow you to view, playback and transcode RAW files in the field. It can’t come soon enough, in my opinion. DPP is useless for video work. I didn’t test the remote smartphone app or wireless capabilities but that’s always present for those who are okay with that sort of thing. I really wish we had an app like Adam Wilt’s FieldMonitor for Canon, for exposure.

The footage from the Canon 1D X Mark III (Amazon, B&H) looks amazing – sharp, great tonality and skin tones. Enough said.

My upcoming Canon 1DX Mark III guide will have all the details on exposing and grading 5.5K Canon RAW, and how I shot and edited this documentary video. Please check back later for updates.

So let’s answer the big elephant in the room:

Should you upgrade from Canon 1D X Mark II?

Yes, but only if video is bringing in more money in 2020 and beyond.

The Mark II shoots great 4K 60p already. You can satisfy a lot of clients with just that. The Mark III does three things better:

  1. Low light sensitivity is amazing. The Mark III is one stop more sensitive than the Mark II.
  2. 5.5K RAW and crop modes give you a lot of flexibility. There’s also a digital image stabilization feature which works great from what I’ve seen. You almost never need a gimbal. It doesn’t work in RAW, and I had a gimbal. But in a crunch, it should be a lifesaver.
  3. And the third advantage the Mark III has is better face and eye autofocus, and head AF recognition.

The Mark III Is what the Mark II wishes it becomes when it grows up.

Features I wish Canon would add soon

Here are some things I believe Canon can add easily through a firmware update:

  • Frame markers, customizable if possible.
  • Zebras that show true clipping levels in RAW.
  • False color or waveform, pretty please?
  • Customizable LCD details, so I can see what I want to see.
  • Easier way to change headphone levels.
  • Immediate compatibility with CRD.
  • Full spot metering support for video. Right now I can’t find a way to toggle spot metering, and the manual (Yes, I did read all 961 pages of it) states ambiguously there mightn’t be spot metering mode in video, so that sucks.

You really don’t have the right exposure tools for log in this camera, and that’s going to be an issue for a lot of people who don’t have experience working in log.

The bottom line

The Canon 1D X Mark III (Amazon, B&H) is, in my opinion, the greatest DSLR ever made for video, and it gives mirrorless cameras a run for its money.

If this is what Canon can do with DSLRs, I’m going to buy the “EOS R1”, or whatever that camera is going to be called, with RF lenses.

Please check back for the final video and my 1DX Mark III Guide when it becomes available.

Hope you found this review useful!

2 replies on “Canon 1D X Mark III Real World Review for Video and Cinematography”

Sareesh, thanks for taking the trouble to make such a great review. This looks like a great camera. Personally, it’s not anything I’d be interested in since all I shoot is video. But for the hybrid shooter who wants to expand their customer appeal it looks great—save, IMO, for the LCD. If you’re going to make a video oriented camera I really think you need something besides that antiquated screen.
Speaking of antiquated—one thing you didn’t bring up was White Balance. (Probably because you were shooting RAW???.) But does Canon still, in 2020, have that ridiculous, awkward, time consuming method of acquiring the white balance for video shooters—you know the drill!
I have an EOS R and when I first got it I couldn’t believe that at this late date Canon would still persist in making a good white balance so hard to get.
Does it sound like I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill? Maybe. But if you’re out shooting and into a rhythm and your concentration is good, and all of a sudden you have to do a white balance, your whole world has to be put on hold to get it.
NONE companies that produce hybrid cameras do anything like this: Fuji, Panasonic, Sony, etc—NONE does this!
Is it thoughtless….or is it they just don’t care?

You’re welcome! The WB process is the same, unfortunately. Thankfully, it’s no longer a concern with RAW.

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