My thoughts on the Mark IV after more than 100k shots 🙂

It certainly doesn’t look like that anymore 😉

Owning my Canon EOS 1D Mark IV for almost eleven months now I thought it’s time to write another review of the camera and share some of the settings. If you guys have some other settings, I’d be happy to discuss them with you. These are just my personal impressions about the camera after shooting birds with it for a long time. Lots of the settings below might be wrong or not helpful for other applications.

The camera’s and my start were less than ideal, if not to say a disaster. I got it on December 31st 2009. When I went out the afternoon of January 1st to test it I realized that the camera had a terrible front focus with my 600 L IS lens. It was about 15cm!

Thinking it could be easily calibrated, I sent it and the lens to Canon. When they came back, the problem was still there. After fooling around with the micro adjustment, where a value of +15 seemed more or less right, I decided to send it in again. I did so because Canon told me with such a high value accurate focusing cannot be guaranteed. When I got it back the problem was still the same….so I sent it again….and surprise….not working. After the fourth time, however, they finally did the job…after me telling them to delete all micro adjustment values. Just disabling the MA is not enough! Be aware of that if you ever send you cameras to Canon! You have to manually delete all MA values and then set it to disabled.

By mid February I could finally start to use my Mark IV. However, the trust in the camera was gone. After having good results while shooting Grey Herons on frozen lakes in Berlin, I gained some confidence, but every out of focus or unsharp images left me behind with a bad gut feeling. With any other lens, the camera worked flawlessly, though.

The first real test for the camera arrived in March, when I headed to Florida, to spot a few workshop locations with a friend of mine. In Florida I shot about 30 000 images. Without extenders the combo of 600 IS and Mark IV worked amazingly well and I had the best number of in focus shots ever. Adding the fact that most birds in Florida are rather tame, I was able to shoot without the extenders most of the time and got stunning results. The sharpness, details and noise were simply great and much better than on any other Canon camera I had used before, comparable to the 5D Mark II and better than the 1Ds Mark III. I never got along with the 1Ds mark III’s AF (because of having only 19 selectable points), though, so I can only reflect on shooting with it for a few weeks. I never owned a 5D Mark II either, so the statement above is based on images I saw made by friends. I still believe that the 5D Mark II is unbeaten in image quality, but the Mark IV is close. Anyhow, the Mark IV performed above my expectations on the plain 600mm IS lens. The extenders, however, gave me some headache. Sometimes I got stunningly sharp images, but I also got lots of slightly unsharp images. Most of the images were still useable, but not as good as I was used to. Back then I could not really explain what the problem was. After I came back, I talked to the CPS again and showed them some sample images and I made some focus tests again. I came to the conclusion that the poor results must have been me somehow, because the AF was spot on. The CPS told me that they believe the images were slightly blurred and also told me that the Mark IV requires higher shutter speed with extenders and that 1/800 @ 840mm on a tripod was not necessarily a sufficient shutter speed. I never had any trouble with that speed on my other camera bodies, though. That does not mean that I didn’t get sharp images at low shutter speeds, but the percentage of bad images was much higher than with my other 1 series bodies. I started to push the ISO on following shootings to get faster shutter speeds. Surprisingly to me, the results started to become better and better. Since I started trying to stay above 1/500 when using a teleconverter, the images have been pretty nice. I am not a technician, but I believe this phenomenon has to do with the higher megapixel count of the Mark IV and the higher pixel density, which makes the camera more sensitive to any kind of vibrations. The results with the 2x TC still vary from exceptionally good to bad, but that has always been the case, also with all my other camera bodies. I am very interested to see how the camera will perform with the new III series converters. Concluding to the converter issues I have to add that the Mark IV performs now well with the TCs, after I have adjusted my work-style to its demands. It took me some time, but I am now completely happy with it. When it comes to fast action, both TCs do not perform that great, but this has been the case with my other 1 series bodies as well.

Is the Mark IV the best camera I have used so far for bird photography?

It definitely is!

Since I am in Australia, I have been shooting more than ever before and figured out many ways to get stunning images with the Mark IV. It is more accurate, faster, and better capable of high ISO and incorporates many cool new features. The 10 frames per second are stunning and you can capture many moments you would have missed otherwise. It fills up your cards and buffer very fast, so it s important to use large and fast memory cards. Some might throw in the 7D, but I cannot use a 2x TC on a 7D, which makes it uninteresting for me. I also shot with my Mark IV for hours in pouring rain, which I would be afraid of doing so with a 7D of 5D II.

Below I will show all my custom function settings (C.Fn) and explain certain settings I use.

When it comes to shooting perching birds, I found that the best Ai Servo speed setting is between standard and fast. It depends on the situation and how clean the background is, but in general the results are pretty good when I set it to medium fast or standard. With the 2x TC fast works really nicely as well. However, having only the center AF field makes shooting and composing an image with the 2x TC sometimes tricky. For flight images I set it to standard or medium slow, because the fast settings perform not well for that. For everything except flight shots I have only one AF field activated with no expansion. For some flight shots I activate the surrounding AF fields. (C.Fn III – 8 set to 2, otherwise 0) I choose only one AF field, because I want to control exactly where the camera focuses. When photographing I switch the AF field all the time. I always chose the field, which is directly on the bird’s eye. That requires a lot of scrolling on the wheels, but to me this is the only way to guarantee to get sharp eyes on a bird.

Below I will list all custom functions I have changed. Ones not listed are set to factory default.

C.Fn I – nothing changed at all

C. Fn II – 2 set to 3 (disable noise reduction)

C.Fn II – 4 set to 3 (disabled, nonsense if you shoot RAW and just slows down)

C.Fn III -2 set to medium fast

C. Fn III – 6 set to 7 (Spot AF)

C.Fn III – 16 set to 1 (best feature EVER, saved me lots of images) I love it! It is so fast and convenient now to switch from vertical to horizontal and back. In the past turning the camera always meant scrolling on the wheels like crazy to get the right AF point. Now I preselect a point and have it instantly activated when the camera is turned.

C.Fn IV – 1 set to 2

C.Fn IV – 2 set to 1 (C.Fn IV – 1 and 2 are set in that way, so I can use the *-button to focus, instead of the shutter button)

C.Fn IV – 1 set to 1 (switches the wheels in manual mode)

That’s already it. After talking to many guys, including the CPS, these are the settings I have used for a few months now. In the beginning I played around much more, but then came back to these settings and the results proof me right I think. I would be still very interested to hear if you use different settings and why.

I highly recommend using very fast memory cards in your Mark IV. It can take the full advantage of them and only with the 90mb/s cards you can maximize your shots in a burst. I use 90Mb/s Sandisk Extreme Pro cards and can get about 40-50 RAWs in a row. One RAW is about 20MB. At the moment I use the 32GB version of the cards, which can save about 1400 images.

I think on my latest work you can clearly see that the Mark IV is a superior camera and that I love it. Maybe the bad performance in the beginning had to do with my lack of confidence, since we had such a bad start. If you are looking for a pro level workhorse with amazingly fast frames per second and high ISO capabilities the Mark IV is your camera. Otherwise a 7D might be a really good choice. I have to admit, though, that on some occasion guys with a 7D got better birds in flight images than I did. Their 7Ds simply tracked birds better under some circumstances, like mangroves backgrounds. Nevertheless the Mark IV is “the” camera for me.

I add a few 100% crops to see the high ISO…pretty good I’d say. Using 1600 is a no brainer and even 3200 works nicely, when you do some noise reduction. What bugs me a bit is the Mark IV’s tendency to produce a magenta cast on many images, especially when using high ISO in overcast situations. very visible in the 3200 ISO shot.







Hope you enjoy reading it and I’d love to hear some of your thoughts 🙂


3 Responses to “Mark IV Review”

  1. Ross Hollands said

    HI Jan just what I was looking for, appreciate your advise,look forward to more of your photos. Thanks Rosco

  2. David Woolcock said

    Thank you Jan as I have just upgraded my 7D to a Mk IV and was looking for exactly that sort of information. I have the new 400mm f2.8 as I do both wildlife and birds. In hindsight should have bought the 600 as I love doing bird photography so will have to try harder to get great shots. Love your work. Cheers Dave Woolcock

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