The Canon 1Ds Mark II Digital SLR Camera

So it finally happened, I bought a camera I have wanted for (pretty much) my entire photographic life!

14 years old...Canon 1Ds Mark II DSLR

14 years old...Canon 1Ds Mark II DSLR

14 year old technology in the Canon 1Ds Mark II

14 year old technology in the Canon 1Ds Mark II

When I first starting getting interested in photography when I was 16, my first camera was a Canon 400D, which I received as a Christmas present. After enjoying that camera for a year, learning all about it, I soon wanted to upgrade to something more “professional” – and ended up with a well-used Canon 40D – which was one step up in terms of camera performance.

Whilst browsing photography forums and discussion groups, there was lots of talk of Canon’s latest flagship camera, the Canon 1Ds Mark II – which was by all accounts, the best camera in the world. This camera was so far out of my price range (£4,799!!) that I never ever considered it, but I was absolutely fascinated by it.

Over the next few years, my interest continued to grow, and the 40D was still going strong. Technology was fast moving forwards, and Canon were now announcing their forthcoming Canon 5D Mark II. This camera was technically superior to the 1DsII from a few years ago, and the price tag of £1,999 was more within my reach – so I set my goals on this being the camera that would take my photography forwards, and a year or so later, I managed to purchase a 5D Mark II.

Canon 1Ds Mark II + Canon EF 85mm f1.2 L USM Mark II @ f1.2, ISO 200

Canon 1Ds Mark II + Canon EF 85mm f1.2 L USM Mark II @ f1.2, ISO 200

This was the camera that really turned my photography from a hobby into a career, and my pictures began getting better and better as I learnt more about photography, lenses, light and the camera.

The 1Ds Mark II from 2004 was now becoming a piece of history, as technology continued to fly forwards at an alarming pace. Canon now had the 1Ds Mark III which was soon replaced with a Mark IV.

Years later, somewhere around 2012, Canon announced the 5D Mark III – which basically was the “wedding photographers dream camera” – it ticked every single box that I, and millions of other photographers, wanted.

The 5D Mark II was not a bad camera by any stretch, but it had real limitations – all of which Canon listened to their customers feedback – and produced the “ultimate” camera in the 5D Mark III.

Still to this day, I use and love the 5D Mark III – and most, if not all pictures on my website currently were taken with one of the 5 I have had over the last 5 years!

As a wedding photographer, I am quite heavy-handed with my kit – it gets taken through rain, sand, mud, gravel with me – and it needs to work and work and work. Hundreds of thousands of photos taken with them – they do wear out, and to this day, nothing has tempted me away from 5D Mark III as its successor – even the newly announced 5D Mark IV (2017) hasn’t enough features to make me want to swap…yet.

1Ds Mark II + 35mm f2.0 USM IS @ f2.0

1Ds Mark II + 35mm f2.0 USM IS @ f2.0

But.. somewhere deep inside me, I remember my lust for a 1Ds Mark II back when my photography began. I remember being hugely envious of people who could afford the near £5000 price tag for one of these enormous cameras. I had watched countless videos and reviews of them over the years.

Practically a dinosaur now in terms of technology, there was still a strong place in my heart for this camera – and on the 10th September 2017, some 14 years after this camera was released, I decided to “have a look” for one on the internet, to see what was available.

Anyone who has ever done this will know what happens when you do this, and less than 24 hours later, I had bought one.

Not just any old one, this one sounded too good to be true.

It’s serial number began with a 3* - which to the geeks amongst us – means that it was produced in the 3rd year of production of these Cameras (2004/5/6) – which means it is one of the newest versions of this camera.

I insisted that the shop run a shutter count on it, to tell me how many millions of photographs it had taken in its long 12+ years of life……30,400 was the answer………an unbelievably low number for such an old camera.

Canon 1Ds Mark II + 85Lii @ f1.8 ISO 100 - focus on eyes

Canon 1Ds Mark II + 85Lii @ f1.8 ISO 100 - focus on eyes

I take this many photographs per year on my 5D Mark III’s – yet this camera had only taken this number in its entire life.

Its condition – immaculate. Until it was delivered, I couldn’t believe it was actually be immaculate, there would be small marks here and there… but no, upon delivery this camera is truly 100% immaculate.

Whoever was the former owner of this camera (I would love to know!) has truly looked after this camera, and for that I am so so grateful!

Now, a lot of people, including my partner Steph, are confused as to why I would be interested in such a camera. There is more advanced technology in a typical wrist-watch these days, than inside this old camera.

The screen on the back of the camera is pretty much useless – being just slightly larger than a postage stamp. The batteries are ENORMOUS. The menu’s are slow and hard to operate, and there’s no custom function or assignable buttons.

But the most important thing about this camera is the sensor inside it, and the auto-focus system – both of which are still world class (in my opinion!).


Canon 1Ds II - Technical Review Info

Modern cameras are so refined that they can take pictures in near-pitch black, and produce very clean files. This is great – most of the time!

A lot of places where I photograph weddings are candle lit, and being able to take photos in this sort of light is obviously important. That’s where a camera such as the 5D Mark III which produces clean looking files at ISO 3200,6400 and even upto 10,000 is really useful.

But, at the same time… I do love a bit of grain and grit. Modern day cameras in my honest opinion are TOO CLEAN! I actually add grain back into a lot of images, I love it!!
On the 1Ds Mark II, there is a lot of this natural grainy / gritty look in the pictures.

From ISO 800 upwards, the files have a fantastic quality to them which I love – with one slight caveat that you must get the camera exposure correct! One thing I have found is that the high ISO files from my 5D Mark III’s and 6D can be “pushed” a lot more – and they will take it… whereas the 1Ds Mark II files you have quite a limited amount of exposure adjustment with the RAW file before things start looking messy.

Canon 1Ds Mark II High ISO 3200 (H) with added grain in Lightroom

Canon 1Ds Mark II High ISO 3200 (H) with added grain in Lightroom

Usually, this isn’t a problem.. as I try to get my in-camera exposures as accurate as possible – using the histogram to check this – but it’s something I bear in mind when using this camera.

RAW files taken at ISO 1600 are absolutely fine – and look lovely to my eye. ISO 3200 is the furthest this camera can go, and exposures need to be spot-on at this ISO – if you need to manipulate your ISO 3200 RAW file much, it will soon start looking messy. At normal zoom, the image looks pretty much noise-free – maybe just a slight noticeable grain (not a problem.) Zooming into 100% reveals more grain – obviously, but again, this wouldn’t concern me. Look at the sparkler shot below, taken at the camera’s maximum ISO 3200

Coco - 1Ds Mark II / 85LII // f1.2

Coco - 1Ds Mark II / 85LII // f1.2

I recently took my 1Ds Mark II along to a friend’s wedding with me. I wasn’t the official wedding photographer, but Chris knows how I never put my cameras down, so I brought it along for a few shots.

And guess what….

I took one of my favourite all time images on it!

I can’t take full credit for the picture, as the official photographer Matt Brown Photography did pretty much all the hard work here, getting the guests into two lines and lighting the sparklers etc – but I quickly grabbed this shot.

ISO 3200 (H) //// 35mm L @ 1.4 /// 1/125th

ISO 3200 (H) //// 35mm L @ 1.4 /// 1/125th

Now considering this was taken with a 14 year old camera, at very extreme settings (the camera technically only goes to ISO 1600… so 3200 is already pushing the RAW file 1 stop!) – on a 35L lens wide open at f1.4 – I am very happy with this shot, and it just goes to show how this camera is still capable of capturing superb photographs, despite the fact it is so out-dated.

Canon 1Ds Mark II Autofocus

The autofocus on this camera is brilliant. It was the main selling point when the camera was released. Featuring a 45 point AF array, 9 cross-type sensors, and a processor purely dedicated to auto-focus, this put the 1Ds Mark II at the absolute pinnacle of auto-focus systems, some 14 years ago.

As with everything, technology moves on – but even a lot of modern day cameras don’t come with as advanced autofocus systems as this – so despite the age, this is one area where the 2004 1Ds Mark II is still better than most cameras in 2017!!

The above sparkler shot was taken as the bride and groom walked towards me – I tracked focus on the groom’s white collar against his black suit (high contrast area) using one of the auto focus points off to the right of centre (a non-cross type point). As they walked towards me, I fired off a couple of frames, then they paused for a moment for a kiss (click click) and then separated.

Getting critical focus at f1.4 is essential – otherwise the photo would be useless, and the camera nailed it perfectly here.

Centre focus point is extremely accurate, and I would say performs as well as my 5D Mark III does. The non cross-type points are less sensitive, but only in extreme situations.

Canon 1Ds Mark II High ISO 3200 - Centre Point AF with Canon 135L lens

Canon 1Ds Mark II High ISO 3200 - Centre Point AF with Canon 135L lens

For the speeches here, I was using ISO 3200 (H), 1/200th and f2.0 on a Canon 135mm f2.0 L lens. I could have perhaps dropped my ISO to 1600 and gone to 1/100th, but I was concerned that I would get movement in my shots (either my movement, or subject movement) as speeches tend to be quite fast paced, I played it safe to avoid blurry photos

In my opinion I would much prefer a grainy noisy photo, than one ruined by the subject being blurry or out of focus.

High ISO 1Ds Mark II vs 5D Mark III

Here's two images, both at ISO 3200. Unless you look closely, and especially at web-size, there's hardly any difference between them!

That's crazy! That is 10 years worth of technological advances, and there's hardly any obvious difference.

Also worth mentioning is that the Canon 5D Mark III will shoot at ISO 3200 natively - ie, it was designed to do it.
Whereas the 1Ds Mark II was only designed to go to ISO 1600. Canon offered users an option to turn on "ISO Expansion" which basically applied a +1 exposure adjustment to the ISO 1600 RAW file. 

There's a lot of discussion on the internet about which is better... shooting at ISO 1600 and then adding +1 exposure in Lightroom, or enabling ISO expansion and letting the camera do the same thing - in camera. I'm perfectly happy with the in-camera results though

Canon 1Ds Mark II, 85mm f1.8, ISO 3200, 1/20th second

Canon 1Ds Mark II, 85mm f1.8, ISO 3200, 1/20th second

Canon 5D Mark III, 85mm f1.8, ISO 3200, 1/20th second

Canon 1Ds Mark II ISO 3200 (H) - this image was also pushed +1 exposure stop in Lightroom

Canon 1Ds Mark II ISO 3200 (H) - this image was also pushed +1 exposure stop in Lightroom

I used centre focus point, and re-compose method. I was finding that my outer focus points were struggling a little bit – most of the time they would lock focus correctly, but they were also sometimes locking focus on the wall behind the couple – which was giving me out of focus photos at f2.0 – the centre focus point was quick to focus, and 100% accurate on every photo.

Hassop Hall Wedding Photograph

Would I use this camera for a wedding NOW?

Yes and no.

I would use this camera without any hesitation to photography a wedding… but I don’t want or need to.

My Canon 5D Mark III’s are definitely superior to the 1Ds Mark II – and for my wedding photography, I only want the best, so I will continue to use the 5D Mark III’s – they are bullet proof, have proved very very reliable and I know them inside out. From ISO 100 to ISO 1600, I would honestly say that they are neck and neck, perhaps with a very slight edge going towards the 5D Mark III… but if you put a handful if images taken with each camera next to each other, there would be no way anyone could tell them apart. From ISO 1600 upwards in low light situations, the autofocus begins to slow (where the 5D Mark III doesn’t) and the noise can become more of an issue (with incorrect exposures) – those would be my only two criticisms of the 1Ds Mark II.

My Canon 1Ds Mark II is more of a collectible. A collectible which is also very very capable – but I want to keep it pristine. I honestly think this must be one of the least-used and lowest shutter count Canon 1Ds Mark II’s left in the world – these cameras are now quite rare, usually in poor condition, and have had a lot of use over the last 15 years.

I will take all of my personal photos on it, my son Zack will soon get very familiar with the front of this camera pointing at him – I hope this camera will document his life as he grows up, and maybe one day, this camera will be his.