by Mike McNamara
On August 20 Canon announced the arrival of its next generation of advanced and pro-level DSLRs, the 10.1MP Canon EOS 40D ($1.299 body only street price) and the 21.1MP EOS 1Ds Mark III ($7,999 body only, street price). Both of these cameras should be a big hit for underwater photography enthusiasts and pros, especially those who already own Canon lenses and compatible flash systems. In addition to overall improvements in image quality (higher resolution, better noise reduction, and greater dynamic range) and autofocusing performance, both cameras now feature a large 3-inch LCD with a live preview mode that lets you see the image through the lens.
The bad news, if you can call it that, is that the live view mode makes autofocus impossible, so you're on your own with manual adjustments. There is a mode that allows for a quick autofocus to occur while temporarily blanking out the preview screen as the mirror flips down, but this increases shutter delay by nearly one second. It also appears that some major and minor modifications will have to be made to existing housings that fit the older EOS 30D in order for the 40D to work (slightly different size, larger LCD port needed, but very similar button placement overall.) Housings made for the older 16.7MP EOS 1Ds Mark II won't be backward compatible at all with the new EOS 1Ds Mark III. This camera has a body based on the newer 10.1MP EOS 1D Mark III, so those housings currently on the drawing board or recently announced for it might work after modifications to fit the slightly larger prism hump on top of the camera (required to house the viewfinder optics that cover its full-frame sensor.)
Until now, Olympus and Panasonic were the only DSLR manufacturers that offered a live preview function, a feature with obvious appeal to underwater photographers tired of squinting through their masks and camera viewfinders. With their 3-inches diagonal screens, the EOS 40D and EOS 1Ds Mark III have the screen size advantage over the Olympus models, and when not in live mode the screens can also be used to provide valuable exposure information (as can the Olympus models).
Otherwise, both Canons also appear to have increased the advantage they already had over Olympus models regarding the sensitivity and accuracy of their autofocusing systems. When not in live view mode, where AF is de-activated, the Canon models should be able to focus quickly with the help of a modeling light or small diving light.
At $7,999, the flagship EOS 1Ds Mark III might not be affordable for the majority of underwater shooters, but we'll all certainly be yearning for the day when we can afford it based on its potential image quality. While 21.1MP isn't a giant leap in resolution from the 16.7MP of the older EOS 1Ds Mark II, it does bring this camera in closer competition with medium format systems used in photo studios, and the inclusion of two of Canon's Digic III image processors (instead of the one found on the EOS 40D) should help to improve image quality even further, especially when extra ISO sensitivity is required to extend the effective range of underwater lights.
Not to be overlooked: Canon also introduced the EF 14mm f/2.8 L II lens ($2199 street) , an improved version of its existing 14mm f/2.8. This lens is an ideal match for the full frame EOS 1Ds Mark III, since Canon specifically improved it to provide better edge-to-edge sharpness across a full frame sensor.
A final production version of the EOS 40D should be in my hands within a few days, so expect further feedback after it arrives. Canon promises early production samples of the EOS 1Ds Mark III in October, and hopefully we'll see some commitments for housings from the major housing manufacturers by the DEMA show.
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