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With the 1.5/1.6X (APS-C/DX) crop factors and full frame just about ubiquitous these days in the digital world -- why hadn't Canon's top-of-the-line 1D's moved to FF sooner? It took four years!

Is there something special about the 1.3x crop factor? Is Canon afraid of causing old 1D users who are upgrading to the latest Mark XX to have to re-adapt?

Or is there really an advantage?

You take a look at the Reuters photoblogs, they seem to use 1D's a lot.

Is it an accident of history, or is there a practical reason here? Would be an interested to see an answer from a late-model 1D-user!

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They have FF too, 1Ds, 1Ds mk2/mk3, 1Dx and 1Dc are FF. –  Omne Feb 2 '13 at 19:16
That's a good point! That said, the 1D mkIV came out 4 years or so after the 5D! I changed the question to reflect that fact (which is still a curious fact, to me). –  Emmel Feb 2 '13 at 19:19
The full frame EOS 1Ds was announced in 2002, before the 5D in 2005. Since 2002 pro Canon users had a choice of slower full frame 1Ds versions, or APS-H lower resolution but much faster 1D models. The dual Digic5+ processors in the 1D X have over 100 times the processing power of the dual Digic IIIs used in the 1Ds III and 17 times the power of the dual Digic IVs used in the 1D IV. This much processing power finally allowed Canon to combine the processor intensive focus system and exposure control system of the 1 series bodies with high resolution and fast frame rate in the 1D X. –  Michael Clark Feb 2 '13 at 20:44
In photo journalism, resolution has not been the prime concern, especially when it was still primarily a newsprint industry. Getting the shot using gear that can survive abuse under the most demanding conditions is. The fast handling and longer reach of the 1.3x APS-H 1D series was preferred by many photojournalists over the higher quality images of the slower 1Ds series. –  Michael Clark Feb 2 '13 at 20:50
Just as an aside, Canon did not "come up with" APS-H. The Advanced Photography System predated commercial digital SLRs; APS-C and APS-H were two of the many formats that could be shot on the same APS film cartridge (on the same roll, even, with higher-end cameras). It was slated to take over from 35mm, but the digital revolution kind of got in the way. It's likely that Canon already had the shutter and mirror, etc., ready to rock in a next-generation film EOS-1 (and, being somewhat smaller than 135, that meant more reliable fast sync and higher frame rates without resorting to a pellicle). –  user2719 Feb 3 '13 at 3:31

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

When Canon released the first 1D, APS-h was the simply largest sensor they could get away with, economically. They followed it up with the 1Ds which was full frame. However the 1Ds was slower than the 1D, and offered less reach with telephoto lenses so was less popular with sports and wildlife photographers. For this reason canon choose to continue offering a faster, lost resolution 1.3 crop body in the 1D line.

For whatever reason Canon decided to end the 1D line with the introduction of the 1DX. They were able to exceed the speed of the last 1D whilst improving resolution (slightly) and offering a full frame sensor. Even so the decision wasn't universally popular, especially with photographers that appreciated the extra reach from the 1D crop factor.

Would be an interested to see an answer from a late-model 1D-user!

I had a 1D mkIV for 2 years. I was a 5D user but was never fully satisfied with either the speed or more importantly the autofocus with the outer points. I waited for the 5D mkII to come out and when it did I was very disappointed that they addressed neither the speed or the AF performance.

The 1DmkIII was a 2MP upgrade from it's 8MP predecessor, whereas the 1DIV jumped to 16MP. This prompted me to switch from full frame to APS-H ,as I could still get large prints if I needed to. I found no fault with the camera in terms of it's AF, speed, or features, but I had to convince myself I could live with the crop factor.

However over time I began to find the crop factor annoying. Ultra wide angle lens options were very limited, I ended up using the EF-S 10-22 which I modified to fit the EF mount and was usable without vignetting from 13-22mm. Only problem with this being that the mirror would hit the back of the lens if I accidentally zoomed right out. I also missed the 85mm FOV, my 85mm was a bit too long and my 50mm was a bit too wide.

In summary I don't think there's anything magic about the 1.3x crop, unless you need to the I think it can be quite annoying.

When the 5DIII came out with top of the line AF and 6.5 fps the decision became clear and I sold the 1DmkIV. Fortunately they had become sought after since their discontinuation so I sold it for a fraction less that I had paid for it!

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One could always get the same reach of a crop sensor when using full frame by using the crop feature of post processing. This could be added to FF cameras in software to speed things up by just scanning out the crop pixels of the larger sensor. –  Skaperen Feb 3 '13 at 0:45
@skaperen: But you give up resolution to do so. The number of pixels on the 18.1MP 1D X's sensor that lie within an APS-H sized box are only about 11MP, or 30% less resolution than with the 16.1MP 1D mkIV. The 1.3x crop factor is linear. Resolution is based on area. A full frame sensor has 1.67 times the area of an APS-H sensor. –  Michael Clark Feb 3 '13 at 15:24

Everything in product design is a comprise and Canon wanted to provide a solution to combine high-quality and high-speed for sports photographer. It did so with the 1D series. Its APS-H sensor and relatively large pixels make it sensitive to light and possible to shoot at high-speeds, up to 10 FPS with the 1D Mark IV. At the same time, the full-frame 1Ds Mark III stopped at 5 FPS.

As you know, there are no more APS-H camera in production. The 1D and 1Ds lines were fused with the introduction of the 1D X which brought high-speed to full-frame. The resolution was only a little down compared to the 1Ds Mark III (18 vs 21 MP) but the frame-rate exceeded the 1Ds Mark IV (12 vs 10 FPS).

The reason I suspect that the APS-H line was ended, is to reduce complexity. It is something less to support and they wont have a system which lacks ultra-wide-angle coverage from lenses.

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The 1D line actually had two series: The 1D series that used APS-H sized sensors and the Full Frame 1Ds series. They were both available in various successive models between 2002 and 2012 when the 1D X supplanted both the 1D mkIV and the 1Ds mkIII. The original 1Ds was introduced in 2002, three years before the 5D was the first mid-line full frame body offered by Canon. So half of the "top of the line 1D cameras" were already using full frame before the 5D was introduced, not four years after.

As Stan Rogers mentioned in a comment to another answer, APS-H was one of several sizes that images could be formatted in on the Advanced Photography System film that was supposed to eventually replace 35mm film. The reason APS-H was used in the earliest Pro-level digital bodies by Canon was probably due to the limits of available processors at the time. By using a lower resolution sensor they could make the camera's frame rate faster and squeeze more photos onto much smaller memory cards than we use today. By making that sensor smaller than 35mm film, it gave the photographer more reach for any given lens in exchange for the lower resolution. Most photojournalists chose the APS-H 1D models. Many studio photographers used the Full Frame 1Ds. At the time the emphasis in photojournalism was still newsprint, which was printed at very low resolution compared to even web sized photos. Resolution wasn't the most important consideration to newspaper photographers - a fast, durable camera was.

In addition to newspaper photographers and other photojournalists, wildlife specialists also enjoyed the 1.3x focal length factor and the faster frame rate of the 1D series versus the 1Ds series. They were probably the biggest group that was none too happy when the 18MP 1D X became the replacement for the 16MP 1D mkIV. By the time you crop the 18MP of the 1D X to APS-H size to regain the lost reach, you are left with roughly 15-20% fewer pixels than the 1D mkIV had. This coupled with Canon's decision to turn off all AF on lens/extender combos with f/8 as the widest possible aperture was met with howls of protest from the wildlife/birding community. Canon relented and released a frimware revision that allows AF to function on the 1D X at f/8.

Your question asks, "Why did Canon come up with APS-H and why did the top-of-the-line 1D's still use it and 1.3x crop, when FF existed for four years (the 5D)?"

1) Canon did not come up with the APS-H size format.

2) Only half of the top of the line 1D series still used the 1.3X crop format for seven years after the 5D was introduced in 2005, the other half of the line, the 1Ds had been using full frame sensors since 2002.

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Canon and Eastman Kodak worked together to build the famous 1D what no one seems to understand in my reading the responses is that the 1D sensor is a (CCD) sensor unique to this last partnership with Kodak. The CCD is a higher quality and expensive sensor and is approximately equal to 10 MP at 4.5 MP as to resolving power. The CCD is used by NASA and for high end commercial settings. This is why the 1D not the 1D2 is a prized camera in good condition. The later 1D line - 1D-2- 1D MKIII, 1D MIV - 1DX use (CMOS) sensors.

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Can you please provide some sources for these claims? Especially the ones about "resolving power". –  Hugo Feb 8 at 7:05
Downvoted - Thanks for contributing to Photography StackExchange but this is a discussion and not an answer. It is also incorrect as CMOS is better in practice than CCD in photography for a host of real-world production and usage reasons. The actual reason for the crop format is down to Yield at the wafer fabrication stage. –  James Snell Feb 8 at 10:22

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