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Posted on: 12-Oct-2007

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Canon’s Latest Full Frame Sensor Camera

Canon’s first 1Ds broke all the rules with the world’s first full frame sensor in the first 1Ds that came early in this decade. It was at a time when the best digital SLRs had 6MP and this camera had what was then an astounding 12! If 6MP could match 35mm film, 12 could approach medium format. The next in the series was the 1Ds Mark II which had almost 17MP. It surpassed medium format film in quality and approached 4x5 sheet film. The new Mark III arguably bests 4x5 sheet film, though Canon only claims it bests medium format.

Never before has anyone ever had such imaging power in a 35mm format with all the convenience of 35mm. Sure, it’s at the bottom of the medium format digital camera spectrum, but we’re talking about 4 times the price. Plus the image advantage is questionable, given the huge resources it takes to do digital. Remember, it’s not just the sensor chip, it’s also image processor chip.

Canon has a huge advantage in the fact that it has its own fab and makes its own chips. One of the keys to their success has been their ability to produce the lowest noise images at the largest pixel density. They can do this because in the nineties the executives running the division decided to put their necks on the line and start making their own chips. This was when CMOS was terrible and the only game in town was Sony’s CCD chips. The advantage of CMOS is greatly reduced power consumption (I can do an entire 2 weeks of shooting without a charger, which I could never do with a CCD camera). Canon minimized the noise issues by putting individual amplifiers at each pixel site, which also lowers power consumption and increases frame rates.
These executive not only insisted on making their own sensors, but also their processors, the DIGIC series. Breaking away gave Canon a huge competitive advantage because they now owned the ‘film.’
So now they have a 21.1MP camera that has 5616 x 3744 pixels that fit on a huge 36 x 24mm sensor. The pixel pitch is down to 6.4 microns from 7.2 on the Mark II. The analog converters are upped to 14 bits, giving you a color depth of 16,384 tones per pixel. The on-chip noise reduction circuit makes ISO 1600 with reasonably high quality. It comes with dual DIGIC III processors that allow it to 5 fps for up to 12 RAW images.
The other big deal for anyone that owned a previous Ds is the new self cleaning sensor on the Mark III. I haven’t tried one yet, but it could well be worth upgrading for this feature alone. This certainly sets a new standard in professional DSLRs. Canon’s full frame sensors have been much more sensitive to contamination than any other camera I have owned. My 1-Ds Mark II was actually dirty out of the box (which wasn’t the case with my 1D Mark II or D60. I never cleaned my D60 sensor, but I always have to clean the Mark 1-Ds II (BTW: be extra careful not to touch anything but the sensor with the brush as with Canon’s its very easy to get shutter lubricant on the brush and transfer it to the sensor).
Making a self cleaning sensor is not easy, which is why it hasn’t been done before. The camera does have internal mechanisms that have been redesigned to further minimize particle generation. But the new sensor actually repels particles with anti-static technologies using a low-pass filter that covers the chip. It’s the inverse of those static dusters, like the Swiffer™ that collect dust. Also, Canon shakes the IR filter at hi-frequency to dislodge particles. So, it should be the cleanest large sensor ever made.
Anyway, it’s not a question of if you want this camera, it’s only a question of if you can afford it.

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About weQuest:
weQuest's are written by G Dan Hutcheson, his career spans more than thirty years, in which he became a well-known as a visionary for helping companies make businesses out of technology. This includes hundreds of successful programs involving product development, positioning, and launch in Semiconductor, Technology, Medicine, Energy, Business, High Tech, Enviorntment, Electronics, healthcare and Business devisions.

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