I was just photographing a wedding over the weekend and, again, I was spending too much time “fighting” with proper exposures when using my on-camera and off-camera flashes (a 580EX II on the hotshoe and two 550EXs as slaves). The more time I spend trying to fix suboptimal flash performance, the less time I spend focusing on the actual wedding activities going on in front of me!

When I heard Canon’s official announcement about the new 1D Mark IV coming this December today, I was intrigued. When I read that the high end of the ISO range was expanding past the upper limit of 6400 that was present on the Mark III to a whopping 102400, I was more than intrigued!

Now, it has been my experience that the highest ISO available on a Canon DSLR is seldom that usable–i.e., you only want to use it when you have no other option. Now this fluctuates a little, depending on the camera. I have generally found the maximum of 3200 ISO on the 5D to be pretty usable and the maximum of 6400 ISO on the 1D Mark III too…as long as the image was properly exposed; if you underexposed it, forget it.

My experience with Canon’s 1.6 crop factor DSLRs (i.e., the Digital Rebels and the 10-50D series) was that you really wanted to stay away from the top ISO if possible, *even if* properly exposed. And the 5D Mark II is very noisy at the top ISO (25600), and I’m not even sure I could call the second highest ISO on it (12800) all that usable either.

The other thing that pains me about the 5D Mark II is that it can’t possibly focus without a flash or wireless transmitter attached to it in darkness requiring 12800 or 25600 ISO. Its 9 AF point autofocusing with one cross-hair point is very primitive and not good in low light; so, what’s the use?

Well, if Canon has ever made a camera that can focus in low light without AF assist, it’s been the 1D series; and according to the specs for the 1D Mark IV, that autofocusing has been improved. But the thing that gets me most excited is combining Canon’s most advanced autofocusing camera with an upper ISO that is 4 stops higher than the 1D Mark III! This means those shots I could barely get of the wedding couple dancing on the dark dance floor at f/1.4 with the ISO cranked to 6400 and the shutter speed down to 1/30 sec, I would now (theoretically) be able to capture with a shutter speed of 1/500 sec instead!

Now, I don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish. Until I see some image samples from the 1D Mark IV, I’m going to figure that the top ISO of 102400 and maybe the second highest ISO of 51200 aren’t going to be very usable generally. That would leave me with the next highest ISO of 25600. 25600 is two stops faster than 6400. So, in my example, instead of using a quite low shutter speed of 1/30, I’d be able to increase it to 1/125 sec…*much* more reasonable for catching a wedding couple slow dancing on a dark dance floor.

Being able to crank the ISO up two stops will also make it easier to catch those wedding processions down the center aisle in dark churches (with high ceilings and walls that are too far away to bounce your flash off of) without creating “deer in the headlight” photos with your flash.

Another feature that I’m quite interested in is the Auto ISO setting that enables automatic 100-12800 ISO coverage. Now, I’ve been a bit frustrated with the Auto ISO on the 5D Mark II because you can’t set a minimum shutter speed and in Auto ISO, the 5D Mark II will sometimes choose really low shutter speeds, like 1/15 or 1/20 sec if you’re shooting in P or Av (aperture priority) mode. The 1D Mark IV, however, lets you set an acceptable shutter speed range in the custom settings, which should eliminate those unacceptably low shutter speeds.

Here are some sample high ISO images shot with a pre-production 1D Mark IV.

You can read more about the Canon 1D Mark IV at Canon’s website. And you can pre-order it at B&H’s website!

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