Canon 1DX vs Nikon D3S

Update: Since the Nikon D4 has been announced on 2012-01-06, I have also written a concise post about the Nikon D4 vs Canon 1D X.

The Nikon D3S (left) vs the Canon 1D X (right)

Canon has thrown down the gauntlet with the announcement of its brand new flagship DSLR, the Canon EOS-1D X. This new camera is an extremely important new model for Canon, make no mistake about it.

The significant stuff, in table form:

Nikon D3S
Canon 1DX
102,400 204,800
12 18
11 14
# AF points
51 61
720p, 24fps,
1080p, 30fps,
Viewfinder magnification
0.7x 0.76x
Metering sensor
1005-pixel RGB 100,000-pixel RGB
LCD display
3″, 921k dots 3.2″, 1040k dots
Price (body) $5200 $6800 (est)
Announcement date Oct 2009 Oct 2011

Ever since the Nikon D3 was announced in August 2007, Canon had to play second fiddle to Nikon in this all-important apex of the professional camera market. Up to that point Canon had been the technological leader as the only one of the big manufacturers to offer a DSLR with a full frame sensor. Nikon’s D3 changed all that when it exceeded the benchmark set by the Canon 1-Ds_mkIII, Canon’s premier full-frame DSLR at the time. I don’t even count the 1-D_mkIII since it has an APS-H sensor, not full-frame. The D3 lacked slightly in resolution compared to the Canon 1-Ds III, but it made up for this in sheer performance and low-light capability. Building on this success Nikon extended on it with their legendary D3S and D3X models, respectively undisputed leaders in low-light ability and megapixel resolution. Since then Canon never seemed to catch up. The Canon 1D series seemed to have lost its spot is the limelight, and Canon had to be content with glamour in the lower semi-pro “5D mk II” segment.

This new 1D X looks set to try and regain the crown. And on paper the specifications look amazing! DPReview has a thorough overview, but I’ll just focus on the most important headline features:

  • Performance, performance, performance. Three (!) processors (dual Digic5 + Digic4). Up to 14fps at full 18MP resolution.
  • A brand new 61-point AF system (all 61 are cross-type)
  • A new 100,000-pixel 252-zone RGB metering sensor
  • Extreme low-light ability: native ISO 100-51200 (boost up to a mind-boggling ISO 204800). Compare this to the current low-light king, the Nikon D3S’ native max native ISO 12800 (boost up to ISO 102400).

In summary it promises to outgun the Nikon D3S in almost every respect. More pixels, more low-light sensitivity, more speed, bigger LCD, more video resolution, more AF points, more viewfinder magnification. You can see the full comparison of announced specifications over here.

Of course if you are already heavily invested in either manufacturer’s equipment, especially their expensive pro lenses, it might make little sense to consider a switch. But a big win for Canon here will improve their (already good) reputation among professionals, and can act as a magnet to attract up and coming pros to their camp.

Strange that Canon announced this one so early, since it will only be available in March 2012. Maybe they are just out to steal the other manufacturers’ thunder. After all, Nikon is sure to announce its new flagship sometime in the coming month(s) as well. According to rumour The Nikon D4 will probably be announced in the first quarter of 2012, maybe even in January. Let the battle begin (again)!