Canon 1DX MkII

Canon 1DX MkII versus Nikon D5?

350x350 1 Canon 1DX MkII

Holy Smokes – I’m getting inundated with questions since yesterdays launch announcement regarding the Canon 1DX MkII.

Everything is hypothetical at the moment because I’m not expecting to see a D5 until mid-March, and the 1DX Mk II around mid-April to May.

Trying to compare, or do an ‘X versus Y’ is really something of a pointless excercise, even if the two bodies were ‘on the shelf’ right now, and I say this because:

  1. Most potential purchasers of either body are already heavily invested in one system or the other.
  2. A direct comparison is only of real use to someone who isn’t heavily invested in glass from one system or the other – in which case you shouldn’t be looking at either camera body because both of them will chew you up and spit you out in bubbles.

Remember, a good camera is only as good as the glass that feeds it AND the twat that’s doing the driving!

But the perenial Canon v Nikon question will always be there like the elephant in the room, so here are the general specs for the two camera bodies:

Sensor Format

Canon 1DX MkII: Full frame
Nikon D5: Full frame


Canon 1DX MkII: 21.5 megapixels (20.2MP effective)
Nikon D5: 21.33 megapixels (20.8MP effective)

Max Resolution

Canon 1DX MkII: 5472 x 3648
Nikon D5: 5568 x 3712

Aspect Ratios

Canon 1DX MkII: 3:2
Nikon D5: 3:2 and 4:5

File Formats

Canon 1DX MkII: JPEG, RAW for stills. MJPEG, MOV, MP4, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 for video.
Nikon D5: JPEG, RAW, TIFF for stills. MOV, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 for video.

Bit Depth

Canon 1DX MkII: 14-bit
Nikon D5: 14-bit

Memory Card

Canon 1DX MkII: 1 CFast and 1 CompactFlash
Nikon D5: 2 XQD or 2 CompactFlash

Autofocus Points

Canon 1DX MkII: 61 phase detection points, with 41 cross-type
Nikon D5: 153 phase detection points, with 99 cross-type


Canon 1DX MkII: 100% coverage and ~0.76x magnification
Nikon D5: 100% coverage and ~0.72x magnification

Rear Display

Canon 1DX MkII: 3.2-inch touchscreen with 1.62 million dots
Nikon D5: 3.2-inch touchscreen with 2.359 million dots

ISO Range

Canon 1DX MkII: 100-51200 (50-409600 when extended)
Nikon D5: 100-102400 (50-3280000 when extended)

Metering Methods

Canon 1DX MkII: Evaluative metering, partial metering, spot metering
Nikon D5: 3D Color Matrix metering, center-weighted average metering, spot metering, highlight weighted

Continuous Shooting

Canon 1DX MkII: 14FPS at 20.2 MP for up to 170 RAW photos (16FPS with mirror lockup)
Nikon D5: 12FPS at 20.8 MP for up to 200 RAW photos (14FPS with mirror lockup)

4K Video Recording

Canon 1DX MkII: 4096 x 2160p at 59.94 fps, 50 fps, 29.97 fps, 25 fps, 24 fps, 23.98 fps
Nikon D5: 3840 x 2160p at 30 fps, 25 fps, 24 fps

4K Clip Length

Canon 1DX MkII: 30 minutes
Nikon D5: 3 minutes (though rumour has it this will be extended).*


Canon 1DX MkII: 3.37 lb (1530 g)
Nikon D5: 3.11 lb (1415 g)


Canon 1DX MkII: £5199
Nikon D5: £5199

*Nikon have been denying this being down to weather-sealing and over-heat problems, but the D5 uses the power-hungry H.264 video codec – 30 minutes record time might result in an overheat problem similar to Chernobyl.

The Canon 1DX II uses the motion jpeg (MJPG) codec – easier on the camera but needing BIG transfer bandwidth, hence the need for those rather expensive C-Fast 2.0 memory cards!

But from a stills photography PoV there isn’t generally a lot between the two cameras in terms of image size and megapixel count.

Both cameras are more than capable of shooting long continuous burst of RAW files at very high frame rates – useful for the long-lens sports photographer where depth of field even wide open is measured in meters.  Any marginal errors in the predictive autofocus calculations made by the camera become masked by the available DoF – even with wide open apertures. see HERE for more explanation!

But when it comes to wildlife photography, birds in flight, and birds flying directly at the camera in particular, one does need to ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts’….

As I have pointed out many times in the past, two of the biggest contributors to poor AF performance with fast moving, closing subjects at sub 25 metres are:

  1. High Frame Rate
  2. Too many active AF points

So unless I’m shooting a ‘manual focus trap’ like this:

D3C2901 Edit 1024x680 Canon 1DX MkII

Common Kestrel Landing
©Andy Astbury/Wildlife in Pixels

I’m not really interested in shooting at 3 trillion frames per second – buy my AF Guide for Nikon and Canon for further explanation!

The Canon 1DX II is described as having new predictive AF algorithms working with the new EOS Intelligent Tracking and Recognition AF – this might increase the effective ‘sharp capture’ frame rate in AI-Servo from the 1DX Mk1 sweet-spot of 5 or 6 fps with an f4 lens;  then again it might not!  The sooner someone lends me one then the sooner I’ll be able to find out and let you know…..

I’m also pleased to see an increase in frame coverage of the 61-point High Density Reticular AF II system – this seems to be up by 24% on the original 1DX.

The overall mark changes to the 1DX stills AF system are not quite as radical as those between the Nikon D4/4S and new D5 – I’m still trying to get my head around the idea of all those AF points.

So before we all get too excited I’ll just say this: 90 percent plus of people who take pictures using autofocus DON’T actually know how it works.

Predictive AF is exactly what it says on the tin – it ‘predicts’ where the subject WILL BE when the shutter opens for the NEXT frame; and while the mirror is DOWN the AF controller/motor MOVE the lens focus to THAT PREDICTED position.

For a closing subject, the lens focus is physically AHEAD of the subject prior to the shutter opening – that’s right, a bird flies into the plane of focus….and don’t confuse plane of focus with focal plane either!

So there’s a lot going on when we shoot in Canon AI-Servo or Nikon CF, and to get a sequence of sharp continuous frames….

GX2R1981 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1985 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1989 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1990 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1991 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1994 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII

we have to regulate the amount of subject information that the camera tries to handle.  And the commonest error people make is to supply TOO MUCH of that information by using too many AF points.  That mistake is often further compounded by allowing the camera to ‘decide’ what it thinks it needs to focus on by using some form of auto-area focus mode.

This ‘overhead’ of information takes time to process.  And the only time the camera has available to process this information AND move the lens focus is that split second when the mirror is down between frames and the shutter is closed.  So the general and fairly fool-proof way of working is to use as few AF points as you need to cover the part of the subject you want sharp focus on; and then help the camera out further by giving it that extra bit of processing time/ more mirror down-time – lower frame rate!

So some of what these two cameras are offering isn’t exactly beneficial on the face of it.

But time will tell!