Camera Review: Why the Canon 1D Mark II Still Rocks

There’s an unforgettable scene in the movie Jurassic Park, when Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), among others, first see a jaw-dropping vista of dinosaurs roaming along as they would’ve millions of years ago.

My Canon 1D Mark II
(black tape on names because I like the simple look)

Watch this scene if you haven’t viewed it, because that’s about how it felt to unearth my Canon 1D Mark II from a camera bag. Like prehistoric fauna, the Canon 1D Mark II is a rugged, tough, heavy beast that will do amazing things…and it’s old.

Traverse City, Michigan
Camera: Canon 1D Mark II

The camera was introduced in 2004 and, in digital camera years, that scientific conversion is millions of years.

Here’s the thing, though, the Canon 1D Mark II is a 1-series camera. This means that it’s a tool for professional use that’s designed to meet image-making demands that other cameras could only hope to achieve.

My first Canon 1-series experience occurred in 2011 when I’d acquired what looked like a gently used one, through the used market. As soon as it was in my hands, the heft was evident and the ergonomics were wonderful—as if Michaelangelo got his hands on some magnesium alloy.

Traverse City, Michigan
Camera: Canon 1D Mark II

This camera would be my sidekick for countless newspaper and editorial assignments through the years.

It’s a weather-proofed camera so there are seals and gaskets to keep out what nature can throw at it. There was a day when I was out covering a winter storm that had charged into town. There was rain, snow and then rain again, and then snow again. It was to the point that I remember looking down at my ice-encased 1D wondering if it’d ever work again. It worked flawlessly and I’m forever amazed.

Tech Talk

If you’re looking for all the numbers—sync speed, viewfinder percentage, sensor size, etc.—check it out here.

I’m not a big numbers and specifications person, but there are some things I’d like to add.

Traverse City, Michigan
Camera: Canon 1D Mark II

This camera does produce some noise at high ISO settings. It sings at ISO 100, 200 and 400. Higher ISO settings will have some noise. It’s some of the most attractive noise I’ve ever viewed in a digital camera though. The words ‘film-like’ get thrown around a lot. That is an adequate term to describe the noise this camera produces.

The sensor is something like 8.2 megapixels. What’s nice about this is that you can make some big prints with a sensor that size, and the image files will occupy less hard-drive space compared to higher-megapixel cameras. Photos from this camera were used in magazines and even billboards, so it’ll be fine.

How It Performs

Let’s dive in. The images from this camera have a crisp look to them I’ve never seen before or after this camera. In fact, a newspaper I worked at purchased the Canon 1D Mark IV for staff photographers and although that was another high-quality image-making machine, the files didn’t have the pop of the files from this camera.

North Country Trail, Michigan
Camera: Canon 1D Mark II

The autofocus is cheetah fast, and accurate. This has actually been one of my favorite cameras for street photography because of this. It’s so quick, even by today’s standards.

To adjust menu and camera settings, there’s a bit of a learning curve. Many, maybe all, of the adjustments require two hands to navigate screens and press buttons. Once you get used to it though, you’ll find it’s almost faster than contemporary methods for changing camera settings.

Conclusion

Although this camera is dated, it’s a fantastic one with astounding image quality. Yes it has limitations, but, for the prices these cameras can be found at, I’d recommend picking one up, having fun with it and enjoying a seriously great photographic tool.

Manistee River, Michigan
Camera: Canon 1D Mark II

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