Gear Talk # 4 – Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II

SEPTEMBER 2008 – Canon EOS-1 Ds Mark II on a white background. © Mark Zanzig/

The Flagship Camera Of Its Time

I grew up with analog cameras. My mother owned an Agfa Silette 35 mm point-and-shoot camera that was protected by a nice brown leather pocket. I remember taking my first shots with that camera. Early in the 1980s – probably in 1982 – she upgraded to a Canon AE-1 Program, and this move really got me hooked to photography. For more than two decades I kept shooting with the Canon AE-1 Program. I knew the camera, I liked the camera, and I could create the results I wanted with the camera.

However, around 2000/2001 the first signs of a new photography age were lurking around the corner: digital photography. To explore this new technology I purchased a Kodak DC4800 Zoom Digital – one of the first good digital point-and-shoot cameras. I was thrilled by the ease of use and the fact that you could see and check your images right away. Gosh. That was a revolution. But the camera had one serious flaw: the image size (or lack of). At 2160 x 1440 pixels (or 3.1 megapixel) the resolution was roughly a quarter of a decently scanned 35 mm slide. And you had a hard time presenting the images to a larger audience (unlike using a slide projector.)

Digital technology developed further at a breathtaking speed while analog technology was stagnating and reaching end-of-life soon. But digital photography had not yet reached the quality levels that I expected, so I kept shooting analog. Until I was asked to shoot a wedding – a giant task. Equipped with 15 rolls of negative film, I was able to get very satisfying results (the couple is still happy with the photos today!), but I realized that this way of shooting is not sustainable and way too stressful. It was difficult to create shots that were supposed to be kept for life without being able to validate results on location.

So I looked around and found a decent camera: The Canon 1Ds mark II, the flagship of Canon’s DSLR product line. Its 16 megapixels were exceeding the quality of slides while enabling a fully digital workflow right from the beginning. The price? Astronomous!

I figured that I’d need at least two lenses to get started – a 24-70 mm and a 70-200 mm, both quite expensive as well. But they would cover most of my needs, from (moderate) wide angle to (moderate) tele. Well, the selling of my analog equipment would reduce the impact on the investment, at least somewhat, and so I purchased the camera, the two lenses, and a Canon Speedlite 580EX in September 2005.

I’ve never looked back at analog photography, ever.

I haven’t been missing the fiddling with film on location or the limitations of having just 36 frames (or 37 on good days) on a roll of film. And I certainly still do not miss the ‘excitement’ when picking up the results from the lab.

Yet, switching to all-digital had its drawbacks:

  1. I had to get used to the super fast workflow enabled by digital. I had to get away from carefully composing single frames and trying to catch the right moment. The new way of working was to guess when the right moment might come and shoot multiple shots that can be deleted if not good. A big change.
  2. For ultimate quality I needed to shoot RAW which requires a lot of memory on super expensive CF cards (back in 2005.) And not just memory cards. I also needed a concept for safely storing all those images. Hard drives were expensive, too, and a DVD wouldn’t get you very far.
  3. Cleaning the full frame sensor of the 1Ds Mark II was quite difficult (which is true for all of Canon’s full frame sensors.) The sensor basically ends next to the housing, so there is virtually no space left for pushing and picking up the dirt from the sensor. (This was much easier with the smaller sensors of Canon’s 1D line and triggered my love for these bodies.)
  4. The technology development would continue, and so I expected a never ending upgrade cycle that would mean a new body every couple of years. Of course, I realized that this was just the ultimate dream of the photo industry and not by any means what I needed. That’s why I still shoot with the 1D Mark IV.

But that’s about it. Over the course of three years, the 1Ds Mark II delivered countless photos that I still like today. It feels good, is well throught-through and fairly intuitive to use.

I know that some of my readers would love to get their hands on a professional DSLR body but can’t afford the new bodies, like the 1DX Mark III. If you want to experience the quality of a professional body, do yourself a favor and research for a used Canon 1Ds Mark II. At the time of writing, eBay Germany shows a price range from about 300 Euro to 900 Euro, typically depending on shutter count and overall condition of the body. You’ll get a robust 16 megapixel workhorse that simply delivers about 95% of the results you’re looking for. Stay away from a used 1Ds Mark II if you’re looking for super large images, ultimate autofocus performance (basically meaning more AF fields) and digital features like AI driven AF or video recording.

Please see some of the stunning photos I shot with this body.

The high resolution image

Capture Date & Time04-SEP-2008, 10:09
LocationMunich, Germany
CameraCanon EOS 30D
LensCanon EF 85mm f/1.2L USM
Exposure1/160 sec at f/4 (with flash)
Digital Image Source FormatCanon Camera RAW (CR2)
Edited Image FormatJPEG, 24 bits/pixel, sRGB
Edited Image Dimensions2725 x 2336 Pixels
Copyright© by Mark Zanzig/

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