The Canon 1D series has, since its inception, been the flagship line of Canon's pro DSLR lineup. The current iteration of the 1D line, the 1DX, has been praised for it's low light ability, auto focus system, and, of course, the blazing fast 12FPS high-speed continuous burst mode, expandable to 14FPS with mirror lockup. I can't afford a 1DX, even just to review and sell off, so here's how my (dated) 1D Mark II N stacks up in today's modern world.
Image Source: all-things-photography.com
Differences from the 1D Mark II
The 1D Mark II N bares an eerie resemblance to the 1D Mark II. Actually, there's practically no difference between the 1D Mark II and its 'N' brethren. That is, the only hardware difference between the two is a larger LCD display on the back. The firmware is tweaked slightly to improve menu ergonomics, and Canon included Picture Styles in this update.
If you're stuck choosing between a 1D Mark II N and a 1D Mark II, weigh the price difference against these slight changes.
1Ds Mark II (Left) and 1D Mark III (Right)
Image Source: the-digital-picture.com
Here's the part of the article that most people find boring, but tech nerds like me love to spend hours poring over.
The sensor is an 8.2 megapixel APS-H (1.3x Crop Factor) CMOS sensor, which pipes the photos you take through a DiGIC II processor. The shots you take, which can be taken at up to 8.5FPS, can be saved to CF or SD card, though you'll need to do a firmware update to use SD cards larger than 1 or 2 GB.
The battery, inserted in the vertical grip portion of the 1D's iconic square design, allows for approximately 1,200 shots on a full charge.
I wouldn't exactly call this camera a low light champ like it's newer sibling, the 1DX, because the sensor can only range from ISO 100 to a modest ISO 1600. With ISO expansion turned on through the custom functions menu, ISO sensitivity is increased to ISO 3200, though noise tends to become a problem at that point.
Image Source: imaging-resource.com
Touting a 45-point auto focus system, the 1D Mark II N has an auto focus system that I actually find to be a pleasure to use, though I do only own the T2i, with nine AF points, and a 6D, which has eleven.
With my other cameras, the AF point gets set to the center point and it typically stays there, never to be moved again. The 1D Mark II N has a button feature that I found so useful, I wonder why they haven't put it on any of their lower-end cameras: AF point recollection.
Image Source: photoplusmag.com
That button to the left of the "*" button is the AF point recollection button. At least, that's what I think it's called. I have the AF system set up on my 1D Mark II N to use all 45 points when I use back button focusing with the "*" button, but the AF point recollection button only focuses using the center point.
You can set these two buttons to do whichever point(s) you'd like, but I like the way mine is set up. It's also worth noting that the 45-point system is much, MUCH better than even my most modern camera, my 6D. Using all of the focus points doesn't seem like a bad idea to me when I use this camera, though I'd never do the same with my 6D or T2i, and I'm sure most 5D Mark II owners, between bouts of rage because of the lacking AF system, don't even use all the points.
I hate to sit and rave on about one particular feature of a camera this phenomenal, but the auto focus system on the 1D Mark II N makes the camera a joy to use, even if navigating through settings and menus is a pain...
Settings and Menus
Speaking of settings and menus, the 1D Mark II N has a fatal flaw in its design. Yes, the square body is an ergonomic dream. Yes, the scroll wheel is big enough to use when shooting horizontal or vertical, and yes, you have all the buttons you'd have for landscape orientation shots in the same general area on the vertical grip. However, the button layout is atrocious.
Image Source: all-things-photography.com
When you first pick up the 1D Mark II N, the first thought through your brain, if you've never held a 1D series DSLR before, is 'Oh, my lord! This is heavy!', quickly followed by 'How do I turn it on?' and 'Wait, how do I change the ISO?'
The previous photo shows the buttons that you're greeted by on the top left of the camera. There's only three buttons, but they perform six different functions.
The simple functions, which only require you to hold one button and scroll the top scroll wheel are for shooting mode, AF mode, and metering mode selection.
The three complex functions, which you've got to press two buttons and scroll the top scroll wheel, are exposure bracketing, ISO sensitivity, and drive mode.
After a while, you get used to it, but why couldn't Canon just swap the metering mode and ISO sensitivity buttons, as well as the shooting mode and drive mode buttons? I shouldn't have to take my eye away from the viewfinder to change the ISO. I don't need to have my eye to the viewfinder to change shooting modes or even metering modes.
Carry over this "press and hold this button while rotating this wheel" control scheme is carried over to the menu system... AND the playback system. The playback system actually requires you to hold the zoom button, press the zoom in/out button until it's where you want it, then use the top scroll wheel (while still holding the zoom button) to navigate left/right, and the back wheel for up/down. I'm a fairly coordinated person and this still trips me up.
I'd get over this poorly designed control scheme quicker if I didn't ever switch between bodies. If I go from the 1D to the 6D and try to press a button on the left of the screen (there aren't any there) one more time, I just might lose it.
Image Source: jafaphotography.com
The LCD on the top of the 1D Mark II N displays some basic shooting information, shooting mode, shutter speed, aperture setting, AF mode, drive mode, metering mode, and battery levels. Oddly enough, I had to enable the display of ISO instead of shots remaining on card in the settings, but you can display ISO on the top LCD. I don't need the remaining shots on the top LCD, as I have that displayed on the smaller LCD on the back, along with picture format (RAW, L, M2, M1, RAW + L, etc.).
One feature from my 6D (and virtually every other Canon DSLR with a top LCD display) that I miss most is the light meter. You still have the light meter in the display through the viewfinder, but I actually use that display on top quite a bit. It's much easier to start metering, look at your meter on the top, and change the settings appropriately so you're ready for quick shots than to hold the camera up to your face just to pre-set the exposure settings.
Also, though I've said it before, this camera is HEAVY. Weighing in at 2.7 lbs, the 1D Mark II N is one large, square, metal, complicated piece of photographic bliss.
Wait, photographic bliss? You just spent half an hour talking about why this camera sucks!
Yes, and now that the bad is out of the way, we can talk about the good.
Unfortunately, I can't really put into words the unique style of this camera. My first camera was a 1.6x APS-C'd T2i. My second, a full-frame 6D. The 1.3x APS-H sensor in the 1D mark II N is unique in many ways, much like every other aspect of this particular camera. For one, even though it's equipped with a 1.3x crop sensor, that's not small enough for the image circle produced by the EF-S lens line, so if you've got a large EF-S lens collection, sorry, but this one isn't for you.
Image Source: the-digital-picture.com
From the moment you pick up the 1D Mark II N, you know that you're holding a quality photographic tool. Switch the drive mode to high-speed continuous, and you'll be surprised that your shutter finger is suddenly too slow to take just one picture. After a few BLAP-BLAP's from the loud shutter, you fumble through the menus and buttons to get the picture you just took on screen. Don't be fooled by what you see, however, as the 2.5" LCD on the back for picture review is better suited to histogram review, since it only has about 230,000 pixels.
For comparison, the back LCD on the Canon T2i is 3" across and carries 1,040,000 pixels. What I'm saying is don't judge the quality of the pictures the 1D Mark II N produces before viewing them on an external monitor.
Focus is typically spot on, even with my slightly back-focusing 85mm f/1.2L II, but focus isn't what this camera is about, though I did spend quite a time raving about it.
The 1D Mark II N gives your photos this almost indescribable 'look'. It might just be me feeling a bit like I need to justify the purchase of this body, but even though the files are only 8.2 megapixels, they're 8.2 megapixels of quality. When pictures are taken at ISO levels that normally produce unsightly noise, the 1D Mark II N produces noise that's almost nice.
Even though there's a lot of chroma noise at ISO 3200 (or 'H' on the camera), converting the image to black and white yields a quite pleasing, uniform grain/noise pattern.
When shooting in proper lighting, the 1D Mark II N is a champ. Combine proper lighting with a fast telephoto, AI servo, and all 45 AF points, and you've got the recipe for one hell of a sports camera. I've not got the chance to shoot action with this camera quite yet, but from all the tests I've done with moving subjects, AI servo seems to hit the mark more often than not.
Image Source: photographymonthly.com
In conclusion, I'm now aware as to why scenes like the above picture exist; Sports photographers need a camera with an awesome auto focus system, high speed continuous shooting, and the durability to survive a professional's daily routine. I found that picture (as well as all the other pictures in this article) online, and judging by the back scroll wheel on that 1D body, that's a 1D Mark II. Not the 'N' version, but essentially the same camera I've been using.
Final thoughts: If you're serious about photography and don't have a sports kit yet, haven't ever held a 1D body, or are interested in using an older camera that is still relevant 9 years after it's announcement (1D Mark II N announced in 2005), grab yourself a 1D Mark II or 1D Mark II N. They're only going for about $500-$600 right now, used. Compared with what you could get new for that price in Canon's lineup, which only includes the T5i and the SL1 (and that's even if you find those for that cheap), this is a much, MUCH better camera.
Just as a side note, though, this camera isn't for beginners. It has a Program shooting mode, but there's no Auto ISO level. The menus are complicated and descriptions are technical. Even while reading the manual it was a bit of a pain sorting through all the technical jargon. Don't let that steer you away from this amazing line of cameras, though!