Canon EOS-1D X III interview: We speak to the ‘father of the EOS-1’

12 Nov

We recently had the chance to speak to two senior executives at Canon – Mr. Toshio Matsumoto, Senior Principal Engineer, and Mr. Kazuyuki Suzuki, Chief of Operations, from Canon’s Image Communication Business group. Mr. Matsumoto is known within Canon as the ‘father of the EOS-1’, and is pictured above holding the new Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.

Our conversation was conducted via an interpreter. As such, responses have been combined, and this interview has been edited lightly for clarity and flow.

How did you decide which features to update compared to the EOS-1D X Mark II?

There were a variety of factors. We get a lot of requests from our professional users, and we’re always listening to what they need. Their demands are sometimes very detailed! But we have to listen to their requests. In addition, we have to look at our technology – what kind of technology can meet those demands.

We then integrate [those pieces of information] and decide internally what we should include in the next model. In this new camera we’ve improved performance [in several areas], such as autofocus, networking and so on, which we’ll explain later in detail.

What were the main requests from users of the 1D X and 1D X II?

One important thing was the weight of the camera, and second, autofocus performance. We made sure there is no compromise in the AF performance of the new camera. And number three is network performance, which is very important [for wire services] – how fast you can put images into publication. We thought that there was room for improvement in that aspect of the camera’s performance. Lastly, image quality is of course a big thing. We worked on noise reduction, as well as high sensitivity image performance.

Also keep in mind that we have put a lot of effort into improving movie shooting performance as well as stills.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III – key specifications (what we know so far):

  • All-new CMOS sensor
  • Dual-pixel 525-point CMOS AF with 90/100% coverage horizontally and vertically
  • New Digic Processor
  • 10-bit HEIF file capture (in addition to JPEG and Raw)
  • Max 16fps capture via viewfinder, and 20fps in live view (with AF)
  • Dual CF Express card slots
  • 10-bit, 4:2:2 4K/60 video with C-Log
  • Backlit buttons

Why did you make the decision to change the memory card type to CFexpress?

Speed. In terms of read and write speed, these cards are immensely faster than previous solutions. CFexpress is more than twice as fast as CFast. It has more development potential.

This is the first high-end camera Canon has released since the EOS R. Are your high-end and professional customers asking for a mirrorless solution?

Of course some professional photographers are asking for a mirrorless solution. But as of now, we also see a lot of demand from photographers asking for DSLRs, specifically [because of] the benefits of an OVF. So this time around we decided to go for a DSLR. Of course we understand that there are huge benefits to mirrorless, and we implemented, or combined as much of that [technology] as we could into the [EOS-1D X Mark III].

The Canon EOS R is an innovative camera in some respects, but there is a definite gap between the performance and price of most of Canon’s new RF lenses, and the EOS R and RP bodies released to support them. A truly pro-grade R body is coming, but we’ll have to wait a little while longer.

For example one of the things that we implemented from the mirrorless side was the ability to shoot at 20fps using electronic shutter. And autofocus performance, specifically subject tracking is on par with some of today’s top-notch mirrorless cameras.

Your professional users have a lot of legacy EF lenses in their collections. Do you have a target timeframe for transitioning those users to RF?

Obviously that’s a very tough question to answer. We are of course aware of this – a lot of photographers own EF lenses, and they’ve invested a lot in that system. How we look at it is when we work on mirrorless cameras, we always consider how our users can utilize the asset [provided by their] EF lenses. We always keep that in mind when developing new cameras.

That’s why we have three EF to RF adapters.

Do you have any idea of how many of your users are adapting EF lenses to EOS R cameras using those adapters?

I wish we knew that. It’s hard to say, because we do some promotional bundles with free adapters, so that affects the attachment rate. And some users [might buy multiple adapters and] put an adapter on each of their EF lenses.

In terms of the development of your DSLRs going forward, will you be focusing mostly on high-end users in future?

I can’t be specific about future plans, but we always listen to our customers to decide which direction we should go in. We don’t necessarily [think in terms of focusing] on just one area – we look at the overall picture before we decide what to focus on.

How much communication is there between the EF and RF teams within Canon? Are engineering resources shared?

We don’t have separate teams for mirrorless and DSLR cameras, it’s just one team. Some of the engineers that worked on the EOS R have worked on the EOS-1D X Mark III. And some of the engineers who worked on this camera could be working on the next mirrorless. It’s a combined organization.

One of my responsibilities is to work on the next generation of EOS cameras. I could be working on mirrorless, or DSLR, or even something else.

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The EOS-1D X Mark III looks and works the way it does for many reasons, but its DNA dates back to 1986, with the manual-focus T90. Canon built on the T90’s innovative ergonomics in the original EOS-1 (1989) which included a then-unique rear control dial.

The first digital EOS-1, the appropriately-named 1D, added a rear LCD screen and an integrated vertical grip, and the rest is (more recent history). Impressively, as you can see, some of the design principles laid out in the T90 are still honored by the EOS-1D X Mark III, after more than 30 years.

I know you were one of the engineers that worked on the T90 and the original EOS-1. What is your thinking on how the heritage of the EOS-1 series should evolve in future models?

Major principles for the EOS-1 series from the beginning have been durability, reliability, speed and control. A big mission of the EOS-1 series is that the cameras should never miss a shot.

Some of the controls from the original EOS-1 are still found in the same place on the EOS-1D X Mark III, thirty years later. How did you come up with the original control layout?

When we were working on the very first EOS-1 camera we made a lot of mockups, and we had a lot of professional photographers handle those mockups and we noted how quickly and smoothly they were able to operate the cameras. One of the things that was most challenging about the EOS-1 originally was the rear control dial. In the development stage, initially, we didn’t [plan on having] a dial on the back.

What we found through the development process is that when professional photographers in the field were [using our mockups] thinking about exposure control, it wasn’t as smooth without that dial on the back. So we had a number of discussions with those photographers about the design, and we spent a lot of time getting it right. We actually had to delay the launch of the camera in order to implement the perfect solution for exposure control.

How have the needs of digital photographers affected the design decisions you’ve made in subsequent EOS-1 series cameras?

One important thing we always kept in mind with the original EOS-1 was that it should work as soon as you take it out of the box. But now [with digital] there’s a monitor on the back, and as we thought about how to utilize that we had to consider various [new] factors, such as the possibility of photographers shooting using live view, and various other things.

One of the principles that we always keep in mind when designing the controls of the cameras [in this series], for example when implementing the touch-sensitive panels is that we have to make sure that there is no possibility for erroneous control inputs.

Do you think that in future, when there is a mirrorless solution for professional sports photographers, that it will still look a little like the original EOS-1?

In terms of form-factor we have no idea at this point. But one thing I can say is that our principal focus on reliability and control will always be the same.

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The magnesium alloy-bodied Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is a solid camera, built for use in tough conditions. An evolution of the EOS-1D X and 1D X Mark II, the Mark III does bring some new controls and new features to the table – many of which Canon has not yet publicly commented on.

Obviously one thing that mirrorless cameras allow you to do, which DSLRs do not, is through-the-viewfinder video capture. Are your professional photographers asking for more video features? Or are they mostly still focused on stills capture?

With this EOS-1D X Mark III our main focus is stills. But we understand that there are a lot of ‘hybrid’ professional photographers that shoot stills and video. One of the things we’re really focused on right now, and we’re putting in a lot of effort, is the question of how and when EVFs will go beyond the capabilities of optical viewfinders.

As a camera manufacturer making products for a professional customer, what does a DSLR allow you to provide that a mirrorless camera does not?

At this point in time the biggest difference is the finder. The fact that you can see everything in real time, without any layers in the way. That’s really big for a lot of professional sports photographers. On the other hand, we do see a lot of the younger generation of professionals favoring EVFs, because what you see is what you get. We understand that there is a demand for that benefit of mirrorless cameras. So what we always do is we strive to make a perfect solution out of these different demands.

Have you been working with photographers on the EOS-1D X Mark III ahead of the Olympics next summer?

Yes, we’ve started communicating with some of the agencies around solutions for their needs. One of the important things for major events like the Olympics is robotics, of course. When we’re communicating with those photographers and videographers we look at a total solution.

Editors’ note: Barnaby Britton

Until I got into the meeting room, I didn’t know I would be speaking to Mr. Matsumoto at PPE. It was a huge and unexpected privilege to meet the person responsible for the development of the original EOS-1, and before that the T90: unarguably two of the most important cameras in terms of modern D/SLR design, and two of my personal favorites.

As you can see, a lot of the decisions that Canon made in those 1980s models lead to ergonomic details that persist even today, more than 30 years later, and not just in the company’s own DSLR and mirrorless options. The fact that that design philosophy doesn’t look out of date after three decades is testament to just how forward-thinking Mr. Matsumoto and his team were, way back in the pre-digital era.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Matsumoto himself was not able to speak in any great detail on-record about the precise specifications of the EOS1-D X III. What we know officially about the camera is what Canon has publicly released. That being said, you’d expect any camera that builds on the strengths of the EOS-1D X Mark III to be well-suited to the needs of Canon’s professional customer base, and I can tell you from handling the Mark III that the upgrades compared to the Mark II appear significant.

As Mr. Matsumoto says, ever since the original EOS-1 debuted 30 years ago, the focus of the 1-series has been durability, speed, reliability and control. Compared to the film-era EOS-1/1N/1V, the EOS-1D X Mark III is a complex and immeasurably more powerful machine, but its also a much tougher camera, and more usable in a range of different environments.

I expect that most people reading this are like me – we don’t need 20fps capture. But some professional sports photographers do. And the slow introduction of transformative technologies like Dual CMOS autofocus into Canon’s professional line makes each progressive model more capable, none more so than the new Mark III, which can shoot at this rate in either electronic or mechanical shutter mode.

It looks like we’ll have to wait a little longer before we see an EOS R model aimed at sports and action shooters

Mr. Matsumoto describes these autofocus and continuous shooting capabilities as ‘mirrorless’ features, probably in a nod to competitive offerings like the Sony a9 II. And there’s no doubt that they enhance the usability of the EOS-1D X Mark III in some situations. But there’s no getting away from the fact that there is a mirror, getting in the way of the Mark III ever being as versatile a camera for hybrid stills / video use as a Sony a9 II, or a Nikon Z7, or a Panasonic Lumix DC-S1, etc.

For now though, according to Mr. Matsumoto, Canon is focusing on a mainly stills photography audience with the Mark III. In other words, the kinds of photographers we’ll see on the sidelines of the 2020 Olympic games next summer in Tokyo: many of them agency photographers, shooting stills, using pool equipment. Some people (myself included) had hoped for a truly professional mirrorless camera from Canon for 2020, but it looks like we’ll have to wait a little longer before we see an EOS R model aimed at sports and action shooters.

That being said, you never know with Canon. The company has a reputation for careful and conservative product development, but it can be imaginative and decisive when it needs to be. As the EOS-1D X Mark III demonstrates, with more than 30 years of (D)SLR development behind him, Mr. Matsumoto and his team is confident that they can still ring the changes in the professional sports / photojournalism market segment, even without a mirrorless product.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (

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