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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Canon EOS-1D X Camera Firmware 2.0.3 Explained

* * * Read  the latest post on Canon's Firmware 2.0.3 * * *

Canon released a major firmware upgrade to the EOS-1D X on January 8. My readers know I have picked the Canon EOS-1D X camera as the best full frame DSLR on the market for sports and wildlife photography two years in a row. I have been a Travel and Wildlife photographer using Canon equipment for 25 years and you can see my works on

After upgrading to Firmware 2.0.3, I have taken the camera on wildlife photo shoots to Maui and India. The camera works even better with the new software.

The following is an excerpt from the Canon Digital Learning Center on the enhancement of Version 2.0.3 :

What is new in Firmware Version 2.0.3?

There is a lot and some of it is detailed, but the new capabilities this firmware adds fall into five basic categories :

Autofocus : improve low-light focus capability when tracking moving subjects in AI Servo AF

Autofocus : expanded range of Accel./Decel. Tracking settings to improve AI Servo AF stability when focus-tracking subjects moving at a consistent speed.

AF point management : Orientation Linked AF adds a new option to register only AF points rather than AF point plus area; Auto AF point selection in AI Servo can now start from the same AF point used last during Manual AF point selection.

Exposure control : Make Auto ISO even more viable (two important new changes), and a new option to maintain consistent manual exposure, even if aperture changes (such as if a tele extender is removed and shooting immediately begins after it’s removed)

Customization : New “back-button” options to instantly change AF characteristics on-the-fly

Low-light AF performance

The EOS-1D X already has arguably the most powerful AF system developed to date by Canon, but firmware version 2.0 is a crystal-clear indication that Canon engineers have not been resting on their laurels.

Responding to feedback from some of the world’s most demanding professional shooters, this new firmware begins by modifying the AF control sequence so that AI Servo AF tracking during the initial stages of activation, and following the subject, is even more responsive and positive in low-light situations. This is one that requires no input from the photographer, once he or she has set the EOS-1D X for AI Servo AF. The change occurs within the camera as soon as AF is activated and begins to follow a subject.

By itself, this change in AF means that the start of focus-tracking, and the first shot taken, are more likely to be accurate in low-light conditions. But what if you shoot a series of consecutive shots, with continuous advance?

Expanded range of “AI Servo 2nd image priority” settings

We’ll take a moment to refresh readers on what this AF setting — which is present in EOS-1D X cameras, as well as the EOS 5D Mark III — means. It applies if using AI Servo AF to focus-track a moving subject and shooting a continuous sequence of images. Something of a misnomer is that this setting in the AF menu lets the user tailor the camera’s operation for the 2nd and any subsequent images shot in a continuous burst:

Speed priority : The camera is being told to shoot each frame in a sequence at the frames-per-second rate selected by the photographer — even if at times, the AI Servo AF system can’t confirm sharp focus for each individual frame in the sequence

Focus priority : You’re telling the camera to keep shooting continuously, but if necessary, to slow down the framing rate to ensure that AI Servo AF can keep each frame as sharp as possible
Until now, the EOS-1D X has offered one menu setting for each of these. There’s also a standard setting that provides a balance between the two during continuous shooting while focus-tracking a moving subject with AI Servo AF.

With the new version 2.0 firmware upgrade, EOS-1D X users will now see this AF Menu setting has been expanded :

Speed priority now has “-1” and “-2” options, on a horizontal scale on the menu screen
Focus priority now has “+1” and “+2” options
The standard “0” setting remains available

What does this bring to the photographer?

More consistent high-speed continuous shooting at the “-2” option
For news shooters and others who may need to simply ensure the fastest possible shooting and greatest number of frames to select from, setting AI Servo 2nd image priority to the “-2” option adds even more consistency to frames-per-second shooting speed. Need the 12 fps that the EOS-1D X offers, no matter what? This new, expanded setting provides it.

Superior low-light AF during a sequence at the “+2” setting

Picking up where the first item we mentioned in this article leaves off, if you choose the “Focus priority “+2” setting, you’re telling the AF system to allow extra time (if needed) during a high-speed sequence to ensure sharpest possible results for each frame. Low-light AF performance, in particular, is enhanced when the EOS-1D X is set to the “+2” setting, during AI Servo AF shooting.

Smoother, more stable AF with subjects moving at steady speeds

This falls under the “Accel./Decel. Tracking” setting, which can be accessed in the first AF Menu screen (press the PROTECT button, when in any of the six AF Case settings, to go into the detail settings on-screen).

Once again, it’s important to understand the basics of what Accel./Decel. Tracking is really about. This feature, also present on the EOS 5D Mark III, EOS 6D and EOS 70D, is essentially unique in the digital SLR world, as of early 2014. Until this was introduced on the EOS 5D Mark III and EOS-1D X, DSLR camera engineers developing a continuous autofocus system could optimize it for steady, continuous subject movement (think of anything from a jogger to an Formula One race car, moving straight at the camera with the photographer at the end of a long straightaway). Or, they could optimize AF for the rapid changes in subject movement that happen in sports, such as soccer or basketball, or that some wildlife might exhibit while darting around to gather food or evade a predator.

The key is, until Canon developed Accel./Decel. Tracking, the AF system couldn’t be the master of both. That meant that once a camera with an AF system was introduced and when photographers found themselves in situations that the AF wasn’t optimized for, they simply had to make-do with less than optimum results.

Accel./Decel. Tracking was a truly significant development for sports, wildlife and other shooters who photograph moving subjects — and realize that not all subject movement is the same. Until now, the EOS-1D X (along with the EOS 5D Mark III, EOS 6D and EOS 70D — all of which remain unchanged) allowed three settings for Accel./Decel. Tracking:

Zero : The normal default setting for “Case 1” in the EOS-1D X and EOS 5D Mark III and factory-default for the EOS 70D. This presumed a steadily moving subject, with only modest changes in speed likely. Focus-tracking in AI Servo AF is tailored to track this type of movement.

One : AI Servo AF is now being told to expect possible changes in movement and speed, as you might find in many real-life sporting events.

Two : Accel./Decel. Tracking is being told to anticipate significant changes in apparent subject speed – anything from the start-and-stop nature of basketball to tightly composed shots of a nearby sprinter, where the change in distance and subject size from frame-to-frame is most pronounced.

New : even more stable, continuous focusing for steadily moving subjects and…
Firmware upgrade version 2.0 expands the range of possible Accel./Decel. Tracking settings, adding new “minus” settings past the previous “zero” starting point. These two new options give critical shooters the ability to tailor the AF for even more consistent results in situations such as:

More stable AI Servo AF for steadily moving subjects 

New “-1” and “-2” settings in Accel./Decel. Tracking means an even less tendency for the AF system to lose an occasional frame, with subjects ranging from marathon runners to race cars, when the photographer is certain that the subject’s speed — and the shooter’s ability to keep the active AF point(s) steadily upon the subject — will remain continuous during shooting.

More consistent AF for subjects having little movement 

Sometimes, continuous AI Servo AF is used even with subjects that don’t move much, like a speaker at a podium. With the two new “minus” settings, shooters have a way to tailor the EOS-1D X so that continuous AF is even better suited for subjects who may move slightly, but aren’t likely to move much.

More stable AF when slight interference occurs with moving subjects 

The two new “minus” settings for Accel./Decel. Tracking also stabilize AF if you’re focus-tracking a moving subject and there’s a sudden change in what the AF point sees because something near the subject suddenly interferes. What do we mean by this? Examples include a nearby athlete coming into the focus point area. Or, while in a tight shot of a sprinter, his or her hands come up in the running motion and appear in the area sampled for AF. Previously, if such a slight but sudden change to AF occurred, the camera could be thrown off and tries to refocus on this new object or flutter back and forth for a few frames. The “-1” and “-2” options now give critical shooters even more control when this might occur.

An important note : Knowledgeable readers may read the last bullet point and be confused because these cameras also have a different AF setting called “Tracking Sensitivity,” which changes AI Servo AF’s reaction to sudden changes in what the active AF point sees. The difference is that Tracking Sensitivity is tuned to deal with how quickly the camera will react to sudden and major changes in what the camera sees (such as if a referee at a sporting event suddenly steps between the camera and subject or if a shooter is tracking a subject and is suddenly the AF point is now momentarily looking at the bleachers in the distance).

The “-1” and “-2” settings for Accel./Decel. Tracking, on the other hand, adjusts the AF system’s sensitivity to sudden but minor changes in what the active AF point is seeing – that’s the difference. With this firmware update, Tracking Sensitivity on the EOS-1D X remains unchanged and is still an effective tool for wildlife, sports and other shooters to adjust how the camera reacts to major interferences or changes when focusing upon moving subjects.

AF Point management

The 61-point AF system of the EOS-1D X has always offered a terrific array of options to change the size of a manually selected AF point and to move quickly from one part of the large AF area to another. And, of course, users can also have the camera automatically select the AF point, instead of manually choosing a location. Automatic AF point selection works in both One-Shot AF and AI Servo AF modes.

One tremendous Canon feature that carried over with the very first EOS-1D X cameras is Orientation Linked AF. This AF Menu option (it’s not active, by default) lets the user manually register any AF area selection mode and AF point or zone location for horizontal shooting, then rotate the camera and register a different AF area selection mode and AF point or zone location that he or she might like for vertical shots. Now, during shooting, if the camera is simply rotated from horizontal to vertical (or vice-versa), it automatically changes the location of the active AF point and you see this right in the viewfinder.

It’s always been possible to even select different AF Area types for the horizontal and vertical AF points chosen when Orientation Linked AF is active. In other words, if a user wanted a wide, expanded AF Area for his or her horizontal images and Spot AF for their verticals, all they have to do is set this when initially navigating to the respective horizontal or vertical AF points with Orientation Linked AF active in the AF Menu.

New: AF Area for both horizontal & vertical AF points changes, if either one is changed
As previously mentioned, one cool feature of Orientation Linked AF is that it allows not only different points to be used for horizontal and vertical shooting, but even different AF areas. However, some high-end EOS-1D X users have mentioned that they’d like a way to be able to quickly change both, but without having to perform two separate operations in the middle of a shooting situation. In response, Orientation Linked AF (in the AF Menu) now offers the following menu options:

Same for both vertical and horizontal 

Orientation Linked AF is off. If you manually choose an AF point with the camera held either horizontally or vertically, the same point is used for the other orientation. There’s no change here with the new firmware upgrade in the EOS-1D X.

Separate AF points : Area + point

Orientation Linked AF is active. Same operation as previously – separate AF Area types can be set for the two different points; if one is changed, the other remains as it was before.

Separate AF points: Point only (new with firmware version 2.0) 

Orientation Linked AF is active. Separate AF Area types can be set for the two different AF points. What’s new is that if one AF Area type is changed by the user, the other changes as well. The way to remember this in the AF Menu is that in the item directly above, you separate both Area type and AF point location; in this new entry, you separate the point location only.

New : Seamlessly switch from Manual AF point selection to Automatic AF point selection mode
This new option applies only when Automatic AF point selection is used with AI Servo AF. The 61-point AF system in the EOS-1D X has always required users to select one AF point as a starting area for Automatic AF point select mode, if set to AI Servo AF (most previous EOS cameras simply required the user to always begin focus-tracking with the center AF point).

The starting point for Automatic AF point selection that’s dialed-in by the user was always independent from any point used during Manual AF point selection – this could be good or not so good, depending on the situation. By answering feedback from some EOS-1D X users, this new firmware upgrade now offers two options for how to handle the setting of an initial starting point for Automatic AF point selection :

Initial [Auto AF Area icon] AF point selected 

Same operation as previously: when in AI Servo AF and the user moves to Automatic AF point select mode, he or she must manually dial-in a starting point — AF will begin at that point. If the subject then moves away from that point, the system will use other points within the 61-point array (selecting them automatically) to keep the subject in focus. The starting point set by the photographer is completely independent of the last point used during Manual AF point selection.

Manual [different AF Area icons] AF point (new with firmware version 2.0) 

The same AF point last used during Manual AF point selection is used as a starting point when AF Area mode is set to Automatic AF point selection. This means a user can be working with his or her manually selected AF point (center or any off-center AF point) and if they decide to switch to Automatic AF point selection, they initially start focus-tracking with the same point that they were using.

Exposure Control : Enhanced Auto ISO operation

Auto ISO has become an increasingly relied-upon feature for numerous advanced DSLR users. If used in Av or Tv exposure modes, it allows the camera to adjust ISO as lighting in a scene changes, while maintaining fairly consistent apertures and shutter speeds. And, if used in Manual exposure mode, serious shooters have quickly discovered it’s an important ally in maintaining precisely the same shutter speeds and apertures, while allowing users to freely shoot even in changing lighting conditions.

Responding to customer feedback and requests, firmware version 2.0 for the EOS-1D X now adds the following on how Auto ISO is implemented:

New : Set up to 1/8000th second as “minimum speed” before Auto ISO raises the ISO setting
The “minimum shutter speed” menu setting for Auto ISO tells the camera that at any given ISO setting (in the P and Av exposure modes) that if lighting drops and causes shutter speed to drop below a user-defined level, to begin raising ISO automatically to preserve at least that shutter speed. This is intended primarily to ensure safe shutter speeds for hand-holding and so on.

Until now, the range of speeds topped out at 1/250th of a second – sufficiently fast for many uses, but still potentially problematic with long lenses or particularly if shooting moving subjects.

When the EOS-1D X has firmware version 2.0 installed, the Minimum Shutter Speed menu will have an expanded range of choices, up to and including 1/8000th of a second. In other words, as long as the lighting in a scene is sufficiently bright that Auto ISO doesn’t need to exceed the user-set Maximum ISO level (that’s a separate setting, unaffected by this firmware upgrade), the camera can be set to ensure fast shutter speeds.

New : Exposure Compensation now possible in Manual mode with Auto ISO
This is another direct response to user feedback. If a user has locked in his or her choice of shutter speed and lens aperture in the Manual exposure mode and wants to keep these settings, Auto ISO has become a viable way to do this in the face of changing lighting. Same speed, same aperture and the camera can adjust ISO to compensate as scene lighting changes.

But until now, there’s been one problem: no way to intentionally lighten or darken the image. Auto ISO in Manual exposure mode has sought to simply provide one “proper” exposure level. If you change the shutter speed or aperture with Auto ISO, the only response is a newly adjusted ISO to compensate and continue to provide this camera-defined “normal” exposure level.

Firmware version 2.0 for the EOS-1D X changes this. Now, there are two methods of applying deliberate exposure compensation in Manual exposure mode when Auto ISO is active:

Press “Q” button, highlight Exposure Compensation on Quick Control Menu (on rear LCD monitor) and turn Quick Control Dial. ± Compensation appears on the menu screen’s analog scale.
Via Custom Controls menu, assign SET button for Exposure Compensation when pressed. To do this, press SET button, hold it in and turn top Main Dial to apply compensation.
In either case, when Exposure Compensation is applied with Auto ISO and the camera in Manual exposure mode, ISO is further adjusted to apply the compensation that’s dialed-in by the user. The user-set shutter speed and aperture remain constant.

New : same exposure for new lens aperture

It’s happened to many of us: you’re using a lens like the EF 70–200mm f/2.8L USM with aperture wide open in the Manual exposure mode and then stop and attach a 1.4x or 2x tele extender to the lens. You know the lens’ effective maximum aperture drop one or two stops (with the EF 70–200mm f/2.8L USM lens, for example, adding the 1.4x extender means wide open shooting now happens at f/4). In your haste, you immediately begin shooting, only later to realize that since the lens slowed a stop or two, you didn’t compensate your Manual exposure by adjusting your shutter speed or ISO. You’re one or two stops underexposed.

For the first time in the EOS system, an EOS-1D X with firmware version 2.0 now offers an option to correct this. A new line item is added to the 6th Custom Function menu screen — “Same exposure for new aperture.” Disabled by default, you can activate this any time you like. Here are the options:


No exposure correction when shooting in Manual exposure mode, if maximum or minimum aperture of a lens changes. This is how EOS cameras have functioned up to this point and it remains the default setting once firmware version 2.0 is installed in an EOS-1D X.

ISO Speed 

If you were working at one group of Manual exposure settings at the maximum (or minimum) aperture of a lens changes and you begin shooting again, the camera will step in and adjust ISO to maintain a constant level of exposure. The shutter speed you set previously would remain constant.

Shutter Speed 

In Manual exposure mode, if the camera detects a change in the lens’ maximum or minimum aperture and you’re set there, it will step in and vary shutter speed so that exposure level remains where it was for the last shot you took. Again, if you were shooting wide open without an extender and then added the 1.4x or 2x extender, the camera will step in and reduce your manually set shutter speed as soon as you start shooting — so that your final exposures remain the same.

Customization : Instantly change camera operation with back-button

The rear AF-ON and AE Lock buttons are a hallmark of custom operations in the EOS system and photographers have been using “back button AF” for more than two decades. The EOS-1D X has always allowed shooters the option of not only activating AF via one of these back buttons, but also (if the user desires) to instantly activate a different memorized AF point for that AF.

With firmware version 2.0, the EOS-1D X now goes even further. Choose the “Metering Start/AF” icon (activating back-button AF) and then press the INFO button (next to the camera’s eyepiece) to access these options. Photographers have the following choices within the Custom Controls for both the AF-ON button and the AE Lock button:

AF Start Point 

Same as in previous versions of the EOS-1D X. The back button AF is active and by pressing the INFO button, the user can also opt to have the camera use the existing AF point or a jump immediately to a “registered” (memorized) AF point (via the “HP” — Home Position — icon on the menu screen).

AI Servo AF characteristics (new with firmware version 2.0) 

Select an entirely different AF “case,” via the same AF Configuration Tool options that are in the AF menu. What this does is let the user tailor one back button for a completely different type of AF operation. The other back button could be used for the action they anticipate will normally occur. In other words, you can have two different types of AF operations, literally at your thumb. This is especially exciting when you consider the new AI Servo AF features that this new firmware brings to the EOS-1D X.

AF Mode (new with firmware version 2.0) 

Dedicate one of the two back buttons to either One-Shot AF or AI Servo AF. A shooter working an event that normally calls for One-Shot AF, for instance, can instantly switch over to AI Servo just by pressing a back button they’ve dedicated for that purpose. Or, of course, you can “maintain current setting” so there’s no change in AF mode.

14 fps Super High Speed (new with firmware version 2.0) 

Instantly switch from the normal maximum of 12 fps, high-speed operation to the EOS 1D X’s special 14 fps, Super High Speed continuous setting by pressing either the AF-ON or AEL buttons. AI Servo AF won’t function during 14 fps shooting, but by assigning this to a back button, you can auto focus and shoot at 12 fps via the shutter button, and then instantly have access to the 14 fps operation by pressing the back button; AF will lock upon the spot where 14 fps started. Two prerequisites for this to operate are : 14 fps continuous drive has to be “enabled” (Custom Functions Menu #3 > Restrict Drive Modes > put check mark at 14 fps icon) and the camera must be set to shoot JPEG images (14 fps Super High Speed operation isn’t possible if the camera is set to shoot RAW files). In addition, 14 fps operation won’t kick in unless the camera has already been set to Continuous-High operation.

Customization II : Instantly switch One Shot AF / AI Servo AF

Previously available only as a Custom Control with buttons like the depth-of-field preview button, firmware version 2.0 now allows the EOS-1D X to use either of the “back buttons” to instantly toggle between One-Shot AF and AI Servo AF. No matter which AF setting you’re on, press the appropriate back button and the AF instantly switches to the other while you have your thumb on that back button.

This is slightly different than the option to change AF mode mentioned above. Within the Metering/AF options (described above), it’s possible to have multiple combinations of these settings applied to a single back button. Selecting the One Shot AF/AI Servo AF icon within the Custom Controls for either back button simply dedicates it to toggle between the two AF settings.

Playback : display only “protected” images

This is an addition to the JUMP options during image playback on the camera’s LCD monitor. Press the Playback button, then turn the top Main Dial and only images you’ve previously protected will play back. This can be useful for those who use the “Protect” function (to prevent accidental erasing of images). It’s now possible to show a client only those files you’ve protected, avoiding outtakes and other images you perhaps don’t want to show. This is in addition to the “RATE” function; many shooters will find the Protect function is arguably faster to apply during breaks while on-location.


Firmware version 2.0 for the EOS-1D X is a comprehensive update, taking what’s already Canon’s most powerful and advanced professional-grade camera and adding features, options and low-light AF performance. Its abilities to let users make instant changes to operation, without having to remove their eye from the viewfinder, is a revelation in certain shooting conditions. Added control over how the AF system performs, especially adding stability with subjects moving at steady speeds, will be welcome for many wildlife, sports, fashion and event shooters. Auto ISO has suddenly become a viable option for many professional users, now that overall exposure can be lightened or darkened even in Manual mode, and that minimum speeds can be set up to 1/8000th of a second. Settings to speed up AF point management, and make on-the-fly switching from manual AF point selection to Automatic AF point selection even faster, once again speaks to making day-to-day operation with this camera even smoother and faster.

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