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Canon 1DMkIII back focus problems

No cat posts for me but sometimes I want to post about my non-SEO work (Mountain Biking, Digital Photography, Kayaking, Sailing, Hiking). I’ll keep it to technology, though, because I do have another blog for family stuff.

Those who know me as a photographer have likely heard my rants about how computerized (digital) cameras  provide easy excuses for manufacturers. They have become so complex with so many variables effecting image quality that we feeble users can’t really hold the manufacturer’s accountable for quality any more. You don’t know if your camera is a lemon, and even if you sense it might be, you can’t prove it. Sometimes you can’t even test it unless you’re an engineer with a home testing facility. When you drop $2k on a DSLR body and experience back focus issues or sharpness “problems”, what can you do? Pro shops know of these issues — visit a serious equipment room and there are certain bodies that kick around the lab looking like new because everyone knows “don’t take that one”. For every 5 totally beat up EOS 10Ds there is one that looks like new except for one major dent: the dent caused by the guy who slammed it on the counter after it cost him yet another crucial shot. Bite me once.
I’ve been shooting a 10D for 4 years and I’ve been waiting for the Canon 1DMkIII for two years.  Fast, robust, with clean sensor technology and > 8MP resolution. Now that it’s here, I’m agast at the reports. Back focusing problems that make it less desirable for action than the MkII? This can’t be!

I shoot hockey and if you don’t know what that means, it means low-light, off-white, fast-action that strains the best equipment, the most artistic talent, and the keenest eyes. Oh, and in digital camera world, where vertical and horizontal lines are used to define “focused”, there are goal nets and face masks to distract the autofocus systems.  In the world of Canon Digital SLR cameras, that also means you are almost guaranteed  a miss-focus because Canon’s AF system seriously (too seriously?) favors the cross of a vertical/horizontal line for focusing. Shoot a kid behind a face mask and you get a sharply-focused face mask. Shoot at wide aperture, which you have to do because of the fast action and low light conditions of youth hockey, and that 2.5 inches between face mask and face virtually guarantees an out-of-focus face. To shoot kids hockey, you need better technology than the world has so far. Until the Canon 1DMkIII, that is.
The MkIII has less low-light noise than any other camera. It shoots at higher ISO with less noise, which means it shoots faster in lower light. That alone is enough to make it purchase-worthy, but Canon’s engineers also put to work the magic of digital and gave us progammable focus offset adjustment. In situations like mine, where you can predict a needed offset from the focus point (2.5 inches beyond it, to focus on the face instead of the mask), you can now program that offset into the camera! That’s what I needed… it’s the perfect camera!

Alas but the real-world reports are coming in, and just a mnth or so after delivery the AF system on the 1DMkIII is failing the real world tests. Not only is it reportedly not  focusing properly (it seems to choose it’s own AF point instead of the one you preset even though it reports that it used the one you preset), but it’s inconsistently back and front focusing. Sometimes back focusing, sometimes front focusing. There is nothing worse than variability when it comes to precision…. that behavior makes the offset programmability completely useless. Ouch.

At more than $4k  for the body, this is ridiculous. At least we have the efforts of these hard working testers to show us before we waste our money. Otherwise, what do we have? Claims made, promises made, and individual users’ experiences that may disappoint but can’t be easily explained or demonstrated. I am SOOOOO glad I didn’t buy an MkIII yet. Again, hopefully, the consumer web is helping us hold manufacturers accountable for their claims (because apparently no one else is doing that).
I hope Canon USA answers these raised issues promptly and smartly.  I need a faster camera, and would greatly appreciate a programmable focus offset. It would be enabling for me, as there is simply no other way to get the hockey shots.


  1. linda jones wrote:

    I concur with what you wrote about the MKIII front focus and back focus issues especially in aiservo. I’m a wildlife shooter, mostly birds in flight. I had similar problems with the 40D and decided to finally upgrade. The MKIII is a wonderful piece of machinery and I love what it has to offer in custom functions, ISO and speed. It does, however, have defects with multiple shots and also even still shots, which is just unexplainable. The firmware upgrades have not solved the problem with bright days. It is so similar to the 40D issues, I was familiar with this before I even bought the MKIII. Very disappointed, as this camera, for the price was a perfect solution for birders and sports. I can only hope Canon will find a fix, either that or at least own up to the OOF issues in both cameras. Perhaps the new focus system is the culprit with both cameras. At first I was thrilled it fast focused with my teleconverters. I really saw the problem even more when I had to revert to my 20D while the MKIII was at Canon service. I was so pleased with the 20D focusing, I had forgotten how a camera should work!I’m stuck with the MKIII, now, and am trying all custom functions for a workaround. If it is the same problem as the 40D, then it is useful for standard shooting and portraits, but alas, not birds in flight. It appears the center point just can’t stay where it’s supposed to. Any news on this would be greatly appreciated. Aug. 08

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 7:54 pm | Permalink
  2. JOHN wrote:

    I concur after 3 mkIII’s I had to upgrade to the 1D MKIIIs and it did solve most of the back focus problem I said most for a camera body over $7k I still get some back focus. Should I just be happy with thats digital? even after that I lost 5 frames per second I’m in the sports photography business what do I do about the 5 frames per second—I had to go bacck to my 1DMKIIns to pick up the speed but still have the QUALITY PROBLEM!

    Sunday, December 28, 2008 at 6:09 pm | Permalink