What would you do with 17x more processor bandwidth? Here’s what Canon did with the new EOS-1D X dSLR camera

Canon has just introduced a new pro-level dSLR camera body called the EOS-1D X ($6800). It’s a full-frame dSLR with an 18Mpixel sensor that can shoot 12 frames/sec (with a “super high-speed” mode of 14 frames/sec). To get that sort of image-transfer speed, Canon has designed an image sensor that has 16 analog channels and a dual line readout. However, once you develop a sensor that can support a very high data rate (18Mpixels x 12 frames/sec x 14 bits/pixel = 378Mbytes/sec, 441Mbytes/sec in super high-speed mode) then you need to provide the processing bandwidth needed to keep up with such a data torrent.

Enter the Canon Digic 5 processor. According to an interview with Canon USA’s Technical Advisor Chuck Westfall, DPReview.com learned that the Canon EOS-1D X sports two of the company’s new Digic 5 processors, which have 17x more processing power than the company’s previous-generation Digic 4 processors.

Adding this kind of processing horsepower to the new camera body does more than just allow it to handle large 18Mpixel images at a high frame rate. It allows the camera to start performing some new tasks in real time that were previously handled with slow, manual, PC-based batch processing long after a shot’s been taken. What kind of tasks? Tasks such as multiple lens corrections for:

  • Vignetting
  • Geometric distortion
  • Chromatic aberration (lateral and axial)

These kinds of digital image correction help to take the camera body/lens pairing into a new optical plane that more closely approaches the perfect image photographers seek.

You can use this processing power to go the other way as well. In the days of film, ISO sensitivities ranged from 25 for Kodachrome to perhaps 3200 for Ilford Delta, a professional black-and-white roll film. In the digital realm, we’re leaving even relatively fast ISO 3200 far behind. My Canon 60D body has a “normal” ISO range of 100 to 3200—spanning what I could do with film. If I don’t care at all about image noise, I can push the camera to ISO 12,800.

That’s peanuts now.

The new 18Mpixel Canon EOS-1D X sensor coupled with the dual Canon Digic 5 processor combo takes the new camera body to ISO 51,200 and that can be pushed to a mind-blowing ISO 204,800. “Ideal for law enforcement, government or forensic field applications” as the Canon press release states. Westfall says drolly, “That’s going to be an enabler of all sorts of new possibilities for a lot of people.”

There are other subtle (and not so subtle) functional extensions made possible by the extra processing power. One such example is the way Canon has changed the way autofocus (AF) works on the Canon EOS-1D X. The camera takes an existing, highly complex focusing system with a complex user interface and puts a much simpler face on it. Instead of a “complex inter-related network of custom [AF] settings” found on previous Canon EOS-1D dSLR bodies, the Canon EOS-1D X offers up six preset AF modes:

  • Versatile multi-purpose: The all-round setting scenes and subjects.
  • Continuous shooting, ignore obstructions: Designed to continue to track a subject even when the subject momentarily moves away from the AF points. Ideal for shooting action with subjects that move about the frame such as freestyle skiing, tennis, and swimming with the butterfly stroke.
  • Instantly refocus suddenly with obstructions: Adjust focus immediately when a new subject is detected. Most effective when you want to shoot different subjects one after the other, in situations such as alpine downhill skiing or the start of a bicycle road race.
  • Subjects that accelerate or decelerate quickly: Designed for continuous focus-tracking of moving subjects that may change in speed or direction such as during cornering in motor sports or a football player avoiding a tackle.
  • Erratic subject movement: This setting is ideal for continuously focus-tracking subjects that may move rapidly up/down or left/right during shooting. The camera continues to track the subject by switching automatically to the nearest AF points. Common shooting situations would include figure skating and air races. For use only with 61-point automatic selection AF, Zone AF, and AF point expansion modes.
  • Subjects that change speed and more erratically: This setting enables tracking of subject movements by automatically switching the AF points. Ideal for basketball or rhythmic gymnastics. For use only with 61-point automatic selection AF, Zone AF, and AF point expansion modes.

All of these preset modes can be customized.

You need more than processing power to put this kind of AF intelligence into a camera, however. There’s a new AF sensor for the Canon EOS-1D X body that increase the AF sensor-point count to 61 (up from 45). Of these, 21 are cross-type sensors that are sensitive enough to work with lenses with maximum apertures as slow as F5.6. Of these, the five center points now have diagonal elements (rather than just horizontal and vertical elements) that work with lenses with maximum apertures as slow as F2.8. Twenty more of the AF sensors along the outer edge of the AF sensor can act as cross-type points with lenses with maximum apertures as slow as F4.

Canon EOS-1D X AF sensor layout

Then there’s the light-metering system, which is complex enough to get its own Canon Digic 4 processor (shared with the AF system, making three main processors in the camera body). The new RGB metering sensor in the Canon EOS-1D X dSLR body has 100,000 metering points segmented into 252 zones. An improved evaluative metering algorithm ensures that colors that typically cause over- or under-exposure (for example a predominance of green or yellow) are compensated to ensure the correct exposure across the scene. That’s why the metering sensor needs its own dedicated processor.

So, this camera does a lot more. What’s the advantage to Canon? The added processing capability and the other improvements mean that Canon can charge nearly $2000 more for this new body than the previous-generation Canon EOS-1D mkIV. When you can demonstrate that your offering can do more—a lot more—then you can ask a premium price.

With the EOS-1D X dSLR body, Canon again demonstrates that Silicon, SoC, and System Realization can help a system house maintain a clear market differentiation and get the kind of margins that top system houses can command for their products.

Reviews of the Canon EOS-1D X you might find interesting:

About sleibson2

EDA360 Evangelist and Marketing Director at Cadence Design Systems (blog at https://eda360insider.wordpress.com/)
This entry was posted in EDA360, Silicon Realization, SoC, SoC Realization, System Realization and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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