Rob Galbraith says Canon 1D MKIV Auto-Focus still unreliable. Is it true?

Rob Galbraith says Canon 1D MKIV Auto-Focus still unreliable. Is it true?

Rob Galbraith, has recently posted that the new Canon 1D MKIV is an unreliable sports camera for certain specific sports. As best I can tell, he bases his conclusion on some side by side shooting of sporting events with his friend Mike Sturk. His current comparison camera is the Nikon D3s.

He may very well have a point. I don’t know, and I can’t really tell from anything he has posted. To me this is deja vu all over again


You see, three years ago Rob and I published our first full reviews of the new Canon 1D MKIII on the same day. In an earlier preview of the camera, Rob indicated that Canon had specifically told him of an auto focus problem that needed to be resolved in the camera. So, of course, he went about looking intently at the auto focus performance to see if it had been improved.

To make a long story short, it hadn’t, at least totally. Kudos to Rob for having the gumption to state this fact, despite having close ties with Canon- at the time.

Our research on the subject showed that we had one camera that worked well, and one that did not. So, we postulated a hardware issue. After the hardware issue was resolved (sub-mirror fix) Canon continued to try and improve the firmware and algorithms to suit customers. Rob Galbraith never really seemed to believe any of the fixes got the camera to work as well as his original Canon 1D MKIIN. Our results with a Canon 1D MKII showed otherwise, but there you have it. Neither Rob, Mike or myself are professional sports photographers. We stepped into this thing with the best of intentions to try and help our readers get to the bottom of this issue. You have to remember, at first, Canon wasn’t talking. Because some members of Canon decided to try and work with Rob for a short period of time, a lot of credence has been lent to his opinion regarding auto focus issues and Canon cameras.

Now to the Issues:

Primary Auto Focus Problems of the Canon 1D MKIII as originally reported by Rob Galbraith

3 years ago Rob reported various issues with the auto focus performance of the Canon 1D MKIII camera. However, they eventually distilled themselves into two basic areas of complaint.

Primary Problem: Could not focus well on things coming directly at the camera (e.g.,- a runner) when compared to a Canon 1D MKIIN.
Secondary Problem: Could not focus well on static subjects

Moving the Goalposts:

Current Auto Focus Problems of the Canon 1D MKIV as being reported by Rob Galbraith

Rob’s latest report on the new Canon 1D MKIV states the above two problems have been solved. In fact, he says the camera “nailed it“ in regards to the primary issue he had with the MKIII. I would say so, our most recent testing shows the same thing. The Canon 1D MKIV outclasses all other cameras in this autofocus test getting 89% of all shots in focus vs. only 77% for the Nikon D3s.

So, according to Rob the Primary Problem of the MKIII has not only been resolved by Canon engineers, but works almost to perfection. Where is the simple recognition of this fact in this article? Rob says this is the main issue, they fix it, even according to his findings. Plus, now he is comparing it to an entirely different system. Where’s the comparison to the MKIIn? In sports terms what Rob has done with this story is to “move the goalposts.”  The complaint now seems to have something to do with the autofocus not working well outdoors vs. indoors and working fairly well with some sports (e.g., track), but not so well with others (e.g., soccer).

These complaints were never the focus in his prior reports. But, let’s run with it a moment.

We agree on some things this time:

We seem to both agree that the Canon 1D MKIV autofocus system locks focus faster than the Nikon D3s. We both agree it nails the autofocus better for objects moving directly toward the camera at fast speeds. We both agree on these two things. What I don’t have a clue about is whether there is anything to these other claims. Nor can I truly investigate them.

In Conclusion:

Will the real issue please stand up (Finding the root cause):
For Rob to again be taken seriously, he will need to come up with some sort of repeatable, scientific test that emulates the conditions of the current complaints. This was done for his prior complaints with our design of a simple running test that could be replicated by almost anyone with their own equipment. We need something like this again to have any hope of getting to the bottom of this. One can’t scientifically keep a straight face and report that well, um, it seems to work better at some sports than others, and by the way I’m not a sports shooter.

Drew Strickland

23 Responses to “Rob Galbraith says Canon 1D MKIV Auto-Focus still unreliable. Is it true?”

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  1. Skip says:

    Good counterpoint to RG’s review! As a 1D IV shooter, and a former IIN and III shooter, I have been working closely with the new body looking for problems. At this stage I don’t believe ANY photographer can properly evaluate the autofocus without a good working knowledge of the Cn’s related to AF, and gaining that knowledge requires practice and experience. I think RG jumped the gun on his review, and as you stated – there is no repeatable process presented so that someone could replicate the issue on their own. I’ve found in my work, that this body’s AF system is VERY impressive, but absolutely requires the photog does his part by configuring it for the action at hand. I’d fairly say my first 1,000 shots were a function of just getting used to this thing – now that I have it dialed in, I consider it very, very reliable. I wonder if RG will change his opinion once he’s had more hours under his belt with this body – as the ad goes, this ain’t your father’s dslr :)
    I also can’t say with 100% confidence that the AF is infallible (none are), but I CAN say that you can’t just pick it up and shoot it – this one’s got a learning curve, and definitely rewards those who take the time to get to know it.

  2. Peter G says:

    Well, after reading this highly technical report, all I can say is….” What was your headline all about? ”
    I’m glad you clarified the matter. Rob, at least stated what he tested, firmware etc. Your report has nothing in it at all, except a headline designed to get people’s attention to your site.
    Good bye .

  3. shannon says:

    Good news sells, but bad news sells more. There will be nothing on the national news stating that 10-thousand commercial flights took off and landed safely today. Seems to me we have lost perspective – weren’t we all focusing manually a couple of decades ago? And those first thousand frames you shot, that would have been nearly a thousand dollar test on film? Ahh, the good old days ….

  4. Keith says:

    Drew, I glad to see some reporting on this issue. I own the Nikon. Last year I was on the back roads of Oregon when I came across a field full of dear. I would estimate three families or generations of deer(maybe 30). The landscape was already beautiful, that was the reason I was there. The sun was setting to my back. I had some great shots. Then all of sudden the whole group bolted and came directly at me. Scared the hell out of me, but the veered off to the front me. I was on a dirt road overlooking the field. The deer 4 or 5 at the time lept and clear the road well above my head. I tracked and shot the dear as this happen. the autofocus did not keep up..not even close and was jumpy and the camera frozed right in the middle of the field. And. Did not start taking photos until after the group was well beyond the road. So, I have been trying to figure out if I need to replace my camera ever since….hopefully there will be more discussions.

  5. Keith says:

    darn. I wished i reviewed my typos before hitting that button…oh. well! I was in a hurry. Hopefully, the next sets of test by both of them will be better than my writing a while ago.

  6. ADR says:

    Galbraith is only reporting what he experienced. Other people may have different results, some better some worse. This isn’t moving the goalposts at all.

    Rob Galbraith was very quick to point out that the ID Mark IV worked very well under certain conditions but not as well in others, including noting that the AF performance varied depending on the color of clothing and other factors. This is very similar to what is being reported by other users, plus he has massive amounts of files that can be downloaded and studied by anyone so I don’t think he has anything to hide.

    There are now also several reports coming out that the 1d Mark IV does not focus as well in low light as the 1d Mark III and even the 5d Mark II. Most of these are from longtime Canon users and there is no reason for them to lie about what they are finding.

    A number of users have reported very nearly the exact thing that Galbraith has and some feel that the predictive AF in the AI Servo mode is overly aggressive, resulting in OOF shots under some conditions. Are they moving the goalposts as well?

    Of course, depending on what type of shots people are taking, the ID Mark IV AF may work just fine and that’s OK. Having said that, it has been my experience after using Canon cameras for over 25 years, that Canon in the last 3-4 years has resorted to overpromising and underdelivering. They have had numerous issues with the 1d Mark III (mine’s been back 3 times), 5d Mark II (mine’s been back twice), 50d, and 7d, and it’s only because of people like Galbraith who have aggressively put them on the defense that they are now responding to complaints more quickly. Canon lost a huge percentage of their pro market share to Nikon because of one camera – the 1d Mark III – which they continually denied had problems until it was proven otherwise by actual users.

    I will still continue to be a Canon user but I will never buy any Canon product until it has been out in the field for a minimum of six months and after enough users have reported that it works up to par. This is because of Canon’s recent track record.

  7. Sean says:

    I would like to add another comment, I have a Nikon D300 amongst my camera collection and I have never been happy with it’s AF performance, earlier models leave it for dead when it comes to sharpness. I can’t afford to switch to Canon, ‘toooo much investment in Nikon glass! !

  8. Doug says:


    as stated by another poster above these cameras have a learning curve.
    The Nikon has 51 point 3d tracking, but it doesn’t activate by itself when in another mode.
    Did you use the af-on button and was it set appropriately on the back of the camera and what position was the focus switch on the front of the body set to (if the switch was on ‘s’ then that freezing up until after they cleared the road is expected behaviour – ‘s’ is our way of telling the camera Not to release the shutter unless it is confident it has locked onto a subject 100%).
    Did you know you can instantly change focus behaviour using the fn button

    What lens did you have attached, some don’t focus as quickly (the 80-400 is far slower than the 70-200 for example) and did you say the dear jumped over your head?
    So they went from some distance to very very close in what space of time?
    (there’s a good reason sports photographers use long lenses. It’s not so they can get closer to their subject but rather so they can be further away. It sounds like you were presented with an extremely challenging situation)

    Apologies if you already new all of this.

  9. Bob says:

    I’m sorry, but your criticisms of RG’s comments seem more personal than related to AF. Why is it so impossible that one issue has been fixed while another exists?

    I’m not sure what your issue with Rob is, but I find him more credible by far. Your test (straight towards the camera at a relatively constant speed) doesn’t really reflect most sports shooting.

  10. Blowup says:

    What a poor Article!!
    I haven’t found any useful information.
    Before criticizing Rob Galbraith, learn how to really test cameras, and give usefull information.
    It seems all you guys want is get our attention to your website.
    Not with me!

  11. Tom Sweet says:

    Not a useful article, so I’m disappointed. Instead of trying to make the point that Rob’s criteria changed, where’s the analysis of the product. I appreciate Rob Galbraith’s independence and “courage” in pointing out his findings. Too many so called reviewers publish the manufacturer’s hype without their own critical evaluation of the product.

    I read a review on B&H about the Mark IV and found it to be totally worthless too. The so called reviewer in that case simply published a rehash of the manufacturer’s material. For example, that article mentions the Mark IV can shoot at ISO 102,400, but fails to make a comparison of noise at that setting. When I tested a new MIV at high ISO settings and compared them to the Nikon D3S, the difference was dramatic with the Nikon clearly the better performer.

  12. Bob says:

    “He may very well have a point. I don’t know, and I can’t really tell from anything he has posted. To me this is deja vu all over again”

    I agree. You really can’t read.

    “You see, three years ago Rob and I published our first full reviews of the new Canon 1D MKIII on the same day.”

    Not true. You’ve never published a “full review” of anything.

  13. Phil says:

    If you think this was a scientific test you’re clearly more than a little misinformed about the nature of the scientific method. If you want to demonstrate how you are “right” and RG is “wrong” about the IV, I suggest you think a lot more carefully about your tests.

  14. Perhaps if you spend more of your time actually properly testing the cameras, and less time on this personal diatribe against Galbraith, you would produce something that is of more value than your current rants.

  15. I have been using a 1D mkIV for about 2 weeks now. mainly for weddings.
    mainly static shooting and some moving subjects. Custom functions are factory default as that seems the best for static subjects. I’m not interested in AI servo tracking and as far as I can tell most of the fancy custom functions setup is for all you action and sports shooters.

    My findings are a worry. Although only anecdotal, I find that miss focus on static subjects occurs about 30% of the time. It seems worse with very wide lenses such as 85 F1.2 and 24 F1.4 or even the 24-70 at f2.8.

    before you say anything about the shallow depth of field, bear in mind that those lenses at those apertures are razor sharp most of the time, say 9/10 on my two 5D mk2 cameras. It doesn’t make sense to me.

    I keep hoping it is me doing something wrong, but I just cant see it and after a few thousand shots I am taking it in to be looked at my camera shop.

    I have tried some tests at home on a tripod. all static shots, max aperture, high shutter speed, flash and and just a flat small text subject. My findings? it missed focus about 2 out of 5 shots.

  16. Jim says:

    I just picked up a 1DMKIV and unfortunately sending it back. It was all about the AF. The lighting wasn’t that drastic, I wouldn’t even consider it extremely low light. Using a 70-200 F2.8 IS USM Canon lens, the 1DMKIV would not lock on focus. Switching the lens to a 5DMKII, that camera body locked in quickly and fine. I had the 1DMKIV 3 days. Contacted Canon, ran some tests, and they told me to send it to the factory. I’m returning it to the retailer. I’ll try another body, but this was not a very good sign.

  17. Mark says:

    Gotta second Giovanni’s comments. My 1D MKIV has been back 2x now to Canon CPS and it’s still not focusing (center point, single shot, MLU, tripod etc….) accurately and produces soft images compared to my 5D under same conditions. Going back to Canon for it’s third time; if they can’t correct it, may be time for changing brands (do they still make Konica’s?)

  18. Stu says:

    My 1D4′s accuracy rate mirrors Drew’s findings. It is best outdoors. It nails motorcycles in cross-country races and tracks them even with brush and limbs between the moving bikes and the lens. I’ve had it since Jan. Low light focusing seems to be on a par with other Canon bodies I have owned. OK. It could be better for weddings. At ISO 1600 it delivers files similar to 640 on my 1D3. It is OK at 6400 for albums & smaller prints. Larger prints require some PS work. Most of my CF selections are for sports shooting. Most of my OOF issues have been with the shooter’s brain (such as accidentally bumping the lens AF switch to M).

  19. I took the plunge and purchased a 1D MK!V a couple of months ago after seriously considering switching over to Nikon due to the negative comments of the MK!V from Rob Galbraith’s tests.
    I have been using Canon equipment for 25 years photographing motorcycle racing and have been shooting with the Mk11N for the last three years, not upgrading to the MK111 on account of all the bad press, so cannot compare the MK111 to the MK1V. However, after extensive comparisons between the MK11N and the MK1V shooting with a 500mm F4 I can say that the MK11N is head and shoulders better at focussing with a far far higher sharpness rate. So much so that all the action that I have shot at the last two races have been with my old Mk11N bodies. All the equipment has been in Canon workshops recently to be checked out and nothing untoward found.
    I had blind faith in the new MK!V, thinking that Canon surely would get it right after the debacle with the MK111. Sadly it seems that they haven’t

  20. Peter Geran says:

    Interesting comments re the MK IV. I have shot with Nikon for 38 years or so. Sometimes , NIKON has slipped behind, but, I have found that NIKON proves their product out before releasing it to the market. This appears to be someting that CANON does not do.
    I am based n Melbourne, and have shot bikes on and off for some time. Not as much nowadays. I note your other shooter was using NIKON at the MOTOGP last October at Phillip Island.

  21. I’m a wedding photographer and I borrowed a 1DIV to photograph five weddings alongside my 5DII. I was evaluating whether I should purchase the 1DIV to shoot weddings. I found that its autofocus has slightly more difficulty locking on in low light than the 5DII. With wider lenses like the fisheye, it was not much worse, but with a 70-200/2.8 IS Mk II, it could not lock on with nearly 100% of reception shots (ISO 3200 light) until I put on a 580EXII flash with the flash-assist beam to help it out. Even then it had difficulty far away. With the 5DII at the same reception using the same lenses, the miss rate in the same light was about 50% until I put on a 580EXII, which virtually eliminated misses. With the 24/1.4 and 35/1.4 lens it had more misses than the 5DII. On the fifth wedding I was hesitant to use the 1DIV at the reception unless I had the 15mm fisheye on it. After these tests, I decided to wait for the 1DSIV or 5DIII.


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