Enough Bells and Whistles to Put the 5D Mark II to Shame But How Is Image Quality?
Review Canon EOS 7D (March 2011) – If you are like me, you tend to wait for 6 months to a year before jumping into buying a new DSLR after it has been released. This allows ample time for the “dust to settle” and for any alterations and necessary firmware updates to be implemented. I waited just over a year before buying the Canon EOS 7D and here are my findings so far…
With the wedding season coming up, I thought it time to finally resign my old Canon EOS 5D to the back-ups “back up” shelf in my office. It has served me extremely well but it is time to move on.
Rather than shelling out for another 5D Mark II, my main camera of choice for weddings et al, I read as many reviews on the Canon EOS 7D as I could before finally making the decision to buy it…and buy it I did.
The reviews seemed favourable from what I could see, and coming from a long line of reliable Canon cameras that I have owned in the past (10D, 20D, 1D Mark II/III) I looked forward to receiving my new toy. I chose the 7D purposely for the cropped sensor, something I never thought I would do after using full frame, as I will primarily use it for stealth/reportage shots at weddings with the Canon EF 70-200L 2.8 IS and the odd bit of video (quite a lot actually).
So, I bought the camera through Amazon for what I think is a great price compared to the price on its release and waited a huge 2 days for it to arrive…
Here are my first impressions immediately after taking the Canon EOS 7D out of the box when it arrived.
- Touchy Feely – My immediate thought was that I love the feel of this camera…more so than the 5D’s or even the 1D series. It feels very robust, “grippy” and solid, much more so than the other prosumer/semi pro Canon’s I have owned and it weighs in a touch heavier than the 5D. It feels “right” in the hands…
- Buttons and Layout – Everything fits perfectly (for me anyway) when I hold this camera. The slight changes to the button layout are for once an improvement (For example, the old “direct print” button is now used for JPEG/RAW simultaneous shooting) and work very well. The new additions and minor changes make the transitional learning curve from other Canon camera’s pretty swift. More later.
- Features – Ah, bliss! Some really welcome features and functions that will make your mouth water!
- Image Quality – Arrrghhh! What happened!?!? Don’t let this rant put you off buying the Canon EOS 7D…read the rest of the review to see why I got mad, it could save you a LOT of time and trouble!
Before we dive in, here are the main features of the Canon EOS 7D:
- 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- 8fps shooting
- ISO range up to 12800
- 1x Magnification and 100% Viewfinder
- 19 cross-type AF points
- iFCL metering system
- Dual “DIGIC 4” processors
- Full HD movie mode with variable frame rates and manual control
- Integrated Speedlite Transmitter
- 3″ Clear View II LCD screen at 920,000 dots
- Magnesium alloy body with environmental protection
Ok, I am not going to list all the functions, features, specs, operations etc…I will leave that to people like DPreview who are very good at it.
What I will do is give you my impressions, thoughts, results and overall conclusion after using the camera from a professional photographers’ point of view, not a reviewer.
Review Canon EOS 7D – Body
As I said before, there was a noticeable difference, and improvement IMO to the feel and shape of this camera, something I can’t explain but would recommend you get one in your hands if you can. If you are a Canon shooter, you will hopefully see what I mean.
Canon have improved the weather sealing and are comparing it to the equivalent of the sturdy Canon EOS 1N launched way back in 1994. I will only test this out only when fully necessary but I was in light rain photographing my son’s football match at the weekend with no bother.
As well as the weather sealing, it has new toughened seams on the magnesium body. All round, very good indeed!
Review Canon EOS 7D – Buttons and Layout
Let’s start with the top.
All pre-defined (and in my opinion, totally useless) settings such as “sports, close up, landscape, portrait” have been removed from the top left settings dial. All you have now are the main favourites:
- P – Program
- Tv – Shutter Priority
- Av – Aperture Priority
- M – Manual
- B – Bulb (For long exposures)
- …and 3 custom settings
I must admit, the “little green square” (full auto) is still there which some people may find useful for “getting out of dodge” when you simply can’t think quickly enough. It’s on the 5D Mark II as well so was to be expected.
Just to the rear of this dial is the new ON/OFF button which is large and solid and not easily moved by mistake (great for using the camera with gloves on). Even though it is solid, it still has a fluid and reassuring feel when you use it. Great placement and a big improvement in my opinion (and there are a lot of those on this page).
Hot-shoe and eye dioptre in the same place.
One difference to most other Canon cameras on the top plate is the addition of a multi-function (M-Fn) button. This is customisable like most other buttons but the default setting is used for selecting the focus points (also becomes FEL – flash exposure lock – button when flash attached).
You press the usual AF focus selector point with your thumb on the to-right-rear of the camera and use the M-Fn button to switch between focus points and AF area (spot, single point, point expansion, etc.), very useful and quick to locate once you have used it a few times. Now the rear of the camera.
As I said earlier, the old “direct print” button still has that capability but the default use is now a RAW/JPEG button. When pressed, both RAW and JPEG flash on the top LCD screen to alert you that you are about to take one of each.
For example, if you are shooting in just RAW or JPEG but for just one shot you wish to shoot both, press this button and the next, single shot will be recorded in both formats. Excellent addition and again, just in the right place and soooo much more useful than the DP button on older EOS models.
Just to the left of the RAW/JPEG button is another new addition, the quick menu (Q) button. This simply switches the rear screen to quick menu where you navigate using the joystick and make adjustments to ISO, shooting mode, frame rate etc using the control dials with your forefinger and thumb.
Another great addition and in a really handy place just above the jog/toggle button is the dedicated video/stills button. This both enables you to switch between modes and also start/stop the video recording all with the thumb (even with gloves on) in one place making it quick and very handy.
That is about it when it comes to major differences between this and, say, the Canon 5D Mark II.
…Ooh, no, one more thing I noticed.
CF Card Door
The CF card door now has a much easier mechanism. I always thought the door on the 5D’s was pathetic when you consider what you spend on these cameras but the CF card door on the Canon EOS 7D is spring loaded. Pull it towards you and let go and it springs open wider than other models for easy access…again, very reassuring feel to it.
Review Canon EOS 7D – Features
18 Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
For me? Too many pixels crammed onto an APS-C sensor at full RAW (5184×3456), I would have preferred 12-14mp. In some shots I actually prefer the MRAW files (3888×2592) so will probably use that for weddings. Still, files are pretty good quality all round but more on image quality later…
The Canon EOS 7D shoots 18MP 14-bit images at 8 fps as standard in a burst of up to 126 large JPEGs, a very cool feature and one I first experienced on the Canon EOS 1D Mark II. Eight fps is very fast and great for sports/nature shooters. The Digic IV processor does wonders at this speed so you are unlikely to miss a trick.
ISO range up to 12800
You are unlikely to get useable shots (for example at weddings) from the 7D at 12,800 ISO. I have used ISO 3200 and was pretty impressed and would be happy shooting weddings at that level although I would probably stick to ISO 1600 and lower.
If you are coming from a 5D or 5D Mark II, prepare yourself as the files are no way as clean as these two cameras. but still very good.
I am impressed. What with all the issues in the past with the 1D Mark III (which I never experienced in my version by the way), Canon have got this right finally. The focussing system on the 5D Mark II is quite antiquated now and the 7D’s 19 cross-type AF point system blows it away.
There are a number of useful modes to be utilised with my particular favourite (so far) being AF Point Expansion (central focus point with emphasis on surrounding points, only seen in 1D series prior to the 7D)…you can read more on the focus modes of the Canon EOS 7D at Canon.
HOWEVER…please read the section on Image Quality at the end to find out how the camera was when I first got it…this could save you a lot of time and headaches. Set your camera up before shooting anything seriously!
The new “iFCL” dual layer metering system (Focus Colour Luminance) measures focus, colour and luminance across 63 zones.
Overall, the metering does the job but in my opinion, it overexposes the scene too many times for my liking. My advice is to use either of the “Faithful” or “Neutral” shooting Picture Styles and also shoot RAW, this will give you more control over the contrast in RAW processing. I also underexpose a third of a stop or two in bright conditions…needs more testing I think.
Of course, the usual metering modes are all there…spot, evaluative, centre-weighted etc.
Dual “DIGIC 4” processors
These new, powerful processors are more than enough to handle shooting RAW files at high resolution at 8fps as well as shooting High Definition video at 1080p.
The whole camera seems lightning fast and super responsive…a pleasure to use.
Full HD movie mode with variable frame rates and manual control
Like the latest (and very much needed) firmware update in the Canon EOS 5D Mark II in 2010, the Canon EOS 7D gives you full manual control over the shutter speed and aperture which is absolutely necessary for good film-making in my opinion.
It shoots with resolutions and speeds of 1080p HD at 30fps (NTSC), 25 fps (PAL) or 24 frames per second. In 720p mode you have either 60 fps (NTSC) or 50 (PAL) fps which allows you to slow down the replay during post processing to give a nice, smooth slow motion playback.
You also have the ability to crop your footage (at the beginning and end by 1 second increments) in camera.
See the short video reel below for sample footage taken with the Canon EOS 7D:
Review Canon EOS 7D – Sample Video Clips
Integrated Speedlite Transmitter
This is a tasty little feature that allows you to fire a series of up to 3 groups of four Canon Speedlights, from the camera without the use of additional, wireless transmitters. Before you go throwing your Pocket Wizards on the bonfire, there are limitations with the 7D with the usable distance being one of them.
I have used this on a couple of occasions with a 580 EX and a 580 EX II on stands with brollies and the system seems to work pretty well. I will be using this set up at the next wedding I shoot no doubt…very handy and the less kit I carry to a wedding, the better!
See the catch-lights in the eyes here showing both brollies…
3″ Clear View II LCD screen at 920,000 dots
If you are coming from an older Canon DSLR, this screen will blow you away with its clarity and brightness with detail that will tell you if you have nailed the focus or not.
If coming from a similar screened Canon DSLR, you will think it is smaller but that is just because they have reduced the size of the outer rim that included the “Canon” logo (lettering). This is now beneath the screen.
Magnesium alloy body with environmental protection
As soon as you pick this camera up you know it is solid and reliable. As I mentioned before, I have already used this in light rain with no worries…very nice design all round.
Review Canon EOS 7D – Other Noticeable Improvements
One thing that bothers me with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is that when shooting in manual, the Auto ISO is fixed at 400. When shooting in manual on the Canon EOS 7D, the Auto ISO works all the way from ISO 100 to 3200 so why is this useful?
In some situations when shooting manually, I like to be in control but with a “safety” zone knowing that my exposures are going to be ok.
Say for example I am shooting a wedding outdoors and clouds intermittently pass in front of the sun. Also, I like to set the camera to around 250th/sec shutter speed to capture movement with the 70-200 but I also want to use f5.6 to ensure a nice, shallow depth of field at 200mm.
Now, with the Canon EOS 7D, I can set those parameters knowing that only the ISO will fluctuate with the changing light conditions meaning all my images at that location will have the same look and feel to them with regards to sharpness and depth of field!
There is a HDMI connection (mini HDMI cable not supplied…I bought a connector to use with my current array of HDMI cables) which allows you to view and HD footage and images on your HD TV.
You do get a stereo video cable though…
There is a small “microphone” on the body for video but if you intend to shoot a bit of video and the audio is important to you, please buy a decent, external stereo microphone like this or this from RODE, the difference in quality is huge!
Digital Level Gauge
This is a funky, gimmicky, gyro-operated addition to the rear screen that allows you to perfectly align those horizons and edges when shooting landscapes or architecture. It looks and works like an airplane cockpit pitch and roll monitor and is simple to use with green lights giving the go ahead when straight and upright.
It is also viewable in the viewfinder by using the focus points to level the shot.
Review Canon EOS 7D – Image Quality
There has been talk on the internet of some occasional focus issues, including a couple of ‘false positives’ (where the camera insists that it’s in focus and quite clearly is not). This is very rare but most certainly worth mentioning.
Also, when I first got the camera, I was over the moon with the overall quality, handling and features and was itching to get shooting. However, my initial impression of the image quality after firing off quite a few shots was poor. Not wanting to give up, and seeing that I had been using a superior Canon EOS 5D Mark II for a long time, I figured I would sleep on it and try again tomorrow.
Try again I did and could not for the life of me, get decent quality shots.
After a lot of testing and shooting with various lenses, I established that the focus was way out on the lenses I was using. Now, this is the first time I have ever come across this with any of the many Canon EOS cameras that I have owned so had to go through a bit of a learning curve myself.
I had to use the micro-adjustment feature in the menu system to methodically set up each lens to the Canon EOS 7D. The 50mm 1.4 needed +17 in adjustments which is nearing its limit. The 70-200 was around -7 but the 105mm macro and 24-70 seemed fine.
I made the adjustments by setting the camera up on a tripod at an angle to a predetermined object which I focused on and took a series of shots at the widest aperture to give the shallowest depth of field. I then loaded these into Photoshop to check focus.
If focus was out (behind or in front of the object) I would adjust accordingly and take some more shots until the focus was nailed for each lens.
Once focusing was consistently accurate, I made further adjustments “in camera”. I turned all the gimmicky features off such as long exposure noise reduction, auto lighting optimiser and anything else that allowed the camera to make alterations to my images.
I used the “neutral” setting in picture styles that would give me a flat, base image from which to work my RAW magic and checked the results…bingo!
The images that were now coming from my Canon EOS 7D were spot on.
The focusing was amazing, fast and intuitive, the sharpness and detail was all there but still, and quite obviously, the quality didn’t match that of the 5D Mark II but I was more than happy nonetheless!
I recommend that if you buy this camera, you spend some time tweaking your version and ensuring that all lenses are set up correctly…you won’t be disappointed and you will save yourself a lot of time and heartache.
Review Canon EOS 7D – Conclusion
Having come from a long line of Canon EOS camera bodies (10D, 20D, 5D, 5D Mark II, 1D Mark II, 1D Mark III), I was very much looking forward to checking out the 7D as its features and additional functionality are quite cutting edge.
The feel of the camera in my hands is actually, to me, one of the nicest bodies they have released. I got fed up with the heavy bulk of the 1-series cameras and the 5D I/II are both excellent cameras but I felt, desperately in need of modernising.
The Canon EOS 7D has done just that and is a great feeling camera that I would be happy to shoot with on long wedding days. The grips and rubberised, weather-sealed housing gives you confidence and the button layout is superb and very user-friendly.
If you are coming from a full frame EOS body such as the 5D Mark I or II or the 1Ds series, I am sure you will, at first, feel a little “out of sorts”. The image quality is lacking in comparison and reverting to a crop sensor will throw you for a while as you get used to your lenses receiving the 1.6 crop effect.
Everything else is a huge improvement IMHO.
If you are coming from any other Canon EOS body, I am sure that you will be in DSLR heaven and will love the additional features and functionality. Images can be a touch noisy at ISO’s above 400 but still good up to ISO 1600 (I am looking at this from a spotless stock photography point of view) and highly useable.
Images when using additional light such as bounced flash or studio lights are amazingly clear and crisp.
My final word is if you have the budget, I would probably wait to see what the Canon EOS 5D Mark III or replacement offers because if it is a mix of the 7D and 5D Mark II, we are in for a serious treat. However, at the price the EOS 7D is currently selling for, it would be a welcome addition, main camera or back up, for any serious photographer!
Review Canon EOS 7D – Gallery
Here is a selection of images I have taken after making all the adjustments mentioned in this review. There are shots taken with focus tracking at 8fps at f2.8, bounced flash shots, shots taken using the built in flash transmitter, high ISO shots, 100% crops of various images and macro photography using a Sigma 105mm lens.
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