I recently acquired Canon’s hottest new body – the 7D. It combines 18MP on a 1.6x crop, shooting at 8fps in a very well-built body and includes many features new to Canon, such as new auto-focusing modes and enhanced video. I’ll break up the review in subsections for easier reading. I’m currently shooting with the 1D Mark III as my workhorse body and the 5D Mark II, and therefore my review will compare the 7D to these bodies in particular. I don’t intend this to be a comprehensive review, but a quick review of the body from a nature photographer’s perspective.
Body Handling and Build
The body feels absolutely solid and feels very close to a half-body 1D. The rubber is thick and grippy, and the new contoured grip makes it more comfortable to hold. Buttons feel very solid, and require a definite push to activate them.
Shooting modes are still controlled by a mode dial, with the power switch being relocated to just under it. I’m not entirely convinced of this decision as I never had a problem with the power switch being near the bottom of the body, but when shooting without a grip there is a possibility that the camera could bump against you and be switched off.
The viewfinder (VF) on the 7D is unlike anything Canon has put in a DSLR before, namely that it includes an LCD overlay and can superimpose anything on the display, instead of having just fixed AF points show. One can project grid-lines directly onto it, and even view the new electronic horizon. It’s also the first 1.0x magnification, 100% coverage VF included on a 1.6x crop body. This translates to a viewfinder that’s big and bright; in fact I’d say it’s equal to the 1D Mark III in both respects, whose VF is in turn similar in size to the 5D Mark II’s. To have a 1.6x crop body have a similar viewfinder to a body with much less crop factor is impressive, and makes using it enjoyable.
The only possible downside is that focusing screens are not interchangeable. This is due to Canon’s implementation, though with Nikon offering LCD overlays with interchangeable screens I’m left to wonder if Canon will allow for changeable screens in the 1D(s)4, as there are sound reasons for changing focusing screens, and it’s not uncommon either.
LCD & Menus
As with the VF, the LCD sets a new bar for Canon. It’s even better than the already stellar 50D/5D Mark II LCD, appearing sharper, with more contrast and easier to view outdoors. The LCD on the 40D/1D(s)3 seem positively archaic when compared side by side.
Menus have undergone changes as well, with many options (especially custom functions) being more user friendly and with more explanation and diagrams. For instance, when programming the M-fn button, a small graphic of the button possibilities is shown, in addition to a textual description.
I am not a heavy video user so this section will be light, but there are some changes worth mentioning. Like every current Canon camera, the 7D offers video mode, but when compared to the 5D Mark II, the 7D improves further. While the actual quality is no better due to the somewhat inferior sensor, there are far many more options. These include shooting 720p video at 24, 25, 30 or 60fps, and also 1080p at 24, 25 or 30fps, while the 5D Mark II is limited to 30fps only. Due to the dual DIGIC IV processors, it seems as if the LCD display refreshes more often, resulting in a much smoother view than with the 5D, especially at high ISOs when more data needs to be transferred. Liveview/video autofocus modes are still not comparable to shooting with the regular autofocus, but contrast detect autofocus works effectively and very quickly. Due to the jerky focusing this would not be desirable for video production, and manual focus will no doubt remain the mode of choice.
Anyone reading this review will no doubt be very interested in this section. With the 7D, Canon has introduced many new features for autofocus, including spot and zone AF modes. Spot AF mode takes a smaller than normal single AF point for focusing, and due to this size great precision can be achieved, but it’s also very unforgiving if you happen to let the point leave your target. Zone AF selects up to 9 AF points in a cluster, which can be either the left or right most, top or bottom most or the center area of the AF zone. This mode promises to be very useful for shooting birds in flight against a clean background, leaving the photographer more leeway in tracking the subject. Against busy backgrounds, I’m positive that like AF point expansion, this mode should be avoided unless the target is large in the frame and has high contrast against the background, otherwise the camera will tend to focus on the background. Other AF modes are as with previous Canon bodies: single point, single point + expand (enables another 4 points around your selected point) and all points. New to the 7D is the ability to select which AF point you want the camera to start tracking with when using all points; previously it always had to be the center point.
In my very limited testing, the 7D locked focus just as fast as the 1D Mark III. Tracking on static objects was very stable. In fact, I would say that stability on low-contrast, low light subjects was even beyond what the 1D can do. Due to the less densely spaced AF points on the 7D it may become necessary to enable AF expansion if focusing on very low contrast objects.
It is a bit early to make conclusive judgment of the image quality, but I’m cautiously optimistic about it. Images have very natural looking noise that can be very easily removed further if desired by using noise reducton software. Noise levels can’t quite touch the 1D Mark III, but given the far smaller pixels that is to be expected. It is far better than the 50D, both for noise amount and quality. A key consideration when comparing noise between cameras is to equalize the file size to give a true 100% 1:1 comparison. Once that is done, the difference between the 7D and Mk III should be fairly small. To have this type of noise performance on such small pixels (18MP on 1.6x crop vs 10MP on 1.3x crop) is really an achievement.
As the Canon DPP software is not my typical processing software and also delivers a different look to the images, I can’t say conclusively how they compare to my regular Adobe ACR processed RAW files.
Check back soon for my field test of the Canon 7D with samples images, coming soon!