Canon EOS 7D Digital SLR Field Review:

Canon 7D can withstand harsh environment.

 

Here is my first camera review. It is not actually a review; I’d rather want to share my personal experience after upgrade from Canon EOS 40D. I have no intention to shoot test charts, because nobody shoots test charts, print them and hang the pictures of test charts on the wall in real life, and there are lot of places over the internet, where you can check out test charts. You will not find comparison shots of cereal boxes at all the imaginable ISOs here.  I will supply a link in the bottom of this review where you can check all these formal test results if desired. I want to share some real life experience here. In general, I prefer to use the best equipment, I can afford, and I usually choose my gear very carefully on a price/performance/handling/weight criteria.  

With a host of brand new features designed to enhance every facet of the photographic process, from still images to video, the new EOS 7D represents a whole new class of camera.
Made to be the tool of choice for serious photographers and semi-professionals, the EOS 7D features an all-new 18.0 Megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor and Dual DIGIC 4 Image Processors, capturing tremendous images at up to ISO 12800 and speeds of up to 8 fps. The EOS 7D has a new all cross-type 19-point AF system with improved AI Servo II AF subject tracking and user-selectable AF area selection modes for sharp focus no matter the situation. The EOS 7D's Intelligent Viewfinder, an entirely newly-designed technology, provides approximately 100% coverage and displays user-selected AF modes as well as a spot metering circle and on demand grid lines. New iFCL Metering with 63-zone dual-layer metering system uses both focus and color information to provide accurate exposure even in difficult lighting. The EOS 7D also captures Full HD video at 30p (29.97 fps), 24p (23.976 fps) and 25p with an array of manual controls, including manual exposure during movie shooting and ISO speed selection. The EOS 7D features a magnesium alloy body that is dust- and weather-resistant and shutter durability of up to 150,000 cycles. Compatible with over 60 EF and EF-S lenses as well as with EOS System accessories, the creative opportunities - not just with stills but also with video - are beyond amazement. – this is a short description from official Canon web site.


When I upgraded from Canon 40D to Canon 7D my first impression was WOW! This beast is better than old one in every respect. The difference is not as huge as between Canon 300D (Digital Rebel) and Canon 40D, of cause, but it is a very significant leap forward. I may compare it to a difference between Canon 350D and Canon 40D. Everything, even image quality is noticeably better. However I don't like to bright neck strap, saying 7D on it.

I was very happy with image quality of my Canon 40D, so the primary reason for upgrading to Canon 7D was improved auto focus system. I must say that improvements in AF area alone are worth the upgrade. But this is true only if you shoot a lot of action. Sure some of the AF improvements will be welcome for portrait and even landscape photographers. AF Microadjustment is extremely useful feature if there is calibration issues in camera body lens pair. Fortunately I don't have any calibration issues with my set of lenses, but these issues are not rare. Canon 7D has 5 modes for AF points layout configuration. I like new spot AF mode very much, it allows you to achieve very precise focus at exact point. In this mode the size of focus point is very small. Great for shooting shallow DoF portraits or pinpoint focus at bird's eye! Spot AF is very useful for shooting through obstacles like cage or tree branches. Expanded point and zone AF can be handy for shooting large subjects, I mean subjects that fill substantial part of the frame. These modes can be useful especially if the subject moves.

New zone AF mode.

and AF point expansion.

Tracking moving targets is where most of the improvements are. Canon 7D AF is highly customizable, and it can be fine tuned for specific scenario. For example it can easily track a dog running through forest.  Such task was nearly impossible for Canon 40D or Canon 50D bodies, let Digital Rebels alone. It is very easy task for Canon 7D AF to catch flying bird over sky background:

 

Pair of pigeons in flight

Long eared owl in flight, Canon 7D, AI-Servo AF, 19points, Canon 400mm 5.6L

 

little egret in flight

Little egret in flight. Canon 7D, AI-Servo AF, ISO 400, 1/6400s, f/5.6, Canon 400mm 5.6L

 

It takes time to learn how to use all these capabilities properly, but the result is worth the effort.  Single point AF tracking works well, using expanded point may be even better, but I don’t use these modes frequently, as it restricts composition. I found using Canon 7D 19 points AF to be more creative. When properly tuned for the task the results are very good. When shooting small birds I use central point and spot metering, as this gives best results for the scenario.

I encourage you to experiment with the settings yourself, but I’ll explain what works fine for me and how to setup it. I can suggest two following setups that I find to work best for my style of shooting. One is for tracking subjects fast moving towards you, and one for tracking subject, moving through obstacles or on busy background. My findings contradict the user manual slightly, but I find that when "Tracking Sensitivity" is set to "Fast" or "Fastest" it tracks objects moving along lens axis better, at least in cold weather.

Duck flying towards camera

Duck flying towards camera, Canon 7D, AI-Servo AF, 19points, Canon 400mm 5.6L

 

 

AF custom setup, for tracking subject, moving fast towards camera.

Tracking subject that approaches camera fast is not an easy task, especially if the subject is small and moves erratically. If the background is relatively smooth or significantly differs by color from the subject, 19 point AF mode works best, as it allows more flexible composition. With the contrasty and distracting background things are not that obvious. With all 19 points enabled camera may grab something from the background to focus, Zone AF mode doesn't improve things much. Using single point or expanded single point may reduce locking AF on background, but you have to hold selected point on the subject all the time, what may be not all that easy sometimes. I found that setting tracking sensitivity to fast improves tracking of approaching objects, but if you can not hold AF point on the subject, focus will be locked on something else. So my advice for AF settings for subjects that move fast towards camera is following ( it worked for me but I encourage everybody to experiment more with AF settings):

 

Select 19 point AF mode for smooth background or when the background and subject colors are noticeably different, for example animal in green grass. If the background is busy, select single point or expanded single point and try keeping it on subject, it is more difficult to keep only one point of your subjects eye all the time, but if you manage to, you will get a good shot. Custom functions set to:

1. AI Servo tracking sensitivity - FAST (+1 or +2)
2. AI Servo 1st/2nd img priority - 0:AF priority/Tracking priority
3. AI Servo AF tracking method - 1:Continous AF track priority

Dog running through forest, Canon 7D, AI-Servo 19pt AF, Canon 400mm 5.6L(click on image to open larger version).

AF custom setup, for tracking subject, moving through obstacles or on busy background.

 

 

Canon 7D uses color information when tracking, so if your subject's color is not very similar with the background color, the results are impressive, the sample above with a dog running through forrest shows it. When it is possible to use subject color information to detect it over background, using 19 point AF mode works more efficient, than single point, expanded point or zone mode. I thing that it works this way because camera calculates AF position based on subject distance and color and when it is shread between all points the results are more reliable. I found following setup to work best for tracking on busy background or even through obstacles:

 

19 point AF mode and Custom functions set to:

1. AI Servo tracking sensitivity - SLOW (-2)
2. AI Servo 1st/2nd img priority - 0:AF priority/Tracking priority
3. AI Servo AF tracking method - 1:Continous AF track priority

Don't expect all of your shots to be exactly in focus, when you shoot something that moves fast. But as your skills improve and when you find settings that suits well for you style of shooting, the results will be much better than with xxD series camera bodies. Compared with Canon 40D hit and miss ratio for shooting fast moving subjects, birds in flight for example, is greatly improved.

For shooting small birds, or if you shoot in a difficult lighting with a large dynamic range, like in a forest with sunrays cutting through leafs, best way is using central point AF and point exposure measurement. This will limit your compositions, but will give consistently good results in terms of focus and exposure. It would be really nice if point measurement will be linked to AF point like in 1D series bodies, but 18 Mp sensor of Canon 7D gives you enough room for cropping a corner to improve composition here.

Canon 7D does not offer improvements in AF performance only, it is also more convenient to use. For example it has very nice feature that enables you to set AF points configuration independently for 3 camera orientations (horizontal, grip up and grip down). The feature is very nice for shooting portraits, for example. You can also select, store and later recall predefined focusing point. And it is possible to switch between two AF settings with a push of a button. You may assign specific tracking settings to a-DEP button and engage them instantly by pressing it. May be very convenient when shooting action, and use settings for subject that is approaching fast, or moving through obstacles. I find this feature very handy, when shooting action in changing conditions. Here is a small guide how to register tracking settings to a-DEP button.

 


As for much advertised Canon 7D macro AF mode, I think it is more a marketing gimmick, than actual feature. Sure it will work, but it is not a unique feature of Canon 7D that other cameras are incapable of. I used similar technique for years. Actually ALL of my macro shots of insects were made with this technique. Even ancient Digital Rebel (Canon 300D) is capable of performing this stunt. All current Canon DSLRs can do this too. I just used the most sensitive central AF point and AI-Servo AF mode. It worked wonderful on my Canon 40D. Sometimes I used AI-Servo AF mode with all points enabled, but it had limited use when shooting macro. Canon 7D performs better here, for sure, but not day and night better. It has more points that allow better composition.

I’ve found an interesting drawback, Canon 7D AF speed is inferior to Canon 40D, when shooting in prohibitively low light, for example at f/2.0 1/15s at ISO 1600.

Canon 7D feels even more responsive than Canon 40D, which is not a slow camera anyway. Canon 7D ergonomics is similar to 40D, but it is improved and refined. The shape and layout of the controls slightly changed, so it is more convenient to shoot in gloves. Power switch is located near the mode dial, which is m New “Q” button allows checking and changing nearly all the camera settings in a one screen menu. It may be very handy sometimes.

Feature that I rank second after impressive AF is weather sealing. For me it is a very welcome upgrade, as I like to take pictures in a bad weather, sometimes. And I like to travel to places, where weather can be unpredictable. It is nice to be able to shoot in snowstorm, without worrying about camera health. Canon 7D is protected against rain or snow, but it is not water resistant. I mean that if you drop it into water, or go dive with it is very unlikely to survive. If you are going to use your Canon 7D camera in harsh weather conditions you should use weather sealed lens with it. I have only two weather sealed lens now; there are Canon 17-40 f/4L USM and Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro USM. Unfortunately my telephoto lenses (Canon 200mm f/2.8L USM and Canon 400mm f/5.6L USM) are not weather sealed.

Battery life in Canon 7D is vastly improved. I took about 1000-1100 shots with extensive use of LCD screen to check what I captured. Outside temperature was -15..-20 °C (5..-4  °F).  Canon 40D lasted no more than 500-600 shots in similar conditions.

I am very happy that with Canon 7D I can use RC-1 infrared remote control. I like this controller because it can be attached to the neck strap, and you’ll never lose it! And you have not to worry where to put it while travelling. Lack of wireless remote control was the only point that I missed when upgraded my Canon Digital Rebel to Canon 40D.

Canon 7D viewfinder is noticeably larger; it is actually the same size as Canon 1D series viewfinder. Canon 7D’s viewfinder offers some nice features. Focusing points no longer visible all the time, you can adjust their visibility as you like. You can display only active point, and in AI Servo mode only points that lock focus at the moment are visible. There are two very welcome for landscape shooters features: electronic level and on demand grid lines that can be turned on or off. Electronic level shows only on back LCD by default, it looks cool but surprisingly it works very slowly, so is usable for tripod shooting only. Using custom functions you can assign to the M-Fn button viewing electronic level in a viewfinder, that shows camera tilt and pitch with AF points indicators. This works much faster and is very handy for handhold landscape shooting.


All these nice features are not worth a cent, if the camera does not deliver the main thing it is designed for – taking high quality pictures. Image quality of Canon 40D is very good, but Canon 7D is even better. With good lens and proper shooting technique it pulls out noticeably more details. Images from Canon 40D print nicely up to A3 paper size; some images are printable to bigger size. Good image from Canon 7D can be printed to A2 size easily. You can compare levels of details on sample shots below yourself.  What was a pleasant surprise, the dynamic range of the new camera seems to be slightly improved. (You can check my winter sample shots ).

Shot below illustrates Canon 7D accurate exposure and impressive dynamic range, in this shot only small area around the sun is blown and shadow details on tree stems are preserved:

Winter in a park, Canon 7D, Canon 17-40mm 4L, 25mm, ISO 200, Highlight Tone Priority, 1/250s, f/8.

Winter in a park, fragment, 100%crop, look at the details on tree stems.

Landscape, Canon 7D, Canon 17-40mm 4L, 40mm, ISO 200, Highlight Tone Priority, 1/1000s, f/8. ________________

 

Landscape, Canon 40D, Canon 17-40mm 4L, 40mm, ISO 200, Highlight Tone Priority, 1/1000s, f/8. ________________

Look at the crops below, too see that Canon 7D pulls out noticeably more details, than Canon 40D:

Landscape fragment, Canon 7D,Canon 17-40mm 4L, 40mm, ISO 200, Highlight Tone Priority, 1/1000s, f/8. 100% crop.

Landscape fragment, Canon 40D, Canon 17-40mm 4L, 40mm, ISO 200, Highlight Tone Priority, 1/1000s, f/8. 100% crop.

 

 

Despite the substantial increase in resolution, high ISO performance of Canon 7D is much better than that of Canon 40D. Up to ISO 800 noise levels are approximately the same, but Canon 7D produces larger and more detailed images. From ISO 1600 and up new camera takes the lead. Canon 7D at ISO 3200 produces results that will print well to at least A4 size in relatively good lighting. Just look at the squirrel samples below, all fur fine details are retained very well. Noise is present, but on prints it looks good, similar to fine film grain. Canon 7D is better under bad lighting too. You can get usable results even at ISO 6400.

Squirrel, Canon 7D, ISO 3200, 1/500s, Canon 400mm 5.6L

Squirrel, Canon 7D, ISO 3200, 1/500s, Canon 400mm 5.6L, 100%crop.

Squirrel, Canon 7D, ISO 1600, 1/250s, f/5.0, Canon 17-40mm f/4L

Squirrel, Canon 7D, ISO 1600, 1/250s, f/5.0, Canon 17-40mm f/4L, 100% crop.

Sometimes I go for mRaw, which gives cleaner results, especially for snapshots under poor lighting conditions.

Squirrel, Canon 7D, ISO 1600, mRaw, 1/640s, f/3.2, Canon 200mm 2.8L II_

Squirrel, Canon 7D, ISO 1600, mRaw, 100% crop.

 

Metering in Canon 7D also improved, compared to Canon 40D. New iFCL metering that uses color and AF information provides more accurate results. I never complained on Canon 40D metering system, but now in Canon 7D it is even better. In demanding shooting conditions it gives noticeably better results.

Canon 7D has an integrated flash, that includes an Integrated Speedlite Transmitter for control of multiple off-camera EOS Speedlites. With Canon 7D you don't need Canon 580EX II Flash or Canon ST-E2 Speedlight Transmitter to completely control as many remote flashes as desired. I don't shoot with flash, as I prefer natural lighting, but many photographers waited for this feature for a very long time.

Canon 7D has a full HD video. You can record video at five quality settings: 1080p@24fps, 1080p@25fps, 1080p@30fps, 720p@50fps, 720p@60fps. 720p videos can be converted into slow motion videos in software. Canon 7D has dedicated video button, which is more convenient than using “Set” button on Canon 5D mk II. I personally find DSLR ergonomics to be ill suited for shooting video handheld. Viewfinder blackouts, so you have to use back LCD as viewfinder. AF does not function anymore, so you have to adjust focus manually. I don’t mind using manual focus when I look through the optical viewfinder, but when you have to look at back LCD it is difficult to hold camera steady and adjust focus. So I believe that you need a tripod or some other support to shoot high quality video. Video quality is awesome, but it is not very easy to shoot due to mentioned above ergonomic issues.

If you shoot with Canon xxD or Digital Rebel (xxxD/xxxxD) series body Canon EOS 7D is a great upgrade. It is clearly the best APS-C camera in Canon lineup, and probably the best among the competition, but this depends more on entire SLR system of choice. Whether one should upgrade from Canon 40D/50D to Canon 7D or not? I think this is very personal decision. If you think that all the improvements are worth the money you need to spend for upgrade, you will be happy with 7D. I moved from Canon 40D to Canon 7D for improved AF and weather sealing primary, but the overall impressions after the upgrade are very positive. Canon 7D is clearly a better camera overall. If you don't need advanced AF and responsiveness of Canon 7D, but want the best image quality, you may consider Canon 5D mk II. As a birds in flight photography camera it is probably the best choice for the money.

Winter shots, that show Canon 7D exposure accuracy and dynamic range are here.

Some more shots with Canon 7D are in my gallery:

Animals, Birds, France, Mexico, Nature, Moscow

You can buy Canon EOS 7D DSLR here (use these links to support this site) :

Canon EOS 7D 18 Digital SLR Camera at Amazon.com

Canon EOS 7D 18 Digital SLR Camera at Adorama

Canon EOS 7D 18 Digital SLR Camera at B&H Photo

You can read some Canon 7D reviews here:

www.dpreview.com

www.the-digital-picture.com

Thanks for reading!

 

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