Canon EOS-7D Review
How Does it Compare?
The EOS-7D is Canon's top-of-the-line APS-C digital SLR that fits between the EOS-50D and the full-frame EOS-5D Mark II. It offers superb photo quality, great build quality, super-fast continuous shooting, a nice LCD and optical viewfinder, Full HD movie recording, and more customizable buttons, dials, and menus than any camera I've tested. There's not a whole lot to complain about. Images can be overexposed at times, and highlights get clipped a bit more than I'd like. Getting the best image quality at high ISOs requires shooting RAW and doing some post-processing. And, as is usually the case, contrast detect autofocus in live view mode is quite sluggish. The EOS-7D is an excellent D-SLR that matches (and exceeds, in some areas) Nikon's D300s, making it a camera that I can highly recommend.
The EOS-7D is a fairly large digital SLR with a magnesium alloy body. The camera has a nice heft to it, and the right hand grip is perfectly sized and easy to hold on to. The 7D has a lot of buttons and dials, and you'll probably have to glance at the manual to figure out what some of them do. The 7D is one of the most customizable cameras I've ever seen, with the ability to set the function of nine different buttons on the camera body. Like the EOS-50D, the 7D supports both EF and EF-S mount lenses, with a 1.6X focal length conversion ratio. As with all of Canon's D-SLRs, there is no built-in image stabilization, so you'll need to seek out lenses that have that feature. Another thing the 7D has in common with its siblings is a dust reduction system that uses a combination of an anti-static coating and ultrasonic waves to keep dust spots out of your photos. From the "it's about time" department, the EOS-7D is the first Canon digital SLR to support wireless flash control right out of the box.
On the back of the camera is a large, ultra-sharp 3-inch LCD display. With 920,000 pixels at your disposal, everything from menus to live view to image playback looks great. The screen offers good outdoor visibility, with the ability to automatically adjust brightness based on ambient light conditions. As you'd expect, the 7D's LCD can be used to compose your photos. The live view feature is fairly well done, with three AF modes (though two of them are quite slow), a nice refresh rate, good low light visibility, a live histogram (though it takes up too much space), composition grids, and more. You'll also be able to view the new electronic level feature on the LCD, which displays both the pitch and tilt of the camera. The 7D has a really nice optical viewfinder as well, with a magnification of 1.0X and 100% frame coverage. What makes it unique is the transmissive LCD that it has embedded inside it, which allows it to display focus points (in various configurations), the spot metering circle, and the electronic level in all lighting conditions.
If you have any question about the target market for the EOS-7D, you need only look at its mode dial -- not a scene mode to be found. There are two Auto modes, though, including a Creative Auto mode which makes adjusting exposure and depth-of-field a bit simpler. If it's manual controls you're after, hold onto your hat. For starters, you've got aperture and shutter priority modes, plus separate manual and bulb modes. You can set white balance by using a white or gray card or by color temperature, and you can fine-tune and bracket until your color is perfect. The 7D has an all-new 19-point autofocus system, with new zone and AF point expansion options. As I mentioned, the camera has numerous customizable buttons, and you can also create your own menu and assign your favorite camera settings to three spots on the mode dial. The 7D supports the RAW image format, and Canon kindly offers three different sizes to choose from, since not everyone needs to deal with 35MB images. You can also control the EOS-7D from your Mac or PC using the included Remote Capture software (which is free, by the way).
The 7D can also double as a video camera, though it's not nearly as easy to use as a camcorder. You can record Full HD video (that's 1920 x 1080) at either 24 or 30 frames/second, until you hit the 4GB file size limit (which takes twelve minutes). You can also lower the resolution to 1280 x 720, which boosts the frame rate to 60 fps -- great for action shooting. While sound is recorded monaurally, the 7D has an external mic input that enthusiasts will want to take advantage of. Canon certainly learned their lesson with the EOS-5D Mark II, and gave users full manual controls in movie mode. Thus, you can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO for movies, and not just stills. Recording movies on this digital SLR can be challenging, as the camera does not focus continuously. Thus, you've gotta be quick with the manual focus ring if you want to keep up with a moving subject.
Camera performance was excellent. Flip the power switch, and the 7D is ready to start taking pictures almost instantly. Focusing speeds will depend on what lens you're using, and whether you're using live view. With the optical viewfinder, AF speeds feel almost instant, with the exception being low light situations in which the camera has to use the flash as an AF-assist lamp. Live view autofocus performance ranges from decent (with Quick AF) to sluggish (with either of the live/contrast detect AF modes). Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and you can keep taking pictures as quickly as you can compose the next shot. The EOS-7D's burst mode is first rate, with the ability to take 16 RAW or an essentially unlimited number of JPEGs at over 8 frames per second (if that's too fast for you, a 3 fps option is also available). While not best in class, the 7D's battery life was strong, and you can double it by purchasing the optional battery grip.
Just like when I see an ultra-compact camera with 14 Megapixels, I was a bit concerned when I saw that Canon had crammed 18 million pixels onto an APS-C size sensor. Thankfully, Canon has delivered the goods, with the 7D producing excellent photo quality, even at the higher ISO sensitivities. The main issues I had with the 7D's photos related to exposure: the camera does overexpose at times, and it clips highlights more than I'd like. On the other hand, colors look great. Canon didn't send a great lens with my review camera, so at first I thought the 7D's photos were too soft. After attaching some quality glass, I felt a lot better about the results I was getting. The EOS-7D takes buttery-smooth photos through ISO 1600 in low light and ISO 3200 in good light. You can get very usable results at higher ISOs, too, especially if you shoot RAW and do some simple post-processing. Purple fringing is typically lens-dependent, and it was a big problem with the 17-85 lens that Canon sent originally, and it all but disappeared with the other (higher quality) lenses I used. Redeye was very minor.
The Canon EOS-7D is a superb midrange digital SLR which I can recommend with ease. It has a great combination of features, photo quality, performance, and customizability that I know enthusiasts will enjoy. Having used both the 7D and the Nikon D300s, I find that I prefer the former, though obviously this is subjective, as both cameras are top-notch (translation: you need to decide which you like better). If you've got an older EOS digital SLR and want more resolution, better performance, or video recording support -- and you don't need a full-frame camera -- then the 7D is a great choice.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality, with a good lens
- Low noise levels through ISO 1600 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light
- Solid, well built body; perfect right hand grip makes it easy to hold
- Beautiful 3-inch LCD display with good outdoor visibility
- Large optical viewfinder with 100% coverage and unique embedded transmissive LCD
- Robust performance in nearly all areas
- Full manual controls, and then some
- Three RAW sizes available; capable editing software included
- New 19-point autofocus system with zone and AF point expansion options
- Live view with three focus modes, histogram and composition grids, and frame enlargement
- Super-fast continuous shooting mode
- Highly customizable, whether it's buttons, Picture Styles, menus, or settings
- Handy electronic level feature
- Built-in wireless flash control
- Peripheral illumination correction effectively reduces vignetting
- Can shoot HD videos at 1920 x 1080 with sound, at your choice of 24 or 30 fps (a 720p60 option is also available); ISO, shutter speed, and aperture can be adjusted; stereo sound available via optional external microphone
- Remote capture software included
- Optional battery grip, which supports AAs
- Available (and very expensive) wireless file transmitter
What I didn't care for:
- RAW images are sharper, have better dynamic range at high ISOs than JPEGs
- Sluggish contrast detect AF in live view mode
- Controls can be overwhelming at first
- Histogram blocks a good portion of the live view
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the EOS-7D and its competitors before you buy!