Originally Posted: December 22, 2009
Last Updated: December 29, 2009
The Canon EOS-7D ($1699, body only) is a midrange digital SLR that offers some pretty high-end features. Some of the highlights include an 18 Megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor, dual DIGIC 4 image processors, a 19-point all cross-type AF system, a new 63-zone metering system, 8 frame per second continuous shooting, HD video recording, and much more.
While the 7D may seem like the replacement for the EOS-50D, it's actually a new model that sits in-between that model and the full-frame EOS-5D Mark II. The table below compares the specs and features between the 50D, 7D, and 5D Mark II:
So there you have it. The EOS-7D is kind of like a super 50D, with improvements in virtually every area. Throw in the Full HD movie mode from the 5D Mark II and you've got a camera set to compete with the likes of the Nikon D300s (though the 7D has 50% more resolution than that camera).
Is the EOS-7D the ultimate midrange D-SLR? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The EOS-7D is available in two kits. You can buy just the body alone ($1699), or you can get the camera plus an F3.5-5.6, 28 - 135 mm IS lens for $200 more. Here's what you'll find in the box for each of these:
- The 18.0 effective Megapixel EOS-7D camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 28 - 135 mm IS USM lens [lens kit only]
- LP-E6 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Shoulder strap
- Body cap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring EOS Digital Solution and Software Instruction Manuals
- 275 page camera manual (printed)
I figured that the majority of 7D buyers already have a lens, and will be picking up the body only kit. If you're just starting out, you can get the kit which includes the venerable 28 - 135 mm IS lens. The reviews on this lens are mixed, but it's a decent everyday lens for just $200 more. If you want to use other lenses, there are plenty to choose from. The EOS-7D supports both EF and EF-S lenses with a 1.6X focal length conversion. What this means is that the 28 - 135 mm kit lens has a field-of-view of 44.8 - 216 mm.
Digital SLRs never come with memory cards, so unless you have a CompactFlash card sitting around, you'll need to buy one right away. The EOS-7D supports both Type I and II CompactFlash cards, including the ultra fast UDMA-enabled models. I would buy a 4GB card at the very least, as fast as you can afford.
The EOS-7D uses the same LP-E6 lithium-ion battery as the 5D Mark II. This battery packs a whopping 13.0 Wh into its plastic shell, which is about as high as you'll find these days. Let's see how that translates into battery life:
There's not a lot of competition in this segment of the digital SLR market, with the 7D having just two close competitors. You can see from the table that the 7D's battery life numbers are right in the middle of the three cameras. Keep in mind that if you're using live view exclusively, the battery life will drop precipitously: to 220 shots per charge, to be exact.
If 800 shots per charge isn't enough for you, then you'll probably want to pick up this:
EOS-7D with optional battery grip
Image courtesy of Canon USA
... optional battery grip! The BG-E7 battery grip (priced from $215) can hold a pair of LP-E6 batteries, giving you double the battery life. The grip also includes a magazine which holds six AA batteries, should you want to use those.
When it's time to charge the LP-E6, just pop it into the included charger. The charger plugs right into the wall (though this might not be the case outside of the USA), and it can charge the battery in about 2.5 hours.
Digital SLRs support a load of accessories, and the table below covers just a fraction of those available for the EOS-7D:
And believe it or not, those are just a few of the accessories available for the EOS-7D! Other options include focusing screens and diopter adjustment lenses for the viewfinder, macro lights, car chargers, and lots more.
EOS Utility - Main Screen
Canon includes version 21.0 of their EOS Digital Solutions Disk with the EOS-7D. The first application that you'll probably bump into is EOS Utility, which is sort of a gateway to all the other software programs. Here you can download photos from your camera, use remote capture, adjust camera settings, or monitor a folder (used with the optional Wireless File Transmitter). Do note that as of this writing, EOS Utility is (mostly) incompatible with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.
EOS Utility - Selecting Photos to Download
If you choose to select and download images to your computer, you'll get the screen you see above. Once photos are transferred to your computer, you have two ways of viewing and editing them.
ImageBrowser in Mac OS X
The "consumer-friendly" option for viewing images is ImageBrowser (for Mac) and ZoomBrowser (for Windows). On the main screen, you get the usual thumbnail view, with quick access to image e-mailing, printing, editing, and slideshows.
Double-click on a JPEG image and you'll bring up the photo in its own window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment feature, for those who don't mess with all those controls.
The Browser software can be used to view RAW images, but that's about it. You cannot edit or convert the 7D's RAW files to other formats. For that you'll need...
Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X
... Digital Photo Professional! The main screen isn't too much different from Image/ZoomBrowser, with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail + shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.
RAW editing in DPP
The RAW editing tools in DPP are quite robust. Basic properties you can edit include exposure, white balance, the tone curve, Picture Style, saturation, and sharpness. In addition to adjusting the basics that I described above, DPP also lets you tweak color tone, saturation, the tone curve, both luminance and chrominance noise, and lens aberration (such as distortion, vignetting, and purple fringing).
I'm sure that most people in the market for a camera like this know what RAW is, but in case you don't, here's a quick explanation. RAW images contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. Thus, you can adjust settings like white balance and exposure without damaging the original image, so it's almost like taking the photo again. The downside is the large file size (compared to JPEG), fewer shots in continuous shooting mode, and the need to post-process each image on your computer before you can turn it into a more common format like JPEG. The EOS-7D supports three different RAW sizes: full size (that's 17.9 MP), 10.0 MP, and 4.5 MP.
Remote camera control, complete with live view
Back when I mentioned EOS Utility, I said that it supports remote capture, so here's some more detail on this handy feature (which, might I add, doesn't cost extra). This software you control the camera right from your computer, with access to most camera settings. The live view feature is fully supported, complete with a histogram, composition grid, and the ability to enlarge the frame and manually tweak focus. Photos are saved directly to your computer, though they can be stored on the camera too, if you wish.
You can also take movies using Remote Capture, though the files are initially stored on the camera. When you're done recording, the software will allow you to copy the video files over to your PC.
Remote Capture also lets you set up the My Menu feature (more on that later), and it can also be used to send Picture Styles that you've created to the camera. The Picture Style editor (another piece of software) lets you open up a RAW image, adjust color, the tone curve, contrast, and sharpness, and then save the results as a new Style.
A complex camera deserves a detailed manual, and Canon includes one with the 7D. It's not what I'd call pleasure reading (expect a lot of "notes" and other fine print), but it will answer any question that may come up about the camera. You'll find documentation for the bundled software as well as for direct printing on a CD-ROM included with the camera.
Look and Feel
The EOS-7D is a fairly large digital SLR, whose size approaches that of the full-frame EOS-5D Mark II. The body is made of a magnesium alloy (with a matte finish), and it feels very solid in your hands. All of the major components are sealed against dust and moisture, though this doesn't mean you can use the 7D in the pouring rain. The right hand grip on the 7D is just the right size and has a nice rubberized finish, making it feel almost like an extension of your hand.
While the basic control layout will look familiar to owners of other EOS digital SLRs, Canon has added a number of new buttons to the 7D. These buttons are for invoking the Quick Menu, quickly switching to RAW/JPEG shooting, and recording video. There's now a dedicated power switch, and a customizable "M-Fn" button, as well. The controls on the camera can be intimidating to new D-SLR users, though I still find the 7D a lot easier to use than the Nikon equivalent (which I own).
I already showed you that the 7D fits in-between the 50D and 5D Mark II in terms of size and weight. Let's see how it measures up against its two competitors:
The EOS-7D isn't the leargest or the heaviest camera in this trio, but it's darn close. The Pentax K-7 is considerably smaller, and offers many of the same bells and whistles as its Canon and Nikon counterparts, in most respects.
Alright, let's begin our tour of the EOS-7D now, shall we?
Here's the front of the 7D, without a lens. As I mentioned earlier, the camera supports both EF and EF-S lenses, with a 1.6X focal length conversion ratio. One thing I should mention about EF-S lenses is that if you ever plan on upgrading to a full-frame Canon D-SLR, those lenses will not be compatible. To release the attached lens, simply press the button located to the right of the mount.
Behind the mirror is the 7D's newly designed 18 Megapixel CMOS sensor, up from 15.1 MP on the EOS-50D. While the resolution has increased, the sensor size is still the same (APS-C), which certainly makes one wonder how noise levels will be at high ISOs. Canon says that increased photodiode size, gapless microlenses, and a reduced distance between the microlenses and the sensor allow for surprisingly good results at high ISOs (we'll see if that's true later in this review).
An important feature to have on a D-SLR is a dust reduction system, and the EOS-7D naturally has one. The low-pass filter has a fluorine, anti-static coating, which helps keep dust at bay. When the camera is powered on or off, ultrasonic vibrations literally shake away any dust that may be stuck to the filter. If that still doesn't work, the camera can create a "dust map" which, when used in conjunction with Digital Photo Professional, can automatically remove the dust spots from your photos.
Directly above the lens is the 7D's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The flash has a guide number (GN) of 12 meters at ISO 100 (typical for a D-SLR), though it's a notch lower than the flash on the 50D. This flash is the first on any Canon digital SLR with built-in wireless flash control, which means that you no longer need to buy a 580EX II or Speedlite transmitter to use as the master. The 7D supports up to three groups of flashes, and each of those groups can have an unlimited number of Speedlites. You set up everything using the 7D's menu system, with the ability to tweak settings for each of the flash groups. The built-in flash can fire along with the external flashes, or it can be used solely for communicating with them. I should also mention that the camera uses the flash as an AF-assist lamp when you're shooting in low light situations. If you don't want to take a flash photo, simply lower the flash after focus is locked.
Some other items of note on the front of the camera include the monaural microphone, which is just above the EOS-7D logo. On the other side of the lens mount is the redeye reduction lamp, which also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer. Moving over to the grip, you'll see the receiver for the optional wireless remote control, and you can catch a glimpse of the shutter release button, as well.
Here now is the back of the EOS-7D, which may look a bit different to seasoned Canon D-SLR shooters. The first thing to talk about is the LCD, which has the same basic specs as the one on the EOS-50D and 5D Mark II. That makes it 3 inches in size, with 920,000 pixels. Like the EOS-5D Mark II, the screen brightness can be adjusted automatically, courtesy of the light sensor located to its right. One new thing here is what Canon calls "Clear View II", which promises to improve outdoor visibility.
Live view, complete with histogram that blocks a good portion of the frame
Just like on the 50D and 5D Mark II, the EOS-7D allows you to compose photos using the LCD display (it's used for movie recording, which I'll touch on later, as well). Live view allows you to see 100% of the frame, preview white balance and exposure, view a live histogram, and enlarge the frame for precise manual focus. The downsides include slower focusing performance than using the viewfinder (especially if you're using contrast detect AF, described below) and a significant drain on your battery. Both outdoor and low light visibility were very good, and the live view had a nice refresh rate.
The 7D has three autofocus modes available in live view mode. They include quick mode, live mode, and live mode with face detection. Quick mode is the one I prefer the most, due to its speed. In this mode, the camera shuts off the live view, flips the mirror down so the camera's AF sensor can do its work, with the reverse occurring once focus is locked. In most cases, you'll get focus lock in a second or less. The two live modes use the CMOS sensor itself for focusing on a spot that you designate using the camera's joystick. If you're using the live face detection mode, then the camera will look for someone's face and make sure they'll be properly focused and exposed. If the box on a face has arrows on it, then you can use the multi-controller (joystick) to switch to other faces the camera has found. The problem with the two live modes is that it's very slow -- focus times are in the seconds in most cases. Thus, don't expect to be using for action shooting like you could on a compact camera. I should also add that the 7D lets you focus by pressing the shutter release button halfway, which is a bit of a departure from previous models (you can press the AF-On button too, of course).
Zoomed in 5X in live view mode
I find live view to be most useful when I've got the camera on a tripod and want to make sure that the focus is right where I want it. You can enlarge the image on the LCD by 5 or 10 times and then scroll around the image, which makes doing this a snap.
An additional benefit of the live view feature is called silent shooting. Since the camera isn't doing any mirror-flipping when the photo is actually taken, you can take photos with a lot less noise than if you were using the optical viewfinder. Silent shooting mode 1 is what most people will want to use, with the only caveat being that the burst rate drops a bit, to 7 frames/second. Silent mode 2 will keep the shutter closed until you let go of the shutter release -- so you can get the camera away for your subject before the "click" disturbs it. You cannot shoot continuously using this second mode. You can also turn this feature off entirely, which Canon recommends when using Tilt-Shift lenses.
|LCD info screen and the Quick Control menu||Another available info screen|
When the LCD is not being used for live view, you can use it for showing the current camera settings (Canon calls this the Quick Control screen). You can change virtually any of these settings by pressing the Quick Control button and then navigating to the option you want to change. A secondary info screen is also available, showing things like the color space, white balance shift/bracketing, color temperature, and more.
|Pitch and level are both off||Everything's perfect now|
The 7D has one more trick up its sleeve that's related to the LCD, and that's its available electronic level. The 7D is not the first D-SLR to offer this feature, but it's still a welcome one. The camera can detect both the tilt and pitch of the camera, and a virtual horizon is displayed on the LCD showing how far off you are (see screenshots). Via a custom menu option, you can also display the information from the level in the viewfinder, using the focus point overlay.
An inside look at the viewfinder design on the 7D
Illustration courtesy of Canon USA
So now you know about the live view experience -- what about shooting with the optical viewfinder? The first thing that you'll notice about the viewfinder is its size: it displays 100% of the frame, and has a magnification of 1.0X. Although the Nikon D300s has a lower magnification (0.94X), its 1.5X crop factor ends up making the viewfinder the same size as the one on the EOS-7D. The 7D's viewfinder isn't just large -- it also has a one-of-a-kind transmissive LCD inside it, instead of interchangeable focusing screens. This embedded LCD makes seeing focus points a lot easier in extreme lighting conditions, and it also allows for the display of different focus point configurations, the spot metering circle, or a composition grid. And, as I just mentioned, the electronic level information can be shown in the viewfinder, as well. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by using the diopter correction knob on its upper-right corner.
Just to the right of the viewfinder is the 7D's new still/movie recording switch. When the switch is set to the little camera icon, pressing the button will turn on live view. If the switch is pointing at the red video camera, you'll press this button once to start recording video, and again to stop.
Continuing to the right, we find these three buttons:
- AF-On - activates the autofocus system in live view mode
- AE lock + zoom out (playback mode)
- Focus point selection + zoom in (for live view and playback mode)
The five zones in Zone AF mode
Illustration courtesy of Canon USA
Before we continue the tour, I want to mention the various focus point options on the EOS-7D. By default there are three, but by using one of the custom functions you can add two more. Here are the details on all five AF area modes:
- Single-point AF - you pick one of the nineteen points yourself
- Zone AF - a new feature on the 7D; the nineteen points are divided into five selectable zones (see diagram above)
- Auto select 19-point AF - the camera picks one or more of the nineteen points automatically
- Spot AF - same as single-point, but with a smaller area covered
- AF point expansion - the manually selected focus point and the adjacent points are used to focus
Jumping back toward the LCD now, you'll find the camera's multi-controller (joystick) under the still/movie mode switch. You'll use this for all kinds of things, including menu navigation, focus point selection, playback zoom, and using the Quick Control menu that I showed you earlier.
Below that is the light sensor for the auto LCD brightness adjustment, with the familiar Quick Control dial under that. This large dial can also be used for numerous things, though you'll probably use it the most for adjusting manual exposure settings. You can lock out the dial so you don't accidentally change something. Those of you familiar with Canon's D-SLRs will also notice that the lock switch has been redesigned. Instead of being both a power and lock switch, now it just does the latter, with the power switch now in a more traditional location.
Now let's move over to the left side of the 7D's LCD and see what we can find. Immediately to the left of the optical viewfinder is the camera's speaker. Next to that we have two new buttons: one which quickly switches you from JPEG-only to RAW+JPEG shooting (for one shot only), with the other activating the previously described Quick Control menu. The RAW+JPEG button is also used for printing photos when you're hooked up to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer.
Under those are five final buttons (at least for the back of the 7D):
- Picture Styles - see below
- Info - toggles what's shown on the LCD
- Playback mode
- Delete photo
|Picture Style menu||Adjusting the landscape style|
Picture Styles have been around for a while, so I don't need to go into much detail here. A Picture Style contains settings for sharpness, contrast, saturation, color tone, plus filter and toning effects. The camera includes six preset Styles (standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, and monochrome), and you can register up to three of your own, as well.
Alright, that does it for the back of the camera, so let's move on to the next view!
The first thing to see on the top of the EOS-7D is the mode dial, which has the power switch below it (and it's about time, too). Looking at the mode dial, it becomes pretty obvious who this camera is intended for, and it's not the point-and-shoot crowd. Here are the items that you'll find on the mode dial:
This is how you adjust the aperture in Creative Auto mode
The 7D doesn't have any scene modes, but it does have a regular Auto mode, plus a unique Creative Auto mode. By adjusting two sliders, one for brightness and the other for background blurring, adjust the exposure compensation and aperture respectively without requiring the user to know what either of those are.
Everything else on the mode dial should be self-explanatory.
The next stop on our tour is the hot shoe located at the center of the photo. This is another of the three ways in which you can use an external flash with the 7D (the other being wireless or via the flash sync port you'll see in a bit). As is usually the case, the 7D will be happiest if you're using one of Canon's EX-series Speedlites, which integrate with the camera's E-TTL II metering system. Another benefit of using a Canon flash is the ability to adjust the flash settings via the camera's menu system. If you're using one of the high end Speedlites, you'll be able to use whatever shutter speed you'd like, all the way up to 1/8000 sec. If you're using a non-Canon flash, you'll probably have to set the exposure manually, and the fastest shutter speed you can use is 1/250 sec.
Continuing to the right, we find the camera's LCD info display, which shows every setting you could possibly imagine, including shutter speed and aperture, ISO, shots remaining, an exposure meter, and much more. You can turn on a backlight by pressing the small button located to its upper-right.
When you press any of the direct buttons (described below), a screen similar to this is shown on the LCD
Above the LCD info display are four buttons, which do the following.
- Metering (Evaluative, partial, spot, center-weighted) + white balance (auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom, color temperature)
- AF mode (One-shot, AI servo, AI focus) + drive (single-shot, low speed continuous, high speed continuous, 2 or 10 sec self-timer/remote)
- ISO (Auto, 100 - 6400) + flash exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV)
- LCD info display backlight
The EOS-7D has the kind of white balance options you'd expect to see on a camera in this price range. I'll tell you more about the 7D's white balance options later in the review.
The AF modes include one-shot (camera locks focus when shutter release is halfway-pressed), AI servo (camera continues to focus when shutter release is halfway-pressed, which is good for moving subjects), and AI focus (which selects between the previous modes based on subject motion).
Now let's talk about the EOS-7D's continuous shooting performance, which is quite impressive. Before I give you the numbers, I should point out that if you're in live view, the screen will black out as soon as the camera starts the burst, so you cannot track a moving subject on the LCD. Already, let's see how the 7D performs:
The EOS-7D is the fastest shooting camera in its class, taking photos at over 8 frames/second. It's just ahead of the Nikon D300s, which tops out at 7 fps without its battery grip and 8 fps with it. The Pentax K-7 isn't as fast as either of those, shooting at 5.3 fps (though to be fair, it costs hundreds less). The 8 shot buffer limit seems a bit low when shooting RAW+JPEG, but keep in mind that the camera is writing 35MB worth of data for every photo is takes in those situations. The camera doesn't stop after it hits the limits I put in the table -- it just slows down considerably. Oh, and I can't guarantee that you can shoot an unlimited number of JPEGs, but if there is a limit, it's well over 100 shots.
A quick note about the ISO options on the 7D: the default range is 100 - 6400, though you can unlock the high (ISO 12,800) setting via the custom settings menu. The Auto setting selects a sensitivity between ISO 100 and 3200, except in bulb mode or if the flash is used, in which case it'll be locked at ISO 400.
Above those four buttons you'll find what Canon calls the main dial, plus the shutter release and new multi-function (M-Fn) button. The main dial is used for selecting manual exposure settings, while that new M-Fn button lets you switch between AF modes or lock the flash exposure. The M-Fn can be assigned other functions as well, including AE lock, RAW+JPEG quick switch, and displaying the electronic level (more on that later, though).
On this side of the EOS-7D you can spot the flash release button at the top, with the depth-of-field preview button below it. As with the M-Fn button that I just described, the DOF preview button can also be reassigned to handle another function. I'll get to that eventually, I promise!
Now let's peek under those rubber covers to get a closer look at the 7D's I/O ports:
From left-to-right, top-to-bottom, the ports here include:
- Flash sync
- Wired remote control
- External microphone
- USB + A/V out
That external mic input will get you much better sound quality for the 7D's fancy movie mode that I'll get to later in the review!
On the other side of the EOS-7D you'll find its CompactFlash slot, which can hold Type I or thicker Type II cards. The 7D supports UDMA-enabled CF cards as well, for maximum performance. The plastic door over this compartment is of decent quality.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find the covered "extension system terminal" (for the wireless file transmitter), a metal tripod mount, and the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is fairly sturdy, and (like the other doors on the camera) is sealed against dust and moisture. The door needs to be removed when you're using the optional battery grip, and it's very easy to do.
The included LP-E6 battery can be seen at right.
Using the Canon EOS-7D
Flip the power switch and the EOS-7D is ready to shoot almost immediately. The camera does run a sensor cleaning cycle at startup, though you can interrupt this by pressing the shutter release button.
Autofocus speeds will depend on a number of factors, including the lens you're using and whether you're using live view and, if so, which AF mode you've selected. With the pricey F1.4L, 24 mm lens and the optical viewfinder, the 7D locks focus almost instantaneously. When light levels drop, or the subject lacks contrast, focus times will increase a bit, but they're still under a second unless you're in very low light. Using the flash as an AF-assist lamp will reduce focus times, if you don't mind blinding your subject with light.
If you're using the live view feature, it's a different story. For best performance you'll want to use the Quick AF mode, which uses the AF sensor, just like when you're shooting with the optical viewfinder. The total focus time is about a second longer, though, due to the time required for the mirror to flip down and then back up. If you're using either of the two live (contrast detect) AF modes, expect focus times that start at one second and often can be two or three seconds long. In low light the camera can struggle to lock focus, and you can't use the AF-assist lamp as you can when shooting with the AF sensor.
If you're shooting with the optical viewfinder then shutter lag won't be a problem. There's a bit of shutter lag with live view, but it's barely noticeable.
As with all digital SLRs, there's no delay between shots, even if you're shooting RAW+JPEG. You can shoot as fast as you can compose the next photo.
You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo button.
Now, here's a look at the numerous image size and quality choices available on the camera:
As you can see, the 18 Megapixel RAW files are absolutely enormous, so kudos to Canon to providing smaller sizes for folks who don't need 18 Megapixel images. You can take RAW and JPEG images at the same time, in any combination (I left them out of the chart to keep things simple). I explained the virtues of the RAW format earlier in this review.
The EOS-7D has a detailed, yet easy-to-navigate menu system that looks great on its ultra high resolution LCD. About the only thing I'd add to it would be a help system. The menu is divided up into several tabs, covering shooting, playback, setup, and custom settings, plus a menu that you design yourself. Since each tab contains exactly one "page" worth of items, you never have to scroll down to see more options. And with that, here's the full list of menu items:
My Menu settings
I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted. Unfortunately for me, now I have to describe some of those items in further detail.
Let's start with peripheral illumination correction, which aims to reduce the amount of vignetting (dark corners) in your photos. The camera has data for 25 lenses built in, and you can add more via the EOS Utility software. It took a few attempts to see this feature in action, since the 24 and 50 mm prime lenses I tried first didn't have any to speak of. Then I got out the 17-85 mm EF-S lens (which I'm not a huge fan of), and found what I was looking for: vignetting when peripheral illumination correction was off. Below you can see how this feature helps to correct for this annoyance:
|Peripheral illum. correction off||Peripheral illum. correction on|
While this feature didn't get rid of the vignetting completely, it definitely makes a difference. By the way, if you take a picture with the RAW format, you can manually tweak how much vignetting correction is applied by using Digital Photo Professional.
Some of the more hardcore flash settings
I'm not going to go into the details on all those flash options (especially the wireless ones), but I do want to mention one of the options for the built-in flash. That option is called MULTI flash (I have no idea why they capitalize it), and it allows power users to adjust the flash strength, count, and even the frequency. Can't say I've ever needed to do that, but I'm sure it appeals to somebody out there.
The EOS-7D has a nice -5EV to +5EV exposure compensation range, and naturally, you can bracket for it, as well. The bracketing feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each exposure can be as little as ±1/3EV to as much as ±3EV. If you've got a large memory card, this is a good way to ensure properly exposed photos every time.
Next, I want to tell you about the Auto Lighting Optimizer feature. Simply put, this feature brightens the underexposed areas of a photo. You can choose from three levels of ALO when shooting JPEGs (or just leave it off), and you can also tweak this property in RAW images. In the two Auto modes, ALO is set to Standard. For the other shooting modes, you'll need to turn it on manually. Here's an example of the Auto Lighting Optimizer in the real world:
|ALO Off||ALO Low||ALO Standard||ALO Strong|
I don't really need to describe what happens as you increase the level of ALO -- the building in the foreground gets brighter, as does the clock tower. Canon mentions that noise levels may increase, though given that this isn't a "noisy" camera, I wouldn't worry about that too much.
WB shift and bracketing (at the same time, no less)
The EOS-7D has plenty of manual white balance adjustments. The custom white balance option allows you to use a white or gray card as a reference, for accurate color in mixed or unusual lighting. Another option is to manually set the color temperature, which can be adjusted between 2500K and 10000K, in 100K increments. If either of those are a little off, you can use the white balance shift to move the white balance in the green, blue, magenta, and amber directions (see screenshot). You can also bracket for for white balance, with the camera taking three shots in a row, each with a slightly different WB setting. Heck, you even even do fine-tune and bracket at the same time!
Battery info screen
Like the EOS-5D Mark II, the 7D has a battery status meter that you can access via the setup menu. This displays the remaining capacity, the overall health off the battery, as well as the number of photos you've taken thus far. If you have a Nikon D-SLR, this screen may look a bit familiar.
The Highlight Tone Priority feature is another one of those things that's better explained with an example than words. This option puts an emphasis on the highlights of your photos, trying to extract as much detail as possible from them. The minimum ISO goes from 100 to 200 when using this feature, and Canon says that it may increase shadow noise. I'll add an example in the next few days, after the weather clears up.
That's some serious customization
While I could go on and on about all of those custom settings, I'm just going to mention one more before we hit the photo tests. This particular option lets you customize a whopping ten different buttons on the camera and its attached lens. Here's are the buttons you can customize, and the options that you can choose from:
- Shutter release: Metering + AF start, metering, AE lock
- AF-On: Metering + AF start, AE lock, AF off, FE lock, off
- AE lock (*): AE lock, metering + AF start, AF off, FE lock, off)
- Depth-of-field preview: DOF preview, AF off, AE lock, One Shot <-> AI Servo, IS start (on supported lenses), switch to registered AF function (e.g. 19-point, zone AF, spot AF)
- AF stop (on certain lenses only): AF off, AF start + metering, AE lock, One Shot <-> AI Servo, IS start, switch to registered AF function
- Multi-function (M-Fn): FE lock, AE lock, RAW+JPEG quick switch, electronic level
- Set: Off, image quality, Picture Styles, menu, playback, Quick Control menu
- Main dial (in manual mode): Shutter speed, aperture
- Quick Control dial (in manual mode): Aperture, shutter speed, AF point direct selection
- Multi-controller (joystick): Off, AF point direct selection
I don't think I've ever seen a digital SLR with this kind of customization. Very nice!
Alright, that does it for menus -- let's talk about photo quality now. Since I don't have the 28 - 135 mm kit lens, there's no distortion test in this section. I will tell you the lens I used for each of these tests as we proceed.
I took the macro test with my rather fussy Canon F1.4, 50 mm lens. The results are exactly what I'd expect to see from a Canon digital SLR: the figurine is very smooth (perhaps a bit soft), without even a hint of noise. Colors are quite saturated, as well.
The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you have attached to the camera. If you're really into macro photography, then you may want to consider one of Canon's dedicated macro lenses.
The night scene was taken with the excellent Canon F4L, 70-200 mm IS lens. As with the macro photo, the night test shot is very clean, and slightly soft. While noise isn't an issue here, you will spot some highlight clipping, especially on the left side of the image. The 7D definitely clips highlights more than your typical D-SLR, due to its very high resolution APS-C sensor. I wouldn't expect to see any noise on this "L" lens, and what do you know, there isn't any!
Now, let's use that same scene to see how the EOS-7D performs at high sensitivities in low light. Since the resolution of the camera is so high, the crops don't show a very large area, so I recommend viewing the full size images whenever possible.
ISO 12,800 (H)
The first two shots are nearly impossible to tell apart. At ISO 400 you see a slight amount of noise start to appear, but it's not nearly enough to concern me. There's a bit more noise at ISO 800 but, again, it won't keep you from making a large print. At ISO 1600 you start to lose a bit of detail, but the results are still quite good, especially when you consider the resolution of this camera. The image becomes more mottled when you get to ISO 3200, which will reduce your print sizes to small or midsize. The ISO 6400 photo is missing a fair amount of detail, and is probably not usable for a whole lot. I would probably pass on the ISO 12,800 (high) setting when in low light.
Seasoned camera users will know that shooting RAW and doing some simple post-processing can lead to much higher quality photos, especially at high sensitivities. Let's take the ISO 3200 and 6400 photos to illustrate this:
The first things I noticed when comparing the RAW and JPEG images were the improvement in dynamic range (note the US Bank sign) and the yellow color cast that appeared in the RAW images (could be a Photoshop thing). After running the conversions through my noise reduction software of choice and then applying some unsharp mask, I ended up with photos that were sharper and more detailed than the JPEGs being produced by the camera. I'm still not sure what you can do with the ISO 6400 shot, but shooting RAW definitely injected some life into the ISO 3200 photo.
We'll see how the EOS-7D performed at high sensitivities in better lighting in just a moment.
I don't expect to see redeye on digital SLRs, and there really isn't much to talk about here. There's a bit of red at the top of each eye, but it's not the bright, demonic red that most people associate with this phenomenon. I should mention that there is no redeye reduction tool in playback mode, so you'll have to count on the 7D's redeye reduction lamp and ample flash/lens separation to take care of it for you.
And just like that, we're at the second of our ISO tests. This shot is taken in our studio, and is comparable with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. I used the Canon F1.4, 50 mm lens for this photo. Again, since the images are so large, the crops don't show much of the scene, so view the full size images to get the most out of this test!
ISO 12,800 (H)
Everything is as smooth as a baby's bottom through ISO 800, just as you'd hope to see on a digital SLR like this. Small amounts of noise start to appear at ISO 1600 and 3200, but they're still incredibly clean for an 18 Megapixel SLR with an APS-C camera. As with the night scenes above, details start to go south at ISO 6400, though this image is definitely usable for small and midsize prints (and perhaps larger if you shoot RAW). I'd save the high (ISO 12,800) setting for desperation only, and shooting RAW is probably the best idea in that situation.
Alright, let's see how the ISO 3200, 6400, and 12,800 crops look if you shoot RAW and post-process:
First impressions here are (again) the much "yellower" image with the ACR RAW conversion, and the really nice increase in sharpness (even without using Unsharp Mask). You definitely get more usable images after post-processing, and you may even be able to squeeze out a small print at the ISO 12,800 setting.
I'm going to use our test scene one last time to compare the EOS-7D to its rivals, the Nikon D300s and Pentax K-7. To level the playing field, I've reduced the resolution of the 7D and K-7 to 12 Megapixel, to match the D300s. If you want to compare the full size images, the 7D images are right on this page, and the K-7's photos are in its review.
Canon EOS-7D (downsized)
Pentax K-7 (downsized)
Canon EOS-7D (downsized)
Pentax K-7 (downsized)
Canon EOS-7D (downsized)
Pentax K-7 (downsized)
At ISO 1600, the three cameras are quite close to each other, with the K-7 being just a bit noisier than the other two. Nothing really changes at ISO 3200, save for a slight increase in noise levels on the K-7. What things get impressive is at ISO 6400, where the 7D easily matches (and perhaps exceeds) the image quality of the D300s. I know that downsizing the 7D's 18 Megapixel images reduces some of the noise, but unless you're printing a billboard, you won't see a difference between the two cameras. The Pentax K-7, while quite the bargain, can't quite match the image quality of the 7D and D300s at this ISO setting.
Overall, the EOS-7D's image quality was very good, though there are a few areas that could be improved upon. Both of those areas happen to fall in the exposure department. While most of the time the 7D produce photos with accurate exposure, it did overexpose at times. And, like a compact camera with too many pixels stuffed into a tiny sensor, the camera clipped highlights more than I would've liked. One thing I can't complain about is color: everything was nice and saturated.
Image sharpness is dependent on both the camera itself and the lens you you attach to it. For whatever reason, Canon sent me the 17 - 85 mm EF-S lens to test with the EOS-7D. To put it mildly, this is not a great lens: it's fairly soft, and loaded with purple fringing. I once owned this lens, and eventually sold it for those very reasons. I eventually got my hands on the pricey F1.4L, 24 mm lens, which produces much sharper photos. If you want an example of "you get what you pay for" compare this same photo taken with the 17 - 85 mm and 24 mm lenses.
As for noise, you won't see any of it at low sensitivities. In low light situations, it becomes apparent at ISO 800, but it won't become an issue for another stop. In good light, you can safely shoot through ISO 3200 without having to worry about noise (unless you're making very large prints). The highest sensitivities will turn out best if you shoot RAW and do some post-processing, as I hopefully illustrated earlier. Purple fringing is lens-dependent, and while there was a lot of it on the 17-85, you'd be hard-pressed to find any on the other three lenses I used in the review.
Now, it's your turn to analyze some photos. Take a look at our extensive photo gallery from the EOS-7D. View the full size images, and perhaps print a few of them if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the 7D's photo quality meets your needs.
The EOS-7D has the same movie mode as its big brother, the 5D Mark II. That means that you can record Full HD video (that's 1920 x 1080) at either 24 or 30 frames/second, until the file size reaches 4GB or the recording time hits 30 minutes. At the Full HD resolution, you'll hit the file size limit in about twelve minutes. Two lower resolutions are also available: 1280 x 720 at 60 fps (great for action) and 640 x 480 (also at 60 fps), and the time limits for those are 12 and 24 minutes, respectively. For those of you who use the PAL system, the frame rates will be 25 fps instead of 30 fps, and 50 fps instead of 60 fps.
The EOS-7D records monaural sound with its movies. If you want stereo sound, you can attach an external microphone to the mic input on the side of the camera. The camera does not allow for manual microphone level adjustment, nor does it offer a wind cut filter.
To record a movie, you first must set the switch on the back of the camera to movie mode. Then you probably want to focus (using the AF-On or shutter release button), unless you're doing it manually. Then press the Start/Stop button to begin filming, and again to stop. While you're recording, you can press the shutter release button down to take a still photo, though the movie will pause while this occurs.
The 7D offers the same set of manual controls in movie mode that were added to the 5D Mark II via a firmware update. To take advantage of this, you'll want to set the mode dial to the "M" position. There you can adjust the shutter speed (with a range of 1/30 - 1/4000 sec), aperture, or ISO speed.
There are some advantages and disadvantages of shooting movies on a digital SLR. On the plus side, you can use any lens you own, from fisheye to super telephoto. You can zoom in and out as you please and, if your lens has image stabilization, that's available too. You've got the manual controls I described above, and you can fool around with Picture Styles, as well. There are a few downsides, though. For one, the camera is not focusing continuously while you're recording a movie. You can press the AF-on button to use contrast detect AF, but that results in slow focusing, clicking noises, and other weird effects. That means that if you adjust the focal length or your subject moves out of focus, you'll probably want to adjust the focus manually. That's a lot harder than it sounds -- it takes practice, for sure.
Canon uses the H.264 codec inside a QuickTime wrapper. That means that you'll get high quality with smaller file sizes than M-JPEG (relatively speaking, of course). Even so, a 60 second movie takes up a whopping 330MB on your memory card. And speaking of which, you'll need a high sped CompactFlash card to take full advantage of the HD movie mode.
I don't claim to be a professional videographer, so don't expect anything too amazing from these samples (check out Vimeo for better stuff). That said, here are sample videos taken at 1080p30, 1080p24, and 720p60. My 1080p24 subject matter isn't great, but that's all I have for now. For each movie you can download the original, gigantic movie, or one that I've downsized to make it a quicker download.
The EOS-7D has a pretty basic playback mode. Features you will find here are slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge your photo (by up to 10X), and then move around in the zoomed-in area -- perfect for checking focus. By using the quick control dial, you can move from one photo to another (maintaining the zoom setting), which is quite handy.
Lots of ways to jump through images
You can "jump" through photos using the main dial on the top of the camera, in groups of 10 or 100 photos, or by date, folder, or file type (movie or still).
The only "editing" tool on the camera is for image rotation. There's no way to resize or crop photos on the camera. Unlike the 5D Mark II, the EOS-7D offers a movie trimming tool, which lets you remove unwanted footage from the beginning and/or end of a clip.
By default, the 7D doesn't tell you much about your photos. However, if you press the Info button, you'll see a lot more, including two different types of histogram.
The camera moves through photos instantly, as you'd expect on a D-SLR.
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!