Canon EOS-7D Review

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:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS-7D 5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 in. 74 cu in. 820 g
Nikon D300s 5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 in. 75.7 cu in. 840 g
Pentax K-7 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. 56.2 cu in. 670 g

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?

Front of the Canon EOS-7D

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.

Back of the Canon EOS-7D

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):

  • Menu
  • 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!

Top of the Canon EOS-7D

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:

Option Function
Full auto mode Point-and-shoot, with many menu options locked up
Creative auto mode An auto mode with a twist; see below for more
Program mode Point-and-shoot, but with access to all camera options; a Program Shift feature lets you use the front control dial to move through various shutter speed/aperture combinations
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You set the shutter speed and the camera selects the appropriate aperture; shutter speed range is 30 - 1/8000 sec
Aperture priority (Av) mode You set the aperture, and the camera selects the appropriate aperture; aperture range will vary depending on your choice of lens. For the 28 - 135 mm kit lens, the range is F3.5 - F36.
Full manual (M) mode You select both the shutter speed and aperture, with the same ranges as above.
Bulb mode Allows you to take exposures for as long as the shutter release button is held down. Use of the remote shutter release cable or a wireless remote control is recommended.
Custom 1/2/3 Your favorite camera settings, easy to reach

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:

Quality setting Low speed High speed
RAW+ Large/Fine JPEG 14 shots @ 3.0 fps 8 shots @ 7.9 fps
RAW 20 shots @ 3.1 fps 16 shots @ 8.3 fps
mRAW (10M) 30 shots @ 3.0 fps 25 shots @ 8.3 fps
sRAW (4.5M) 53 shots @ 3.0 fps 39 shots @ 8.4 fps
JPEG (Large/Fine) Unlimited @ 3.0 fps Unlimited @ 8.3 fps
Test performed with a Kingston Ultimate 266X CompactFlash card

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).

Side of the Canon EOS-7D

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
  • HDMI

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!

Side of the Canon EOS-7D

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.

Bottom of the Canon EOS-7D

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.