Canon EOS 7D Review (& 60D musings)

Nearly a year after it’s release, I finally got my hands on a Canon EOS 7D over the past weekend. Having shot with the 30D, 40D, and 50D, I was already pretty familiar with the controls and operation of the camera. My primary interest was in the video function, but I did a fair amount of shooting stills as well. Here’s my mini review of Canon’s flagship APS-C model…

Canon EOS 7D

Body and Handling

The 7D is simply the most comfortable Canon body I have ever put my hands on. The grip is the most refined to date,  with sharp curves to provide traction on your thumb and middle finger in front of the shutter. The buttons are larger than previous  models and have a precise tactile feeling. One of the most welcome changes is the viewfinder, which is the biggest and best yet for the sensor size; I only wish the XXD models would follow suit. Although many have praised the new placement of the on/off switch, I thought it was just fine as it was. Now it requires the use of your left hand, whereas before you could quickly flick it with your right hand thumb while holding the grip, still in the shooting position. No big deal though. The new Q button and RAW/JPEG button are useful additions, and make setting adjustments that much quicker. The new live view/video switch is also a smart move, and makes shooting videos much more user friendly (especially compared to the 5D2) The body feels strong and durable with no creaks.

Operation and Settings

The 7D is speedy in operation. It won’t leave you waiting as you make adjustments while firing off shots. The auto-ISO now goes up to 3200 (from 1600 in the 50D) which is a much welcome change. The custom function menu gives you access to myriad functions. But couldn’t the Image menu have more than 3 options? You can also program just about any button on the camera to a limited number of functions, although it would be better if the choices were unlimited. For example, why not be able to access mirror lock up from any button of your choice? Still, this newfound flexibility in camera controls is a huge leap forward in external control. The new AF modes are a huge step above the old models, although switching between modes could have been implemented better. After pressing the AF selector button, you must then again press the M-Fn button. Why not just toggle between modes with the AF button alone? Switching between AF points, however, couldn’t be easier – just flick the joystick as you wish. It’s nice to have EC which goes from -3 to +3 as well, instead of the standard -/+2. Overall, the 7D operates like a dream.

Image Quality

With the 50D, I was afraid to shoot at ISO 3200 and sometimes even 1600 (why then enabled ISO 12800 I have no idea – it’s absolutely useless) With the 7D, it can handle these high ISOs with panache, and indeed even delivers a somewhat clean ISO 6400. If you want precise studio testing, head on over to DPReview to get the full scoop. The bottom line is that the 7D produces beautiful images, although we agree with others who have found slight softness when viewed at 100%. I think the move to 18mp was not necessary, although probably made marketing sense to Canon. Most serious and professional photographers would probably be happy with a 15mp or even 12mp sensor giving us even better high ISO performance. But we can’t have everything. Picture Styles, Highlight Tone Priority, Auto Lighting Optimizer, and high-ISO & long exposure noise reduction enable you to get just the look you want straight from the camera.

Movie Mode

The 5D2 made quite a splash with its movie mode, thanks in part to Vincent Laforet’s Reverie video. The 7D takes that functionality a step further. Obviously, you’re not going to see any auto-focusing miracles when filming with the 7D. Focusing using the AF-on button is loud, slow, and results in unsightly exposure shifts. I found the best way to get good sharp videos is to focus before filming, and just leave it there, or stop down your aperture further. You’ll want to have a lens with a good, precise manual focus ring if you want to adjust focus manually during filming. After a while, you’ll get the hang of it, and it will make for some beautiful shallow DOF effects. File sizes are huge, so get some large CF cards.

Conclusion (in light of the upcoming 60D)

The 7D is perhaps Canon’s response to the Nikon D300, which in many ways bests the former XXD models. It had a better body, better AF, better sensor performance, more options, and so on. The Canon 7D took that challenge and if not surpassed then at least equaled its competition. For anyone in the market for a serious APS-C camera, the choice is clear: the 7D is a winner.

Now, everyone is speculating about the upcoming Canon 60D, in which images may have just been leaked. People in the position of choosing a new camera might just want to wait, especially if their priority is making videos. If the rumors are true, the Canon 60D will have a swivel screen and be optimized for video. Hopefully focusing during filming will be improved. However, you probably won’t get the big viewfinder, wireless flash control, new AF module, and heavy duty body. The 7D will likely remain the king of Canon’s APS-C lineup for shooting stills. Anyways, the new camera should be announced in the near future, and we’re looking forward to getting our hands on one.

Check out these links regarding the 7D:

Ken Rockwell – recent review

DPReview – the king of all reviews

The Digital Picture – another good review

About the author:

Jesse Warren is a photographer based in Shenzhen, China. He also works for Aputure.

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