The Canon 7D brings a number of improvements and new features to the Canon prosumer lineup. Taking these advancements into account, Canon has finally produced a DSLR whose specs outshine its Nikon counterpart – in this case the Nikon D300s.
Canon 7D Key Specs and Features
Let’s take a brief walk-through some of the key specs and features of the Canon 7D.
Fast Frame Rate – 8 fps
One of the biggest headline features in the 7D is the ability to capture 8 frames per second, which is a current class leader. The Nikon D300s can capture images at 7 fps, and even 8 fps if you attach the MB-D10 grip to the D300s with an EN-EL4a battery inside. The problem with the D300s is that you are limited to 12-bit RAW files at these high frame rates. If you want to shoot 14-bit RAW files in continuous shooting mode, you are limited to a sluggish 2.5 fps on the Nikon D300s. The Canon 7D shoots 14-bit RAW files and that’s it – 8 fps all the way.
The dual DIGIC 4 processors in the 7D provide the camera with the quick processing speeds necessary to accommodate the 8 fps frame rate. This is the first prosumer body from Canon that provides dual processing power. This is the same setup found in the new Canon EOS 1D Mark IV.
The Canon 7D also uses the dual DIGIC 4 processing power to deliver stunning HD video in an assortment of resolutions and frame rates. More on video later.
New Autofocus System
The Canon 7D features an entirely new 19-point, all cross-type AF system equipped with dual diagonal cross-type sensors in the center AF point at f/2.8 and f/5.6 and AF area selection modes.
The Canon 7D has five AF area selection modes, which include the following:
- Single-point AF. When using single-point AF, you can use any of the 19-points, which are easily selectable with your thumb on the AF point activator and by using either the scroll wheels or the rear joystick.
- Zone AF. There are 5 distinct zones of AF points where the AF points are limited to a specific zone and then are auto-selected within that zone based on the given scene.
- Auto select 19 point-AF. Just like auto AF on other cameras, this setting will automatically select the given AF-point. Most of the time this means the closest or most dominant subject will be selected using the respective AF point.
- Spot AF. When using Spot AF on the 7D, it works almost exactly like the Single-point AF setting except that a smaller portion of the AF sensor is used for more precise focus point control. This setting is intended for use where the standard focus point covers a larger area than what is otherwise needed. As with the Single-point AF system, these points are manually selected.
- AF point expansion. When set to AF point expansion mode, the manually set AF sensor is first used to lock on to a subject and then uses adjacent AF points to track moving subjects.
Canon 7D Video Capabilities
- 1080p Full HD shooting (1920 x 1080) at 30p (29.97), 24p (23.976), and 25p.
- 720p HD shooting (1280 x 720) at 60p (59.94) and 50p
- Standard-def (640 x 480): 60p (59.94) and 50p
The video specs are a stark improvement over the much more expensive EOS 5D Mark II. When the 5D Mark II was released in 2008, it shipped as the first DSLR with 1080p video recording capability; however, it was limited to 30p (29.97 fps) frame rate. Shortly before the 5D Mark II news, Nikon had announced the D90 with 720p with a 24p frame rate.
Over the past year, Canon had heard so much positive feedback from video professionals and enthusiasts about the 5D Mark II’s potential, but also received criticism over the frame rate limitations. After the announcement of the 7D, Canon heard a loud outcry from the 5D Mark II user base over the discrepancies in the video capabilities of the two cameras. You can’t win for losing, eh? Fortunately for those 5D Mark II owners, Canon announced an update to the Canon 5D Mark II firmware would be due out in 2010 and would provide the same frame rate options found on the 7D.
The 7D captures video in .MOV file format. Video recording is limited to 4 GB per clip. While that sounds like a lot of space, when you consider that HD files cover roughly 330 MB per minute, you end up with about 12 minutes recording time in 4 GB of space. If you’re using a 16 GB card, that means you can get about 48 minutes total on the card. Even if you’re shooting in SD mode at 640 x 480 resolution, the 7D will chew up 165 MB per minute. So, if you’re doing some serious video shooting, bring plenty of CF cards.
Also note that you need a card that’s fast enough to handle the data transfer. The minimum speed for video recording is 8MB/sec. You can expect about and 1 hour 20 minutes recording time out of a single battery.
As with other DSLRs, the 7D is not intended to use autofocus while shooting video. In fact, you can’t use continuous autofocus while recording video with the 7D; however, you can prefocus using several AF methods prior to starting your recording. These focusing limitations aren’t really limitations at all though. The 7D offers professional caliber video quality and those who will make the most out of this camera will be accustomed to manual focusing anyway – as opposed to the contrast detection autofocus found in consumer handycams.
The 7D also gives the film maker the power to use full manual controls over exposure options. Want to blow out some highlights? No problem.
The 7D lets you adjust exposure compensation in Program, Aperture-priority and Shutter-priority modes. Additionally, you can shoot in Manual exposure mode for total exposure control.
Shooting in Shutter-priority mode, you can adjust your shutter speed depending on what frame rate your on. For 1080p shooting, you have shutter speed options of 1/30s to 1/4000s. In other shooting modes, you get shutter speeds 1/60s to 1/4000s. This is because your frame rates are 60p and 50p in everything outside 1080p. The faster frame rates give your video a “choppier” effect.
ISO is chosen automatically by the 7D in every mode except for Manual. If shooting Manual, you can set ISO throughout the full range from ISO 100-12800.
Picture Style and white balance can also be applied to video recording in the 7D. As a result, you can shooting with enhanced color tones, or even black and white or sepia modes. Although, unless your shooting something quick and casual, you would be better advised to enhance or desaturate colors in post production work.
The 7D also records audio on-board through a built-in microphone in monaural mode, or it can capture stereo audio using an external mic with a 3.5mm mini plug into the 7D’s audio-in jack. Unfortunately, Canon doesn’t trust users with adjusting sound levels, as the 7D adjusts audio levels automatically regardless of whether you are using the built-in mic or an external mic.
One audio recording solution that many video users are flocking to is the Zoom H4n Handy Recorder. You simply use a clap board or just clap your hands when you begin recording and sync up the audio and video in post production.
If you’re interested in the video quality and some of the possibilities that the 7D opens up for aspiring film makers, I encourage you to visit the Vimeo channel Canon EOS 7D Labs. Below is one of the current top videos on Vimeo shot with a Canon 7D.
The 7D has been used on the set of Saturday Night Live to shoot digital shorts and the opening title sequence for this most recent season. One of the big advantages for shooting the title sequence with the 5D Mark II and 7D was the ability to use ambient light due to the cameras’ incredible sensitivity, which also helped them to operate more covertly.
ISO 100-12,800 Sensitivity Range
The Canon 7D covers a sensitivity range of ISO 100-12,800. The native sensitivity settings can be adjusted from ISO 100-6400, while the ISO 12,800 setting becomes available when it is enabled through a custom function. You can adjust the ISO speed in 1/3-stop or 1-stop increments from ISO 100-6400. When enabled, you can step up to ISO 12,800 from ISO 6400 only in a full stop increment.
When shooting in Full Auto modes, the ISO is adjusted automatically. Auto ISO is also an available setting in Program, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority and Manual modes. When Auto ISO is enabled, the 7D will choose an appropriate ISO setting between ISO 100 and ISO 3200.
Intelligent Focus Color Luminance 63-zone Dual-layer Metering
The 7D gets a new 63-zone dual layer metering sensor. You get 4 metering modes – evaluative, center-weighted average, partial, and spot metering. Partial metering covers 9.4% of the viewfinder at the center of the frame. Spot metering covers 2.3% of the viewfinder at the center of the frame. You cannot shift the spot metering location to any other focus point, which makes the use of the AE lock button essential when spot metering subjects outside the center of the frame. Only the EOS 1-series is capable of moving the spot meter circle to active focus points other than the center AF point.
The Canon 7D has a magnesium body that features several seals in the most vulnerable location to prevent dust and water from finding its way into the camera. The shutter unit in the 7D is rated to 150,000 cycles.
Specifications are meaningless, however, if the performance isn’t up to snuff.
Thankfully, the Canon 7D is quite a performer in addition to having a stunning spec sheet.
Canon 7D Handling and Ergonomics
If you have used Canon prosumer DSLRs in the past, the 7D will be no stranger to you. However, their have been some minor changes the the button layout that makes it feel a bit more like the 5D Mark II.
One of the immediate differences you notice is a more logical, to me, placement of the on/off switch, which has been moved to the mode dial on the top-left of the camera. The 7D also gets a dedicated Live View and Video switch on the back of the camera. The center of this switch also features the start/stop button for use in video recording.
The “Q” or Quick Control button on the back gives you access to several common settings that you access and change using the camera dials and joystick. As a 5D Mark II user, this took some getting used to; however, I appreciate the convenience of this button now that I’m accustomed to it.
Additionally, the 7D has a RAW/JPEG button that lets quickly capture a RAW file exposure when you’re shooting JPEG only. Just push the button and the 7D switches to RAW+JPEG for a single frame and then switches back. Likewise, if you’re shooting in RAW only mode, you can press the button and capture a JPEG frame in addition to the RAW file. The 7D also lets you use the RAW/JPEG quick setting in white balance bracketing and exposure bracketing.
The viewfinder is an improvement over the 50D with 100% coverage and a 1.0x magnification. This feature might be overlooked on the spec list; however, it makes the 7D feel much more like a pro-level camera.
Overall, the control layout works well. The buttons and scroll wheels are in easy reach as they have been with recent prosumer DSLRs. The grip feels comfortable in the hand. To be sure, the 7D is a larger camera and has a certain pro-quality feel. Still yet, it’s not quite as big as the 5D Mark II and, of course, doesn’t have the integrated vertical grip and shutter release found in the Canon 1-series DSLRs. If you’re into that kind of thing, there is a battery grip, the Canon BG-E7, available for the 7D that incorporates a shutter release and other controls.
Canon 7D Performance
The Canon 7D is a natural fit for those familiar with the 50D or its predecessors. In most ways, the 7D simply outshines the the older cameras. It has a better AF system, metering system and faster frame rate. It all of these categories though, it doesn’t have a feel of superiority to the Nikon D300s when using it in the field.
The 7D’s autofocus system is a welcomed improvement. The 19 AF points are fast and accurate. The flexibility of the different modes is a huge bonus for this camera. My preferred method of shooting is to use the Spot AF mode as opposed to the Single-point AF mode. I use Spot AF even when shooting something as simple as portraits. The reason for this is that I found the default size of the AF points are far to large to hit that critical focus point of the eye. If the AF point covers more area than the eye on subjects, I could end up with a lot of in-focus eyebrows along the way when shooting with a wide aperture. This was a hard lesson learned with the 7D that resulted in several lost shots that would have been keepers if I had shot with Spot AF.
Another gripe that I have with the AF system is the frame coverage. It’s really no different than the coverage found on the 40D/50D. The AF points are arranged in a diamond pattern that prevents me from getting anywhere near the outside corners with the focus points. While I don’t need a camera that puts an AF point in the corner of the frame, it would be nice if the AF points were arranged to cover a broader area in the frame.
Frame coverage is one area where the D300s beats the 7D in the field. Want to frame a moving subject on the right side of the frame as it moves left to right in continuous focus mode (in order to lead it or create negative space)? Unless your focus point is in the vertical middle of the frame, you’ll need to get wider with the 7D (and crop later) than the D300s. The 51-points in the D300s are just more practical and convenient to use than the 19-points in the 7D. Even in One Shot AF mode, I found myself focusing and recomposing much more often than I did with the D300s. There are just some framings where you can’t put your AF point on your subject.
With these issues out of the way, I only have good things to say about the AF system in the 7D. I sure wish the 5D Mark II had this AF system. It is fast and flexible.
The AF point expansion mode will be useful to those sports shooters out there looking to track their fast moving subjects and maintain focus even when you lose the subject off of your starting AF point. Previously, this feature has only been available on EOS 1-series DSLRs. In this mode, you start with a primary-selected AF point and if the subject moves outside of this point, surrounding AF points will attempt to locate the subject and maintain autofocus. The 7D gives deference to the primary selected point and will try to use that AF point if possible.
The Canon 7D also lets you select a specific AF point in Automatic AF when using the AI Servo (or continuous focusing) mode. The 7D is the first camera from Canon that has let you select a focus point other than the center point. With the 7D, you can select any of the 19 AF points and the AF system will attempt to track your subject as it moves about the frame. This works much like the 3D AF tracking on the Nikon D300s. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test the 7D’s Automatic AF tracking to the same degree (shooting motorcycles traversing the popular Tail of the Dragon) that I did with the D300s due to our inclement weather this time of year; however, my limited use suggests that it is about on par with (maybe a little below) the tracking capabilities of the D300s.
Canon gets big kudos is the “making life easier” department by adding the orientation linked AF points to the 7D. When enabled in the Custom Functions menu, you can set different AF points to activate based on the orientation of the camera. I’ve found this to be a great tool when shooting portraits. I expect that many sports photographers will appreciate this functionality as well. There are 3 different orientation AF points to set – 1. horizontal, 2. vertical (grip on top), 3. vertical (grip on bottom). It is one of my favorite features on the 7D.
Hold on to your pants, because the 7D’s 8 fps speed is something the prosumer market has not seen before this camera. We’re talking about 14-bit RAW images at 8 fps. This is so much faster than the 3 fps speed you see on lower-level models. Even the more expensive 5D Mark II captures only 3.9 fps, which is a stark difference in real world use. The high speed frame rate of the 7D is a nice feature to have, and most photographers shopping for a camera in this price range will know whether they need this spec of not. If you’d prefer not to chew up too much space on your memory cards, there’s also a low speed setting for continuous capture mode, which brings you down to 3 fps.
I can’t really say that the 7D trumps the D300s by too far of a margin in this area of its performance. In real world use, I can’t tell a difference between 7 fps on the D300s and 8 fps on the 7D. What gives the 7D the slight edge here is the use of 14-bit RAW files over the D300s with 12-bit RAW files. Remember, if you want to shoot 14-bit RAW files on the D300s, you get a continuous frame rate of 2.5 fps.
Canon 7D Image Quality and ISO Performance
Thanks to the 18-megapixel sensor, the 7D delivers in the resolution department, serving up images at 5184 x 3456 pixels. You can print rather large photos from the 7D’s files – 16×24-inch prints are no problem for the 7D even without resizing the files. If you’re shooing for 8×10-inch prints or smaller, there’s plenty of room to crop liberally.
Below are a few images that I’ve captured with the 7D. I’ve noted where they’ve been processed from RAW files and which ones are straight out of camera JPEGs. You can also find these images, along with additional Canon 7D image samples, here.
Feel free to click on any of the images below for the original files to inspect for personal use (or, right-click and choose “Save as…”). Please do not reproduce any images on the Internet or elsewhere without permission.
I previously published an ISO test using JPEG files for the Canon 7D (comparing it to the D300s) with in-camera noise reduction enabled. You can find this test here: Canon 7D vs. Nikon D300s ISO Test.
If you are interested in seeing a comparison of JPEG images without the use of noise reduction, you can find it here: Canon 7D vs. Nikon D300s vs. Sony A500 ISO Test.
Below is a 100% crop of some of the test images from the Canon 7D using the above scene, which shows the full ISO range from JPEG images with noise reduction enabled.
You can download the original files from the above ISO chart by right-clicking on the links below and choosing “Save as…”
You can get even more out of the RAW files if you process them in Canon Digital Photo Professional, which is included with the Canon 7D at no additional charge. Below are two 100% crops of the 7D image files above at ISO 6400 and 12,800 as processed from RAW files in Canon DPP.
If you are shooting at higher ISO settings and noise control is critical, you need to look toward Canon DPP as opposed to Adobe Lightroom 2. Even since the program has been updated to version 2.6 to include official support for the Canon 7D, Canon DPP seems to work better at controlling noise for the 7D RAW files. Lightroom 2.6 just can’t seem to get a handle on the chroma noise in 7D RAW files, which results to a splotchy image at higher ISOs. Take heart though if you are a Lightroom user. At the time of this review Lightroom 3 is currently in beta release and one of the buzzing features is noise handling, specifically dealing with chroma noise. Lightroom 3 is showing a lot of promise for getting control of noise on the 7D and other camera models. The anticipated release for Lightroom 3 is in 2010 – perhaps in the Spring.
So, what’s the takeaway with noise and the Canon 7D?
Canon has a solid in-camera noise reduction solution for JPEG shooters. You can take the camera up to the edge and shoot images at ISO 6400. I would prefer to stop at ISO 3200 for JPEG files; however, you can definitely push it to ISO 6400 for web, small prints and newspaper uses.
For RAW shooters, if you’ll put the files in DPP for your noise processing, ISO 6400 becomes a lot more usable. Some folks will even find uses for ISO 12,800 RAW files. Not too many though, because it’s still pretty splotchy. But, darn, ISO 6400 looks pretty good from a RAW file for an 18MP APS-C camera.
I’m not one of those who will make use of ISO 6400 very often though. I am tied to Lightroom with my work flow and unless there is a great reason to shoot ISO 6400, then I’ll avoid it at all costs.
Truth be told, the 7D looks pretty close to the noise control of the D300s up until about ISO 3200, where the 7D starts to pull away. The 7D is getting close to a full stop better at ISO 6400. But this is in Netherworld for most photographers. At lower ISOs, the D300s seems to have a very slight edge over the 7D (at least for RAW files). Neither camera really produces noise bad enough for most people to worry about at ISO 1600 and below. If you care that much, the you’re probably looking past the 7D and D300s toward the 5D Mark II, D700 or beyond.
Canon 7D Wireless Flash System
The Canon 7D is the first Canon DSLR to feature a “commander” mode (as Nikon calls it). What this means is that the Canon 7D can trigger other Canon Speedlite flashes using the built-in popup flash. Nikon has dominated Canon in this area by making prosumer cameras capable of operating as a commander for off-camera hot-shoe flashes. The D300s has this feature, as did the D200 before it. This prosumer/semi-pro model lineup is the cutoff for this feature (i.e., the Nikon D5000 cannot use its popup flash to trigger TTL speedlights like the SB-600 or SB-900).
While it is possible to use Canon’s wireless Speedlite system with all Canon DSLRs by attaching a master unit like the 580EX II, the 7D only needs to use the popup to control up to 3 groups of Canon Speedlites. The Canon Speedlite system uses the 7D’s E-TTL II (through the lens) metering to automatically determine the output power necessary to light the scene. You can compensate power ratios among the groups to your liking. The popup flash on the 7D can be used solely as a trigger or as a light source.
Major kudos to Canon for making wireless E-TTL flash control more accessible on the Canon 7D. If you’re up for it, there is a wealth of creativity to build upon with the 7D’s Speedlite compatibility.
Canon 7D Accessories
Canon BG-E7 Battery Grip – If you want a vertical grip for controls that are more comfortable when shooting in portrait orientation, the BG-E7 is the grip for the 7D.
Canon LP-E6 Battery – The 7D uses the same rechargeable lithium-ion battery as is found in the 5D Mark II.
Canon RC-1 Wireless Remote – The Canon RC1 remote is an infrared remote that works out to about 17′. You can snap instantly with the RC1 or use a 2 second delay, which allows you to get your hand down if you’re actually in the photos too. Additionally, the RC1 can be used with mirror lockup and bulb mode if you don’t want to jar the camera on its tripod while taking long exposures. I’ve had one in my bag for about 4 years now and it’s proven to be well worth the $20 I spent on it.
Canon WFT-5A Wireless File Transmitter – This new transmitter for the 7D that provides several file transfer, remote firing and geotagging possibilities.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM – This is my personal favorite lens as a mate for the Canon 7D. Due to the crop factor, it has a field of view equivalent to 80mm on 7D, which makes it an excellent portrait lens.
Other accessories that are worth considering would be some fast CF cards, which the SanDisk Extreme Pro and Lexar Professional 600x series are some of the fastest out there. However, I had very acceptable results with SanDisk Extreme IV and Lexar Professional 300x CF cards.
Canon 7D Books and Resources
I think you should probably read your camera’s manual and the Bryan Peterson book recommended below before you decide upon an additional guide for your camera; however, I know that there are some who prefer to follow a step-by-step walk through of your camera’s features. As a result, I’ve listed a couple of offerings from popular publishers that may be up your alley. I encourage you to read the reviews on B&H Photo and elsewhere before you decide on which resource is right for you.
Finally, if you’ve never used a DSLR before (or even if you have and you don’t fully “get it”), I recommend that you pick up a copy of Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure with your new camera. It is a priceless guide to learning and growing with any DSLR. At around $17, it’ll be the best bang for your buck that you ever spend on photography.
The EOS 7D is a good step forward for Canon. In the recent past, many of the complaints about Canon’s prosumer models gravitated toward a general consensus that they were limited or crippled when compared to Nikon’s lineup.
The Canon 7D is a competitor to the Nikon D300s that is on equal or better footing in almost every respect. Canon gets big kudos for just about every spec on this camera – from the new AF system (with a couple exceptions) to the number of video capture options. As a video camera, the 7D is a powerful tool for aspiring film makers that is available at a ridiculously low price of admission given the quality that it is capable of.
As a still camera, the 7D produces solid high-resolution images that will satisfy most pixel peepers, budding amateurs and many pro photographers. If you’re a pro on a budget, you could do a lot worse than add a 7D to your kit. While the 7D is not the best thing since sliced bread and it’s image quality doesn’t challenge the 5D Mark II, it’s a big step in the right direction. The Canon 7D gets an easy recommendation from me.
Where to Buy the Canon 7D
The Canon 7D is available from B&H Photo at the following link:
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