2012-02-06

Canon EOS 7D Hands on Review

It's worth mentioning before you read any further that the EOS 7D is not a replacement for the EOS 50D, it fits in below the EOS 5D mkII and above the EOS 50D. This camera is aimed at a completely different user to the EOS 5D mkII, this camera was built from the ground up to fit a gap in the market.
Canon spoke to thousands of real photographers asking what they wanted in a camera. This is the result, a camera with 100% viewfinder coverage and 1.0x magnification, 8 frames per second, 1080p HD movies with manual control, 19 point AF system with all cross points. More user configurable function buttons giving greater user control, and wireless flash for improved creativity.

Although the Canon EOS 7D will do portraits and landscapes with ease, I wanted to push its limits with fast moving action and low light that other cameras struggle with. With a new improved auto focus system and higher ISO this seemed like a fitting test. So where better to take it than to Silverstone the home of the British Grand Prix for a six hour endurance race going into the night. With night descending on us at 7:00pm now that gave me 3 hours of darkness, icy cold wind to drain the battery and cars traveling in excess of 160 mph to challenge the auto focus.

Walking up and down the pit lane the Canon EOS 7D’s lack of weight was the first benefit that struck me, when combined with a Canon EF 17-40mm L its became extremely fast to use and portable. On the grid walk its fantastic auto focus system with cluster points and assistant points gave me super sharp portraits and static shots of the cars. With the manual function button configured to switch from Jpeg to Raw/Jpeg I was impressed that I no longer had to flick through the menu to change the quality. Allowing me to shot portraits in Raw/Jpeg for post shoot editing and the rest of the day in Jpeg saving both memory and buffer space. Waiting at the first corner the distance at which I need to shoot became apparent even when combined with a Canon 400mm F/2.8 IS I was too far out for my liking. With this lens I used a Manfrotto 679 monopod to support it and found that despite being one of the cheapest monopods in their range, it was strong and worked as a perfect partner to the Canon 400mm F/2.8 IS which weighs in at over 4.5 kg.

This is when another key benefit of the Canon EOS 7D became apparent; I personally felt this camera should have had the APS-H sensor from Canon’s EOS 1D range, giving a better progression to Canon’s range. The ultimate benefit for it having the APS-C sensor in this case was that if you have two cameras one with a 1.3x crop and the other 1.6x crop, you have twice the versatility in your lens line up. Although the APS H sensor would have cut noise, it would have ultimately compromised the whole camera making it bigger and heavier.

After having a walk and finding some new locations I found somewhere that really tested the Canon EOS 7D’s auto focus, a small gap in the fencing allowing me to view to cars as they accelerated up towards the start-finish line. With only a small window of opportunity for me and the camera to get it right I knew it would be tough. However I am pleased to report that the speed and accuracy at which this camera locks onto moving subjects is phenomenal. Even when the light started to fade and rain descend the auto focus continued with its successful tracking.

With the light disappearing fast raising the Canon EOS 7D’s ISO to the highest setting was a worry on my mind. With eighteen megapixels, 12,800 ISO and an APS-C sensor I thought it would be horrifically noisy. To be honest with you it is noticeable, quite noticeable but in its defense it’s a compromise, if you want a sharp image then it is a sacrifice you will have to make. I was thankful for the extra two stops of light it provided me with and without this I would have missed hundreds of opportunities. After over 8 hours nonstop shooting the Canon EOS 7D had taken almost two thousand frames. Air temperature had dropped below five degrees and gale force winds continued to batter the cameras body. Despite this the battery was still reading 65% a truly unexpected pleasure, never before have I seen such resilience in a battery.

The Canon EOS 7D has other features that I had insufficient time to fully test, however a brief play was enough to reassure me that they are genuinely functional and will provide a use at some point in your ownership. Full HD video, was never a lure to me when purchasing a DSLR but in this case it is a complimentary luxury as I feel the other additions and improvements to this camera justify its price. It was as I expected great image quality when combined with an L series lens, a little noisy due to the shutter speed restriction of 1/30th. The sound was as expected disappointing; an external microphone is a must.

Wireless flash, using the built in pop up flash as a master you can control other Canon flash guns wirelessly, controlling their power in groups from the menu on the camera. This feature could have come in handy during the night race, allowing me to shot head on to the cars but with the flash firing on the side meeting the safety regulations that need to be upheld by photographers at night. However I feel this would be more beneficial to a fashion/portrait photographer.

My overall opinion of the Canon EOS 7D is positive, so positive in fact I personally am considering purchasing one. I feel it met most of my needs; however there are improvements I feel could have been made. Despite the new viewfinder’s electronic grid option I feel that one grid is not enough. Surely it is not hard for Canon to give us a few different styles of grid to suit different purposes and people. And it is a disappointment that it shares its maximum ISO with a camera lower in the range, for a camera with sporting credentials such as 8 fps I would have expected 25,600 ISO. The battery life impressed me most of all, closely followed by the fantastic usability thanks to the size, weight, and user configurable buttons. I look forward to seeing the user configurable buttons and this fantastic auto focus system on other forthcoming Canon cameras.

For full details on the Canon EOS 7D, and to place an order

Andy Finnen - Park Cameras

The Canon EOS 7D was used in conjunction with:

Canon 17-40mm F/4 L USM
Canon 70-200mm F/2.8 USM
Canon 400mm F/2.8 IS USM
Manfrotto 679 Monopod
Sandisk 4GB Extreme 4 UDMA CF Card

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