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The Canon EOS 7D is aimed at top-end enthusiasts and professional photographers and has an impressive features list
With a budget of around £1800 to spend on a top-end Canon DSLR body you are spoilt for choice. You may decide to go full-frame and invest all of your budget in the 21-megapixel EOS 5D mkII and shoot big files for the ultimate image quality. Or you may sacrifice a few megapixels and go for pure shooting speed and the latest focusing and exposure technologies by investing in the 18-megapixel, cropped sensor EOS 7D. Go the 7D route and you will save a few quid too as the body is currently available for around £1500.
Feature-rich is a term that definitely applies to the EOS 7D and there are several new technologies that are making their first appearance on a Canon DSLR camera.
Because Canon have made plenty of noise about it, let us kick off with the 63-zone metering system called iFCL. This stands for Focus, Colour and Luminance and that is a clue to how the system works. It assesses the colour of light and its intensity but also takes into account information from the focusing sensors. Working in conjunction with the iFCL system is a dual layer sensor, one layer sensitive to red/green light and the other to blue/green light.
The 7D is the first EOS with a 19 point cross-type AF sensor with Zone AF using a separate AF processor to enable autofocus which is quick enough to keep up with the camera’s eight frames-per-second shooting speed. Like most DSLRs, the central sensor has enhanced sensitivity particularly with lenses of f/2.8 or faster.
More and more DSLRs are coming out with movie modes so it is no surprise to see that the 7D has one too. The 7D gives the option of using manual or autoexposure and the choice of three resolutions including 1920x1080 Full HD. You can also shoot at 30fps, 25fps or 24 fps depending on your needs. At the lower resolutions you can record at 60 or 50fps.
The third new control in this area is marked Q. This is the Quick Control button and pushing this brings up an information display on the camera’s monitor of popular settings – exposure compensation, exposure mode, ISO etc – and using the multi-controller means it is fast to navigate and change popular settings.
I had two minor gripes with handling. One was with the on/off switch, and that is probably due to the fact that I am used to Canon's with the on/off switch designed for right-thumb operation. The 7D's is on the left next to the exposure mode control, and that probably took me more time to get used to than anything else.
And two, the AF-ON button. I often prefer to focus using the AF-ON button rather than the shutter release but I did find the 7D's on the small side for my taste.
There is an issue with the 7D in continuous shooting that Canon know about and that we have reported on (click here if you want to read it) but I did not spot it being a problem with my sample.
|There's little to criticise about the EOS 7D's handling and it is generally excellent with a couple of minor niggles, like an AF-ON button which could be bigger.|
Canon’s whizz-bang, high-tech iFCL exposure metering promises much. To be honest, over many years I have owned and tested many Canon SLRs and have always found Canon’s Evaluative multi-segment metering system to be more than capable of delivering accurate and consistent exposures in a wide variety of lighting conditions.
With that in mind, perhaps naively, I was expecting too much from the 7D and that the iFCL would be an infallible exposure system. In this regard, I was disappointed. To be fair, the system is highly capable and as good as anything else on the market but still manages to get tripped up, sometimes by extreme lighting, sometimes by scenes that you would expect the camera to handle. Predominately light and predominately dark subjects were also the cause of problems – the former caused slight underexposure and the latter minor overexposure.
I did quite a few shots with the sun (or its reflection) directly in the frame and here the 7D always gave plenty of exposure to the shadows so there was plenty of detail on show. By favouring the shadows, however, this meant that the extreme highlights did burn out so this is a point to consider when you want more drama and a darker exposure because the camera might be trying its level best to give good shadow detail.
In sum, the EOS 7D is as good as any capable metering system but probably not exceptional and gives great exposures in the majority of instances. The exceptions are those that would probably fool any camera so generally it is a thumbs-up for Canon's latest innovation.
|Typical scenes are handled competently by the EOS 7D's Evaluative metering system.|
Canon are renowned for the accuracy, sensitivity and responsiveness of its autofocusing systems and the EOS 7D is as good as any I have tried. With the supplied lens, the AF simply zipped into sharpness almost regardless of which focusing sensor or sensor pattern was selected.
Using a high-spec USM 24-70mm f/2.8 lens that we were supplied with obviously helped, but I did find that when using all zones active the camera locked into the subject really quickly. Off-centre subjects, so often the bane of autofocus systems, did not present too much of a problem – and the system proved impressively accurate and responsive.
I must admit that my preferred way of using AF systems is having just one sensor active, usually the central one. With this method I know that the camera focuses on whatever I aim the single sensor at, but after a short while with the 7D I was happy to leave it to its own devices when I was wandering around. I went to the single AF zone or even used manual when I was in the studio.
Continuous autofocusing – at least with the 24-70mm zoom – seemed good too. This was with cars on a dual carriageway on a sunny day. Time did not allow the acid test of using a long telephoto lens on fast action, but I would be optimistic of a good performance in such situations.
Colour and sharpness
|The EOS 7D did a fine job with our colourful test subject.|
I had the 7D set to give full-sized Raws and Large JPEGs simultaneously.
JPEG quality is very good and it is only in areas of really fine detail where Raw (I converted mine using Adobe Lightroom 2.5 as well as the supplied Canon Digital Photo Professional software) had the edge. For example, the eyebrows of our model, Elin, were finely resolved in Raw mode but were less distinct with the JPEG - this was when viewed at 100% and 200% on-screen so we are talking serious magnification here.
Colour reproduction with standard settings in JPEG was impressive and punchy. Shots taken on a dull grey certainly had some life in them and the camera's tendency towards rich colour saturation is definitely a benefit. However, this tendency to vivid colour reproduction can be a problem if you want subtle hues, especially when the sun's shining, but the colour controls within the menu system allow you to fine-tune reproduction to how you prefer it.
You might want a more subtle approach with, for example, flesh tones and the standard settings did seem marginally over the top for my liking but rendition was still perfectly acceptable.
So if you like your images to have impact you will be pleased with JPEGs straight out of the camera.
Given Canon's recent DSLR launches which had sharpness and focusing issues, there seemed no such problem here. JPEGs straight from the camera were fine and ready to print.
|The EOS 7D has a slightly over-the-top colour rendition on its JPEG files. Elin is the model.|
|The EOS 7D gives richly saturated images that have bags of impact. Colour can be fine-tuned if desired.|
The 7D’s base ISO is 100 and the top setting is 6400. Turn on ISO expansion and you have the option of shooting at an equivalent of ISO 12,800. As a top speed, it is pedestrian when compared with the staggering speeds of the Nikon D3S and Canon EOS 1D mk IV, but to the huge majority of photographers ISO 12,800 is more than enough.
Noise performance is very good and competitive with rivals. There is no noise of real note at speeds up to ISO 1600 and even here images are very clean and colour saturation remained impressive.
By the time you get to ISO 3200 noise and detail loss was more evident, but the noise at least was neutral and not too obtrusive. It is probably only at the highest official ISOs of 5000 and 6400 that noise got to the point of being obvious. The H option, giving the equivalent of 12,800, shows detail loss and blotchy, colourful noise so this is best reserved for those dire conditions when you truly need such sensitivity.
|ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800|
|ISO 1600||ISO 3200|
|ISO 6400||ISO 12800|
I prefer to shoot Raw so usually leave the camera in its auto white-balance setting, tweaking afterwards.
I left the camera in auto white-balance for most outdoor shots while in the studio with mains flash I started with the flash preset.
AWB has an operating range of 3000-7000K and it did perform very well in typical daylight conditions. In shade, where the colour temperature might be outside AWB’s operating range, using the preset is advised if you want less cool results.
In the studio, using Bowens Gemini units, the flash preset gave slightly red flesh tones and this was minimized by using the camera's custom-balance feature.
I did some shooting indoors with tungsten lighting and in candlelight. You would not expect the camera's AWB system to cope with such situations, but even using the incandescent preset did little to minimize any colour cast. Again, the custom white-balance feature was called into action - at least it is easy to use.
|AWB in tungsten light||The Raw file corrected during processing|
The EOS 7D is the first Canon to offer control of external flashguns from within the camera using an integrated Speedlite Transmitter. With more and more photographers exploring the creative freedom of separate flashguns, this feature is not one to be underestimated. It lets you use the 7D as the master control unit in a multiple set-up with compatible flashguns.
The integral flash is okay for snapshots and emergencies but the usual power limitations apply with drop-off beyond three metres. With the 24-70mm lens with its hood on and using its wide-angle lens you are going the lens’s shadow in shot. A longer focal length and taking off the hood gives results that are perfectly acceptable.
Shooting Large JPEG format only I got 164 shots in 23 seconds before the camera showed any sign of slowing down from its top speed, and then the buffer cleared in 12 seconds. Shooting Raw, the 7D whizzed through 24 shots in four seconds before slowing down and the buffer took around 24 seconds to clear without any further shots taken.
The EOS 7D is surely quick enough and has a sufficiently large buffer for the huge majority of users. Pro sports shooters will probably the only photographers needing any more.
Excellent. From one full charge, the battery lasted for two days of picture taking, reviewing etc and the battery state icon still had three of its four bars showing. I probably did in excess of 400 shots plus lots of playing around with features, checking images and so on.
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Canon EOS 7D.
Canon EOS 7D verdict
It is a £1700 DSLR so you would be perfectly entitled to expect a great deal for your money. The good news, in the most part, is that you get it. This is a classy feature-rich DSLR that has a reassuringly robust body so should easily withstand even severe knocks and bumps.
Overall, performance is of a very high order and the pictures I got in my short time with the camera I was perfectly happy with, so it is undoubtedly worthy of recommendation.
Canon EOS 7D Pros
Excellent autofocus system
Fast continuous shooting mode
Quick control idea
Canon EOS 7D Cons
White-balance performance average
Placement of on/off switch
Bigger AF-ON button would be nice
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Thanks to hireacamera for the loan of the Canon EOS 7D sample we used for this review. For more on their services see www.hireacamera.com