Canon EOS 7D Review

The latest EOS enthusiast SLR has been built from the ground up with an advanced autofocus system and high-speed motordrive.

Can too much choice be a bad thing? Canon doesn’t seem to think so. With the addition of the new 7D, there are now no fewer than nine different digital SLRs in its current EOS family. The EOS 7D is definitely the odd one out, however – and not just because it fails to fall in with the time-honoured Canon numbering system.

You can think of the 7D as a GTi version of the 50D – or a small-sensored high-
speed alternative to the EOS 5D Mark II. But to look for family resemblances is perhaps to miss the point. Sure, as you would expect, there are plenty of familiar EOS features on this new 18-million pixel, eight frames per second model, but there are almost as many unfamiliar ones.

This is a camera that has been designed from the ground up to make its own
mark on the world of digital photography. A new 19-point autofocus system, a dual-processor, a revolutionary viewfinder, a built-in flash with an unexpected twist – these are just some of the surprises. Oh, and it also has the most advanced High-Definition video shooting system we’ve seen on a D-SLR to date.

Although Canon produces cameras that are more robust and more professional than the 7D, it is still designed to appeal to the pro user. It is a meaty machine, with weatherproofing to match, that feels solid in the hand and provides both front and rear selection dials for quick control of key features. However, Canon has really tried to improve some handling bugbears with this model. A new, cleverly designed switch makes it easy to activate Live View and video recording, and at last there is a separate main on/off switch.
Another new button option allows you to quickly switch from RAW or JPEG shooting to RAW+JPEG (a great idea).

Another provides a quick menu on the rear screen, providing fast access to practically every function you could want to change. Taking customisation to the extreme, this menu also gives you the option to change the function of any of the buttons on the camera. Such control takes some getting used to, but at least you can’t complain that anything is in the wrong place when you have the freedom to redesign everything to suit your needs.

Autofocus system

The autofocus system is equally intelligent, and just as hard to get used to. It offers 19 autofocus points (ten more than the 50D or 5D Mark II), and all of the more useful cross-shaped type. You choose which of these are active – whether small groups, individual points or the whole lot. The points aren’t displayed in the usual way in the viewfinder, their position only becomes visible when they lock on focus thanks to a translucent LCD below the focusing system that only comes to life when needed.

Despite its unfamiliarity, the focusing system is responsive and accurate. We tested it out at both a hockey and rugby match, and were surprised at just how well it kept up, even when players where charging towards the camera at speed. Shooting at eight frames per second doesn’t guarantee you getting the picture, but it helps, and the camera can keep going at this rate for 15 seconds (126 frames) if shooting JPEGs (or just 15 frames in RAW). The ability to choose
a different range of AF points if switching between landscape and portrait image formats is a great boon.

The range of focusing points, if not the speed, would also be useful to anyone shooting portraits, because it helps to ensure you can match an AF point to the subject’s eyes. However, the 1.6x crop factor sensor means that this particular model in the EOS family will appeal most to those wanting maximum telephoto reach from their lenses.

The metering system provides the usual mix of Evaluative, Centre-weighted, Partial and Spot modes, but the measuring system has been updated. The new 63-zone iFCL meter now takes note of the colour of the subject, as well as the brightness and distance; this has been done to avoid under-exposure when shooting reddish subjects, such as skin tones in portraits. Even more usefully, the camera offers an unprecedented Exposure Compensation range of plus or minus five stops, which is a great help when shooting HDR sequences.

High definition video recording system

The 7D’s High-Definition video recording system is every bit as good as that found on Canon’s 5D Mark II, and arguably better. The smaller sensor gives you better depth of field, which can be useful for most video shots, and there is a fuller range of frame rates on offer (from 24 to 60 frames per second). You get the option to change ISO and shutter speed as you shoot (the 5D Mark II only added this after a belated firmware update), and the camera comes with a stereo microphone input that you can use to ensure your accompanying audio matches the quality of your video.

Unlike the 5D Mark II, the 7D boasts a built-in flash – and even this is smarter than it at seems at first glance. This pop-up affair can also be used to control compatible flashguns wirelessly. This makes off-camera flash a much simpler affair, because you don’t need to buy or carry around a separate flash trigger. What’s more, the camera’s built-in flash can be used in combination with the wireless flashgun in selectable ratios. At last, you don’t need to buy Canon’s ST-E2, or a second flashgun, to set your flash free from the camera’s hotshoe for more dramatic effects.

Sample images (click to see bigger):