I have been using the Canon EOS 7D as a video camera. I like it well enough to have purchased two of them for my own use. But this week, while co-leading my annual Bosque del Apache photo workshop with Arthur Morris I’ve had a chance to test the 7D as a still camera. Here is my impression after shooting with the camera for several days.
First, the new autofocus absolutely works. It works well. It works VERY well. If someone tells you differently, then there are only two possible explanations.
1) They got a bad copy of the 7D – better chance of winning the lottery but it could happen
2) There is operator error/poor technique – the most likely explanation
I shot hundreds of frames of geese and cranes in flight at Bosque. I was using the Canon 400 mm F/5.6 “L” lens. This lens is NOT stabilized, but it is VERY sharp. I shot birds coming straight at me with perfect results. This is the test that any camera has to pass if I am going to recommend it. It’s hard for the autofocus to track something coming right at you and in this case, the system worked. And here the 7D worked perfectly. I also shot birds coming at me with additional birds in the background and the 7D properly selected the front bird and tracked it all the way over my head. Amazing! I shot in all sorts of light. The AI Servo mode simply worked every time. I was extremely impressed. With only 19 auto-focus points, the camera does a super job. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to give up my Nikon D3s. 51 auto-focus points is better than 19. But the D3s costs $5200 to $1700 for the 7D. For the money, the 7D autofocus rocks.
Now let’s talk frame rates. I got a legitimate seven or more frames per second in high speed mode. I also got mostly reliable auto white balance, but this area could be slightly improved. If you shoot RAW, it does not matter.
Battery life was all day unless you shoot video – then plan on bringing lots of batteries.
The customization offered by this camera is astounding. I’ve dialed it in to suit me and my workflow. I love the ability to call up a virtual horizon and to re-program virtually every button on the camera body. The 100% viewfinder is superb, amazing, beautiful and every other great adjective you can come up with, especially considering the low cost of the camera. The rear LCD is big and bright.
I have one complaint about the camera but it may be premature. As it sits now, the 7D still images are noisy. Period. There’s no getting around it. But the possible culprit may be the lack of a finely tuned raw conversion from Adobe. I am using the beta version of ACR that supposedly supports the 7D but I can tell you it’s not there yet. There’s no way this amount of noise is acceptable. At ISO 250 I saw plenty of noise after conversion. I suspect this will be improved once Adobe finishes dialing in ACR for this specific camera. That said, pictures from this camera will always seem noisy to me because the math says so. You can’t cram 18 megapixels on a crop sensor camera and avoid noise. I wish Canon had kept this camera around 12-14 megapixels. It might have approached the status of best $1700 camera ever made if they had. The good news is that the noise is easily managed in post. It’s a different kind of noise that more closely resembles film grain. Using any competent noise reduction program you will get good results.
When you look at these results as a still camera, and compare them with the great video you can shoot using a 7D, it’s a no brainer. It’s one of the best cameras Canon ever made. It may not be the best for you. It depends on how you shoot. If you only shoot JPG, the images are a bit soft coming out of the camera. If you only shoot RAW and need noise-free images RIGHT NOW, it’s not a good choice because ACR doesn’t fully support the 7D yet. But if you keep those things in mind and can work around them, then the 7D is a superb choice for just about any pro-sumer who wants a pro-quality camera without having to shell out the dollars for the real pro bodies.
I know there have been some high-profile negative reviews of this camera, but I believe those reviews have centered on a couple of important points. In one case, the person’s workflow required the images right out of the camera to be better. That isn’t the case for me so I have a different response. Another review failed to accurately point out that the RAW conversions haven’t been tuned yet. Again, I allow for that to improve. So in closing I have no problem saying the Canon 7D is the best $1699 camera money can buy. And remember, I am a Nikon guy now 🙂