Something is amiss in the state of Denmark. Unlike the previous iterations of Canon's high-profile APS-C sensor cameras, the 7D looks a little more, shall we say, stylish. Gone are the harsh lines of the 40D and 50D, and in its place are the sleek curves of the 500D. It's recognisably Canon, but it keeps things interesting by having a number of different stylistic elements.
Buttons are much more rounded and softer to the touch, particularly those lined up along the left side of the 3-inch LCD screen. The Canon control wheel has an inline of silver and thanks to the inclusion of HD video recording, the 7D now has a Start/Stop button to the right of the viewfinder which activates Live View, and at the top a button labelled M-Fn changes the AF selection between five options (manual select for single AF, spot, AF point expansion, zone AF and automatic 19-point AF selection). The power switch is located just underneath the mode dial, and there's a dedicated button just underneath that changes the shooting mode between JPEG and RAW. The mode dial has the same options that can be found on the 5D Mark II though, so the 7D feels like a bit of a hybrid — and is all the better for it.
The new configuration on the back of the 7D shows the RAW/JPEG button as well as the Start/Stop button. Turn the dial to the left (to the red video camera icon) to configure the button for starting and stopping video recording. (Credit: CBSi)
In the hand this is a hefty camera without a lens, battery or Compact Flash card — that's 820g of stainless steel and polycarbonate for the record. It's sealed to an extent from moisture and dust and it feels comfortable to use despite its bulk. We tested the 7D with the 18-135mm kit lens (which we will review separately, stay tuned) and while it doesn't feel perfectly matched in terms of build quality and performance, the two counterbalance each other nicely. On the left side is input for a stereo microphone, plus HDMI output and the usual remote release, digital out and flash connections. The 7D uses Compact Flash cards to store its images via the slot on the right-hand side.
Apart from the whopping 18-megapixel CMOS sensor, the 7D is HD equipped at 1080p and boasts a rather large maximum ISO of 12,800. Inside its chassis the 7D features not one but two Digic 4 processors like the professional series cameras, a 19-point AF system, all of which are cross type, and a burst rate of 8 frames per second (fps). The viewfinder is a nice update to that found on the double-digit Canon range, and even the 5D Mark II, with 100 per cent coverage.
Speaking of that viewfinder, inside is a visual indication of the battery level and exposure as is standard on Canon's range. The AF system has been completely overhauled, and from inside the viewfinder the AF points appear nice and bright. The 7D also expands the exposure compensation values, to +/-5 EV rather than the more common 3 found on many other prosumer dSLRs. JPEG and RAW shooting is available, and RAW is now available in three configurations: RAW, MRAW and SRAW which shoot in full 18-, 10- and 4.5-megapixel resolution respectively.
Alongside the built-in pop-up flash, the 7D also comes with wireless flash control. For videographers there is also a stereo input and manual control during filming, which addresses the firmware update that was required to give the 5D Mark II the same level of control. In full HD the frame rate is selectable from 30, 25 or 24fps.
The 7D is nimble on its feet thanks to the dual-Digic 4 processors, and impresses on burst performance and image processing times. Shutter lag while using Live View is just over 0.1 second (with pre-focusing) and barely discernible when using the viewfinder at just 0.05 second on average. Processing a RAW + JPEG combination took just under two seconds, a standard JPEG 0.8 second, and 1.8-second for a single RAW file. In continuous mode shooting RAW, the 7D managed to churn out the claimed 8 frames per second, and the same results emerged when shooting in JPEG as well.
The AF system, for all its improvements, still felt a little cumbersome and was a little temperamental in some situations, though it should be able to be tweaked through a firmware update. Canon has also issued a firmware update for the ghosting images that were reported to appear in burst mode; however, we weren't able to replicate this issue on our review camera.
Image and video quality
Overall it's very difficult to be disappointed with the image quality from the 7D. It renders some lovely and accurate colours, and reviewing images post-shooting is a breeze thanks to the 920,000-dot screen which is bright and allows for precise and accurate pinpointing of focus.
However, the kit 18-135mm lens we were provided with didn't deliver the sharpest results in our test shots, particularly on JPEG images straight from the camera. There's also a fair amount of barrel distortion at the wide end, more so than what we've seen on other kit lenses like the 17-85mm. White balance was also a bit of a misnomer with the 7D choosing slightly yellowish tinges on automatic settings in artificial light.
Using the kit lens, flash coverage with the in-built strobe was good across focal lengths, with no evidence of vignetting or shadowing. Noise control was also very impressive, with almost no noise discernible at lower ISO levels. At ISO 1600 there's a slight amount of grain visible, but even ISO 12,800 delivered good results at low magnification, and was really the only time when coloured noise and artefacts became visible. Certainly, a usable shot can be gathered from this high sensitivity, especially at a lower magnification. See below for a visual indication of ISO 12,800 in a 100 per cent crop.
ISO 12,800 at reduced magnification (top) and the 100 per cent crop (bottom). (Credit: CBSi)
Video quality is incredibly good, with smooth colours and very good detail throughout and hardly any evidence of digital artefacts. The audio from the built-in microphone was also good, picking up just the right level of sound. We also like the new method for shooting video involving the one-touch button rather than the slightly more cumbersome implementation on the 5D Mark II. Picture modes can also be used while shooting movies which means you can shoot in black and white if desired. Images can also be taken during filming by pressing the shutter button but it will create a gap in the resulting video. Video is compressed using H.264 and the 7D outputs MOV files.
The Canon EOS 7D is available as body only for AU$2699, as a Platinum kit with the new 15-85mm for AU$3799, a Premium kit with the 18-200mm for AU$3699 and the Super kit (the configuration which we tested) with the new 18-135mm lens for AU$3499.
Canon has created a proficient prosumer digital SLR with the 7D, sporting excellent specifications and performance such as burst shooting speed and HD movie recording. If you're not quite ready for the full frame 5D Mark II, or want the advantages of an APS-C-sized sensor, the 7D will serve you well.