Cameras

Canon EOS 7D Digital Camera Review

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Introduction

The 18-megapixel Canon 7D delivers high-resolution stills and full HD video in a well-built camera designed for serious photographers without the desire (or budget) for a full-frame model.

Design

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo
  • Canon 7D with eyecup and body cap
  • LP-E6 battery
  • LC-E6 battery charger
  • Camera strap
  • USB cable
  • Stereo AV cable
  • EOS Digital Solutions CD
  • Software Instruction Manual CD
  • Instruction manual (English and Spanish)
  • Pocket Guide (English and Spanish)
  • CD-ROM Guide
  • How to Use Camera Accessories CD

Lens & Sensor

The 7D packs a lot of megapixels into a APS-C format sensor. The gross resolution is approximately 19.0 megapixels, the effective resolution 18.0 megapixels. Despite the high pixel density, our lab testing gave the camera high marks. Even image noise, the likely downfall of a camera that tries achieve high resolutions in a small form factor, was acceptable, and very good under low light.

By default, the camera triggers its vibrating dust removal operation automatically when you turn the camera on or off, though this can be disabled, and you can clean the sensor when you choose via the menu system. For stubborn dust problems you can also capture dust delete data to be used with the included Digital Photo Professional software.

Viewfinder

The eye-level pentaprism viewfinder provides approximately 100% coverage. There's some clipping of the bottom information display edges for eyeglass wearers, but the image is very bright and sharp. There is a diopter control with a -3.0 - +1.0 m-1 range, and a fixed focusing screen.

Canon debuts its 'Intelligent Viewfinder' technology with the 7D, with a sophisticated overlay system that clearly shows focus points, a spot metering circle and optional grid lines. We found the grid lines very useful, and left them on throughout our test shooting. They're fine enough to be unobtrusive, and positioned well for lining up horizontals and verticals accurately.

Removing the eyecup is unusually easy: press the two clips on either side and lift up. This is handy when you're shooting on a tripod and want to use the included eyepiece cover to keep light from leaking in from behind and affecting the exposure.

Display(s)

The LCD is Canon's good-looking 3-inch 920,000-dot display, It's a pleasure to use for reviewing your shots, with accurate color and pleasing image sharpness. If you're seized with the desire to shoot in Live View mode outdoors, you'll find the LCD brightness adequate, though there is a lot of glare in sunny shooting situations.

There are two ways to set LCD brightness. There is an Auto setting (using a light sensor to the right of the screen), which can be set to three brightness levels and will make adjustments accordingly. Alternatively, the brightness can be manually adjusted to one of seven settings.

Secondary Display

For $1700 you're entitled to a monochrome LCD on top of the camera, and Canon comes through with a legible display that covers all the basic shooting settings at a glance. The ability to illuminate this screen for a few seconds by pressing an easy-to-find button is highly appreciated.

Flash

The built-in flash has an effective range of about 12 feet (3.5m) when shooting at ISO 100 and f/3.5. It stands a good four inches from the center of the lens, and produces a nice, even illumination pattern. With no dedicated autofocus assist lamp, the flash is pressed into service for this function too, firing off strobe bursts that are far more intrusive than an AF assist lamp would be, calling attention to the photographer who was hoping to grab a candid shot.

Flash exposure compensation is available in a ±3 stop range, in 1/3 stop increments. Flash exposure lock is also supported.

When shooting in full auto mode, the flash will pop up and fire when needed, with no user control. In Creative Auto mode, the user can turn the flash off if desired.

The 7D provides full support for Canon EX-series Speedlites, including manual flash output setting, high-speed sync and wireless flash control. There is also a PC terminal for connecting flash units with a sync cord.

Flash Photo

The flash has good height and even illumination.

Connectivity

The panoply of 7D connectivity is grouped on the left side of the camera, under two separate, tight-fitting rubber doors.

On the left side are two round ports. The top is used to connect external flash units via PC sync cable. The bottom accepts the optional Remote Switch (RS-80N3), Timer Remote Controller (TC-80N3) or other accessories with an N3 terminal.

On the bottom of the camera is an extension system terminal for connecting to the optional Wireless File Transmitter (WFT-E5A/B/C/D).

On the right side are an external mic jack, an industry-standard mini-USB connector (for data and standard-def video connections, via the included cables) and finally a mini HDMI jack for direct connection a high-def TV (cable not included).

Battery

The camera is powered by an LP-E6 rechargeable Lithium ion battery rated at 7.2 V, with an 1800 mAh capacity. Canon estimates a charge will last 1000 shots without flash, or 800 with flashed used 50% of the time. We were impressed with the 7D battery life. During day-long testing sessions, involving thousands of shots, we rarely had to stop to top off the charge. Of course, shooting in Live View is another matter, with Canon's estimated life dropping to 230 shots without flash per charge.

An accessory battery grip, the BG-E7 ($270), which can hold two LP-E6 batteries or six AA alkalines, is available. With LP-E6s installed the battery life is doubled (logically enough) while AAs will provide 400 shots without flash, 300 with.

Battery Photo

The LP-E6 battery offers impressive longevity.

Memory

Ah, the joys of CompactFlash, offering huge capacity at reasonable prices. One caveat: if you're planning to shoot high-resolution video and/or use burst mode, the extra investment in a fast UDMA mode card is worthwhile.

Memory Photo

Using a UDMA card increases burst mode performance.

Image Quality

Sharpness

Shooting with this high-quality lens, the 7D achieved a very respectable sharpness score. More on how we test sharpness.

Image Stabilization

The 7D outscored the comparison cameras in our group by a substantial margin, once again underscoring its suitability for shooting in difficult lighting situations.

Color

The Canon 7D reproduced colors well, though not as accurately as its brand mate Canon 5D Mark II or the surprisingly precise Nikon D5000. We measure color accuracy by shooting the standard X-Rite ColorChecker chart under bright 3000 lux studio illumination, in each available color mode, then run the test shots through Imatest software to determine the deviation between the captured values and the known chart values. More on how we test color.

There is an oddity in the way the 7D handles color across the five available color modes (called Picture Styles in Canonland). We found the most accurate color reproduction shooting in Faithful mode, with spot-on flesh tones and only yellow shades off by much. Neutral is just a hair's breadth less accurate. However, both of these modes are intentionally, significantly undersaturated (88.5% for Faithful, 90% for Neutral), on the assumption that the shooter will tweak the results in Photoshop or another image editing program. Similarly, both modes have sharpness lowered substantially, with future image editing in mind. These values can be adjusted, with three customized Picture Styles stored, but we expect most users who don't want to hand jigger each shot they take will use Standard mode most often, which delivers highly accurate image saturation and a reasonable amount of sharpening. Faithful mode delivers more accurate skin tone color values, shades of blue and red, but photos taken in Standard mode still look great right out of the camera.

The chart below shows same-size crops taken from our test images for the Canon 7D and four comparison cameras, each in its most accurate color mode. The color names are those used by X-Rite.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

As with most Canon cameras, the 7D offers very good color accuracy, and the option to tweak the settings and save them for future use (see the Picture Effects section for more details) is a welcome feature.

Color Modes

The Canon 7D offers six Picture Style selections (including Monochrome, not shown here). The same-size patches below were taken from our color test images.

White Balance

Our white balance testing produced unexpected results: the automatic white balance system was exceptionally accurate, while the manual white balance system was much less accurate than competitive cameras. We test white balance using the X-Rite Judge II lightbox to produce consistent illumination from three different sources: daylight, incandescent (like household tungsten bulbs) and compact white fluorescents, shooting the ColorChecker chart and analyzing the color error against the known chart values using Imatest.

Automatic White Balance ()

As is often the case, incandescent lighting proved challenging to the auto white balance system, but the results under daylight and fluorescent lighting were spot on.

Custom White Balance ()

We look for a high level of color accuracy after taking a custom white balance reading, and didn't find it when shooting with the Canon 7D, even after running the test multiple times. The resulting shots didn't look hideous, but they were nowhere near as accurate as the other cameras in our comparison group, and dragged down the overall white balance score for the 7D.

In daylight testing, the AWB system in the 7D produced the most accurate color results among our test cameras. Incandescent lighting was a challenge but the 7D is in good company here. Only the Canon 5D Mark II was more accurate under compact fluorescents than the 7D.

If we were judging on automatic white balance performance alone, the 7D would receive a top score in this section, but averaging the two test segments produced a mediocre overall result.

White Balance Options

The 7D offers a modest selection of white balance presets, though each preset can be tweaked if desired. Given the excellent color accuracy we measured using the auto white balance system, we don't see a lot of use for these settings, with the possible exception of tungsten lighting.

We've used it many times on many cameras, but we still find Canon's use of two-step procedure for setting custom white balance to be slow and awkward. First you take a photo of a white or gray surface under current lighting conditions. Then you go to the main menu system and choose Custom WB from the second Record menu, select the photo and confirm you want to use it to set a custom white balance. This does let you save a shot to load the same white balance settings in the future, but a one-touch white balance system is our preference.

A white balance setting can also be entered directly in degrees Kelvin.

Fine white balance adjustment is available along the green-magenta and blue-amber axes.

Finally, white balance values can be bracketed, with three versions of a single exposure saved, with values shifted along either the green-magenta or blue-amber axis in user-specified increments.

Long Exposure

Our two-part long exposure test, which considers both color accuracy and image noise in low-light, with shutter speeds ranging from 1 second to 30 seconds, produced a win for the Canon 7D, outperforming our comparison cameras overall. We shoot the ColorChecker chart with a low 20 lux illumination level, with and without long exposure noise reduction for cameras that support this feature, and use Imatest to analyze the resulting images. More on how we test long exposure.

Shooting 1-second, 5-second, 10-second, 15-second and 30-second exposures produced images with very accurate color and, also important, very little difference in color values between shooting speeds. Color differences between shots taken with and without long exposure noise reduction were inconsequential.

Image noise was consistently around 0.85% across the board, an impressive result. Here again, turning long exposure noise reduction on had little effect, a result we frequently encounter. Since most image noise is caused by random electrical events rather than consistent flaws in the equipment, attempts to digitally remove noise flecks are rarely successful.

Good things happen in the dark when shooting with the Canon 7D, whose ability to capture low-noise, accurately colored images under challenging conditions surpassed the competition.

Noise Reduction

By default, the 7D is set for the Standard High ISO noise reduction setting, which falls between Low and Strong. As shown in the chart below, the system makes a major difference in noise performance at ISO 1600 and beyond. Of course, the stronger the noise reduction, the more detail is lost in your final images, though as shown in the Sample Photos section, even the more aggressive setting doesn't obliterate fine lines too badly. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The standard ISO range is 100-6400, with an extended H setting corresponding to ISO 12800. There's an Auto ISO mode (used when shooting in autoexposure mode or selectable by the user), with a range of settings from ISO 100-3200.

Dynamic Range

The Canon 7D shines when it comes to maintaining detail in both bright and dark areas of a high-contrast scene, an ability measured as dynamic range. To measure dynamic range, we shoot a 20-part Kodak stepchart, with gradated patches from solid white to solid black, across the range of standard ISO settings. These individual shots are analyzed using Imatest, then the results compiled to produce an overall performance profile.

As shown in the chart below, the 7D starts at a generous eight-stop dynamic range, and falls off slowly as ISO levels rise. The range is nearly 6 stops even at ISO 1600; by comparison, the Nikon D5000 is down to 4.67 by that point. More on how we test dynamic range.

The 7D has a slight edge over the others at ISO 200 (the Panasonic trails the pack throughout, in part due to its very high image noise levels). As ISO levels increase, dynamic range inevitably falls off, but the 7D range narrows more slowly than the competition.

Noise Reduction

By default, the 7D is set for the Standard High ISO noise reduction setting, which falls between Low and Strong. As shown in the chart below, the system makes a major difference in noise performance at ISO 1600 and beyond. Of course, the stronger the noise reduction, the more detail is lost in your final images, though as shown in the Sample Photos section, even the more aggressive setting doesn't obliterate fine lines too badly. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The standard ISO range is 100-6400, with an extended H setting corresponding to ISO 12800. There's an Auto ISO mode (used when shooting in autoexposure mode or selectable by the user), with a range of settings from ISO 100-3200.

Focus Performance

The 7D uses a new 19-point autofocus system. When shooting with a lens with a maximum aperture higher than f/5.6, all of these points focus as cross-type sensors. If the maximum aperture is f/2.8 or higher, the center focus point is about twice as sensitive to horizontal and vertical lines as the others.

There are three Focus Mode options: One Shot, AI Servo (continuous autofocus), and AI Focus, which switch between the two depending on whether the subject is in motion.

After shooting with the 7D for a while, we found ourselves coming back to the Zone AF system frequently. It offers a nice combination of user control and flexibility, avoiding the chore of maneuvering individual focus points with the control wheels or joystick (pretty cumbersome) but still pointing the camera in the right direction.

There are 5 available Zone Focus settings. Switching between them while shooting is fast and efficient: just press the AF Point button at the top right of the camera back, then turn either control dial to cycle through your options, which are displayed both in the viewfinder and on the rear LCD.

The 7D doesn't have a dedicated autofocus assist lamp. Instead, the built-in flash can be used to fire off brief strobing bursts to help the camera autofocus. We prefer a dedicated lamp, since it's a less intrusive solution when trying to shoot candids.

When using manual focus, the focus confirmation light in the viewfinder will indicate whether the subject is in focus if you press the shutter halfway.

Long Exposure

Our two-part long exposure test, which considers both color accuracy and image noise in low-light, with shutter speeds ranging from 1 second to 30 seconds, produced a win for the Canon 7D, outperforming our comparison cameras overall. We shoot the ColorChecker chart with a low 20 lux illumination level, with and without long exposure noise reduction for cameras that support this feature, and use Imatest to analyze the resulting images. More on how we test long exposure.

Shooting 1-second, 5-second, 10-second, 15-second and 30-second exposures produced images with very accurate color and, also important, very little difference in color values between shooting speeds. Color differences between shots taken with and without long exposure noise reduction were inconsequential.

Image noise was consistently around 0.85% across the board, an impressive result. Here again, turning long exposure noise reduction on had little effect, a result we frequently encounter. Since most image noise is caused by random electrical events rather than consistent flaws in the equipment, attempts to digitally remove noise flecks are rarely successful.

Good things happen in the dark when shooting with the Canon 7D, whose ability to capture low-noise, accurately colored images under challenging conditions surpassed the competition.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

The Canon 7D did very well in each of our low light video tests. Its low light sensitivity score was particularly strong, but keep in mind that much of low light capability depends on the kind of lens you shoot with (a faster lens should give you better low light sensitivity). In our testing, the 7D needed only 8 lux of light to reach 50 IRE on the waveform monitor—a significantly better performance than the rest of the cameras listed in the charts below.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration, the colored edges caused when different light wavelengths don't align perfectly, was noticeable along the outside edges, particularly at the extremes of the nearly 5x zoom range.

At the widest zoom setting, the centers are razor-sharp and the outer edges very good at the widest and middle aperture settings, with some softness creeping in with the lens fully stopped down. There's some noticeable chromatic aberration along those outer edges, again most evident at f/22.

The mid-range 90mm setting produced sharpness results similar to the widest-angle setting, with lower chromatic aberration.

Sharpness takes a hit at the full 135mm telephoto setting, though the results with the lens stopped down halfway look very good.

Distortion

We don't include distortion test results in our scoring for interchangeable-lens cameras, but we do measure it. The 28-135mm had very low distortion at the mid-range and telephoto settings, and a little over 2% barreling at the widest 28mm setting, not an unexpected result.

Motion

We were pretty impressed with the motion rendering on the Canon 7D. The fact that the camera offers both a 24p and 30p frame rate for Full HD recording is also a very exciting perk. This puts its overall motion score as slightly higher than the Canon 5D Mark II, which only offered a 30p frame rate. The Canon 7D also has a 60p frame rate option with 1280 x 720 recording. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The 7D produced similar motion results to the Canon 5D Mark II, although we saw slightly more artifacting in the 7D's image. The 7D's motion video was also a bit less smooth and had more motion trailing than the 5D Mark II. Still, the fact that the Canon 7D offers both 24p and 30p frame rates for recording Full HD video is a valuable asset, and it boosts the camera's motion score overall. One major issue with the Canon 7D is its terrible rolling shutter effect that is produced any time you quickly pan or move the camera from side to side. This rolling shutter gives the recorded image a very noticeable wobble (like Jell-o) and it can be very problematic. We've noticed this problem on all of the video-capable DSLRs we've reviewed, but it is not an issue with the Micro Four Thirds cameras (like the Panasonic GH1, Olympus E-P1, and Panasonic GF1).

The Panasonic GH1 had some trouble with motion rendering depending on what frame rate was used on the camera. The GH1's Full HD 24p mode produced choppy video with some blur, while the camera's 720/60p setting was far smoother. We do applaud the GH1 for including a variety of frame rate and compression options for shooting HD video. The GH1 also did not have the rolling shutter issue that we described on the Canon 7D.

The Canon 5D Mark II produced a pristine motion video in our testing, but the camera is limited to recording with a 30p frame rate. The camera is definitely a strong performer, but we feel the Canon 7D offers more versatility when it comes to frame rates and the quality of its motion rendering is very similar to that of the 5D Mark II.

The Nikon D5000 did not have a good motion performance in our testing. The camera showed a lot of artifacting in its motion video and it had trouble capturing straight lines on our black and white pinwheel (the lines appeared jagged). The Nikon D5000 also had a very bad rolling shutter effect, although this problem was present on the 5D Mark II and Canon 7D as well.

Video Sharpness

The Canon 7D measured a horizontal sharpness of 575 lw/ph in our video testing. For vertical sharpness the camera measured slightly better with 700 lw/ph. Both of these numbers aren't bad, but the Panasonic GH1 and Canon 5D Mark II were definitely the stronger models in this test. We noticed the 7D produced a much sharper image when the camera was not in motion (we do our sharpness test by panning the camera), which suggests you'll get a sharper images if you shoot lots of static videos.

While the Canon 7D's sharpness numbers aren't that bad, they definitely are lower than some consumer HD camcorders are capable—specifically in bright light. The Canon HF S100, HF20, and JVC GZ-HM400 all did better than the 7D in our video sharpness testing. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low Light Sensitivity

The Canon 7D did very well in each of our low light video tests. Its low light sensitivity score was particularly strong, but keep in mind that much of low light capability depends on the kind of lens you shoot with (a faster lens should give you better low light sensitivity). In our testing, the 7D needed only 8 lux of light to reach 50 IRE on the waveform monitor—a significantly better performance than the rest of the cameras listed in the charts below.

Usability

Buttons & Dials

The button and dial behavior of the 7D are insanely customizable: no fewer than 10 of them can have their functions reassigned or adjusted. In the table below, we stick with the default configuration.

The Canon 7D menu system includes a wide range of settings and customization options, but it keeps them nicely organized and is easy to control using the two control dials and the SET button (and the joystick multi-controller if you like, though we found the dials easier to maneuver).

Instruction Manual

The 276-page user manual is logically arranged, clearly written and nicely illustrated. What's more, contrary to common industry practice, Canon offers up a proper, detailed and well thought out index, vital when you're using the manual as a reference source but so often given short shrift by camera manufacturers.

Handling

The Canon 7D is a substantial handful, but a beautifully crafted one. The right hand grip feels just about perfect, with a textured rubberized surface, a wide, deep shape and a front indentation for your middle finger to balance the weight of the camera securely. The entire back strip on the right side has the same rubberized surface, providing an effective thumb rest. There's virtually no chance you'll accidentally press a button, since they're well positioned and have just the right level of resistance. The two-dial system makes manual exposure setting simple, and while we're still not thrilled with the small, somewhat finicky joystick, at least you don't need to use it as a push-button anymore, a clumsy procedure used on the 5D Mark II to bring up the quick menu (which now has its own dedicated button).

Handling Photo 1
Handling Photo 2

Buttons & Dials

The button and dial behavior of the 7D are insanely customizable: no fewer than 10 of them can have their functions reassigned or adjusted. In the table below, we stick with the default configuration.

Buttons Photo 1
Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

The LCD is Canon's good-looking 3-inch 920,000-dot display, It's a pleasure to use for reviewing your shots, with accurate color and pleasing image sharpness. If you're seized with the desire to shoot in Live View mode outdoors, you'll find the LCD brightness adequate, though there is a lot of glare in sunny shooting situations.

There are two ways to set LCD brightness. There is an Auto setting (using a light sensor to the right of the screen), which can be set to three brightness levels and will make adjustments accordingly. Alternatively, the brightness can be manually adjusted to one of seven settings.

Secondary Display

For $1700 you're entitled to a monochrome LCD on top of the camera, and Canon comes through with a legible display that covers all the basic shooting settings at a glance. The ability to illuminate this screen for a few seconds by pressing an easy-to-find button is highly appreciated.

Viewfinder

The eye-level pentaprism viewfinder provides approximately 100% coverage. There's some clipping of the bottom information display edges for eyeglass wearers, but the image is very bright and sharp. There is a diopter control with a -3.0 - +1.0 m-1 range, and a fixed focusing screen.

Canon debuts its 'Intelligent Viewfinder' technology with the 7D, with a sophisticated overlay system that clearly shows focus points, a spot metering circle and optional grid lines. We found the grid lines very useful, and left them on throughout our test shooting. They're fine enough to be unobtrusive, and positioned well for lining up horizontals and verticals accurately.

Removing the eyecup is unusually easy: press the two clips on either side and lift up. This is handy when you're shooting on a tripod and want to use the included eyepiece cover to keep light from leaking in from behind and affecting the exposure.

Image Stabilization

The 7D outscored the comparison cameras in our group by a substantial margin, once again underscoring its suitability for shooting in difficult lighting situations.

Shooting Modes

There are two automatic exposure modes, the very restrictive (but admirably easy to use) Full Auto and the peculiar Creative Auto, which adds a bit more settings flexibility along with an odd system for setting brightness and blurriness that keeps showing up even on higher-end Canon SLRs.

Focus

The 7D uses a new 19-point autofocus system. When shooting with a lens with a maximum aperture higher than f/5.6, all of these points focus as cross-type sensors. If the maximum aperture is f/2.8 or higher, the center focus point is about twice as sensitive to horizontal and vertical lines as the others.

There are three Focus Mode options: One Shot, AI Servo (continuous autofocus), and AI Focus, which switch between the two depending on whether the subject is in motion.

After shooting with the 7D for a while, we found ourselves coming back to the Zone AF system frequently. It offers a nice combination of user control and flexibility, avoiding the chore of maneuvering individual focus points with the control wheels or joystick (pretty cumbersome) but still pointing the camera in the right direction.

There are 5 available Zone Focus settings. Switching between them while shooting is fast and efficient: just press the AF Point button at the top right of the camera back, then turn either control dial to cycle through your options, which are displayed both in the viewfinder and on the rear LCD.

The 7D doesn't have a dedicated autofocus assist lamp. Instead, the built-in flash can be used to fire off brief strobing bursts to help the camera autofocus. We prefer a dedicated lamp, since it's a less intrusive solution when trying to shoot candids.

When using manual focus, the focus confirmation light in the viewfinder will indicate whether the subject is in focus if you press the shutter halfway.

Recording Options

The 7D supports three resolutions, in both JPEG and RAW modes.

There are two available compression settings, Fine and Normal, for each JPEG size. Each RAW setting can also be paired with a large, fine JPEG.

If you're shooting JPEGs but want to capture a particular image in RAW +JPEG mode, there's a quick-access button for that. Just press the One-Touch RAW+JPEG button, located to the left of the viewfinder, and the next shot will be saved in RAW+JPEG format, after which the camera returns to straight JPEG mode. It also works in reverse: if you're shooting in RAW, you can switch to JPEG for a shot.

Speed and Timing

There are two burst-rate speed settings, High (with a top claimed speed of 8 shots per second) and Low (3 shots per second). The maximum number of shots in a single burst depends on image size and format, of course. Shooting fine JPEGs, the maximum burst is 94 shots with a standard CompactFlash card or 126 with a UDMA card. For RAW files without JPEG, the maximum is 15 with either type of memory card.

Burst mode shooting is a key strength of the Canon 7D. The company claims a maximum continuous shooting rate of 8 shots per second. Our speed test results came in at 7.49 shots per second using a fast UDMA card, a very satisfying result. And, as noted below, you can keep shooting continuously for over 100 shots (large JPEGs) before the buffer fills and shooting slows.

The 7D offers two straightforward self-timer options, without advanced capabilities such as multiple shots after the timer ticks down. Either timer mode will work with the shutter, or an optional wireless remote control, including the RC-1 and RC-5 ($30).

Focus Speed

The 7D uses a new 19-point autofocus system. When shooting with a lens with a maximum aperture higher than f/5.6, all of these points focus as cross-type sensors. If the maximum aperture is f/2.8 or higher, the center focus point is about twice as sensitive to horizontal and vertical lines as the others.

There are three Focus Mode options: One Shot, AI Servo (continuous autofocus), and AI Focus, which switch between the two depending on whether the subject is in motion.

After shooting with the 7D for a while, we found ourselves coming back to the Zone AF system frequently. It offers a nice combination of user control and flexibility, avoiding the chore of maneuvering individual focus points with the control wheels or joystick (pretty cumbersome) but still pointing the camera in the right direction.

There are 5 available Zone Focus settings. Switching between them while shooting is fast and efficient: just press the AF Point button at the top right of the camera back, then turn either control dial to cycle through your options, which are displayed both in the viewfinder and on the rear LCD.

The 7D doesn't have a dedicated autofocus assist lamp. Instead, the built-in flash can be used to fire off brief strobing bursts to help the camera autofocus. We prefer a dedicated lamp, since it's a less intrusive solution when trying to shoot candids.

When using manual focus, the focus confirmation light in the viewfinder will indicate whether the subject is in focus if you press the shutter halfway.

Features

Other Features

Electronic Level

In all shooting modes (viewfinder, Live View and movie), a level can be displayed on the rear LCD that monitors both side-to-side (roll) and front-to-back (pitch) camera orientation, with 1 degree accuracy. In viewfinder mode, the level is accessed by pressing the INFO button to cycle through available displays.

Recording Options

The Canon 7D uses the MPEG-4 codec to compress video and the camera can shoot video with a number of frame rate and resolution options. Most users are likely to shoot Full HD 1920 x 1080 video with the 7D, in which you have the option of a 24p or 30p frame rate. This offering of a 24p frame rate option stands in stark difference to the Canon 5D Mark II, which can only shoot 30p video.

In addition to the Full HD settings on the Canon 7D, there is also an option for shooting HD video at a 1280 x 720 resolution with a 60p frame rate. The camera has one standard definition recording option—a 640 x 480 resolution with a 60p frame rate. The Canon 7D doesn't have as many compression options as the Panasonic GH1, which can shoot using either AVCHD or MJPEG compression, but its multiple frame rate settings and standard definition recording feature are still worthy attributes.

According to Canon, you should be able to store 49 minutes of HD video (in any frame rate) on a 16GB SD/SDHC memory card. The same size memory card should hold 99 minutes of standard definition video shot with the 7D. As we see with many video-capable DSLRs, the Canon 7D has a single clip limit of 4GB or 29 minutes, 59 seconds. Recording ceases automatically once this limit has been reached, and you must press the record button again to start a new video clip (the camera will not start a new clip automatically). Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Auto Controls

The Canon 7D essentially functions under automatic control in every mode except Manual mode. In all the other modes shutter speed, aperture, and ISO are set automatically, although exposure can be adjusted manually if you wish. The camera does not have a continual autofocus feature in video mode, so you do have to press the shutter button down halfway (or press the focus button on the back of the camera) in order to focus your image automatically. Autofocus takes a good deal of time (often 1-2 seconds, depending on the lens) and makes quite a bit of noise.

Auto exposure was also somewhat slow on the Canon 7D, but the camera produced accurate results in video mode. Transitions between light and dark took a bit longer than a regular consumer camcorder. Auto white balance was generally effective, as was the auto ISO setting.

Zoom

The amount of zoom available on the Canon 7D is directly linked to what kind of lens you use with the camera. The camera is a DSLR, which means it has an interchangeable lens system with a variety of compatible lenses. All of our test footage was shot using a 28mm - 135mm lens, which is equivalent to a roughly 5x optical zoom. To zoom with the camera you must rotate the zoom ring on the lens—you can't zoom using a toggle or switch like you can with most camcorders.

Focus

The Canon 7D does not have a continual autofocus feature like you'd find on nearly all regular camcorders. This means you must focus manually during video recording, or press a button to autofocus every time you want to refocus on a moving subject. By pressing the autofocus button, the camera's focus motor will make noise and the exposure levels will change for a few seconds while the 7D focuses. This is the normal way for DSLRs to autofocus—it just doesn't work well in conjunction with video recording. Of the video-capable DSLRs we've tested, only the Micro Four Thirds cameras (Panasonic GH1, Olympus E-P1, and Panasonic GF1) feature continual autofocus systems in video mode.

Exposure Controls

Exposure can be set manually on the 7D in all shooting modes except for Manual mode. The camera has a range of exposure controls going from -5 to +5 EV and can be set in 1/3 EV steps. Exposure can be adjusted during video recording (or before) and is done so by rotating the large dial on the back of the camera.

Aperture and shutter speed can only be controlled for videos when the camera is in Manual mode. Each can be set independently (in Manual mode), with the shutter being controlled by the top-mounted dial and the aperture controlled by the round dial on the back of the camcorder (the same dial that sets exposure in all other modes). The camera has a wide range of shutter speeds available in video mode, ranging from 1/30 to 1/4000 of a second. We would have liked to see Canon offer a few slower shutter speeds (like 1/15, 1/10, or 1/4), just to give users the option of shooting video with a very slow shutter effect. Both aperture and shutter speed can be set manually while video recording is taking place.

Other Controls

ISO can also be set in Manual mode, but you do have the option of setting the camera to auto ISO control in this mode as well. The camera's entire ISO range is available in video mode (from ISO 100 to 6400 and expandable to 12800). You cannot change the ISO setting while you are recording, so you must set it before you hit the record button.

The camera has the same white balance controls in video mode as it does for taking photos. This means you can set a custom white balance, use a white balance preset, or set the color temperature manually. In addition to these manual controls, the Canon 7D also has a grid display option in video mode that positions a grid on the LCD to assist with framing the shot (the grid does not appear in your recorded footage).

Audio Features

Audio features usually aren't the strong point of any video-capable DSLR and the Canon 7D doesn't do much to buck this trend. It has a tiny built-in microphone up front, but this mic only records monaural audio. The built-in mic also doesn't pick up clean audio whatsoever. It records plenty of noise coming from the autofocus motor, rotating dials, and an audible crackling sound was always audible whenever live view mode was engaged. The mic is also located in an area where you fingers are likely to accidentally rub or tap when you grip the camera or rotate the lens ring. Basically, don't use the built-in mic if you want good audio along with your video on the 7D.

Thankfully, the Canon 7D does offer a 3.5mm external mic jack. You can record stereo audio by connecting an external mic to this jack, and you can place the microphone farther away from the camera so you don't pick up any external noise (your best bet would be to hold an external mic on a stick, boom operator style). Whether you use the built-in mic or connect an external one to the 3.5mm mic jack, the audio levels on the 7D will be set automatically.

Mic Photo

See those four little holes? Well, that's the camera's built-in mic.

Conclusion

With an 18-megapixel resolution that rivals full-frame cameras, the Canon 7D provides a sophisticated prosumer still and video shooting experience at a reasonable price. Standout features include a speedy burst rate that approaches 8 shots per second, a sophisticated new autofocus system that works fast and includes a Zone mode for choosing screen sections, and a handsome 100%-coverage viewfinder. In our lab testing, color accuracy and image noise performance were strong , particularly under low lighting, image sharpness looked good, and dynamic range was exceptional. In many respects the 7D builds on the successes of the 5D Mark II, adds a few new options, including 24fps mode at full HD video resolution and a useful one-touch RAW+JPEG button, and sells for $1000 less.

Performance

Color accuracy wasn't as high as we've seen on some Canon models, but it will take a critical eye to spot any flaws, and long exposure performance in both color accuracy and image noise were impressive. In bright light, image noise was well contained through ISO 800, but rose above competitive models at higher settings. Images looked sharp as long as the lens wasn't stopped down too far, and dynamic range was excellent, making this a fine camera for high-contrast shooting situations. The lens-based image stabilization system was quite effective, particularly in combating vertical camera movement, and the promised 8 shot per second burst rate clocked in at a speedy 7.5 in our lab testing, made all the more enticing by the fact that you can fire off more than 100 large JPEGs in a row with a fast CF card.

Video Performance

The Canon 7D doesn't really bring anything new to the video-DSLR field, but its performance is nearly as good as the Canon 5D Mark II, and it comes with a much cheaper price tag. The 7D is still plagued with a number of the problems that have mired video-DSLRs since the beginning—a rolling shutter, overheating issues, no continual autofocus—but it does strike a nice balance by offering a good amount of manual controls, 24p and 30p frame rates, and high-quality, 1080p video performance. Even with its setbacks, the Canon 7D represents an excellent value for a video-capable DSLR, although there are more affordable options if you consider the Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Components

This is a ruggedly built camera with a magnesium alloy chassis, extensive weather- and dust-proofing, and controls that feel solid and responsive (with the possible exception of the little joystick, which we still don't find very comfortable to work with). The Canon 3-inch 920,000-dot LCD is a keeper, and using it in Live View mode doesn't reveal any of the smearing and stuttering we've found with some other cameras when panning quickly across a scene. The viewfinder is a pleasure, with nearly 100% coverage. Dual control dials, including the large vertically mounted dial on the back, make navigating settings and menus speedy.

Handling

This is a big camera, but it's well-balanced and the grip is nicely sculpted, with a rubberized, textured coating the feels good and make it easy to hang on tight when moving fast. There are plenty of buttons for immediate access to key shooting settings plus an effective quick menu system.

Controls

There aren't any radical departures from Canon standard procedure here, but that's fine with us. The Picture Style system, with four customizable settings and three slots to store your personalized versions, works well, though having a color-accurate preset that didn't ratchet sharpness to its lowest setting by default would seem like a good idea. There are also three custom settings slots available on the mode dial, so the extensive options for tweaking image reproduction and camera functions can be stored for ready access. One handy innovation is a dedicated RAW/JPEG button, allowing you to shoot a single image in RAW mode and return to JPEGs for routine shooting.

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