This past weekend I took delivery of the Canon 7D Mark II. I usually research any piece of gear thoroughly before purchasing. In this case I was very confident the Canon 7D Mark II met my needs because after shooting the original 7D for a while it still meets most of my needs even after 5 years.
The 7D is one of those cameras that will either make you a better photographer or break you. It is in some ways an unforgiving platform with very little room for error. After shooting the 5D Mark III for a few years I have to say there are some things you just cannot do with a full frame system, without spending a ton of money. As time progressed I found myself wishing for an updated, zero compromise APS-C pro body. After using both, it is pretty evident that the 7D series is in fact a flagship APS-C camera, the 5D Mark III is not, that would be the 1Dx. There are a lot of important things the 5D Mark III cannot do as well the 7D. One of my biggest gripes is the 1Dx AF system that has to share a single DIGIC5 processor with all other camera functions. It results in a slower system that is very often hit or miss under the slightest dynamic scenario.
The 7D Mark II comes properly equipped in all relevant aspects. Here are my thoughts:
The 20MP is good enough, but considering Canon probably sacrificed a little resolution for better image quality, higher dynamic range and lower noise, I am happy with the results. It is important to note that, what attracts me most about the APS-C platform is pixel densities. Consider the following approximate numbers below:
7D Mark II Sensor: 20,200,000P/333.27mmsq = 60611.5 Pixels per square mm
7D Sensor: 18,000,000P/333.27mmsq = 54010.3 Pixels per square mm
5DIII Sensor: 23,400,000P/864mmsq = 27083.33 Pixels per square mm
The 7D Mark II will capture more than twice the detail of the 5D Mark III for any given focal length, provided your lens optics can keep up. Which brings me to my next point – most lenses cannot resolve 12 or 14 megapixels unless you spend on some of the exotic high end options, megapixels are simply wasted and image quality is further compromised. I am looking forward to maximizing my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and squeezing every bit of detail out of my telescope and astrophotography exploits.
High ISO Noise
Let me preface by saying I find it completely ridiculous that anyone would buy a camera based on a feature that lets them jack-up ISO to absurd levels. Sure if you pump enough voltage through any image sensor I’m sure you can get an ISO-1000000 reading but it is completely useless! I read a lot of claims out there that are simply not true or realistic. All cameras generate noise period. Anything higher than ISO-1600 is not usable in my opinion, unless you’re just taking candid shots at a party. You just don’t have much of any dynamic range left at high ISO. With the 7D I am comfortable shooting up to ISO-400, ISO-800 in a pinch. With the 5D Mark III I just don’t go higher than ISO-1600 and usually stay lower than ISO-800 because there is just too much noise. I am happy to say the 7D Mark II sensor definitely meets and exceeds those expectations. With that said, take a look at this photo (right) taken at ISO-16,000 (sixteen thousand), while noisy, quite a bit of detail is retained and the noise is more pleasant/softer than the 7D or even the 5D Mark III at similar ISO.
The 7D Mark II is blazing fast. A real flagship body with no compromise. I thought my 7D was fast but 10fps is definitely in a class of it’s own. Handheld brackets are that much more accurate. You can capture action/motion almost as fast as your brain can signal your trigger finger. Not to mention the 1000+ shot burst mode. Make sure you have a fast CF card on hand. Don’t bother with SD cards.
Auto Focus (AF)
AF on the 7D Mark II is simply second to none. You will be hard pressed to have AF issues with this camera. The 7D’s AF was already one of the best out there but this takes it to a whole new level following in the 7D tradition with all cross-type points and dual DIGIC6 processors. The 7D Mark II update remains overpowered. I expect Canon to unlock more exciting features in future firmware updates. Also impressive is the hybrid phase detect AF in live view or video mode. It is very fast and very accurate – almost as fast as the standard AF. When autofocusing in live view you get this eery ghost-like feel as if the camera is alive as it very intuitively switches focus between your intended subjects. I suspect once folks realize what the 7D Mark II can do, it will take off for video production just like the original 7D.
It feels and handles just like the original 7D. Sometimes I still think I’m shooting my 7D but someone updated the menu and added a bunch of features I used to always wish for. There is no learning curve involved. My transition to the Mark II was instant. This is truly a photographer’s camera.
One of the features I use a lot in the 5D Mark III is the in-camera HDR. I like how I can proof the final HDR image, adjust and retake the bracket shots as need. This is one of those features you never knew how much you needed it until you use it. Unfortunately the single DIGIC5 processor of the 5D Mark III is painfully slow when composing HDR and I have often missed key shots (especially at sunset). The 7D Mark II’s two DIGIC6 processors and 10fps shutter make minced meat of any HDR shot. It can snag 3 shots in less than a second an just a few seconds later you’re looking at the final HDR composition. This opens up so many possibilities.
Below are some quick test images. I used the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens. Again I recommend no less than this lens for your 7D Mark II. Images are tack sharp. Lens profiles come preloaded. I shot mostly in low light and high ISO (1600 and higher) to show how clean the images are and how much dynamic range still remains. The clean, low ISO shots will come as I begin taking the 7D Mark II out shooting. I shot in AV mode, wide open at f/2.8 so you may notice a shallow depth of field. All images are straight from the camera and downsized 30%. Please let me know in comments below of you’d like to see the full size images.
The 7D Mark II packs so much camera for your buck it really begs the question, why bother spending more for a 5D Mark III which honestly overall does little better and in some cases cannot keep up with the 7D Mark II. I will be grabbing this more versatile APS-C flagship camera more often than the 5D Mark III now.
For a more in depth review of this Camera I highly recommend reading Bryan Carnathan’s Canon EOS 7D Mark II Review.