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Hands on: Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon ups the ante for APS-C DSLRs, but is the 7D Mark II overpriced?

Canon’s newest DSLR, the EOS 7D Mark II ($1,799 MSRP, body only), is a major technological update from the original EOS 7D (a DT Editors’ Choice) with some absolutely amazing specs. We had the chance to briefly test one of the first production units in the U.S. during a visit to the opening of a new Canon Experience showroom. Even though we had the camera for a short period, we were impressed by some of the new features, but we question the price (we will save our final verdict when we get a chance to fully test and review one).

Features and design

The 7D Mark II looks like every Canon EOS model, including the more affordable Rebels like the T5i. But the 7D Mark II is an enthusiast-to-pro-level camera, and it’s big and much heftier than any Rebel (measuring 5.9 x 4.4 x 3.1 inches, and weighing 2 pounds for the body-only with card). Even without a lens attached, this magnesium-alloy-framed DSLR will give your neck and shoulders a workout during a day’s shooting. It has a dust- and weather-resistant construction too.

The 7D Mark II is an intriguing camera, but we question the price.

There are dozens of lenses available for the EF mount on the front. For our hands-on we primarily used the 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom but also long telephotos. The 7D Mark II kit comes with an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens, and is ideal for video due to its silent mechanism; it will raise the price to $2,149. If you’re already a Canon DSLR user, chances are you already have some lenses, to keep the cost down, but there’s no getting away from the fact this is an expensive DSLR with an APS-C sensor – costing just as much as some full-frame cameras like the Sony A7, Canon EOS 6D, and Nikon D610.

The big advancements are on the inside. Megapixels have gone up to 20.2 – a slight bump from the 7D’s 18MP – but everything else is a huge leap. One of the most impressive improvements is the addition of Dual DIGIC 6 processors. This camera shoots 10 frame-per-second (fps) bursts for more than 1,000 high-resolution JPEG images before slowing down (using a high-speed card, of course). This is amazing and why the Mark II is an option for sports and wildlife photographers. Unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to capture speeding cheetahs or Formula One race cars, but hopefully we’ll have some seriously fast action to shoot during our full-length review.

Another plus is a 65-point all-cross-type autofocus system combined with the EOS iTR (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition) system that’s a trickle-down from the $6,800 EOS-1D X used by pros. The camera is very responsive, with few issues locking focus (more on this in the Performance section). It also has Dual Pixel AF for video, first introduced on the EOS 70D. We really appreciated the system on that camera, which made for much more accurate and faster focusing when shooting movies; expect the same for the 7D Mark II.

The 7D Mark II has the features you’d expect on a high-end DSLR including a native ISO of 100-16,000 (expandable to 51,200), a top shutter speed of 1/8,000th of a second, and dual card slots (SD and Compact Flash). It also has a built-in GPS, a viewfinder with 100-percent field of view, and a 3-inch LCD (rated 1,040K dots). Surprisingly, what it doesn’t have is built-in Wi-Fi or NFC. This is pretty startling given high-end models like the Nikon D750 are starting to offer it. A touchscreen would also have been nice, especially for choosing specific AF points.

What’s in the box

You’ll get the body (and kit lens, if you go that route). It also has a potent battery rated 800 shots, a plug-in charger, USB cable, strap. and cable protector. We didn’t get a shrink-wrapped box but we imagine there will be a printed Quick Start guide in the retail packaging, as well as a CD with programs for handling images and processing RAW files.

Performance and use

Instead of the several weeks we would normally have for a review, we had a day to give the 7D Mark II a full workout – shooting both indoors and outdoors. The hands-on opportunity came during the opening of Canon’s Experience Showroom in Southern California, a mini version of something like the Apple Store with product displays, a service desk for repairs, and an auditorium for seminars and other events. This showroom had a nice model train display for shooting 10 fps bursts of locomotives moving on the tracks. From there, it was off to the California coastline to shoot the sights near Laguna Beach. Again, no speeding race cars or helicopters buzzing by, but both environments were enough to give us a good first-impression of the camera.

The 7D Mark II shoots an amazing 10 frames-per-second bursts for more than 1,000 high-res JPEGs.

The feel of the camera is user-friendly, even with the weight and myriad imaging options. The grip is comfortable, controls are logically placed, and the interface is a reliable one that’s used by Canon for years.

Judging from the sample images we shot, the 7D Mark II is a solid performer. Using a bright lens, proper white balance, and high ISOs, there were no issues capturing the model trains and spinning carousels in the indoor display. Outdoors we grabbed some excellent shots with nice bokeh (blurred background) using higher-end Canon glass. As with almost all of the more expensive cameras from the company –DSLRs and point-and-shoots – the photos have the classic Canon “feel,” with accurate colors that are not over-the-top. They were not overly sharpened with nice depth, but without the richness of full-frame photos – especially when doing viewing 100-percent enlargements on a 27-inch monitor.

We couldn’t do our standard sensitivity (low light) test but managed to shoot a sunset, using steps from ISO 4,000 to 16,000. The results were impressive to 10,000, but we will hold our final impressions until we can fully test it out.

Canon-EOS-7D-Mark-II-sample-press-image-5

With the Dual Pixel AF system, 1080/60p quality, and headphone and mic jacks, the Mark II has solid video-recording chops – at least on paper. It can even capture uncompressed video-out via HDMI to an external recorder. We shot a bunch of clips and found them to be good but not extraordinary. Once we are able to do a full review, we plan to retest the camera’s video prowess – especially fast action.

Conclusion

We didn’t use the 7D Mark II long enough to give a definitive score, but expect to see a full review soon. What we can say is that, the 7D Mark II is an intriguing camera for sports photographers, birders, and anyone who feels they need 10-fps shooting. The 1080/60p videos are good but nothing out of the ordinary for 2014, given cameras like the Nikon D750 and Sony A7 series. Our biggest question is the price: $1,799 for an APS-C DSLR is steep, even with the trickle-down AF system from the 1D X. Yet the ability to crank 1,000-shot bursts is amazing.

(Editors’ note: We were guests of Canon during the press trip, but all opinions are our own.)

Highs

  • 20.2MP with 10-fps burst shooting
  • Accurate, responsive autofocus system
  • 1080/60p movies with fast AF
  • Dual image processors

Lows

  • Expensive for APS-C DSLR
  • No Wi-Fi or NFC connectivity