There’s one ping-pong match that never ends—the battle between Nikon and Canon for DSLR supremacy. No sooner does Nikon come out with the D300S (a $1699, 12.3 megapixel (MP), 7-frame-per-second model) than Canon follows suit with the 7D, a $1699 18MP camera that shoots at a speedy 8 fps. And, of course, both units are capable of capturing HD video clips. The moral of the story: Boys will be boys and we can be thankful for these toys—although close to two grand is a pretty expensive ride for either. Still, such ongoing competition is wonderful news for photographers as cameras seem to get better almost every day. As such, Canon didn’t have to ask twice if we wanted to hop on this merry-go-round and put the 7D through its paces. Click on to see what we found when the music stopped…
Features and Design
The Canon EOS 7D is a hefty, all-black DSLR with a nicely textured finish. It measures 5.8” wide, 4.4” high and 2.9” deep. The height makes for a great grip and the finish ensures a solid hold. The camera weighs 28.9 ounces body only, and 48 ounces with the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 image stabilized zoom provided for our review purposes. While the camera’s definitely a bruiser, you should expect that with its magnesium alloy frame and dust- and weather-resistant body. Also worth noting: Thanks to its subtle, textured finish, the EOS 7D doesn’t come up short in the looks department either.
The front of the unit is dominated by the lens mount which accepts EF and EF-S lenses (over 60 are available). Other items featured here are the AF Assist lamp, remote sensor, mic, flash open and depth of field preview buttons as well as the lens release. On the top is a feature that clearly separates entry-level DSLRs from true enthusiast models—an LCD readout so you can quickly check your settings.
Also on the top is the mode dial which has no Scene modes other than Auto and Creative Auto, indicating that this camera is for shutterbugs who love playing with f/stops, speeds, contrast, saturation and so on. There’s a hot shoe near the pop-up flash and LCD readout. Four buttons nearby give quick access to white balance, AF-Drive, ISO, exposure compensation and another to light up the LCD. Near the pistol grip is the shutter, Function key and jog wheel.
The rear has a viewfinder with diopter adjustment. This is expected. What’s a pleasant surprise, however, is the 100% coverage of the VF which is nice and bright. Below it is a 3” LCD rated 920K pixels for reviewing shots and capturing Live View scenes for stills and HD video.
The buttons surrounding the screen include on/off; Q (Quick menu) to change shooting parameters; Menu for in-depth setup; Picture Styles; Info, which gives access to a “Electronic Leveler;” playback; and delete. You can quickly change resolution with the RAW/JPEG key and there’s a Live View button. This also lets you switch between still/video and it start/stops the function. There’s AF-On, AE Lock and AF point selection. You’ll also find a joystick for navigating menus and a control dial with center set button.
The right side has a CF card slot, while on the left is the connection compartment with mini HDMI out, USB, PC terminal and a mic jack.
The bottom of the Made In Japan camera has the battery compartment and tripod mount. The battery is rated a solid 800 shots, per CIPA.
The camera comes with a battery/charger, strap, USB and A/V cables, 276-page printed manual, quick guide and CD-ROM (version 21.0) with Windows/Mac software for handling stills and videos.
Once the battery was charged and a 16GB SanDisk Extreme Pro card in place, it was time to give this monster a workout with the supplied 18-135mm zoom.
Performance and Use
We played with the Canon EOS 7D for several weeks and must admit it will be hard to send back (don’t worry, we will). Granted, at $1,699 (body only), we shouldn’t expect a Christmas present from Canon. It has all the features we like about DSLRs, and then some, given that the 18-megapixel camera (which is really overkill) blasts through at a blazingly fast 8 frames per second. To make a poor man’s analogy, toting around this camera is like holding a wild beast in your hands – shooting a local high school football game was a breeze. Too bad it was the wrong season, but this sucker could handle a NASCAR race with ease.
Along with the unreal response times, the EOS 7D has a new 63-zone metering system and 19 AF points (all cross type). In other words, you’ll get accurate exposures and needle-sharp focusing to boot. As you can tell we loved this aspect of the camera. The 7D’s ISO ranges from 100-6400 with 12,800 possible in custom, and the camera handled noise well up to 1600. Overall output in terms of prints proved truly fine, ensuring experienced photographers will really enjoy the unit. It’s like an onion with many layers of complexity—or you can just shoot Auto.
Where we still have some reservations is surrounding HD video capture functions. We’re big fans of full-fledged AVCHD camcorders with their higher quality and easy focusing. Although the 7D records 1920×1080 video at 30 fps (far better than the Nikon D300S’ 720p and 24 fps), focusing is still an issue; you have to work at it. We found it worked best with subjects on the same focal plane, and in general, quality is good, not exceptional. Nonetheless, we tend to think of it as icing on a device that really delivers where it counts, and takes terrific still photos.
We have no reservations about giving the Canon EOS 7D an Editor’s Choice designation – it’s a great DSLR that just so happens to record high-definition videos. The big question, though: Is the camera worth its steep asking price? Happily, the answer is yes, since it’s an investment that will pay you back for years to come in terms of great photos. Moreover, for those who enjoy a challenge, it will take some time to learn all of the device’s capabilities. (Canon doesn’t supply an almost 300-page manual just for laughs.) Fortunately, this is one book we wouldn’t mind studying for a long time to learn its intricacies – suffice it to say there’s plenty to absorb between the covers.
- Great 18MP photo quality
- Blazing fast 8 fps shooting
- Pinpoint focusing
- Just so happens to take HD videos
- Heavy—it’s a commitment
- Video focusing takes practice
- Considerable learning curve