Canon 7D mkII Review

Canon 7D mkII Review

Canon Cameras

Now that I’ve had a couple weeks to do some shooting with Canon’s newest APS-C sensor camera, I thought I would finally weigh in on some of its pros and cons and why I’m excited about this new addition in Canon’s lineup. I’m not going to cover everything in this camera, but just some of the highlights that I feel are important to most photographers. I took a series of shots yesterday to highlight the different ISO, lens & teleconverter combos.

Back when the 7D came out in 2009, many Canon shooters added it to their bag as it provided the extra reach of the APS-C sensor, a lightweight package, and pretty decent autofocus for wildlife and sports. Many however couldn’t get past the noise issues at higher ISOs and decided to forego this body, despite its strong features.

Here we are in 2014 five years later and now Canon’s update to its extremely successful 7D is finally here.

Body & Build Quality

The previous 7D was pretty well regarded as far as build quality went, with decent weather sealing, and an all magnesium alloy body. The 7D mkII expands on this with 4 times the weather sealing, same great ergonomics and an almost identical layout to the Canon 5D mkIII.
I have zero complaints about the layout and design of this new camera, it’s been well thought out and a proven design that works well.

One new addition to the body layout is a new selector switch around the joystick on back allowing selection of autofocus point modes and the ability to be customized for other functions. The ability to switch autofocus point modes on the fly without having to press the back dedicated button and then the mf-n button like on the 5D markIII and 1DX is huge for wildlife photography, allowing faster operation in demanding situations.

Autofocus

The new Autofocus system that Canon has put in the 7D mkII is essentially the same system as the 1DX with the addition of more autofocus points, totaling 65 cross-type points and a few other tweaks. I’ve been shooting some birds in flight with this and it’s smoking fast, I have not found anything noticeably different than with my 1DX. To have this autofocus system in a $1800, smaller form factor camera is amazing.

Coupled with some new layout and design features, this system works very, very well. So far I’ve used this with my 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and 500mm. All producing super fast acquisition of subjects and precise tracking in AI-servo mode.

House Finch

Canon 7D mkII, 500mm f4L IS 1.4X f11 1/500 ISO3200

Function
As already mentioned the new selection dial makes selecting autofocus point methods seamless. There is also a new visual overlay in the viewfinder allowing you see drive modes, metering modes, shooting modes, etc. This is very, very cool, again allowing photographers to not have to take their eye away from the camera when shooting, increasing  your chances of getting that shot.

Canon has also increased the frame rate to 10 frames per second with a buffer of 30 frames when shooting RAW, which is more than plenty for fast action. In addition you will also notice a much quieter shutter if coming from a 1DX or 5DmkIII and it also has an even quieter silent shutter mode, which in itself pretty impressive. There are a ton of other options, functions, and even GPS that I’m not going to get into, but all useable features to some.

Functionality and features is getting a big A++ from me on this, best I’ve used on any Canon camera

Whitetail Fawn

Image Quality

Now this is the big one and the deal breaker for a lot of photographers, the area that gave the original a hard time in certain scenarios. With Adobe’s Lightroom recently  updated for RAW compatibility with the 7D mkII, I’ve finally been able to asses image quality and noise performance at high ISOs. All of my testing so far is RAW only.

Evaluating an APS-C sensor can be a tricky thing as these sensors can be finicky in certain low light scenarios, especially when you’re not nailing the exposure, so shooting in many different situations and ISOs is really necessary to see what the sensor can do and most importantly, what it cannot.

Most of my wildlife photography tends to be in the 800-3200 ISO range, so this is what I was most curious about.

From all the shooting I’ve done so far, I would say that the 7D mkII is around 2/3 of a stop better than the previous 7D. In addition the sensor is completely redesigned, with more resolution and a different noise pattern than the original 7D. This last part is important as the noise has a much finer pattern than the previous one did, making for a more pleasant image when dealing with noise.

The old sensor with its larger noise pattern when slightly underexposed, produced  subpar image quality at higher ISOs.

With the original 7D I would not shoot past ISO1600 and even at that it had to be good light and properly exposed. With the 7D mkII I am totally comfortable shooting at ISO3200, it certainly has a much more improved noise pattern and overall is very acceptable.

The only negative I have with the 7D mkII’s image quality would be the overall limitation of the APS-C sensor when dealing with high ISO settings in poor lighting conditions. This can result in lack of detail and more noise, a result of the sensor’s size compared to full frame. When working in these conditions, it’s imperative to expose your histogram to the right and avoid underexposure. In addition, things like sloppy long lens techniques and inadequate glass rear their ugly heads that much more on the APS-C sensor, so being vigilant and using good glass is that much more important.

Having said that, I still feel the image quality is very much improved over the original 7D and and I would not hesitate to use this for professional use. With proper exposure and shooting techniques, the image quality is very good and the advantage of a 1.6X crop factor in a smaller body with the 1DX‘s autofocus, makes this a no-brainer for wildlife photographers.

Montana Wildlife

Canon 7D mkII 500mm f4L IS, 2X (handheld) f11 1/750 ISO1600

 

Final Word

My overall impressions of the 7D mkII are very, very positive. The build quality, weather sealing, well thought out controls and layout are absolutely the best on any Canon camera I’ve used. The autofocus system is amazing, just as it is on the 1DX and the extra frames per second make this a killer setup for shooting moving subjects with the extra 1.6X reach of the crop sensor. Image quality is also much improved from what I was used to with the previous 7D, giving a 2/3 stop advantage with better resolution and better noise pattern. The only faults I can find so far is the lack of detail in slightly underexposed images and higher noise than with full frame. But again, not a huge deal when handled right. Pair this body with a 70-300mm or 100-400mm gives you an amazing portable wildlife setup and when adding it to one of Canon’s super telephotos, you get some impressive reach.

If you’re on the fence on this one and looking to upgrade from a previous 7D or 70D, you won’t be disappointed and it’s a huge upgrade. If you are using a 1DX or 5D mkIII, this makes a great extra body that can fill in when wanting to travel light and give you that extra reach when you need it. I see this body being paired with my new 100-400mm 4.5-5.6L mkII most of the time and added to my super telephoto for extra reach when I need it.

I would highly recommend the Canon 7D mkII.

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One Comment

  1. Ken Stolz November 24, 2014 at 12:54 am #

    Thanks for the thorough review Jason. Especially apprecaite the observations about exposing on the right of the histogram in low light. I’m really pleased with the quiet shutter, will be great for concert settings. Just counting the days until my new 100-400mm can be paired with my 7D MkII.

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