The Canon 7D has been built from the ground up with feedback from professional Canon users. With 18mp, HD video, 100% viewfinder, 8fps, 100-12,800 ISO, has this reinvention created what could be Canon’s best ever camera? Our Canon EOS 7D review finds out...
Canon EOS 7D Review
The Canon 7D carves new ground in the Canon line-up. It sits not as a replacement for either the 50D or 5D, but as an in-between model, filling what had become a vast price jump from the advanced amateur model to the semi-professional. For some it may appear to be a direct competitor to Nikon’s D300s but others will see it as a natural progression for existing 50D, or even 40D users, along with those looking to buy straight into a serious shooting system.
This camera is quite unique in that the improvements from previous models are a result of direct feedback from users, and the whole design has been reinvented from the ground up. However, the result doesn’t look drastically different, though there are features and functions that have been moved or rethought. So what are these changes, and have they produced a camera not only worthy of the EOS badge, but better than any other?
Canon EOS 7D review – Features
The 7D features a brand new 18MP CMOS sensor. This is a fractionally higher resolution than previous APS-C models but not excessively so. This is in line with Canon’s view that overpopulating a sensor can actually hinder low-light performance – this sensor has increased its sensitivity through a gapless microlens construction, to gather light more efficiently. It outputs at 5184 x 3456 pixels, in a choice or combination of .CR2 Raw files and JPEGs. Both Raw and JPEG files can also be output in smaller pixel counts with medium and small outputs down to just 2592 x 1728 pixels (about 4.5MP). Data is converted as a 14-bit process, rather than the standard 12-bit, for extra tone. The sensor includes Canon’s integrated cleaning system, which shakes dirt from the sensor and can be activated automatically on power up or down, or manually from the camera’s menu. It is also coated to repel dust formation. Canon’s anti-shake technology has always been incorporated into the lens rather than the camera body and that remains the case here: both kit lens options feature image stabilisation.
For processing power, the Canon 7D utilises dual DIGIC IV processors, outputting in eight channels for added speed, allowing the camera to shoot up to eight frames per second. The processing power is also better able to deal with noise levels, with levels at ISO 6400 similar to those at ISO 1600 from the previous DIGIC III processor. It also allows for an expanded Hi-1 setting of ISO 12,800. Like the 5D mk II, the 7D offers an Auto ISO mode, which selects a value between ISO 100 and 3200.
The metering system is a 63-zone dual layer arrangement that analyses focus, colour and luminance information (known as iFCL). It offers four configurations: Full Evaluative, Centre-weighted, Partial, and Spot. Exposure compensation is available up to +/-5EV, and up to 8EV using the exposure bracketing, though only a maximum of +/-3EV can be shown on the top screen. The autofocus uses 19 cross type points, 10 more than the 50D, which can be selected from automatically or manually with a choice of zonal, expanded or individual selection. Different set-ups can also be chosen for vertical and horizontal shooting. There is further ability for AF micro adjustment to optimise the autofocus for up to 20 individual lenses or global adjustment.
White balance is offered with seven presets, an auto mode and colour temperature setting. There’s also white balance compensation of +/-9 in each direction, plus a custom setting and bracketing. The shooting modes include the standard arrangement of P, Tv, Av, and M, plus Auto, Bulb mode, three custom modes, and the Creative Auto mode that provides aperture and shutter control in the form of sliders for simple control.
The viewfinder offers an impressive full 100% field of view and a 1x magnification for a larger view. The shooting info appears underneath the image, but the focus and grid points are projected onto the viewfinder and can therefore be turned on and off to allow it to be clear of unused AF points. The 7D is also the first EOS model to feature a dual axis electronic level, which is viewable through the viewfinder to avoid unwanted pitch and roll. The rear LCD screen is a 3in Clear View II TFT, with 920k-dot resolution, anti-reflection coating and an ambient light sensor.
Canon has improved on the class-leading video by offering full manual exposure when shooting, and full 1080p HD at 30, 25, or 24fps. Video can also be captured at up to 60fps at lower resolutions. Thanks to the H.264 QuickTime compression, video clips can be up to 12 minutes in length, or 29.59mins in standard definition (up to 4GB in size). Sound is also catered for, with both an external 3.5mm jack input and an internal mono microphone.
The 7D sides with consumer level models with the inclusion of a built-in flash with a guide number of 12, and coverage of 15mm. More significantly though, it’s the first EOS to offer in-camera wireless multi-flash control for Speedlite models – ideal for Strobist fans. Buy this camera now !
Canon EOS 7D Review sample image – click for full size image
The 18MP sensor allows for an impressive level of detail. Thanks to some clever processing from the Dual DIGIC IV processors, the image noise has been kept well under control here too. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8, 24mm, f/8, 1/25sec, ISO 3200, AWB
Canon EOS 7D review – Design
On first inspection of the Canon EOS 7D you may not notice much physical change from previous models to justify this ‘reinvention’ tag – but once you start to use it you realise that there are significant changes in both handling and functionality. The body is made from a rugged magnesium alloy structure and weather sealing on a par with the professional EOS 1n film SLR, making it feel very sturdy. Buttons are plentiful but useful and well spaced to avoid accidental presses, with the large rotating dial featuring a lock function. The most significant changes to the rear are the positioning of the power switch and the addition of a dedicated live view/movie button. The power switch has moved up to the top left, which seems sensible if not slightly alien to existing Canon users.
The new live view button sits just neatly to the left of the thumb’s natural position, with a start/stop button and a switch between the two modes. Other additions include a Quick button for access to the main feature set and a Raw/JPEG button, which adds dual format to the next shot, no matter which you are currently shooting in. The rest is reminiscent of the 5D Mk II and therefore already a proven success. The menu is divided into colour-coded icon-based sections, which can be scrolled through using the mini joystick control or the finger dial and large rear dial. A large number of buttons can be customised from the Custom Controls menu, from the lenses AF/Manual selection to the shutter button half press. In fact, the camera seems designed to be fine-tuned and customised to your own style of shooting. At first this can seem a little like overkill, but for extended use and those used to working in set ways, does make a great deal of sense.
The one criticism is that, with so many menus and option screens, finding the function you’re looking for can be tricky, and until you get to know how it works you may find yourself experimenting with button combinations and having to scour sub-menus. Buy this camera now !
Canon EOS 7D Review sample image – click for full size image.
The AF servo system allows rapid subject tracking, which made capturing these jumping skiers and snowboarders a much simpler task. Also, thanks to the eight frames per second burst rate, I could fire the shutter as they took off and pick out the best shot after. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8, 200mm, f/2.8, 1/320sec, ISO 500, AWB
Canon EOS 7D review – Performance
Though it may not have the vast 51-point AF system of the Nikon D300s, the 7D’s 19-point AF array is pretty impressive and covers the main areas well. Though all sensors are the cross type, only the central point features an f/2.8 sensor, as the rest are f/5.6 based. This means that the centre point still has increased sensitivity when used with lenses with f/2.8 apertures or brighter. Focusing was difficult to fault though, and the additional sensors really helped for tracking subjects – something that can be further customised for your needs.
The metering system demonstrated flawless performance, managing to retain highlight and shadow detail in almost all instances, only occasionally helped from a more specific metering mode or 1/3 EV compensation and still producing punchy images in low light too.
The high-speed burst mode on the 7D is a standout feature, offering a blistering eight frames per second. Using a Lexar 300x UDMA CompactFlash card this fired out 18 Raw files effortlessly, around seven Raw+JPEG files, and rather than the stated 126 JPEG files, managed an earth-shattering 358 shots before slowing. Individual write times are 1sec for a JPEG, 1.5sec for a Raw, and 2secs for a Raw+JPEG but have little effect when there’s no hold up in the buffer for at least seven shots.
Battery life is listed at around 800 shots – pretty impressive, if 50 shots less than the 5D Mk II. Though expect less when using live view or shooting movies. It also features intelligent monitoring, providing percentage capacity, shutter count and recharge performance in the menu. Finally, the rear LCD is a joy to use; it’s large, bright and almost reflection-free, making it ideal for outdoor use, and with the high resolution, makes checking focus really easy. Buy this camera now !
Canon EOS 7D Review sample image – click for full size image.
Using the centre AF point allows increased accuracy with a lens of f/2.8 or brighter, and means you can quickly pull subjects out of busy backgrounds. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8, 200mm, f/2.8, 1/200sec, ISO 500
Image Quality & Value For Money
Canon EOS 7D review – Image Quality
Canon 7D review – Tone and Exposure
The metering system ensures an extensive tonal range but manages to keep both highlight and shadow details with little problem. For trickier scenes the 7D features a Highlight Tone Priority function to avoid losing highlights by altering the metering before taking the shot, and an Auto Lighting optimiser that can be set to Low, Standard, or Strong and uses processing after the shot to adjust the brightness and contrast
Canon 7D review – White Balance and Colour
The auto white balance is as reliable as you could ask for, whether shooting indoors, outdoors, in daylight or low light. It was consistently accurate no matter what light source was thrown at it. If anything, tones did verge onto the cool side but this was often against skin tones, which were perfectly balanced. Colours didn’t feel as muted as with some EOS models, especially when the Auto Lighting optimiser was used or Raw images were opened into Adobe Lightroom.
Canon 7D review – RAW/JPEG
JPEG images show definite signs of noise processing, which manages to make even ultra-high ISO values appear usable by removing the nasty colour noise with very little loss in image detail. The unprocessed Raw files show some fairly heavy colour noise above ISO 3200 but in turn retain a little more detail, so by using the Raw file, and adding your own noise reduction, it is possible to get the best of both worlds.
Canon 7D review – Image Noise and ISO
When examining the Raw files, noise is visible in images above ISO 800. However, this is minor and only shows sign of the more abrasive colour noise above ISO 1600. If you allow the camera to perform noise reduction, however, noise is very minimal in appearance even at ISO 6400, and even the High-1 ISO 12,800 is not beyond use. With this level of quality on output almost no scene is beyond the camera, though for optimum results you should try to stay below ISO 800.
Canon 7D review – Sharpness and Detail
For most of the testing I used pro L series lenses to ensure the maximum quality from the 7D and I wasn’t disappointed. Images were extremely well detailed throughout, and blisteringly sharp even on some of the moving subjects.
Canon EOS 7D Review sample image – click for full size image.
Even under difficult lighting the Auto White Balance produced great skin tones. Canon EF 24-70mm, f/2.8, 1/320sec, ISO 100
Canon EOS 7D review – Value for Money
With the recent spate of camera price increases, value has to be readdressed. The price gap between older models and their new counterparts remains vast, making it more difficult to recommend any new model. The Nikon D300s can now be found for as little as £1,250, while the 7D’s lowest current offering is around £1,500. Canon’s well-established 5D Mk II is still fetching more than £1,800, and in many respects the 7D is just as good – though the 5D mk II’s full frame sensor demands a premium price tag. With a little time to bed in, the 7D is likely follow the Nikon D300s price closely, and at that point the marks for value may even rise. For now, though, it would be fair to say that it’s a premium product worth paying for.
Changing a system that works so well can be a dangerous business, but Canon appears to have pulled it off with the 7D. The changes are subtle but generally help usability once you find the new positions. In the hand the 7D feels like a very solid and well-built camera, enough to be used as a regular workhorse for the semi-pro, or second camera for a pro. The quality of the results, the high ISO and video performance make this a serious consideration for anyone looking to buy an EOS 5D, and for some the smaller file sizes and 1.6x focal conversion will actually be a benefit. It means smaller, lighter lenses can be used – including the EF-S models. This camera is likely to be as popular for videographers as it will for still photographers for similar reasons. Overall, the 7D will be an aspiration for all amateur photographers, and those who purchase will not be disappointed.
Canon 7D manual
Canon 7D manual – pdf
The Canon 7D is available to download from the Canon website
Buy a printed copy of the Canon 7D manual
Get a printed manual, or printed tests for the Canon 7D manual from the What Digital Camera camera manuals site
For general help and advice in using a DSLR, see our techniques section
View sample photos from the Canon EOS 7D
Canon EF/EF-S mount
Auto, 6 Presets, Custom
100-6400 (12,800 expanded)
View product shots of the Canon EOS 7D
Electronically controlled focal plane shutter
Yes (Guide No. 12)
1-level Raw, 2-level JPEG
CompactFlash (UDMA compatible)
+/- 5EV in 1/3, 1/2 steps
5184 x 3456 pixels
18MP CMOS, 22.3 x 14.9mm
Yes, +/-3 for 3 shots per shutter
3in, Clear View II 920k dot
100% (approx) 1x magnification
19 point (all cross-type) f/2.8 centre
TTL, 63-zone Dual Layer SPC
No (lens based)
P, A,S,M, CA, Custom
HDMI, USB, Sys terminal, Mic-in
820g (body only)
Rechargeable li-ion LP-E6
sRGB / Adobe
Single, continuous (low, high), self timer (2s, 10s), remote
148.2 x 110.7 x 73.5 mm
Raw, JPEG, Raw+JPEG
TTL-CT-SIR with CMOS; Auto, Single point, Spot AF, AF point expansion, Zone AF
30s-1/8000sec + Bulb