Sunday 14 February 2010

Gear review - Hands on with the Canon 7D

I have been promising this for a while but have been so busy, plus there has been plenty of other stuff to tell you about as well.

Back in November I did a Canon 1Dmk111 v 7D high ISO test blog for you followed by a test of the AF system on moving subjects, the one area that 1Dmk111 users have had difficulty with, or at least Dave's two cameras did as well as all three of the ones I used or still use, when it comes to birds in flight, in low-ish contrast light.

In this first part of this review, I will cover some of the handling aspects, and cover the things that I like from a user perspective.

The body is quite light and small to hand and the first thing that it needs is the battery grip.  This makes a huge difference to the feel and balance particularly with big lenses on.  As a 1D user, I prefer the feel of a larger body, plus the fact that the controls are replicated when shooting in portrait format.

It doesn't quite have the robust tank like feel of a 1D but is pretty good nevertheless.  The battery compartment will allow for two of the new LP E6 batteries, a spare will cost you plenty, but Amazon are as good as anyone on price.  They last for ages, and a nice touch is the carrier supplied for AA batteries, which gives you a little more flexibility.

One of the things that Nikon have always amazed me with is the seeming random scattering of buttons all over their bodies.  Canon seemed to be following in their wake, with no fewer than 13 buttons on the back.  However for Canon users there is a pattern that is followed, and switching between a 1D and the 7D is an easy thing to do, and I found I wasn't caught out in any way.

Starting at the top left, the mode dial with the on/off switch is a good arrangement and easier than the 1D.  I really like the C1 to 3 settings.  I set the C3 which is the last place on the dial to default bird in flight settings .   This means that if you are shooting ground or static subjects, and you suddenly get a BIF opportunity, you can blindly turn the dial to the end stop and know that the settings will be just right.  This is a great feature and a huge improvement over the 1D.

Sadly, for what is billed as Canon's most technically advanced camera, or at least it was when launched they chose to put a green square on the dial.  Why?  At least they didnt put the silly pictogram settings so I suppose that is a blessing.

Working across, the viewfinder is excellent, full size and really bright.  I noticed this the first time I put one to my eye on a dark grey day. Sadly they chose not to put a viewfinder curtain like they do with the 1D, and supply that stupid bit of rubber on the strap.  This is a real faff as you have to remove the eyecup, which you then risk losing it.

On the top right hand side, the buttons and screen are standard Canon features and well placed, although I would have preferred the light to be on the far left of this group, with the ISO on the far right as the 1D, for consistency.

On to the rear, and starting on the left hand side, there are a number of new buttons.  A RAW + jpeg button which if you press yopu can get both file formats saved.  Not for me really, but I guess OK if you want it.

Then the Q in a square button.  This is an important button as it brings up the shotting settings, which can all be changed using the rear wheel, top wheel and multi toggle.  This makes setting changes very easy,  and I like this feature.

Below this the MENU button is familiar and allows full access to 11 separate pages of options that are colour coded in terms of shooting, playback, general tools, custom functions and my menu settings.  All easy standard Canon stuff here.

Below this is a picture style button so you can easily change this, and access the individual parameters via the INFO button.  As a RAW shooter generally, this is pretty much irrelevant to my needs, particularly as it is easily available via the Q button.  This could have been the Mirror Lock up button that I see lots of requests for, but we know about the listening powers of Canon don't we?

The INFO button can be prgrammed within the Custom functions, which I like.  First push to show shooting settings, followed by the artifical horizon function.  Looks a bit like an instrument that I am used to from my flying days.  When you are level both in pitch and roll axis, you get a green line.  Now I usually use a hot shoe spirit level, but this is a useful feature, and also works in Live View mode so you can do those arms length above the headshots, or low level waist height shots and still get it level.  The third push will take you to the same page as the Q, but you can customise that out if you wish.

INFO works in conjunction with Live View to show data and also live histogram.  This is a great feature that I have really enjoyed with the 1Dmk111, particularly for macro and landscape work.

The next two buttons are the playback and bin buttons, so nothing new there.

In the middle is the wonderful new screen - big, bright, and very sharp.  Makes the 1D screen look very poor -  a great and overdue update, although to be fair the 50D and 5Dmk2 have had these for a while too.

On the right hand side, there is a stop/start button, with a integral toggle.  This allows you to switch from either camera  Live view to movie mode.  Top right three buttons are standard Canon AF point selector, AF -ON and Exposure lock.  These can be customised and I switched the * and AF-ON as I use back button focussing as this replicates the mk111.

The multi function toggle and rear wheel are standard, although the wheel on/off button has changed.  I have heard others say they like this, but I never had any problems with the previous style, so no issues there.

So in summary, the handling and set up is easy coming from the 1D experience.  There are some great new features, plus a few superflouous buttons.

It definitely benefits from the outrageously expensive battery grip - £200!!!! - some on Canon stop ripping us off..

I like the mode dial which has definite benefis to wildlife shooters, particlularly the customisable options of C1 to C3.

The screen is great and the method of setting selections via the Q button is also easy.

In the next part, I will talk about the AF system, and some of the other new functions in a bit more detail from wildlife shooters perspective.




  1. Nice review so far, I have the custom buttons set as follows 1 Birds in Flight confused background. (single point AF) AI servo. 2 Portraits (single point AF) one shot. 3 Birds in Flight clean background (multi AF point) AI Servo. Look forward to your in use reviews took me some getting used to but fairly happy with it now.

  2. Thanks Martin - very informative.

    Yes - the mirror lock-up button is a missed opportunity, but the "on-screen levelling" display compensates somewhat for the landscape photographers amongst us.

    The 1x and 100% viewfinder should be a huge step forward. I noticed (& welcomed) a major step from 30D to 40D in this area so this will be especially welcome if like me you wear specs.

    Mainly interested in the 7D for its AF capability, so would wlecome some insight into how the points perform in low light / low contrast (as these are all allegedly high performance f2.8 type as in 1D series). I'd be interested in how these perform with 2.8 and f4 lenses particularly when the centre AF point is not used. Feedback as to how intuitive you find the various zone AF settings and whether these can be stored in memory (and selected later on) would be helpful.

    Thanks for bringing some real world feedback on what is promising to be quite a ground-breaking non 1D body for Canon. I look forward to more as and when you can get round to it.

    Best regards