The Canon 7D Mark 2 is finally here!
This is the long-awaited successor to the Canon 7D (2009), with (a bit) more pixels, a significantly improved auto focus system, 10 images per second, more video options and built-in GPS. We reviewed the Canon 7D MK2 with the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 and with the Canon 35 mm f/2. Conclusion: the Canon 7D MK2 is jack of all trades, with a lot of very strong points and single minus point.
Canon 7D MK2 versus Canon 7D
With the introduction of the Canon 7D MK2 at the Photokina, some people were somewhat disappointed in the specifications. Naturally, a lot stayed the same, because the Canon 7D had a lot to offer. Because the successor was awaited for five years, the expectations may have been too high. Even so, there are a lot of improvements. The most important differences from the Canon 7D in a list:
20 megapixels (was: 18);
A significantly improved auto focus system with 65 AF points (all cross-type) and (for video) dual-pixel phase detection focusing on the sensor;
The 7D MK2 is the only Canon APS-C camera for which the AF at a full aperture of f/8 (particularly important when using converters) keeps working;
Higher continuous speed, now 10 images per second while retaining AF (was 8 bps) and a larger buffer;
Video with 1080p and 60 images per second, faster and more fluid AF;
One step higher ISO;
It was already nearly dark in Kootwijk, although you don’t see that from this shot. No tripod at hand, so ISO 6400 and shooting by hand with image stabilization, 1/70 second. Little to criticize!
Canon 7D MK2 versus Samsung NX1, Nikon D7100
The biggest competitor from Nikon: the D7100. That costs the same and has a sensor with 24 MP. The Nikon sensor is also just a bit larger than that of the Canon; the crop factors are 1.5 for the D7100 and 1.6 for the Canon 7D MK2. The Nikon falls down in terms of maximum image speed, has a less advanced auto focus system and no GPS. On all the other specs, the two are barely distinguishable from each other. Regular items on our wishlist such as built-in WiFi an a fold-out screen are missing on both.
You can gradually consider mirrorless system cameras with electronic viewfinders to be more competition, even though we maintain our opinion that nothing is as good as a bright optical viewfinder. Think, for example, about the Samsung NX1 and the Sony A77. If you’re already a Canon user and have a set of recent quality lenses, then the switch to another brand is not an obvious choice. Take note of the specification of “quality,” because as we’ll see later, in order to take full advantage of the complex auto focus on this 7D MK2, you do need bright glasswork.
Design and operation
The body of the Canon 7D MK2 aims to be properly dust- and splash water-proof. Many EOS lenses have a rubber sealing ring on the mount. With a set like that, you’re reasonably weather resistant. There’s a slot for an SD card and for a CF card. The camera is reasonably heavy (900-gram body), but it feels good. The rounded shapes of the Canons are always pleasing to us. The buttons are logically arranged, with all the “display” buttons in blue on the left-hand side of the LCD screen and the others on the right or on top of the housing.
The joystick of the Canon is—indeed—a joy to use, and so much more practical than a four-way switch. For the other controls, there are things to criticize here and there; there are settings for which you need two hands (always awkward during a shoot) but overall, the 7D is a pleasure to work with. Might we suggest that Canon include the mirror-up function in the options for the “drive” button, where the auto-release and the silent mode are already located? It’s currently hidden deep inside the menu.
Canon menus are characterized by the fact that you can scroll through the pages horizontally and that all the items on such a page can be seen at once. Vertical scrolling is not needed. That’s nice. The Q button is also exceptionally handy—with it, you can get directly to all the essential (as well as a number of less essential) settings, while the info-button while in shooting mode gives very quick access to, among other things, the artificial horizon.
Screen and viewfinder
The optical viewfinder shows the entire image. The screen measures 3 inches and has a million image points. There are various settable brightness levels. It cannot rotate or fold out. You have three options for the display function (histogram and such). Unfortunately, you don’t see the file names and numbers on the screen. Of course there’s Live View. In that mode, there’s also a nearly infinite series of focus options, more on that below!
We had never before had a camera with an APS-C sensor for which the auto focus had so many different settings. The Canon 7D MK2 is outfitted with the same AF as the Canon 1Dx. At least 55 pages of the operation manual are about AF, and Canon has a special (downloadable) brochure on its website for the AF system.
It’s a technical work of art. The sensor is namely from the “dual pixel” system. Half of the pixels look “left” and the other half, “right.” Because the left pixels and the right pixels are designed to capture something slightly different outside the focus area, you can use them for focusing. The advantage is that this goes super-fast, and also works during Live View and Video with the mirror up. Because in principle all the pixels can be engaged for AF, the 7D MK2 has no less than 65 focus fields, has horizontal, vertical and even diagonal sensors, that you can utilize separately, in groups, or in zones. Above, you see the sensor with the “left-looking” and “right-looking” pixels, colored blue and red respectively for clarity. Below that is the sensor with the AF measurement fields.
In principle, all the pixels are available for AF. We write “in principle” because in order to make full use of the dual pixels, you do need a lens with a decent glass diameter. If that diameter is too small (i.e. if you have a not-very bright lens), then the difference between the “left” and “right” pixels is too small, and the outer pixels won’t be involved. The manual indicates which lenses are compatible with which pixels or groups. The complete arsenal of focus options will only be achieved with the more expensive lenses. Those are almost all full-frame types with the associated size, weight and price tag; there’s only one EFS lens there.
And then there’s the “Intelligent Tracking and Recognition” system, with which the camera can follow a subject on the basis of shape and color, and with which even (invisible to us) infrared light will be utilized. The system also has built-in face recognition, and not only in Live View. There is a jungle of choices for moving subjects: continuous movement, movement that suddenly starts or stops, sensitivity to acceleration or deceleration and priority of focus with respect to the shot. We freely admit that we couldn’t try out all the options, and the question is whether it makes that much difference in practice. The AF is also not excessively fast (in our standard test from 8m to 80cm, about 400 milliseconds), but it is effective, even in low light. There is no AF help light; you can use the built-in flash, but you have to first unfold it. In addition, you then become very noticeable.
Many of the systems were already installed on the 1Dx, but we now see them appearing on a prosumer body. Logical, because the costs are in the dual-pixel sensor, and if you have that, you can install the existing software on other camera models practically for free.
Resolution and image quality
The sensor is renewed, but the number of pixels disappointed many Canon-fans. There are, after all, sensors in this price class with a higher resolution. This disappointment is unfounded. We judge the resolution as good. The image quality is of course strongly dependent on the lens used. In order to get everything out of the camera, you have to use quality lenses.
In JPEG, there are no fewer than five file sizes; the smallest is immediately suited for the web (720 pix on the long side). The shutter is nicely quiet (remarkably more quiet than with Nikon), and there’s no “silent” continuous mode, with which you exchange a bit of image speed for a lower sound level. Naturally, there’s RAW (file format .CRW), and in three sizes. The smallest RAW format produces files of about 5 MB. Canon includes a RAW converter (DPP).
Shot with 1/125 f/8, ISO 100. Outstanding detailing, even in the shadows, under fairly hard light. The lens was a Canon 35 mm f/2 IS.
Dynamic range Canon 7D MK2
In the Imatest laboratory, the 7D Mark 2 scores well on the point of “dynamic range,” but not super. In some practice shots (as shown here), we ran up against the limits of the camera. This shot was at 1/80 and f/14, and 400 ISO. In the gleaming white cobblestones, there’s no structure anymore. We could have tried multiple exposures, with which the camera takes three shots and combines them digitally. But you don’t find that often in street photography.
Canon 7D MK2 color reproduction
The pictures below look practically identical. The left-hand picture is the accuracy of the color reproduction at 100 ISO. The right-hand picture are the Imatest results for 6400 ISO. The reproduction in both cases (picture style: Natural) comes very close to the original.
The maximum ISO of the 7D is 16,000, expandable by 2 steps to 25,600. That is just as high as for the Nikon D7100. The highest settings are not fantastic; there’s quite a bit of color noise. Except for the “normal” noise reduction, there is a setting with which a number of shots are taken close together and then laid over each other with software. This mode is very effective. Here, you see our standard “bookshelf” picture at the highest ISO setting (Hi-2)—on the left with normal noise reduction and on the right with the multiple shots.
Pay attention to the gray and the green area; the difference is striking. You don’t have to place the camera on a tripod (which we did); it also works when photographing by hand and even for subjects that aren’t moving too fast.
The JPEGs in the standard image style appear to have undergone a good deal of noise reduction, and to have gotten some extra saturation, when you compare them with the unsharpened RAWs (see below).
The Canon 7D MK2 makes 10 images per second, both in RAW and in JPEG, whereby the AF keeps doing its work. That is exceptionally fast for a body in this class. The animation here shows 15 images, made one after another with the 7D MK2 and then edited into a video. The number of shots in a series is also important, because a shot duration of 1.5 seconds we think is the minimum. The Canon 7D MK2 passes the test with flying colors; in JPEG large/fine, we scored more than 50 shots in 4.8 seconds, and in RAW 15 shots in 1.79 seconds on one SD card. With a super-fast CF card, it doesn’t go any faster, but the series does last a bit longer.
Our ornamental chickens with 1/250 at f/8, ISO 400. The lens was a Canon 70-200 f/4.
The Canon 7D MK2 films in full HD with 60 images per second. Unfortunately, there’s still no 4K. All the important connections for video are on the Canon 7D MK2: for a stereo microphone, headphones and a great HDMI output. The included HDMI cable with pull safety is also great.
The Canon 70D is, as far as video is concerned, is a formidable competitor for the Canon 7D MK2. Both have the hybrid AF system for video, but the 70D has a touchscreen. With help from the touchscreen on the 70D, you can easily move the focus to another point, after which the focusing runs smoothly from one point to another, without shuttling. With the Canon 7D MK2, shifting the focus point is more laborious. The lack of WiFi will be felt here, because it would have been a user-friendly alternative to be able to operate the AF with the touchscreen of your tablet or smartphone.
Conclusion Canon 7D MK2 review
Check our list of all reviewed cameras, including test results for RAW and jpg files.
Well-built, beautiful body
Very advanced and effective auto focus
High continuous image speed, large buffer
Built-in flash and GPS
Part of a big system, many lenses and accessories available, also used
Operation of the AF system has a steep learning curve
No folding screen, no touchscreen
The Canon 7D Mark 2 is a jack of all trades. Nearly everything you could wish for is on it; the camera is outstandingly built and has a state-of-the-art auto focus system. Although many people were a bit disappointed at its introduction with the relatively limited number of megapixels, it’s not a cause for concern in practice.