Canon EOS 7D Mark II review

As you might guess from its name, the Canon EOS 7D Mark II replaces the Canon EOS 7D. It therefore sits at the top of Canon's range APS-C format DSLRs.

Features

  • Sensor sacrifices pixels for ISO performance
  • Dual DIGIC 6 image processors
  • No touchscreen control

Although the new camera has a 20.2MP sensor like the Canon EOS 70D, we are told that it is a new design. The micro lenses have also been redesigned for improved efficiency (i.e. light transmission) and this should contribute to an improvement in image quality at higher ISOs. The camera features a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-16,000 with expansion settings taking it up to ISO 51,200. That's the highest non-expansion setting in any Canon APS-C format DSLR.

The Canon EOS 7D's autofocus system is widely respected, but the 7D Mark II improves upon it with a 65-point system, with all those points being the more sensitive cross-type. In addition, the central point is a dual-cross type at f/2.8 and sensitive down to f/8, which is very useful for photographers who want to use an extender with their telephoto lenses. The central point is also claimed to function down to -3EV (moonlight).

Canon has given the new camera the same EOS iTR AF and AI Servo AF III autofocus technologies as the Canon EOS-1Dx and Canon 5D Mark III. These give the photographer a selection of six shooting scenarios to tailor the AF system so it has the best chance of keeping a moving subject sharp.

There are also seven AF point selection modes; Single Point Spot (Manual Selection), Single Point (Manual selection), AF Point Expansion (Manual selection), AF Point Expansion (Manual selection, surrounding points), AF Zone (Manual selection of zone), Large Zone AF (Manual selection of zone) and 65-point automatic selection AF. These enable the photographer to set the starting AF point and, in continuous AF mode, tell the camera how to track the subject if it moves.

Exposure is handled by a new 150,000-pixel RGB and infrared sensor – that's better than the Canon EOS-1D X, which has a 100,000-pixel sensor divided into 252 zones. As a result, the 7D Mark II is likely to respond differently to the original EOS 7D in some situations.

Using the Dual Pixel AF technology first seen in Canon 70D, the EOS 7D Mark II's sensor has pixels that can be used for phase detection focusing (Dual Pixel AF) in Live View and Video mode. This enables smoother, faster focusing than contrast detection alone. Unlike the 70D, however, the speed at which the focusing occurs can be varied to allow for slower, more cinematic adjustments in video mode.

Further good news for keen videographers is that Full HD video can be recorded in Mov or MP4 format at up to 60p in NTSC mode or 50p in PAL. There's an HDMI port that can provide a clean uncompressed (4:2:2) feed to external recorders and there are ports to connect both a microphone and a headphone for better sound recording and monitoring.

There's also a USB 3.0 port for faster image transfer, and a bracket ships with the camera to hold the cable securely in place when shooting with the camera tethered to a computer.

On the back of the camera is a 3-inch 1,040,000-dot LCD screen which can be used for composing Movies or images in Live View mode. Naturally, given that the 7D Mark II is an SLR, there's also an optical viewfinder. This shows 100% of the field of view and is capable of displaying key information such as the drive mode when the appropriate control is used to make an adjustment. There's also an electronic level visible at the top of the viewfinder which works independently of the AF points.

To help deal with the inconsistent exposure that can trouble images taken under fluorescent lights, Canon has included a Flicker detection option that when selected changes the shutter lag for more consistent exposure.

Canon has given the EOS 7D Mark II dual card slots: one can accept SD/SDHC/SDXC media while the other is compatible with CompactFlash (CF) cards. 

Other specification highlights include an intervalometer for shooting time-lapse sequences and the like (it has the same functionality as Canon's TC-80N3 Timer Remote Controller), multiple exposure mode, a built-in compass and GPS technology comparable with the Canon GP-E2 GPS Receiver to enable geotagging of images.

It's also nice to see the advanced HDR capability of the EOS 5D Mark III, as this allows you to record a sequence of three raw files as well as the composite JPEG image that is created in-camera.

One disappointment, however, is that the EOS 7D Mark II doesn’t have Wi-Fi connectivity built-in

One disappointment, however, is that the EOS 7D Mark II doesn't have Wi-Fi connectivity built-in. This is a shame as it would allow photographers to control the camera remotely via Canon's smartphone app. It seems odd that this is missing from Canon's top-end, enthusiast-level APS-C format camera when the full-frame Canon EOS 6D, which is aimed at a similar audience, has it. A representative from Canon Europe told me that it has ben omitted because the metal body of the camera may compromise Wi-Fi performance. Those wishing to transfer images wirelessly will have to purchase the Canon WFT-E7B Wireless Transmitter.

The new camera takes a new, higher capacity variety of the LP-E6 battery that the EOS 7D takes; helpfully, this is backwards compatible.

Build and handling

  • Magnesium alloy body
  • Dust and water resistant
  • Solid and comfortable to hold

While its sits above the EOS 70D in the Canon DSLR line-up, the EOS 7D Mark II is only around 90g heavier. At 910g (body only) and 148.6 x 112.4×78.2mm, however, it is a little heavier and larger than the original EOS 7D. Some of this change in weight may be attributed to the Mark II's improved dust and water resistance, which makes it the second most weather-resistant Canon DSLR after the EOS-1D X.

Thanks in part to its magnesium alloy chassis, the new camera certainly feels solid enough and comfortable in the hand. The textured coating on the grips give good purchase (the thumb-ridge on the rear is particularly good) and it feels like an enthusiast-level camera should. This is matched by a claimed shutter durability of 200,000-cycles.

The most noticeable difference on the back of the camera is the arrival of a sprung selection lever around the mini-joystick control

Although the 7D Mark II makes a few changes to the control layout, users of the original EOS 7D will soon find themselves at home. The most noticeable difference on the back of the camera is the arrival of a sprung selection lever around the mini-joystick control.

This acts as a kind of function controller for the main control dial in front of the shutter release on the top of the camera. When the switch is in use, the dial can be used to adjust one of a small collection of features including sensitivity. The preferred option is selected via the Customisation option in the Menu. In addition to sensitivity, it can be set to setting the AF point, AE lock, AE lock hold, switching to the central (or registered) AF point and accessing exposure compensation.

Turning to the top of the camera, everything is as it was before apart from the addition of a lock on the mode dial. While this is useful for preventing the dial from being knocked out of place, it would be better if it was the type of lock that you can choose to use or not. As it is, it has to be pressed to allow the dial to be rotated.

Although the menu is very familiar to Canon EOS users and it's logically arranged, it looks slightly neater than the EOS 7D's menu thanks to the font's improved letter spacing. It's a small point, but a noticeable one.

As on the Canon EOS-1D X and 5D Mark III, the autofocus system has a dedicated section along with a series of selectable Case Studies that specify the tracking sensitivity, acceleration and deceleration tracking and AF point switching.

Autofocus

  • Fast and accurate focusing
  • Sophisticated and comprehensive
  • Advanced Case Studies

The EOS 7D Mark II's 65-point autofocusing system didn't disappoint. It's both fast and accurate, and capable of working in very low light. It's also complex with seven focus point selection modes and a collection of AF Al servo adjustment options (Tracking sensitivity, Acceleration/deceleration tracking and AF point auto switching options) for use in continuous AF mode, so it takes some getting to know. Provided that you choose the correct AF point selection mode and AF Al servo characteristics (which can be set via a selection of shooting scenario Case Studies), it does a great job. We found Case 1 in the shooting scenarios list a good starting point that worked well when shooting BMX riders in action.

In addition, the hybrid AF system, which is available when composing video or still images on the LCD screen in Live View mode, is capable and able to find its target even in quite low light. With an STM lens mounted there's little back-and-forwards adjustment even in fairly dull conditions and although it's quite a large camera to use held away from your body, it is possible to use Live View mode when hand-holding the camera. It's a shame that the screen isn't on an articulating joint (Canon says this would compromise durability) because this would make composing shots at high or low angles much easier.

Switching from the 'Standard' to the slowest AF setting in the Movie Servo AF speed options has a significant impact upon the time the camera takes to focus the lens. Either way, it moves the subject smoothly into focus. If you need to speed things up, however, pressing the AF-on button gets the subject sharp quickly.

Performance

  • Features a buffer of 31 raw files
  • Dependable metering system
  • Excellent battery life

The EOS 7D Mark II's sensor is coupled with Dual DIGIC 6 processing engines to make the camera faster and more responsive. This enables a maximum continuous shooting speed of 10 frames per second (fps) for 31 raw files with a UDMA 7 CF card (such as the Lexar Professional 1066x card) installed or 1030 JPEGs with the same card.

One of things that impressed with the EOS 7D Mark II during testing was its new 252-zone metering system which gathers data from a 150,000-pixel RGB and infrared sensor. The new system does a great job of taking the brightness of the whole scene into account. Naturally, there is still some weighting applied, but I found there are fewer occasions when the exposure compensation facility is required.

The EOS 7D Mark II’s automatic white balance system does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the scene

All that said, there seems to be a slight tendency towards bright images and you may find you need to reduced exposure by about 1/3EV either in-camera or post-capture. In most cases, however, this slight over-exposure isn't at the expense of important highlights.

The EOS 7D Mark II's automatic white balance system does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the scene. In bright sun it produces pleasingly warm tones and in overcast conditions it captures the coolness without going overboard and giving a blue tint, the results look natural.

As mentioned earlier, the EOS 7D Mark II takes a new, higher capacity variety of the LP-E6 battery that the EOS 7D uses. During one day of this testing we shot over 1000 images and used the GPS system throughout, and the battery still had power left, with the indicator only going down by two bars.

Image quality

  • Noise is controlled well throughout the native sensitivity range
  • Canon's Standard Picture Style provides a good general purpose setting
  • Monochrome Picture Style produces rather dull or muddy images

Canon is claiming that the EOS 7D Mark II produces 'best in class' images and while the definition of the camera's class is doubtless subject to a list a qualifications, it's certainly in the mix for that accolade. On the whole the images and video that it produces look great straight from the camera.

As it has a pixel count of 20.2MP, we could reasonably expect the EOS 7D Mark II to be unable to match the 24MP Nikon D7100 or Sony Alpha 77 II for detail resolution. However, it actually compares very well and apart from at the upper sensitivity settings it matches the Sony Alpha 77 II and beats the Nikon D7100 in this respect. 

Noise is also controlled well throughout the native sensitivity range, but as usual the expansion settings (the options that Canon considers not of sufficient quality for normal use) are best reserved for emergency situations and when images only need to be viewed at small sizes. JPEGs captured at the ISO51,200 expansion maximum have luminance noise visible at most normal viewing sizes and some areas appear bruised with green and magenta.

Stepping down to ISO25,600 improves things significantly, there's still quite a lot of luminance noise visible, but the false colors are much better controlled. Moving down again to the uppermost native setting (ISO16,000) results in another major improvement in image quality. There's a noticeable increase in detail resolution (although images still look a little soft at 100%) and less false colour visible in JPEG files. Meanwhile, when all noise reduction is turned off the ISO16,000 raw files have a hint of colored speckling visible when sized to A3. Zoom in to 100% and this chroma noise becomes very noticeable, but there's still a respectable level of detail visible so it's possible to find a good balance between the two in post-capture processing.

At the other end of the sensitivity scale there's just a hint of luminance noise in some areas at 100% (even at ISO100) and images have lots of detail visible.

Canon's Standard Picture Style provides a good general purpose setting that generates JPEGs with pleasant colors and decent saturation. The Landscape option is a nice alternative with appropriate scenes and unlike the Landscape settings on some other cameras it doesn't overcook the blues or greens. Their saturation is boosted, but it's safely within the realms of reality. The Portrait Picture Style is also good for people shots and it doesn't over-enhance reds or bring out pimples.

As usual, the Monochrome Picture Style produces rather dull or muddy images in its default setting. These can be improved by boosting contrast or tweaking exposure, but most EOS 7D Mark II users are likely to use the Picture Style options as a guide and make raw files conversions post-capture.

Verdict

Enthusiast photographers tend to shoot a bit of everything and they need a versatile camera that can cope with a wide range of subjects and conditions. The EOS 7D Mark II's weatherproofing means that it can be used in harsher conditions than all of Canon's other current DSLRs apart from the pro-level EOS-1D X. Its autofocus system can also get moving subjects sharp quickly, and keep them sharp as they move around the frame or towards/away from the camera. The metering system with its new 150,000-pixel RGB and infrared sensor is also extremely capable and delivers correctly exposed images in a wide range of conditions.

Noise is controlled well, colors are pleasantly rendered and images have an impressive amount of detail for the camera's pixel count.

Canon also seems to have thought quite a bit about how enthusiast photographers like to use their camera, giving them the ability to produce an in-camera HDR image while capturing a sequence of raw files with different exposures for post-capture merging. There's also the Creative Photo Button, Image Comparison capability and the Intervalometer along with the Rate button that makes chimping worthwhile.

All things considered, the EOS 7D Mark II is an excellent camera, it's Canon's best APS-C format model to date. It's not often that we recommend making a direct upgrade from the model immediately proceeds a camera, but this case is an exception. The EOS 7D Mark II makes a great upgrade from the original EOS 7D.

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Angela Nicholson,Phil Hall
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