- Editor Rating
- Rated 4 stars
- Canon 7D Mark II DSLR
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- Cosmetic AppealEditor: 80%
- Design & Build QualityEditor: 90%
- FeaturesEditor: 80%
- FunctionEditor: 80%
- Value For The PriceEditor: 70%
Will Canon's 7D Mark II be the high-end APS-C DSLR that we all hoped for?
Canon first released their original 7D model back in September of 2009 offering a professional-grade DSLR with an APS-C sensor at an affordable price-point. Fast forward five years later and its successor is finally here. The new model is dubbed the 7D Mark II, following the conventional naming standard that Canon has used in the past. Many of the downfalls found in the aging 7D are improved along with the addition of several new features for both photo and video use.
With these improvements and new features, the body comes in with a higher initial price tag. This year's 7D Mark II (body only) is being sold for $1,799.99 which is $100 or roughly 5.89% more expensive than its predecessor's price at launch ($1,699.99). Our review unit was made possible by the great people over at B&H Photo, who lent us the camera on a short-term basis to so we could have the necessary hands-on experience to conduct this review.
Throughout the remainder of this article, I'm going to discuss my personal experience with the 7D Mark II over the past 30 days of testing. My goal is to help any potential buyers determine if it is the right camera for their needs and if it is ultimately worth the $1,800 price-tag. Rest assured, these are my opinions generated by actual use with no outside influences or biases having any effect on the outcome of this review.
Looking at the 7D Mark II and the original 7D side by side, most probably wouldn't notice a difference at first glance. As always, the front of the body sports the iconic Mark II branding that Canon follows with their 2nd and 3rd-generation models, but structurally the body remains the same in regards to dimensions and feel.
On the rear, the buttons are arranged in a slightly different order from the previous generation although the button layout itself remains mainly the same. The quick menu has been moved from the top left button to the right of the LCD below the micro-controller and above the Quick Control Dial just like you'd see on the 5D Mark III.
In fact, the 7D Mark II and 5D Mark III appear nearly identical in terms of design and button layout besides a few minor differences. The 5D Mark III's body is slightly wider since it has a 3.2″ LCD in comparison to the 7D Mark II's 3″ screen. The 7D also harnesses integrated pop-up flash module whereas the 5D Mark III lacks a built-in flash.
Surrounding the rear micro-controller, there is a brand new AF Area selection lever which makes its first appearance on the 7D Mark II. This lever has the same function as the M-Fn button when selecting your AF point selection modes so it is a small yet convenient addition.
The old 7D had the zoom button conveniently located on the right side of the body for easy access while between shots. Unfortunately, it now has been switched over to the left side of the body alongside the rear LCD. I find this annoying while shooting in the field since I am forced to take my left hand off the lens to reach back and hit the zoom button which is less than ideal in terms of ergonomics. This problem isn't exclusive to the 7DMII as the 5DMIII and 6D both feature this problem, but it is frustrating to constantly shift my hand positioning just to check if my shots are in focus.
Like most professional Canon DSLR bodies, the 7DMII offers a high build quality and feels great in your hand. While the 7D was known for being durable thanks its weather sealing, Canon claims this aspect has been heavily improved in the 7D Mark II, boasting up to four times better weather sealing capabilities.
Due to this weather resistant design, the rear LCD is fixed like its predecessor and does not offer a fold-out screen like on other lower-priced Canon models. This screen does not support touch functionality like the 70D, something I found disappointing as that comes in handy when working with the dual-pixel autofocus technology for video.
On the top right of the body, there is the usual LCD panel that offers a quick glance at your current settings and offers a back-light illumination for low-light use. While this model supports Canon's popular LP-E6 battery, it ships with their updated LP-E6N battery. The only difference is that the LP-E6N contains an additional 65 mAh of storage capacity (1865 vs. 1800) thus offering slightly more battery life.
Following the mold of most Canon DSLRs, the battery is inserted via a bottom compartment and stored within the hand-grip. Canon was kind enough to add an SD card slot alongside the previous CF flash location which used to be the sole source of media storage on the older model. This dual-card configuration opens a wide array of media format saving options and is surely an improvement that is appreciated for use within both photo and video work.
There are multiple outputs found on the left side of the body with all the standard options you'd expect at this price-point. This includes options for an external microphone or headphones as well as a Mini HDMI and USB 3.0 connection. With an standard Canon EF lens mount, the variety of potential lens options is vast and that is a huge selling point for the 7D Mark II. Due to the use of Canon's smaller APS-C sensor, the body supports the more affordable EF-S lenses as well any third party lenses made for Canon's crop-sensor bodies.
Since most retailers' product pages list the technical specifications in a clear and concise fashion so I'm only going to use this section to touch on the most notable features and improvements in my opinion.
I think the best place to start with this is a simple chart comparing this model to its similarly priced competitors as well as a few higher and lower-end options that one might consider when in the market for a 7D Mark II. Remember, the technical specs on paper only matter so much when comparing cameras head to head, but it is still worth noting what features you get for the price:
20.2 MP APS-C Sensor, ISO from 100-16000
Canon has made a much-needed upgrade to the sensor in the 7D Mark II, and it finally can now compete with the newer pro-level crop sensor bodies from competitors like Nikon and Sony. This new sensor packs 2.2 more megapixels than its predecessor and has improved low-light performance with native ISOs up to 16000. While I wouldn't want to push it more than that for image quality's sake, there are expandable ISO options up to H2: 51,200.
Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processors, in-camera distortion correction
Since this is an APS-C body geared for serious amateur or professional use, Canon knew they had to please sports and wildlife shooters who want to capture long burst sequences without reaching the buffer too quickly.
By incorporating dual image processors, the 7D Mark II is advertised to shoot up to 1090 JPEG, 31 RAW, or 19 RAW+JPEG shots within a single burst before any decrease in buffer performance.
Besides this, the coupled image processors help for seamless performance when using in-camera processing like in-camera lens aberration and distortion correction for a wide variety of lenses, a first for Canon DSLRs.
Silent shutter, 10.0 fps burst shooting
There are several shooting modes offered on the Canon 7D Mark II including the popular silent shutter options found on the newer high-end Canon DSLRs.
- Single shooting: standard 1-shot, normal shutter noise
- High speed continuous: fast paced burst mode, adjustable from 2-10fps, normal shutter noise
- Low speed continuous: slower paced burst mode, adjustable from 1-9fps, normal shutter noise
- Silent single shooting: 1-shot, silent shutter noise
- Silent continuous shooting: slow paced burst mode, adjustable from 1-4fps, silent shutter noise
- Self-timer – 10sec/remote: 1-shot after 10 seconds or when remote shutter release signal is found, normal shutter noise
- Self-timer – sec/remote: 1-shot after 2 seconds or when remote shutter release signal is found, normal shutter noise
Vastly improved 65-point auto-focusing system, dual-pixel AF for video
The original 7D's AF system has had a lot to improve upon during the past five years, and thankfully Canon did not disappoint. The 7D Mark II has the most auto-focus points of any Canon DSLR to date with a whopping 65 points that are all cross-type. Even compared to the company's high-end 1D X model which sports a $6,800 MSRP, the new 7D model outmatches it by an extra four AF points. In addition, it utilizes an EV-3 minimum luminance to grab focus even in ultra-dimly lit scenarios that other competitors would struggle with.
This AF technology also made huge strides in the video department with the 7D Mark II getting the same dual-pixel AF that was recently introduced with their entry-level 70D model. The AF performance for video using this technology is superb and not comparable to any models of competing brands in regards to video. In terms of precision, you get a relatable experience to the AF found in a camcorder yet you still maintain the versatility of interchangeable lenses and flexible depth of field.
Full 1080P HD at 60 fps, both MOV and MP4 video file options, more video codecs
Canon has finally added full 1080P HD recording at 60 frames per second to a sub $5K DSLR body for the first time. The only other Canon DSLR capable of shooting 1080P at 60fps is Canon's wildly expensive EOS-1D C model. Beyond this improvement, you can now shoot in .MOV or .MP4 file types for great versatility and there are now three levels of video compression. The standard All-I is the least compressed therefore having the largest file sizes and greatest versatility. IPB offers more compression with smaller files, and lastly IPB Light is heavily compressed with much smaller file sizes for situations where you need to shoot a lot of video without a lot of storage capacity.
Integrated Time Lapse Controller
Another first for Canon DSLRs, the integrated time-lapse controller allows you to setup shot intervals quickly and easily through the menus. The intervals can range from 1 second all the way up to 99 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds. The camera can be set to shoot a set amount of frames (from 1 to 99 shots) or leave it at the default that is an uncapped. If you love HDR, the 7DMII's built-in HDR feature is also supported within the time-lapse mode so you can internally combine the different exposure shots thus making for an easier post-processing job.
Clean 8-bit 4:2:2 output from HDMI port
Canon DSLRs typically output a clean HDMI 4:2:0 signal, but the 7D Mark II steps this up a bit and allows you to output a clean and uncompressed 4:2:2 output from the HDMI to an external recorder such as the Atomos Ninja Star. Audio is also transmitted through this HDMI output, so that makes things less complicated than previously
What key features does the 7D Mark II lack when compared the competition?
- Touchscreen interface – useful for dual-pixel AF technology especially in regards to video.
- 8-bit 4K internal recording – this is by no means a must-have although the GH4 has set the bar very high offering 8-bit 4K internal recording with a body price cheaper than that of the 7D Mark II
- 720p video at 120fps – I would have liked to have seen this option as the support for 1080 60fps often includes 720p at a higher frame rate. With the 7D Mark II competing with the GH4 that can do 96fps at full 1080P, this is an area where it falls short.
- Integrated Wi-Fi & mobile app support – technology today has become so interconnected that built-in Wi-Fi is quickly becoming an industry standard within the photo and video world. The 7D Mark II does not take advantage of this functionality despite the 70D and 6D models both harnessing this Wi-Fi potential at both lower and higher price-points.
- An electronic viewfinder (EVF) – EVFs are all the rage in mirrorless cameras especially for use in video. They let you see exactly what the camera sees in comparison to the traditional optical viewfinder that DSLRs contain. Some people hate EVFs, and some people love them. Since picking up my GH4, the use of an EVF has grown on me especially for shooting video in brightly lit environments where the rear LCD can be difficult to utilize. However, a traditional optical viewfinder is optimal for a DSLR geared at sports shooters since EVFs tend to have a slight lag which could become an issue in a fast-paced environment.
- Native focus peaking and zebras – particularly useful for shooting video, focus peaking and zebra functionality comes built into Panasonic's GH4 as well as Sony's A7S who are both large competitors to the 7DMII.
As I stated earlier, the 7DMII excels for both amateur and seasoned photographers offering pro performance at a reasonable price-point. The 1.6x crop factor brings subjects closer to you without the need to spending absurd amounts of money on the more expensive ultra-zoom lenses.
To further clarify, a 70-200mm lens is exactly that on DSLR with a full-frame sensor like Canon's 6D. However, when you throw the same lens on the 7D Mark II, you'll end up with a 112-320mm due to the 1.6x crop factor.
When you couple this high-quality crop sensor with its excellent 65-point AF and 10fps burst capabilities, you get a powerhouse DSLR that excels in close-up situations like sports, wildlife, and macro work.
AF & Burst Shooting Performance
When shooting sports and wildlife, autofocus is one of the largest concerns when it comes to performance. Often situations will appear that you'll only get one shot at so you'll want to harness a reliable DSLR body that can keep up and nail the focus time after time.
Thankfully, Canon's 7D Mark II is ready to tackle these situations quite willingly. With its stellar 65-point AF system, the camera blows away the competition surpassing my 5D Mark III in terms of AF accuracy and speed while rivaling Canon's high-end 1D X. The 65-points are spread evenly throughout the sensor in a 20 x 25 x 20 pattern although they don't cover it entirely with a few small areas left empty around the edges.
Since I shoot the majority of my photography in my home studio under controlled environments, AF has not been my biggest concern in the past. Having said that, the convenience of such a good AF system has made me second guess my priorities due to the added ease of use.
One thing that stuck out about this AF system is how good it was in low-light situations. In a side-by-side comparison of the 5DMIII versus the 7DMII, the 7D secured focus noticeably faster in low-light situations without the need to do little to any hunting like the 5D.
The timing of receiving my review unit was less than ideal for testing out its sports shooting capabilities. The cold, snowy Massachusetts winter is already in full effect along with the idle transition between Fall and Winter sports. This left me without an ideal testing environment but was determined to test the improved burst and buffer capabilities.
I put the 7D Mark II to the test in my backyard shooting my 2-year-old Australian Shepherd who has a daily ritual of running laps in the snow. I'll be the first to admit that I am not the most confident fast-paced shooter due to limited experience in this facet of photography. This did not stop the 7DMII from showcasing its strengths.
The AF performance is lightning fast and the performance while in automatic selection mode (automatically picks which points to focus out of all 65) exceeded my expectations. Judging from a single 250 shot outdoor test around 85% of my photos were in focus and on target, a surprisingly high percentage for me given my limited experience.
Coupling this body with a fast piece of quality glass like Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II resulted in stunning images that would impress any sports photographer especially those who are currently shooting on the aging 7D.
Canon advertises the buffer capacity to be 31 RAW images and a whopping 1090 JPEGs before slowing down. I decided to not overload the shutter count on my demo unit and trust that the JPEG buffer would be more than enough for any shooter even if it did not fully live up to the 1090 benchmark.
However, I did test the buffer for RAW and RAW+JPEG burst scenarios on the same subject, shooting conditions, and exact settings. The only variable changed was the type of memory card used. My results were rather interesting:
As you can see, my tests fell short of the Canon advertised buffer capacity although it was relatively close and still outperformed competing models in this price range. Remember, the speed of your flash media will have the most effect on the buffer performance. This means if I tested the buffer on a Lexar 1066x CF card which is capable of over 100MB/s speeds, it is likely that to match or outperform Canon's advertised specs. Of course, with higher performance media comes a higher price. In my case, I do not need to use a CF card often (GH4 only has an SD card slot) so I have not invested much into the CF format.
Live View AF Performance
The new dual-pixel AF only factors in when using live view so most will rely on it when shooting video. For those of you who prefer to shoot stills using live view, you'll also enjoy the various benefits. Dual-pixel AF is quite remarkable with fast focusing speeds and accuracy like that of a digital camcorder. The ability to lock onto a subject and have the AF stay focused on it while it moves around the frame can be very helpful for both video and photo capture.
Judging a DSLR's effective dynamic range can be a difficult task to carry out with lots of variables which can affect the outcome of the testing. DXO Mark is known for comparing cameras and their sensors in highly scientific testing situations so I'd recommend checking out their results for the 7DMII to get the most accurate data on the dynamic range of this body.
Here is a quick comparison of the DXOMark scores within the 7DMII compared to its competition:
I'm most interested in how the dynamic range performs in real-life scenarios so I decided to simply showcase the potential dynamic range in two situations that will push the abilities of the camera.
I have a large bay-style window in the front of my home, and my Christmas tree stands right in front of it. I decided to pull open the blinds and shoot two different photos. One photo will be metered for the outside that is a brightly lit with lots of white elements due to the abundance of snow. The other shot will be metered for the dark tree inside which was only lit by the colored Christmas lights and some exterior light which shined in.
The point of this test is to see how much detail I can retain from both sides of the spectrum (the dark and light portions) while metering for each area. Keep in mind these shots are extreme examples, but I felt as though this was the best way to showcase the maximum capabilities in regards to the realistic dynamic range in the 7DMII.
As you can see, the dynamic range is in line with the typical DSLRs of today without bringing forth any overwhelming improvements in this area. Boosting the shadows or bringing down the highlights in post makes the shots more usable in exchange for additional noise in the altered areas.
If you want to rely on the 7D Mark II within situations where a high dynamic range is sought after, you can always shoot bracketed shots at different exposure levels and combine them in post using software such as Lightroom 5 coupled with the third-party Enfuse plugin.
High ISO & Low-Light Performance
One of the biggest improvements expected from the 7D Mark II in comparison to its predecessor was a significant improvement in low-light or high-ISO performance. With the top-end of Canon's DSLRs like the 5D Mark III holding down the low-light capabilities with impressive results, I expected a lot from the 7D Mark II in this area despite the disadvantage of a smaller sensor.
After testing the 7D Mark II extensively within this area, I was satisfied with the results although it still won't surpass its more expensive siblings in regards to high-ISO performance. Here is a side-by-side example of the native ISOs starting at 100 all the way up to 16,000. I'd recommend clicking through to the full-resolution image (hosted on Flickr) in order to pixel peep and see the noise levels by yourself.
Keep in mind, these shots were all taken with the same settings and shooting environment with the only changes taking place were the raising of ISO and f-stop in order to keep uniformity within the series. No post processing or noise-reduction was done to alter the images from their original state so these segments are taken straight from unedited RAW photos.
In the lower ISO range from 100-800, there is no noise visible. Stepping up to 1600 ISO, some noise becomes prevalent creeping into the shadows as well as slightly in the hitting the highlights and mid-tones. At 3200 ISO, the noise levels are intensifying although still remain somewhat subtle when viewed from afar. It isn't until 6,400 ISO where the noise levels really start to affect the photo significantly and to push it to 12,800 or 16,000 just degrades it tremendously.
Usability at these high-ISOs depends on a wide variety of factors and your personal definition of a usable photo. In my personal preference, I think I'd classify the ISO ranges from 100-1600 usable without the need for little or any noise-reduction and 3,200-12,800 ISO ranges may be usable when noise-reduction is applied in post. Jumping up to 16,000 may be warranted in some situations although I'd recommend against it as salvaging the results in post are difficult to say the least.
While most will shy away from using the “Auto ISO” setting on the 7D Mark II, I was impressed at the versatility found within this mode. For example you can now configure your minimum low and high ISO values depending on your particular shooting environment as well settings to configure a minimum shutter speed to make for the best shots with limited blur or camera movement.
In-Camera JPEG Processing
Since the 7D Mark II is perfect for shooting fast-paced action scenarios, many will choose to exclusively shoot in a JPEG format due to the noticeable improvements in storage and buffer performance. Since JPEGs are much tougher to work with in post, it is essential that your shots be close to your final result straight out of the camera.
In order to help aid this, Canon has implemented two built-in features that take the JPEG performance to the next level. First off, is the high-ISO noise reduction which is built-in to the camera and is commonly present in many other Canon DSLR models. Within this setting, you have the option to choose low, standard, and high in regards to noise reduction levels. This feature has performed well throughout my tests, and I've found the “standard” shows most adequately for my needs in a high-ISO situation:
Along with built-in noise reduction, Canon has expanded on their in-camera JPEG processing features and added a lens correction tool built right into the 7D Mark II body. Now the selection of support lenses may be smaller than that of your typical Adobe editing software, but the fact that you can simplify your workflow and save you time by processing your shots in-camera can be very useful for some users. Here's an example of this feature in action with my Canon 24-105mm f/4L which often suffers from some nasty distortion when shooting wide:
I've always had positive experiences in regards to battery life with models that use the LP-E6 variant, and the 7D Mark II is no exception. I can shoot for a few hours with the LCD screen at full brightness before I have to pop in another fresh battery. Extra LP-E6 batteries can be acquired cheaply so power shouldn't be an issue as long you invest in a few spares for when you run into a long shooting situation.
In regards to the included LP-E6N battery change, I have not noticed any significant increase in battery life although I am sure it is there. With only 65mAh more packed within it, this only equates to a battery capacity increase of 3.61%, so I wasn't expecting a dramatic change.
Sample Photos Taken On 7D Mark II
Canon's 7D Mark II improves upon many of its predecessor's weaknesses while maintaining its notable strengths. Serious sports or wildlife photographers will appreciate the fast burst speed, 1.6x crop factor, and weather-sealed body that help capture the perfect moment regardless of the shooting environment.
With better high ISO performance, full 1080P HD at 60fps, and the introduction of dual-pixel auto-focus technology videographers can benefit from the 7D Mark II whether as their primary camera or as a reliable B cam.
The 7D Mark II is a tougher sell than it would have been a year or two ago given the recent the influx of mirrorless cameras invading the market who offer impressive specs and high performance at competitive price-points. Given its $1,800 price-point, the 7D Mark II is far from a no-brainer purchase for the average consumer although it is surely the right choice for some. See my recommendations below for more details.
Whom would I recommend purchase the 7D Mark II?
- Serious amateurs or professionals who are looking for a high-performing DSLR with an APS-C sensor for photography use, even more so if you plan to shoot sports, wildlife or macro work.
- Someone who is looking to shoot both professional photo and video without the budget to support two different cameras.
- A less experienced photographer who already owns an entry-level DSLR and understands the basic of photography. This is an appropriate upgrade and a model that you can grow into as your knowledge and skills further develop.
- If you are a beginner looking to grab your first DSLR for either photo or video use, I'd recommend buying Canon's cheaper 70D model and spending the extra $800 on a quality lens or two. Buying an expensive body with a cheap lens is not a good idea.
- If you are a serious amateur or professional who is looking to get into portrait, architecture, or landscape photography, you are likely better of buying a full-frame model like Canon's 6D or a used 5D Mark II as the larger sensor will be more advantageous for these types of photography.
- If you are a serious amateur or professional looking to buy a 7D Mark II solely for video use, I am hesitant to recommend this unless you absolutely need the dual-pixel AF for video. Instead, I'd recommend picking up the GH4 or A7s as they are both geared for video more than still photography thus offering more video related functionality and higher performance for the price. If you have already invested in a large amount of Canon glass you can get around this by picking up a the specific Metabones adapter for either model which will allow you to use EF and third party lenses and give you better performance in the GH4's case with the optional Speedbooster technology.
As a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and our Managing Editor, Colt loves testing out the newest tech products/services. His goal is to help better educate other consumers to ensure the most satisfying purchases decisions on consumer electronics and services. When he is not working on creating new content, Colt enjoys spending time with his two Australian Shepherds, Mia and Zoey.