Canon 7D Review: An upgrade from a Canon 450D (Rebel XSi)

It’s been a month since I’ve upgraded to the new Canon 7D from a Canon 450D (Rebel XSi), so I it’s time to share a small review about it.

I am a starter passionate photographer therefore I’m orienting this post to a very simple review more focused to the user experience with the camera and not so much the ISO comparison and pixel peep you will find in many other reviews. That said, I will present you some of the features I really love in the Canon 7D that are more than worth the upgrade from a Canon 450D.

Canon 7D

The Upgrade

The Canon 450D was my very first DSRL and bought it almost on the first month it came out. I loved it and still do! But the 7D is another level.

Since every single feature from the 7D compared with the 450D was so much better, I’ve decided it was worth the upgrade. This is in fact the only reason the upgrade started to look more appealing. Comparing to the new 500D (Rebel XTi) wasn’t worth the investment just solely based on supporting video.

Together with the camera I’ve also extended the upgrade from my Slingshot 100AW to the 200AW version.

First Look

Never had the chance to hold a Canon 7D on a store. They were released recently and none of the camera shops I usually visit in Portugal had it available. Only FNAC had one in exhibition behind a store window. So I’ve extrapolated that it would much feel like the Canon 50D in terms of hand holding but probably better built.

Ordered online and received it at home early December, together with a Sandisk Extreme (60MBps) 16GB CF card and a Slingshot 200AW.

Unboxing products is always an exciting experience, and my very first contact with the camera was mind blowing: This is camera body is really rugged, extremely solid and you feel like a pro holding it. It felt like owning a crappy Dell plastic notebook and upgrade it to a sexy aluminum Macbook Pro.

Rewiring My Brain

I’ve hold the review for about a month to let my brain rewire completely to this camera. Reading and rereading the whole manual is crucial to understand what you can do with it. Works a bit differently from the Canon 450D (nothing to much), but pretty similar to the 50D.

The first improvement I had to adapt was the presence of two Dials, crutial to control Shutter Speed and Aperture very quickly.

Other one was that now those easy access features you have on the right-side of your 450D LCD (AF-Drive, WB, etc) now are controlled on the top of the camera, over the smaller 7D LCD.

After one week of shooting every day, all controls started to feel more natural and easier to use.

Features

All features from the 450D are present on the 7D, but let me talk you about some of the best that are worth the upgrade and some that can be improved.

Photography

The Viewfinder is awesome!

The 100% coverage is great, but the thing I like most is the LCD overlay to show the focusing points and/or grid lines for better composing. On the 450D you have static focusing screens that you can manually replace to include grid lines. The 7D uses an LCD overlay that only shows the point you are focusing (configurable to show all points if you want). I really love this feature. It makes your Viewfinder cleaner and brighter.

The 921,000 dot LCD

Only this feature is almost worth the upgrade. I must say now that the 450D LCD screen sucks! It’s just bad compared the 7D one. It’s like having a HD TV in a small screen. You almost always can check that your picture is in focus just by checking the quick preview, whereas in the 450D you needed to always zoom in the picture to confirm, and even so sometimes missing the focus completely.

All buttons are completely customisable

I’ve changed the Main Dial to control the Aperture and the Quick Control Dial (the one on the right side of the LCD) to resemble the normal behaviour of the M mode in the 450D.

Several AF Modes

In the 450D you had automatic or manual selection of the focusing points. Now you can have the same but with different variations, such as the Zone AF mode. You quickly select the AF Modes with the AF-Point Selection + M-Fn buttons. There are 5 diferent AF modes: Single Point AF, Spot AF, AF point expansion, Zone AF and 19-point AF selection. I’ve been using mostly the Single Point AF and the Zone AF.

Wireless Flash control

It is possible to control your external speedlight outside of you camera to practice your strobist skills. This was something Nikon was ahead of Canon with their integrated CLS system. If you have PocketWizards sure you won’t miss this feature, but to me this was one of the main reasons for the upgrade. It can control your flash via E-TTL II, something it was really helpful this christmas for the family photos using my Speedlight 580 EX II. You can use all the features of Canon E-TTL (such as groups and ratios) or totally set it up manually. The only think you have to take into account is that you need the internal flash of the camera to be open. Beams of light is the way that Flashes talk to each other, meaning it will work if the flash is in line of site with the internal flash. However they seem to work very nicely on hidden spots if the light reaches them. Otherwise PocketWizards will always do a better work if you are on budget ;). Notice that you can configure to fire only the slave units and disable the in-camera flash.

Horizontal/Vertical focusing points – orientation linked AF point

You can have different focusing points when using horizontal or vertical shooting that you can manually register (this feature is disabled by default). Firstly I thought I could use the camera orientation sensor to automatically change the points, meaning, if I select the bottom most focusing point horizontally it would change to the bottom most focusing point when you rotate the camera to the vertical mode. No! You register two points: one horizontally, one vertically. It will remember them in both orientations. Only that! Nevertheless it is very useful.

Electronic level is nice

It was already useful in two occasions when I was setting up my tripod in weird conditions and wanted to ensure a really straight line of sight.

Camera User Settings

You can configure your Mode Dial to use C1,C2 and C3 user modes beside the normal Av, Tv, M modes and place different variations of Av, Tv or M in each of them. This is very useful for instance to create HDR’s without having to navigate in menus to enable AE Bracketing. You can have already configure in C1 preset for that, and for instance, leave C2 with Drive mode for high-speed photography configured.

Live View

The only thing that it seems improved over the 450D Live View is Face Detection. It’s more a feature to sell than really useful.

AF Micro Adjustments

Nice! You can do microfocus adjustments for your lenses to ensure you are not having any of Front/Back focusing issues for the copy of your lens. Also it has Lens Vignette correction software for each known by the firmware lens.

Silent Modes

There are 2 silent modes for this camera. Yes, the camera is bit more silent in each mode, but it might influence the 8fps it can achieve. The user manual is pretty unclear about what each one of the silent modes. I have disabled the silent mode, it’s louder (but a more professional sound) as the 450D can ever be. :)

Video

1080p 30fps and 720p 60fps video with interchangeable lens

This is another major reason for the upgrade if you want to shoot video. I’m not trying to be a videographer here, but video is a good way to record memories more than just a single photo. That said, I’ve been shooting a lot more video than I would expect. Since I live in Portugal and TV system here is PAL I’ve setup PAL in the camera when doing first configurations. After a while I couldn’t find the 1080p 30fps and 720 60fps modes but only 25fps and 50fps versions respectively. I though my camera had some defect and started skew nervous. After some research I’ve found out that 1080p 30fps and 720p 60fps are only available with the NTSC system. So take this into account before screaming in pain as I did realizing that my camera had some sort of defect. :)

Rolling Shutter

CMOS sensors from DSLR’s suffer from a very noticeable rolling shutter effect. Specially visible if you handhold the camera with a prime lens without IS when jiggling or do a fast panning. It’s also called the jello effect. The best plugin I’ve tested is a plugin called Rolling Shutter for Adobe After Effects. This plugin minimizes this problem, works really great aside of costing about 500$ but it doesn’t do miracles. The best way I’ve found to minimize this jello effect is to use a Tripod or buy a Steadicam Merlyn, or any sort of DIY stabilizer system. Tip: Instead of handholding, try to place your camera on your fully closed tripod over your shoulder and shoot this way around camera around.

Image Stabiliser is a must have

Check out this video in Vimeo for tests using a 17-55 f2.8 with IS and without IS to see the difference. Using fast primes are really great for low light but a stabilizing system is crucial. Also when using a tripod don’t forget to disable IS as it can influence the steadiness of the shot.

Other

HDMI output

Really useful feature for this christmas that I’ve used a lot. My family is a bit old fashion and Flickr still is a bit strange for them. Therefore plugin the camera directly to the HD TV was very nice to share some shoots with them. Also you can shoot will they laugh at your pictures :).

CompactFlash card

To my typical use of the camera, 16GB in now the standard for shooting Video + Photos. If you can buy two go ahead. 32 GB seems more than enough for a day shooting. I have the Sandisk 16GB Extreme (60MBps) and I don’t notice any lag in Video or RAW data flushing.

Conclusions and Room for Improvements

This camera is almost perfect to me (there is always room to improve :) ). Definitely worth the upgrade in every single way because it beats the 450D feature by feature, and  it does what I want.

Build quality, features and image quality are stunning for a cropped sensor camera with 18 Megapixels. If I was canon I would stick with a “only” 12 Megapixel sensor. But I understand the marketing pressure to deliver more and more megapixels. Well, it’s really useful for Sports or Nature photography with fast long lenses where cropping is king.The downside goes to the RAW filesize for being around 30 MBytes, but acceptable since disk space is now cheap.

Canon 7D ISO6400 looks equivalent to ISO1600 from the 450D, which is usable. One feature I expect Canon to implement is the ability to define a maximum ISO in the Auto ISO. I would like that my pictures won’t surpass ISO1600 in Av mode. Currently ISO3200 is the static maximum automatic ISO and cannot be changed.

Other feature it could have is an internal focus light to focus under low light conditions. Using the flash to achieve this purpose is not feasible in a strobist multi-setup flash. You can always use a flashlight to achieve the same functionality but it would a nice plus to have. (Humm, maybe I can disable the internal flash completely, never though of that :) ).

That’s it. I’m really very happy with the Canon 7D, and hope this small review helps you for your choice.

Leave feedback if you liked.

P.S: I’ve left aside all the polemic issues as some of bad body copies, miss-configured AF systems, diffraction due to smaller pixel size, front/back focusing, etc., because honestly I haven’t experience any of the problems some guys are praying. Dig into dpreview and you’ll get the whole discussion.

Usefull Links

EOS 7D: On-Camera Tutorial Videos
Cinema5D | The Forum for DSLR Filmmakers

21 thoughts on “Canon 7D Review: An upgrade from a Canon 450D (Rebel XSi)

  1. I’m finding that I’m using my DSLR less and less and always going for a smaller camera, but I still use the big one for those days I’m in photographic mode.

    What do you think about the size and weight of the 7D in relation to the 450D? Is it an obstacle as a goto camera for everyday usage?

    [Reply]

    braceta Reply:

    Hi David!

    Well compared to the 450D the 7D weights more and it is a bit bulkier, but easier to grab. On a day to day use, if you can take a 450D on a shoot I see no reason why you can’t take a 7D since its almost the same volume. It’s like comparing the D40 with your D80

    Obviously a Point and Shoot is practical, to stick on a pocket and run! I take some great pictures with my iPhone 3G even with a 2 MP crappy camera. So I totally agree with you, and as Scott Bourne says, the best camera is always the one you have with you.

    But if you are planning to take awesome photos, you are willing to take a DSLR. And if you’re going to take a DSLR why not a really good one?

    So my conclusion to your question is: it depends on your purpose/mood. Are you on a mood to take pictures? Take a DSLR… Otherwise take a P&S and make your day worth it.

    Btw, I’m finding myself more and more taking the 7D with the tripod on the car, and shooting more video than I ever expected! Those 1080p even with the 50mm f1.8 look really awesome on my 40″ Sony Bravia screen. I mean really awesome!

    Cheers David

    [Reply]

  2. Hi,
    just yesterday 6/5/2010 me and my friend did a field test to my 450D and to his new 7D, and the results aren’t as accepted , we took the same shoots with same camera setting (ISO speed, Aperture…) and the 450D Pics were much better , we use the same lens 24-105 L series, we had also replaced the lenses to see if its a lens problem but it wasn’t. the shots were on RAW format and compared by DPP(Canon pro photo edit)

    of course the 7D have much better function as you mention (8 Frames per/sec LCD, 19 AF points…) , but overall the picture quality of the 450`d is much better (more details, more focus) the extra 1200$ dosen’t worth it.

    Roni

    [Reply]

    braceta Reply:

    Well that’s a bit generic comment. There are a lot of factors to take into account.

    One simple test to you that you just can’t argument for instance: take the same shot with 1600 ISO :P

    Regarding focus problems, that depends: Is your autofocus working properly? Is your lens correctly calibrated on the 7D?

    If your 7D is not taking better results that the 450d, my advice is, take it to your Canon support center and replace it! You might have a bad copy!

    [Reply]

  3. Thank you so much for this review. I’ve been trying to decide what to do as far as purchasing a new camera. I have an XSI now but fear that it is past it’s last legs (the shutter already flew completely apart and my wonderful dad had to take the camera apart to install a new one for me), it works well again now but I am hesitant to use it on bigger jobs. I am once again a professional photographer, but have been “only”(HA) a stay at home mom for several years now and do not have a lot of digital equipment. A few weeks ago I was set on upgrading to the 7D but then I started reading all of those horrible reviews and started to get really worried. There is no way that I can afford a 5D Mark II at this point in time and was concerned that even if I could, that I wouldn’t be happy with the auto-focus speed or the fact that I would need to purchase a new flash to do any wireless second flash work. Your review helped put me at ease (until I read the comment from Roni, yikes)! There are so many variables that seem to make the 7D the right choice for me right now, thank you for helping me come back to my initial decision!

    [Reply]

  4. Thanks for this review…I am seriously considering the 7D…upgrading from the Rebel XT. Long overdue upgrade! I take a lot of dog photographs and need something that focus’s extremely well, extremely fast. I’ve read a few bad reviews but like you say it sounds like you have an initial learning curve and have to get to know the camera. Oooh I’m so close to buying, just need a little push or my XT to crap out.

    Thanks a bunch for your review!

    Kathryn

    [Reply]

  5. Great review. Does sound like a worthy upgrade indeed. My main reasoning for upgrading would be for improved ISO performance – that is where I am lacking in the poor old 450D. A shame really and I do love it as a camera and does seem like a pricey upgrade purely for better ISO performance. I do like my natural low light photography! Hopefully pick up a 7D 2nd hand.

    [Reply]

  6. This is one excellent camera, even with the relatively low megapixels resolution the overall quality of features for this price makes one of the bests (if not the best) machines of the category.

    [Reply]

  7. Now that the Canon EOS 60D has been on the market for some time I am curious to hear from people who, like myself, cannot make up their minds when deciding for the 7D or the 60D. I have carefully studied all the similarities and differences between these two models. Still, I am not sure yet which of the two will end up in my slingshot. Any help will be much appreciated! I intend to keep my 450D as a backup camera.

    [Reply]

  8. Hi,
    I, too am basically struggling with this issue, but with an added twist…

    I currently have the following gear: XSi and 450D, S90, Canon 24-105mm f4 L IS USM, Canon 70-200mm f4 L IS USM, Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 EF-S, Canon 18-55 mm f/2.5-5.6 IS, Kenko Pro 300 1.4X tc. I have the following issues:

    1. I am dissatisfied with the number of keepers I’m getting, even with these excellent lenses;

    2. I am frustrated by the slow burst buffer –3.9 fps;

    3. I moved, years ago, from a fairly early prosumer Panasonic Lumix to the XSi to be able to better control depth of field (the sharpness and reach from that old Panny was great and my husband still uses that camera);

    4. Softness in images REALLY bothers me (if I’m not looking to create it);

    5. I now live in Sedona where landscapes are all and I enjoy shooting them but prefer shooting travel and environmental portraits, and movement shots [like native dancing, not basketball :-)];
    6. I have some arthritis and I carry my gear using a Kinesis harness. Weight is an issue for me.

    I am looking to change what I carry and am struggling with options. On the one hand I believe that either the 7D or even the 60D would, with the lenses I have (and maybe adding a 50mm and/or a 70-300mm) would give me everything I need to keep me happy for a very long time (I’d sell my XSi and keep the identical but newer 450D as a backup body). Everything, that is except decreasing the weight I carry– and perhaps the softness (I keep comparing shots from the 7D and the 5D Mark II that are posted and I’m amazed at how much sharped the 5D is!)

    Either the 7D or the 60D would add just about a pound to the weight of this gear. Investing a much lesser amount of $ in a micro-four thirds camera and one or two lenses MIGHT solve all problems except my frustration with buffer speed which would, of course, get even worse.

    I’m willing to put the money in to get the solution to these concerns and I keep thinking that I’m either missing an option to consider or missing some way to think about the options I have available.

    All help is really appreciated!

    Thanks
    Stephanie

    [Reply]

  9. Thanks for the review. I’ve been thinking about upgrading my 450D to the 7D and have been trawling the Internet for reviews. Some are too technical for me and others don’t give enough detail. I’m still thinking about upgrading but I think I am getting closer to finally getting the 7D. Thanks again!

    [Reply]

  10. Interesting comparison! Congrats on your new camera!
    I just bought a used 450d to get into the dslr world so I’m reading everything that comes across me.
    Great camera with lots of potential.

    Thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

  11. A very thorough review about your personal experience with the two cameras. I’ve been getting excellent results with my XSi / 450.
    My current dilemma is… at this late date (expect a 7d replacement in 2013) do I upgrade to the 7d now or wait for its replacement?? and… will the replacement be worth the wait?
    Jim C.

    [Reply]

    braceta Reply:

    Hi,

    Well perhaps you should get the 6D now, unless you really need the fast framerate of the 7D.

    Also the ability to define a maximum ISO in the Auto ISO is available on the latest 7D firmware which also makes the decision harder.

    [Reply]

    Jim C. Reply:

    My main subjects are birds in flight so I need a fast frame rate and AF. Also I like the cropped sensor 60% effective magnification. I heard recently via rumor that 7d replacement isn’t coming out until second half of 2013 and I see the 7d price is falling sooo…. I expect my 7d to arrive UPS this coming Monday. My biggest concern is noise. Recently I’ve seen test results where the ISO noise is not linear and that 160 320 640 1250 have much cleaner signal to noise than other ISO settings. Do you have any information on this?

    Jim C.

    [Reply]

  12. Thanks for this review.
    I can tell you now that everything you wrote about this comparison still hold true today. And with the upgrade to the new firmware even more so.
    I bought the 450d when it first came out and have basically used it at least weekly ever since
    I reached a stage where I wasn’t happy with the rear screen, the focussing and general lack of bite to my photographs
    I’m in a photographic club and could compare what others were achieving.
    Having said that I still topped the points in my grade this year so I do know my camera and also know its limitations
    However the time had come for an upgrade.
    The 7d was my choice. The 60d was a very strong contender, but online reviews won me over jot the 7d in the end.
    Boy am I glad I chose the model I chose
    Super fast focussing, rear screen is pinsharp and so many options for customising
    It has given my lenses a new lease of life, I never knew they were capable of beig this good
    Cheers

    [Reply]

    Jim C. Reply:

    Hi Kim,

    I like reading your post as it gives me confidence that I made the right decision to upgrade at this late date from my XSI to the 7d.

    Thanks,

    Jim C.

    [Reply]

  13. I just got my first dslr, the 450d, and I’m excited to hear that whenever I decide to upgrade, I can get the 7d. Hopefully it’ll be as cheap as the 450, got a kit for $190. Thanks for your input

    [Reply]

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