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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. :)
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. :)
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.
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 :).
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.