First Light: Canon EOS 7D

I’ve just started experimenting with the new ::amazon(“B002NEGTTW”, “Canon EOS 7D”)::, which is an interesting beast–an APS 1.6x crop camera with 18 megapixels. Many folks, some of whom don’t appear to have used the camera, have criticized this camera as going too far along the megapixel path at the expense of ISO. To me, the “right” trade-off between those two features depends a lot on the specific job you’re doing. One of the things that interests me about the 7D is that it can serve as a lightweight backup for shooting birds and for occasional wildlife work.

For that purpose, I want good high-ISO performance (but I may not need world-class). I also want a lot of cropably-delicious little pixels–for anything else I’ll do with the camera, I’ll have a tripod.

I don’t think of the 7D (as some have suggested) as a “bad upgrade to the 5D Mark II”, I think that misses the point of this camera entirely. I think of it sort of as a “1D lite” the way that the 5D Mark II is sort of a “1Ds lite”. Of course, I have yet to discover if the 7D lives up to that standard, but I have a few good first impressions.

First, let me share with you a few badly-controlled handheld shots from my living room. Before you go look, let me apologize that the 1600 image isn’t pin-sharp because of camera movement, you should be able to get a sense of the noise characteristics despite these flaws.

Canon 7D, ISO 12800, 100% Crop
Canon 7D, "H" (aka ISO 12800), 100% Crop

Canon 7D, ISO 6400, 100% Crop
Canon 7D, ISO 6400, 100% Crop

Canon 7D, ISO 3200, 100% Crop
Canon 7D, ISO 3200, 100% Crop

Canon 7D, ISO 1600, 100% Crop
Canon 7D, ISO 1600, 100% Crop

Images were converted using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Beta 1, with standard settings save for white balance. Those standard settings include some color noise correction but no luminance noise reduction, at least in terms of the settings provided. Whether these images are “good enough” for a particular purpose depends a lot on the specific purpose involved, but the ISO 12800 images compare favorably with the ISO 1250 results from the original Canon 1DS, which is still only about five years old.

Landing Approach
Landing Approach

Still, I can imagine using the black and white conversions of the ISO 12800 images for a number of artistic uses, and by the time we’re at ISO 3200 I’m starting to think that with a little work I could make a good-quality, large-sized print from the results. Stop for just a moment and put aside the fact that folks are advertising cameras which can shoot at ISOs over 100,000, for many purposes this 7D is going to be more than sensitive enough and the 18 megapixel image leaves some room for cropping lower ISO images and still producing excellent results.

I have had less opportunity to really give the autofocus a workout, in part because a good deal of my own work doesn’t stress autofocus. Still, Landing Approach demonstrates what the camera can do. The shot was taken at at ISO with the Canon EF 400/5.6L at f/5.6 and 1/1000s (there is a bit of subject blur apparent). The pano-shaped image is a full-width crop from the 7D frame (in other words, about 5100 pixels wide); at 100%, the eye is in clear focus.

Whether the 7D will appeal to you depends a lot on your needs (and your pocketbook), but you can count me as (at least so far) very impressed. Good job, Canon!

Update: There have been some reports of ghosting during continuous shooting with the 7D. While I did not observe them myself, I do note that Canon has just released a firmware update (1.1.0) to correct the issue.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. I was expecting the worst of the 7D, right now I am blown away by the results. I am an amateur wildlife photographer, I shoot with a lot of people and one of my friend, a real devoted Canon user, just purchased a 7D, it is mind blowing, at least for birds. We are comparing images with the 50D and I, we can’t believe the difference in noise and quality of pictures coming out of this unit. There is no noise in dark-black areas even when you compensate exposure in Lightroom or even Irfanview, the detail retention is just amazing. The colors are even better than the 50D. The catch is it is better to use DPP from Canon the get the most of the pictures, Lightroom just can’t cut it, yet. Although I am not a Canon user, Pentax is my brand, I am telling people to buy it if they have the money, it is a great buy. That was my two cents today.

  2. Alain: Thanks for your comments. Quick question if you see this–LR–if you get a chance, give the LR3 beta 1 a shot. The differences between it and LR2 are pretty astonishing. I should do some comparisons with DPP, though. I’ve mostly done landscape, but I hope to get a chance to work out the 7D (as well as my 1ds3) a little more at Bosque in December, bet that will be a blast.

  3. Joe, I will, we will test it with LR 3 beta, whatever can bring more details from the 7D is welcome. I will let you know. DPReview just came out with theirs and they are not, like all Canon reviews, pulling as much details as real users do in the field by using DPP. I feel it is the same with Nikon reviews with NX2 vs LR 2, hope that LR 3 will bring much more than before.

  4. Alain: I’ll get DPP loaded and give it a shot then. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for this review Joe. I had vaguely thought about getting a 7D as a backup to my 1Ds MkII, but now I’m going to consider it more seriously. I’m actually curious to see how the image quality of this $1700 camera stacks up to the one I bought five years ago for $8000.

  6. Hey Michael! More impressions than a real review, but I’m glad it might be helpful.

    I think it might work out for me as a backup for a lot of things, not quite sure how it would compare to a 1Ds2, but at low ISO and good glass I bet it there’d be nothing to apologize for. If you want me to drop you a couple CR2 files, drop me a line and I’ll dig some up if it’d help ya. Never got a 1Ds2, but I my first $8K investment was the original 1Ds. Loved that camera, everything since has made me feel spoiled. I’m okay with that. πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Joe,

    I highly appreciate your “here’s what I have, not what I have heard” approach (my words, not yours πŸ˜‰ to this camera – I think there’s been so much hype, good and bad, that a neutral and professional approach is really called for.
    As I’m thinking about getting this camera (when I have time and money, ha!), I’m looking forward to further notes from you about your experience with the 7D. I also appreciate your comment about LR3 being an improvement over LR2 – hust having downloaded 2.5 … πŸ˜‰
    thx

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