Canon EOS 7D

Announced about a month ago, Canon's new EOS 7D digital SLR hopefully represents a bit of a technological come back in the high-end digital SLR marketplace. 

Though there are a number of great camera makers out there, Nikon and Canon always seem to be the most popular and talked about brands.  Even though I'm a satisfied and happy Canon shooter, there are a number of compelling reasons to shoot Nikon today; the diversity of models, ergnomics, features, and fact that lenses from years and years ago still work on all of their bodies.

That being said, cameras are first and foremost tools in an artist's toolbox.  As long as your tools can provide a functional baseline to meet all of your creative needs, any extras are just gravy.  In this respect, even though Nikon might offer some features that Canon doesn't or vice-versa, both are capable of capturing undoubtedly high quality, high resolution images with gorgeous colour, contrast and sharpness. 

As much as I've found a new love for the creative and artistic side of photography, I've also found a new love for photographic technology!  As my brother so aptly noted, good thing I'm not into drugs, or my addictive personality and buying habits would have long since killed me. ;)

I was lucky enough to be able to pick one up this weekend, without having pre-ordered.  Vistek, Henrys, Downtown Camera all claimed they were sold out and only had units allocated to pre-order left over, with a 3-4 week ETA.

Aden Camera on the other hand, had about 10 on the shelf at both locations, and were offering a free SanDisk Extreme III 16GB compact flash card with the purchase (which is $150+).

The 7D represents a new series in the Canon line up.  There's the xxxD series, which encompasses the "Rebel" lineage, the serious amateur xxD series like the 40D/50D, and of course the xD series which includes the 5D and 1D professional series.

When Canon released the 7D, confusion surrounded the choice of naming.  As Chuck Westfall explained, there is order in the chaos, as the xD series has always had a numbering scheme with lower numbers being more "professional" and higher numbers being "less so".  That logic puts the 7D below the 5D, but above the 50D.  The fact of the matter is, all three bodies are geared towards different audiences, and comprise different features.

I definitely didn't need another camera body, my 50D and 5D Mark II are more than sufficient for what I shoot and require -- but that doesn't mean there wasn't a reason to want the new 7D!

Feature wise, the 7D includes a brand new autofocus system developed by Canon, uses dual processors to enable a fast frame rate of up to 8 frames per second, is better weather sealed, shoots full HD video including at 24fps, and has a built-in wireless flash commander.  It's also an APS-C sized sensor at 18 megapixels, so it doesn't completely cannabalize the 5D Mark II which is full frame at 21.1 megapixels.

So what's compelling about the 7D over the 50D and 5D Mark II?

  • 18 megapixels as opposed to the 50D's 15, which theoretically means better detail and more cropping ability.  Theoretically, because both sensors are APS-C sized, and more megapixels means higher sensor density and usually more noise, which opposes detail.  Initial reviews and comparisons are showing the 7D to be producing better detail and lower noise than the 50D, even at higher resolution.  The downside is diffraction, as with a higher pixel density, the smallest aperture usable before diffraction starts to set in is somewhere in around f6.3, whereas on the 50D it's around f7.6.

  • An overhauled autofocus system.  The 7D has 19 AF-points, all of which are cross-type.  With the exception of the AF system in the 1D series, only the center point is usually cross-type, with all others being either vertically or horizontally sensitive.  With 19 cross-type sensors, AF sensitivity and accuracy should be much better.  Canon has also introduced a variety of ways to select focus points and modes.  Although based around the Nikon D70's AF system, this post talks about autofocus and sensor types.

  • The 7D has an orientation sensor which it leverages to display a spirit level, either on the LCD, or using the AF points through the viewfinder.  Also new is the ability to set a different AF point and mode for both landscape and portrait orientations.  After setting each, whenever the camera is rotated, the AF point and mode is automatically switched.

  • A built-in pop-up flash, which the 5D Mark II doesn't have.  Sure, professionals will sneer and say you should be carrying a 580EX II, and that built-in flashes are for "consumers", but there are times when a little fill flash to sharpen things up, or increase contrast and saturation sure is handy and you don't want to carry the heft of additional flashes.  I've been playing around with dialing flash exposure compensation down -1.5 to -2 EV to just add a little fill, but not any obvious front lighting with good results.  The other big plus the 7D has is that for the first time, the on camera flash can act as a master unit to control remote, off-camera Speedlites.  For anyone who does off-camera lighting, this is huge, as it means in certain situations, you no longer need Pocket Wizards or other remote triggering accessories.  Because it's Canon and on-camera, you can also control remote flashes set for E-TTL and manual modes.

    • E-TTL means that the camera uses its metering and evaluation of the lighting in the scene as measured through the lens, coupled with a very fast pre-flash to determine what output the flash should fire at.  While almost fully automatic, and not yielding much creative control, it means that you can mostly reliably light moving objects dynamically without having to worry about metering and setting output levels.

    • Manual mode is for setting each flash at a particular output level so that you know exactly how much light it's going to put out.  If you're in a studio or controlled environment, manual is more tedious, but yields more consistent results and creative flexibility.  The 7D's on-camera flash and settings can remotely adjust the output of external Speedlites.

    • Nikon has had this (through its Creative Lighting System), as does Pentax I'm told for some time.
  • Dual DIGIC IV processors and an 8 frame per second burst rate.  Not really at the top of my priorities list, since shooting sports, or moving targets (other than kids) is not really my thing.  8 frames per second is very fast though.  At the resolution that the camera shoots, if you're into sports or birds, I'd imagine it's great.  The 50D is capable of 6.3 and the 5D Mark II 3.9.

  • Better high ISO and low light sensitivity.  This gets better with every camera generation.  The 7D looks to be about a stop better than the 50D, but still not as good as the 5D Mark II -- since it's full frame, that's near impossible in any case.

  • Video, which the 50D doesn't have.  The 5D Mark II has video, and at 1080p, this was one of the features that set the 5D Mark II apart from the crowd.  Though it won't shoot 24fps, which commercial and serious videographers apparently need, whereas the 7D will happily shoot 24fps.  Not sure if this will ever make any difference to me, but I like the flexibility of being able to take video clips of whatever is happening with either of the bodies I might happen to have with me.

  • Both the 7D and 5D Mark II use LP-E6 batteries, so I can share and use the same batteries between both bodies.  The 50D uses a different, older battery style, so I needed to carry different chargers and different batteries with me.

  • The LCD screen on the 7D is fantastic.  It no longer has an air-gap between the actual liquid crystal and protective screen which reduces glare.  Some claim it eliminates a bluish colour cast sometimes visible on other recent Canon LCD screens.

  • The viewfinder has 100% coverage, meaning what you see through the viewfinder is what the sensor is seeing.  Another new first for Canon is no more focus screen.  While this means that you can no longer install a grid or manual focus screen in place of the stock screen, it also means that grid lines, AF points and other information can be projected into the viewfinder by means of a transmissive LCD screen which replaces the old focus screen.  This is something that Nikon's have had for a while.
There are a whole host of other features and technologies, including metering changes, but other sites like imaging-resource and dpreview cover those in proper depth.

I'm looking forward to the learning curve, and images to come!
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