Canon EOS 7D
Slick shooter with HD video done right
Review Your possible reason for buying this camera may have changed fairly recently. The EOS 7D would have been the only way to get 'standard' and 'film' frame rates from a Canon DSLR product in HD, but no more. There is a new model which offers very much the same video functionality and output for a fraction of the cost, the Canon EOS 550D – more on this later.
Video nicety: Canon's EOS 7D
Canon is well aware that some filmmakers and news gatherers would like to shoot with its stills cameras. It seems providing this feature on the EOS 5D Mark II was just testing the water – as one of its professional full frame DSLR's was given a single HD video frame rate (30p) @ 1920x1080. Step back, and see how it goes. It goes very well; picked up by all sorts of people to whom shallow depth of field composition would help tell their story.
With the EOS 7D Canon has decided to release what surely is a natural progression; a multi frame rate video camera that also produces beautiful stills, albeit with a smaller sensor with a 1.6x crop factor. The 7D is pitched at the same audience that bought into the filmmaking capabilities of the 5D Mark II and while there was also the EOS 500D, which offered a rather strange 20fps @ 1080p, obviously the timing wasn't right, in more ways than one.
Canon has announced a firmware upgrade to address the 5D's lack of choice. Given its bigger sensor, there are plenty of people hoping they will get the same frame rates as with the 7D. Now, at least there is an estimated time for a release in mid-March, as there was no sign of it here and given the time taken to get this far, no doubt many will have tired of waiting and have plumped for the very capable, cheaper and sturdy EOS 7D.
The 7D’s 18Mp CMOS sensor is a refined hybrid, breaking new ground with stills features, as well as correcting the lack of choice of useful video frame rates with the earlier models. It records 1920 x 1080 in 24p or 25p, (30p) and at 1280 x 720 and 640x480 in 50p (60p for other markets). Its codec choice is H.264 format (Baseline Profile) and the audio is 16-bit PCM stereo at 48kHz.
Designed to be in yer face, with its easy access to function buttons when shooting
The EOS 550D, which has a similar sensor in terms of dimensions, but only one processor instead of two in the 7D – the second processor is for stills, not video – will do all the frame rates that the 7D does, at a fraction of its cost. Why? One can only guess that this is all about competitive edge, and that Canon is keen to test how important video is in this area of the market.
First and foremost, the 7D is a fantastic stills camera. On paper, its much-improved AF system brings it more in line with other manufacturer's specs. It's a 19-point cross type, meaning AF points can be set for vertical or horizontal orientation; being able to switch between landscape and portrait shots automatically. This is coupled with iFCL (focus, colour, luminance) metering which uses a 63-zone, dual layer sensor for this task. Among other things, the metering can effectively see in RGB by utilising one layer for Red and Green, and the other for Blue and Green.
Fast continuous shooting, plus an ISO 12800 setting, if you really must
With two DIGIC 4 processors on-board, the 7D can handle more data, a lot more data. The continuous shooting frames-per-second is boosted to a very impressive 8fps for 126 JPEGs when using a faster UDMA Compact Flash card. Now, if only they would get that up to 24 per second we can do away with this HD codec nonsense and start shooting 5k!
Yet, it was only five years ago you got 8fps on a top-of-the-range 10Mp APS camera, which cost twice as much as this model does today. Another advantage is the noise cancelling, up at the silly end of the ISO range, does a better job over other APS-C sized sensor variants. ISO 12800 is the ceiling but, to be honest, nobody here likes poorly lit up images. Perhaps it’ll suffice as an option to infared?
The built-in flash, that can now handle the fisheye 15mm EF lens, works great for fill-in and is handy for emergency lighting. It has a guide number of 39 (12 metres) at ISO 100. The camera itself, can control three groups of wireless flashes direct from the built-in pop-up flash, using E-TTL or Manual control. This is a new feature to the EOS system. Previously, you needed either a proper Canon flash (550EX, 580EX or 580EX II) or the ST-E2 controller. This will open doors for a lot of experimentation, and saves enough money to buy the second gun.
The viewfinder lets you see 100 per cent of what you are shooting, lots of info in there too - not just AF and metering areas, but compositional grids too. It also has a Dual-Axis Electronic Level in the viewfinder and on the LCD that indicates both pitch and roll angles – particularly useful when flying or taking landscapes. You get a positive green line when you are level, nice to know when you have your head straight.
Besides its dual processors, the magnesium alloy body pushes the price up
The magnesium alloy body is where your extra money goes compared to the cheaper ranges, including the EOS 550D. The 7D feels solid, has proper weatherproofing and sticks to your hand better. The controls layout has been improved and designed so there’s no need take the 7D away from your face when shooting. Except, of course, when you are using Live View.
Full edited version, available to view in Full HD
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No exposure compensation
-0.7EV exposure compensation
No exposure compensation
-1EV exposure compensation
-2EV exposure compensation
16mm non-lens kit scene -1EV
16mm non-lens kit scene -1EV
There is a new Quick menu button, which does as it says, offering a shortcut to get to the parameters you need to adjust swiftly. One interesting inclusion is a button that switches you into RAW shooting for one frame if you are in JPEG Only or to RAW+Jpeg if you are in RAW already. It’s a brilliant idea and helps avoid forgetting to switch and ending up filling your card in RAW. See a great shot? Well now you can make sure you get it in 14-bit too. Nice. The 7D also features three Custom positions on the dial up top (C1-3) for quickly setting the camera to a group of settings you use frequently.
User feedback is evident in the 7D's feature set
Getting into recording video is now much easier, instead of wading through menus and assigning conditions to be necessary for the Live View. Now there is a Live View/Movie mode switch and start button. It still has the 4GB limit of using the FAT file system. So recordings in HD will tend to end about the 12-minute mark, with only the 480p taking you anywhere near the 29min limit on devices like this.
So is the EOS 7D an important camera for Canon or just a stopgap before something very game-changing appears with better audio in the shape of a 5D Mark III? That is likely to be a little way off and the 7D is definitely a crowd pleaser. Evidently, Canon listened to its users and listened good. Indeed, the features on the stills side would be enough to compensate for the APS sensor size.
As a smaller sibling to the 5D Mark II, it was the video capabilities that created the buzz around the EOS 7D. It was the only alternative for sensible frame rates, whilst still being able to take advantage of the huge selection of fast EF lenses and giving that pleasing, filmic depth of field look. With the time between releases getting shorter, this camera now shares the limelight with a cheaper, plastic-bodied cousin, the EOS 550D. While the EOS 7D was very much vital yesterday, it now seems less of the exciting video tool it once was, yet it delivers nonetheless. ®
James Cumpsty is a professional photographer and videographer working in the music industry.
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