Canon's new 7D looks to bridge the gap between the incredible but expensive 5D Mark II and very capable stills camera the 50D. At $3499, the 7D is midway in price between these two excellent cameras. Does it perform well enough to carve out its own niche?
On the one hand, the 7D shares a lot with the 50D including a high resolution LCD. The 50D also has fast (but not as fast as the 7D) image writing, and high ISO sensitivity.
It lacks the newer features such as wireless flash transmitters and a movie mode, but it also costs less, at $2599 for the kit version. On the other side of the coin is the 5D Mark II, which tacks on more dosh but leaves you with one of the most respected, well-designed, and feature-packed cameras Canon have ever made.
Physically, the 7D feels durable. A magnesium body that seems weighted towards the grip will feel great for those with larger hands. If you've come from a Canon background already, the design and layout will be no problem for you.
Between the click wheel, directional pad, top wheel, and selection of buttons, it will all make sense. If you've come from another camera system, learning the 7D's controls will seem a little awkward at first but it grows on you quickly.
Let's start with the most obvious needs for a good camera: image quality, as you'll definitely find that here. Colours are bright and auto white balance is closer than Adobe could ever think it would be, while noise is handled quite well until you start to push past ISO 3200.
The 7D is capable of up to 12800 ISO, allowing you to shoot in some seriously low light. The quality at the highest ISO isn't exceptional, but it is there if needed. While noise reduction will dent the detail in JPEG files taken with the 7D, its RAW mode provides the right amount of control and sharpness.
With an 18-megapixel sensor, Canon have given you a lot of room to work with, but if your CF card supports UDMA, you won't even feel the burden of saving large images.
A feature that is finding its way into more and more Digital SLRs is video mode and the Canon 7D is no exception, with support for up to 1080p recording at various frame rates including 24p and 25p. You'll also find a 720p mode that gives you 60p. That's enough to afford smoother motion if you so choose.
We won't say the video quality is as good as last year's brilliant 5D Mark II, but it does perform exceptionally well most of the time. It is, like many cameras, let down recording in dark and low-light environments. Unlike many other video-equipped cameras, Canon has provided a microphone input on the side to give you a little bit more control over the lackluster inbuilt mic.
Apart from image quality, the 7D boasts an array of modes that makes other cameras blush with envy. You'll find three creative modes as well as the usual assortment of manual & priority modes, plus two auto modes which will make it easy to use for even the most camera-phobic.
The included viewfinder is capable of seeing 100 per cent of the field of view, something only a few APS-C cameras can do as well.
This large viewfinder thus sees exactly what the lens does, giving you scope for better composition. Outside of the viewfinder, you'll find a 3in high-resolution LCD showing 920,000 dots of sheer colour brilliance. It's always bright and Canon have done an excellent job with it, making Live View and media playback look fantastic.
It would be silly not to mention the countless other features the 7D includes. The dual Canon DiG!C processors enable fast write times, there's an in-built wireless transmitting flash for creative lighting, a new 19-point autofocus system that works a treat, accelerometers to pick up the difference between shooting portrait and landscape, and the ability to customise nearly every button on your grip. In case you haven't been paying attention, that's a lot of package for $2699 body only.
Chuck on an 18-135mm lens and you'll add $800 more to the price. The kit lens isn't bad but lacks the build quality compared to the rest of the camera.
With all this going for it, what does the 7D lack? We couldn't find an auto-focus assist light and sometimes the metering wouldn't quite compensate for contrast levels, but this camera grows on you.
The 7D is designed for the person who intends to take their photography somewhere else. Not only does the EOS 7D let you extend the skills you've learned on your current camera, it lets you develop new ones and pushes them thanks to better video and stills ability.