I had a chance to play with the new Canon 7D Mark II this past weekend and I wanted to provide a little bit of feedback regarding the performance of this speed monster. I received my copy of the camera earlier last week, along with the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L lens, so that I could exclusively photograph wildlife with this setup. The Canon 7D Mark II is specifically targeted at sports and wildlife photographers, so I did not think it would make much sense to evaluate the camera for everyday photography needs. With the Canon 6D being in the same price range, it is a given that a full-frame camera would be much more desirable in terms of image quality for other photography needs.
The 7D Mark II is very different than the 6D in a number of ways. First, its autofocus system is even more advanced than what the high-end Canon 1D X has, with a whopping 65-point all cross-type phase-detection AF system that is insanely fast. The 11-point AF system on the 6D just feels ancient in comparison. Second, the 7D Mark II has dual DIGIC 6 image processors that are much faster than the single DIGIC 5+ on the 6D, allowing for more responsive overall experience, particularly in focus speed, subject tracking and movie recording. Third, the speed of the 7D Mark II is the best in its class – with a 10 fps continuous shooting speed, the camera is a speed monster when compared to the puny 4.5 fps on the 6D. Fourth, the 7D Mark II has a full magnesium alloy construction with high-end sealing designed to withstand challenging weather conditions, whereas the 6D is not weather sealed and feels plasticky in comparison. Although both cameras have the same resolution 20.2 MP sensors, the 7D Mark II has a much smaller APS-C sensor with 1.6x crop factor, so its image quality is visibly inferior, particularly at high ISO settings.
The Canon 7D Mark II feels great in hands and has a professional feel to it. Ergonomically it is a very similar to the Canon 5D Mark III, with slight changes in the body design and the grip. The menu system is pretty extensive, with a boatload of customizable settings and programmable options. It took me a few minutes to set up the camera to my liking and once I got it on continuous release and AI Servo mode, the camera was ready for action. I loaded it up with a fast SanDisk Extreme series CF card and went to shoot some birds. I came across a few Ferruginous Hawks that were cruising the area and I was able to capture them close to sunset, with the beautiful late afternoon light hitting the feathers and painting the birds in warm yellow color.
Shooting at 10 fps was amazing and reminded me a lot like shooting with the Nikon D4s. I captured a number of sequences with the birds taking off, flying and fighting, and it was neat to be able to pull a particular image from a long sequence of shots. The buffer on the 7D Mark II is not as great as on the 1D X, but still pretty manageable, especially if you shoot in bursts. Once RAW support comes out, shooting in just RAW format with the fastest cards should allow for a few seconds of continuous shooting, which is what this camera is all about.
Since there is no RAW support for the 7D Mark II in Lightroom or Photoshop, I had to shoot in RAW + JPEG mode. The images I am presenting in this article are all processed from JPEG images. I applied a little bit of noise reduction on the sky and made a few tweaks to brightness and contrast to bring out the birds more. The images are all cropped a bit, but not overly aggressive, since the 400mm f/5.6 gave me plenty of reach.
Image quality seems decent at high ISOs, but the pixel level noise is pretty apparent even at low ISOs. Sadly, Canon is still using its ancient sensor technology on the 7D Mark II, so there is not much to say when it comes to dynamic range and colors. I will be getting a hold of a Nikon D7100 to compare both cameras side by side, so I will be reporting on my findings soon.
Overall, the camera seems to be very solid for sports and wildlife photography. At a fraction of cost of the 1D X, it will be a very popular choice among Canon shooters. Its autofocus system is accurate and blazing fast and the continuous shooting speed of 10 fps is very useful for capturing fast moving action.
Now the big question is, where is the mythical Nikon D400? I can only imagine what the D400 would look like with a pro body, 10 fps and a super fast AF system… I am still hoping for the Q1 of 2015!