The 7D is just slightly larger and heavier that it's APS-C sibling, the 50D, measuring 5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 inches and weighing in at about 2 pounds with the battery and memory card inserted. The total weight of the camera/lens setup we tested was right around 3 pounds, which included the EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens. I found this combination was quite comfortable to hold and operate while shooting a wedding for some family members, which consisted of several hours of running around and shooting photos pretty much non-stop; I easily filled two 16GB CF cards. I do wish we could have used the optional BG-E7 during our testing, which gives you a better handling for portrait orientation photography, as well as double the battery life when using two LP-E6 packs. There are a multitude of buttons laid out across the 7Ds body, which can intimidate the novice user. Those with more experience will appreciate the quick control these buttons/dials allow, and I personally liked the fact that a good majority of the buttons on this camera can be customized or tailored to your specific needs. The new Live View/Movie mode switch that is mounted around the Live View Start/Stop button is a nice addition to the 7D. It allows you to instantly activate the LV function, while also acting as the video mode shutter release. By using a separate release for movie mode, this allows you to capture still images during video capture, with only a brief interruption in the movie from the movement and sound of the shutter and mirror.
One accessory I used while testing the 7D was the Cotton Carrier camera system. This carrying system allows you to carry one or more cameras securely to your body, while giving you complete use of both of your arms. This is accomplished by the shoulder strap style "rig" that hugs your upper body, and holsters that allow the camera(s) to hang freely. The camera insert which slides into the "holsters" uses the tripod mount, and can only be inserted one way. I used this system while shooting a wedding, and it was a life saver to say the least. It allowed me to carry both the 7D and a backup around during the event, with almost no fatigue on my arms and shoulders. In my opinion, this is a Must Have accessory. More info on this system can be found at http://www.cottoncarrier.com
Canon has integrated a Very nice viewfinder on the 7D. This is probably the most comfortable OVF I have used, which offers an impressive view of your subject with a 29.4° angle of view and 1x magnification. While testing the 7D, we had several other dSLR units in house. When out taking our usual sample photos, I noticed that every time I would pick up another camera after shooting with the 7D, it seemed as though I was looking through an inferior viewfinder; which is not necessarily true, but the 7D's large viewing angle just looks and feels so much nicer than your typical OVF. A few other unique features Canon implemented on this OVF are the transparent LCD display and new Dual Axis electronic leveling system. The transparent LCD display replaces the focusing screens of old, and allows you to customize the viewfinder display to your liking. One of the available options is the Level display, which uses the AF points to show you both the pitch and roll of the camera. You just press the M-Fn button that is positioned right next to the shutter release, and the level function is activated (depending on your camera settings). This is a very cool feature that is sure to come in handy; it can also be displayed on the camera's LCD using a more graphical interface.
The 3.0-inch LCD offered on the 7D is an exceptional display. With 920,000 pixels of resolution, this LCD produces a clear, sharp image with good contrast and brightness. There are 3 Auto brightness settings, along with 7 manual adjustments available. Color reproduction is also pretty good, with colors that look close to what you actually captured. This display is used for navigating the menus, viewing the shooting information screens, Live View mode shooting, and the level function. The menu system is the same as past EOS models, so those of you who have or still own a Canon dSLR will be right at home. Overall, I feel the 7D's menu system is logically organized, which allowed for easy navigation. Because the LCD is large, the menu text and icons are quite easy to see.
Shooting modes and custom settings are plentiful on this camera. It's nice to see Canon still includes a simple Full Auto exposure mode as well as Creative Auto for those with little photography experience, but I have a feeling that these setting are likely ones that will rarely be used by the majority of photographers that purchase this camera. The 7D was designed for the enthusiast and professionals, who actually use the camera as a photographic tool. With 27 custom functions, three custom exposure mode slots on the dial, and the ability to choose the operation of many of the camera's buttons and dials, the 7D is made for advanced users who demand versatility. However, don't let this scare you novice users off. If you are one who wants to spend the extra money for the 7D over a Rebel model, you won't be disappointed. Even when using the camera's automatic exposure modes, it captures pleasing photos.
Like I mentioned earlier, the 7D was built for speed. Backing up this statement are our shooting performance tests. From power-on until the first shot averaged at 6/10 of a second, however I was able to squeeze off several attempts at only 3/10 second!! Waking the camera from Auto power off and capturing the first shot took only 2/10 second. When pre-focusing the camera, shutter lag is almost non-existent, measuring less than 1/10 second, while autofocus shutter lag averaged just 1/10 second using the Auto Selection:19 point AF mode. In single drive mode, the shot to shot varied depending on how you depressed the shutter release. Lifting my finger each time averaged 5/10 of a second between frames continuously without any buffer slowdown in any mode. Keeping the shutter half-pressed and just pressing it in fully as fast as I could resulted in shot to shot times of as fast as 2/10 of a second between frames; I was able to capture 4 frames in one second on more than one occasion. Here, I did see a slight "slow down" when shooting in RAW + JPEG (large/fine) mode, where after 20 or so frames, I'd get an occasional 5/10 of a second lag, but then it was right back to 2-3/10 of a second between frames again. This seemed to continue as I keep mashing the shutter release, with no other buffer slow down; the camera is just fast, what else can we say.
The 7D also boasts some appealing burst speeds, which almost compares with Canon's 1D series of professional dSLRs. With the ISO set to Auto, I was able to capture 144 images in just 20.3 seconds. This was with absolutely No buffer slow down what so ever. Canon claims you can capture up to 94 Large/Fine JPEG images using standard CF cards or up to 126 shots using UDMA compliant CF cards, which we surpassed considering I shot 144 Large/Fine images; and I could have kept going. This is a capture rate of only 7.1fps over the span of 144 frames, falling just short of Canon's claim of 8fps. However, I did notice that the camera was able to produce the 8fps speeds for the first 16 or so frames frames, but then it with no noticeable slow down the rate changed. The 7.1fps we saw was the average over the 144 frames we captured at one interval. This could be because of the lighting I have in my office, so I decided to bump up the ISO to see if I could squeeze out 8fps over 100 or so images. At ISO 3200, I was able to capture 109 frames in 15.1 seconds (7.2fps). ISO 6400 produced even slower results. While starting out at above 8fps (like we saw with each setting), the camera was only able to capture about 71 frames before it stated to slow down to about 6fps. I believe this was caused by the camera's noise reduction system, which requires more processing for each photo than a JPEG shot at lower sensitivity settings. Either way, capturing 18-megapixels at 7-8fps is still an amazing feat, and I think the 7D's shooting performance will match the needs of a sports photographer nicely.
Switching over to RAW image quality, the continuous capture rates stayed the same, just the depth changed. With a UDMA card, Canon says you can capture up to 15 RAW files or 6 RAW+JPEG (Large/Fine). I was able to capture 16 RAW images and 8 RAW+JPEG files before I saw any slowdown. When you consider that the the average file size of a JPEG image is 8-9+ megabytes and 30+ megabytes for RAW files, these performance findings should start to impress you. All of our tests were done using an EF 28-135mm 3.5-5.6 IS USM zoom lens at wide angle, SanDisk Extreme Pro 16GB CF2 memory card, Program mode, ISO Auto, ONE SHOT AF, Automatic point selection, Evaluative metering, Preview off, with all other settings at default. Times may vary depending on photographer response, lighting, camera settings, media used, etc.
Shooting performance during Live View has improved over past EOS cameras that offered this feature. The new Live View switch and Start/Stop button makes it much easier to enable/disable this mode, which is a big improvement over past systems on the Canon models. Turing on LV mode takes about a second before the live image displays on the LCD. Shutter lag was almost instantaneous when pre-focused, however the as long a 3.5 seconds including the Live Mode AF setting. I found the camera would "hunt" for focus when in Live View mode, especially indoors. When shooting outside it seemed to perform better, but no where near as fast as when shooting with the OVF. I feel that Live View on dSLRs is best suited for tri-pod type photography, where you are shooting a static subject; such as close-up flower shots, some portraits, etc.
Canon's new 18-megapixel CMOS image sensor combined with their Dual Digic 4 processing unit helped the 7D produce pleasing results in a variety of shooting situations. Like I mentioned before, I was fortunate enough to use the 7D to shoot a wedding for a family member, and it performed very well. The High ISO capabilities of this camera came in handy, as the lowest setting I used was ISO 500. The images I captured look great in my opinion, with good sharpness and contrast. I used manual mode with a custom picture style to produce a bit more saturated image, along with my old Canon 380EX flash unit fitted with a home made omni-bounce, which together provided me with the specific look I wanted. You can see some unedited examples of the portraits I captured on our Sample Photos page. The new 19-point AF system was fast and accurate in a variety of lighting conditions. Even when shooting in a dark reception hall, the camera was able to quickly focus on my subjects with a high success rate.
Outdoors, I used Program mode with the ISO set to 100. With these settings, along with the camera's 63 zone dual-layer metering system, the 7D was able to produce accurate exposures on both sunny and overcast days. Image detail and sharpness were also good, even when using the Standard Picture Style mode. I did notice that the EF 28-135mm 3.5-5.6 IS USM zoom lens we had attached to the 7D displayed a bit of edge softness in the majority of our outdoor photos, however this was only seen when critically examining photos at 100%. At fullscreen mode on my 24-inch wide screen monitor, they still look Very nice.
Imager noise was well controlled, which is a big deal with a camera of this nature. Those of you who purchase a dSLR in this price range need, and expect that it will perform well, no matter what the lighting situation is. I used a range of ISO 500 - 1250 during the wedding, and even the images that were captured on the higher end of that range were able to produce some beautiful 8.5x11-inch borderless prints from my Canon PIXMA printer. On our sample page, you can see a series of shots of our M&M man shot at all of the available ISO settings as well as the higher options using the various Noise Reduction settings. In my opinion, the 7D was able to capture images that can produce high-quality mid to large sized prints right on up to IS0 2500. Once you reach ISO 3200, you will start to see a good amount of speckling and detail loss; look at the stitching of the flag. From ISO 3200 on up you start to see some changes in color saturation, however from 3200 - 6400 I still feel you could pull off some nice 4x6-inch prints; if you're planning on B&W, even larger. The maximum 12,800 setting looks pretty bad, even when viewing at 20%. Colors are blotchy, and you can see heavy speckling. Surprisingly, there is still s good amount of detail, as you can still easily read the text of the magazines. The above evaluation was when the High ISO NR was set to Standard. Changing this setting to Strong allows the 7D to really shine. At this NR setting, I would be confident making larger prints when using even the ISO 6400 setting. In fact, ISO 6400 using Strong NR looks as good, if not better, than ISO 4000 using the Standard NR setting. Overall, I feel the 7D offers superior High ISO capabilities. You should always try to keep the sensitivity to the lowest setting possible, but with this camera (using Strong NR), you can be confident that you will still be able to produce quality prints when shooting in challenging situations that demand the use of settings like 3200 or even 6400.
For those who want to dial in a specific type of "look" in their photos, the 7D continues to offer Canon's Picture Style settings. These processing parameters cover a wide range of photo requirements, with each setting offering manual adjusts in terms of sharpness, contrast, saturation and color tone. I found that the Standard style met the needs of the vast majority of scenes I captured. In addition to the pre-defined Styles, there are also 3 user-defined Picture Styles that can be configured in the camera. I found these options to be a big plus, and I used this functionality to create a custom style to suit the needs I had for shooting a wedding. While the pre-defined modes would have produced great results, it was nice to be able to manually adjust the settings to my liking, and save them for easy recall later.
The 7D is Canon's third dSLR to offer HD video capture: the 5DMk2 being the first, then followed by the Rebel T1i. Unlike past models however, the 7D offers three resolution settings; 1080p (1920x1080 @ 30 or 24p), 720p (1280x720 @60p), VGA (640x480 @ 60p). Like past models the 7D captures clean crisp video at all resolution settings, all of which play back nice and smooth when played in camera or when connected to a HDTV. If you plan on trying to play the full HD videos on your PC/Mac, be sure you have a Very fast machine. My Core Duo machine with 4GB of RAM and a nice GeForce 9800 GT graphics card could not handle them at all. Like I've mentioned in past dSLR reviews, because these models are much larger than your typical point-n-shoot, or even a common day camcorder, they actually offer a real nice hold during video capture. Couple that with an IS lens like the one we used and a mono-pod, and you've got yourself a photo/video combination that will allow you to capture just about anything that may come your way. The only thing I highly recommend you add to your 7D purchase is a fast, high-capacity CF2 card, like the 16GB Sandisk Extreme Pro card we used during our testing.
Battery life is outstanding, as usual. The 7D continues the use of the 7.2v 1800mAh LP-E6 battery pack that we first saw on the 5DMk2. Canon boasts that the LP-E6 can power the 7D for up to 1000 pictures when using the OVF, in normal temperatures. I found this was a very good estimate, as I captured a total of about 950+ photos, and only topped off the battery after 700+ frames to ensure I had plenty of battery power; the camera was still showing that the batter was only half dead at that point. This also included extended use of the menu system during our testing as well as long periods of playback. The battery is charged in a handy AC charger, which features fold-away prongs. This makes it very portable, so you can have it with you at all times. While battery life is impressive, I highly recommend picking up the BG-E7 battery grip. It holds two LP-E6 cells for the possibility to capture up to 2000 photos per charge!
Bottom Line - Canon has hit a home run with their EOS 7D. This is a well rounded camera that offers class leading results in almost all categories tested, especially when it comes to burst capture. If you are a serious photographer looking for a rugged work horse for a wide range of photography (from sports, nature, or weddings), I highly recommend you take a look at this model. With a MSRP of only $1699, the EOS 7D offers an outstanding value for the performance and features you are receiving. I have no problem giving this camera our highest recommendation, and I most certainly plan on picking up one of these for myself in the near future.
Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.