Canon 7D Mark 2 Rolling Review

As one of Canon's Explorers Andy is very privileged to have the 7D 2 loaned to him for a month to test it. Here are his views in this rolling review.

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Hello everyone and welcome to my rolling 7D2 review. FotoBuzzers have been following this for a few days but now, in my role as a Canon Explorer, it will be public. Remember FotoBuzzers you can ask me questions about anything in here on the Tech Lounge so you will get a lot of benefit from my experience at testing it and setting the camera up.

Just to re-iterate, I have been honoured to be allowed to have a beta test sample of the 7D2 ahead of the main production run next month (or that is what the rumours are anyway, I have no firm info yet). Now the first thing I have to tell you is that anything I post here will likely be much better in the production version, as they will update the firmware before release. The camera functions all work fine, it's the last minute tuning that will be the difference between this model and the production one. Therefore image quality, ISO performance and AF tuning will be much better. 

There are a few such reviews appearing now from trusted sources, always trust professional photographers for their reviews as we are using it to shoot with rather than just analysing numbers. I know that Scott Kelby has done a great review in the US, which mirrors my own conclusions. This review will be a rolling one that I will update as and when I have new images and something useful to say. Having the camera for so long, it is coming to Antarctica with me on October 15th, will mean I can really push it in so many environments. 


Initial thoughts

Ok let's start with the basics. It feels nicely chunky in my hand, it weighs more than the 6D, 70D and 5D3 and that is great as in my view it makes a more stable camera. Score one!

The controls are pretty much the same as the 1DX that I am used to, which for some of you may require a little getting used to but the buttons are very very logical as pros need that!

The internal menu systems will be familiar to all and the only real additions for you are the new AF settings (same as 5D3, 6D and 70D) with all the new presets etc and a built in intervalometer. A what Rousey?? A time lapse controller that is what, so you don't need an external cable now. Just set it up and leave it to its own devices - a great little addition that I will be testing in Antarctica on penguins.

Other than that the body is as expected. I have seen some forum discussions about the sensor being the same as the 70D as it's the same MP rating. I can tell you from shooting with the camera already that it is NOT the same sensor by any means. That's not to rubbish the 70D, which is a great camera, but the 7D2 is a different animal aimed at a slightly more advanced market. The other bit of forum chat to clear up is the issue of whether the camera should have 4k video or not. It doesn't of course and thank god for that. I don't want this camera to shoot 4K video and most users interested in using this camera the only 4K they are interested in is when they rob the local bank (other organisations with money available). And before the geeks write to me yes I know the benefits of shooting 4k video BUT not for this camera, as we all want it to be a good, affordable price point. Which it most certainly is!  So please let's just test the 7D2 on the features that it was designed to deliver...

As usual with my reviews, see my 1D-X and 200-400 ones, I will jump in with both feet and use this as my professional camera body for a while. There is no point for me doing the odd test here and there, I need to use it to see if it can deliver what everyone wants and needs it to. And talking of which, most of you are interested in two things, does the AF work well and is the ISO performance much better than the 7D mark 1 and / or 5D3? So they will be the two things I will mainly concentrate on here if that's ok with you. 


First Results

So a couple of days ago I took the camera out for the first time in anger, as in my view that is the only place to test it. So I attached it to my 200-400mm lens and that would give me a 320-864 mm zoom, which would provide a great test. My intended subject were red deer but when I arrived they had vanished off the face of the earth and could not be found (subsequently I have found now where they were, sneaky things). Luckily I had a plan B and spied a very nice Fallow stag sitting in some lovely evening sunlight. He looked beautiful and as you remember from my deer masterclass the trick with park deer like these is to be bold and act like a member of the public. So I just ambled along the path, not really looking at him, until I was roughly level. Then I stopped slowly, sat down and started to check him out through the zoom. Over the course of a few minutes I managed to get closer and closer, he was not worried about me at all so I started the business of getting shots and began with this one....

A very fine looking lovely chap. For the techs, I used an aperture of f/5.6 to keep the detail good on him but everything else more diffuse. If you are not sure about aperture then AJ and I wrote a really comprehensive basic skills class on using aperture for FotoBuzz, but of course that is for community members only!  Now I know that most of you will want to see a 100% crop so here goes:

Now a little about the processing. It was shot with a "Faithful" picture style which applies 0 sharpening. This is a really really important point and you need to understand its significance. If you set the style as " Standard" then sharpening is applied to the whole image. If you leave this untouched then the RAW converter, Canon's DPP in this case, will sharpen the RAW during processing to the same degree and you will get a TIFF that has been sharpened across the whole image. This means all the noisy bits have been sharpened too!!! Myself, and many pros like me, never ever ever do this. We sharpen only the bits of the image that need sharpening, i.e. the deer here. This means that I switch off all sharpening, by using "Faithful" and ensure that the RAW converter does the same at processing time. Then, when I am finished my colour correction in Photoshop I sharpen only the deer using Nik Sharpen on a layer. That way I avoid any background noise being sharpened. I have done this with every single camera I have ever used and I have applied it here to the 7D2 as well.

Our new BLOG system here uses a new graphics uploader that does sharpen a little and boost contrast. Hence you can see a very sharp image. So aside from that I have done nothing to this image. Quality is superb but of course at ISO 200 you expect that right? So predictably here's what I did next:

This is shot at ISO 1600 this time. To make the ISO change I did not take my eye from the viewfinder, I just used the ISO button on the top as it has a little knobbly dial to identify it. Here's the 100% crop:

Again it's been sharpened a little by our system here but the RAW is very sharp indeed with no artefacts present on the fur. I cannot see any noise arti artefacts the black area and this would be unlikely anyway so I will need to do more tests with a coloured background. But on first impressions I would say that at ISO 1600 in this beautiful light, the quality was superb. Now I will add some caveats. I would expect high ISO images to always look better in beautiful light, the test is in more challenging in dodgy light. So trust me, I will be testing this fully but right now I'm impressed as the quality that it delivered would satisfy even my most demanding calendar clients.

Just a word on autofocus. I didn't really get to test it that much as the stag was static All I will say is that I picked the centre spot and it focused where I asked it to. Obviously it needs a lot better test than that, and talking of which the sun has now come out so I am off out again with the 7D2 to see what I can find!


Update 07-10-14

I decided that, despite having the flu, I had to get out and do some more testing as time is very short before Antarctica. To be honest it doesn't matter much anyway as I doubt very much whether any bodies will be available before my return. So last night I struggled out and did some deer stalking again, determined to try to push the 7D2 as much as I could with the conditions. Unfortunately it insisted on being sunny all the time!!!! But I did get one opportunity in cloudy light to push the ISO to 1600:

 

Now once again the same logic has been applied, picture style of neutral to stop sharpening to be applied. Since the image has a nice bright, diffuse background we can assess the noise in here. Well I can tell you it's very very good, surprisingly good for a cropped sensor. It's monochromatic noise, which is the best kind, and this look identical to what I would expect the 1D-X to produce at ISO 3200. Here's an extreme crop:

Now this is a massive crop, the first image is 100% this is much more more so forget any lack of sharpness in the deer (actually it's pretty good). Look at the noise in the green. Yeah I know you need to look with alien eyes to see it, remember this is ISO 1600 on a beta version of the camera. There is no colour noise in any of the black areas on the face, I looked at them all in great detail and could not find any. The noise is uniform, monochromatic and looks a little like a scanned film, image. Now people that follow my work and my reviews will remember that I said this before....when I reviewed the high ISO performance of the 1D-X. It's great noise and great performance from this camera as it's NEGLIGIBLE.

From my initial tests this camera performs like a mini me of the 1D-X, the images look more like that camera than any other I have tested. Of course it will never compete with the 1DX, after all you pay for what you get, but it doesn't really have to. Shooting at ISO 1600 is as high as 99% of it's owners will ever go. I have no doubt that testing a production model will yield even better results, but for now I am happy enough to use this for my everyday professional life at the moment. In other words all of my tests are totally live, in the field, no safety net. And so far the 7D2 is surprising me as they (the Canon boys and girls) seem to have solved the noise issues that plague cropped sensor cameras at ISO's of 800 and above. Of course there will be cries that I have not really pushed it, my answer to that is REALLY??? In the professional world I shoot mostly at ISO 800, rarely 1600 and even more rarely 3200. I did shoot a handful of my first ever 1DX images of the otters at ISO 6400 but that was an exception and pushed the 1DX. I am interested in what the limits are of the camera for commercial professional usage, as wildlife clients are very very picky about image quality. Of course I will, when the situation allows, shoot with it at much higher ISO to see how the file holds up. But in my view I have pushed it as I have taken it in the field, with some tough subjects, and used it without thought that it was a beta model. It's been damn good, a 1DX mini me!!!!

Right now I need to start testing the AF but this is less of a concern for me as a) I know it works for the 1DX and 5D3 and b) many others have tested this already. But I will continue on, so far so good! 

The AF System

I was very pleased to see the new AF system integrated into the 7D2, as I have come to really love this with the 1DX. Of course the Accel / Decel tracking options only go from 0 to 2, whereas the 1DX is -2 to 2 but that's a minor. In many ways I preferred the 1DX when it only had these three values as less choice is good in my opinion. It's my hope that this camera, with so many more "cross type" AF points than the others, will be a real AF speed demon! 

To be honest I have not really pushed the AF system at all because the AF is less of a concern for me as a) I know it works for the 1DX and 5D3 and b) many others have tested this already. I have all the settings set to "dumb" mode as I don't need anything else for the deer. But again it has dealt with everything very well, right from using the smallest point to get accuracy on the eye with using all 61 points to get a lock in low contrast situations. Here's a few examples of it working when I really needed it to:

 

Verdict so far....

Ok it's very early days as I have used this beta unit for just 2 shoots. Both of which though have been in tough conditions. Things I like - the 1.6x crop factor for my 200-400mm lens, the colours (they are more vivid than the 1DX), the image quality and the performance at ISO 1600. Things I don't like, hmmmmm let me think, ah yes a real gripe this, the LCD doesn't come pre loaded with Kylie videos to amuse me whilst I'm waiting for the deer to turn up! Seriously there is nothing I have found yet that I don't like, I have just used it so far as I would use the 1DX and the 7D2 has quietly got on with it's business. So far so good, more updates hopefully soon.....

Trip Update

Back from my trip, I gave the 7D2 a right pounding, had it out in blizzards without any kind of protection, used it for high action and intimate portraits. It delivered totally. Here's some very high action work, pushing the camera to the limits, again it delivered:

 

Taken on 7D Mark 2 Beta

 

Taken on 7D Mark 2 Beta

Taken on 7D Mark 2 Beta

Now I subjected it to a lot of weather during the trip. In fact it was never covered at all, I decided to let the elements loose on it to see how good the sealing was and it's AF ability in dodgy conditions, here is a sand storm...

Taken on 7D Mark 2 Beta

And here it performs in a blizzard. On this occasion it was covered in snow for an appreciable amount of time and it was only the fact that I could not feel my hands that ended this encounter...

Taken on 7D Mark 2 Beta

Finally could it focus backlit, as you all know I love backlit shooting....

Taken on 7D Mark 2 Beta

Pretty conclusive that it can!!!!

Conclusions

It works. Period. It's definitely a mini me of the 1D-X, that is for sure. ISO wise I would set it to 800 without even a second glance. If it's sunny then 3200 is great too, but in gloomy conditions I would leave it at 1600 max. Obviously when shooting high ISO you need to get the exposure right, that goes without saying. I have seen some horrendously underexposed shots taken with the 7D2 and then the resultant moans about noise when brightening them up. Come on people, let's get real here!!! File quality is excellent, I have worked now with over 500 files and they have all been really good to work with and to interpolate, just as good as the 1D-X. Weather proofing is fine too. Oh and I tested the internal time lapse feature too and it worked as expected.

So there you go, not much else I can say really. It works and I bought one, which I will use whenever I need to with total confidence. Coupled with the new 100-400mm v2 lens from Canon it will be a killer combination and talking of which.....


Buying your 7D2 and 100-400mm v2

Sundeep at CVP has now given us great discount prices for the 7D2, the new 100-400mm lens and also a combo price for both:

7D2 - CVP price = £1499 (which is a £100 saving)

100-400 - CVP price = £1899 (which is a £100 saving)

Combo, 7D2 + 100-400mm = £3348 (which is a £250 saving)

This shows the CVP commitment to FotoBuzz so please support them (and us) via the online store. If you wish to order the any of these then you can now do it via one discount code - FOTOBUZZ and your discount will then be applied. Please note that this code only applies to the products listed above!

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