There are two weeks since I have received the Canon 7D and I had some quality time with it in the field. This is a mini review of the Canon 7D used for wildlife photography.
I will only review the real life situations and field test the camera as I am a wildlife photographer. There are other sites where you can read all about the technical specification and what each button does.
After using my Canon 1D Mark II for a long time it was hard for me to take the decision to buy something below this level but I gave it a shot as I thought I will be able to sell the camera anyway if I don't like it. So the camera arrived from USA thanks to a friend of a friend. I have bought the body only, battery grip, an extra battery and a memory card Lexar Professional 233x 32GB UDMA. I paid for the whole package about 1800 USD so I think is a good deal.
First of all I have to report that the camera feels good in your hand with and without the battery grip but I use it only with the grip as I have big hands and my finger slides below the body when I hold a bigger lens. The viewfinder is better than the one I have on the 1D MK II and the focus points are displayed nice and easy to see. This is a great improvement over the other Canon cameras.
Before you start using the camera you have to read the manual and understand some of the functions. They are easy if you are used to Canon cameras but there are so many settings to make …. it will take you a couple of days to decide what works best for you.
The main things I was interested in where:
1. Auto focus
3. Light metering
4. Image quality
The auto focus on the Canon 7D has about 12 custom functions and it is really impressive. It took me one week to figure out what mode to use for birds in flight or for static subjects. In the end I have discovered the following:
– for flying birds – if they are against the sky or a distant background use AI SERVO mode with Zone AF – This works wonders
– for flying birds with difficult background try the Single point auto focus and AI SERVO but don't forget to set the AI servo tracking sensitivity to Slow this will not affect the speed of the auto focus but will slow down the auto focus when your bird or moving object is out of the focus point so you have time to reposition the point on the subject. If set to fast this will result in focus hunt (the camera will try immediately to find another object to focus on and will usually chose the background).
– for subjects that don't move too fast use the Manual Select :Spot AF as you will be able to focus precisely on the eye of a bird or animal.
The focus is working well and tracks better than my 1D so I am pleased with it. There are some issues when it loses a subject as it doesn't seem to be able to return fast on the subject and it tries to find something in the background. It happened to me a few times and it was frustrating but it is not a big problem for me.
The speed of the camera is good but if your previous camera was a 1D Mark II you will not be impressed. It sounds more like a toy when you shoot 8fps… The 1D feels and sounds like a machine gun and makes you smile every time you press that button. All in all it does the job and with a fast memory card you will not have to wait very often for the buffer to empty.
The Canon EOS 7D seems to have a better light meeter than previous Canons and it burns the images less. It is by far not perfect but ok.
Well here we go… After taking a few pictures around the house I have downloaded the images in my computer and opened them with ACDSEE Pro 3. The noise in the images at ISO 400 was unacceptable and I was totally disappointed by the results. I have developed a few pictures with different settings and processed them with Photoshop and Noise Ninja but the results where not even close to what I have seen on the internet. Previously all my RAW files from Canon 1D Mk II where processed this way with great results but now they where not even close to what I was expecting.
Next thing I did was to process the images with Canon's Digital Photo Professional … The results where with less noise but with a huge loss in detail and JPG artifacts… I have to mention that I am a well experienced person when it comes to image processing and raw files…
Finally after a few more attempts I almost lost my hopes and was ready to sell the camera… but I thought why not try the Photoshop RAW plugin? So I have downloaded the plugin and opened a first image… what a difference. I finally started to see the results other people where getting with their 7D-s… but… there is always a but…
All in all I was excited but the 18Mp files are not showing the detail I see from my 5 year old Canon 1D mark II… No matter what I do and how I process the images there is this APS-C sindrom. You can see how those pixels where crammed in there just for the show and sometimes images resemble interpolated pictures. There is also a matter of lens resolution here but I would expect that to happen with cropped images not with full frame subjects. The details in the feathers for example are not sharp. I have seen reports on this problem and I can confirm it now.
One other thing I have noticed is the decrees in adjustment levels due to lower dynamic range, the result is easily burned highlights and deep blacks. The raw processing of the Canon EOS 7D files resembles the processing of my Canon EOS 1D Mark II JPGs. While on the 1Ds RAW files I could adjust the curves and pull the sliders a lot, on the Canon 7D there is no such thing. Only a slight movement of the slider and you have a burned or darkened image.
If I use the images at WEB resolution you don't even realize it but when you look at 100% is another story. In the end I think you get what you have paid for.
The camera is exciting on paper and in the hand but the image quality is not 100% ready for that single number in front of the D. I think I will buy a 1D MK IV when I will have the money and will keep the 7D as a backup camera and use it for video. Video is a feature I am exploring at the moment and I am impressed by it.
This 18Mp sensor uses also a smaller part of the lens and I think it is a problem of glass resolution here. I only use my trusted 300mm L F4 IS lens for telephoto mostly with 1.4 converter and I expect most of the photographers that buy this camera for wildlife photography to be using something similar eg. 100-400mm L, or Sigma 150-500 OS. The lens with converter becomes on this camera a 670mm f5.6 so there is an issue of stability. I found this more difficult to hold in the hand and for most situations you will need a minimum speed of over 1200. In this case using a minimum ISO 400 is mandatory … and I am not so happy about the performance at this ISO. I was hoping after 5 years the APS-C sensors to become better than my 8MP 1D but unfortunately it is not the case. I will try to shoot as much as I can below the ISO 400 but my main goal was to have a camera shooting noiseless at this ISO.
The pictures you see in the gallery below are processed with Photoshop Camera RAW and Photoshop plus Noise Ninja. This is the best I could do for now but I will try to improve and keep you updated.
Let me know what your experiences are with this camera and maybe help me with the RAW conversion if you know any tricks. If you want to see the ISO settings on this pictures head to the gallery where the names are displayed – CLICK HERE