Canon EOS 7D Mark II review
Sensor resolution: 20.2 megapixels, Sensor size: 22.4x15mm (APS-C), Focal length multiplier: 1.6x, Viewfinder: Optical TTL, LCD screen: 3in (1,040,000 dots), Lens mount: Canon EF / EF-S, Weight: 910g, Size (HxWxD): 112x149x78mm
The EOS 7D Mark II sits at the top of Canon's range of cropped-sensor SLRs. It's designed for professionals, and particularly those who need blistering performance. Most people who are planning to spend this much on an SLR would only consider a full-frame model, but there are situations where a cropped sensor is more appropriate.
The 1.6x crop boosts the focal length of attached lenses, so rather than spending £7,000 on Canon's 500mm telephoto lens, you could go for the 300mm lens at £1,100 and still achieve a 480mm equivalent focal length. This telephoto extension comes at the expense of wide-angle capability, and the smaller sensor will inevitably push up noise levels a little. However, sports and wildlife photographers who tend to shoot distant subjects in sunlight might well chose this over a full-frame SLR.
[Price, specs and rating based on the body-only kit]
Externally, it's very similar to the original EOS 7D, and even closer to the full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark III. There are lots of top-tier features, including a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body, CompactFlash and SDXC card slots, a generous collection of sockets and lots of buttons and dials. There's a 1/8,000s maximum shutter speed, and to our ears the shutter is quieter than on previous EOS cameras. GPS is built in for automatic geo-tagging of photos. Interval shooting is included for the first time on a Canon SLR, capturing shots at regular intervals ready to turn into a time-lapse video. One slight disappointment is the 670-shot battery life – we'd expect nearer 1,000 at this price.
Buttons along the top plate assign the command dial and rear wheel to metering, drive and autofocus modes, white balance, ISO speed and flash compensation. These are easy to operate without taking the camera away from your eye, with settings overlaid across the viewfinder image. There's a mini-joystick for moving the autofocus point and a small lever surrounding it that cycles through the various expanded autofocus areas, with a choice of one, five, nine, 15, 25 or all 65 points. This is four more points than on the 5D Mark III, and the most ever to grace an EOS camera. All of these points are cross type, which means each one is actually two sensors placed at right angles for increased sensitivity. The centre point is a dual cross type when using lenses with f/2.8 or faster apertures, and is sensitive down to EV -3 for shooting in very low light. There's no AF assist lamp, but the camera didn't have many problems focusing on indistinct subjects in gloomy conditions.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II – autofocus
Autofocus performance is critical for sports and wildlife photography, and having 65 autofocus points covering an exceptionally large area of the frame makes it easy to focus precisely on small subjects. It was extremely responsive when shooting with USM lenses, taking between 0.1 and 0.4 seconds from pressing the shutter button to capturing a shot. The AF-On button means it's possible to assign autofocus and shutter release to separate buttons, so you can chose when to refocus on subjects and when to shoot without any discernible lag at all. The fastest continuous mode delivered speeds between 9 and 10fps, with updated autofocus for moving subjects barely making a dent on performance. It kept this speed up indefinitely when shooting JPEGs to a fast SDHC card, and slowed to 1.9fps after 19 RAW frames.
We weren't as impressed with the 7D Mark II's ability to track moving subjects around the frame, though. It didn't seem to be as responsive or as reliable as Nikon's similar 3D Tracking system, and the various options for customising its tracking behaviour inspired confusion more than confidence. By default it didn't let us define which autofocus point the camera should take as its starting point, instead picking the nearest subject or any detected faces. We eventually found the option to define the starting point manually in the menu.
The 7D Mark II includes dual pixel technology for responsive live view autofocus that we first saw in the EOS 70D. It makes autofocus in live view mode a viable option whereas it was hopelessly slow on the original 7D. It's still much slower than when shooting with the viewfinder, though, taking between a half and one second to focus and capture a shot. The screen was blank for a second after shooting, and it could only muster a photo every 2.1 seconds in live view mode. That might be useful for macro photography where using the viewfinder isn't practical, but it doesn't add a lot of value to the 7D Mark II. In fact, live view works better on the 70D, where the touchscreen makes it much quicker to move the autofocus point.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II – video mode
Canon's dual pixel technology also brings smooth autofocus to video capture. It worked brilliantly in our tests, responding decisively to moving subjects and camera positions with none of the focus hunting that often spoils videos shot with autofocus. However, the lack of a touchscreen means moving the autofocus point while recording is quite cumbersome
Shooting videos with USM lenses produced a loud chattering noise in the soundtrack, and even the STM lenses that are optimised for video work generated a lower-pitched whine. Using an external microphone avoided the problem, and it's great to see a headphone socket for live monitoring. We'd like it even more if it could show a volume meter and let us adjust the level while recording.
Video recording is at 1080p at frame rates up to 60fps – double what previous Canon SLRs have allowed. Continuous autofocus isn't available beyond 30fps, though. 50 and 60fps video is encoded in AVC format at around 55Mbit/s. For 24, 25 and 30fps, there's a choice of conventional AVC at around 30Mbit/s, or an All-Intra codec at 80Mbit/s, where each frame is described from scratch rather than as an update to the previous one. This virtually eliminates visible compression artefacts, particularly for fast-moving scenes.
Considering the processing power that this camera must have to save 20-megapixel JPEGs at 10fps, it's disappointing that there's no 4K video function. The Panasonic GH4 showed how much of a leap 4K can bring, even for projects that are exported at 1080p. Sadly, the 7D Mark II's 1080p output is no better than other recent Canon SLRs, with a slightly coarse appearance to details compared to Nikon SLRs and far behind Panasonic's 1080p output, let alone its 4K footage. There's no focus peaking or zebra modes to help with manual focus and exposure adjustment, and the lack of an articulated screen is another setback for video work. Overall, the 7D Mark II's video mode feels like a missed opportunity. The Panasonic GH4 and even the GH3 are vastly superior, and the latter now costs £600.