Canon 7D Mark II Review

It might have taken 4 years but the 7D Mark 2 is now here and comes with a ton of new features and abilities. With 10fps shooting, a 65pt all cross type focus system, fully weather sealed body, and dual card slots, the 7D looks more like a professional camera than ever before. So let's take a look and see if Canon has developed a winning formula. 

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Canon 7D Mark II Body:    B&H Photo   |   Amazon
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Download the full resolution RAW files & Jpeg files from the review  

Hardware 

The 7d mark II is an extremely well built camera like its predecessor and it has the weight and size to prove it. Canon even claims that this is one of the most robust bodies ever built outside the 1D cameras and I believe them. Other than build quality you will find the typical pro end setup from the 5D3 almost no differences save for an additional custom controller around the joystick. With dual card slots and all the buttons and controls of the 5D3, you will have no trouble using the 7D Mark II for professional use. With 10fps shooting from the dual Digic 6 chips and a buffer allowing you to shoot plenty of frames, sports photographers and wildlife photographers have likely found a great new tool.  The shutter is also quieter and the additional quite shutter setting makes it amount the quietest DSLRs I have used. Canon has also included GPS and a compass though has left off Wi-Fi which they say is due to the all metal body.  All of your standard controls are easy to reach and where you expect them though there doesn't seem to be a way to change the kelvin white balance from the white balance button and instead you need to navigate to the Q menu for control. One huge disappointment so far is that the exposure meter disappears from the top LCD as well as the viewfinder when on Manual mode. There is a secondary exposure meter visible in the right of the viewfinder however it is not as easy to see as the normal one. Both meters are visible during shooting when not in manual. Overall, the hardware is probably one of the best parts about this camera and while there is nothing new to get excited about, it is a tried and true Canon professional body made to take a beating. 

 

Focus 

With 65 cross type points, the 7D mark II has one of the most advances focus systems of any camera. You have all the control points of the 5D Mark III and a couple extra to try to customize the system to your liking. In fact, you will have 5 tabs of menu controls just devoted to the focus controls. In addition to that you also have the dual pixel sensor which allows fast and accurate focus during live view and video. Overall, the 65pt system works as it should with a solid amount of coverage across the frame. There were a couple times I struggled to get focus on a couple of single points towards the edge even when focusing on an easy target but these issues were inconsistent at best so it is tough to tell if there was a genuine issue. The center dual cross type point is rated to -3EV and good up to f8. Unfortunately you can't link spot metering to the AF point so if you are shooting using this mode, you might need to rely on those center AF points. This is probably the single largest issue with the 7D Mark II as many photographers do use spot metering during sports and wildlife shooting where lighting can change dramatically throughout the scene. The dual pixel sensor AF also delivers as promised and just like my Canon 70D, the 7D Mark II focus in live view and video is good enough to rely on. Not only is it fast and accurate but it will track moving objects better than any contrast based focus system I have ever used. This helps make the 7D Mark II a great choice for video shooting. 

 

Image quality 

First things first, let's get the tests out of the way. 

The 7D remarkably is a noticeable improvement even over Canon's last APSC camera the Canon 70D. At The 7D2 shows almost no noise up to 1600 iso and still looks great up to 6400 ISO. Once we start getting up to 12800 ISO, noise begins to get on the heavy side and we lose smooth transitions between colors and shadows but overall, I would say that with some noise reduction, these files would be usable.  

Compared to the 70D, at high iso the 7D seemed to be almost 1 stop better with 6400 ISO on the 7D looking similar to 3200 ISO on the 70D. I also put the 7D up to the full frame 5D3 and was actually impressed with the results. Working my way up it was difficult to see the differences between the two cameras up to 1600 ISO when the 7D has a few more issues in the shadows but honestly, even up to 6400 ISO, the files were close enough that you would hardly notice the difference after some noise reduction and it wasn't up until 12,800 ISO that the 5D started to take the lead. 

Overall, the 7D2 is likely the best APS-C camera for high iso noise but let's touch on the negative side of Canon images. Low ISO images are not as clean as I would like them to be and you can usually see fine grain in the images, especially in the shadow areas and I can't help but think Canon should be doing better in this area. Dynamic range also seems on par with Canon's newer cameras and still doesn't seem to offer the same ability of Nikon to pull information from the shadows. Overall, images on the 7D Mark II looked better than any other Canon APSC camera but just seem to lag behind some other cameras on the market.  

 

Video 

For everyone that is upset at all the focus on video features, go ahead and skip to the next section but I do want to give this a bit of attention because there are some good and bad things going on with the 7D Mark II. While Canon was one of the first to offer 1080p video recording in a DSLR, they have been the last to do anything better than this. We finally are able to record up to 60fps, something that Nikon and Sony already do, but it is still only at 1080p and you will lose the ability to auto focus in this mode. This will be fine for most people but being able to record in 2.5k or 4k and master to 1080p allows tons of options for reframing, cropping and even stabilizing in post. Thankfully you can output uncompressed 4.2.2 from the HDMI port for those who have external recorders. Unfortunately, video quality from Canon DSLRs has lacked sharpness and lucks a bit on the muddy side compared to some other cameras and the 7D Mark II is no exception. That said, this is the best Canon camera I have used for video and it performed exceptionally well when I was filming a wedding. There are new features as well such as the ability to change the AF speeds and time lapse control. The Dual pixel AF is dead accurate although lacking a touch screen makes it a bit more difficult to change your AF point then on the Canon 70D. These cameras with the dual pixel AF are the first DSLRs with AF good enough to track moving subjects reliably and I found I was able to hold focus on people walking down the aisle with the AF enabled which I was previously not able to do using manual focus. You also have a mic input, headphone output, and the ability to adjust levels on both while recording. That said, you will not find other video features like focus peaking, zebras, or any custom profiles for capture more dynamic range. Noise performance was also excellent with almost no noise even up to 3200 ISO and still good results at 6400 ISO. By 12,800 ISO, the hit is noticeable but still likely usable in some cases. Compared to the 5D3, the 7D holds its own as you move up the dial up to 6400 again and it handily beats the noise performance from the Canon 70D at 6400 iso and up despite it having the same size sensor. Overall, the 7D mark II is now my favorite Canon DSLR for video beating both the 5D3 and 70D. Sure I could use an articulating touch screen but the advantages of the 7D Mark II certainly out way the disadvantages. That said, the camera still falls behind what other cameras like the GH4, Sony A7s, Nikon D750, and likely even the new Samsung NX1 which have similar form factors and prices.  

Conclusion 

Overall the 7D Mark II feels like an uncompromised camera which is a nice break from a few other recent camera bodies such as the 6D and T5i. In fact, I think most 6D owners would be happier with the 7D Mark II despite the smaller sensor. It has the right features, speed, professional abilities, and video controls to satisfy just about everyone and even with the smaller sensor it comes close to full frame performance. That said, Canon only blew away the competition for wildlife and sports photographers. If you consider yourself in that group, the 7D Mark II is a must have either as a primary camera or second body to the 1Dx. With the amazing AF, 10fps shooting, dual card slots, and top end noise performance, it is tough or impossible for these photographers not to come away impressed. 

For the rest of you, this is clearly one of the best Canon cameras to date, though there are some compelling options on the market in a similar price point. Personally, I do believe wedding photographers will love this camera despite the smaller sensor and honestly, it is probably the best option until you step up to the Nikon D810 or Canon 5D3. Landscape photographers may prefer the Nikon D610 with its amazing dynamic range or even take a wait and see approach with the upcoming Samsung NX1 and I would find myself steering to one of those options. 

Videographers have a bit tougher choice as Canon does offer some great lenses and the 7D2 performed admirably in low light with most of the must have video features. However, Canon has squarely lost the resolution and sharpness fight to other cameras and if you need more video related features such as focus peaking and zebras, Canon is sending you elsewhere.  

The 7D Mark II is clearly a big win for Canon and the RAW performance combined with professional features will make this a popular camera for almost any photographer 

 

 

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