Canon EOS 7D: A Retrospective Review

Canon EOS 7D image-1

It may seem a bit strange that in 2020 we are reviewing a camera that came out in 2009, but the Canon EOS 7D still has a lot to offer. Being upfront, I used the 7D for many years, in many situations from portraits to events and the camera was a great little workhorse which never let me down.

So, there’s obviously going to be a little inherent bias within this review, but I will try to stay as objective as possible….ahem! Seriously though, in 2020 the 7D can still work as a fine all-rounder, maybe not for mission-critical work, but at today’s prices, lots of camera functionality for your money.

Design

The Canon EOS 7D on release was the top APS-C crop sensor camera available from Canon and if you wanted to dive into higher quality, you had to go full-frame with the Canon 5D variants or a full-blown 1D. The 7D features an 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor, while the 5D MKII of the time had a full-frame 21.1MP sensor.

When you first get your hands around the Canon 7D, it feels more in common with a 5D in size and feel than more consumer-level DSLRs. A healthy-sized grip and even has some weather and dust proofing. As with all Canon cameras it has a familiar layout, with the feel and functionality of the 5D, just in a slightly smaller package.

Canon EOS 7D image-2

The top plate consists of the usual black-and-white LCD screen for most common information with four buttons that control dual functions such as white balance/flash, AF select/drive, ISO/flash compensation, and a button for lighting up the screen. There’s also a little jog wheel and function button shutter release on the same side.

On the left side of the top plate is the typical mode dial. It doesn’t have the more modern lock button, which is a much-needed feature found on the newer version. There’s also the option of an integrated flash and hot shoe.

The rear of the camera has the usual Canon layout of buttons and dials. The left-side for accessing things like the Q button, menu, info, play, and delete. The right side having a button for video, multiway switch and a command wheel most commonly used for exposure compensation. A lock button can be used to freeze the command wheel in place.

Battery life is reasonable, taking standard Canon batteries and can be good for 800+ shots, if you’re not using Live View. As always, it’s a good idea to carry spares or you could invest in the Canon BG-E7 battery grip.

The 7D is quite rapid in continuous shooting mode at 8fps with a fast memory card. Other features include 19 cross-type focus points, which is more than the Canon 5D MKII, and includes settings such as Single-point AF, Zone AF, and Auto-select.

AF points can be selected in various ways, most typically with one of the jog wheels. The Single-point AF is for the most precise for manual focusing, going down to Auto-select which leaves the AF point selection to the camera.

Digging into the menu system, the AF setup can be customized to tweak things like subject distance and sensitivity. Essentially, this one bit of functionality borrowed from the 1D Mark IV.

So, the Canon EOS 7D isn’t just a suped-up consumer DSLR, but it borrows functionalities from pro-level cameras while still keeping crop sensor sensibilities.

The Canon EOS 7D in Use

Firstly, we used a Canon 24-70mm lens for testing as a standard kit lens would not do the Canon EOS 7D justice. As this is a crop sensor body with a 1.6x crop factor, the focal lengths come out at roughly 38-112mm. Not so wide-angle, but you do get more at the telephoto end. Also, as the lens goes to f/2.8, it will give some idea of lowlight performance and bokeh effects.

Canon EOS 7D image-3

Although the ISO on the 7D is rated at up to 12,800, noise starts to creep in fast past ISO 1600. At ISO 3200 it was really time to break out the flashgun or strobes to get the cleanest images. The ISO results were good for the time, but the latest sensors produce far less noise at higher ISO levels. Thus, if you shoot mostly indoors or in low light without a flash, you will have to opt for something more modern.

On the video side of things, the camera doesn’t have 4K but can do 1080P at 25fps at high quality. A firmware update may be needed for full manual video control, which allows the tweaking of all exposure settings while shooting.

There is a microphone socket, which is much better than using the internal mic, but there is a lack of a headphone socket. With video, there’s also the factor of needing a very large and fast memory card, otherwise, the 7D can run into buffer problems pretty quickly (it also likes to get quite hot after 20 minutes of shooting). The same goes for still images, especially if you’re using continuous shooting mode, just without the heat build-up.

The Canon EOS 7D is capable of shooting both JPEGs and RAW files, with the highest resolution coming in for the RAW versions. The signal to noise ratio is extremely good for both file types, having comparable sensitivity to common price point competitors of the time. Dynamic range is also compatible, with plenty of detail in the darkest and lightest areas up to ISO 800. After ISO 1600, color noise starts to affect this area.

Although the camera has a crop sensor, the resulting images do not suffer from any loss of resolution. Once you nail the exposure and focus, images from RAW and JPEG files are produced with a high level of resolution, contrast, and saturation. With a high-quality lens (which is not overkill on this body) the camera really shines and you will be hard pushed to find many deficiencies compared to the competitors of the time.

How Does It Compare?

Although the Canon EOS 7D is the top of the crop sensor line from Canon, the other competitors also had something to say. DSLRs ruled the times and one of the closest comparisons is with the Nikon D300S. It has a smaller pixel count at 13.1MP and video at 720P, but has far more focus points.

The Canon and the Nikon and are both fast performers and both would work great if you want an all-round camera or something that is ideally suited for wildlife or action.

Compared to the 5D Mark II, the 7D has the better focusing system and is slightly faster. But, it obviously doesn’t have the resolution of a full-frame sensor.

Canon EOS 7DNikon D300S
Resolution18MP13.1MP
Video1080P720P
StabilizationNoNo
Focus Points1951 AF points

Conclusion

Just like today, when the Canon EOS 7D first arrived it was the case of should you spend a little more on the 5D. This will depend on your needs and budget, but for a more professional solution, you can’t beat the 5D if you’ve already bought into a bunch of Canon lenses.

The added benefit is that today the 7D can be picked up for just a few hundred dollars and gives you a flavor of pro-working. The current price point also allows you to save up and buy into better quality glass, which will stand you in good stead for the future.

The usable ISO range of the 7D isn’t the greatest by today’s standards, you will need a large capacity memory card, and small things like the mode lock button are much-needed on new versions.

The decision of which camera is best becomes more complicated if you don’t already own a bunch of Canon lenses. The Nikon is also a well-rounded camera, but if you consider for just a few hundred dollars you can own a 7D and a reasonable little prime lens like the 50mm f/1.8, this equates to a great little package.

The Canon EOS 7D may be showing its age at this point, but only just, and is still a well-rounded camera, especially for its current price.

The Review

Canon EOS 7D

9
The Canon EOS 7D is a well-rounded camera that can now be picked up for a very reasonable price. It still has lots of great features and is a great introduction to the pro-zone.

Pros

  • Image quality
  • Fast
  • AF System

Cons

  • ISO noise after 1600
  • Not so great kit lens

Review Breakdown

Design

Performance

Camera

Battery

Price

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