Canon 7D Mark II Field Test Part I

Comfortable handling, robust controls and great image quality

By Jeremy Gray | Posted: 01/19/2015

18-135mm: 50mm, 25s, f/8.0, ISO 100, Manual, Auto WB, Center-Weighted Average Metering.
This photo has been edited slightly. Click image to view the original.


The 7D Mark II is Canon's newest APS-C DSLR body with the original 7D debuting over five years ago. Featuring a 20.2-megapixel CMOS sensor with embedded Dual Pixel AF, a 65-point all cross-type AF sensor, and dual DIGIC 6 processors, the Canon 7D Mark II improves upon the original 7D in many critical ways and delivers solid performance.

Camera Body and Handling

The Canon 7D Mark II feels great. The body is constructed of durable magnesium alloy and has weather and dust sealing, which is said to be improved over the original. Additionally, the shutter is rated for 200,000 actuations; an improvement over the 150K-rated life of the original 7D's shutter. Build quality is very good and the body has a nice grip that fits naturally in my hand. While ever so slightly larger than the original 7D (though the body-only weight is identical), using the 7D Mark II for extended periods of time is easy. With an acceptable weight and a battery rated for 800 shots (without flash), the camera is well suited for a long day of shooting. The CIPA rating for battery life (50/50 flash/no-flash) is lower than the 7D, though (670 vs 800). The 7D Mark II has both CF and SD card slots, which is a nice usability upgrade over the original which had only one CF slot. The camera also includes a USB 3.0 port for quick file transfers and tethered shooting. The 7D Mark II also features a built-in GPS, which can be enabled through the menu system. Unfortunately, the 7D Mark II does not have built-in Wi-Fi.

The 7D Mark II has a 3-inch LCD monitor with 1,036,800 dots, and while the original 7D also had a 3-inch display, the Mark II switches to a 3:2 aspect ratio screen to match the native sensor resolution, whereas the original used a 4:3 aspect ratio screen. Unlike some of Canon's recent DSLRs, like the 70D, the display on the 7D2 does not tilt nor does it feature touch capabilities, but it does its job well nonetheless. The display is easy to view in bright sunlight and the camera also has an ambient light sensor that assists in automatically adjusting the display for the lighting conditions.

The rear controls of the Canon 7D Mark II (left) vs the Nikon D800E (right).

As someone who has never shot with a Canon DSLR before, the controls took getting used to. At first I missed the secondary command dial found above the rear thumb-grip of my Nikon cameras, such as the D800E, but the Quick Control dial on the back of the Canon performs well and felt natural to use after only a short time. The main, top dial is easy to reach and has an excellent and responsive feel to it. Depending on the camera's shooting mode, the different dials serve various functions. These functions are intuitive and took little time to get used to. Near this main dial is a Multi-Function (M-Fn) button, which defaults to toggling through AF point configurations after pressing the rear AF point selection thumb button. This M-Fn button can be customized to other functions though, such as AE lock or Flash Exposure Lock. There is an additional function button on the front of the camera down near the lens mount that is easily reached when gripping the camera. By default, this front function button serves as a Depth of Field Preview button, but its purpose can be customized.

The top of the camera is impressive. The Mode dial has an excellent grip and tactile feedback, and the lock release is easy to press, even while wearing gloves. The shutter release button is small, but works well. The buttons on the top right of the camera are easy to reach when shooting and are clearly labeled. Many buttons on the camera, including all of the buttons on the top of the camera, serve dual functions depending on which control dial you utilize after pressing the button. This allows for many useful controls to remain easily accessible without having too many buttons on the camera. An excellent detail on the camera body is that the top Flash Exposure Compensation/ISO Speed button has a small bump in the center that helped me immediately identify the button when shooting. Another nice usability detail is that there is a dedicated button on the top of the camera for handling the camera's Drive mode selection and Autofocus operation.

18-135mm: 135mm, 30s, f/6.3, ISO 100, Manual, Cloudy WB, Center-Weighted Average Metering.
This photo has been edited slightly. Click image to view the original.

On the back of the camera, the control layout is very nice. There are three quick-access buttons just above the thumb grip, for AF operation, AE-lock, and AF point selection. To the left of the thumb grip is a multi-selector and the new AF selection lever. By default, the AF selection lever is only usable after having hit the AF point selection button to toggle between AF modes. However, this button is also customizable and can be used for other quick adjustments, such as ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, and more. Below that is the Quick Control button, which displays various useful options on the back LCD. These options are navigated using a combination of the multi-selector and the Quick Control dial.

On the left side of the camera back there are standard Playback buttons with a Menu and Info button at the top. There is a Creative Photo button that provides instant access to Picture Style adjustments, a Multiple Exposure option, and HDR Mode controls. The camera's menu system is laid out well and has a customizable My Menu tab. Overall, I got used to the camera quickly and found it easy to operate.

In-camera HDR image.
18-135mm: 18mm, 1/6s, f/8, ISO 100, Manual, Auto WB, Center-Weighted Average Metering

Dual Pixel CMOS AF

Featuring Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, the Canon 7D Mark II performs well in Live View mode. With dual-pixel autofocus, the 7D Mark II can use phase detection AF while in Live View, rather than just contrast detection as with the original 7D. This change leads to vastly improved autofocus speed and accuracy when shooting in Live View. I was initially disappointed that continuous autofocus could not be used while shooting in Live View, however, this is merely disabled by default. You can enable continuous AF for Live View operation and the camera will continuously power the lens to maintain coarse focus. This should make it quick to get crisp focus when you half press the shutter, however, with the AF constantly working, Canon does indicate that this will drain the battery quicker. Live View shooting also has separate face and subject tracking capabilities.

While I understand the advantages of a non-tilting screen for a camera like the 7D Mark II, which is meant to withstand harsher conditions, its excellent Live View performance would benefit greatly from a tilting screen, especially when shooting in awkward angles or positions. Live View is easily triggered via a Start/Stop button on the back of the camera and starts up after only a short delay. Using the Info button, Live View can be used with an electronic level, a live histogram, basic shooting information, or with an entirely clear screen. I found the live histogram to be particularly useful, although it can be a bit obtrusive and cannot be used simultaneously with the electronic level. However, Live View is great overall with the 7D Mark II.

18-135mm: 18mm, 2s, f/5.6, ISO 200, Manual, Auto WB, Center-Weighted Average Metering.
This photo has been edited slightly. Click image to view the original.

Shooting Experience

While APS-C sensors are falling out of favor it seems in the high-end DSLR market, I believe that there remains a place for high-quality camera bodies with APS-C sensors. All else equal, a crop sensor often fails to deliver the same image quality as a full-frame sensor, particularly at higher ISOs. However, there are also positive aspects of a crop sensor. Autofocus sensors can cover a larger portion of the image sensor and crop sensors provide a further FOV "reach" for your lenses. These are two excellent characteristics when taking wildlife or sports images. It is quite a benefit to both your camera bag and your wallet to be able to bring a crop sensor camera like the 7D Mark II with a 70-200mm f/2.8 attached rather than a full frame camera and a 300mm f/2.8 lens.

The 7D Mark II's sensor produces high quality images across a wide range of ISO sensitivities. In part II, I will discuss the camera's high ISO performance in more detail. Featuring a new 20MP sensor, the 7D Mark II provides plenty of resolution and detail for all typical photographic applications. To take better advantage of its new sensor, the 7D Mark II also introduces new in-camera lens distortion correction to help the camera deliver high quality files (applies to JPEG only) and videos when using most EF and EF-S lenses. Additionally, the 7D Mark II also has a new anti-flicker mode that is designed to correct for flickering light sources by synchronizing image capture to peak illumination for more consistent exposure and white balance. This is particularly useful when shooting in arenas where lighting can be inconsistent during high speed burst shooting.

400mm DO II: 400mm, 1/640, f/4.0, ISO 200, Aperture Priority, Auto WB, Evaluative Metering.
This photo has been edited slightly. Click image to view the original.

The 7D Mark II features an Intelligent Viewfinder II, which provides approximately 100% coverage according to Canon (but only about 98% in IR's lab test). Overall, the viewfinder is excellent, especially for a crop sensor camera. It provides all the information you'd expect it to have, and the text is easy to read. An electronic level can also be displayed by activating it through the menu to appear at the top of the viewfinder.

With the extra reach that a crop sensor provides, the 7D Mark II is an appealing camera for wildlife photography. While this time of year is difficult for finding large wildlife in my area, there are still birds to be photographed. Birds can be an especially difficult subject because they are often very timid and sensitive to noise. The 7D Mark II offers a silent mode, which is, appropriately, impressively quiet. Unfortunately, silent high speed shooting is limited to only 4fps.

400mm DO II: 400mm, 1/640, f/4.0, ISO 250, Aperture Priority, Auto WB, Evaluative Metering.
This photo has been edited slightly. Click image to view the original.

Shooting with the kit Lens

The Canon 7D Mark II can be purchased with an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens. This lens is small, light and balances nicely with the 7D Mark II camera body. The lens focuses quickly and also has a decent manual focus ring. Unfortunately, it does not have a focus scale, though. The lens has a switch that you can use to lock the lens' focal length at 18mm so that the lens will not physically extend accidentally when traveling. Overall, the kit lens produces acceptable results and covers a very useful focal length range.

18-135mm: 135mm, 1/10, f/8.0, ISO 100, Manual, Auto WB, Center-Weighted Average Metering.
This photo has been edited slightly. Click image to view the original.

Shooting with other lenses

I was also able to test the 7D Mark II with Canon's EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM lens. This lens is small and lightweight and provides great images for the price. While the maximum aperture is a bit disappointing, the lens does include image stabilization. The focus ring at the front of the lens is narrow but it has nice movement. Unfortunately, like the kit lens, the 10-18mm lens does not have a focus scale. With the 7D Mark II's lens distortion corrections, the lens' distortion at 10mm (16mm equivalent) can be counteracted to some degree. Overall, it's an impressive lens for its size and cost.

10-18mm: 10mm, 1/100, f/8.0, ISO 100, Aperture Priority, Cloudy WB, Spot Metering, +1/3EV.
This photo has been edited slightly. Click image to view the original.

I also had an opportunity to use the new Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens. Overall, the lens is fantastic. It autofocuses very quickly and accurately on the 7D Mark II body. Further, it is nearly silent in operation. The 400mm lens is just over 5 inches (128 millimeters) in diameter and 9 inches (233 millimeters) in length (without the hood). Weighing in at 4.63 lbs (2.1 kg), the lens is surprisingly light and is easy to hand hold, compared to the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 I often use. Getting sharp images without a tripod or monopod is easy thanks to the lens' excellent image stabilization.

The lens has superb build quality with a nice finish and responsive switches. The focus ring rotates smoothly, but does require you to rotate a long distance to get through the focus range. The lens' focus scale is good with easy to read numerals. The 400mm has focus preset options that are easy to use. At the end of the barrel, there is a ridged metal ring that you can twist slightly to jump back to a preset focus distance. The lens can close focus to 10.8 feet (3.3 meters). The 400mm f/4 produces excellent images with great edge-to-edge sharpness and contrast. Additionally, the lens handles lens flare very well, allowing one to shoot back-lit subjects without fear of excessive lens flare.

400mm DO II: 400mm, 1/500, f/8.0, ISO 125, Aperture Priority, Auto WB, Spot Metering, +1/3EV.
This photo has been edited slightly. Click image to view the original.

Part I Conclusion

  • What I like most so far
    • The build quality is excellent
    • The camera feels great to use out in the field
    • Image quality is impressive
  • What I dislike
    • No built-in Wi-Fi
    • Excellent Live View is held back by lack of a tilting, touchscreen LCD

The Canon 7D Mark II has impressed me so far. The camera body itself is sturdy and comfortable to use. By utilizing multi-function buttons, the camera allows quick access to an array of useful controls. The sensor delivers high-quality image files, and the autofocus sensor excels in many difficult shooting situations.

In Part II, I will discuss the performance of the camera out in the field in various lighting conditions. I will further discuss the autofocus system, the camera's metering, low light performance, the camera's speed, and the camera's video capabilities. Stay tuned!


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