Canon 7D Mark II Field Test Part II
Canon 7D Mark II Field Test Part II
Great speed & AF performance make for an excellent sports, wildlife and multimedia camera
by Jeremy Gray | Posted 01/05/2015
18-135mm: 18mm, 1s, f/11, ISO 100, Manual, Cloudy WB, Partial Metering
In Part I of this shooter's report, I discussed how the Canon 7D Mark II handled and performed in general terms. In Part II, I'll further discuss the performance of the Canon 7D Mark II, particularly autofocus performance, high ISO performance, speed and video.
Shooting in Automatic Modes: Metering
With an improved EOS Scene Detection System and a 150,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor, the 7D Mark II meters most scenes very well. The 7D Mark II offers spot metering, evaluative metering, partial metering, and center-weighted average metering, all of which work as advertised. When using spot metering, a thin, stationary black circle appears in the middle of the viewfinder. Disappointingly, spot metering is limited only to the center of the sensor and is not tied to a movable AF point, unlike what I'm used to with my Nikon DSLRs.
Auto white balance also works well. While providing all of the typical white balance options and an easily customized Kelvin temperature option, the 7D Mark II's auto white balance setting delivers excellent results. Overall, the 7D Mark II meters both exposure and white balance well. I used the camera in particularly difficult lighting conditions and was impressed with its overall performance.
Scene Intelligent Auto Mode
Scene Intelligent Auto is the 7D Mark II's fully automatic shooting mode. Due to the proficiency of the camera's metering and autofocus sensor, Scene Intelligent Auto consistently delivers great image files. Scene Intelligent Auto mode also applies various picture style settings depending on what sort of scene you are capturing. For example, if you are shooting a landscape image the camera will automatically apply higher saturation and clarity adjustments to the image.
10-18mm: 10mm, 1/100s, f/8.0, ISO 100, Scene Intelligent Auto
The Canon 7D Mark II has an excellent autofocus sensor, with 65 cross type AF points, which is a major improvement from the original 7D's 19 cross type AF points. The AF sensor also has a double-cross-type AF point in the center when a supported* f/2.8 or faster lens is attached. The 7D Mark II features Intelligent Tracking and Recognition (iTR) for focus tracking which utilizes the metering sensor to identify the subject and then track that subject through the frame if it is moving or if the image is re-framed. I found iTR works quite well, and it has very useful applications for both sports and wildlife photography. (*Most of Canon's current f/2.8 or brighter lenses are compatible with the 7D Mark II's dual cross-type AF point, however some lenses like the 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro and the 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro for example do not. The instruction manual provides a full list of lens compatibility.)
Autofocus performance is excellent in good light, with the 7D Mark II autofocusing quickly and accurately. Focus acquisition was particularly quick when I was shooting with the new Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM. In lower light, the autofocus still remains impressive. The autofocus sensor can autofocus down to -3 EV at the center AF point. Further, at the center AF point, the 7D Mark II can autofocus down to f/8, which is another important upgrade over the original 7D and an attractive feature for those who shoot with teleconverters.
With the camera's excellent controls, changing autofocus modes while shooting is easy. To make the camera even more versatile, I recommend going into the custom control settings and designating the multi-selector to directly control the movement of an autofocus point so that you don't have to hit the AF Point Selection button every time you want to move the focus point. This simple change makes the camera a lot faster to use out in the field.
The 7D Mark II offers numerous AF area selection modes that make use of the 65-point AF array. There is the standard single-point AF, as well as Spot AF, which provides a reduced sampling area for even more precisely-controlled single-point AF. There is also AF Point Expansion. With the original 7D, AF Expansion provided four "helper AF points" that surround a primary single point. In case the central AF point moves off your subject slightly or there's not enough detail to achieve focus with the single point alone, the helper points will attempt to get things in focus. The 7D Mark II offers this 5-point expansion configurations, but also introduces a larger, 8-point cluster as well (1 + 7 surrounding).
There are multiple zone AF options, including moving focus around nine different zones or a larger three-zone area configuration called Wide Area AF -- a first for a Canon EOS camera. When shooting with fully automatic 65-point autofocus, the camera can either locate and focus your subject in single shot AF mode automatically; or with AI Servo AF mode, you can move a single focus point over your subject so that the camera intelligently tracks the subject throughout the scene using all 65 available points.
The choice of autofocus mode should be made based on the type of photography being done and personal preference. For landscape work in particular, I found that both single-point and single-point spot AF provided quick and accurate focusing. While the autofocus sensor does an excellent job overall, some scenes are complex and warrant the use of a single-point or single-spot AF. Large Zone AF is a good choice for wildlife or sports photography when you are able to keep the subject in a particular third but might be unable to keep the subject within a smaller area such as in Zone AF.
400mm DO II: 1/640s, f/4.0, ISO 1250, Aperture Priority, AWB, Evaluative Metering
High ISO Performance
I was impressed by the file quality of the camera at ISOs up through 3200. Although there is considerable noise at ISO 3200, it is evenly distributed and the sensor still captures good colors and contrast. Despite utilizing an APS-C sensor, the 7D Mark II's sensor performs reasonably well at high ISOs. When necessary, the 7D Mark II can capture images up to ISO 16,000 at native ISOs.
The 7D Mark II has three levels of noise reduction: low, standard, and high. While I prefer to process RAW images without any noise reduction applied to them and handle noise reduction myself, the 7D Mark II's in-camera noise reduction does a good job of reducing noise without taking too much sharpness out of an image. Particularly, the noise reduction on 'standard' does a good job smoothing out noise and blotchiness without taking away too much detail from the image file. With that said, noise reduction is always a matter of personal preference, and the 7D Mark II has an option for everyone. Additionally, when recording only JPEG files, the 7D Mark II also has a Multi Shot Noise Reduction option that combines four consecutive images to create one composite image with lower noise. This option is only selectable after RAW file recording has first been disabled, rather than giving the option to enable Multi Shot Noise Reduction and subsequently disabling RAW capture in one fell swoop.
18-135mm: 18mm, 30s, f/3.5, ISO 3200, Manual, 4700 K, Center-Weighted Average Metering
Shooting in Difficult Light
With acceptable high ISO performance and great autofocus performance in low light, the 7D Mark II handles low light shooting well overall. Much of my photography is done early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and the 7D Mark II performs well in these more challenging conditions by providing quick and accurate autofocus in low light and having a wide range of usable ISO sensitivities.
For night photography, the 7D Mark II’s sensor is capable of providing consistently good images. In-camera noise reduction smooths the image files out fairly well, but it also takes away some of the detail in the image, particularly in the shadows. With that said, I was impressed with the level of contrast and the deep black tones of shadows in image files at high ISOs. I had no issues with increased noise or hot pixels with consecutive long exposure images, but I was shooting in cold winter conditions so that might have helped to prevent those issues.
10-18mm: 10mm, 20s, f/4.5, ISO 16,000, Manual, Auto WB, Partial Metering
The camera itself handles well in the dark. The top LCD has orange back-lighting and is readable from all angles. Importantly, the top buttons are easy to use in the dark and the button that allows for ISO adjustments has a bump in the center of it that distinguishes it from the others. The viewfinder is also easy to use in low light, although in my opinion it would be better if the viewfinder illumination was tied to the top LCD illumination.
In scenes with harsh or uneven lighting, the 7D Mark II has a built-in HDR mode. Enabled by pressing the Picture Style button on the back of the camera, there are five HDR options: natural, art standard, art vivid, art bold, and art embossed. Additionally, there are controls over the dynamic range up to +/- 3 EV. All of the original image files are saved in addition to the final JPEG, which is a nice touch.
Canon 7D Mark II: In-Camera HDR Examples
18-135mm: 18mm, 1/6s, f/8, ISO 100, Manual, AWB, HDR +/- 3, Center-Weighted Average Metering.
18-135mm lens: 74mm, 0.3s, f/8, ISO 100, AWB, HDR +/- 3, Center-Weighted Average Metering
The 7D Mark II is a very fast camera thanks to its dual DIGIC 6 processors. With this processing power comes the ability to continuously shoot at 10fps, making the 7D Mark II one of the fastest DSLR cameras on the market. The original 7D could shoot continuously at 8fps. Another important performance upgrade is the 7D Mark II's buffer depth of 1,090 JPEG files or 31 RAW files, compared to 130 JPEG and 25 RAW files with the 7D, though IR lab tests managed 26 RAW frames for the 7D2 and 16 for the original 7D. It doesn't match Canon's claimed specs in this area, (the lab's target is designed to be difficult to compress so tested buffer depths are often less than claimed) but the Mark II displays a notable improvement over the original, nonetheless. The 7D Mark II does everything quickly, such as turning on, navigating menus, and processing images. This speed allowed me to concentrate on my shooting out in the field, rather than be waiting for the camera.
However, continuous shooting and processing power is only significant if the camera's autofocus can perform well, and the 7D Mark II's AF doesn't disappoint. The 7D Mark II's ability to continuously autofocus accurately, even at 10fps, is impressive. In most instances, the camera was able to successfully keep track of the subject and maintain focus throughout the entire burst. With the autofocus points covering a large portion of the frame, fast-moving subjects are handled very well by the 7D Mark II because there is more area of the frame that can track the subject.
The 7D Mark II captures excellent video up to 1080p and 60fps and includes many interesting features. The camera's dual-pixel AF sensor allows for smoother autofocus when shooting video. Movie Servo AF on the 7D Mark II performs well, as is to be expected considering the camera's excellent autofocusing ability for still photography. Movie Servo AF allows the camera to continuously focus without having to press the shutter. With compatible lenses, speed and sensitivity of Movie Servo AF can also be customized. However, Movie Servo AF is not available at 1080/60p (or 50fps PAL), so you're left with manual focus or AF by half-pressing the shutter button.
All-Intra (ALL-I) recording is a compression option available on each resolution except for 1080p and 60/50fps on the 7D Mark II, which should please most videographers. The camera also includes a headphone jack for monitoring, a stereo microphone jack (the built-in mic is mono), and an HDMI output which allows for uncompressed video recording. Recording video is as simple as rotating the Live View shooting/Movie shooting switch to the left and then pressing the Start/Stop button.
The 7D Mark II let's you adjust exposure settings as well as audio levels for both the mic and headphones during recording. While the camera's controls are faily quiet, they aren't truly silent and camera operation could disrupt the camera's audio recording. Thankfully, Canon included touch-sensitive controls for the rear sub-command control dial. With this enabled, simply tap up, down, left or right on the inner ring around the SET button for truly silent settings and audio adjusts during live recording.
Canon 7D Mark II Sample Video #1
1,920 x 1,080, 60 fps, H.264, IPB
Download Original (122.5MB MOV)
Canon 7D Mark II Sample Video #2
1,920 x 1,080, 30 fps, H.264, ALL-I
Download Original (357.9MB MOV)
Canon 7D Mark II Sample Video #3
1,920 x 1,080, 30 fps, H.264, IPB
Download Original (172.5MB MOV)
The 7D Mark II has built-in GPS, which is easily enabled through the camera's setup menu. When GPS is enabled there is an indicator on the top LCD. When the 'GPS' indicator is blinking, the camera is searching for a signal, and when solid, the camera has acquired a signal. A signal is acquired quickly once you stay relatively still for a few moments and GPS reception is maintained even after the camera is turned off, which reduces battery life some, but allows for optional GPS logging to keep track of your journey. The built-in GPS provided quick and accurate latitude and longitude data for images. However, the camera struggled with elevation data, though I think this is quite normal. When taking consecutive images from the exact same location on a tripod, the camera recorded a change in elevation of over 10 meters during a series of four images. The location data for image files can be viewed through supplied software or by toggling through information during image playback. There are various options associated with the GPS, such as how often the GPS updates your positioning. There is also an option to turn on a useful digital compass when GPS is enabled, which is easy to calibrate by following an illustrated guide on the display.
400mm DO II: 1/2500s, f/4.0, ISO 160, Aperture Priority, AWB, Evaluative Metering
What I like most
- Autofocus performance is excellent
- High ISO performance is better than expected
- The camera has incredibly fast performance
- Dual-pixel AF results in smooth focusing during video recording
What I dislike
- Spot Metering is restricted to the center of the AF sensor
- No Movie Servo AF at 60p/50p
The Canon 7D Mark II matches its excellent handling with excellent performance. It meters exposure and white balance consistently well, and its autofocus sensor is superb, proving to be quick and accurate across many shooting conditions. High ISO performance is surprisingly good with the 20-megapixel APS-C sensor. With high-end video features, the 7D Mark II captures great video as well.
Overall, the Canon 7D Mark II is an excellent camera. With great handling and controls, a high-quality APS-C sensor, fantastic autofocus performance, and 10 fps high-speed shooting, it's a great choice for wildlife and sports photographers. The Canon 7D Mark II not only performs very well out in the field, but it stands as a statement that high-end APS-C cameras continue to be a good choice for many photographers.