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Friday, November 7, 2014

My First Day with the Canon EOS 7D

This month Canon unveiled it's latest iteration of the 7D called the 7D Mark II and it is making quite a splash in the photography community. Many photographers, dreaming of the latest gear, will rush out and purchase the 7D Mark II and sell their existing gear to KEH or online at auctions sites such as Ebay. This will cause a sudden flood of used 7Ds into the market space and begin driving prices down. For those of you who work on a budget when it comes to buying camera gear, now is a good time to look at the Canon 7D on the used market and some deals which exist for current 7D inventory on the new market.
I purchased my used 7D from KEH, Inc., located in Smyrna, Georgia, USA and highly recommend them as an excellent source of used gear. This camera augments and replaces in some respects my Canon 1D Mark II which is still and excellent camera and will serve as a backup for the next several years.  The tests I conducted in this review are my personal feelings about the camera in the field and do not use any scientific charting and testing.  There is plenty of that material already available on the internet and would serve no purpose for me to simply reiterate what has already been said.  Primarily I am a bird photographer, although I do enjoy other nature photography as well and so this review will reflect that interest. 
Before setting up for the shoot I wanted to get the overall feel for the camera body.  I found it to be of solid construction and would fit well in most anyone's hand.  It is made of a magnesium alloy wrapped in rubberized like material and seems very well built.  The button placement is ergonomic and comfortable, but I did find that some of the buttons need to be tapped more than one time for them to work properly.  This might be the camera's age, but I thought I would pass it along anyway.  The viewfinder is bright and uses a  modern LCD technology to actually "paint" the focusing points and grid-lines onto the viewfinder.  That's right, I said "grid-lines."  There is simply no need to go out and buy additional focusing screens in order to view the grid-lines.  That was the first bonus I noticed.  
I continued my shoot by attaching the camera body to my faithful Bogen/Manfratto 3221 tripod and mounted my trusty Tamron 70-300 SP VC lens to the body.  This combo was sitting in my blind which is no more than 8 feet from the perch I use when photographing small songbirds. The morning of the shoot was cool and partly cloudy, but rays of light, at times which illuminated the birds at random times.  My exposures were generally around a 1/200 shutter speed, 5.6 aperture, and ISO 400/640.  I had attached a remote release to my camera and set the motor drive on high.  The 7D is capable of about 7 to 8 FPS with raw files and I found this to be a real plus here to get bursts of images with the birds in various positions.
 I was able to shoot several species of birds on this morning, and at the end of this article you can see two which I think turned out fairly well.  My biggest concern on my first shoot with this camera was determining how the noise held up when using 640 and 800 ISO settings since my Canon Rebel T3i had such disparaging results.  All I can say is DO NOT listen to those online that claim this is the same sensor as the Rebel series made during this time.  This statement is simply not true and Canon is on record saying it is not the same sensor.  This camera does produce noise but it is very manageable by simply overexposing by 1/2 stop and using a bit of noise reduction in Light Room.  Furthermore, the noise seems to have a very tight pattern and very similar in most respects to my 1D Mark II if not better.  Is it going to be noise free at 1000 and 1600 ISO?  No, of course not, but It is manageable and very doable to shoot at 1600 ISO by shooting to the right(overexposing).  With this sensor, under no circumstances should you underexpose your image.  It does not have the latitude to push in post without noise issues.  Know this camera and understand how it can best best be used and you will be fine.
This first test did not go into auto-focus but perhaps I will do a followup post on how it handles in the field with birds in flight.  I want to finish up with a couple additional features I liked. One I found to be useful was a dedicated "auto-focus on" button (back focus button) which can be configured to do all the focusing and disconnect focus functionality from the shutter button. On my 1D Mark II I had to configure another button do to this duty. Next, live view is a dream to use but I did find that the battery life  was quite short so I will need to buy a second battery soon for live view work.  I like to use the live view feature when I am photographing skittish birds like woodpeckers.  I can completely cover up the camera and myself and use live view as my eyes. Finally, I liked the micro-adjust for lenses which have back focus or front focus issues, but I have not tested this yet.  
I hope you found this post useful and watch for future posts on equipment, wildlife and my photography in the future.