The Canon 7D Mk II DSLR may well be the best, fastest, most feature-rich crop sensor camera ever. It shoots 10 frames per second, focuses faster, works with half as much light, and continuously autofocuses videos. GPS comes built-in. The camera body costs $1,800 and ships in mid-November. The 7D Mk II is being shown off by Canon at the Photokina 2014 conference in Cologne today.
This much excellence you’d expect when Canon had five years to develop the 7D Mk II. But for every two new features, there’s one missing. Some of the missing features are on your smartphone or $300 point-and-shoot camera. There is, for instance, no integrated WiFi to wirelessly upload your photos but you can add one for $850. Canon added automatic HDR images but apparently not automatic panoramas.
The 7D Mk II’s best new still camera features
Physically, the new Canon 7D Mk II looks very much like the outgoing 7D with some minor changes to controls to make it similar to the layout of the full-frame Canon 5D Mk III, $3,400 street for the camera body. Resolution is up in a minor way from 18.0 to 20.2 megapixels. Autofocusing should be improved with 65 AF points vs. 19, tracking based on color, and face detection. This is an enhanced version of the EOS iTR feature of the Canon EOS-1D X uber-camera, $6,800. If you’ve ever aimed a telephoto lens at bird flapping across the sky, it will find and focus on the bird even if it’s not centered in the bouncing viewfinder.
For low light shooting, the ISO range extends to ISO 16000 and 25600 in expanded mode, where higher is better. Recall that film cameras worked in the range of 25-1000 ISO. You’ll be able to shoot more school plays, weddings, and night soccer without flash and you’ll benefit from quiet shooting modes that reduce mirror slap. You may be able to get by with smaller, lighter, cheaper f/4 to f/5.6 maximum-aperture lenses.
The 7D Mk II has integrated GPS, something every iPhone and Android device has. It also supports both CF cards and SD cards. With SD available in 512GB, CF is starting to look like a relic, except for the fact that CF cards are harder to lose. Canon claims the Mk II has four times better weather sealing of the original, which is nice, but it’s not an underwater camera and for serious field sports shooting you’ll need a rain hood. The shutter is rated at 200,000 cycles, a third more than the 7D.
Movies that will be in focus
The dirty secret of DSLR video is that most DSLRs focus once, when you hit Record, then it’s up to you to manually focus after that. The 7D Mk II adopts an enhanced version of the dual-pixel, on-sensor phase detection system introduced with the Canon 70D.
The 7D Mk II adds sensitivity settings so you can tweak how aggressively the focus sticks with a moving subject. It’s also assisted by the exposure metering sensors. Max video resolution remains 1080p but now at up to 60 frames per second; it used to be 30. All this means: The standalone camcorder is even deader now unless you’re doing high-end broadcast video recording.
Bells and whistles
The 7D Mk II matches the 5D Mk III in offering HDR imaging. Why HDR? Today’s best sensors still don’t match the range of light to dark that the human eye sees. So you used to shoot three images in quick succession, shooting plus and minus 1EV, hoping the leaves didn’t rustle too much in between, and then stitched them together in Photoshop. It was an incredible hassle and many people carried a smartphone or cheap point-and-shoot to avoid this problem. But you wound up with great photos of the Grand Canyon with the sky, rocks, and shadows all showing incredible detail.
The rear LCD is now 3×2 ratio to match the sensor’s aspect ratio, 720×480 resolution. The USB port is finally USB 3.0, for faster transfers without a card reader.
The missing bells and whistles
Your smartphone probably has features your 7D Mk II won’t. There is no integrated way to wirelessly upload all your images to a laptop or tablet for processing, or even the one photo you just have to tweet right now. Your choices are to shoot the Twitter photo with your phone, or get the Canon WFT-E7A wireless file transmitter version 2, $850.
Canon has a dandy strobe that can be radio-controlled, the 600EX-RT, $550 apiece, and most photogs start with two. Canon passed on the opportunity to build in the ST-E3-RT transceiver, $275, so you’ll need that atop your camera, or else fall back to the standard optical trigger that has less range and reliability. Once you’ve tried a radio controller for your flash, it’s hard to go back to optical triggers.
If you want to shoot ultra-wide panoramas, you may still need that smartphone. There’s no mention in the Canon literature of automatic panoramas, leaving you to shoot a dozen photos one-third overlapped, then stitching them in Photoshop. More time wasted. It wasn’t clear if the 7D Mk II has an intervalometer for time lapse photos without having a PC attached. With a pair of Canon Digic 6 processors — more power than went to the Moon — there’s surely room to set up an exposure every 30 seconds or 30 minutes. It’s cool to shoot your house as a 24-hour time lapse cycle.
Canon still lacks a first-class ultra-wide angle zoom lens for crop sensor cameras. The Canon crop sensor-only Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens covers the same range as the Canon EF 16-35mm for $1,000 less, $650 vs. $1,600. But the EF-S lens varies from f/f/3.5 to f/4.5 where the full-frame wide angle is a constant f/2.8.
Full-frame photographers swear they can do almost all their work with just the 16-35mm f/2.8 and the 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom. Try doing that using the EF-S ultrawide: You’ll find low-light work is problematic and you’ve got a big gap between where 22mm ends and 70mm kicks in. At the telephoto end, almost nobody minds that the EF-S cameras multiply the lens’ reach by 1.6X, so that 70-200mm zoom tops out at an effective 320mm, which means you’ll get even closer in from farther away.
Should you buy?
Keep $2,500 to $3,000 in mind if you’re looking at the Canon 7D Mk II. Start with the body alone at $1,799 list or more likely $2,149 list for the camera with an EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens with a silent stepper motor that doesn’t affect the onboard audio recording. Heavy users will want the dual-battery battery grip BG-E16 and at least one extra LP-E6N, which is backward compatible with the LP-E6 on the original 7D and other Canons, and more powerful. So there’s your $2,500 new camera.
What else should you consider? Comparisons with Nikon are inevitable if silly because once you own several lenses, most users just stick with that brand. The top prosumer crop-sensor Nikon is the D7100, $1,100. It shoots 6 frames per second, standard ISO goes to 6400, video focus is the less-capable contrast detection, GPS is an external option, and it uses two SD slots. Nikon DSLRs have had a good reputation for low-light image quality. At this point, Canon is clearly ahead with the 7D Mk II.
Within the Canon line, the Canon 70D, $1,100 for the body, also has continuous video autofocus and single-frame still shooting. Sports shooting goes to 7 fps. It has an articulated touchscreen LCD, two big advantages over the 7D Mk II: You can see the viewfinder with the camera held over your head, and it’s a snap to pick the autofocus point you want, even if the Mk II has a dedicated button that can be used to switch among AF choices. Construction is lighter duty and it’s not eligible for CPS, which provides incredibly fast repairs and maintenance if you qualify as a pro photographer. If you do decide to pursue the 70D, there are rebates and special deals for bundles online and through mass merchants such as Costco. If that’s still too much to spend, look at the Canon 6D or various Canon Rebel DSLRs. If you’re just shooting casually, all are fine.
If you need a full-frame Canon, the choices are the Canon 6D at $1,800; the workhorse Canon 5D Mk III, $3,400; or the serious pros’ choice, the 1D-X, $6,800. Their video technology relies on hand-focusing, something that may push 5D-owning wedding photographers to lay in 7D Mk IIs for video.
If you’re a serious photographer who is happy with the smaller sensor and more compact camera body of the APC-C sensor size, the Canon 7D Mk II may be worth waiting for. It should be the most capable DSLR-based video camera you can buy at any price. It will perform better in low light and reduce the places where you need to use flash. It will shoot action better and more of the frames should be in focus. Every photo will be geotagged. Canon used the five years effectively since the previous 7D. Start saving. It should be available in November.