Canon basically ceded the entry-level pro performance market to Nikon in 2005 with the arrival of the D200; since then, Canon's 30D, 40D, and 50D have taken the slower but less-expensive road, with a relatively stagnant AF system, which Nikon leapfrogged. But with entirely new AF and metering systems, a new high-resolution eight-channel readout sensor coupled with dual Digic 4 image processors and a new 100 percent coverage viewfinder, plus 1080p video capture, the 7D looks like an aggressive attempt to make a comeback.
In addition to a body-only version, Canon sells the 7D in a kit with the 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS lens (44.8-216mm equivalent). I'm not really fond of it, though, and if you're looking for a starter kit, I'd recommend the newer 15-85mm f3.6-5.6 IS USM lens (28.8-136mm equivalent) instead. It's a lot more expensive and a bit shorter, but I think it's a significantly better lens.
One of the heavier single-grip dSLRs available, there are no radical design departures in the 7D but there are tons of subtle, and a few conspicuous, interface changes that greatly enhance the fluidity of the camera's operation. The new viewfinder is great, comparable with that of the D300s: big and bright, with an optional overlay grid. It's also slightly more comfortable than the D300s' because of the larger eyecup. (Since I didn't get to take the camera to Antarctica to test its weather sealing, cold resistance, and ruggedness, I'd follow Ole Jørgen Lioden's testing on that, if you're interested.)
Adding to its traditional array of buttons for metering, white balance, autofocus, drive mode, ISO sensitivity, and flash compensation the 7D now includes an M-Fn button used to cycle through the AF point options, plus Canon brings the LCD illumination button into action for registering the orientation-linked AF points. Unfortunately, the buttons are very difficult to differentiate by feel, and the M-Fn and illumination buttons are even smaller and harder to use than the others. Following trends in consumer dSLR design, the 7D now also has an interactive control panel for changing frequently accessed settings, called up with the Q button. Though I generally prefer buttons and switches for quick access, the control panel is ultimately easier to use than trying to differentiate between the small buttons on the top of the camera without looking.
By adding a specific switch with start/stop button for Live View and Movie capture modes, Canon removed a lot of the operational ambiguity of the 5D Mark II (where you have to have a custom setting enabled just to trigger Live View, for example), and allows the Playback button to function normally, unlike the D300s. It definitely adds to the usability of these modes. More subtle enhancements include an updated switch for the thumbwheel lock and the odd addition of a silver ring on the thumbwheel. The joystick remains unchanged, but I think its design could have stood some tweaking; it's still a bit too easy to accidentally push up when you're trying to go left or right.
|Canon EOS 50D||Canon EOS 7D||Canon EOS 5D Mark II|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||15.1-megapixel CMOS||18-megapixel CMOS||21.1-megapixel CMOS|
|22.3mm x 14.9mm||22.3mm x 14.9mm||36mm x 24mm|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/12,800 (expanded)||ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded)||ISO 50 (expanded)/100- ISO 6,400/25,600(expanded)|
16 raw/90 JPEG
15 raw/94 JPEG
14 raw/310 JPEG
all cross-type; center cross-type to f2.8
|Shutter speed||1/8000 to 30 sec.; bulb; X-sync 1/250||1/8000 to 30 sec.; bulb; X-sync 1/250||1/8000 to 30 sec.; bulb; X-sync 1/200|
|Metering||35 zone||63 area||35 zone|
|Video (highest resolution)||No||1,920x1,080 at 30fps||1,920x1,080 at 30fps|
|LCD size||3 inches fixed
|3 inches fixed
|3 inches fixed
|Shutter durability||150,000 cycles||150,000 cycles||150,000 cycles|
|Wireless flash controller||No||Yes||No|
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||640 shots||800 shots||n/a shots|
|Dimensions (inches, WHD)||5.7x4.2x2.9||5.8x4.4x2.9||6.0x4.5x3.0|
|Body operating weight (ounces)||29.8||35||32.9|
|Mfr. Price (body only)||$1,199.00||$1,699.00||$2,699.00|
Canon went from very few AF options to a gazillion in one model. Of course, there's the veteran full automatic AF selection. Spot AF is a subarea of the traditional single-point AF, and for both of these you can choose from any of the 19 AF points. AF point expansion uses the three or four (depending upon location) points surrounding the chosen one. Zone AF is similar to AF point expansion in that it allows you to define clumps of points in the center, top, bottom, or sides of the full AF area, but in contrast to expansion, where you still choose the primary focus point and it only uses the other points if the subject moves, the camera automatically chooses points from within the defined zone. The bulk of these are really designed to improve focus tracking during continuous shooting, and, much like Nikon's AF system, you have to think very carefully about matching the AF choice with the shooting situation or you can end up with surprising results. Ditto for the flexible global and lens-specific microadjustment tools, which it carries over from the higher-end models. Very few users need all of these options, and Canon provides a solid interface for enabling or disabling the choices to minimize on-the-fly confusion. In Live View mode you have three AF options: Live mode (contrast AF), face detect Live mode AF, or Quick AF (the "traditional" faster Live View AF, which uses the faster phase-detection scheme but requires more mirror flipping).
Unlike the Nikon D300s, which changes modes electronically, Canon retains its mode dial, with three custom settings slots. Which design you prefer is very subjective; I happen to like the dial better, especially for accessing custom settings. Unfortunately, with great power comes great interface responsibility, and the custom settings interface is groaning under the weight of the new features. While the dial is faster for access, Nikon's implementation of separate configurations for shooting and operation is less likely to make you crazy. That's because shooting settings tend to vary a lot, while operational controls tend to remain similar. In order to make sure to retain the settings you want you have to first set all of those, then register them to all three slots. That's fine if you never change your mind or make mistakes.
Then there's something like the linked AF-point capability, in which you can register a default AF point, zone, or scheme for each orientation (horizontal and two vertical). It's a truly useful capability, especially in conjunction with the saved settings. But you have to globally enable it, which means you then have to set it for each custom slot; otherwise, when you go vertical it will default to the dumb automatic 19-point area AF setting (which no one shooting this class of camera should use).