Canon returns to tackle Nikon in midrange with EOS 7D dSLR

The company's new APS-C dSLR looks like it has the features and performance specs to pose a significant challenge to Nikon, whose D200/D300 has effectively had the midrange all to itself for years.

Canon USA

Updated, September 1, 2009: As expected, Canon announced the 7D, and all the rumor information turned out to be correct. I've added more details below.

There's enough seemingly reliable information floating around the Internet to guess that Canon plans to announce the long-rumored EOS 7D any day now. For those willing to slog through it, Canon Rumors offers up a difficult-to-parse Google Translate version of a Chinese press release from which everyone's painstakingly pulled the basic specs. (I'll update this post when the camera's officially announced; consensus has that happening on September 1, though it's not clear which continent that refers to, so it might be September 2 here in the U.S.)

Canon USA

Rather than an inexpensive but full-frame version of the 5D Mark II, the 7D looks to be a direct competitor for the Nikon D300s--and it's about time. 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, that Nikon leapfrogged. But with entirely new AF and metering systems, a new high-resolution (and seemingly low-noise) 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.

Here's where it fits into Canon's line:

 Canon EOS 50DCanon EOS 7DCanon EOS 5D Mark II
Sensor (effective resolution)15.1-megapixel CMOS18-megapixel CMOS21.1-megapixel CMOS
22.3mm x 14.9mm22.3mm x 14.9mm36mm x 24mm
Magnification factor1.6x1.6x1.0x
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3200/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)ISO 50 (expanded)/100- ISO 6,400/25,600(expanded)
Continuous shooting6.3 fps
16 raw/90 JPEG
8 fps
15 raw/126 JPEG
3.9 fps
14 raw/310 JPEG
95% coverage
100% coverage
98% coverage
Autofocus9-pt AF
all cross-type
19-pt AF
all cross-type; center cross-type to f2.8
9-pt AF
center cross-type
Metering35 zone63 area35 zone
Live ViewYesYesYes
VideoNo1,920x1,080 at 30fps; 1,280x720 at 60fps 1,920 x 1,080 at 30fps
LCD size3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
Shutter durability150,000 cycles150,000 cycles150,000 cycles
Wireless flash controllerNoYesNo
On-camera flashYesYesNo
Battery life (CIPA rating)640 shots800 shotsn/a shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD)5.7 x 4.2 x 2.95.8 x 4.4 x 2.96.0 x 4.5 x 3.0
Body operating weight (ounces)29.830.732.9
Mfr. Price (body only)$1,199.00$1,699 (estimated)$2,699.00

At $1,000 less than the 5D Mark II (based on unofficial price guesstimates), with high enough resolution for most people and a better AF system, the 7D looks like quite an attractive alternative. And if Canon has seriously improved its noise reduction at the high ISO sensitivities, the video support, better metering, and better AF make an attractive upgrade from the somewhat disappointing 50D.

Here's how it will likely stack up compared to the competition:

 Canon EOS 7DNikon D300sOlympus E-3
Sensor (effective resolution)18-megapixel CMOS12.1-megapixel CMOS10.1-megapixel Live MOS
22.3mm x 14.9mm23.6mm x 15.8mm17.3 mm x 13mm
Magnification factor1.6x1.5x2.0x
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 1600/3200 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 3200
Continuous shooting8 fps
15 raw/126 JPEG
7 fps
n/a raw/100 JPEG
4 fps
16 raw/unlimited JPEG
magnification/effective magnification
100% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
Autofocus19-pt AF
all cross-type; center cross-type to f2.8
51-pt AF
15 cross-type
11-pt AF
all cross-type
Metering63 area1,005 pixel49 point
Live ViewYesYesYes
Video1,920x1,080 at 30fps; 1280x720 at 60fps1280x720 at 24fpsNo
LCD size3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
2.5 inches articulated
230,000 dots
On-camera flashYesYesYes
Wireless flash controllerYesYesYes
Shutter durability150,000 cycles150,000 cyclesn/a
Battery life (CIPA rating)800 shots950 shots610 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD)5.8 x 4.3 x 2.95.8 x 4.5 x 2.95.6 x 4.6 x 2.9
Body operating weight (ounces)30.7 (estimated) 34.231.6
Mfr. Price (body only)$1,699.00 (body only); $1,899.00 (with 28-135mm lens)$1,799.95$1,399.99

I really like the D300s, and the 7D looks comparable or better in most ways--despite the specs, AF performance is an unknown until tested. In addition to adding AF areas, Canon greatly increased the sophistication of the system, with capabilities that now include Spot AF (allowing for a smaller single focus point), AF point expansion (to use a cluster of AF points around a selected area) and Zone AF (five selectable focusing zones composed of preset clusters of focus points). Some of these capabilities sound like those of the E-3's AF system, which I really like. And the new iFCL smart metering system (Intelligent, Focus, Color, Luminance) sounds like it works similarly to Nikon's in that it incorporates color information. Like the updated version of the 5D Mark II, the 7D supports manual exposure controls during video capture. The camera also sports a significantly redesigned weather-sealed body, and the new viewfinder has an LCD overlay for providing additional information, like an on-demand grid and electronic levels. and this is the first EOS dSLR to incorporate wireless flash.

The 7D will be available by the end of September. I'm looking forward to this one.

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