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Canon EOS 7D Mark II review: A great enthusiast dSLR gets better, but it's still missing some pieces

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The Good Preserving its familiar and weather-sealed design, the 7D Mark II builds on the best of its predecessor: it's speedy with excellent photo and video quality, GPS, a flexible autofocus system and a big, bright viewfinder.

The Bad No tilting or articulated display makes shooting video without a rig annoying, and it lacks built-in Wi-Fi.

The Bottom Line The fixed LCD and lack of built-in wireless file transfer support may make some people cross it off their short list, but the Canon EOS 7D Mark II should please any Canon fan looking for speed.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Image quality 8

I was a big fan of the original Canon EOS 7D and eagerly awaited the 7D Mark II. And once it shipped, I was struck by how much the competition had changed in the interim, as well as the fact that I liked -- and disliked -- the same things about both models. So while the Mark II is a great camera with significantly improved performance and a few new features, including GPS, dual card slots and expanded video frame- and bitrates, important holes remain, like an articulated LCD and Wi-Fi.

Available for $1,700 (£1,000, AU$2,580) for the body, the much cheaper 7D looks really attractive in comparison (roughly $900, £600, AU$1,100) if you don't need the updates -- especially since using the money to spring for a better lens than one of the kit offerings can make a bigger difference in photo quality.

Image quality

The 7DM2 uses a different sensor technology than its predecessor, a Dual-Pixel CMOS like that of the 70D, in which each pixel on the sensor has both a photosite and a phase-detection autofocus sensor. (Look at that review for a more detailed description.) Its resolution is insignificantly higher as well.

As long as you don't get hung up on pixel-peeping comparisons, the 7DM2's photo quality looks great. JPEGs look good up through ISO 1600 and depending upon scene content and how large you plan to view them, you can get decent results as high as ISO 25600. That's in part because Canon's JPEG processing is excellent.

However, the raw images can't compete with those from models like the Samsung NX1. They're not as sharp -- in part because the 7DM2's 18-135mm IS STM kit lens isn't on par with the camera, but even with a better lens it can't quite resolve the same amount of detail and has a slightly narrower tonal range, losing some shadow and highlight detail, even in the raws.

The 7DM2 delivers good photo quality: but then, so did the 7D. The 7DM2 offers an expanded ISO sensitivity range beyond the 7D's maximum of ISO 6400, but between ISO 100 and ISO 6400 there's nothing about the M2's images that jump out as significantly better. So if all you shoot are stills in decent light or with flash/strobes and you don't need any of the other performance enhancements in the newer model, you're probably better off getting (or sticking with) the much cheaper older model and spending the not-insubstantial savings on a good lens.

The video quality is extremely good, with practically no rolling-shutter artifacts (wobble), moire or edge artifacts. In low light, midrange ISO (around ISO 3200) video has little noise, though you'll have to play around with settings to optimize the rather compressed tonal range; highlights and shadows get pretty clipped with the default options. And while it's good HD video, it's not nearly as sharp as 4K played back at HD.

Analysis samples

JPEGs look good through ISO 1600. Lori Grunin/CNET
There's a jump in color noise and artifacts in JPEGs between ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, and by ISO 6400 you can see the loss of detail. Lori Grunin/CNET
The pink cast in our test photos doesn't really hit you until you compare it to a really neutral image such as the Samsung NX1's. In field testing and when using the Faithful Picture Style, the white balance is fine. The camera lacks an option to override the color cast of the lights and force a neutral balance so indoors the white balance is somewhere in between. Lori Grunin/CNET
You can pull up a decent amount of shadow detail from underexposed shots. Lori Grunin/CNET
Shooting raw gives you some latitude to recover blown-out detail in whites. You can also see the amount of internal aberration correction the camera is doing for the 18-135mm lens. Lori Grunin/CNET
Though the camera tends to blow out extremely bright, saturated colors in the JPEGs, overall the colors are quite accurate. Lori Grunin/CNET

Performance

The 7DM2 really does a great job with its autofocus and continuous-shooting performance improvements; unsurprisingly, though, its Live View performance still can't keep up with mirrorless competitors.

It powers on and shoots in 0.8-second, which isn't terrific but is acceptably quick. With the viewfinder, time to focus and shoot, as well as the time to take two photos in succession, hovers around 0.2-second, regardless of file format, though the camera's marginally slower in dim conditions.

In Live View (with the optimized 18-135mm STM lens), shot-to-shot time rises to about 0.8-second; while time to focus and shoot in good light is a decent 0.4-second, in dim it jumps to a full second. That's longer than it sounds when you're trying to focus on a moving subject. And with a fixed LCD, it's hard to frame shots at odd angles or to adjust the view if there's sun shining on it.

The camera can sustain a burst at about 9.5fps for an essentially unlimited number of JPEGs and approximately 30 raws before it begins to slow; it achieves 10fps over 1/500-second shutter speed. When it does slow, it sort of stutters: two fast, pause, two fast, and so on. I shot lots of raw+JPEG bursts -- it can go a decent 20 shots before slowing -- and despite dual Digic 6 processors and a 280MB per second U3 UHS II SanDisk Extreme Pro card it was still a little slow to save them. You can keep shooting while it does, though.

And the autofocus system is quite good, and if you shoot action it's definitely worth an upgrade to the newer model. The 7D introduces a new 65-point all cross-type AF system with more autofocus points than higher-end models like the 5D Mark III or the 1-D X, though it's not the High Density Reticular AF version. It also incorporates the iTR (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition) AF in conjunction with a new metering sensor for better object recognition to support tracking.

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