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

The Mark II improves significantly over the original 7D in a lot of ways, but retains some of its annoying traits.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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10 min read

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.

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8.3

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

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.

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

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JPEGs look good through ISO 1600. Lori Grunin/CNET

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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

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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

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You can pull up a decent amount of shadow detail from underexposed shots. Lori Grunin/CNET

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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

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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.

I had problems focusing in very low light (dark living-room levels) with the Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens, but otherwise can't think of any times when the continuous (Servo) or one-shot AF really failed me. It's not perfect -- it's unreasonable to expect a 100 percent hit rate -- but I'd say about 80 percent of my burst shots were sufficiently in focus for nonprofessional use, and even better if you view or use them scaled down. The hit rate is higher if you use the slower burst mode, which makes sense (the camera defaults to 3fps for slow, and you can change it to anywhere from 1 to 9 fps).

The caveat for that is I only use the single-point autofocus and single-point AF expansion modes, which supplement the selected point with four or eight surrounding autofocus areas. The rest of the autofocus options -- Zone AF (a movable clump of 15 points), Large Zone AF (movable clump of 25 points), and all-point autofocus -- generally choose the closest object, which is rarely the correct choice. This isn't unique to Canon; I've yet to see an system which can select the correct subject frequently enough to make it the default mode.

Like other modern EOS models, the 7DM2 also has the selectable sensitivity settings for the continuous autofocus, such as continue to track subject despite obstacles and instantly focus on subjects enter the AF-point zone, which is very handy. You want to experiment and figure out which settings work for you before heading out to shoot, though. In video recording, especially, setting the AF to decrease sensitivity to objects passing through the frame makes crowd shots much easier.

Video autofocus generally performs well also, even with non-STM lenses. However, without a touchscreen, rack focusing (changing focus slowly from one subject to another) really needs to be done manually. And once again, the lack of an articulating LCD makes casual -- or at least non-rigged-out -- videography frustrating.

Shooting speed

Olympus OM-D EM1 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.7Canon EOS 70D 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.4Canon EOS 7D Mark II 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.8Samsung NX1 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.3 1.0Nikon D750 0.4 0.4 0.2 0.2 0.2
  • Shutter lag (typical)
  • Shutter lag (dim light)
  • Typical shot-to-shot time
  • Raw shot-to-shot time
  • Time to first shot
Note: Seconds (smaller is better)

Typical continuous-shooting speed

Samsung NX1 14.4Olympus OM-D EM1 10.2Canon EOS 7D Mark II 9.5Canon EOS 70D 7.1Nikon D750 6.6
Note: Frames per second (larger is better)

Design and features

Its design is extremely similar to that of the 7D, with some subtle tweaks. It's slightly lighter, but still one of the heaviest in its class. It's still dust-and-weather-sealed magnesium alloy, and the shutter mechanism durability rating has been upgraded to 200,000 activations.

And while it incorporates the same relatively big and bright optical viewfinder with 100 percent scene coverage, it now offers another overlay for more information.

On top, the Creative Auto option, Canon's one-step-up-from-full-auto, has been banished from the mode dial, leaving the basic set of manual and semimanual modes plus three custom-settings slots. In front of the top dial is the programmable M.Fn button; above the status LCD are the direct-access buttons for white balance, metering, drive mode, autofocus mode, flash compensation and ISO sensitivity.

For easy right-thumb operation, the AF-on, exposure compensation/lock and focus-area buttons sit just above the thumb rest. A little more of a reach near the viewfinder is the still/video switch with its Live View enable/movie stop/start button. Below that is a programmable lever which works in conjunction with the dials, circumscribing the joystick. And there's a lockable adjustment dial with a select button in the center.

Running down the left side of the display are the playback-related buttons -- rate, zoom, review and delete -- plus a button that pulls up your three creative options: Picture Style (color, tone and sharpness settings), multiple-exposure mode and HDR mode. It's got a broad set of options for multiple exposures, including four blend modes (add, average, bright, dark) and a choice of two to nine exposures.

Yay! Two card slots. However, while you can select to record raw and JPEG files separately to each card, you can't explicitly set video to record to a specific card, just the card designated for playback. Sarah Tew/CNET

HDR offers a decent set of options, with four levels of effects with one Natural and 3 arty, plus user-selectable brackets of +/- one, two or three EV exposures and the ability to save the bracketed images as well as a combined shot. It's fixed at three shots. It does a fair job, but doesn't deal intelligently with things moving through the frame so you can end up with lots of ghosts.

The port configuration has changed slightly. It still has HDMI out (with audio, as well as clean for video), mic input, PC and remote-control terminals, but it drops the AV out in favor of a USB 3.0 connector and headphone jack. Canon added a new medium-bitrate HD codec, IPB Light, along with the rest of Canon's typical video-recording capabilities.

Other additions include a GPS for geotagging and geologging; unfortunately, it's not smart enough to turn off when you turn the camera off and will keep searching for and connecting to satellites, at the cost of your battery life. Canon finally rolls out an interval-shooting feature, but while all other manufacturers have boosted theirs to support 9,999 shots and offer exposure smoothing, the 7DM2 has a maximum of 99 and no smoothing. You can use interval shooting in conjunction with exposure or white-balance bracketing, multiple-exposure mode or HDR.

For a complete accounting of its features and operation, download the 7D Mark II's manual.

Conclusion

The Canon EOS 7D Mark II is a great camera, it's fast, familiar and delivers excellent -- albeit not best in class -- photo and video quality. I really enjoy shooting with it most of the time. But the much cheaper original 7D delivers similar still photo and solid video quality in all but dim light, so if your needs run to a basic dSLR that shoots pretty fast, the old model is a sweet deal. And if you like to shoot video but don't want to rig out the camera, the lack of an articulated or even tilting touchscreen display makes it frustrating.

Comparative specifications

Canon EOS 70D Canon EOS 7D Canon EOS 7D Mark II Samsung NX1
Sensor effective resolution 20.2MP Dual Pixel CMOS 18MP CMOS 20.2MP Dual Pixel CMOS 28.2MP BSI CMOS
14-bit
Sensor size 22.5 x 15 mm 22.3 x 14.9 mm 22.4 x 15.0 mm 23.5 x 15.7 mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.6x 1.6x 1.5x
OLPF Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800/ISO 25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 16000/ISO 51200 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 25600/51200 (exp)
Burst shooting 7fps
40 JPEG/15 raw
8fps
130 JPEG/25 raw
10fps
1,090 JPEG/31 raw
15fps
70 JPEG/ raw n/a
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
Optical
98% coverage
0.95x/0.59x
Optical
100% coverage
1.0x/.67x
Optical
100% coverage
1.0x/.67x
OLED EVF
100% coverage
2.36m dots
1.04x/0.69x
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 19-point phase-detection AF
all cross-type
center dual cross to f2.8
19-point phase-detection AF
all cross-type
center dual cross to f2.8
65-point phase-detection AF
all cross-type
center dual cross to f2.8
205 phase-detection AF
209 contrast AF
AF sensitivity -0.5 - 18 EV -0.5 - 18 EV -3 - 18 EV -4 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability 100,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 200,000 cycles 150,000 cycles
Metering 63 zone 63 zone 150,000-pixel RGB+IR 252 zone 221 area
Metering sensitivity 1 - 20 EV 1 - 20 EV 1 - 20 EV n/a
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p, 30p, 25p, 24p @ 50Mbps
H.265 MP4
UHD/30p, C4K/24p, 1080/60p, 50p
Audio Stereo, mic input Mono, mic input Stereo, mic input, headphones Stereo, mic input, headphones
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB 4GB/29:59 mins 4GB/29:59 mins No
Clean HDMI out No No Yes Yes
IS Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift
Display 3 in./7.7cm
Articulated touchscreen
1.04m dots
3 in./7.5cm
Fixed
920,000 dots
3 in./7.5cm
Fixed
1.04m dots
3 in./7.7 cm
Tilting Super AMOLED touchscreen
1.04m dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x CF 1 x CF, 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection None via optional WFT-E5A via optional WFT-E7A Version 2 Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 800 shots
(2,600 shots)
800 shots (VF); 220 shots (LV) 600 shots (VF); 250 shots (LV) 500 (est.)
(1,860 mAh)
Size (WHD) 5.5 x 4.1 x3.1 in.
139.0 x 104.3 x 78.5 mm
5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 in.
148.2 x 110.7 x 73.5 mm
5.9 x 4.4 x 3.1 in.
148.6 x 112.4 x 78.2 mm
5.5 x 4.0 x 2.6 in.
138.5 x 102.3 x 65.8 mm
Body operating weight 27.2 oz.
771.1 g
35 oz.
992.2 g
32.5 oz.
920 g
22.6 oz.
642 g
Mfr. price (body only) $1,200
£800 (est.)
AU$1,150
$900 (est.)
£600 (est.)
AU$1,100 (est.)
$1,700
£1,000 (est.)
AU$2,580
$1,500
£1,300
AU$1,900
Release date August 2013 December 2009 November 2014 October 2014
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8.3

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Image quality 8
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