It took Canon five years to update its EOS 7D, the flagship of its APS-C-sensor lineup. Since the 7D’s debut, prices on some full-frame models have dropped to the point where they compete with professional-grade APS-C DSLRs and mirrorless systems have emerged as serious competitors for the professional’s dollar. Could it be that a professional crop sensor DSLR was a dead camera walking?
Together with New Jersey photographer and director David Patiño, we put the 7D Mark II through its paces to discover the answer. Spoiler alert: It’s a resounding “no.”
Of all the upgrades it made to the Mark II, Canon was most conservative with its resolution, giving it just a modest bump up from the original 7D’s 18 megapixels to the Mark II’s 20.2 megapixels. The native sensitivity range has increased from ISO 100–6400 on the 7D to 100–12,800 on the Mark II; shutter cycles have been boosted from 150,000 to 200,000. The major improvement, however, comes in the autofocus, which gets a comprehensive and impressive overhaul on both the still and video side.
The 7D Mark II boasts 65 cross-type AF points versus just 19 for the original 7D. The center point is a dual cross-type to enhance focusing when shooting with lenses faster than f/2.8. Crunching all that data are a pair of DIGIC 6 processors, which also help the 7D Mark II blast away at 10 frames per second—9.5 fps with tracking autofocus engaged.
There’s also built-in GPS but, sadly, no Wi-Fi. Canon did add an intervalometer and bulb timer to the Mark II for long-exposure photography.
On the video front, the 7D Mark II sidesteps 4K recording in favor of enhanced autofocus for 1920x1080p recording. Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF system, first introduced in the 70D and since migrated to its more expensive Cinema EOS cameras, is now incorporated into the 7D Mark II, with added sensitivity and controls. Dual Pixel CMOS AF uses phase-detection autofocus sensors on the image sensor to improve AF responsiveness when shooting video, though it works on stills as well, when shooting in live view. The Dual Pixel CMOS AF system combines with Canon’s Movie Servo AF to keep moving subjects in focus with minimal to no hunting.
You’ll enjoy 1920x1080p recording up to 60 fps, though Dual Pixel CMOS AF won’t be available above 30 fps. You can output 8-bit, 422 footage with audio and time code via the mini HDMI output to an external recorder. There’s a headphone jack and stereo mic jack for audio monitoring and recording. There are two card slots—one for CompactFlash, the other for SD cards—with a relay-recording feature that automatically switches cards when one fills up.
Owners of Canon’s 5D Mark III will feel right at home using the 7D Mark II, as Canon has essentially copied the former’s design wholesale. One big improvement from the original 7D is the weathersealing. Canon says that it’s “enhanced” from the 7D, and it definitely feels extremely durable. We took it into several driving snowstorms without issue. Its deep, well-contoured hand grip is incredibly comfortable to shoot with.
The reinforced body does come with a few trade-offs, however. The 3-inch display is fixed, not articulating. It’s not a touchscreen either, and given all the AF-point wizardry baked into this camera, we would have appreciated the ability to do touch focusing (like with the 70D). At 2 pounds with battery, the 7D Mark II’s body is heavier than both Nikon’s D7100 and the full frame D610, but we think the extra weather sealing is worth the extra ounces.
With Canon now trumpeting 50-megapixel sensors, prospective 7D Mark II owners could be forgiven for feeling a bit inadequate with only 20.2-megapixels to play with. Nonetheless, we enjoyed excellent results especially in low light, with the 7D Mark II performing well up to ISO 12,800. Color reproduction was similarly strong, but we did notice on some of our 100-percent crops that fine details—such as the stitching on fabrics—did deteriorate a bit. Keeping in mind that the 7D Mark II’s overriding goal is to snag fast-moving subjects and not necessarily coax every last detail from a scene, we think it strikes the right balance.
As a video camera, the 7D Mark II’s 1080p video shouldn’t disappoint videographers—though Patiño says he wouldn’t trade it with his 5D Mark III. As with stills, we found the 7D Mark II did a fantastic job keeping moving subjects in focus, even when darting rapidly across the frame (albeit in a well-lit scene). There are few missing pieces that hobble the 7D Mark II in the video department. There’s no 4K or focus peaking for manual focus pullers. Zebra stripes, for checking your exposure, are also missing.
The 7D Mark II is sniper-like in its ability to lock focus on moving subjects. It’s also incredibly fast, clipping along at 10 fps for up to 31 RAW images or 19 RAW+JPEG files. Set to JPEG only with a UDMA CF card and you’ll hit an impressive 1,090 frames before tapping out. We were consistently impressed with how the Mark II kept even rapidly moving subjects in focus. It wouldn’t always deliver in-focus images in continuous shooting mode, but there were far more hits than misses.
We also appreciated the degree of control you get over how the 7D Mark II autofocuses. For instance, you have a five-level adjustment over AF tracking sensitivity, which Canon usefully illustrates in the on-screen menu by providing use-cases on the screen for each level.
If you’re an original 7D owner, or an EOS-1D X owner looking for a more portable camera to bring to events, upgrading to the 7D Mark II is a no-brainer. It’s a powerhouse in the performance department, with impressive improvements to the autofocusing system and continuous shooting. Build quality is first-rate, and the camera handles superbly. Sports, nature and event photographers won’t come away disappointed. If you mix in as many videos as you do stills or are simply looking to spend about $1,800 on the best camera possible, the case for the 7D Mark II is less open-and-shut. The addition of Dual Pixel CMOS AF certainly improves the focusing performance of the 7D Mark II, but if you’re manually pulling focus, then the lack of 4K may weigh more heavily on the negative side of the ledger.
PROS: Excellent build quality; versatile autofocus; fast burst mode; Dual Pixel CMOS AF; solid image quality.
CONS: No articulating LCD; no 4K; no Wi-Fi; lacks zebra patterns and focus peaking for video.
PRICE: $1,699 (body)