With the increasing affordability of digital full frame cameras, there's been speculation about the future of APS-C as an enthusiast format. But with the launch of the 7D Mark II, Canon has made it pretty clear it believes there's still a high-end market for crop-sensor formats.

We spoke to Bettina Hansen, a photographer who regularly shoots Canon and has experience working with the original EOS 7D to see what she made of the new camera.

Bettina Hansen

• Usually shoots: Canon EOS-1D X, EOS 5D Mark III

Bettina Hansen is a staff photographer at The Seattle Times. You can find her on Twitter @bettinahansen and at bettinahansen.com

I didn't read a whole lot about the Canon 7D Mark II before I got my hands on it to test out. Being a newspaper photographer, I’m mostly concerned about a camera not getting in my way when I go to make a photograph. It should function as a fluid extension of my reflexes.

I hated the original Canon EOS 7D for this reason. To me, it had a clunky, loud shutter, slow focus, and a color profile that reminded me of puke. Not to mention noise at high ISOs. I experienced no joy in using that camera. Many of the 7Ds we had here at the paper malfunctioned when shooting video. That happened to me on multiple occasions.

That being said, this camera feels nothing like the original 7D in my hands. Instead the body feels sturdy and comfortable to hold, much like a 5D Mark III, which I love using. The shutter clips and flutters lightly, rather than the slap of the old 7D. The focus felt fast enough for me to trust it while shooting the Seahawks overtime finale against the Broncos. Everyone who picked it up instinctively put their finger on the shutter and let out an “Ooooh” at the 10 frames per second.

© Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times

One of the first things I noticed was a new lever surrounding the AF selection joystick on the back of the camera - it's primarily designed to quickly switch between AF selection area modes. I immediately turned it off. I prefer one mode (expanded AF area) and I hate it when the mode accidentally changes. This button would be useless for me, and seemed easy to accidentally trigger if left on.

Unfortunately, the EOS 7D Mark II lacks a feature that I consider very important for true sports cameras - a voice recorder that lets you speak into the camera and record an audio caption with an image. This is something we use a lot, especially in sports, to remind ourselves which plays are which. For NFL games we often have a card-runner taking our memory cards to another editor to caption and tone throughout the game, or we're on tight deadlines to edit them ourselves. Being able to tag select photographs and record a quick caption on the photo makes editing so much easier.

© Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times

For example, I often have many photos of Marshawn Lynch running what look, in photos, like identical plays. Voice tagging allows me to say into the back of the camera something like “Lynch for 4 and a first down, holding called on the play, five minutes remaining in the second,” while reviewing the image. This way, when editing, I quickly know what to write in the caption. The alternative is to shoot pictures of the scoreboard between plays to match-up with the play-by-play, which I also do, but the voice tag allows for so much more.

"Everyone who picked it up instinctively put their finger on the shutter
and let out an “Ooooh” at the 10 frames per second."

The other two things I always immediately change are to deactivate the beep, and to turn off AF activation on the shutter half press. I like to only activate the AF with both the AF-ON and star buttons: that way I can set the AF and recompose easily. During sports action, I usually keep my thumb jammed on the AF-ON button and let it track the subject as it moves towards or away from me. I left the 7D II set to “Case 1” mode of the AF cases that allow you to adjust tracking and other sensitivities. It's the one I use most often.

I've been shooting with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EOS-1 DX, so the other first thing I noticed was the cropped sensor. I like the look of full-frame sensors, and I like knowing that my lenses are true to their focal length.

For this test, I shot large JPEGs since the 7D II's raw files aren't yet compatible with Photoshop CC or Lightroom 5.

© Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times

After a few days of testing, here is my personal list of pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Low cost
  • Feels sturdy in my hands, very similar to the EOS 5D Mark III
  • Weatherproofing is improved and Canon claims that the shutter is good through 200,000 actuations - this is very important for working sports photographers
  • AF fast and responsive, and seems to perform as advertised
  • Cropped sensor is a pro when you need a little more reach on lenses, like a 70-200 in the end zone
  • Shutter feels fast and light - not nearly as noisy as the original 7D
  • Video is improved, (although I didn't get to test this in depth) - better AF, choice in codecs, better resolution
  • Lighter weight than the EOS-1D X, which is heavy as a rock by comparison

Cons:

  • No voice recorder to tag images with captions - HUGE for our sports workflow
  • The cropped sensor is a negative point for me, for the most part
  • High ISO noise is still an issue, albeit not as bad as the original 7D
  • No built-in Wi-Fi - but there is an SD slot for EyeFi and Canon does make an (expensive) transmitter
  • Default color still a little warm and over-saturated for my taste, tonal range a little more contrasty than I prefer

The takeaway - I already have a kit centered around a EOS-1D X bodies for shooting sports, so you’d have to pry those from my cold dead hands before I would use anything else. I love using them to shoot sports, and the fact that the 7D II doesn't have a voice recorder for audio captioning images is a major bummer for me. However, my EOS-1D X bodies were purchased on my behalf - I didn't pay for them personally. For the cost, the EOS 7D II will make a lot of people happy.

Its 10fps maximum frame-rate makes shooting with the EOS 5D III feel like slow motion. For me, personally, I still prefer the 5D III and the EOS-1D X because I like a full-frame sensor. However, though I absolutely hated shooting with the first 7D, I found the second iteration shockingly reliable, fast and sharp - overall it is a very good contender for the price.