My first few weeks with the R7

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BirdShooter7 Veteran Member • Posts: 8,795
My first few weeks with the R7

Flame-throated Warbler (Costa Rica)

The R7 is a camera that I have personally been looking forward to for quite some time. In fact, the wait was so long that I had pretty much given up on it and moved on to the R6. Anyone doing wildlife photography, and in particular bird photography knows that one of the big challenges is getting close enough to the subject to get nice, detailed photos. The obvious solution to the problem is to get a longer focal length lens, but this has limits. Supertelephoto lenses tend to be heavy, bulky and quite expensive. The other common solution is using a camera with higher pixel density. When the R5 and R6 came out I knew I wanted one of them because of the improvements they offered in terms of autofocus and to a lesser extent features like faster burst rate and silent shutter. One of the biggest struggles I had when making my decision was whether or not the relatively low pixel density of the R6 would be too much of a limiting factor. It was a big struggle since I found everything else about the R6 to be pretty much ideal. The R5 offers the pixel density that comes at the price of very large files and a somewhat limited buffer. I travel a lot for the purpose of photography, so I prefer to have a backup camera with me, just in case. For this reason, I wasn’t simply looking at buying a single camera to replace my old 7D mk2’s but a pair of cameras and that meant that buying two R5’s would be a significant expense for me. I ended up renting both the R5 and R6 and after lots of use decided that the R6 was the best option for me and eventually purchased a pair of R6’s which have been extremely effective tools for me.

Smooth-billed Ani (Costa Rica)

Over the past two years I have used the R6 on an almost daily basis and become very familiar with it and continue to be amazed by it. I find the user interface to be fantastic and though I initially struggled a little to get used to the ISO dial I have come to find that it is one of my favorite features of the R6. The one nagging desire in the back of my mind, however, was that it would really be nice to have more pixel density. I am absolutely able to get wonderful results with the R6, but no matter how good things are, I always crave a little extra.

When I would get bored, I thought of what my ideal camera and it would be basically a R6 but with an APS-c sensor, 20MP would do just fine. If I was really reaching for the moon, it would be a BSI stacked sensor with a very fast readout. This camera would have the limitless buffer of the R6 and all the wonderful AF features… We can always dream.

Magnificent Frigatebird (Costa Rica)

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Costa Rica)

Eventually the R7 was announced with lots of tantalizing leaks ahead of the initial announcement and the leaked specs seemed too good to be true. When the official announcement finally camera I was shocked to read that this new camera was going to hit the streets for only $1500, an unbelievably low price for such a high specced camera. Then I started watching the first impressions videos on YouTube and my excitement quickly turned to apprehension. There were reports that the buffer was relatively small and filled in about a second, sensor readout was relatively slow, shutter sound with MS/EFCS was very loud, viewfinder resolution wasn’t very impressive and the control layout was a big departure from previous models. I’m thinking this marketing strategy for Canon kind of was a backfire.

Common Black Hawk (Costa Rica)

There was no way I was going to miss this camera, even if the initial reports were totally accurate. I immediately placed two preorders and started my wait. The release was pretty late in prime birding season but I still had some trips coming up that would be ideal for testing out the new camera so I was trying to stay cautiously optimistic and really excited to see what I could do with this new tool. Circumstances worked out that I was out of town for the initial shipment and missed an opportunity to get one of the initial units. Reports started coming in an they seemed to be all over the place. After a few more weeks I finally got my hands on my very own R7 right after returning home from the last of several bird photography trips and in the midst of my local summer doldrums which were made worse by a severe drought. My frustration level was pretty much off the charts with this hot new camera in my hands and very little around to use it on.

Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager (Costa Rica)

What my initial experiences had demonstrated to me, however, was that my older EF lenses are still viable options with the R7. With the R6 I am limited to 6.7fps in MS (mechanical shutter) and EFCS (electronic first curtain shutter) modes with older EF lenses (EF 500mm f/4L IS USM, EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, EF 400mm f/5.6L) but I am able to get the full 20 fps burst in ES (electronic shutter) mode. Rolling Shutter (RS) can be a bit of an issue on the R6 in ES but what I have found in use is that save from a couple of specific situations I am extremely pleased with the results I get from using ES. One frustrating thing about ES on the R6 is that your only option for burst speed is 20fps. I don’t always want to be blasting away at 20fps but I do often like going a little faster than 6.7fps. Another complaint I have heard a lot with the R5 & R6 is that when you are using ES you only get a totally silent shutter and the only way you know you are taking photos is from a little white line around the viewfinder display that flashes and isn’t always that easy to see. The R7 addresses both of these complaints. There is a recorded shutter sound that you can have play when you are taking photos in ES mode and you can adjust the volume of it from fairly loud to barely audible. You can also adjust the frame rate in ES mode with options for 30fps, 15fps and 3fps.

Monk Parakeet (Texas)

The good news for owners of older model EF lenses is that on the R7 you can get the full 15fps in MS and EFCS modes. However, in ES mode you are limited to 15fps or 3 fps. In my mind this is actually a better trade-off than what the R6 offers. The slower sensor readout of the R7 means that the MS and EFCS are more important when doing action photography where RS can be an issue and with the R7 you get doble the frame rate and in my personal opinion, 15fps is plenty to capture even very fast-moving action. The slow readout means that the 30fps mode with the ES is of a bit limited utility so being limited to 15fps in ES isn’t all that bitter to swallow. All of this means that I won’t hesitate to go on using my older EF lenses. I continue to be very impressed with how well adapted EF lenses work on RF bodies, including the R7. With my SLR’s I was always having to fiddle around with AFMA (Auto-Focus Micro Adjust) to get properly focused photos. So far with all of the R and M mount cameras I have used I get proper focus right out of the box. Auto-focus speed is nice and fast, at least as fast as it was on my SLR’s and all of the lens functions are at least as good as they were on my SLR’s.

Gray-cowled Wood-Rail (Costa Rica)

I did, however, observe with the very old EF 100-300mm f/5.6L that the animal eye-detect AF is very jittery and tends to quickly drift away after locking onto an eye. With that lens, I would it was best to use conventional AF (Single point AF in Ai-Servo). The other limitation that comes with using older EF lenses on the R7 is that you get a reduced AF area. It’s not the full frame like native RF lenses but still very generous and I haven’t felt limited by it so far.

Cinnamon Becard (Costa Rica)

With native RF lenses, you get the full functionality of the R7 including the remarkably fast frame rate of 30FPS in ES mode. In my use, I have found 30fps to be of fairly limited utility for a couple of reasons. First, at 30fps the buffer fills in about a second and the buffer takes a few seconds to clear even with fast v60 and v90 SD cards. This means that the timing of your burst is very critical. I imagine this isn’t as limiting with more predictable types of action like one might encounter doing certain types of sports photography, but for wildlife photography where things aren’t always as predictable it can become very frustrating. In addition to the limited buffer, the slow readout of the R7 sensor means that rolling shutter effects are often observable during peak action. So, you end up catching the moment with the extremely fast frame rate only to find that it is spoiled by distortions. The third issue for me is that 30fps makes an awful lot of images really quickly, resulting in more image culling than I typically am willing to deal with. For these reasons, I’ve found that I use the 30fps burst VERY judiciously. In fact, I largely think of the R7 as a 15fps camera and in all honesty, I have found 15fps to be quite satisfactory for catching action shots and even overkill much of the time.

Northern Jacana (Costa Rica)

The lenses that I have used with the R7 so far are the EF 500mm f/4L IS USM & EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM both with and without the EF 1.4x II, the EF 600mm f/4L IS USM III both with and without the EF 1.4x III and EF 2x III, the RF 100-400 f/5.6-8, RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM, EF 100-300mm f/5.6L and RF 800mm f/11 IS. These were all used almost exclusively hand-held.

Hoffmann's Woodpecker (Costa Rica)

So, getting back to those initial launch/first impressions videos; slow sensor readout speed was brought up as a potential issue with the R7 and one that I had a lot of personal concerns about. The obvious solution for the rolling shutter that can show up when using the ES is to use MS or EFCS. You still get 15fps but the tradeoffs are that the shutter isn’t silent like the ES and you can potentially encounter issues with shutter shock at slow shutter speeds (like below 1/200s). You also have more mechanical wear on the camera since a physical shutter is actually moving. The sound of the shutter in MS and EFCS is fairly obvious, especially when you use the 15fps H+ drive mode though I don’t find that it is any worse/more objectionable than that of a SLR like the 7D mk2. One observation that I made when using EFCS at slower frame rates, such as H mode (10fps I believe), is that there can be some pretty remarkable blackout making it challenging to track moving subjects. I have found that the ES mode is best for tracking moving subjects which goes a long way to explain why someone would be willing to pay the price for a R3 where you get the 30fps, deep buffer and fast readout that drastically reduces rolling shutter effects. Having said that, I’m not willing to spend $6000 for a camera body so as nice as the R3 is, I’m pretty happy with the compromises in the R7.

Black-headed Trogon (Costa Rica)

After feeling ample frustration with the local effects of drought and the challenges of late summer birding in SE Texas in general I decided that a trip to Costa Rica was a good way to really see what I could do with the R7. Before departing, I decided that I would only use the ES on the trip so I could really see how many of my photo-opps would be affected by RS. In Costa Rica I ended up taking just under 36,000 photos in 10 days. I didn’t have a whole lot of in-flight though there were some opportunities, though most of the photography was of active small birds in dim light. After reviewing the images from the trip, I was very pleased to find that rolling shutter really wasn’t all that much of an issue; very few images were, in my opinion, ruined by rolling shutter effects. Encouraged by this, I decided to continue to exclusively using the EC and this worked beautifully until the hummingbirds started showing up.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Texas)

As I started photographing the Ruby-throats zooming around my yard and various feeders I quickly found that flying hummingbirds are not ideal subjects for ES on the R7. I was amazed as I reviewed the photos and found that almost every shot had fairly obvious rolling shutter effects.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Texas)

Another, unexpected surprise was that when I used the ES on R7 for erratic hummingbird antics and animal eye AF was active I would very frequently have the viewfinder image freeze for a few seconds followed by an automatic camera reset. After doing a lot of trial and error I found that all three of those factors needed to be present for this freeze/reboot to happen. If I turned off animal eye AF or switched to EFCS it wouldn’t happen. Also, I’m pleased to report that when I switched to EFCS there was no obvious rolling shutter effect.

Dot-winged Antwren (Costa Rica)

With all that in mind, I plan to continue using ES for everything but flying hummingbirds and panning shots with vertical structures in the background. For example, I had some photos of egrets flying in front of a beach house. When the egrets were in front of the salt marsh the rolling shutter effect was basically only visible if you were looking for it and, in my opinion, perfectly acceptable. However, when the egret flew in front of the house you could obviously see that the walls, windows, doors… were quite slanted. If I for some reason want a photo of a bird with a house or building in the background, I will be sure to use EFCS. The bottom line for me with regards to sensor readout speed on the R7 is that I would have liked a faster readout but I am not finding the readout speed to be limiting my photography in a significant way so I’m ok to live with it and gladly accept the lower price point. I do hope that when a R7 mk2 comes out some time in the future that it will have a faster readout.

Scarlet Macaw (Costa Rica)

I also shot the entire CR trip in jpeg as I wanted to see how much I will be limited in higher ISO situations and also wanted to make the most of the buffer. When using the R7 at frame rates of 15fps and lower, I am very happy to report that I find the buffer to be ample enough to not be an issue for me. I can’t really think of any times when I have been frustrated by a full buffer. It probably doesn’t hurt that I have been using recent and relatively fast SD cards with the R7 (v30, v60 and v90 cards from trusted brands like Sony, Sandisk and Prograde). If I was using RAW or cRAW the buffer might start to become an issue but for me, I’m very happy with what I was able to get from the jpegs and will continue using jpeg mode for all but extreme situations. I did find the buffer to be a but frustrating when shooting at 30fps, even though I was in jpeg mode.

On the topic of SD cards, I did experience some issues early on when I tried using some slower, older SD cards. These were V10 and slower and the issue that came up was that when I did long bursts the R7 would occasionally freeze then automatically reboot and return to shooting mode. Any images in the burst that was going on when the freeze occurred were not saved to the card and lost.

Black-and-white Owl (Costa Rica)

The viewfinder of the R7 was another area that was of potential concern for me while I waited for mine to arrive. After having used it for a while my opinion is that the R7 viewfinder is adequate. I don’t find it to be as nice of an experience as I have gotten used to from the R6 or R5 but it hasn’t ever been a problem either. Again, I find the viewfinder to be an acceptable compromise given the price point of the R7. I don’t have any problem detecting if my photos are in focus and the refresh rate is fine for tracking action. The biggest issue for me with regards to the viewfinder is the diopter adjustment dial. I find it very awkward to adjust, especially when a big telephoto lens is attached. This in itself wouldn’t be much of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that I somehow frequently turn to diopter wheel unintentionally in the field. When it happens, I raise the camera to my eye and everything is blurry, then I have to go through contortions to try to get it properly adjusted again. The R7 is the first camera that I have had this issue with.

Bare-throated Tiger Heron (Costa Rica)

For me, the feature I am most excited with on the R7 is the animal eye detect AF. I really fell in love with this feature with the R6 and now it’s finally available in a more affordable camera and one with a crop sensor. It’s really a dream come true for me and I’m confident that if the R7 had come out before the R6 I would have never bought an R6 in the first place. If that wasn’t enough, the R7 have AF features of the R3 that even the R6 and R5 don’t have. I find it amazing that Canon is offering such a powerful AF system in a $1500 camera when in the past AF has been one of those big features that differentiates the various price points. With this in mind I tried to pay close attention to the AF experience in the R7 vs the R6.

I haven’t figured out a really controlled way to compare the two cameras so please keep in mind that what follows are my general impressions of the AF experience and not a controlled scientific test. Also, though I have experimented some with the different AF cases I have found that my preference is to simply use Case Auto. Since I just about exclusively photograph birds and other animals, I have the cameras set up to use animal eye AF and Ai-Servo associated with half-press on the shutter release button. I also have the AF-ON button set up for Center AF point in Ai-Servo mode without any subject detect AF active. My general procedure when taking a photo is to get the focus close to my intended subject’s eye using the AF-ON button then releasing it and letting the animal eye AF take over. Overall, I have found this method to be very effective. The main area where I find the AF struggles is when the subject is back-lit. For example, a small bird perched on a branch in the shade of a tree with a sun-lit field in the background. In back-lit situations I find that both the R6 and R7 (and pretty much any mirrorless camera I have ever tried) struggle though my feeling is that the R7 tends to struggle more.

Riverside Wren (Costa Rica)

Baird's Tapir (Costa Rica)

My overall impression of the R7 AF is that while it overall performs very well, it doesn’t seem quite as sure-footed as that of the R6. The R7 seems to be more likely to quickly grab the subject’s eye then immediately drift off to the background than the R6 does though I have observed this sort of behavior with both cameras. The R6 does seem to be more “sticky” in general. I’m not sure why this would be the case and as I mentioned earlier, I haven’t been able to systematically test the two cameras to do a really solid comparison. Possibly the slower sensor readout of the R7 is limiting the AF performance in some way? None of this is intended to suggest that the R7 AF isn’t excellent, on the whole I have been very impressed with it.

Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (Costa Rica)

When it comes to image quality of the R7, I’ll say that overall, I am very pleased. When everything comes together, I am blown away by the results that I have been able to get. Having said that, I have found that using the R6 for the past year and a half might have resulted in my letting my technique slide a little bit. Getting the most from the R7, with its high pixel density does require excellent technique. There have been plenty of times that I have reviewed images from the R7 only to get disappointed by soft images. My personal pride immediately suggests that the issue is some limitation with the AF system or some other deficiency of the camera but for the most part, if I look closely, I have found that the fault is more often than not my own. Either I didn’t have quite fast enough shutter speed or the lighting wasn’t ideal or there were some atmospheric conditions at play. I do find that the default noise reduction on the R7’s jpeg engine is fairly heavy handed and that has certainly resulted in some disappointing results for me. This brings me to the type situation where I do switch over to cRAW mode. When I start getting the ISO much above 2500 or so I find that there are pretty big benefits to going to RAW and using software like DXO PhotoLab 5. Even still, this Black-and-white Owl photo was taken in jpeg and in my opinion still looks pretty decent.

Gray-headed Kite (Costa Rica)

So far, I think everything I have had to say had been pretty positive about the R7 and I hope it comes off that way because I really do enjoy using the R7 quite a bit. Having said that, not everything about the R7 had been a pleasure for me. My biggest irritations with the R7 have been with the user interface and to be fair, if the R7 was the only camera I used they probably wouldn’t be a big deal in the long run. My using the R7 along-side the R6 is the root of a lot of my frustration though not all of it.

Yellow-headed Caracara (Costa Rica)

My time with the R6 and M cameras before that resulted in my appreciation of the ISO dial. I’ve really gotten used to having that fast access to the ISO and it is something I really miss on the R7. I do find the controls on the R7 a bit cramped and for that reason I ended up reassigning the video record button to ISO as I was struggling to reach the ISO button and frequently initiated an unintentional video when I was trying to quickly change the ISO. Once I got used to that on the R7 I found that I had to deactivate the movie record button on my R6 because I kept hitting it when I was trying to change ISO on my R6. The same goes for the main control dial. I find myself frequently fumbling in the heat of the moment because they are in such different positions. I’ve also had issues inadvertently hitting the power switch on the R7 and either turning it off or more often accidently switching to video mode. More continuity between models would have been very desirable in my opinion.

Emerald Toucanet (Costa Rica)

A major source of frustration for me with the R7 that might not be common to those who usually use smaller lenses is that I find that I very frequently move the mode dial unintentionally. This was an issue that I had with the original 7D and I was very pleased when Canon added the locking mode dial on the 7D mk2. I could REALLY use a locking mode dial on the R7.

Marbled Godwit (Texas)

These struggles with the R7 user interface led me to do a lot of thinking about my future camera strategy. When I bought the R6 my vision was that if a R7 ever did come out, it would be perfect because I could have two cameras for a cost similar to that of one R5. This would give me the best of both FF and APS-c worlds and I would have a backup camera. What I hadn’t banked on was how different the user interface would end up being. I do love that I can have two cameras without breaking the bank but the price is fumbling with camera controls and potentially missing those most important moments. This struggle really got be reconsidering the R5. It’s a lot more expensive but though I have found that there are image quality advantages with the R7 over the R7 for focal length limited situations, the R5 really is the best one camera does it all solution. Two R5’s would be really nice but for now I am going to push forward with the R6 & R7 combo and hope that I get more used to switching between two different control setups.

Resplendent Quetzal (Costa Rica)

After using the R7 for several weeks now I can’t really find much fault with it. When Canon introduced it for $1500 I figured there had to be some catch but really for my photography I’m finding it to be an excellent camera with very few meaningful limitations. I’m getting results that make me very pleased and by and large able to capitalize on all of the photo opportunities I’ve been presented with. I find it easy to get caught up on things like rolling shutter or shutter sound or shutter shock… What I’m most impressed with on the R7 is that for $1500 Canon has been able to come up with a camera that is limited in a number of ways, but those limitations have a minimal impact on my actual photography experience. I think the R7 with a lens like the RF 100-500L or even the RF 100-400 makes a great light-weight birding setup. The R7 is also a great with adapted EF lenses and can be a great way to get into mirrorless without spending a ton.

Bare-throated Tiger Heron (Costa Rica)

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Some of my bird photos can be viewed here:

Canon EOS 7D Canon EOS R5 Canon EOS R6 Canon EOS R7
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