Shooting Performance

Continuous Shooting and Buffering:

While not quite as fast as the 12 frames per second EOS 1D X, the 7D Mark II's 10 frames per second is still blazingly fast. Although it supports both high speed and low speed shooting rates, we're assuming that most people are really interested in high speed performance. Here's how the Mark II performed in our hands:

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 10.0 fps 10.0 fps 10.0 fps
Number of frames until card full 30 19
Buffer full rate n/a 2.3 1.4
Write complete n/a 10 sec 10 sec

All timings performed using a 64GB SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-I SDHC card (280MB/s) card.

Viewfinder Shooting:

One of the highlights of the EOS 7D Mark II is undoubtedly the 65-point, all cross-type autofocus system. Let's just stipulate up front that this focus system is very fast. It's easy to see in One Shot focus mode when the AF points light up almost instantly upon pressing the shutter button. Exactly how fast it focuses does, of course, depend on what lens you have attached to the camera, but there's no doubt the AF system consistently finds a target and focuses very quickly.

Mountain lion captured mid-air. (Shot with a pre-production 7D Mark II body, but with final image quality.)

As mentioned above, the 7D II's 10 fps shooting is creeping into EOS 1D X territory, and in our testing the autofocus system is up to the task. In AI Servo mode the system does an impressive job of tracking a quickly moving subject toward or away from the camera. Even when you press the shutter button and start firing off shots at 10 fps it does an excellent job of maintaining focus between frames. In the series of photos of the bicyclist below it's possible to see the AF points tracking right along with the bicycle rider the whole way.

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The AF system had no trouble maintaining focus on this fast moving cyclist even when shooting 10 frames per second.

This is the type of performance we've come to expect from dedicated phase detect autofocus systems – fast focus and tracking of subjects moving toward and away from the camera are the name of the game when it comes to dedicated phase detect autofocus. In fact, these abilities are some of the biggest reasons pros and enthusiasts spring for DSLRs over their mirrorless counterparts.

During several weeks of testing both pre-production and production models of the 7D II, we were consistently impressed with its focus speed and ability to maintain focus even at the fastest frame rates. It's lightning quick and fun to use. What makes the AF system on the Mark II even more interesting, however, is the addition of iTR.

Intelligent Tracking and Recognition (iTR):

We know that the 7D Mark II is capable of focusing extremely fast, but with iTR the question turns from "Will it focus fast enough?" to "What will it focus on?" There are two components worth discussing here: First is the camera's ability to recognize a face, and second is its ability to track a face or other subject once it has been acquired.

With iTR engaged and the camera set to select the initial AF point based on the contents of the scene, the AF system reliably identifies and focuses on faces. One built-in assumption here is that the face must be large enough to be recognizable to the metering sensor, which has significantly less resolution to recognize patterns than the full sensor does in live view mode. In practice, as long as a face fills about one third of the vertical space of the AF area (in horizontal orientation) the camera usually gets it right. Things get a bit more complex if there are multiple faces in the frame, in which case the camera will generally focus on the largest (and likely closest) face first.

With iTR enabled the camera correctly focused on this wine merchant's face despite the fact that there was a larger and closer foreground target.

iTR will prioritize focus on faces, however it also uses color patters and other details in the image, in addition to subject distance, when deciding what subject to focus on and how to track it. This means that if you're shooting a non-human subject the AF system will still attempt to track your subject as it moves. You can let the system automatically choose the starting AF point(s) based on the scene, however in the iTR settings one can also tell the system to begin with a user-designated AF point and track from there as well. This can be useful for "focus-and-recompose" shooting approach.

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In this series of photos of the mountain lion, iTR tracked the subject fairly well through each frame by combining pattern information about the subject with distance information from the phase detect sensors.

Tracking with iTR can be a bit of a mixed bag. There's no doubt that the system is able to track subjects, but where it sometimes struggles is how quickly it can track them. As long as your subject doesn't move too quickly the AF points generally do a good job of remaining on top of it. Once a subject starts moving quickly, however, it's often possible to see the AF points lagging behind the subject a bit. If you press the shutter too soon you may end up taking a photo before the points catch up with your subject.

One situation where we see this in practice is when using a variant of the "focus-and-recompose" technique in which you initiate focus using the center AF point(s), then allow the camera to automatically move the AF points to stay on your subject as you recompose. As long as you don't recompose too quickly iTR will generally keep the AF points over the subject, however the points don't follow your subject with the finesse and accuracy of Nikon's 3D tracking and sometimes get lost. A an example can be seen in the Shooting Experience section of this review.

Overall, the system works reasonably well, but isn't quite on par with the best tracking systems we've tested. We found the AF points tend to wander off the subject from time to time, so the system isn't always as accurate as we'd like it to be. It also doesn't show the same level of confidence as Nikon's 3D tracking, which will dedicate one AF point that uncannily sticks to your subject as it moves. We're very impressed with the camera's ability to identify faces, but would like to see Canon focus on the tracking capabilities in future bodies.

One potential trade-off to using iTR is that it slows down the AF system a bit. There's a lot of information being processed when iTR is active, so this isn't completely surprising. In practice, we didn't find this to be noticeable in all but the most demanding scenarios. However, if you're in a situation where focus speed is absolutely critical, or where faces are of negligible importance, it's probably worth leaving it turned off.

Live View Shooting (Dual-Pixel AF):

Live view shooting on the 7D II is generally a very good experience thanks to the Dual-Pixel autofocus system. In our tests of Dual-Pixel autofocus on the EOS 70D we found it to be extremely accurate and precise, and the 7D II appears to perform just as well in real world use.

Face detection when shooting in live view mode is outstanding, and the Mark II's ability track faces or other subjects is stellar. Even if the subject or the photographer is moving, the camera will generally keep the focus point locked on the initial subject no matter which direction it moves. Even if the subject briefly leaves the frame entirely, the camera will usually reacquire it should it re-enter the frame within a second or two. (In fact, this sort of tracking is what we'd love to see in optical viewfinder shooting as well!)

The fishmonger was moving around to help customers. As long as he stayed in the frame (or didn't leave for very long) face detection kept a lock on his face, even when other elements entered the foreground.

There are some (though not many) limits to how well this works. Dual-Pixel AF in live view isn't as fast as focusing through the viewfinder, so it may not work for quickly moving subjects.

One area where live view operation lets down is during continuous shooting. Dual-Pixel autofocus is very effective at tracking moving objects, but the continuous shooting feature doesn't take advantage of it. The camera does let you shoot continuously, however it locks focus as soon as you press the shutter halfway and the screen blacks out, leaving the focus point locked to it's original position while shooting.

In the series of photos of the biker below, you can see where the AF point locked focus and remained in place for the duration of the burst.

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During continuous shooting in live view the camera won't attempt to refocus, or continuously focus at all.

For focus-critical applications, the 7D II provides both 5x and 10x magnification options when performing manual focus in live view.

Flicker detection

The 7D Mark II also has the ability to detect and respond to flicker from a light source that you're shooting under. At its most basic, this entails an in-viewfinder warning that the camera has detected flicker in the lighting. This can be useful if you're planning to shoot video, since it encourages the use of different shutter speeds, to avoid fluctuating brightness during your video. More than just warning you, though, the camera will also sync its continuous shooting to match the peak brightness of the light's flicker cycle. This can reduce the continuous shooting rate but should avoid the inconsistent image brightness between frames that can occur when shooting under artificial lighting.