Video Features

As you'd expect, the video features on the 7D II are a considerable step forward from a 5-year-old camera that was only Canon's third HD-capable DSLR. The Mark II can capture 1080p footage at 60, 50, 30, 25 and 24fp, with the option to shoot in NTSC-friendly 23.97 or true 24fps. It uses a variable bit rate H.264/MPEG-4 AVC codec, records to either .MOV or .MP4 files, and adds a third compression method (IPB-Lite) to the existing All-I and IPB options.

MP4 recording options include frame rates up to 60p/50p and three levels of compression.

The dual Digic 6 processors are powerful enough to allow real-time application of lens corrections to video footage, if you're using a supported Canon lens, which should reduce the risk of distortion and vignetting differences being visible if you're changing lenses, mid-shoot.

Canon has made a lot of noise about the usefulness of Dual-Pixel autofocus for shooting video. This hype isn't without some merit. Dual-Pixel AF has the potential to be a game changer in terms of how autofocus is used for shooting video. It should be able to eliminate some of the artifacts associated with traditional video cameras such as the back and forth focus hunting typical of contrast detect AF systems.

It's worth noting that Dual-Pixel autofocus has also been made available as an upgrade feature on Canon's C100 and C300 cinema cameras. These are high quality motion picture cameras used by professional filmmakers and videographers, and the general response to Dual-Pixel autofocus has been enthusiastic; more than a few C100 and C300 owners have paid several hundred dollars just to upgrade their cameras to Dual-Pixel AF. This should be a good indicator of the potential for Dual-Pixel autofocus as a video tool.

One feature you won't find on the 7D II is 4K video recording. It's a little bit surprising given the number of recent cameras that support this feature, but it doesn't mean that the Mark II isn't a capable video camera. However, if you really, truly do need 4K you'll need to look elsewhere. Otherwise, read on.

Video Specifications:

The table below lists all the 7D Mark II's video recording options. Note that true 24p frame rate and IPB light compression are only available when recording in MP4 format.

Format Resolution Compression Resolution/Frame Rate Approx. Bitrate (Mbps)* Audio
MOV 1080p ALL-I 29.97p/25.00p/24.00p/23.98p 90 Linear PCM
IPB 59.94p/50.00p 60
29.97p/25.00p/24.00p/23.98p 30
720p ALL-I 59.94p/50.00p 80
IPB 59.94p/50.00p 25
480p IPB 29.97p/25.00p 10
MP4 1080p ALL-I 29.97p/25.00p/24.00p/23.98p 90 AAC
IPB 59.94p/50.00p 60
29.97p/25.00p/24.00p/23.98p 30
IPB Light 29.97p/25.00p 10
720p ALL-I 59.94p/50.00p 80
IPB 59.94p/50.00p 25
IPB Light 29.97p/25.00p 4
480p IPB 29.97p/25.00p 9
480p IPB Light 29.97p/25.00p 3

*Bitrates are approximate and calculated based on documentation provided by Canon.

Video Controls:

All standard shooting modes (PASM) are supported when shooting video, which is great for casual shooters who may want to just capture a quick video. However, most serious videographers and filmmakers will likely want to use manual mode to control all exposure variables for the best quality results.

Video mode shares the same picture styles available in stills mode. There's no dedicated flat cine-like picture style, however there are three user customizable picture styles that could be used for this purpose. (Although we didn't get a chance to test it, it's possible that Technicolor's CineStyle profile for Canon EOS will work on the 7D II.)

As with other DSLR cameras designed for shooting video, the 7D II does not include any built in neutral density filters. When shooting video, it's typically desirable to use a shutter speed of 1/2 the frame rate (e.g. shutter speed of 1/50th of a second when shooting at 24 fps) in order achieve a pleasing level of motion blur similar to what would be produced by a 180 degree shutter on a film camera.

This means that in bright light it's often necessary to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor in order to get the shutter speed down to where you want it. Professional video cameras typically have one or more ND filters built in for this reason, but that's a bit impractical with a DSLR. As a result, most videographers will want to have some type of external ND filter(s) on hand for bright situations.

A variable neutral density filter helps reduce light entering the lens in order to achieve the appropriate shutter speed for the selected frame rate.

On-screen controls for shooting video are fairly complete and straightforward, including a live histogram that disappears once recording is started. However, what's more notable is what's missing on-screen; the 7D II does not include focus peaking to assist with manual focus or zebra stripes to help evaluate exposure. This is disappointing as both are very useful controls when shooting video and are becoming fairly common on other cameras.

Autofocus:

Video is where Dual-Pixel autofocus really gets a chance to shine, and it's no surprise that this technology is also making its way into Canon's cinema cameras.

When using Movie Servo AF mode, the camera can focus continuously even when the shutter is not pressed. Even before you start shooting you can detect a qualitative difference in the way this focus system adjusts relative to cameras that use contrast detect autofocus when shooting video.

With contrast detect autofocus, a camera will adjust focus towards a subject until it gets sharp, however it will often continue past the subject until the edges begin to blur again. Once it detects that it has passed its point of sharpest focus, it reverses focus in the other direction and repeats the process. It keeps repeating the process in finer steps until it's convinced it has reached the sharpest point of focus. The result is the classic back-and-forth focus hunting, or 'flutter', that we often associate with the look of a focusing video camera.

With Dual-Pixel autofocus, each pixel on the imaging sensor effectively has a phase detect autofocus sensor built into it. When it achieves focus it knows it and stops. Subjects often feel like they're just sliding into focus, and the focus hunting typically associated with video cameras really doesn't occur. (That's not to say it never occurs, but it's infrequent and generally happens in low light.)

The benefit of all this is that the AF system should be able to follow subjects more effectively and with a more natural look than cameras without Dual-Pixel autofocus. It could also allow for very natural looking focus pulls that would normally require a dedicated focus puller to achieve, such as racking focus between two people in a scene. There's a lot of potential here.

The smoothness of Dual-Pixel AF in video is a bit lens dependent. With most newer lenses it's reasonably fast and generally smooth, though we got the best results with Canon's STM lenses which have a stepper motor designed specifically for this type of application. The speed of the servo AF can even be slowed down to achieve a slower focus effect, but you'll need to be in FlexiZone-Single mode and be using USM lenses from 2009 or newer or STM lenses to do this.

There's one big GOTCHA! with regards to autofocus in video mode. When you record in 60p/50p you lose both Dual-Pixel autofocus and Servo focus mode. This is unfortunate as it significantly limits the usefulness of these frame rates for certain types of applications. It also drives home how useful it would be to have focus peaking to assist with manual focus, but unfortunately the camera doesn't have it.

Silent Control:

One feature that's not obvious from looking at the camera, but which once again establishes control consistency with the 5D Mark III, is Silent Control. The inner ring of the thumb wheel has a touch sensitive surface with primary controls at the up, down, left, and right positions. (Go back and look at the rear photos of the camera and you'll see small dots on those spots.)

These aren't buttons that depress, but touch sensitive surfaces, meaning you can tap them lightly with your thumb and change a setting without the movement or noise associated with pressing a physical button.

Silent Control is disabled by default. When activated you can press the Quick Control button during video recording and a vertical menu of settings which includes shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, audio record level, and headphone volume appears on the left side of the screen. Lightly tapping the top and bottom of the ring cycles through the settings, while tapping the left and right sides of the ring adjusts the currently selected setting.

Silent Control is activated during recording by pressing the Q menu button. Light taps on the inside of the thumb dial allow you to adjust settings while recording.

Silent control is not a replacement for a touch screen. But while it provides less functionality than a true touch screen, it provides something a touch screen doesn't – like a button or dial it provides tactile feedback and is easy to operate without looking. Once you get a feel for it it's very easy to adjust settings on the fly, particularly when shooting handheld.

Audio:

The 7D II has a built in microphone with monaural sound, which is pretty much useless for anything other than syncing to sound recorded off-camera. There are also the fairly standard 3.5mm stereo mic input as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack (which the original 7D famously lacked). Recording levels are adjustable in 64 steps, and there is a wind filter/attenuator option. The 7D II meets minimum requirements for sound, but there's nothing to write home about.

White Balance:

Setting manual white balance is often critical to video shooters since there is no Raw video option, meaning you have less latitude to correct white balance in post. This is especially true if you're recording several shots that will be edited together into a sequence. If the white balance changes between cuts within a scene it's distracting and looks amateurish. As a result, a lot of filmmakers are disciplined about setting manual white balance when shooting.

Many cameras with video capability have made this process very easy. Just open live view, point your camera at a gray card with the white balance settings open, and press a button to set white balance. But not on the 7D II. Despite it's excellent live view functionality, setting white balance for video on the Mark II falls back on the old DSLR method of using a still image. You first take a close-up still image of your gray card, dive into the menu system to find the white balance settings, then select a still image to set WB. It's unnecessarily more complex than it needs to be.

Setting manual white balance in video mode requires a user to take a still photo of a neutral surface, then navigate through menus to select the image to use for white balance. Setting white balance directly from live view would be much easier.

Connections:

Canon has designed the EOS 7D II to work as a camera head in a rig with an external recorder and comes with a clip-on USB/HDMI support to protect the cables when connected. The camera can output 4:2:2 8-bit video over HDMI (as opposed to 4:2:0 internally) with audio and timecode, and can also record to a card simultaneously, though doing so limits recording time to 30 minutes.

The 7D II supports clean 4:2:2 8-bit HDMI with audio and timecode. A cable protector is provided for use on camera rigs.

In addition to providing a clean video signal over HDMI, there's also an option for mirrored output that includes the camera's displays overlaid on the video. The other feature to benefit rigged-up working is that the camera's shutter button can be customized to initiate video recording. This becomes useful in that it means a shutter release cable has the same effect.