Canon EOS 7D Mark II Review
Conclusion - Pros
- 10 frames per second shooting
- 65 point all cross-type autofocus sensor
- EV -3 sensitivity for center AF point
- Fast autofocus
- iTR metering sensor with face detection and subject recognition and tracking
- Dual-Pixel autofocus for live view and video
- Control layout virtually identical to 5D Mark III
- New AF Area selection lever
- Silent Control when shooting video
- All-I (all intra) recording setting
- Support for .MOV and .MP4 video files
- 4:2:2 8-bit HDMI out with audio and timecode
- Headphone jack to monitor video sound
- Flicker detection can match flicker cycle of lighting
- Improved Jpeg rendering
- Good color and tonality even at high ISO
- Robust weather sealing
- Dual SD and CF card slots
- Built-in GPS
Conclusion - Cons
- iTR struggles to accurately track moving subjects, especially fast ones
- Comparatively poor base ISO dynamic range and exposure latitude in Raw
- Spot-metering not linked to AF point
- Soft video lacks detail
- Long screen blackout during live view shooting
- No AF with continuous shooting in live view
- No zebras to evaluate exposure
- No focus peaking
- No touch screen
- No Wi-Fi
Under the hood the 7D Mark II is an entirely different beast than the original 7D. It appears that instead of focusing on increased resolution, Canon focused on improving virtually every other system on the camera to make it easier for photographers to capture the the photos they want. With 10 frames per second continuous shooting paired with a lightning fast autofocus system, featuring 65 cross-type sensors spread across the viewfinder, it's hard to find a scenario the Mark II can't keep up with. Add in iTR metering with face detection and tracking and the odds of nailing focus go up even more. Canon's iTR isn't quite as good at tracking subjects as competitive offerings, such as Nikon's 3D tracking, but it's a generally effective and useful tool.
The 65 point all cross-type autofocus system on the 7D II is excellent and well matched for 10 frames per second shooting.
On the video side, Canon threw in its Dual-Pixel autofocus system, which is also becoming a highlight feature on its Cinema EOS cameras. While Dual-Pixel autofocus doesn't directly improve the quality of video per se, it makes it a lot easier to get the footage you want with a smooth, professional look. Add in a All-I (all intra) recording option, support for .MOV and .MP4 file formats, and 4:2:2 8-bit HDMI out with audio and timecode, and it starts to add up. Oh, and for those of you who have spent the past five years slightly bitter about the lack of a headphone jack on the EOS 7D, the Mark II has a headphone jack too!
The body is also "four times more weather sealed" than the 7D. This hasn't been easy to quantify, and our pleas to tear apart our loaner camera from Canon have consistently been met ominous scowls from DPReview management. (Ogres that they are.) Fortunately, the folks over at LensRentals went ahead and did it and it looks like there's substance to the claim.
Lest you get the impression that everything about the EOS 7D Mark II is perfect, we remind you that there are some cons on that list up top. Canon's second iteration of iTR just doesn't live up to the subject tracking capabilities offered by Nikon, or even Canon's own first iteration of iTR in the 1D X, and Canon's long history of poor base ISO dynamic range in Raw persists.
Additionally, it's a bit disappointing to wait five years (five years!) for an updated camera only to find that the video quality is pretty close to... well, the camera you bought five years ago. All those fancy tools intended to improve video shooting only go so far if the video itself is a limiting factor.
The moment you pick up the 7D II you can tell it's a solidly-built camera that that will withstand punishment. The body and control layout are virtually indistinguishable from the 5D III which makes it very easy to switch between the two. The only real difference is the addition of the (unfortunately named) AF Area selection lever, which is easy to use and can be customized to perform any number of functions. It's great for setting exposure compensation, changing ISO, or even changing the AF area.
|The AF Area selection lever is a great addition to 7D II body, and can be assigned to perform several different functions.|
The 65 point autofocus system is a joy to use. It's lightning quick and keeps up with fast moving subjects even during continuous shooting. iTR is effective at identifying faces, but less effective at tracking them. Actually, it tracks them quite well, but it doesn't always track them quickly enough to keep up with an active photographer or subject. This was disappointing as we would have expected Canon's second iteration of iTR to surpass the first (introduced in the 1D X), and perhaps even outperform the competition, given the class-leading resolution of the metering sensor. Sadly, this just isn't the case.
Dual-Pixel autofocus significantly enhances the shooting experience, especially when capturing video. Its precise focus and smooth transitions provide a professional look and feel unmatched by contrast detect AF systems. It essentially eliminates the back and forth focus hunting typically associated with video camera autofocus systems and, when used effectively, can provide a look normally associated with focus pulling.
Speaking of video, the 7D II's silent control mode for adjusting settings during recording works very well, but how useful it is depends on how you shoot. It's great for shooting hand-held and following the action since you can operate it entirely with a single thumb. However, there are certain use cases, such as racking focus between subjects, where a touch screen would work significantly better, a feat Canon manages quite well on the EOS 70D. It may not be in the DNA of a tough-as-nails pro body to have a touch screen on the back, but it would certainly make the Mark II a bit more usable.
Somewhat surprisingly, the 7D II doesn't support zebra patterns to evaluate exposure or focus peaking. These would be especially useful when shooting video, particularly since Dual-Pixel AF and servo autofocus don't work when shooting in 50p/60p mode. Both have become fairly common on other cameras.
Image and Video Quality
The Mark II is more evolutionary than revolutionary when it comes to image quality. Its 20.2 MP resolution sensor is a minor increase over the 7D, and not terribly noticeable on its own. It's certainly not a reason to upgrade from a 7D in and of itself.
Canon has been busy under the hood, however. Jpeg processing has seen a big improvement from the original 7D, and Jpeg files are capable of holding down noise and maintaining color and contrast for an extra stop (and sometimes more). Raw noise is slightly better, but Canon's real improvement in this area is the elimination of banding commonly found in dark shadow areas on most other EOS cameras. That said, overall noise in shadows at low ISOs is still high compared to what the competition offers, resulting in relatively low base ISO dynamic range - and less exposure latitude - in Raw.
On the video side of things it's a similar story. The All-I codec should provide better results when recording subjects with lots of motion, but the actual quality of video files is only slightly improved from the 7D, and qualitatively seem similar to video files we've seen from the 5D III. Also, with so many cameras now including 4K recording we were disappointed not to see it included on the 7D II. 4K isn't a magic bullet, and it would be easy to overlook this gap if there were a clear emphasis on providing top notch 1080p video, however that doesn't seem to be the case.
Despite all the improvements for shooting video, Canon doesn't seem to be doing much to improve actual video quality. As a result the 7D II falls behind competitive cameras, such as the Panasonic GH4 and the Sony a7S. It almost feels as if Dual-Pixel autofocus has been included here as a sort of gateway drug to entice serious video shooters to move up to Cinema EOS cameras, which feature both top notch video and Dual-Pixel autofocus.
The Final Word
It would be easy to write off the EOS 7D Mark II as just an incremental upgrade to the original 7D, but that would be a serious mistake. The two cameras may share the number 7 and the letter D on their bodies, but inside they are very different machines.
With the 7D II Canon is putting a stake in the ground that it is committed to the crop sensor market. Although it will likely be seen as an aspirational camera for novices, or an upgrade path to people using more consumer oriented crop sensor bodies from Canon, the 7D II is unquestionably a pro camera. It's built like a tank, has the control layout of a 5D Mark III and an autofocus system to compete with the 1D X.
Canon has added lots of tools to the Mark II, but one deserves special mention. Dual-Pixel autofocus may be one of the most important, and yet under-appreciated, technologies introduced to digital cameras in a long time. It's significant that Canon now includes this technology on their Cinema EOS cameras. Canon still seems to be dialing in the optimal implementation for the technology, but it will be exciting to see how it evolves.
There will undoubtedly be jabs from users who feel they've waited five years for a minor two megapixel sensor upgrade, but that perspective really misses the point of the camera. What Canon has essentially done is cram as much of a 1D X into an $1,800 compact body as humanly possible, and they appear to have been quite successful in the process. Make no mistake – this is a pro-level camera with pro-level features, and it performs accordingly.
So, should you take the plunge? Most likely, yes. If you're thinking about moving up from the 7D, the Mark II is a great upgrade and can run circles around the 7D while remaining comfortable and familiar. If you're a 5D III shooter and need extra telephoto reach or crazy fast shooting with reliable autofocus it would be tough to go wrong. Image quality is extremely high, and the two bodies are virtually indistinguishable. For that matter, anyone who's ever considered buying a 1D X should probably take a look at the 7D Mark II as well; it might actually meet your needs at a much lower price point. Finally, for raw shooters using most other EOS body, can you say "goodbye banding?"
The EOS 7D Mark II is an exciting camera and a great upgrade from its predecessor. It's not without its faults, but it has a lot more pros going for it than cons. That said, a better performing sensor, iTR performance that matches its best rivals, or insanely high quality video to go along with the Dual-Pixel autofocus would have set it apart in its class. In fact, any of these would have put the 7D II into Gold Award territory. Instead, it earns our Silver Award with a very solid performance.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Category: Semi-professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The EOS 7 D Mark II may use an APS-C sensor, but it's a pro-level camera in every respect. Its 10 frames per second shooting and blazing fast autofocus set it apart from most of its peers, but it also includes features such as Intelligent Tracking and Recognition (iTR) for improved focus tracking, Dual-Pixel autofocus for smooth, natural looking focus when shooting video, and well designed ergonomics that match Canon's 5D Mark III. Its dynamic range and video quality fall behind some of its top-performing peers, but its performance is class-leading.
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