Canon EOS 7D Mark II - Autofocus & Metering

Brand new 65-point AF module

The Canon 7D Mark II introduces a brand new autofocus (AF) module inspired by the professional level AF system in the Canon 1 DX. It features 65 AF points spread across a significant portion of the frame, with especially wide horizontal coverage. All of these AF points are cross-type (when using lenses with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or faster), with the center AF point capable of high-precision, dual cross-type focusing with wider aperture (f/2.8 and faster) lenses. Additionally, the center point is capable of focusing with lenses (or lens/teleconverter combinations) as slow as f/8, as well as down to EV -3. This gives that center point a 1 EV advantage in low light compared to the 1D X and 5D Mark III.

An approximation of the position of the AF points in the EOS 7D Mark II. All 65 of its AF points are cross type, with the central point being sensitive to diagonal contrast, as well as vertical and horizontal.

The 7D Mark II's 65 cross-type AF points are capable of detecting both horizontal and vertical detail (only 41 of the 1DX and 5D Mark III's 61 AF points are cross-type). The ability to detect both types of detail makes for a more robust AF system. For example, an AF point capable of detecting only horizontal detail in landscape orientation will only detect vertical detail when the camera is rotated into the portrait orientation. This can make focusing on horizontal lines - like horizons or sometimes eyes - harder to focus on.

The brand new AF sensor module in the 7D Mark II

The center AF point is of particular interest, as it is a dual cross-type design (featuring both x and + shaped sensors, as seen in the vertical 5 center AF points in the 1D X and 5D Mark III). This center point is capable of detecting diagonal detail along two orthogonal axes with high-precision due to a wider baseline (have a look at the drastic separation in the diagonal stripes, above).

This is in addition to the standard horizontal and vertical line sensitivity. Furthermore, it appears that the center horizontally-sensitive (which appear as vertical stripes) and diagonally-sensitive sensors are slightly offset for the detection of 'zig-zag' lines - click on the image for a larger image to see what we're talking about.

To combat challenging focus scenarios, the center AF point in the 7D Mark II is both dual cross-type and high-precision when a f/2.8 or faster lens is attached. This means it's capable of detecting diagonal lines with wide aperture lenses, in addition to horizontal and vertical lines (it offers x shaped as well as + shaped sensors). The dual diagonal sensors have wider baselines, which essentially means they can provide higher focus accuracy. This should aid in shallow depth-of-field applications where faster lenses require critical focus.*

Brand new 150,000-pixel RGB + IR metering sensor

With the 7D Mark II, Canon is also introducing a new RGB + IR metering sensor with 150,000 pixels, filtering in and improving upon the technology introduced in the 1D X. The ability of the sensor to use color and IR information to 'see' the scene and perform scene analysis should theoretically result in more accurate metering compared to the 63-zone metering system found in the 7D and 5D Mark III. And while it's exciting to see this technology filter down from the 1D X, we're confused as to why Canon left out the 1D X's ability to link spot-metering to the selected AF point. Frankly, we'd like to see the metering sensor technology and all its benefits (scene analysis, spot-metering linked to AF point, and iTR) in every Canon DSLR - much as Nikon has done across its DSLR line.**

This is the iFCL metering sensor previously found in the 7D, 5D Mark III, 6D, etc. You can see 7x9 grid of sensors that make up the 63 zones. The 7D Mark II has a 150,000-pixel RGB + IR metering sensor, much like the 100,000-pixel metering sensor from the 1D X pictured here. The extra resolution over the 63-zone sensor pictured at the left offers for more accurate metering, as well subject tracking in conjunction with the AF system.

Intelligent Tracking and Recognition (iTR)

The RGB + IR metering sensor is also used for subject recognition to aid focus tracking in AI Servo mode. This is known as 'Intelligent Tracking and Recognition', or iTR for short, and it's the first time we're seeing iTR outside of the 1D X. The idea behind iTR is to use the color and infrared information obtained by the RGB + IR sensor to understand the subject at the chosen AF point when focus is initiated. The camera can then use that information to follow the subject and maintain focus on it. Engaging iTR on the 1D X, we noted a marked improvement in the ability of the camera to automatically select the appropriate AF point to follow the selected subject. Especially in comparison to when iTR was turned off, or in comparison to the 7D and 5D Mark III - both of which lack iTR.

What's exciting about iTR is that it has the potential to aid not only sports photography, but also many other types of photography requiring accurate placement of the AF point over a moving subject. We find iTR, as well as Nikon's equivalent '3D focus tracking' (available across its entire DSLR line), very useful in dealing with focus shift caused by re-framing, or by subject movement. This is particularly relevant to shallow depth-of-field photography with fast, and particularly wide-angle, primes. Furthermore, iTR and Nikon's equivalent can recognize faces and focus on (and track) them, even outside of Live View.

AF configuration

The Canon 7D Mark II inherits the same simplified menu system for configuring the rather complex AF system that we saw in the 1D X and 5D Mark III. It features use-case-based presets that are themselves adjustable. Additionally, AF micro-adjustment is available to aid in critical focus, especially with f/2.8 zooms and fast primes. We've included some of the menu options from the Canon 5D Mark III below, as we haven't had a chance to get screen-grabs from the 7D Mark II yet. We did verify, however, that the settings menus shown below were identical.

AF configuration can get fairly complex, but it's greatly simplified through the use of 6 use-cases.

The three parameters (tracking sensitivity, acceleration/deceleration tracking and willingness to switch AF points) can all be adjusted to more precisely tailor the presets to your favored subject and shooting style.

The AF menu allows you to configure in detail precisely how you'd like the AF system to function, across five tabs of options.

Most of these settings are shared with the EOS-1D X.

AF micro-adjustment (AFMA) lets you fine-tune the focus behavior for both ends of a zoom. These can be specific to the copy of the lens you're using.

There's a default setting for the camera, as well as per-lens settings. You'll generally want to calibrate per-lens, though a common setting can compensate for any misalignment between the AF module and imaging sensor.

AF Area Selection Mode: thumb switch

New to the Canon 7D Mark II is a thumb switch that, by default, lets you control the camera's AF area selection mode (these modes are listed below).

New to the 7D Mark II is a thumb switch located around the familiar joystick.

This switch, by default, is set to toggle through different AF area selection modes. Since we expect many users assign the central joystick to AF point selection, it makes sense that this toggle switch is dedicated to, arguably, the next most accessed AF feature: the pattern of AF points that the joystick moves around.

Importantly, if you don't wish to use the thumb switch for AF area selection mode, you can reassign it to the following functions, using the 'Custom Controls' feature common to modern Canon cameras:

  • AF area selection mode (default)
  • AE Lock
  • AE Lock Hold
  • Toggle between selected AF point and center (or registered) AF point
  • ISO (with dial)
  • Exposure Compensation (with dial)

AF Area Selection Modes

The Canon 7D Mark II offers a number of AF area selection modes, and we've outlined them below.

Single-point spot AF (manual selection)

In this mode, you manually select which of the 65 AF points is used for focus. A small area within the AF point is actually used, for higher precision.

Single-point AF (manual selection)

In this mode, you manually select which of the 65 AF points is used for focus.

AF point expansion (manual selection)

In this mode, you manually select an AF point for focus, and the camera uses that point, along with neighboring points (essentially a 3x3 grid) to acquire focus.

Zone AF: 9 zones (manual selection)

In this mode, you manually select one of 9 zones (defined by either a 4x3 grid on the sides, or 5x3 grid in the center), and the camera focuses on a subject falling under an AF point or points within this zone.

Large Zone AF: 3 zones (manual selection)

In this mode, you manually select one of 3 zones: either the left, center, or right cluster of AF points. The camera focuses on a subject falling under an AF point or points within this zone.

65-point automatic selection AF

In 'One Shot' AF mode, the camera automatically selects which subject to focus on, and which AF point to use.

In 'AI Servo' AF mode, you initially select a focus point and the camera subsequently automatically selects the appropriate focus point(s) to remain on that subject.

* That said, there's a trade-off to using the center point for shallow depth-of-field applications if significant recomposition is involved after focus acquisition. With wider angle lenses (35mm and wider), you'll often want to use an AF point directly over your subject if the subject is far from center in your final composition. ** That said, Nikon's bodies have varying spot sizes related to the resolution of the RGB sensor, which increases the more pro-level the Nikon body. From the D5000-series and up, spot-metering is linked to the AF point.