Shooting Experience

By Dale Baskin

As an owner of the original EOS 7D, I was excited to try the Mark II edition of what has, for me, been a robust and reliable tool. The original 7D was a solidly built camera; mine has suffered through more incidents of dropped packs, collisions with rocks, and general abuse than I care to admit publicly. Admittedly, as a five year old model it's getting bit long in the tooth, but I still don't hesitate to pull it out for the right project.

The Canon EOS 7D Mark II feels just as solid as the original, if not more so. The first time you pick it up you realize this is a camera that's been designed to get used, and get used a lot. I felt no qualms about taking it anywhere, and throughout my use it endured bumps, bangs, and a few rather wet moments (courtesy of our Seattle rain) with aplomb.

Ergonomics and Controls:

If you're coming from a 7D you should feel right at home on the Mark II. There are a few ergonomic changes going on, but they're all for the better in my opinion. A few of the rear buttons have changed positions or been relabeled, and the 7D now looks and feels almost identical to its big brother, the EOS 5D Mark III.

Canon has clearly put an emphasis on consistency of controls across the 5D and 7D lines, suggesting that it sees this camera as one that a 5D III user might add to their kit for situations where fast action shooting or telephoto reach are of prime importance (for reference, an equivalent crop from the 5D III sensor equates to around 8.4MP). To Canon's credit, this consistency of design works really well. After using the 7D II for a while I picked up a 5D III and the transition was virtually seamless.

I say virtually, because it turns out the 7D II does include one important new control: The AF Area Selection Lever, which sits on a ring surrounding the joystick on the back of the camera. This control is making its debut on the 7D II, and it's a fantastic addition. The lever's official name, referring to its ability to select the AF area, is a bit of a misnomer as it can be assigned to perform any number of useful functions.

The AF Area Selection Lever can be assigned to perform several custom functions. I found it particularly useful for setting exposure compensation; a light pull on it with my thumb and I could dial exposure up and down with my index finger. A quick press on the AF Point Selection button at the corner of the camera would allow me to cycle through AF area modes using the main dial.

By default, the lever doesn't do anything on its own. (Which caused a bit of confusion when the camera first arrived.) Pressing the AF point selection button on the upper right shoulder of the camera activates the lever, at which point you can use it to toggle through the seven AF area modes – or a user-definable subset of them – simply by nudging it with your thumb. The joystick can then be engaged to select a specific AF point if desired. You also have the option to toggle through the AF area modes by turning the main dial on top of the camera instead of using the lever, and this can come in quite handy as you'll see in a moment.

Where the real potential of the AF Area Selection Lever is realized, however, is the ability to assign one of a handful of custom functions to it, including AE lock, ISO setting, and exposure compensation. How you use it will obviously depend on your shooting style, though I mostly settled on using it to set exposure compensation. A quick nudge on the lever and I could use the main dial to adjust compensation up or down with my index finger.

In Av or Tv mode this essentially replicates the behavior of the thumb wheel, though I actually found the lever/dial combination easier. In Manual mode, it provides a quick way to dial in exposure compensation when using auto-ISO, allowing you to adjust ISO on the fly as an exposure compensation tool. When I needed to change the AF zone I did so by pressing the AF Point Selection button and toggling through the zones with the main dial, as mentioned above.

Tourists photographing themselves in front of the famous "gum wall." The darkness of the alley resulted in the meter setting the exposure a bit high for skin tones, so I used the AF Area lever in combination with the main dial to set exposure compensation to -1/3 stop.

Another way I frequently used the lever was to assign it to toggle between whatever AF area was selected and the center (or other pre-selected) AF point. I could walk around with the camera set to use the full 65-point AF area, but if I absolutely needed to nail focus on a subject on the first shot a quick tug on the lever would instantaneously activate the center AF point for me.

I find that I'm really addicted to using this lever. Even if you never use it to select the AF area it's a very useful and well-designed control for other things. I consistently found it more natural and easier to use than reaching down for the thumb wheel (which is saying a lot considering how long I've been using Canon bodies with thumb wheels... anyone remember the EOS 3?) After using the Mark II for a couple weeks I became somewhat dependent on it. When I picked up the original 7D (or a 5D III) I kept reaching for it and got frustrated when it wasn't there. It's not often I get excited about a new button or lever on a camera, but I really think Canon got this one right and I would love to see it on future bodies.

The repositioned Depth of Field Preview button is larger and easier to find than on the EOS 7D. It also closely matches the EOS 5D III for easy switching between bodies.

One other ergonomic improvement worth noting is the relocated DOF preview button, which has been enlarged and moved to the same side of the lens as the hand grip (again, mirroring the 5D III). I suspect not everyone will care about this, but I like using DOF preview. The 7D drove me nuts because it required me to take my left hand off the focus ring of the lens, then fumble around looking for a little button. Even after years of use, my muscle memory never quite zeroed in on the right position and I always had to feel around for it. By contrast, the new button presents a large, well-placed target that's easy to find with your right hand. I don't have large hands, but I had no problem reaching the button while maintaining a solid hold on the main grip.

Auto ISO (now programmable!)

I mentioned above that I like using the AF Area selection lever to set exposure compensation, via auto ISO, when shooting in M mode. This works really well given Canon's implementation of auto ISO on the 7D II.

You can customize the way Auto ISO works under 'ISO speed settings', where you can specify the Auto ISO range (upper and lower limits) as well as the minimum shutter speed the camera will use before increasing the ISO in light-limited situations. You can select your own pre-defined minimum shutter speed, or set it to 'Auto'. In 'Auto', the camera picks what it considers to be the minimum acceptable shutter speed depending on the focal length you're using.

Importantly, Canon has finally introduced programmable Auto ISO a la Nikon - but taken it one step further. There are seven settings - as opposed to Nikon's five - that adjust the minimum acceptable shutter speed the camera automatically selects. Each successively higher setting selects an approximately ~2/3 EV faster minimum shutter speed (Nikons adjust in ~1 EV intervals).

The 7D II allows you to set minimum acceptable shutter speed in seven increments at ~2/3 stop intervals.