First impressions: Canon EOS 7D

I’ve been spending money again. This time I’ve got (another) new camera. Or, as the rest of the family call it, a “money sink”. Bit odd really, they don’t really look that much like sinks… Oh well, on with the show!

So.. first impressions. I’m a 40D user, so I’m used to heavy cameras, but this thing is heavy with a capital H. About as heavy as a one-kilo bag of sugar. With the EF24-105L on there, it’s too heavy to hold one-handed for more than a minute. On the plus side the extra weight means the combination of EF100-400L + 7D isn’t as front-heavy as the same lens with a 40D. As another point of comparison, the combination of a 100-400L on a 450D or 500D (or any “3-digit D” series body for that matter) is just about guaranteed to ruin your wrists. I’ve tried it. It’s not fun.

But anyway, back to the 7D. It’s got plenty of shiny new features, and a few extra buttons to boot. The power switch and main control lock have been split into two controls, and it’s got the 5D-II/500D’s hi-def video recording mode. I still can’t really see the point of video recording on a dSLR, but I suppose it’s nice to have. There’s an extra “M-Fn” button next to the shutter release which seems to be used for very little in the default configuration, but there’s a customisation option which allows you to play with the button mappings (so you can, say, assign AF-lock to the M-Fn button).

The new viewfinder is very spiffy — the extra field of view is noticeable almost at first glance, and the LCD overlay is VERY nice. A bit like the LCD viewfinder on the Nikon D90, but done in a slightly different way. I love the viewfinder grid display — I’ve been meaning to buy a rule-of-thirds focus screen for my 40D, but never got round to it; the VF Grid Display option on the 7D means that’s no longer necessary (in the meantime, I’ve been working on the basis that the gaps between some of the rows of AF points is roughly on a thirds-line). I can also see the grid being very useful for helping to get horizons and so on level (I’m a horrible judge of the “levelness” of horizons!)

Autofocus has been totally redone as well, 19 AF points in the traditional Canon “diamond” pattern, split into 5 separate AF zones. As far as AF options go, you can pick a single AF point to focus on (Single and Spot AF — Spot only uses the centre of the focus point, Single uses the whole thing), a group of 5 in a “+” pattern (AF Point Expansion), or a zone (a group of focus points; there are five of these — left, right, top, bottom and centre). It still has the usual three AF modes — One Shot, AI Focus (tracking from when the subject starts to move) and AI Servo (always-on tracking). Lastly, it also has the AF Microadjustment feature that has become standard on mid-range to high-end Canon dSLR bodies.

One interesting feature is the “electronic level” — this is effectively a 2-axis (left/right and forward/back) digital spirit level, built into the camera itself. I’m not quite sure why I’d use this when my tripod has a perfectly good spirit level, although I guess the one on the camera might be easier to see (and maybe more accurate?)

I’m a bit surprised about the built-in flash, given that the 7D is a single-digit D-series body. It is, however, very nice to see a camera with a built-in Speedlite flash R/C transmitter — one less thing that needs to be kept in the camera bag, and also one less thing to buy batteries for! (Although, that said, I don’t actually have a Speedlite transmitter — the £100 I would have ended up spending on one has been spent on a spare battery for the 7D, and the remains have been put in the “buy a BG-E7 grip for the 7D fund”! 🙂 )

The Quick Control menu is very nice too — I can see it being useful for dealing with those inevitable “temporary lapses of memory”, also known as “now-which-control-does-that-itis” 🙂

Once again, the standard features are there — Speedlite Control (a FAR easier way to set up camera flashes than thumbing through the manuals to find out what C-Fn 22 is on a 580EX, then realising it’s different on another flashgun), the customisable My Menu (very handy!), and a few other things I’ve forgotten at the moment…

I think that more or less covers the main improvements.. Obviously the sensor has been improved — it’s now an 18MPix CMOS sensor, with Canon’s trademark microlens technology tagged on. The image processing is done by a pair of Canon’s own Digic4 chips, and the back display is a bit bigger and higher-resolution than on past Canon dSLRs.

Right, that’s enough of the good, now on to the bad…

The battery grip isn’t available yet (“preorder now, we don’t have a clue when it’s going to be released, but it’s sure to be in high demand!”). This is somewhat annoying because my hand-strap (Canon HS-E1) attaches to the metal bar on the bottom of the battery grip…

It would be nice to be able to make the RAW+JPEG button switch between RAW and JPEG (or RAW and one of the sRAW/mRAW modes) instead of switching both on for the next shot. I’d rather like to leave the camera in RAW or mRAW mode, then use that button to switch to a higher or lower resolution RAW mode (or maybe the JPEG mode) as needed.

Really, that’s it.. If I’m being pedantic it’s too heavy to hold without some form of camera strap or tripod (or Robocop’s hands!) — thankfully the shoulder strap is a standard item (it’s just a shame the HS-E1 hand strap and some form of attachment clip aren’t bundled as well — IMHO they should be, even with the 18-200 kit).

I’ll upload some photos as soon as I can coax the chinchillas out of the cage. I suspect I might have to bribe at least one of them with sugary treats…