Canon 7D

Posted on 30 August 2009, 18:23

Added 4 September:

This is a biggie.

It would appear from the 7D manual that the 7D has proper Auto ISO: the ‘tog sets the required aperture, shutter speed and EC (Manual mode), and the camera roams around the ISO range to maintain those settings regardless of the light, between 100 and 3200 ISO..!

About time, too – this is the only thing I miss from my Nikon days.

Added 1 September:

I wrote this when it was still a rumour, but today the 7D is official.

A pretty detailed preview here.

And here are some impressive image samples.

And I’m having one.

Apart from the as-yet unanswered question of whether the camera will AF at f/8 so that I can use my 100-400mm with a 1.4 converter (answered now – no, it only focuses to f/5.6) the 7D has all of my wish-list improvements: 40D-on-steroids AF with more focal points (I didn’t want more but I’ll have them); the ability to adjust AF sensitivity; and even closest-subject priority, makes this the ideal “enthusiast” bird photography camera, it would seem.

As far as image quality and noise is concerned, this quote from the Imaging Resource review (IR is a very respected site, incidentally) says a lot:

All in all, the Canon 7D delivers exceptional print quality, with phenomenal detail (especially when working from RAW) at low ISOs, and a very graceful trade-off between noise and subject detail as you go up the ISO scale.

It actually looks like Canon’s new sensor production technology has indeed managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat, with early commentaries suggesting that noise handling in the 7D is better than in the 40D and 50D – and no banding artifacts.

It’s disappointing – but not entirely surprising – to find that the UK release price in pounds equates exactly to the US price in dollars – 1699.

Rumours have abounded for – well for years – that some day Canon would release an über crop camera to provide some of the pro features provided by their 1D series bodies, in a more prosumer/enthusiast style of body: the introduction by Nikon of the D300 provided ample ammunition for the internet forum moaners who – quite wrongly IMHO – believed that bells and whistles were more important than actual useful, efficient functionality and argued that the current xxD range was somehow lacking.

Well, Canon would seem to have had something up their sleeves all along.

I doubt that this is a response to the Nikon cameras, as product design plans tend to be scoped out for several years into the future – companies can’t see a newly-introduced rival camera one day and respond the next – so this camera was probably on the drawing board before the D300 first appeared.

Whatever, the 7D looks very interesting in a way the Canon 50D never really did for me, that camera really being just a warming-over of the 40D.

So, what’s new?

An awful lot, apparently!

Canon 7D Key Features

18-megapixel CMOS sensor
Dual DIGIC 4 image processors
8 frames per second (max 94 JPEG/15 RAW images)
ISO 100-12800 (in ISO expansion mode)
19 point cross-type AF sensors
Center AF point is 8-directional double cross-type
100% viewfinder coverage
1.0x viewfinder magnification
63 zone iFCL metering system (exposure and colour)
3″ 920k dot resolution LCD display
1080p HD video
Liveview mode with face detection
External mic input
HDMI output
Pop-up Flash
150k actuation rated shutter

The first thing that you notice is the 18 mp 1.6 crop sensor.

This could easily be a recipe for disaster – surely it’s going to be far too noisy, isn’t it?

The thing is, it seems that people are finally starting to get that more megapixels does not automatically make for a better camera – I was hoping that the next Canon cropper would follow the lead taken by the new Canon G11 compact, and drop the number of megapixels compared to its predecessor (the G11 has 10 mps, the previous G10 has a noisy 15 mps).

But Canon has decided to go large with the 7D – again presumably a decision mapped out two or three years ago, when the clamour for more megapixels was everywhere.

It might not be a disaster after all though.

Canon are known to have been working on new sensor technology for a goodly while now, and back in 2007 they already had full frame sensors in development which would allow 40 – 50 mp full frame chips to be created in one pass (sensor manufacturing technology has always needed two manufacturing passes for full frame sensors) which – thanks to lower power supply requirements and cooler running – were as good in noise terms as the sensors in 1D bodies.

This is relevant, because an 18 mp sensor equates in pixel density terms to a 46 mp full frame sensor: it may well be that the sensor in the 7D is a debut of the technology that will allow those big, low noise full frame chips – Canon often roll out new technology in their non-pro bodies first (the 40D was the first one to have HTP and an enhanced-sensitivity “double-cross” centre AF sensor).

So 18 mps might be a problem (and it’ll surely make for honking big files!) but let’s reserve judgment until we see the tests.

Personally I’d be happy with 40D-like levels of noise myself, especially if Canon has managed properly to deal with the banding/pattern noise problems seen on 50D (and some 40D) files at high ISO. Capture One 4 does an excellent job of dealing with high ISO noise and banding anyway, and if the 7D is as good – with that big a sensor – as the 40D, and doesn’t generate banding artifacts, I’ll be very impressed.

That the leaked spec explicitly quotes 6400 ISO as the cameras highest native ISO might be a good thing – this is an “expansion” ISO on the 50D reached by in-camera underexposure and adjustment, and the 40D doesn’t go there at all – so the fact that it’s native now might be a sign of confidence that Canon has done a good job here.

Besides – and this is what’s making me feel positive about this sensor – this body will have onboard SRAW processing.

This is – as far as we can figure – a proprietary pixel-binning technique which results in smaller files with significantly less noise than a full-sized high ISO RAW, and an apparent sharpness advantage too.

An SRAW from an 18 mp sensor should come out at c. 9 mp, which is plenty for me most of the time.

In fact there’s also an MRAW option, giving a c. 10 mp file which – at 3888 × 2592 – is identical to the size of files out of my 40D.

Yep, I’m pretty relaxed about the probable noise performance of the 7D..!


From a translation of a leaked Chinese press release:

“The production process of this new sensor solves the problem of high pixel density causing pixels to lose light gathering ability by increasing the photoelectric conversion efficiency of the new photosites.

In improving the pixel sensitivity at the same time the transistors within a pixel were modified to achieve a higher SNR.

Additionally this sensor uses gapless microlens technology”.

Sounds like new sensor manufacturing technology to me…

Also of particular note in the 7D is the introduction of a new 19 point AF array.

There are a couple of questions on my mind here.

Firstly, the AF on the 40D is very good – fast and accurate – but very sensitive, and it will instantly be distracted by a busy background at the slightest provocation.

It’s not that hard to work around, to be honest – just make sure the AF point is where it needs to be – but it can’t be denied that life would be much easier if there was an option in the camera to adjust the AF’s seek time so that it doesn’t immediately lock onto the background if the AF point wanders.

The ability to dial in just a small delay before the AF starts to re-acquire, would make an an already good AF excellent.

Will the 7D allow this? The pro bodies certainly do, and it would be an easy-to-deliver improvement, as it’s just a firmware thing.



The press release confirms that the 7D will have AI Servo tracking sensitivity.

This is a big deal, and should go a long way towards making the 7D’s AF a genuine improvement over the 40D and 50D.

Secondly, how will these 19 AF points be distributed?

The AF system in the (newer) 1D bodies has 19 cross-type AF points and 26 less sensitive “helper” points distributed throughout the array. It isn’t known whether the 7D will have the helper points, and I’m guessing not, because the pro bodies are described as having 45 AF points, not 19.

So will we see a similar layout to the cross-type sensors in the Mk III?

Or will it be a rework of the current 9 point diamond, maybe with 4 points stuck out at the corners of the current array to make a rectangle (which will make Rule Of Thirds compositions a bit easier), and 6 helper points around the centre point?

I’d bet on the first of the two, if only because it’d arguably be a waste of sensitive cross-type sensors to use them only as helpers for the middle point.


Based on some mad Google translations of the leaked press release, it looks like:

The 7D will be able to group individual AF points together into “areas” – like the 1D bodies – but obviously without the helper points;

It will have an “AF point plus helper points” mode;

It will have “proper” AF tracking (perhaps with colour tracking, using the colour sensing function of the exposure meter to assist AF, Nikon-style), and in “all points” tracking mode the active AF point only will be indicated;

It allows the user to choose whether the closest subject is the priority for focus.


And here is an animation of the 7D’s AF focus point groupings. (The animation might not work, depending on your browser settings),

In any event, the new AF is something I’m paying close attention to – I anticipate that it might also deliver snappier AF for my 100-400mm which, although plenty fast enough for most situations, could sometimes do with a bit of a boot in the pants when I’m chasing fast BIFs around the sky.

I’m intrigued by the new 63 point metering system: I think the 40D meters very well (I never have any problems with it anyway), but this system apparently detects light and colour: I’m mystified by why that’d be a good thing, but I’m willing to be persuaded!

On the face of it, another change in the 7D is the ability to assign metering to the AF point in use: this has never been a real issue for me, but it’s a biggie for some people.

Most of the rest of the spec is just stuff – I still have zero interest in video, and the improved LCD is just not a big deal to me.

The 150,000 actuation shutter is nice to have though, and it’ll be interesting to see just how “special” a 100% viewfinder really is. There’s an electronic horizon in there too, but I’ve got a gridded focusing screen in my 40D and I can still get wonky horizons, so I don’t expect this to change my life.

Something else about the viewfinder is that there’s apparently an option for projecting the Liveview feed to the viewfinder – an “electronic viewfinder” in essence. Along with the improved Liveview focusing, this would presumably allow the user to zoom the image in the VF into the subject past the maximum focal length of the lens in use, which might make it easier to place the AF point when focusing on distant birds.

This camera will presumably have the same Auto ISO function as the 5D Mk II – not quite the way Nikon way of doing things (unfortunately) – but the Auto ISO in that camera will move the ISO around to maintain a shutter speed of 1/focal length. That’ll be pretty useful, I guess.

And although the 6.5 fps I get from the 40D is more than enough really, 8 fps would be pretty cool – even though it’d mean a full buffer in two seconds shooting RAW!

The one thing I’m really hoping for that hasn’t been confirmed by the leaked spec is the ability of the body to AF natively at f/8 – then I can use my 1.4x converter with my 100-400mm again, something which would in itself have me buying the 7D: if this isn’t an option (and I’m not expecting it, to be honest) then maybe the Liveview viewfinder will provide something like a workaround.

All in all I’m pretty enthusiastic about this body. Assuming that prices aren’t ridiculous and settle down quickly, I reckon I’m in.

(This body will need a new grip and battery (the 5D Mk II battery, apparently) – such is the price of progress..!)

What do you think?

my details

Formatting: _italic_ = italic, *bold* = bold.

  (Please note that all comments are moderated).

Images, content and design © 2019 Keith Reeder. Built with Textpattern