Noisier than full-frame
The Bottom Line:
If you are satisfied with a crop-sensor camera and are wedded to the Canon lens lineup, then this is the camera for you.
I had been using my Canon EOS 300D Digital Rebel for six years. Thousands of photos had passed over its sensor. I had watched as newer cameras steadily increased the number of pixels in the sensor and as steadily decreased the levels of light at which clean images could be captured. Finally, I had an opportunity to step up my game a notch. A fortunate bonus and an understanding wife led me to upgrade my camera body to the Canon EOS 7D.
Why the 7D?
The 7D is a crop-sensor camera. That means that the size of the light-sensitive area that captures an image is smaller than the size of frame of 35mm film. A smaller sensor means more of them manufactured on each wafer of silicon; therefore lower cost each. It also can mean a smaller camera body wrapped around that sensor, although that is a factor in more budget conscious product lines than the 7D.
My 300D had been a crop-sensor camera as well. As such, I had made investments in lenses that would take advantage of that sensor. The smaller sensor can make use of lenses that create a smaller image circle, and lenses that make a smaller image circle can be smaller and lighter. Had I stepped up to a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (a full-frame digital SLR) then I would have also needed to swap out and replace several nice lenses. The 5D was itself another $600 above the price of the 7D, but replacing lenses would have extended that premium by another $800-1,200. That same investment in lenses also explains why I did not seriously consider the Nikon line of bodies. There have been some exciting things happening in the world of Nikon, but a wholesale change of platform is not a task for the faint of heart.
What is it like?
Other reviews from highly trained staff with access to multiple copies of each body and producing page upon page of comparison images can be found all over the web. It is not my purpose to try and duplicate, or even imitate their work. Instead, I want to talk about how this new camera has performed in comparison to my older model.
The 7D is a semi-pro level body. It has weather-sealing to keep out moisture, a magnesium frame for sturdiness and customization features to help you adapt the camera to how you work, instead of the other way around. Picking up the body I was immediately struck by how the the hand grip bulge on the right side of the camera fit into the curve of my fingers. The body is rather bigger than my 300D. The improved grip is more than just a size issue, however. The surface of the camera where the fingers touch feels "grippy" thanks to surface treatment and design.
Canon reportedly interviewed numerous owners of its previous cameras to optimize the design of the 7D. These inputs shine through in the user interface. Skipping over six years of refinement means that I am just encountering changes that others have seen for a while, but the controls of this camera are quick and handy like the response of a sports car. Information is presented not just on the external display, but in the viewfinder as well. Control combinations that split between the rear control dial and the top control dial give you quick access to two settings at once. When your mind blanks out and you can not remember where to change something, there is the 'Q' button on the back that throws up a simple little GUI on the rear LCD that you can navigate with the control stick and point and choose your changes.
The changes in sensor sensitivity over six years are startling. With the 300D I would typically limit myself to ISO 200, not liking the noise that began creeping in above that range. This 7D is able to push that to 1600 with ease, and I am finding myself very pleased with prints that are taken at ISO 3200. This is unbelievable, and a great deal of fun for someone that enjoys available light work.
The 7D, like several newer models before it, offers the ability to fine tune the focusing algorithm for a specific lens. Initial photos taken were clearly not focused properly. Reading around the Internet, I jury-rigged a set of things together to allow me to adjust the focus. It was a quick operation, and afterward the focus was spot on. There are a couple action-oriented focus modes on the 7D, AI-Servo and AI-Focus. I have not shot much action photography, and these are modes that did not exist on the 300D, so I have little experience with them. One focus element that I can talk to is the performance of focus in low light. My 300D would frequently hunt for focus if lighting conditions dropped below that provided by two 60-watt bulbs in a normal room. The 7D has been showing itself capable of focusing with my subject lit by a single candle! That was too cool!
One feature that first seemed like a gimmick, but which I am beginning to love, is the integrated level. Pressing the INFO button twice turns on a level on the rear LCD panel. This level reminds me of an artificial horizon in an aircraft instrument panel. It shows the roll and pitch of the camera. It is a great help in architectural photography and in taking shots to stitch into panoramas.
Once again, there are many other reviews out there that will cover other features that I have not even tried as yet. I have no other Canon flashes, so I cannot test out the ability of the 7D to communicate and set flash exposure levels. There is an adapter that will allow you to communicate with the body over Wi-Fi . There are custom functions and personalization features that allow you remap many of the controls. Think that you would like a different button perform a certain function? Well, move that function to the button you prefer! The list goes on. But, to sum up; the 7D is a very advanced and powerful camera with a very efficiently designed user interface. Buying it has brought back a great deal of enjoyment into my photographic endeavors.