– 20.2 Megapixels on an APS-C CMOS sensor
– Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processors
– 10 frames per second drive speed
– 65-Point All Cross-type Autofocus
Canon began shipping the EOS 7D Mark II in early November 2014 and I was one of the first on the waiting list. I wanted to replace my EOS 7D with another lightweight body that would be my go-to camera for wildlife shooting. I always thought the EOS 1DX was too big and heavy – not to mention expensive.
Truth be known, I was never quite happy with the performance of the 7D, particularly with how it handled low-light conditions. In order to get the quality I wanted and expected, I couldn’t push the ISO above 800 with any confidence. So of all the improvements the upgrade was bringing to the table, I was most interested in how this camera would perform at higher ISO settings. A photo trip to the rain forest of Costa Rica – and later Ecuador and the Galapagos – would give me some answers.
This is a real world review from actual results in the field and is not comprehensive. I’m only covering the features that are important to me. For example, I don’t even discuss video. For a full list of the features and specifications of the EOS 7D Mark II, visit the Canon USA website.
Noise and ISO Performance
This was the most important test in how I would come to evaluate this camera.
First, Canon is guilty of a little exaggeration here. It claims to make high quality images up to 16,000 ISO (give me a break) and it uses several image examples at 16,000 ISO on their website. Second, it’s still not an ideal camera for making “excellent low-light photography” as Canon boasts. No APS-C camera is, for that matter, but it is an improvement over the 7D. Here is my very subjective evaluation:
After pouring over results from the three-week trip, I can say that I am comfortable with results up to 2000 ISO under most conditions. ISO 2500 – 3200 is passable if I expose properly (don’t underexpose, expose to the right) and use minimal noise reduction in post processing. Anything above 4000 is nearly unusable, at least with regard to my standards.
This was a pleasant surprise. Canon advertised the upgraded autofocus system to be just as good as the EOS 1DX. Since I’ve not used the 1DX over any long stretches of time, I couldn’t really compare the two. I will say, however, that the autofocus in the 7D Mark II is a vast improvement over the 7D which was pretty good already. During my trip to Costa Rica, I know I nailed some shots that I would not have gotten with either the 7D or the 5D Mark III.
The image above represents one of those instances: fast action and strong backlighting, a situation where autofocus often has trouble locking onto a subject. In fact, I’ve come to almost expect AF problems in these conditions. With the 7D Mark II, I never missed a single shot during the entire trip because of backlighting. I was duly impressed!
By the way, if you use a lot of tele-extenders, the 7D Mark II can autofocus at f/8 with the center cross-type AF point.
Another upgrade to the 7D Mark II is the AF Area Selection Lever which is built around the Multi-Controller joystick. Now you can easily and quickly change the AF Area Selection mode, such as Single Point, AF Point Expansion, or Zone AF. I find this really handy.
Frames Per Second
10 frames per second! What else is there to say? That is one sexy sound as the camera purrs through dozens of images in just a couple of seconds.
With this rapid frame rate, I could capture several different hummingbird poses and choose the version with the precise wing position I wanted. This is an increase from 8 fps on the original 7D. Now if you think there is only a marginal difference between 8 fps and 10 fps, you are mistaken. This feature is a very nice upgrade.
The buffer has also been expanded with 31 continuous shots in RAW mode and over 1090 in JPEG, another improvement over the 7D classic.
I am infamously hard on my equipment. The 7D Mark II is advertised as being better sealed for moisture and the environment and more robust all the way around. That’s good news for me. In the three weeks in Costa Rica and Ecuador, my camera and I were perpetually wet from both rain and humidity and I never experienced any problems.
It’s not the perfect camera (which one is?) and it’s not even ideal, particularly for low-light conditions. I’ll still defer to full-frame sensors for true low-light photography. But this is a serious upgrade from the original 7D in terms of ISO performance, auto focus capabilities, shooting frame rate, and ruggedness. These upgrades are all important to me so short of buying the 1DX, this is the best Canon DSLR for wildlife photography that has been manufactured to date.
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