Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EOS 7D Mark II First Impressions (Podcast 453)

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a Canon EOS 7D Mark II, and last week used it to shoot three days with the adorable Snow Monkeys in Nagano, four hours north-west of Tokyo, and I'm now in a position to talk about my first impressions. I'll follow up...

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Martin Bailey
Martin Bailey is a nature and wildlife photographer and educator based in Tokyo. He's a pioneering Podcaster and blogger, and an X-Rite Coloratti member.
39 Comments
  • monkeyleader
    Posted at 21:55h, 22 December Reply

    Martin – thanks for this .. a couple of questions

    – 1/800th second … is that what you would expect to achieve sharpness and not a little higher? You don’t say what your were at in terms of focal length. I’m going to assume you were zooming out as the monkey got closer?

    – when you are shooting bursts how can you tell it’s the camera vs. user? I still look at some of the 1DX stuff I shoot I shoot and wonder is it me or the camera (I should start to keep an eye on hit rate at 100% crop)

    – you were shooting at f/8 and say the focus locked on just behind the face … again how can you tell this wasn’t a slight of hand (user vs. camera)

    Great stuff as always and very interested in further experience as you get proper usage out of it … I’m seriously consider the 7D (replacing the MK IV) to give me the extra reach on my 400mm … (rather than using an extender or dropping $12k on a new lens) ..

    cheers, and hope you and yours have a very happy festive season ..

    Nigel

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 22:32h, 22 December Reply

      Hi Nigel,

      Yes, 1/800 of a second is enough to get sharp shots of a walking monkey, and yes, I was zooming out as the monkey approached. I started at 165mm and zoomed out to 120mm by the final frame.

      As for the user or the camera, if you know that you did everything right, including keeping your finger on the AF button, and keeping the subject within the focus points, there’s not a lot else that you can do, so the camera is probably going to be the culprit. Of course, other things like available light and your holding technique are going to come into play, but when you’ve been doing this a long time, and are pretty confident of your technique, and generally get much better results, it’s safe to assume that it’s the camera, not the user.

      Same goes for your third bullet point. Note that it didn’t ‘stay’ locked on just behind the face. Some of the frames were in focus. It’s definitely an issue with the autofocus not doing it’s job as well as one would hope. Keep in mind that I’m used to seeing much higher hit rate, and nothing has changed with my technique. The only thing that has changed is the camera. 🙂

      I’m honestly not sure that you’d get any better results with the 7D Mark II over your 1D Mark IV. I would rent a 7D2 for a while first, and see how you get on with it. It’s a great camera for the price, but if you already have a 1D4, that’s a tough decision.

      Thanks for stopping by, and a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too!

      Martin.

  • Rick_N
    Posted at 22:14h, 22 December Reply

    Thanks for your review. It is quite consistent with my findings, specifically with the AF AI Servo. It does not consistently track as well as even my old 7D when testing using a 200-400 f/4 lens.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 22:34h, 22 December Reply

      You’re welcome Rick. Thanks for the info on your 7D2 experiences too. It’s interesting that it doesn’t improve on the 7D either. I would have expected that to be the case, although I never shot with a 7D, so this is good information.

  • Buddy Eleazer
    Posted at 01:15h, 23 December Reply

    I’m not sure someone has reviewed the Canon tutorials with regard to focusing and the new algorithms used for focusing. (http://learn.usa.canon.com/resources/articles/2014/eos7dmkii_zoneaf_afpt.shtml). The new wide zone focus system allowed me to track BIF much better than my 5D MkIII was ever capable of doing. My hit rate was truly amazing with the new to Canon setting. BTW, I use setting 2 for tracking when tracking eagles.\. I haven’t tried the face recognition.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 14:26h, 23 December Reply

      Hi Buddy,

      I have always used 65-point Automatic selection and used a selected focus point to get initial focus, and I’ve never had issues with birds in flight, so I’ve never tried zone focusing. I am actually expecting the 7D Mark II to be amazing with birds in flight with 65-point Automatic selection, but if it’s less than I expect, I’ll give zone focusing a try. I generally use the 1D X for birds in flight though. I tried the 5D Mark III with the 200-400mm last year, and couldn’t stand it for more than a day. It’s nowhere near as accurate as the 1D X. I’m pretty sure the 7D2 is going to beat the 5D3. For me now it’s really about how close it can get to the 1D X, or if it can even surpass it! 🙂

      Note too that I’m not thinking face recognition when I mention iTR. I’m more interested in color recognition, which helps the camera to track the subject around the frame. I was shooting a blue kingfisher when I first got the 1D X, and although it totally left the frame, because I kept my finger on the AF button, when I found the birds in the finder again, despite it initially being totally out of focus, on a bright green grass background, the 1D X just snapped focus back onto it, because it remembered the color. I was hoping that the same would be the case with the snow monkeys. The red face should be remembered. Although they have faces that the camera can recognize, I’m thinking the color is going to be more important here for tracking the face around the frame.

      I actually don’t use a preset setting from the AF menu. I just add the three sliders to My Menu and tweak them there based on my conditions. The settings I used in these tests is the same as the settings I use with the 1D X, and they’ve always worked well with that.

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Andy
    Posted at 05:38h, 23 December Reply

    Hi Martin ,

    I am on my second copy of 7d2 and it is much better than copy 1. I am not alone in this and some got even A third copy that they find is good. So much for consistency eh? One thing to remember it seems the etr only works with zone focusing so if you were not using zone that would not be the cause of the lag and I think that focusing case 5 and 6 use zone as they hand off the focus. I am still trying to get everything strait after using a 1d3 and 7d classic. You are more familiar with the new settings than I coming from 1dx but the etr might not be the culprit in this case

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:50h, 23 December Reply

      Hi Andy,

      That’s interesting. I’m not one for following this kind of information, so I didn’t know that people were having to send their 7D2’s back. I actually am very happy with mine in general, so I’m not thinking I need a replacement. What were the problems that people were seeing, regarding AI Servo?

      The manual and AF guide says that iTR works with 65-point Automatic selection, which is how I was focusing. What makes you think it only works with zone focusing? Having said that, I think it was probably the cold rather than the lag. My 1DX uses iTR too and has never been slow because of it.

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Thysje
    Posted at 06:01h, 23 December Reply

    Martin, I have the 7D (for quite a few years now), so this is very interesting to me. I have found mine to be excellent with 70-200mm 2.8 II lens when it comes to sharpness, but not brilliant with an extender. I also have found the AI Servo much the same as what you’ve experienced with the Mark II, so am somewhat disappointed to hear this as I was considering the upgrade at some point in the future. The ISO will be an improvement.
    Thanks for this, Martin. I’ll have to consider things carefully.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy Prosperous New Year to you and your wife. 🙂

    – Thysje

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:36h, 23 December Reply

      Hi Thysje! Lovely to see you here, as always.

      Which Extender are you using? I use the Mark III with the 70-200mm II and it’s hard to even tell there was an Extender fitted. That’s with the 5D3 and 1DX though. I haven’t tried this combination with the 7D2 yet, so I’m just thinking out loud here. 🙂

      A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too!

      Martin.

      • Thysje
        Posted at 14:42h, 23 December Reply

        Thanks Martin! 🙂 My extender is the Mark II… I find most images on the soft side. Most annoying! Perhaps that’s the problem…

        • Martin Bailey
          Posted at 14:47h, 23 December Reply

          Could well be it Thysje. The Mark III Extenders were released around the same time as the 70-200mm II and seem to be a match made in heaven. 🙂

  • Alastair Norcross
    Posted at 23:34h, 23 December Reply

    Thanks for the detailed report. My own experience so far is that the 7DII tracks considerably better than the 7D (which I had for four years). I have a suggestion, that you can take with a pinch of salt, if you want. I would try setting a higher value for AF switching. Your scenario seems to be exactly the sort of case that Canon describes as benefiting from a higher AF point switching speed (subject moving dramatically up, down, left or right in the frame). (Pages 111-112, and 115 in the extended manual) The difference in the position of the monkey’s face between frames 5 and 6 definitely qualifies as dramatic movement, given that it happened within a tenth of a second. I have my AF switching speed set to 2, and so far have been happy with it. I know that the 7DII AF is obviously based on, and similar to, the 1DX, but it’s possible that the best settings for one, might not be the best for the other. Anyway, just a suggestion. Can’t hurt to try.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 23:57h, 23 December Reply

      Good point Alastair. I’ll give that a try. The settings that I used are really what I’ve tweaked for birds in flight, so this is certainly worth a try. Thanks!

    • Thysje
      Posted at 06:38h, 24 December Reply

      Thank you Alastair! That is certainly encouraging to hear from someone upgraded from the 7D.

  • Fred Wampler
    Posted at 03:57h, 24 December Reply

    Looking forward to your follow-up with the 7D Mark II. Thanks for the neat review.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 16:09h, 24 December Reply

      Thanks Fred. I’m fully expecting to be able to relay lots of good news after my winter tours.

  • Jens
    Posted at 06:14h, 24 December Reply

    Hi Martin,
    Thank you for the review and I hope you are going to let us know what you think ogf the combination 7D II and 100-400 II sooner than Mars. I have used my 7D for several years know and also a borrowed 5D III and I am about to upgrade as I am going to India again in the end of February. I have more or less decided on the 100-400 as there is nothing else on the market that works so well with a Canon and that is versitile.
    I had hoped that the 7D II got top ranks for all the reviewers but there are several that think it has draw backs, like you, so I am hesitant if it is the right camera for me or if I should get a 5D III instead. I know that you and I takes photos of similar subjects but that you have longer lenses than me. If you had to pick of of them wish would you pick?

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 16:16h, 24 December Reply

      Hi Jens,

      For wildlife, whatever you do, don’t go for the 5D Mark III. The AF on it is good, but it’s not as good as the 7D Mark II. Plus, I’m fully expecting that the issues that I found with the 7D2 will not persist through my winter tours. It’s a great camera, just not as good as the four timex more expensive 1D X at this point. I’d say it’s the next best wildlife/sports camera on the market though, and after a bit more use and tweaking, it may well rival or beat the 1D X. Fingers crossed!

      Now, if you are thinking of an all-round camera, to use for both landscape and wildlife, then the 5D Mark III would be better, just don’t expect it to be better than the 7D2 for fast paced AF shooting.

      I have the 100-400mm sitting next to me right now, and can’t wait to get it out in the field. It’s a nice bit of kit, and as you say, very versatile. The closest focus distance is also insanely close for this focal length. I can’t wait to shoot with it!

      Cheers,
      Martin.

      • Jens Hauser
        Posted at 19:22h, 27 December Reply

        Hi Martin and a Merry Christmas, I think you and I came to the same conclusion after a taking both cameras for a run in a shop and reading up alot during the holidays. It comes down to if ia want a camera for mostly wildlife or a general purpose camera and I am leaning more and more to a general ones as I have been taiking more pictures around home and not just on traveling. The 7D II is way faster in all aspect compared to the 7D. The focusing is so fast that I first thought it was broken or set to manual. It just got the target almost silent.
        Please hurry with the review on the 100-400. But I will most like buy it anyway

        • Martin Bailey
          Posted at 21:45h, 27 December Reply

          Merry Christmas to you too Jens!

          From what I’ve seen of the 100-400mm I think you’d be safe to buy without my review. Besides, it’s going to take at least another month before I’ll be able to start to relay my findings.

          Happy Holiday!

          Martin.

      • Jerry Sarmento
        Posted at 08:33h, 31 December Reply

        Hi Martin! I’ve recently received my 7DII and new 100-400. I must agree with the tracking issues. The initial focus is great but the tracking not what I expected. I am still working on tweaking the settings but my 5DIII seems to track better and my old 7D was much better. I hope that further adjusting will help.
        As for the lens, I am impressed. After fine tuning the micro adjustments on my 5DIII, I compared the 100-400 to my 70-200 2.8 IS II with 2x series III teleconverter and the 100-400 was the clear winner throughout the range. The interesting thing is that without the teleconverter, the 100-400 was still superior at 200mm f/5. I haven’t tested beyond this but I anticipate that the 70-200 will be on eBay soon. Having sold a “good” copy of the old 100-400, I have never liked the 70-200 with the 2x TC. Thanks for all the great info and recommendations! Happy New Year! -Jerry

        • Martin Bailey
          Posted at 09:56h, 31 December Reply

          Thanks for the update Jerry.

          The 7D Mark II feels like a very capable camera in the field, although the results weren’t so impressive. I’m pretty confident that continued tweaking of the settings will get it performing well, but let’s keep each other informed.

          I would certainly expect the 100-400mm to beat the 70-200 with a 2X extender. That’s a usable combination, but definitely a compromise. That’s interesting that you found the 100-400mm superior to the 70-200mm at 200mm though. I’ll have to check this myself, but that is unexpected. I won’t sell my workhorse 70-200mm, but that does get me thinking about which to take to Hokkaido for my landscape trip from Jan 4. 🙂

          A Happy New Year to you to Jerry. All the best for 2015!

          • Jerry Sarmento
            Posted at 10:07h, 31 December Reply

            I’d be very interested to know how your lenses compare as I, too, was surprised. I’ll be sending my 70-200 back to CPS for a clean and check next week and will compare them again afterward. Best regards!

          • Jerry Sarmento
            Posted at 06:12h, 17 January Reply

            Hello Martin,

            As a followup to my post, I sent my 70-200 2.8 IS II back to CPS for a clean and check and, upon receipt, reset the focus micro adjustment using FocusTune. My result was the same as before: the new 100-400 II on my 5DIII, set at 200mm wide open at f5 was clearly superior to the 70-200 at the same settings. In fact, taking the same four shots of the same weathered fence with each lens, alternating direction of defocus, all four of the shots from the 100-400 were better than the best from the 70-200. Sharper, more detail and better contrast. I am still very surprised.
            Thanks again for great recommendations! -Jerry

            • Martin Bailey
              Posted at 09:36h, 17 January Reply

              Thanks for the update Jerry. I didn’t take my 100-400mm on my recent landscape tour, although I wish I had. A friend brought his, and I used it one day to shoot the same scene that I also shot with the 70-200mm and 1.4X Extender. This isn’t apples to apples of course, as I used the Extender, but the 100-400mm is an order of magnitude sharper. I’m looking forward to using it on my wildlife tour that starts in just over a week from now.

              • Amit
                Posted at 18:19h, 26 February Reply

                Hi Martin and Jerry ,
                I have a 500mk II and was looking to get a lens to fill in the gap of focal length between 100-300mm. Having owned a 100-400 mk I earlier, I was never too impressed with this lens and was seriously considering the 70-200 f2.8 IS II with 1.4X as a replacement.
                Now that the new 100-400 mk II is out I’m in a bit of a conundrum. I don’t intend to use 100-400 to shot at 400mm as my 500 mk II would do a much better job for such situations. My primary usage would be 200-300mm with occasionally shooting at 100mm for wildscapes. Does the 100-400 mk II outperform the 70-200 II+1.4X in the 200-300mm range with regard to AF, IQ and image quality?
                I was also wondering if the bare 70-200 f2.8 II on a crop body would be a better option vs 100-400 mk II. I would highly appreciate your thoughts on the same.
                Thanks
                Amit

                • Jerry Sarmento
                  Posted at 09:23h, 27 February Reply

                  Hi Amit,
                  My personal experience with one sample of each lens was that the 100-400 was sharper wide open (f5) at 200mm than my 70-200 2.8 IS II stopped down to f5. I didn’t try any focal lengths below 200 or other apertures. The sharpness advantage of the 100-400 was even more apparent when a teleconverter was added to the 70-200.
                  The only reason for me to keep the 70-200 would be for the wide aperture and I don’t shoot events. I sold my 70-200 and have no regrets. If you still can’t decide, perhaps renting the lenses at the same time will help.
                  Good luck!
                  -Jerry

  • Mark Friedman
    Posted at 08:04h, 25 December Reply

    Hi Martin,

    From the photo it looks like you’ve added the vertical screw on grip. A word of caution. The last time I used one of those was on my Canon film 1vHS and it would occasionally loosen up – not enough to “wobble” but enough to break the electrical contact and cause the camera to cease operating. Always at an important moment of course and resulting in much stress. Until I figured it out I had changed batteries twice and almost sent the body to Canon for repair.
    Thanks for the hands on review and Merry Christmas.

    Mark

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 08:52h, 25 December Reply

      Hi Mark,

      Yes, I’ve been using the grip with my non-1 series Canon cameras since the D30 back in 2002. For me, they very rarely come loose, but it has happened, so I’m in the habit of checking the locking screw occasionally, which is probably why they actually never come loose. 🙂

      It’s certainly something for people to bear in mind though. Thanks for the comment, and a very Merry Christmas to you too!

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Bob Heathcote
    Posted at 08:28h, 03 January Reply

    HI, Thanks for this. Re: the monkey running at you, I’d love to see the 100% crop of frames 1 and 10 which you indicated were sharp, just for reference.

    Getting off the 7DM2 subject for a moment:
    I too have many times used 5DM3 and the 70-200mkiI with latest TC 2.0x. Yes, it works OK but I was disappointed with the bokeh, which is harsh. I put that same TC on a 300mm 2.8 and it is not too bad so it’s something with the 70-200mkII (this zoom without a TC is nearly as good as a prime, I’m sure you will agree).

    I just got the 7DM2 and have only been doing a few stills between video tests, which have not been so great for video AF tracking cars going towards us at slight angle at about 40 MPH.

    But back to the stills: coming from the 5DM3, we are very spoiled so I m not impressed with the image quality I’ve seen so far. Too many MP crammed onto this little sensor, perhaps. I also agree ISO 1600 is just good enough. I don’t want to go much higher than that unless it’s just for web use. That said the 5DM3 and the 7DM2 I hope is going to be a good match since owning two 1DX is out of the question, and in my sports/PJ work I must carry two bodies (I am retiring a 1DM3). I work mostly in bright light so I can keep ISO under control. Just a shame the 7DM2 use is probably going to be limited to fast action in good light.

    I look forward to the 100-400 review. I loved the old one when I was starting out – before I got a big prime 🙂
    -Bob

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 12:19h, 04 January Reply

      Hi Bob,

      I’ve just posted the 1st and 10th frame within the post. The frames between these vary in sharpness between these two. Without doubt, frame 1 is the sharpest of the batch, which makes me think that the ability of the 7D2 to maintain focus is not as good as I’d hoped. I will try adjusting the settings but with pretty much the same settings as my 1D X, it doesn’t perform as well.

      Agreed, regarding the harsh bokeh with the 70-200mm + 2X Extender. The main subject is sharp enough but the bokeh gets a bit crunchy. I also used the old 300mm f/2.8 with the 2X Extender, and that worked a little better.

      I’ve not done any video with the 7D2 yet, and have never used AF tracking with video, and not sure it’s necessary for me, but if I get a chance to try that I’ll see how it copes with moving subjects.

      Now, one thing I’m not necessarily in agreement with, is the overall image quality. I have no concerns at all about the image quality of the 7D2 files for stills. They are sharp and don’t feel that much different to the 5D3. Of course they are slightly lower resolution, and I haven’t done any side by side tests yet, but my stills of the snow monkeys that were just sitting around are as sharp as tacks. No concerns there at all for me.

      Also, ISO 1600 is what I topped out at, but I have no concerns there either. The amount of grain I see is similar to the 5D3 at ISO 1600. If you expose to the right to capture the best quality image, the noise isn’t really an issue. I need to actually do some thorough tests to find the ceiling, but I’m not disappointed with the ISO performance at this point.

      I was the same with the original 100-400mm. As full frame sensors came in and resolution increased, I sold my first 100-400mm and got 600mm and 300mm prime lenses. I was always happy enough with these, but I’m looking forward to giving the new 100-400mm a good run for its money in a few weeks time and will report back as soon as I can.

      Thanks for stopping by Bob!

  • Tom Skiba
    Posted at 10:52h, 04 January Reply

    Hi Martin. Hope you had a wonderful holiday. Just got my new 7d Mark 2 last month and it is definitely an upgrade over the previous 7d. One feature that you didn’t mention, but I have found very valuable is the revised control layout. The new 7d Mark II controls are configured almost identically to those on the 5d Mark 3. This is a big plus in terms of consistent interface if you are using both a full frame and a crop sensor body, and especially if you are using them on the same shoot. No need to think about which body you have in your hands and which control does what.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 10:57h, 04 January Reply

      Hi Tom,
      Congrats on your 7D2! You know, I never used a 7D, so I didn’t even notice, but it is very nice to use because of the similarities to the 5D3 so this is a great point. Thanks for pointing that out!
      Have a great 2015!

  • Paul Samuel
    Posted at 07:11h, 07 January Reply

    Hi Martin 🙂

    I was directed to your field test as I am not happy with the sharpness of my 7Dii, which just happens to be my second copy.

    Interestingly, in my little photography community, 4/6 users are dissatisfied with the general performance of the AF system. We agree that there is somewhat of a Jeckyl and Hyde quality to how it performs, as some days it seemingly performs better.

    We further agree that actual performance vs advertised performance is chalk and cheese.

    Yet the 2/6 users that aren’t complaining are getting downright superb images, as well as remarkably high number of keepers from 10+ shot bursts.

    I’m not the engineering type but I’m mightily suspicious of the DPAF technology and the integrity of the physical AF points in the body but do note I sm highly cheesed off at the poor performance of the 7Dii.

    Here I was, expecting sharpness to the pixel but my 500D is still returning sharper images!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:40h, 17 January Reply

      Thanks for dropping by and for the information Paul. I will be taking my 7DII on the road again in just over a week, and giving it a really good run for its money, and will report back in a follow up post after that. It might be the start of March actually, as I have two trips back to back, but I’ll be sure to follow up with my findings. I’m still hoping that all is good, as the photos of static subjects are fine, but for wildlife not have great subject tracking is of course a critical issue.

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