Canon EF 7D Mark II for Wildlife Review
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Canon EF 7D Mark II for Wildlife Review

Canon EF 7D Mark II for Wildlife Review

19 Jan 2016, Posted by Petr Bambousek in Articles, Equipment

After a week of setting up my new Canon EOS 7D Mark II and two rainforest fieldtrips I can finally write a few words about my new camera Canon EOS 7D Mark II. The Internet is full of endless reviews of technical data, noise comparisons, doubts, disappointments and comparisons with full frame DSLR cameras etc. Here is my view on the matter. Having used it now for few weeks, here is one basic fact to start off with – it’s a CROP camera. It has an APS-C chip so it needs to be taken as a CROP camera.  I believe most disappointments come from 1Dx owners who keep comparing it to their mega machines with endless possibilities and more. It comes as no surprise then that they are more than baffled by the image quality. Functionally, it is on par with 1Dx. In my opinion, if the image quality was on the same or very close level with a full-frame camera, the streets would probably be full of absent-minded photographers blaming and hating themselves.  So to sum up, yes – it’s not a full frame and it doesn’t have the same great outputs as a 1Dx or a 6D that arguably has the same image quality. It’s a CROP.

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Let’s have a look at it from the baseline of the current CROP cameras Canon has to offer. Can its comparison to 600D, 50D, 60D, 70D, 7D or a new 7D Mk II be such a disappointment? I’d safely say that disappointed can be only those who are expecting a huge upgrade in manual controls and superior image quality bolstered by a highly customisable and sophisticated AF system. The “quality” of the images produced is simply always the same, even though, compared to  the earlier 7D, it is performing better at high ISOs. That is a noticeable improvement for sure. I’d suggest not to delve on this issue no more. If you are keen to compare the quality of your shots with your current CROP camera, go to your nearest shop and try it for yourself. And should you buy it? Well, I cannot help you with that. What I CAN divulge though is that if you are expecting that your photographs will be miles better with your new 7D MkII, then it is not a camera for you. Better photographs come from your mind. It won’t make miracles happen for you. You’ll need to teach it to “it”.

The following review is drawing from my personal experience and it should be viewed as such. I will concentrate on maximising the extraordinary features that 7D Mark II undoubtedly has. In particular, I will focus on those capabilities that attracted my attention and I consider them as beneficial. The beauty of having an opinion is, that naturally, we cannot all agree on everything.  Detailed technical specification is widely available on the Internet.

PERFORMANCE

The Canon team created this camera for superior performance and durability. Below are just a few functions that I was personally pleased with.

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Red-Eyed Tree Frog, Costa Rica, 2015, Canon EOS 7D Mark II

+ Shutter Durability Rated up to 200.000 Cycles
That is twice the amount I have in my EOS 6D and 50 000 cycles more than the previous model.

+ Continuous 10 fps Shooting Ability
This can be very useful sometimes. What I really like is that the speed is completely customisable to a high speed mode (2-10 fps), low speed (1-8 fps) or a silent mode (1-4 fps). A buffer with a high speed card enables me to capture up to 31 shots in full resolution which accounts for a shot every 3 seconds. I’m actually really considering slowing the speed down to 9 or 8 which should theoretically enable me to take even more shots. I will see what kind of a difference it will be compared to the 10 fps setting or whether the extended time is only negligible. For the time being, I have set it to a silent mode of 4fps.

+ Silent Shutter Sound
This model is apparently the quietest camera Canon has to offer so far. The shutter release mechanism is very quiet even in its normal mode.

+ Exact exposure metering system
Thanks to its new improved EOS scene detection metering system featuring large amount of pixels and an infra-red detection light sensitivity setting, I barely needed to adjust the final scene when post processing. I also loved a function, similar to 1Dx, enabling to adjust metering sensitivity as a standard (e.g. +1/3EV is set as a 0EV).

+ In-built GPS
I’ve learnt to use this feature practically all the time (old habits from EOS  6D). At the moment I have 8 spare batteries that ensure my not running out of juice accidentally. However, should the battery life be an issue, I’d suggest turning it off. That I do that automatically anyway, when the camera is lying at home for a longer period of time.

+ Battery – new but compatible
EOS 7D Mark II has a new LP-E6N battery. At first, I was surprised by that but I soon realised that a similar looking charger from previous versions works just as good. The camera also works with no problems with the original LP-E6 batteries. The only difference is bigger and better capacity.

+ Dual Memory Card Slots
One of my initial investments was a purchase of a compact flash card Sandisk Extreme 120mb/s, that is extremely fast and quick buffering. Naturally, I have also a surplus of standard SD cards.

+ Headphone jack and 3.0 USB port
I know these are minor details but why not to connect your headphones to monitor recorded audio or to transfer images directly from the camera. None of these however is the main reason why to purchase this particular machine.

+ Grip BG-E16
I love holding the EOS 7D Mark II. The extended battery grip allows me to better shoot vertically or act as an additional support when shooting with large lenses. I often shoot from hand so even something as trivial as this is quite essential. I ordered a second-hand battery grip on Ebay as I wasn’t prepared to spend extra 6000 CZK (approx. 250 USD) for an original. I may reconsider in the future but for the time being I’m more than happy to use second-hand.

MENU OPTIONS

The Menu on the new 7D MII is the same as on its predecessors, having 1Dx and 5D M III as its closest relatives. My own settings that I try to copy on all of my bodies are described in detail in a separate post ‘My settings of Canon cameras’ (English version coming soon). And now about the settings that are new to me and I think of as useful. A complete Owner’s manual for EOS 7D MII is easily accessed on Canon’s website free of charge.

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Grass Snake, Czech Republic, 2015, Canon EOS 7D Mark II

+ Custom Function Menu has up to 5 bookmarks
I really welcomed this improved option. I’m using a Custom Menu very often as it marginally shortens the time of function setting when in field. The camera has a capability of up to 5 bookmarks that can be personally named. So far, I’ve set up three – AF, Favourite and Landscape. Each bookmark can have up to 6 individual items. This way, your customised menu can have up 30 items sorted by your preference – brilliant. Upon entering the menu I am given a choice of setting up a number of selectable AF points, AF area selection method, AF microadjustment, drive modes for continuous shooting, battery information, card formatting, deleting of unprotected files, LV shooting area display, flash controls, timelapse or Bulb.

+ Timelapse
There is very good news for fans of a timelapse – With this camera you are easily capable of setting up all the timelapse frequencies directly in the menu without any necessary remote timers. Personally, I prefer not to waste the data so I’m unlikely to use this. 1 second of timelapse video requires 24 shots. 1 minute sequence will then have 1440 shots. 10 videos equals to almost 15 000 shots from the shutter’s lifetime.

+ Bulb Timer
This function I like very very very very much. You can set the bulb exposure time required to capture your images. Simple but clever.

+ Custom File Name
You can fully customise your file names which is extremely practical if you have two or more bodies. All your images thus have a unique name. After a while I figured out how to set it up and now my images have a unique prefix „7D2_xxxx„.

+ Viewfinder eyepiece
The viewfinder seems to be exactly the same as on its predecessor, but it is evident there is something different. The viewfinder now displays information that used to be only available on the upper LCD display, i. e. standard exposure values and metering controls, AWB, continuous shooting and even image quality (data not quantity). The viewfinder can additionally be configured to show all 65 AF points, grid and an electronic level which are both great e. g. for shooting perfectly aligned surfaces. However, if you choose autofocus on all 65 Cross Type AF Points and activate all of the above you will have a very small chance to actually see something. I’d recommend therefore at least turning off the AF point system.

+ Viewing of Images
A new function, at least for me, is a way of displaying image information whilst in playback mode. By pressing the Info button you can view three types of screen – a photo across a whole LCD monitor with no other info; – a full panel photo view but with basic EXIF info – a miniature photo preview with a histogram and a detailed EXIF.

What I find quite handy is the additional data such as metering mode, selected picture style, shadow selection and card selection. Further options can be displayed by tilting a joystick (multi-controller) downwards. A detailed colour histogram appears next to a miniature image as well as info about a used lens and focal point. After pressing the joystick, you will get info about white balance and background details (clarity, sharpness …), and after that even a selected colour space and corrections. With another click of the joystick you are back at the beginning i.e. exif. Thank goodness that the options rotate endlessly.

+ Searching for the right photo
It’s not uncommon for us photographers, that during a continuous shooting it is quite hard to find the right photograph to show off to a friend whom you want to impress with “wait a second, I’ll show you something”. What usually follows is a rather longish turning of the quick control dial in search for that one particular photo. In the meantime, enthusiasm and patience of your friend slowly but surely dwindles. When you do finally find The One, all you receive is a bored ‘hm, so what’. Well, no more. By zooming in and turning the main dial to the left, the camera can display up to 4 – 9 – 36 – 100 miniatures. And what’s more, you can even zoom in on a selected image. Enthusiastic ‘wow’ is guaranteed.

CUSTOM CONTROLS

Personally, I find that an EOS 6D has the most practical use of controls. No, really. Some of you are probably thinking that I’m crazy, right now. But I assure you that after using the camera for more than 2 years I find it unbelievably advantageous that I’m able to control the camera with just two fingers without letting go of my lens or doing advanced finger yoga. It’s fantastic to be able to alter various settings without letting go of my grip and Itry to stick with it at all times. I’m especially talking about adjusting the exposure, exposure compensation, ISO, AF, view image and zoom in or even delete it. I was able to do all of the above with the new EOS 7D Mark II with one exception – deleting a photo.

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+ Setting the Autofocus
I started to use the AF-ON button about three years ago instead of the shutter button that only auto-sets the required exposure and stabilisation and then takes a picture. I started using this option after I realised I need to recompose after focusing when shooting with my full frame bodies. With my 5D Mark II all AF points were struggling. With the EOS 6D the middle AF point is very sensitive but the cross-type points not so much. For me the fastest way how to take a shot is to focus with the AF-ON button, recompose and shoot. I prefer this method even with manual focus. I have my lenses set to AF and I never had to change it to MF. I should point out however, that this is only possible with some lenses that are purpose-built to manually focus even in AF mode.  Some Tamron or Sigma lenses can severely damage the AF motor. New with the EOS 7D Mark II is a possibility to customise the */AE lock button to autofocus. I know that the EOS 6D can do it too, but EOS 7D Mk II gives you an extra bonus of custom-setting even an AF status, metering mode and most importantly AF modes. I customised the AF-ON button to Al Servo setting (spot focusing) and the */ AE lock button to Al Servo value with wide-area 65-cross-type-point AF. This simplifies my switching between AF modes with the dedicated AF drive button. With a single push of a button you can then focus continually or use advantages of a One Shot setting. To sum up, my camera is set to manual focus, continuous focusing and One shot, all without me having to reconfigure anything on the spot. This for me is one of the most practical camera custom settings ever made.

+ SET
The set button on its own has no function. I decided to change that and originally assigned just a ‘preview’ function to it. After a while though, I noticed that an even more practical function is possible – zooming in 1:1 ratio. After shooting a series of photos you are able to activate 1:1 zoom on the last photo. You can then browse like this throughout a whole series of shots simply by turning the quick control dial or by double pressing the button again for a full-screen view. The button therefore has two functions – photo preview and 1:1 zoom.

+ ISO
Speedy configuration of aperture, exposure compensation and ISO is of utmost importance to my photography taking is a speedy configuration of aperture, exposure compensation and ISO. Setting the aperture with the main dial and compensate the exposure with the quick control is very fast and comfy. However, to set a different ISO requires a certain knack. Basically without looking you need to find quickly the right button somewhere up there. I honestly admit that this has always been my weakest link. Luckily on my EOS 6D I was able to assign ISO setting to a SET button. On my EOS 7D MkII the SET button is already taken by the ZOOM function. I therefore decided to allocate this function to the next nearest button – the joystick/ multi-controller that allows me, by pressing it and turning the top main dial, to select a required ISO. Ooof, that was close.

AUTOFOCUS

As well as a 1Dx and 5D Mk III, the EOS 7D Mark II lets you to set up several AF options that combine tracking sensitivity, tracking acceleration and deceleration and automatic AF point switching. On several occasions I was contacted by owners of 5D MkIII regarding this particular setting. My recommendation to them is to leave the camera set to a versatile multi-purpose setting and simply see what the machine will do for you. To think that all your photos will be great is like a great sci-fi story. Fact is that there will always be some waste. The above profiles kind of remind me of earlier mobile operators’ plan offers. One plan is great if you call your friend (that is with the same provider) during a weekend but if you call more often unknown people mostly with a totally different provider, you are better off to stick with a different bundle. With time, I think most of us will get a feel for the right AF option depending on what we photograph most. Without doubt, action sport photographers have a great advantage in factory settings provided by Canon. I’d however welcome a lizard, humming bird or a sloth option instead. Personally I struggle with all 65 AF points that after 11 points on my 6D, respectively one in the middle, come as a shock. By the time I fiddle with them all, the frogs are half a meter elsewhere. For the time being I compromised by reducing the AF points to 21, which the viewfinder reliably activates even though the accuracy and focusing is necessary to fine-tune separately (see a separate post). Besides, all my lenses are micro-adjusted anyway as without it I felt they weren’t sharp enough.

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Red-Eyed Tree Frog, Costa Rica, 2015, Canon EOS 7D Mark II

STEPS TO PERFECTION

Without any shadow of a doubt, my most preferred method of shooting is with a full frame camera, in my case an EOS 6D. Some may spit on it with aversion, but I tend to think that it can produce some really great shots. After all, my photographs in the Finals of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year are a living proof (ten of which were taken by EOS 6D whilst the other two by EOS 70D).

What would bring the EOS 7D MkII to perfection is, in my opinion, this:

–        Image quality close to EOS 1D MkIV (I’d say as a 7D plus)
–        LCD touch screen (I cannot understand why such a perfect option for a movie shooting cannot be linked to the touch screen as on the 70D).
–        Wifi and pull out screen (both technologies are there but Canon claims it would apparently compromise the durability of the body. Well, ok then).
–        Original grip that doesn’t cost the Earth (again, don’t get it why it cannot be compatible with the previous model)
–        So that it shoots only beautiful photos

MY FINAL FEELINGS

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Common Spadefoot, Czech Republic, 2015, Canon EOS 7D Mark II

The new 7D brings out revolutionary possibilities of control, speed and efficiency. With a view of unprecedented progress in other industries most photographers were probably slightly surprised by a rather slow advance Canon has made in quality of the final image. There is a huge divide in image quality between a 7D and a 1DX and most of us hoped that the new Canon EOS 7D Mark II will bridge that gap. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The closest to bridging it – optically at least – is an EOS 1D MIV that I considered as an alternative. On the other hand, whining over unsatisfactory outputs is eternal. When the first version of EOS 7D was born, many couldn’t be happier and hailed it as a new king of wildlife. Not even a few years later and the camera seems to be useless. I’m convinced though that even with the new EOS 7D MkII it will be possible to print out a meter long quality photographs. And if the photo has a deep thought and a soul nobody will be searching for grains of noise.

So, if you are looking for a camera with many practical functions, a ‘friend in need’ and a new king of Canon’s APS-C segment, then you will be thrilled. If, however, you are expecting the same contraption as a 1Dx for half the price, you will be disappointed. As for me, the new EOS 7D MII is a great camera albeit imperfect.

CANON EOS 7D MARK II SHOWCASE GALLERY

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Rainforest, Borneo, 2015, Canon EOS 7D Mark II

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Common Viper, Czech Republic, 2015, Canon EOS 7D Mark II

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Mudskipper, Borneo, 2015, Canon EOS 7D Mark II

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House Gecko, Borneo, 2015, Canon EOS 7D Mark II

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South American Tapir, ZOO Prague, Czech Republic, 2015, Canon EOS 7D Mark II

  • Gobi

    first, thanks for this post and all your pictures are amazing.. visual treat ..

    also just wondering why wildlife photographer dont want to reveal what lens or accessories they use to your fellow post readers..

    Reply
  • Sashi

    Hi Petr,

    Great post! The pics attached are super as well. It would be great if you could also share which lens you used to capture these pics with the 7d mark ii. I am especially interested in knowing the lens used for the first 2 pics.. the frog and the snake.

    Thanks and regards
    Sashi

    Reply
  • Swapnodeep Sarkar

    Hi Peter!
    Thanks for this great article. I’m planning to buy 7D2. I have a 400f5.6L and I use it with 60D and mainly photograph birds in hilly low light area. I can not go beyond ISO 800 with my 60D. My question is how good is the ISO performance and the highest tolerable limit of ISO in your opinion in 7D2. And if I move to full frame [like 6D] can the loss of reach from 400*1.6x to only 400mm be compensated by cropping? Personally I don’t think so but much confused. Please give your valuable opinions. Thanks again.

    Regards,
    Swapno

    Reply
  • Phil

    Great review.
    I have just bought a 7DII and I am struggling to decide between Aperture for depth of field or Shutter priority when taking moving wildlife shots. Given the ISO Auto feature how would you set the camera?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Petr Bambousek

      Hi Phil, I always prefer Aperture priority to control the DOF. If shutter speed is not ok, I push the ISO. I set the ISO to 1/3 steps which means I can do it very carefully and still control the noise in my picture. I am not fan of Auto ISO setting as the camera tends to set higher ISO to make sure you have really comfortable shutter speed. First impression is good but combination of crop factor together with high ISO is not working well. Yes, there are situations where the shutter speed is too slow to catch some action even with high ISO setting. The solution can be carefully used flash. Good luck! Petr

      Reply
  • Nadine

    First congrats for your recognition in the “wildlife photographer of the year”… well deserved to my opinion…
    I just bought a 7D and hopefully after a HARD work I will be able to make pictures not so far from yours… my question to you: any advice on the zooms to buy to go with for landscape, macro, mammals ? For mammals, I’m recommended the new Canon 100-400, but not sure it’s a bargain
    Thank you for your feed-back

    Reply
    • Petr Bambousek

      Hello Nadine, many thanks for your message. I will always prefer prime lens, but it is usually very expensive option. I had opportunity to use new 100-400 IS and must say, this is one of the best semi-pro lens on market. I used to use prime 400mm/5.6 which is great lens but must say 100-400 is even better. Nice details on 5.6 aperture, very responsive AF and great working IS. I can just recommend this lens. Take care, Petr.

      Reply

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