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Canon announces 17.92 million image pixel, 8fps EOS 7D - Continued

Ahoy: Canon EOS 7D beta + EF 70-200mm f/4L IS, ISO 100. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The 7D offers more AF modes and greater customization than any Canon camera, ever. It blends a new AF sensor, five distinctly different AF modes and key AF system options found only in 1-series digital SLRs currently. Plus it has the ability to automatically activate different AF modes when the camera is being held horizontally or vertically, to optionally use the Depth of Field preview button to switch AF modes on the fly and more. This is a highly configurable AF system, like nothing we've seen before really.

It starts with an AF sensor that incorporates 19 points, all of which operate as cross-type with f/5.6 or faster lenses, while the centre AF point operates with increased precision with f/2.8 or faster lenses.

Frame coverage for the AF sensor is similar to the 50D - it covers a fairly tight area in the centre of the frame, with minimal spacing between the AF points.

A La Mode: An animation showing the 7D's AF modes
Which AF modes does the 7D have? Darn near all that's possible. You have five to choose from:
  • Spot AF The AF detection area is restricted to just beyond the left, right, top and bottom borders of the selected AF point. In limited testing, this AF mode did seem to work as advertised, measuring focus from an area that extended little if at all outside the active AF point's rectangle.

  • Single Point AF The AF detection area extends noticeably above, below, to the left and to the right of the borders of the selected AF point.

  • AF Point Expansion Up to four additional points plus the selected AF point are active. When the selected AF point is closer to the middle, the group of points form a diamond.

  • Zone AF Up to eight additional points plus the selected AF point are active. When the selected AF point is the centre one, the group of points form a square. There are five zones in all.

  • 19 Point AF The camera utilizes the entire AF area and automatically selects which point or points to make active.
Optional: The Orientation Linked AF Point Custom Function
The 7D contains 12 autofocus-related Custom Functions, including three that were previously found only in the EOS-1D Mark III and EOS-1Ds Mark III. Plus, the 7D adds a few of its own.

Here's a sampling:
  • Orientation Linked AF Point Switches on the use of one AF point when the camera is held horizontally, and another when the camera is held vertically

  • AF Microadjustment Corrects for calibration errors in an attached lens or combination of body and lens

  • AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity Controls how quickly the AF system will respond to obstacles moving into the active AF point

  • AI Servo 1st/2nd Image Priority Controls whether focus or drive speed is the priority for the first frame and subsequent frames in a sequence

  • AI Servo AF Tracking Method When an AF mode other than Spot AF or Single Point AF is selected, determines whether the closest subject is the priority for focus

  • Select AF Area Selection Mode Disables the AF modes you don't wish to choose from when toggling through the AF mode screen

  • Manual AF Point Selection Pattern Enables you to wrap around from left to right or top to bottom when manually selecting an AF point
There are other AF-related configuration options discussed in the next section. First, some observations about the camera's autofocus performance. We've been critical of Canon autofocus in recent times, starting with the AF problems of the EOS-1D Mark III in the spring of 2007 and continuing, with less severity, through to the EOS 40D and 50D, both of which struggle in continuous focus situations.

So, Canon's reputation as the maker of premium autofocus has been tarnished of late. Into that reality comes the 7D, outfitted with Canon's first all-new AF system in about two years, as well as its most full featured, exceeding in several respects that found in 1-series models.

AF system speed, says Canon, is similar to the 50D, but changes have been made to the 7D's AF algorithms to allow the camera to better track irregular movement, plus the camera will more intelligently cope with a bad AF system reading in the middle of a sequence.

During light-duty shooting over a couple of days with a beta 7D, mostly of static subjects and a good portion of it in foggy outdoor conditions, we noticed the following:
  • Static autofocus was excellent, using Spot AF, various AF points, AI Servo (we almost never use One Shot) and a small batch of different lenses. With the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (also introduced today), EF 70-200mm f/4L IS, EF 200mm f/2L IS and EF 800mm f/5.6L IS, photos were simply in focus. We also used the EF 85mm f/1.2L II, and focus was all over the place. The same lens exhibited the same unstable AF on an EOS 5D Mark II, suggesting the problem was more a function of the lens than the camera.

  • Continuous focus using Spot AF, centre AF point, AI Servo and the EF 200mm f/2L IS, tracking a soccer player for a few minutes in fading light, the results showed promise but were ultimately inconclusive: through about 200 frames, the camera was able to hang onto focus properly for portions of several sequences, better than we've ever seen from the 50D, as well as deal with the AF point moving off the subject briefly. But it would also lose focus for several frames for no apparent reason, even when the AF point was right on the mark and the subject was moving at an easy pace.

  • Continuous focus using Zone AF, nine points in the centre, AI Servo and the EF 800mm f/5.6L IS, tracking distant seagulls in semi-overcast light, the results were pretty good. The camera-to-subject distance wasn't changing too rapidly, but the position of the bird within the AF point group was changing constantly, and the camera handled this just fine.

  • Continuous focus using Zone AF, nine points in the centre, AI Servo and the EF 200mm f/2L IS, tracking a running dog in fading light, the results were terrible. Over about 80 frames the camera got almost nothing usably in focus. If this result is representative of Zone AF, then Zone AF will be the way wrong choice for fast-moving subjects. We had better luck tracking the same dog with Spot AF.

Ball Chase: Canon EOS 7D beta + EF 200mm f/2L IS, Spot AF, ISO 1600. Click photo to enlarge. Click here to download cropped full-resolution version (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Based on our experience with the new camera's AF system so far, it's likely that focus on static subjects is going to be solid. We'll need to give the camera more of a continuous focus workout than this, however, to see if it will be right for peak action sports.

Canon USA has published a thorough description of 7D autofocus here.

Control layout and customization Given the fact the 7D isn't that much bigger a camera, Canon has done well in dispensing with the 50D's cramped button layout in favour of buttons that are larger, arranged mostly on the side of the rear LCD rather than below it and are easier to press. There are several changes to those buttons too, all of which elevate camera usability:
  • 7d_startstop.jpg
    Switcheroo: The 7D's Live View/video mode toggle and Start/Stop button (Photo courtesy Canon)
    To the right of the viewfinder Canon, has added a combination Live View/video mode switch and Start/Stop button.

    With the switch set to Live View, the Start/Stop button engages and disengages Live View display. Moving the switch over to video immediately flips on video mode: the rear LCD lights up and the 7D is ready to make a movie. Pressing Start/Stop begins and ends the recording of a clip. The 5D Mark II and EOS Rebel T1i/500D offer different and more confusing ways of alternating between Live View and video. The 7D approach is better.

  • The mechanism underlying the 7D's shutter button is the same as that of the EOS-1D Mark III, and your finger will notice. The new camera's shutter button feel is quite nice.

  • A new Custom Controls (Q) button pops you into a new menu screen from which many of the camera's buttons and dials can be tailored to your liking. The new menu not only centralizes certain functionality present in previous Canons, it's also the launch point for configuring controls that previously lacked the kind of flexibility given to them in the 7D. From Custom Controls you can individually change the behaviour of:
    • Shutter half-press
    • AF-ON
    • * (AE Lock)
    • Depth of Field Preview
    • SET
    • Main Dial
    • Quick Control Dial
    • Multi-controller
    • M-FN (this is a new button, on top of the camera, about where the FEL button is normally found)
    • AF STOP (on the attached lens, if present)
In Control: An animation showing the Custom Control screen and several of its submenus
The configuration possibilities are too numerous to list, but it's fair to say that the AF system is the biggest beneficiary of this newfound customization.

For instance, it's possible to set AF-ON to activate autofocus at one AF point, while * can be set to activate autofocus at a different point. The Depth of Field Preview button could then be set to switch AF modes (from Zone AF to Spot AF, for example) or to toggle between AI Servo and One Shot.

Combine that with the possibility of automatically switching between two selected points when changing the orientation of the camera, and the fact a lens' AF STOP button has almost the same range of options as the Depth of Field preview button, and you have a camera that is swimming in AF system configurability.

More importantly, many of the configuration options seem really useful.

All this configuration goodness is marred by the fact that mirror lockup remains buried in a Custom Function menu, the same as previous Canon digital SLRs with this feature. It's an inexplicable oversight for a camera that's otherwise extremely flexible. We hope this can be addressed in firmware in the months ahead (the M-FN and RAW/JPEG buttons would be good candidates for optional mirror lockup).

Note: Canon has incorporated into the 7D a couple of ways to shorten the time it takes to turn this feature off and on . First, you can add the Mirror Lockup Custom Function to My Menu (this is our preferred workaround on other Canons). Alternatively, you can turn to the 7D's settings configurations for help. To do this, you include the enabling of mirror lockup as part of a configuration, and then flip on mirror lockup later by selecting the relevant (C1, C2 or C3) configuration on the mode dial on the top of the camera.

Viewfinder The 7D's crisp, fairly large 1.0x magnification viewfinder shows 100% of the scene being captured, has a 22mm eyepoint and built-in dioptric correction of -3 to +1. Canon has used a transparent LCD overlay for AF point and grid display. The technology is used to good effect; unlike Canon models such as the 50D and 5D Mark II, whose AF points are always visible in the viewfinder, the 7D can be configured to show only the active AF point, leaving the rest of the viewfinder area clutter-free. You can customize the display and illumination of the 7D's AF points through menu settings, as well as turn on and off an alignment grid.

Like certain Nikons that use the same viewfinder technology, the 7D's viewfinder becomes dark and fuzzy when the battery is pulled from the camera, but immediately becomes bright and clear again when the battery is reinserted and the camera turned on.

Green Screen: The 7D's rear LCD, in action
Rear LCD The 7D contains a 3.0 inch (diagonal), 922,000-dot rear LCD. While the specifications for the 7D's rear display don't sound much different than other current Canons, and the colour reproduction is promised to be similar to the 50D, there is one noticeable difference: the 7D's screen is easier to see in overcast and even sunny conditions.

Looking at the same photo on the 5D Mark II and the 7D on a slightly cloudy day, with each on comparable screen brightness settings, the difference was readily apparent. The 5D Mark II's screen image looked flat and washed out in this light, while the 7D's screen image was usably contrasty and image detail was easier to make out.

The difference is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but the improvement is welcome nonetheless.

The 7D is the first Canon digital SLR to employ a reinforced glass cover over the rear LCD, rather than clear resin. In addition, an optically-clear filler eliminates the air gap between the glass and LCD itself. The filler both strengthens the cover and limits the loss of contrast in brighter ambient light.

On the Level: An animation showing the 7D's electronic level in Live View mode. When the horizontal bar through the middle is green and white, the camera is level on both axes
Dual-axis pitch and roll electronic level For cityscape work an electronic level is a handy feature, and it's good to see it come to a Canon digital SLR for the first time.

Canon's iteration detects both roll (left/right tilt) and pitch (up/down tilt), and displays both attributes in an on-screen graphic on the rear LCD (it can be displayed when Live View is active, and also when it isn't), and in the viewfinder (the AF points activate to show you the way to a level camera).

We gave this feature a workout during our time with a beta 7D, and found it to be both accurate and sufficiently sensitive to be useful.

63-zone meter A newly-developed 63-zone ambient/flash meter makes its debut in the 7D. Unlike the 63-zone meter in 1-series Canons, which utilizes zones of different sizes, the 7D's metering sensor contains 63 equal size zones arranged in a 9 x 7 grid. The sensor contains two unique layers, one being sensitive to red/green only, the other being sensitive to blue/green only. This colour data is used along with the brightness data gleaned from the metering sensor, and contributes to what Canon promises will be more accurate exposures overall, and more consistent exposures from frame to frame, than previous Canon digital SLRs. Also part of the equation is expanded use of focus distance information in the exposure calculation. With the 7D, data from all 19 AF points is used, rather than just the active AF point at the time of exposure.

This analysis of brightness, colour and AF data in determining exposure has been given a name by Canon: iFCL. It's an acronym constructed from the words Intelligence, Focus, Colour and Luminosity.

Speedy Light: Canon EOS 7D beta + EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, wireless TTL triggering of one 430EX II to the left of the frame (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Built-in wireless TTL flash control Another first for a Canon camera (Nikon cameras have had this for several years), the 7D's built-in flash can command and trigger wireless TTL-capable Speedlites. The camera has an extensive and confusing set of menu options for configuring this feature. During hands-on time with a beta camera and a pair of Speedlites, we were able to figure out the following:
  • When acting as wireless TTL controller, the built-in flash can be set to either fire or not fire at the moment of exposure. In this way, the built-in flash can either command remote Speedlites only, or command remote Speedlites and be part of the flash groups lighting the photo.

  • Up to three groups (A,B,C) of Speedlites can be controlled.

  • There are lots of options for applying flash exposure compensation to a group or groups, dialing in ratios like on the ST-E2 plus you can choose from one of four communication channels.

  • It works. We were able to reliably trigger one and two off-camera 430EX IIs.

  • It's possible to fire two wireless TTL frames fairly rapidly before waiting for the built-in flash to recycle enough to command remote flashes once more.
You can get a sense of the array of wireless TTL possibilities in the screenshots below. Getting a handle on the best way to configure the 7D's built-in wireless TTL flash control is probably going to take an intense read of the 7D user guide.

Flashy: Some of the 7D's built-in wireless TTL controller menus

Video An evolved version of the video mode in the 5D Mark II graces the 7D. If you're familiar with that camera's video capabilities, then you know a lot about the 7D's video mode already. The new camera has all the video features of the 5D Mark II, including both manual and automatic exposure, three static AF modes that can be activated prior to and during video capture, both a built-in mic and a 3.5mm miniphone jack for an external stereo mic, a built-in speaker, automatic audio gain with no manual override, H.264-compressed movie files with a .mov extension, a 4GB clip length limit, the ability to start and stop video recordings with Canon's Remote Controller RC-5 and RC-1, plus:
  • More resolution and frame rate options The 7D offers the following video output settings:
  • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels at 30fps (actually 29.97fps)
  • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels at 25fps
  • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels at 24fps (actually 23.976fps)
  • 720p: 1280 x 720 pixels at 60fps (actually 59.94fps)
  • 720p: 1280 x 720 pixels at 50fps
  • SD: 640 x 480 pixels at 60fps (actually 59.94fps)
  • SD: 640 x 480 pixels at 50fps
  • Canon projects that the typical maximum clip length for 1080p and 720p video will be about 12 minutes. This jumps to about 24 minutes for SD video. As with the 5D Mark II, the actual maximum clip length will vary greatly with scene content, scene movement and ISO.

  • Tweaked frame rates Some of the 7D's frame rates - for example, 29.97fps rather than 30fps, as noted above - should allow for easier syncing with separately-recorded audio in a variety of video editing applications. (The 5D Mark II's true 30fps frame rate leads to syncing difficulties in some programs).

  • Higher audio sample rate The 7D's audio sample rate is 48khz, up from 44.1khz in the 5D Mark II.

  • Higher data rates, possibly When comparing 1080p video at the same frame rate of similar scenes, the 7D's data rates are typically 5-10% higher than the the 5D Mark II's (40mbits/s vs 47mbits/s, for example). This could be an anomaly of the video we've shot with the two cameras. Nevertheless, the data rate jump is consistent.

  • In-camera video trimming Trimming of the start and the end of a clip is possible.

  • Still/video mode switch The addition of the aforementioned mode toggle and start/stop button combo makes it much easier to switch to video and quickly start recording, without sacrificing ready access to Live View when shooting stills.
The only apparent advantages of the 5D Mark II's video mode are somewhat shallower depth of field effects (thanks to its use of longer focal lengths for a given field of view), a maximum ISO of 12,800 (the 7D's maximum ISO when capturing video is 6400) and somewhat cleaner video at higher ISO settings.

Hear Hear: A Rode Stereo VideoMic connected to the 7D's external mic jack (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

In most respects, the 7D is poised to be Canon's digital SLR video flagship going forward.

Click a thumbnail below to download the corresponding full-resolution video clip captured with the 7D. These clips have been trimmed for length but are otherwise unedited. Note that without a reasonably powerful video card in your computer you may not be able to view the clip slugged Path smoothly.

Reggae: Canon EOS 7D beta, 1920 x 1080 pixels at 30fps, built-in mic (Movie by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Path: Canon EOS 7D beta, 1920 x 1080 pixels at 30fps, built-in mic, camera mounted on Glidecam 2000 Pro (Movie by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Thunder: Canon EOS 7D beta, 1280 x 720 pixels at 60fps, external Rode Stereo VideoMic (Movie by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Thunder: Canon EOS 7D beta, 1920 x 1080 pixels at 30fps, external Rode Stereo VideoMic (Movie by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

More on the 7D's video mode is here.

Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E5/E5A
Canon has also announced a transmitter companion for the 7D. It's a battery grip-style wired/wireless device that is most similar to the WFT-E4/E4A for the 5D Mark II, with some slick new bells and whistles mixed in.

Like that unit, the WFT-E5/E5A has three operating modes - FTP, PTP and HTTP (the HTTP mode is renamed WFT Server in the newer transmitter) - and can send pictures and video over a wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi link. Or, to a USB drive as well. If a GPS unit is connected to the device's USB port, location information is added to the metadata of each picture file.

It's also powered by the same Battery Pack LP-E6, supports Wireless Protected Setup for quicker configuration with certain wireless routers and includes vertical shooting controls.

Wired Up: The WFT-E5/E5A attached to a 7D. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Canon)
New in the WFT-E5/E5A:
  • Support for 802.11a wireless networks, in addition to 802.11b/g.

  • A GPS device can now link over Bluetooth as well as USB. A compatible USB Bluetooth module, such as Canon Bluetooth Unit BU-30, must be inserted into the WFT-E5/E5A's USB port for this to work.

  • WFT Server mode allows for remote viewing of the camera's Live View feed, adjusting of shutter speed, aperture, ISO and various other camera settings, plus firing the shutter, all from the web browser of a linked computer, iPhone or other smartphone.

  • A 7D with a WFT-E5/E5A attached can be configured to fire multiple remote cameras, up to 10 in all, in concert with the 7D in your hand. Once configured, pressing the shutter button on the camera you're using causes the remote cameras to fire as well, presumably with a slight delay. Transmission range is specified to be about 328ft (100m).

    As of now, both the local and remote cameras all must be 7Ds sitting on WFT-E5/E5As, but it's a safe bet that future Canon digital SLRs and their transmitters will support this same feature. If this comes to pass, then different Canon cameras should be able to trigger each other and it won't be necessary to have the same camera model and transmitter all around.

  • The WFT-E5/E5A supports the playback of 7D content on a DLNA-compatible media server system.
Three new lenses Rounding out Canon's announcements today are a trio of new lenses:
  • EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS This is the first lens to utilize Canon's recently-announced Hybrid IS, which compensates for both angle and shift movement during the exposure and is rated to provide stabilization equivalent to bumping up four full shutter speed steps. It's also an L-series lens; its non-IS predecessor is not.

  • EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Replacing the EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS in Canon's lineup, the new lens is both wider and faster at the wide end of its zoom range. Its image stabilization is rated to be equivalent to bumping up four full shutter speed steps. We used a beta unit of this lens on the 7D and quite liked it. The build quality is good, the zoom ring turns smoothly while optical performance is decent.

  • EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS This lens fills the gap in Canon's consumer lens line between the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS and EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. As with the new 15-85mm, image stabilization is rated to be equivalent to bumping up four full shutter speed steps. This lens does not use an ultrasonic focus motor.
Bundled software

The 7D will ship with updated versions of Canon's various digital photography software programs for Mac and Windows, including EOS Utility 2.7 and Digital Photo Professional 3.7. In addition to supporting RAW files shot with the 7D, Canon has implemented the following changes (description is from Canon USA):

EOS Utility 2.7:

  • Speedlite control settings can be communicated using 5D mark II and EOS 7D except Speedlite custom function settings
  • Mirror lock up setting and display has been added for EOS 7D
  • Camera drive mode status display and setting is supported
  • AEB setting is supported (using EOS 7D, EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 50D and EOS Rebel T1i)
  • Support for +/- 5 Exposure compensation
  • Start/Stop button for Movie in Remote live view as removed from the interface - now easier to use since there is a dedicated start/stop button on the EOS 7D
  • Added grid displays in Remote live view (3x3 and 6x4 grid block pattern)
  • Now you can move the display position by simply dragging the window
  • Revised UI includes a selection list of available AF modes
  • Test shooting button added to remote live view window
  • Syncro settings for remove live view and camera live view (set via preference dialog box)
  • Click white balance warning display
  • The image transfer speed to computer from camera's memory card has been improved
  • New lenses (EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro USM, EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM, EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS) added to lens peripheral illumination support
  • Russian Language support

Digital Photo Professional (DPP) 3.7

  • New Noise Reduction Preview window for adjusting Noise Reduction and checking results
  • Images will stay in collection window after exiting DPP
  • Faster processing for SRAW and MRAW (1/4 faster)
  • Higher quality preview message displayed on lower part of the window during full size image processing
  • Russian Language support
  • Additional lenses for lens aberration correction support (total of 88)

Canon's usual practice is to follow up the delivery of a new digital SLR with a web release of software updaters for owners of older cameras, and that's to be the case once again. A date for the posting of updaters has not been set.


Canon has a winner on their hands with the EOS 7D. Though we only spent a short time with a beta body leading up to today's unveiling, a digital SLR that works this well and includes so many strong features doesn't take a lot of time to figure out.

The only open question is the AF system. All the options are there, and focus on static subjects was just about perfect with almost all lenses we tried. Continuous focus, which has been the albatross around Canon's neck since the EOS-1D Mark III hit the streets in 2007, is really the only area of the camera where a lot more testing is needed before we'd be comfortable talking about its suitability for peak action sports, not to mention using it ourselves for this purpose.

The Canon EOS 7D and other new products are slated to ship to dealers in the U.S. on the following schedule and at the following expected street prices:
  • Canon EOS 7D: late September 2009, US$1699
  • Canon EOS 7D + EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit: late September 2009, US$1899
  • Canon Battery Grip BG-E7: late September 2009, US$270 (suggested retail price, street price may be less)
  • Canon Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E5A: early November 2009, US$699.99
  • Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS: late September 2009, US$1049
  • Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS: late October 2009, US$799.99
  • Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS: late September 2009, US$499.99
We have the following information for Canada so far:
  • Canon EOS 7D: late September 2009, CDN$2099.99
  • Canon Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E5A: early November 2009, CDN$899.99
  • Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS: late September 2009, CDN$1299
  • Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS: late October 2009, CDN$999.99
  • Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS: late September 2009, CDN$599.99
In the Box: Canon EOS 7D kit including the EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Canon)

Thanks to David Sparer, Lisette Ranga, Len Musmeci and Neil Stephenson for their assistance with this article.
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