Unicorns Are Real: the New Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Posted by on September 22, 2014

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Action DSLR

Ladies and gentlemen – a unicorn! Or rather, Canon’s long-awaited EOS 7D Mark II DSLR.

Unicorns are real! The long-awaited Canon EOS 7D Mark II digital SLR was announced last week at the biannual Photokina tradeshow in Germany. The 7D Mark II has a “newly-developed” 20.2-megapixel APS-C Dual Pixel CMOS sensor, a new 65-point all cross-type auto focus system, 1920 x 1080 60p full-HD video, a faster 10-FPS burst rate, built-in intervalometer, and built-in GPS. The original, groundbreaking EOS 7D was introduced 5 years ago (that’s forever in digital camera update time) and rumors of a replacement proliferated almost from the moment it hit the streets. After a couple of years, I assumed the mythical 7D Mk II was just something the camera rumor sites used to bring in more visitors. But the camera gods have blessed us and the much-prophesied EOS 7D Mark II has come to pass. The question is: with serious competition from Nikon and Sony DSLRs as well as mirrorless cameras, is the 7D Mark II too little, too late; or has Canon hit the mark?

Canon EOS 7D Mark II - Rear View

Rear view of Canon’s new EOS 7D Mark II digital SLR, with 3-inch LCD display.

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A Ground-Breaking DSLR

Back in 2009, I was one of the first journalists in the US to get the original Canon EOS 7D for review. It showed up on my doorstep with black tape over the Canon logo and a black foam cover to keep it from being identified. I was quickly convinced and pre-ordered one for myself right away. The EOS 7D was a first-of-its-kind DSLR, offering pro-level speed, auto focus and video performance in a relatively compact, affordable body. There really was nothing like it before; and honestly, there hasn’t been anything like it, since. The Nikon D7000 and D7100 (read my Nikon D7100 review) come close but they aren’t really fast enough for serious sports shooting, in my opinion. Sony’s A77 and A77 II (read my Sony Alpha A77 II intro) also come close – on paper they actually look better with a much faster burst rate and a better sensor. However, I’ve found Sony’s continuous auto focus falls a bit short when it comes to keeping up with really fast subjects like the mountain bikers and skiers I shoot.

As a camera reviewer, I’ve had a chance to sample some of the best from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax, etc. and no other APS-C camera has been able to match the overall performance of the 7D. Yes, full-frame cameras do have better image quality and Nikon and Canon’s top-of-the-line DSLRs do offer considerably better performance. But a $5000+ camera body really isn’t doable for most photographers. Plus, full-frame sports cameras are also huge and heavy – not a great combination for backcountry photography. Canon really hit a sweet spot with size, performance and price when they launched the original EOS 7D.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Main Features & Specs:

  • Newly-developed 20.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • Dual DIGIC 6 processors
  • Sensitivity: ISO 100 to 16,000 (expandable to ISO 51,600)
  • New 65-Point all cross-type auto focus system
  • AF down to -3 EV
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF (DAF)
  • 1920 x 1080 full-HD 60p video
  • External stereo mic and headphone inputs
  • Uncompressed video output
  • New, 150k-pixel RGB+IR 252-zone metering
  • Built-in intervalometer and bulb timer
  • 3-inch 1.04-million-dot LCD display
  • Built-in GPS
  • Built-in pop-up flash
  • New, 100% “Intelligent Viewfinder”
  • Dual card slots for SD and CompactFlash
  • Higher capacity LP-E6N battery
  • Weather-sealed magnesium alloy body
New Canon EOS 7D Mark II Sensor

Canon introduces a “newly developed” 20-MP APS-C CMOS sensor with their new EOS 7D Mark II DSLR.

New 20-Megapixel Sensor

Unfortunately, Canon has been slipping in the APS-C image quality department for a few years now. Pretty much every competing APS-C camera on the market delivers better image quality than Canon’s crop-sensor DSLRs. I’ve honestly been a bit frustrated and started looking around for other options. I absolutely rely on continuous auto focus for my action photos, though. And nothing else has been able to compete with the 7D (or the new 70D). If I have to choose between auto focus and image quality, I’m going to take the auto focus. But I would like better image quality and my fingers are crossed that the new EOS 7D Mark II delivers the improvement I’ve been waiting for. At first glance, the sensor appears to be the same 20.2-megapixel APS-C Dual Pixel CMOS unit that was introduced with the EOS 70D, last year. But Canon’s 7D Mark II press release calls the sensor is “newly-developed.” The camera has also has dual DIGIC 6 processors (that’s more processing power than any other Canon camera) and the max sensitivity setting has been increased from ISO 6400 to ISO 16,000 – that’s more than a full stop. Those are all indicators of real and significant image quality improvement. Imaging-Resource posted some sample photos from a “beta” camera they were given to test and they look very promising.

New, Improved Auto-Focus System

Although I’ve been very pleased with the auto focus performance of my original EOS 7D, there’s always room for improvement. Looking at the 7D Mark II specs and press release, it looks like the new camera’s auto focus will be considerably better. First and foremost, for me anyway, is the new phase detect AF system. The new AF array has 65 extra-sensitive cross-type points (for your pleasure) and the center point works down to -3 EV – that’s basically a dark room with no windows. Canon says it uses a focusing algorithm comparable to their flagship EOS 1D X, which has delivered a near-perfect keeper rate for me when I’ve had the pleasure of using it. If the continuous auto focus performance falls anywhere between the original 7D and the 1D X, action sports photographers may get a 70% or better keeper rate from the 7D Mark II.

The 7D Mk II also has excellent auto focus for live view and video. It gets an upgraded version of Canon’s revolutionary Dual Pixel CMOS AF for live view and video. But let’s talk about the camera’s other video features, first.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II - Top View

Top view of Canon’s new EOS 7D Mark II sports DSLR.

Upgraded Video Performance

One of the reasons the first EOS 7D was such a big deal was it offered professional-level full-HD video at a relatively affordable price point. The 7D Mk II isn’t the same kind of class leader in terms of video performance. And no, there’s no 4k option. However, the 7D Mk II’s video has been upgraded to 1920 x 1080 full-HD at 60p and it inherits other pro video features Canon has introduced in the five years since the original 7D was launched. Among the upgrades is a headphone jack, optional time code embedding and uncompressed data output via the HDMI port. As with the 1D X and 5D Mark III, there are also two video codec options, ALL-I and IPB. Video formats and codecs are a bit beyond my pay grade and make me dizzy. But as I understand it, the All-I codec offers higher bit-rate video in a format that’s more editor-friendly; and IPB uses higher compression so you can store more video on your memory card.

Along with the other upgraded video features, the 7D Mark II gets Canon’s second-generation Dual Pixel CMOS AF (DAF) for excellent movie mode auto focus performance. The DAF system was introduced last year with the EOS 70D and it delivers the best movie mode continuous auto focus I’ve used in any camera. As suggested by the “Dual Pixel” designation, the sensor splits each pixel and uses the two halves to provide phase detect auto focus for live view and video. I bought the 70D as soon as it came out and I’ve had great success with the Dual Pixel CMOS AF. I’ve been able to track mountain bikers coming straight at me at high-speed in movie mode, something that a lot of DSLRs can’t even do for still photos. The 7D Mk II adds more control and customization options to the DAF system as well as improved performance.

Other new features on the Canon EOS 7D Mark II are USB 3.0 connectivity, built-in GPS, dual card slots for both SD and CompactFlash memory cards, built-in intervalometer and bulb timer, new 150k-pixel RGB+IR 252-zone metering sensor , a new “Intelligent Viewfinder” with 100% coverage, and a higher capacity LP-E6N battery. The 7D Mk II will be compatible with LP-E6 batteries, as well. So if you own an original 7D or 70D, your current batteries will work fine in the new camera. Like its predecessor, the 7D Mark II is built for outdoor abuse with a dust and weather-resistant magnesium alloy body. My original 7D has subjected to rain, snow and very dusty conditions for long periods of time and never given me a problem.

The only things I see missing from the 7D Mark II are a tilt-swivel LCD display and built-in Wi-Fi, both of which are available on the EOS 70D. I’m not sure why Canon hasn’t given their higher-end DSLRs articulated LCD displays. I use the tilt-swivel LCD on my 70D all the time – especially for product photography in the studio, and when I’m doing landscape photography on a tripod.

Built-in Wi-Fi is even more important to me. Frankly, I’m surprised Canon included GPS and not Wi-Fi with the 7D Mk II. Built-in GPS is nice but not nearly as valuable as Wi-Fi, in my opinion. The 7D Mk II is bound to be a popular event camera and social media is an important element of professional sports and events photography, now. One of the things I really like about my EOS 70D, is I can post photos directly to Instagram and Facebook with the built-in Wi-Fi and my Smart Phone. That keeps my followers informed about my activities and the events I’m shooting. I would go so far as to say that all cameras should have built-in Wi-Fi, now. It seems like an oversight that it wasn’t included on the new 7D Mk II.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II  With 18-135mm IS STM Zoom Lens

Side view of the Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR with the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens.

Is the Canon EOS 7D Mark II Worthy?

So does all this add up to a competitive camera and a worthy upgrade? Absolutely! The main thing I’ve been waiting for is some real image quality improvement. And it appears Canon has delivered that with the 7D Mark II. As always, I want to test one myself to see how the RAW quality is. But the dual DIGIC 6 processors and increased sensitivity, along with the sample photos that are already floating around, give me a lot of confidence in the new sensor. I’m also pleased to see better battery life (not that I had any complaints about the old battery), a faster burst rate and an even better auto focus system. The original EOS 7D held up quite well against the competition, in my opinion – even though the image quality was a generation or more behind. Yes, there were competing cameras that could beat the 7D in a particular area. But no other APS-C camera offered the same kind of overall action performance. With the new sensor and other improvements, I’m unabashedly excited about the Canon EOS 7D Mark II. I’m sold! Put my name down on that pre-order list!

The new Canon EOS 7D Mark II digital SLR is scheduled to be available this November. The body will sell for US $1799 and it will also be available in a kit with the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.3 IS STM zoom lens for $2149. For my active outdoor friends – the 7D Mk II /18-135mm STM lens combo is sure to be a killer packable camera kit for mountain biking, skiing and other action. Consider this my personal endorsement.

Buy the Canon EOS 7D Mark II From Amazon >>

Using the red “Buy It” links on Photo-John.net help us pay the bills and keep this Web site up and running. Thanks for supporting Photo-John – tell a friend!

2 Responses to Unicorns Are Real: the New Canon EOS 7D Mark II

  1. Angie Harker September 22, 2014 at 11:52 PM

    Sweet review! Thanks, J!

    • Photo-John September 23, 2014 at 5:34 PM

      Glad you liked the article, Angie! It’s not really a “review,” though. I need to actually use the camera before I can write one of those 🙂


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