Canon 7D DSLR Hands On: 18MP, 24FPS Full HD Video

Yep, it's real. The Canon 7D is an 18MP semi-pro DSLR that shoots 1080p video in 24—or 30—glorious frames per second for $US1899, kicking Nikon's previously unchallenged D300s where it hurts. But it's also an odd little beast.

The 7D feels like Canon took the results of a survey they handed out to people about what they wanted in a camera and crammed 'em all into one product targeted at semi-pros. Full HD video with manual exposure in 24, 25 or 30 frames per second, check. More rugged, weatherproof body than 5D, check. Customisable buttons, including a new multifunction button, check. A dedicated button for switching to RAW+JPEG mode. Um, check. Electronic axis level? Also check. It has dual DIGIC IV image processors, the first model outside of the pro 1Ds line with dual image processors for fast burst shooting: 8FPS with 94-shot JPEG bursts (124 with UDMA card) or 15 RAW shots, all at full resolution with 14-bit A/D conversion.

But, it's not full-frame: They've crammed 18 megapixels into an APS-C-sized sensor (like in the Rebel series or 50D, versus full-frame in the 5D) with an ISO range from 100-6400, and a Hi setting of 12,800. Canon says they've shortened the distance between the photodiodes in the sensor, which decreases light falloff, supposedly translating into better high ISO performance.

We got to shoot with a beta pre-production model for a little while in midtown using a couple of Canon's new EF-S lenses—a 15-85mm ($US800, coming in October) that's replacing the old 17-85mm, and a 100mm macro lens ($US1050, out in September)—so you can see some of the low-light results, along with other samples, below. (Again, Canon would like us to reiterate that the pictures are from a pre-production sample, i.e. not final product.)

Here's a close-up on those guitars comparing the different ISO levels. At ISO1600, it's not so bad, even if it's not 5D level, but it starts getting kinda gruesome at ISO3200 (click to make bigger):

Video It might just be the best video on a DSLR yet: Manual exposure from the get-go, and oh yeah, the ability to shoot 1080p video at 30, 24 or 25 frames per second. If you cut it to 720p, you can shoot up to 60FPS. Also, video is encoded using H.264 now. There's a dedicated switch to flip from shooting stills to video that encircles a start/stop button for recording, so it's much easier to get right to shooting video than the 5D. You can see some sample videos below:

Everything Else Okay, so what else? Focusing system has 19 cross-type points, with a new way to focus in addition to the usual full-blast autofocus vs. single-point—zones, which are clusters of points. You can also lock different default focus points for horizontal and vertical orientations, so you can turn the camera back and worth without having to repick your focus point. (Setting it up is a little confusing—even the Canon rep took a minute to make it happen.) AI servo focus is supposedly smarter, so it tracks moving objects better, and it works with a new light-source detection system that adjusts for flickering light. (We didn't get a chance to check that out.)

The viewfinder provides 100 per cent coverage, like the 1Ds, and it uses a new polymer LCD network with a different graphics overlay than the 5D—that's a lot like what Nikon's got in the D300, actually—so it can do things like display the neat new 3D-axis electronic level in the viewfinder (which feels like an iPhone tilt game from hell if you're holding the camera by hand trying to level it on both axes). In a first for Canon, the built-in, wide-coverage flash can command other wireless flash modules.

Oh, did I mention a ton of new buttons? Seriously: A dedicated RAW+JPEG button that'll shoot your next shot in RAW+JPEG if you're only shooting one at the moment. A new start/stop live view button with a control ring to quickly switch from live view to video mode. There's also a new multi-function button on the top right. Aaand another for the custom controls menu, where you can assign different features to different buttons if you want.

Honestly, a lot of the deep customisation and new interface commands were confusing, at least in the short time I spent with the camera—like setting different autofocus points for whether you're holding the camera vertically or horizontally. There was some other shortcut that required pressing and holding two buttons at once on the camera. And I never quite understood how to use the multifunction button or pick what graphical display showed up in my viewfinder. I think you would learn a lot of that stuff in time, though. In terms of overall handfeel, I slightly the ergonomics and weight of the D300, FWIW.

Final Thoughts While we can't give any final judgements on this in some ways odd camera until we get a review unit, one thing seems certain: The value proposition for Nikon's $US1800 D300s—which might've already seemed dicey, given that it's the guts of a two-year-old camera with a dash of limited 720p video—just got a lot less enticing, simply on account of the 7D's fairly wide video powers. That's before you even take anything else into consideration, like more pixels for more crop potential (if the pixels are good ones, that is). Obviously, we'll be head-to-heading these two as soon as we can. Which should be shortly, since the 7D is due by the end of next month, at $US1900 for the kit with an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, or $US1700 body only.

AU: Local pricing is still TBC for the camera and the new lenses, unfortunately. –NB

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