First Look: Canon EOS 7D

7D_15-85mm_10Is it possible to bring something fresh to the table in the DSLR market? Sure it is, but it all comes down to the same thing in the end. Better specs, filling a niche position in the market, and refining the product. Hello, Canon 7D.

That's what we've got here, folks. On all three counts. Let's start with the refinements. Two new buttons have found their way on to Canon's back panel design. These are a RAW/JPEG button, and stills/movie mode toggle.

The first of these, the RAW/JPEG button, is a welcome addition. Pressing it instantly switches the camera's capture settings to dual RAW and JPEG capture. Yeah, so? So if you're shooting an event in high-quality JPEG, but in a fleeting moment spot an image that would benefit greatly in post-processing by being shot in RAW, you can quickly enable RAW capture and just as easily escape from it with ease.

Prior to this, changing capture settings required a little menu mining. It's at least three button pushes versus one. I like one. One is good. The only indication in the viewfinder, however, is that the available shot count changes. The top LCD panel does display the settings change.

That second button, the one that toggles between stills and movie mode, is also welcome. You find this kind of toggle on lower-end shooters such as the Lumix FZ-35 where it makes a lot of sense to have a way of clearly defining the shooting mode you're in. Flick. You're shooting stills. Flick. You're doing video. You know where you are and you can be sure of what happens next when you start pressing buttons.

I'm also liking the on/off selector lever set on the left of the top panel, which is not as fiddly as the on/off switches on the 5D or 50D. Has kind of a retro feel about it, too.

Otherwise, the 7D will feel very familiar to anyone who has handled a 50D, as it has very similar styling and controls layout.

This brings us to refinements under the hood.

An 18-megapixel APS-C sensor with 14-bit A/D resolution generates Fine JPEG files of 17.9MB at 5184x3456 pixels. There are three RAW settings - the standard, plus a medium (mRAW) and small (sRAW) settings that reduce pixel dimensions for RAW images at smaller dimensions for smaller file sizes.

Dual DiG!C 4 image processors (the first of Canon's models featuring dualies), 19-point AF, Full HD movie recording, 63 metering segments and an 8 fps top shooting speed with a max burst of 90 shots (JPEG, 15 for RAW) are a few of the camera's tastier treats.

Video with gusto

The video quality is, frankly, excellent. Beautiful, crisp detail, excellent colour rendition. The gathered throng at the product launch didn't have time to experiment with shooting video but did watch a shortie shot with the camera in the days preceding the launch event. It was stunning, and I hope to replicate it as soon as I get some quality hands-on time.

It was also good to see the 7D takes low-light imaging to a level that was expected of the 50D. An exercise set by Canon during a morning spent at Sydney's Cockatoo Island must surely have been picked to demonstrate the 7D's low-light performance.

Deliberately pointing the lens at dark subjects in poor light and dialling the ISO up offered an initial impression of less noise at higher speed, compared to the 50D. You can dial the 7D up to a max ISO of 12,800. That's nowhere near the night vision capability of either Canon's 1D Mk IV (announced Tuesday) or Nikon's D3S with their maximum ISO of 102,400 but it should be adequate for this camera's target buyer.

And whom would that be…? The advanced amateur shooter or enthusiast who wants 8 frames per second, excellent video capture capabilities, and better low-light performance in stills than the 50D offers yet doesn't want to pony up for the 5D Mk II.

In case you were wondering, body-only prices for the 50D, 7D and 5D MkII are, respectively: $1899, $2699, and $4799.

The shooter who won't find the 7D adequate is the one who must have a full frame sensor. Otherwise, the 7D feels like a very solid performer offering an agreeable set of features for the asking price.

There is a range of kit configs, too, which are:

EOS 7D Super Kit (body + EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens – RRP $3499); EOS 7D Premium Kit (body + EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens – RRP $3699); and the EOS 7D Platinum Kit (body + EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens – RRP $3799).