Trent Chau | Photographer and Instructor

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Canon 7D – Quick Initial Impressions and Comparison to 5D Mark II

I’ve had the 7D for over a week now, and here’s a quick comparison of it to the 5D Mark II.

Comparing the Canon 5D Mark II to the Canon 7D – Initial Impressions

Canon 7D

The New Canon 7D | Click for bigger image

I will admit this from the get go. I am a huge 5D Series fan. When the first one came out October 2005 I was one of the first to get one in Atlanta. When the Mark II was announced I ended up buying 2 and getting a spare battery within one month of it coming out (anyone who tried getting one around then knows what a feat that was). None the less, when it comes to the 5d series I’m a little biased. The reason this was brought up was because no matter the glaring faults, and there was plenty, that the 5D series had…the photos that came out of it was worth every penny. When the 7D was announced it wasn’t but a few minutes until post were up that said things like “The 7D just made my 5D Mark II obsolete” and “Why does Canon hate 5D users? They could of put these features in our camera also”, so thus why this impression is being written. I’ve used the 7D for a week now and feel it’s been an adequate amount of time to offer comparisons of the 5D Mark II to the 7D.

Image Quality –

Lee ][

Lee in Black and White - Canon 7D with 35 1.4L

Most everyone was surprised to hear a mixture of two things in the press announcement from Canon concerning the 7D. 18 mega-pixels, and a cropped sensor. The internet community had long ago decided that Higher Megapixel = more noise, and immediately the forums were abuzz about how Canon’s 7D image quality would immediately be sub-par. After using the Camera for a week I was very surprised by the image quality of the files. The images looked very nice! I ran the 7D through a gamut of Canon lenses (35 1.4L, 50 1.2L, 85 1.2L II, 16-35 2.8L, 70-200 2.8IS L, 100 2.8L IS Macro) and the resulting pictures were sharp, full of contrast, and had very nice saturation. On a stroll through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens with the 100 2.8L IS Macro attached it was a blast taking photos and seeing how crisp they look. Getting home it was even better to see the photos on the big screen, they where just as vibrant and detailed as on the back of the LCD. The 7D didn’t disappoint image quality wise. Now mind you I was running ISO 100-800, and this isn’t the high iso field that everyone seems to be pushing now. I am not a high iso shooter. Honestly I feel high ISO is more a cop out now for people who want to get the “Natural shot”….natural shot is more defined as “I don’t know how to use flash to get the photos I want” or even worse “I’m taking artistic snapshots of people and calling it NATURAL lighting (aka the Photo journalistic Wedding Photographers)”. Yes high ISO is useful, but if you are shooting high ISO all the time, than you should probably invest into a set of really nice prime lenses.

While the 7D was great image quality wise, when I threw those same lenses on the 5D Mark II, the pictures just had that much more umph to it. It might be my mind artificially justifying the price and sensor size difference between the two, but I think the main factor behind the image quality was the cleaner files you got out of the 5D Mark II because of its smoother pixels as a result of the DOF created by a full frame sensor. Since DOF is determined by aperture and focal distance, to get the same crop on the 7D compromised some of the image quality that the 5D was able to attain.


Canon 7D with 100 2.8L IS Macro | Click for larger

Verdict – 7D files are very nice, mostly for 18mp on a crop sensor, but 5D still has the upper hand. The 5D files seem smoother. This is subjective though, and the 7D was able to surprise me with some very nice low iso stuff. The quick High iso test I did with both showed the 5D Mark II with an upper hand.

Canon 5D mark II with 100 2.8L IS Macro Sample

Canon 7D with 100 2.8L IS Macro Sample

Canon 7D with 100 2.8L IS Macro | Click to make large

Functionality –

Canon 7D

The location of the new On/Off button is pretty convenient

The 7D encompasses some changes from the traditional design of the EOS bodies. Anyone familiar to the EOS line

will quickly noticed that the on/off switch has now been moved, and is similar to Rebel line albeit located to the left of the hot shoe instead of the right. Something not as glaring is the inclusion of a very nice indention for one to rest their right thumb on when holding the camera. It gives the camera a sense of robustness, and makes it quite pleasant to hold. I believe it was similar to the Mark III, but unfortunately I had sold mine almost 10 months ago and can’t attest to this 100%. The button functionality is similar to the 5D Mark II, while more streamlined. The inclusion of a switch to either live view or video recording is very nice. Unfortunately, not fault of Canon’s in this case, the set key by default does not start or stop video recording like it did on the 5D Mark II and I’ve already stumbled across that problem several times while recording with the camera.

Canon 7D

Small things matter. The indention for the thumbs makes holding the camera very comfortable.

Verdict : If you’ve used the EOS line for a while, the 7D just made everything better and a bit more streamlined. Your Nikon friends will still complain about it not suiting them, things like that don’t’ change, but any long time EOS users will more than likely embrace the direction that Canon is going with the layout. Oh, the M-FN button is a little odd at first, but only because it’s new. It’s VERY useful. With the small changes that Canon has made with the inclusion of more buttons and streamlining the controls, the 7D is currently the most intuitive and friendly to use non Mark Series camera Canon makes. My only wish would be Canon changing from that Amber light to the awesome Blue light on the Mark and Elan 7n series for LCD Panel illumination.

Performance –

The 7D has some pretty bold figures. 8FPS, 14 bit pipeline, fast AF. It really looks to be a winner for sports shooters. From my 1 week impression of it, it just might be one of the next best thing since sliced bread for sports shooters. That’s the thing though. I AM NOT A SPORTS SHOOTER. The fastest thing I shoot is my almost 2 year old little one, and while she’s as fast as a missile sometimes, I’m not as much concentrating on taking a photo of her rather than trying to put cloths on her and make her decent. From what I’ve experience…the 7D is very fast. Even the shutter noise is fast. Where the 5D has a deliberate clunk of the mirror, the 7D sounds like a little snip. I tried out all the new focus modes, and they all seemed to work briskly and accurately. The camera worked well at night paired with a 35 1.4L. The spot AF is very neat and precise, and the focus groups were pretty neat.

Aislynn Bear

Hello, is there cupcakes here? | Canon 7D with 35 1.4L


Everything about the camera felt fast, and I actually preferred using it over my 5D Mark II to capture photos of my daughter. The 7D felt just as fast as my Mark III from when I used it.

Verdict : Fast AF, Fast Performance, just in general fast…the 7D is nice. While I would still use the 5D Mark II for most of my professional and studio work, the 7D does have many great advantages. The snappy interface and feel of the 7D makes it a joy to use as a quick and easy camera that delivers excellent image quality.

7D Extras worth commenting on

The new AF System

Canon 7D

The New AF System menu - lots of options for precision autofocusing

Now this was cool. I’ve owned plenty of Canon SLR’s in the past, ranging from the rebel line all the way up to the Mark series. Pretty much all of them were pick up, fuss about, and start shooting. The 7D was the first camera I picked up since getting my first Digital SLR that had so many options it almost required to read the manual. Even from the get go the AF system seems just different. When you press the upper right hand button to engage AF point selection the feel is immediately different from any other camera Canon makes. You than use the new M-FN button to cycle through various focusing types. Talk about intimidating at first. When you spend some time with it, it’s actually pretty intuitive. Something neat about the new AF system is the ability to expand or contract your AF selection points “Area”. You can select an AF point, you can select an AF point and those around it, or you can even contract your af point so it’s more focused (within limits) to what’s inside the square. The amount of precision is pretty neat. Practical application wise I didn’t notice much difference but isn’t that what AF is about….it’s there to work so you don’t fuss about it.

Flash Commander Mode –
Ah Nikonians and their CLS. Such a great idea on paper, and in practical application the system starts failing because of line of site. Guess what? Canon has that now too! I tried the new Flash commander system and wow it’s cool, wow it’s fun, but wow it can be limited. It’s really awesome and actually works really well. You have all the functions of a st-e2 or 580ex commander unit with an interface to your back lcd. You can set up ratios, and groups, and all that good stuff. The only issue is that there is still the line of sight issue, and the joys of using it outdoor. I didn’t get to test this out as much as possible, but as someone who’s been using radio triggers for years now, maybe I’m a little spoiled. There is absolutely no doubt on how cool this feature is, and when I used the commander mode inside with two 580ex II’s, it worked 100% of the time. Talk about time saving for PJ, Corp, and Editorial shooters.

Chris - Commander mode

Chris with commander mode on the 7D. 580EX II with umbrella camera left. Outside and worked well actually.


Diffraction Test

At 18 megapixels, the Canon 7D is packing a lot of pixels in a little real estate. Because of it’s denser pixel ratio the Canon 7D not only brought concerns about noise (as mentioned above) but diffraction in lenses when you stop down. If you are interested in reading the fine details about this subject please check this informative post that Howard Grill wrote – Diffraction in Digital Imaging. To keep it simple. When you are shooting with a lens, there’s a sweet spot that follows a bell curve when it comes to aperature. At your widest aperature, say f2.8 on a Canon 24-70 2.8L, you will have a usable picture, but it won’t be at it’s sharpest. As you stop down your lens about 2~3 stops (f8ish) you will hit the sweet spot of optimum sharpness, contrast, and all that boojangle that makes we photographers happy. Now after that in the F11,F16, F22 and more land…that’s where the bell curve falls and the image quality isn’t 100%. Well with the higher megapixel, theoretically that fall should be a lot worse.

My point of view…meh. 99% of where I will send my pictures (Clients, Web, Print) it doesn’t make a lick of difference. Yes there is a visible issue, but if it was that important to me more than likely the shot would of been done at f11.

But here’s a couple sample photos for you to really pixel peep over. Here are 5 paired images shot with a tripod. One shot at f11 immediately followed by a shot at f22. AV mode was just to automatically judge exposure. Center focus was selected.

(note : This test isn’t 100% successful. I should of locked it on MF after each shoot which didn’t happen. Also the subject moves since it was windy and outside. Lastly these are jpg’s out of camera (as I’m too lazy to process RAW for you guys right now) so there is some sharpness added to the files. Realizing this, any diffraction should even be more pronounced with post processing sharpness.)

All shots done at ISO 100 with a Canon 24-70 2.8L

Canon 7D - Diffraction effect at 18MP

Canon 7D at F11

Canon 7D - Diffraction effect at 18MP

Canon 7D at F22

Canon 7D - Diffraction effect at 18MP

Canon 7D at F11

Canon 7D - Diffraction effect at 18MP

Canon 7D at F22

Video mode –

The addition of Video to Digital SLR’s is old news now, and it’s pretty obvious it’s here to stay. From day one I have always loved the idea of video on our camera’s and Canon users have been blessed with the best execution of the video on Digital SLR’s as of now. The 7D’s video function works just as well as the 5D Mark II. From the sample video files I have shot, it has that same creamy beautiful feel that the 5D Mark II has. I tried the AF while the movie was recording, and while it wasn’t the fastest in the world it did work. Any serious videographer would probably forgo AF though and do Manual focusing during video recording. 1080p @ 24fps did have a nice cinema feel to it, and I didn’t experience much rolling shutter. 720p @ 60fps was very smooth…pretty awesome. Unlike the 5D Mark II, the onboard mic for the 7D is mono. There is an input for stereo audio in on the side. The on board mic with the AGC of the 5D Mark II and the 7D isn’t that bad though, so it kinda sucks having only mono on board.

The 7D will really change the photo journalistic world in my opinion.

Which camera over which

Here’s a popular question. “Which camera should I buy, the 7D or the 5D Mark II?”

Well the easiest answer is “Buy whatever you want”….but for those looking for a little buyer insight here you go.

If you are buying your first SLR…….ask yourself this question “Do you deserve it?”. If you don’t know what aperature and iso is, maybe buy a entry level camera for $600, a couple of good lessons and wait a year. A powerful camera doesn’t make you a better photographer. If you had to have one…I suggest picking up the 7D and a nice lens. The cheaper cost will let you pick up a good lens and a flash.

What if I’m upgrading from an Original 5D? – The 5D was such an amazing camera, and to this day it takes some of the best photos ever taken on Digital. If you are used to the slow medium format feel and work flow of the 5D, and that’s your MO with shooting I highly suggest the 5D Mark II over the 7D. The 5D Mark II is everything the 5D was but newer and snappier. Going back to a crop sensor, even with files as nice as they are from the 7d, is a very bitter pill to swallow. If you are looking for more FPS and don’t really see the need for the DOF benefits of full frame, the 7D is a great alternative.

What if I’m upgrading from a 40d or 50D? – ah now this is a hard choice. The natural progression would be the 7D. Analyze your shooting style though. If you are shooting mostly portraits, landscapes, slower paced items…the image quality benefits of the 5D Mark II will be a great addition to your photography. If you find yourself shooting high FPS, enjoying the crop factor of your lens, and are genuinely satisfied with the image quality coming from your crop body….stick with the 7D. The 7D is fast, it’s built great, and most importantly for the price of a 5D Mark II you can buy a 7D and have $1000 to spend on a lens. This is a great time to get a couple of primes like the 35 1.4L which is floating around $1000 as of this review. A 7D with a 35 1.4 is just plain awesome.

If I already shoot with a 5D Mark II, would a 7D be a good backup? – 100% yes. Mostly if you want the ability to cover the most possibilities with your equipment. The 7D isn’t the opposition to the 5D Mark II, it’s the compliment to the 5D Mark II. Where the 5D Mark II is a slow, methodical camera that produces amazing image quality, the 7d is it’s spunky little brother that works twice as fast and while the images aren’t exactly the same quality as it’s bigger brother, those images still look pretty damn good.

Here’s a list of Pros for each camera :

Canon 7D :

  • 1080p @ 24fps video.
  • $1000 less than the 5D Mark II.
  • New AF system allows more precision
  • 19 AF Points!
  • 8FPS shooting means better chance of getting your shot during movement
  • “Snappier” response. Feels fast.
  • New buttons help ergonomics quite a bit
  • 18 megapixel and 21 megapixel is pretty much the same.

Canon 5D Mark II

  • Full frame! – Wide lenses are wide, and noise control is better. DOF is better on full frame because of DOF formula. (this is huge)
  • ISO 50! in a world of high ISO, low iso is nice also. ISO 50 is 1 whole stop faster than iso 100, and this has helped a bunch when shooting with primes.
  • Still one of the cheaper (MSRP wise) newer full frame cameras that can do Video.
  • Video mode is absolutely beautiful
  • High ISO noise performance better than 7D.

will elaborate more on this soon.

Sample images taken with the 7D


Geese on a river - Canon 7D with 35 1.4L

APG - Serious Business

The APG Crew - Canon 7D with 16-35 2.8L (Ver 1)


Water Droplets - Canon 7D with 100 2.8L IS Macro


About trentchau

Photographer, videographer, and photography instructor in Atlanta. Born in New Orleans. I love food more than photography, but do love photography quite a bit.

35 comments on “Canon 7D – Quick Initial Impressions and Comparison to 5D Mark II

  1. shawn robertson
    October 12, 2009

    Great Article, even though i dont have Cannon i still got a great read out of it. Kinf of makes me wonder how i would like a full frame sensor.

  2. Matt
    October 12, 2009

    What about the video comp?

  3. William
    October 12, 2009

    Well I think the full-frame is calling my name now. The 7D sounds nice, but not really into sports photography. Unless the brides starts running away from the groom I dont think i’ll need the frame rate.

    Great review thanks Trent.

    Future mrk2 owner.

  4. David Evans
    October 12, 2009

    A good review and quite thorough for being a “quick” review. I have a 30D and I am strongly considering the 7D instead of going full-frame because the fps will allow me to venture in to sports photography. Can you post some comparison images of the 7D & 5D MKII? I’d like to see if I should spend the extra 1K and get the 5D MKII.

  5. Matt
    October 12, 2009

    Great review, Im working with a 20D right now and I’m looking to upgrade around the first of next year. After reading the review I think I will get the 7D and some glass.

  6. Chase H
    October 12, 2009

    Thanks for the review, Trent. Knowing what kind of stuff you shoot and reading this review really helped. I’d love to put one of these in my hands (also the 5D mk II would nice too), but I’m gonna wait it out with my 40D.

  7. dulgee
    October 13, 2009

    Would like to know about the affects of diffusion at narrower apertures. how does the 7D look at f/8, f/11, and f/16?

    • trentchau
      October 13, 2009

      Diffraction I assume.

      I’ll post results for that soon.

      • dulgee
        October 13, 2009

        LOL, yes, diffraction sorry, been in a strobist cloud as of late.

    • trentchau
      October 13, 2009

      heh heh, I’m about to go take some f11,16,22 shots now.

    • trentchau
      October 14, 2009

      Hey Dulgee, a diffraction test is up. The images aren’t the best to test for it, but you get the idea. There are some extra ones located at my flickr if you are interested.

      • dulgee
        October 14, 2009

        Thanks Trent!

  8. Sean Sherstone
    October 13, 2009

    Finally, a review about the 7D that instills the need to own a 7D and to keep your 5D MII. Thanks!

  9. Pingback: Canon EOS 7D | BAREDEN - Blog dedicato alla fotografia - Fotografi, Reportage, Fotostorie, Fotocamere, News dal mondo della Fotografia

  10. Pingback: browserFruits: Foto Updates, Links & Videos | Digitale Fotografie Lernen - KWERFELDEIN - Martin Gommel

  11. Bernhard
    October 18, 2009

    Very informative article. I currently have a 20d and a 5d. I don’t want to go back to crop. But I am not very satisfied with the speed of 5d, and in particular with the performance of the Autofocus at low light.

    So I deply hope that not too far from now, we see a successor of 5d II with the technology in 7d. Until then I enjoy 5d and try to live with its AF.

  12. Lewis
    October 19, 2009

    Hi there Trent,

    Great review, I think I’m going to go for the 7D. Can you please let me know where I can get the Canon 35 1.4l for $1,000?


  13. Dave
    October 24, 2009

    thanks Trent 4 going to the trouble to do this review…nice work! It still leaves me with a choice to make but I am now a lot clearer about what’s what with each model … cheers Dave

  14. Alex Handers
    October 29, 2009

    Nice and useful post.
    I am getting my 7D today 🙂

  15. Lonny
    November 1, 2009

    So…i wanna get the 7D but i’m looking back to 40D and 35L F.4 + 135L F2, what do you think?

    And i’m considering 5D mark 1 too..

    • hangingpixels
      November 5, 2009

      Lonny, i was in the same boat a few months back. Not sure what lens you have to start with but I personally love the 50mm(f/1.4) FF so 35mm might do the trick too, but i think f/4 might be a little limited.

      • lonny
        November 6, 2009

        Lolz, it is my mistake, F1.4 not F4 🙂

        The 35L f1.4 is quite expensive, 1400$, the 135L is around 1000$.
        I love the 50 and 135 on FF but it doesn’t fit on my crop body. My budget is only 3000$, and it’s quite difficult for me to decide. My current job is designer in post-production studio. Photography is my hobby and it seems to be my part time job in the future.

        If i get the 7D i have only 1400$ more spending on lens. Actually my favourite lens i 135L and 50 1.4. However, 135L is a little bit problem in crop body. 135×1.6 = 214mm.

        I’ve not seen any images taking with 135L on crop sensor so i can not decide which lens to get

        135L + 50 1.4 or 35L F 1.4.

    • Alex Handers
      November 7, 2009

      Hi Lonny,

      I have the 7D and the 135 f/2 L ; this lens is simply awesome if you like to get close to your subjects (as you put 214mm is often too close!)

      There a couple of shots on my blog: check it out and do contact me if you need more insight 😉

  16. hangingpixels
    November 2, 2009

    Diffraction Test – So does this mean that you would need to shoot at f/11 rather than f/8 for that sweet spot?

    One point i would like to add would be that if people are coming from a XXD range, then 7D might be the option because of the built in flash, most people then to forget this. As an example, my mate use the 30D and he uses his on board flash all the time. It is there to just give you that little more creativities. One of my best shot was taken with onboard flash which I could never have gotten if it was a 5 or a 1 series. Besides he has all the EF-S 10-22mm lens meaning that he doesnt’ have to buy an ultra wide if going FF.

    Question to ask yourself would be:
    1. Do I want low noise? Were you happy with your previous camera’s noise? (I shoot at $1600 all the time with my 40D)
    2. Do I do a lot of post processing on the file? (I do hence i went with the 5DII – the more you butcher the file the more defect will show up, hence low noise to start with is always better. If you are shooting and no edit or minor edit, then the 7D would be fine).
    3. How large are you going to print? (Think back a year from now, have you done any large prints? A3 and up?)

    Okay, if you only have enough to buy the 5DII, get the 7D with a good lens or speedlite or other acc.
    If you have a lot of cash, then get both – problem solved…hehehehe.

  17. Pingback: 7D impressions, not favorable nor for the easily offended - Page 2 - PhotoCamel - Your Friendly Photo Forum

  18. Max@Home
    November 12, 2009

    ISO 50! in a world of high ISO, low iso is nice also. ISO 50 is 1 whole stop faster than iso 100, and this has helped a bunch when shooting with primes.

    🙂 ISO 50 is 1 whole stop SLOWER than ISO 100 🙂

  19. Max@Home
    November 12, 2009

    Oops, that was a bit too quick 🙂

    Meant to add: the 7D’s thumb indention is nicer than 1D3’s, but 1D3 feels better due to the build-in grip, IMO 🙂

    Very balanced article, thanks.

    …€0.02 and all, kindest regards!


  20. FarKidsBraday
    November 24, 2009

    Wow Article , I thought it was exceptional

    I look ahead to more innovative postings like this one. Does This Blog have a subscription I can subscribe to for more information concerning this?

  21. Pingback: 50D, 7D, 5DMkII - PhotoCamel - Your Friendly Photo Forum

  22. Pingback: There is another! The Canon 60D. « Trent Chau Photography News and Reviews

  23. fan
    December 22, 2010

    i know how it sucks when people bitch about spelling or pronounciation. there are probably more errors in this comment than in your entire text. but _please_ drop the “would of” and “should of”. it makes the whole article sound stupid, which it isn’t (rather the opposite actually). other than that, good points and interesting reading.

    • TrentChau | Photography
      December 22, 2010

      thanks, Tiffany’s gonna edit this soon. She should of done it before she left, only if I would of told her 🙂

  24. Paula Fankhauser
    July 12, 2011

    i have one of each and love them both! they complement each other well. Heck I just love my canons!

  25. camcorder
    December 5, 2011

    Very great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing on your feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!

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