Sunday, December 13, 2009

Canon EOS 7D initial thoughts

If you are not interested in photography this is probaby not of much interest.
My Canon EOS 7D showed up a couple of days ago. I got it to replace the 40D, a great camera but more than three years old now. I thought about buying the 7D for quite a while, it sounded attractive and the price was not outrageous.
After a weekend with it, I am still debating the widsom of my purchase.
For the last year, most of my pictures have been taken with the Canon EOS 5DII. This is a superb camera. It is full frame; lenses work the way they do on a 35mm film camera. It has very good high ISO performance. ISO 3200 is pretty good and ISO 6400 is acceptable.
The 7D is a cropped sensor camera, same as the 40D, just more pixels. This means that a 200mm lens acts like a 320mm lens on a film camera. This is a hand feature. I have been keeping my 400mm lens on the 40D to  have it handy for pictures of far off things; usually that combination is like having a 640mm lens. I figured the 7D would work the same but give me more pixels of distant things.
The first thing I did with the 7D was attach the 400mm lens and try to take a shot. Ugh! How do you turn this camera on? Why did they move the power switch? Next issue: how do you focus it? I don't want it to assume what I am focusing on, I want to tell it which tree across the river I want to focus on. Bit of playing around and manual reading.
Now I am realizing that this camera really has a very different focus system. It has a lot of options. Some of them are disabled when you take it out of the box. You can pick individual focus points OR pick smaller individual focus points. You can pick zones of focus points or cross shaped groups of focus points. You can say how fast you want focusing to change, etc. This is a lot more complicated than the focusing system in the 40D or 5DII. It reminds me of the focus controls in Canon professional cameras (1D series).
What about results. I am not impressed with my first shots. I do not think they are as good, despite the extra pixels and fancy focus system, of the shots I got with the 40D. Off to the internet.
I mostly shoot RAW because it allows me to attempt to cover up all kinds of exposure sins. Using RAW means that I need to convert pictures to jpg's on the computer. I generally use Adobe Camera Raw. It is fast, has lots of options and is easy to use.
Adobe Raw was happy to conver the 7D pictures. However, Adobe has a beta version 5.6 of it that is a little newer that was designed to handle 7D shots. Download and install. A little better? Perhaps.
I like to wear a belt and suspenders. I have other RAW converters.
Canon provides Digital Photo Professional with the camera. I install the new version and try it out. It is far harder for me to use and much slower. It is somewhat better in overall results but I would hate to be stuck using it for a lot of pictures. It has controls for handling chromatic aberrations, those nasty problems caused by different colours in the picture being not lined up properly by the lens. The 7D, with those extra pixels, makes the problem worse. At low resolution you do not notice chromatic aberration very much. Which is a good thing since cheaper lenses tend to be very prone to it.
I also tried out DXO as a raw converter. It is also slow and complicated to use. However it has proved helpful in the past, especially for issues with distortion. So, out comes the credit card and I buy the upgrade to the current version. Some good results but not enough time to really play with it.
Sunday night I spend with a focus chart pinned to the wall and cameras on a tripod. I take a bunch of shots with the 40D and the 7D.
Then it is time for pixel peeping!
I compare different ISOs and different converters. I downsize the 7D shots to see how that affects the comparison. Quickly I learn that the 7D seems to have a better idea of exposure than the 40D as well as more pixels. At times things look softer on the 7D but this could be me coming up against the limits of the lens, a Canon 100-400mm L. But still, at 400mm it does a reasonable job with small print at 12 feet.
My conclusions?
First, I do not have a clue how to accurately test cameras or lenses. More importantly, I probably do not have the patience to do it properly either.
Second, I do have some nagging doubts about the 7D. Is it really better than the 40D for my purposes? I am not sure. I do know that it is not as good as the 5DII in terms of resolution or high ISO performance but that is a very different and more expensive device.
Third, I need to do some more testing. Not of a piece of paper but of real world subjects in varying light. I would like a bright sunny day to give it a shot with birds, a hockey game in a dark arena to test out high ISO performance and maybe something pretty like a sunrise. I need to get those shots in the next few days while I can still return the camera.
Notice that I have said nothing at all about the video features of the 7D. It has plenty of those, even more than the 5DII. High definition, different frame rates, all kinds of options. But I do not have any dreams of making feature films, I know that anything I turn out is going to look like a home movie, albeit with lots more shaky pixels. Video production needs a whole new set of skills and lots of equipment (stabilization, audio, focus and PLANNING). Everybody says there is a coming convergence of video and still photography. I suppose I will get used to it but not yet.
There are a lot of reviews for the 7D, one that I read that covered some of my concerns appeared in The World According to Roland.

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