Oh my god, it's finally here. The Canon 7D Mark II, probably the most anticipated, rumoured, speculated-about camera in years is ready to make its debut. It's been five years since the original 7D hit shelves in 2009 and captured imaginations, so you better believe the expectations are high for the Mark II to be the messiah of mid-range DSLRs.
The 7D Mark II, available in November for £1,599 (body only), carries no big surprises in terms of looks and features. You'd think that Canon would have something exciting to offer for such an anticipated release. Most of the upgrades are nuts-and-bolts improvements that surely make for a better camera, but seem remarkably vanilla. On the outside, the Mark II It is a tiny bit bigger and a tiny bit heavier than the 7D. The ergonomics and buttons are nearly the same. Anyone who thought that Canon might just shake things up and veer from their tried-and-true DSLR formula is in for a disappointment.
But there are a lot of obligatory upgrades. Let's dive in:
It looks like the sensor is the same as before, with a 20.2-megapixel CMOS chip. But Canon tells us this is indeed a newly designed sensor, and that it will deliver superior results. Until we get the actual camera to test out the difference, the only revealing spec is the base ISO range, which is 100-16000, up quite a but from the 7D's 100-6400 and also the 70D which goes to 12800. This gives the Mark II the widest ISO range of any DSLR with an APS-C sensor. Expect this to be a great low-light shooter.
The heart of the 7D Mark II is its dual DIGIC 6 processors, the fastest chip setup of any Canon camera, including the 1DX. The added power contributes to its JPG processing chops, burst speed, autofocus and metering effectiveness. Perhaps this is most visible in the 7D Mark II's burst speed, which is 10 fps with the ability to capture over 1000 JPG stills in a single burst, compared to around 100 for the original 7D.
To beef-up the Mark II's autofocus, Canon outfitted it with a 65-point system, each of which are cross-type focus points. Cross-type points are more effective at detecting a subject's focus than normal points, but are usually only found clustered in the centre of a camera's autofocus array. The 7D Mark II uses cross-type for every single AF point, covering a large amount of the frame. The servo system for tracking subjects is the same as on the 1DX, so sports and action photographers should be very impressed. On the video side of things you have an improved version of Dual Pixel AF, which debuted in 2012's 70D, and makes autofocusing during video recording smooth and accurate. You can even adjust the speed and sensitivity of focus transitions.
Video is partly what made the 7D so popular. It expanded on the ground-breaking functionality of the 5D Mark II and provided a cheaper DSLR option to throngs of budding film-makers. In addition to the Dual Pixel AF mentioned above, the 7D Mark II has a few other video specs to show off: Full HD 60p recording, longed for by videographers, but present in cameras from Sony for a couple of years now, finally makes its appearance; a headphone jack was added alongside the microphone jack for monitoring audio; lastly, you can stream a clean video signal through HDMI to an external recorder. None of these features are completely unique or particularly exciting. The major question will be how much better the image quality is, which nobody can attest to before production units start circulating.
One thing's for sure. If they fail to crank up the video-image quality in a significant way, camera-folk will continue to perceive Canon as a groaning sloth of a company whose innovations are few and far between these days. Recent cameras like Sony's A7s and Panasonic's GH4 have made huge strides by offering features like 4K resolution in the case of the GH4, and a superior, higher quality Full HD codec in the case of the A7s. Both of these cameras make 7D or 5D footage look just sad, so it's on Canon to prove they can answer back.
But back to the improvements. If you are an outdoor shooter, you'll be glad to know that the 7D Mark II is actually four times as resistant to dust and water than the original 7D was. How that compares to rugged beasts like the 1DX is unknown, but it's bound to be plenty tough. There is a built-in intervalometer for capturing timelapse sequences without an added accessory, and GPS is also built right in. Though, curiously, Wi-Fi is missing. This is a bit odd, as Wi-Fi is pretty much standard on most new cameras these days.
Some will read these upgrades as solid advancements that will make the 7D Mark II a top-of-the-line DSLR. To them, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. They know what they want in a camera, and the traditional DSLR is it. Others see the 7D Mark II it as yet another speck on a long continuum of painfully gradual improvements. Of course the autofocus is better. Of course the processor is faster. A new sensor! With probably a very slight improvement in image quality.
The 7D Mark II is certainly the camera you would expect Canon to make a statement with. Years in the making, it is poised to represent the latest in the company's tech arsenal. Yet compared to recent mirrorless cameras, it lacks the marquee features that tend to fire-up the hungry photo-enthusiast crowd. That's a bummer for us, and maybe even reflects an immature lust for innovation. Either way, it probably doesn't matter too much to Canon, which ploughs along on sheer name recognition and a die-hard consumer base. The 7D Mark II will almost surely be a success for Canon, but for those looking for something revolutionary, they'll have to keep waiting.