Monday, October 13, 2014

The Canon 7D Mark II - First reaction and test of the high ISO abilities

A couple of days ago, the UPS guy delivered me a sample of the new Canon 7D Mark II. I posted a photo of the box on Facebook and immediately got hundreds of messages asking me to test this new camera and give you all my feedback.

The number one question asked by you all, and the height of my curiosity as well, pertains to the high ISO abilities of this new camera. So, I charged up the battery, waited for the sun to set and went out to the nearest Friday night high school football game.

Before I get into the photos and levels of noise at high ISO, let me tell you about my first thoughts when shooting with the new 7D Mark II.

When I removed the camera from the box, I was excited to see that it uses the same battery as the Canon 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III. This is great since I already have many of those batteries and chargers. This also means that it is easy for people to purchase extra batteries from almost any camera store. I slipped the battery into one of my existing chargers, topped it off, and popped it into the camera.

Now it was time to put in some memory cards. I put in a 128GB Lexar Professional 1066x CF card into the CF slot, figuring that this new camera would take full advantage of the UDMA7 speed. Many of you know that I was disappointed that Canon did not make the SD slot in the 5D Mark III in the newer UHS-I standard. This means that the 5D Mark III could not write to an SD card any faster than 133x. And that is just not fast enough! So, the burning question in my mind was "Does the 7D Mark II support the most current SD spec (which is now UHS-II)?" And I was bummed to see that the SD slot is only UHS-I, once again showing that Canon is behind in their adoption of the newer standards. What this means is that the SD slot is much faster than the 5D Mark III, but not nearly as fast as it could be. I guess I will stick with CF cards to get the fastest buffer clear in this camera.

When I turned on the camera and set the current time and date, I entered the menu system to change some of the settings.

Note: I always change the following settings in any new Canon camera that I get:

* Auto rotate - I like the image rotated on the computer but not on the camera. I always select the middle option, which shows you more of your portrait photos on the LCD of the camera.
* Release shutter without card -I have no idea why Canon ships the camera with this turned on, or why anyone would want this on (other than for camera stores to demo). Turn this off!
* Highlight alert - I like this turned on
* I usually choose to shot RAW instead of JPEG (Since there is no RAW converter for the 7D Mark II in Adobe Camera Raw at this time, I have chosen JPEG, but that will change soon.)
* Change single shot to continuous mode. I like having the option of shooting numerous photos at a time.
* I change the focus to be center point by default
* I customize the "My Menu" to add my favorite menu options. And I just noticed that the 7D Mark II has multiple tabs on this menu so I can add more than 6 favorites. Very happy about that!

I was surprised to see the advanced focus modes, which I have on the Canon 1DX, on this much lower cost sports camera. Yeah, I call this a sports camera, because of the high speed shutter, but there is not reason why this can't be used for portraits or other types of photography. Speaking of focus, I love that the 7D Mark II has 65 focus points. This is very handy when shooting sports, or anything for that matter, since you have so many more options of where you want your focus to be in the frame. When shooting the football game, I did move the focus points around and tried different focus modes. All worked as expected and the focusing was fast and responsive.

I connected a BlackRapid camera strap to the camera, attached a 100-400mm lens, and I was ready to go out and shoot the night football game.

The first thing that I noticed was how small and light the camera was in my hands. Very different from the big old 1DX that I am used to. And when shooting in burst mode the first time, I was surprised at how quiet the shutter was. Compared to the 1DX, the 7D Mark II shutter is much quieter! After shooting for a couple of minutes, I decided to see how quiet the silent mode was, so I switched the shutter mode to silent mode. The shooting speed went from 10 frames a second to just 4 frames a second. This may not seem like much, but after shooting at 10 frames a second for a while, it seemed REALLY slow. I quickly switched it back to regular mode.

Another thing that really freaked me out, was the cropped sensor. I have not taken photos with anything but a full-frame camera in years, and it was a little strange. When standing on the sidelines, using the 100-400mm lens, I could not capture a photo of an athlete on the sideline with me, from head to toe. With my full-frame cameras, I can do this. But, with that said, it was fun to have the extra reach, effectively making the 400mm reach to more than 550mm.

I normally shoot in RAW mode, even when shooting sports. The reason is that I always want the best quality photo, and RAW files have more data than compressed JPEGs. For this test, I set the camera to JPEG mode. I did this because there is no RAW converter for the 7D Mark II yet, and I would not be able to process the images. And since I want to show you photos directly out of the camera with no adjustments, a JPEG works better anyways.

Earlier I told you about the memory card slots, and that I was using the fastest CF card on the market. Well...with the 7D Mark II in JPEG mode, I never had a buffer fill. At one point, I must have shot 60 photos in one burst and could have kept going. I know that this will not be the case with RAW files, but it shows that the camera to card speed is very good and will be ample performance for almost any shooting.

OK, now let's get to the burning question of high ISO shooting.

My goal was to create a test that was "real world". In other words, I wanted to use a variable aperture lens that many of you (and I) could afford and might use on a daily basis. I chose the 100-400mm lens which shoots between f/4.5 and f/5.6.

I showed up at the high school field and was totally surprised at how dark it was. I was looking for a tough shooting environment, but this turned out to be even tougher than I planned. I guess I am spoiled shooting the Olympics and professional sports, as the lighting is usually very good. Not in this situation!

I figured I would start shooting photos at ISO 3200 to get a fast enough shutter speed to capture the athletes. Not a chance! I set the camera to ISO 3200 and was only getting a shutter speed of 1/80th. Uh oh! Time to push the ISO into the crazy numbers which I usually avoid.

Here are a couple of photos captured from that game.

This first photo was taken at ISO 16000 at f/5.6 which gave me a shutter speed of 1/500 sec.

You can click on this to see a larger image
Another photographer, William Gerth, was at the game and was nice enough to let me mount his 400mm f/2.8 lens to the 7D Mark II so that I could test the camera at a faster aperture and lower ISO. This next photo was taken at ISO 6400 at f/2.8 which gave me a shutter speed of 1/800 sec. Both have digital noise, but are useable photos for sure. Heck, if it wasn't for these high-ISO options, there is NO WAY to get a decent photo from this night game, regardless of what lens I was using.

You can click on this to see a larger image

As I was walking away from the football game, I turned around and noticed the moon in the sky. I decided to shoot a photo of the moon, handheld at ISO 1250. The aperture was 5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec. I did crop in a bit on this photo, but left enough of the black sky for you to see the low level of noise in the dark area of the photo.

You can click on this to see a larger image

Since I really could not shoot the game at "reasonable" ISO levels, I decided to do a test at my house. I set up a football helmet and shot the exact same scene at various ISO levels. This is similar to test I did when Canon came out with the 5D Mark III. I think that these photos tell the story much better!

Note: All the photos below are full resolution JPEGs straight from the camera with no noise reduction. You can right-click on any of them to save and view them at full size.

ISO 100 - Shutter speed 1.3 sec -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)

ISO 160 - Shutter speed 1.1 sec   -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)
Just in case you are wondering why I tested ISO 100 and ISO 160, I just wanted to prove to myself and others that indeed, Canon's ISO 160 is cleaner than ISO 100.

ISO 400 - Shutter speed 1/3 sec   -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)

ISO 800 - Shutter speed 1/6 sec   -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)

ISO 1600 - Shutter speed 1/13 sec   -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)

ISO 3200 - Shutter speed 1/25 sec   -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)

ISO 6400 - Shutter speed 1/50 sec   -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)

ISO 10000 - Shutter speed 1/80 sec   -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)

ISO 16000 - Shutter speed 1/125 sec   -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)

ISO 25600 - Shutter speed 1/200 sec   -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)

ISO 51200 - Shutter speed 1/400 sec   -   (Canon 7D Mark IICanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, Gitzo tripodAcratech ballhead)


One thing thast I found very interesting is that the file sizes are so different for each of these images. The higher the ISO, the larger the file size. At ISO 160, the file size is 5MB, whereas at ISO 6400 the file size is 8MB. At ISO 51200, the file more than doubles to 12MB. Crazy, but true.



So, what is my conclusion about the Canon 7D Mark II? I don't want to give this one back to them! This camera offers a whole lot of features and image quality for the relatively low price of $1799. And even though I have a Canon 1Dx, I love having a smaller and lighter camera that can shoot 10 photos per second, and do so with really great quality. And there are times when having a crop sensor would be beneficial to get me a little closer to my subject. Basically, I see this as the little brother to Canon 1DX for a whole lot less money.

If you have been waiting to purchase a new camera for almost any type of photography (especially for sports and wildlife) this is a great choice!

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25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this look into the new 7D. It's certainly my dream camera so I'll start saving now.
It's good to get an honest review from somebody I've followed for a while and trust!

Anonymous said...

Does the 7D ii offer HDR mode - saving 3 SEPARATE photos to the card? (like the 5D/1D)

Carl Downing said...

Damn, another $1800 needed to be found!

Anonymous said...

Jeff:

A real world test of HS football would have been to photograph the athletes in MOTION. 1/800 dosen't get it, at least for me. With my 1DX shooting HS football, I choose manual, 1/1000, F2.8 and auto ISO. The ISO routinely goes beyond 25,000 but this is the reality if you want to attempt to capture a diving catch.

Goran KroĊĦelj said...

Great review. 400mm on crop sensor isn't just more than 550mm, it's 640mm ;)

Chris said...

Thank you Jeff for the review! I am currently in the market for a new body (and fast).

I shoot dogs in action (jumping/swimming/etc.) and just returned my 70D (within the money-back time frame). I have an indoor event coming up (first real gig) in early December and don't think I want to risk ordering this body with the chance I might not have it in time before my flight. I have looked at the 5D Mark iii but people say "its not a 'sport' body". I think they say that because of the fps. Any opinions for shooting indoor low-light, fast shutter speed (1/1000) with a lot of the dogs being dark/blak? I am even considering used 1D models ($3,000 range). Oh, and I am open to Canon and/or Nikon.

I would greatly appreciate anyone's opinions as well as Jeff's.

This is some samples I shot with my T3i and a few with the 70D: http://clicksbychris.com


Thank you,
Chris Davis

John Blyth said...

Great review, Jeff - I'm already sold on the 7D Mk II, and your observations really support that.

One small point - the latest Canon DPP (version 3.14.41) supports the 7D Mk II.

Andreas Falco said...

You can already open, process and convert 7d MkII RAW files with the open source RawTherapee program. The in-camera JPEG conversion already performs noise reduction, therefore JPEGs are not a real good indication of the capabilities of the camera.

BTW I do not understand: if 3rd party software can open the new RAW files why can't Camera RAW?

Andreas Falco said...

You can already open, process and convert 7d MkII RAW files with the open source RawTherapee program. The in-camera JPEG conversion already performs noise reduction, therefore JPEGs are not a real good indication of the capabilities of the camera.

BTW I do not understand: if 3rd party software can open the new RAW files why can't Camera RAW?

Andreas Falco said...

You can already open, process and convert 7d MkII RAW files with the open source RawTherapee program. The in-camera JPEG conversion already performs noise reduction, therefore JPEGs are not a real good indication of the capabilities of the camera.

BTW I do not understand: if 3rd party software can open the new RAW files why can't Camera RAW?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info.. I now too want one but will have to just use my old 7D but its still working well.

Jonas Debosscher said...

Dear Jeff,

Thanks for the review!
About the increase in file size with ISO: this is most likely the JPEG compression. It is less efficient when more noise occurs in images (higher ISO), since there are fewer pixels with almost identical color and brightness when there is more noise. The pixel information in areas of uniform color and brightness can be compressed better.

All the best and keep up the nice work!
Cheers from Belgium,
Jonas Debosscher

Dan said...

How are you supposed to see the full res images? When clicked, they open a medium file in a lightbox. If you right click and "open image in new window" it still opens a medium sized image, not any kind of high res file. Thanks!

Brett said...

I am fairly new to photography. I have been using a Canon T2i for a couple years now. I really started getting in to night/star photography and the T2i's ISO just isn't cutting it so well anymore. I think I have one of these in my sights. NO need for any new glass then! Thanksthe the report Jeff!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this nice review. As for the file sizes, noise are pixels too. So how more noise, how more pixels.

Anandavadivelan V said...

Thank you Jeff. I already liked it and was waiting for your review to make my next move..to buy it. I will!

Anonymous said...

Noise is random, and causes havoc with the JPEG compression algorithms. That's why the high ISO images are larger - much less compression due to higher noise. The fact that the ISO160 is smaller than the ISO100 also supports the fact that it is cleaner.

There's a chart floating around somewhere of the file size at all ISO's with a 7D under dark/lens cap conditions (I know because I created it). It shows the noise tradeoff with ISO. I always shoot 160, then 320, then linearly increasing ISO from 400 up. (640 is slightly worse than 400, but not much, so sometimes I jump there). There's a DR tradeoff, so you need to understand what you're doing.

It looks like Canon's 1/3-push/1/3-pull approach to intermediate ISOs is still in the 7DII.

Anonymous said...

"This first photo was taken at ISO 16000 at f/5.6 which gave me a shutter speed of 1/500 sec."

Should that read 1600?

Anonymous said...

interesting, DPP has been available for over 2 weeks now and you can't process RAW? unreal

Nickname unavailable said...

Thanks, Jeff. I don't usually pay much attention to gear reviews, as I'm more interested in technique, but I was curious about the new 7D and I really appreciate your opinion.

Anonymous said...

It says right click for full size images but I'm only getting 1600px wide files. Reducing the image by 1/4 is a good way to reduce noise. I'd like to see full sized images.

JJ Drake said...

This helped a lot. I have had focusing issues with my 7D and ready to hit the buy button on 7D mxII..

Christel Laney said...

I bought this camera in December for wildlife which I shoot mainly Bald Eagles and high school football. This past Saturday night I had a chance to finally use the new camera on an alumni football game. I was so excited and couldn't wait. My pictures were horrible and could not figure out what I needed to change. I figured out real quick this camera is way different than my T3i I'm accustomed to. I'm hoping your advice will help me because I have a whole lot of studying to do with high school football before this fall. .wish me luck

bT said...

It's a rare real time review of this camera and thank you for that. Most of the reviewers are just posting crap-shots taken in the front of the garage. I like this one as it actually shows what is the 7D mk ii built for. I always do the same thing, reduce picture size to minimalize noise levels. That is why the higher resolution is helpful, as to be honest 12 mp is quite enough for a decent print, for those who actually will see their photos printed somewhere. I still sell loads of photos which came out from my 5Dc, which is severely outdated, so to say.

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