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Canon EOS 7D

Review Date: May 22, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Frames per Second, Buffer Speed, Build Quality, Sensor's Image Quality, Intelligent Menu Structure, Battery Life
Complicated AF presents a learning curve... but you can get great results if you are persistent. DPP workflow just blows... Just make a Lightroom plugin already! Files kind of fall apart at ISO 3200 and above unless you get perfect focus. ETTL while bouncing flash sucks (You have to manually change the flash zoom to 105mm in order for it to work).

I purchased the 7D a little over a year ago as a second body to compliment my 5D. Initially, I was very impressed by the build quality... It feels like a solid camera, even more so than my 5D classic. I thought the mirror assembly looked tiny, but this is my first crop camera. The autofocus was a welcome upgrade and since every point was cross type, I was looking forward to the end of "Focus and Recompose" since this is essentially how you use the 5D with it's center point.

My setup while on assignment is to shoot the 7D w/ 70-200mm and the 5D w/ a 35mm or short zoom. This works well for me with the 7D getting the candids while the 5D gets the portraits, details, and environmentals.

In the first 6 months, I found out that upgrading to Lightroom 3 was a necessity for working with these files. The detail and grain quality that was being rendered in LR2 was kind of disappointing. Once I upgraded though, I moved closer to realizing the camera's potential. DPP works fine and you can even get more quality from the files using this software, but the workflow is unbearable. If you are constantly sorting and processing tons of images, I don't see how anyone could use it.

The other thing that I struggled with was getting tack sharp images. Due to the resolving power of the sensor... it can expose weak technique. I felt that I needed to get to know the camera a bit more before raising a fit and sending it back... because there were instances when I would get great focus... other times, not so much.

I would describe my tack sharp rate around 60 sharp to 40 soft, depending on the lighting. Sometimes it was as low as 50/50 if the light was very dim. I had frequently considered sending the camera back, but couldn't afford to be without it since I shoot assignments on a weekly basis. I figured that if I strived to learn to use the AF better, that those numbers would eventually improve.

Fast forward to last week. I was covering the Chicago Mayoral Inauguration. 95% of the shots were long zoom so I was using the 7D for these. There was one instance where I got an absolute money shot... Rahm Emanuel was on the side stage with his arm around his daughter waiting for the ceremony to begin. They were just resting there having a father/daughter moment. No one else saw it... I was stoked!

When I went to process the images from the event I was furious to find that all of those images were out of focus. I opened the images in DPP and it confirmed that I was focusing on his face... but the focal point was in front of that, or front focused. I got many keepers from the event, but was noticing a trend in most of the out of focus shots... they were all front focused.

So I finally broke down, and did a micro adjustment for a couple of lenses. I just printed out a focus chart that I downloaded from somewhere and shot a full range from -20 to +20, in increments of 5. After reviewing the results, I made the necessary adjustments. I was worried that I was making things worse, because the owner's manual says that this is usually not necessary, but went ahead and shot my next assignment with the adjustments.

All I can say is that it seems to have made all the difference. My keeper rate jumped to around 85 sharp to 15 soft, using single point and single spot point. I am now kicking myself for not doing this sooner. The manual should be revised to say that this is an absolute necessary step before using the camera in the field.

I know it sounds ridiculous that it took me over a year to finally realize this, but I found that I was leaning heavily towards shooting my 5D and would just get supplemental shots with the 7D. If I knew I was only shooting portraits, the 7D wouldn't even be in the bag. This probably slowed down the learning curve, but I just couldn't afford to fully experiment with the camera on the job... since the results were consistently inconsistent.

So to break down my rating, I would say the following. If I were to post this review before doing the micro-adjustments, I would not have recommended this camera for professional use and would have rated it a 5... too unreliable. After seeing the results after the micro adjustments, I would have recommended it and given it a rating of 9. So the verdict is 8 IMO. I could see this number going up to a 9 or 10 for me in the future, but I just need more time with the camera.