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Canon 7D setup, tips and observations 


 
This write up is not meant to be an an in depth test report, but a look at significant features and settings by a nature photographer using the 7D in the field with some indoor chart testing. Most of the Internet  test reports have limited information on small in the frame autofocus performance so I have covered this in some detail. For an in depth look at noise, resolution and dynamic range check out: DPReview 7D  My own tests of the technical parameters indicate similar values to the DPReview results so I will only include a brief summary of these aspects.
Noise
Chroma and Luminance noise are better  than the 50D overall.  The  7D has close to a 1\3 stop advantage at low ISOs and 1 a stop advantage at the higher ISOs. Remember though the 7D has 20% more pixels than a 50D and some of this resolution can be traded for noise reduction with software. All in all I am happy with the noise performance. We are close to the physical limit of what can be done with a 1.6 sensor in terms of noise. If you need lower noise get a full frame large pixel sensor!


Dynamic range

Slightly higher than the the 50D, probably no more than 1\3 stop. Use ISO 160 - 200 rather than 100 for  maximum dynamic range.


Resolution

Slightly higher than the 50D, the lens is becoming more of a factor than ever in setting the upper limit on resolution.  I would not purchase this camera solely for the resolution increase (18 mp vs 15 mp) but every little bit helps if you have to crop images.  Resolution comparison


Raw Conversion

For now I am using DPP to convert the RAW images to TIF as Canon has not updated the software development kit that Breezebrowser uses to convert 7D files.   Adobe Lightroom III beta also produces decent results and I understand the CS4 plugin has been updated. The 7D does produce some  pattern artifacts in clean backgrounds and some RAW converters may be better at dealing with them than others but so far after completely processing the image including final sharpening I see little difference in the end result with different RAW converters.  

Update Oct 2010: I now use Breezebrowser for my raw Conversion for most images as the workflow is very fast. I find for hi ISO images (ISO 800 and up) that the Adobe Camera Raw converter found in Light Room 3 and CS5 does a better job of reducing noise and maintaining detail than Breezebrowser or DPP.


Autofocus 

Canon prosumer DSLRs have been handicapped over the last several years with  mediocre autofocus systems. Back in 1998 the EOS 3 film camera I was using had the 45 point AF system and moving to the seven point AF system of the digital 10D  with it's much more primitive AF system was a step backward. Subsequent cameras 20D, 30D, 40D and 50D all had some small improvements to the AF system but none that seemed to make a significant difference  with birds in flight. The 9 point AF systems had the points to far apart to make using all points focus useful and the acquisition and tracking with all points was slow and unpredictable so I quickly abandoned its use. The 1D series of cameras have the 45 point AF system but are expensive and heavy and the problems with the 1D MKIII AF system are still being debated. Finally Canon has made a major change to the AF system in a prosumer camera with the 7D. The 19 point system with the ability to configure all aspects of the focusing system looked like a major change, no doubt due to competition from Nikon.
When I received the 7D I was adamant that if the AF system did not show real world improvement I would return it to the vendor! Towards this end I read the AF portion of the manual thoroughly, and set about testing the performance against my 50D. 


Low light Auto focus capability 

I have been happy with the low light autofocus capability of Canon DSLRs in general, often they will focus when I have trouble seeing the object! To test this I autofocus on a low contrast object in a dimly lit room using one shot focus mode and center point AF sensor. I find an object that the camera has some some difficulty locking focus on and then repeatedly switched back and forth from the 7D to the 50D using the same lens to see which camera is better able to acquire a focus lock. I could find no consistent difference between the two cameras. This is to be as expected as both cameras have AF systems rated at -.5 EV. The 10D and 20D  would not focus at all on the same target.  I used my 100m f2.8 macro lens for this test but found the 18-55mm f5.6 (at 55mm) also would lock focus consistently on the same target with the 7D or 50D. No AF assist beam was used for this test.


AF tracking (birds against a blue sky) 

Shooting Gulls on Lake Ontario  and switching back and forth between the 50D and 7D with the same lens produced a significantly higher yield of in focus keepers with the 7D. The 7D was set to use the center point plus 4 expansion points.  This effectively makes for a much larger AF area and keeping the AF area on the subject is therefore easier than with a small AF point.


AF tracking (birds against a tree line background)

This is the real challenge for an AF system, which has no reliable way of knowing whether you want the bird or trees in focus. I found that the 7D tended to ignore the trees much better than the 50D once AF had locked on the bird. It was easier to drift off the bird with the 50D and focus the trees, the 7D with 4 expansion points about center maintained focus more consistently. It was not infallible but my percentage of keepers was much better than with the 50D. The key is to acquire focus with the center AF point by taping the AF activation (shutter release or AF start) first until the subject is in focus.
AF spot Auto Focus
This allows you to reduce the size of the autofocus point for more precise focusing. For shooting through branches or locking on tiny subjects, this may well be useful though I could see little difference in testing informally. Be aware that the AF point whether spot or not is always bigger than is indicated by the AF target outline in the viewfinder. For AF to work well you need to try to fill the complete AF target area with the subject. I was  surprised to find that the 7D would still focus the low light target using the center point with "Spot AF".  The time to acquire focus with the Spot AF may have been a little slower.
Accessing the AF point or group of points
CF IV -1 allows you to set the Multi-controller to select any one of nineteen AF points or to move a group of points. On the 40 and 50 D it was difficult to reliably select the diagonal points but the 7D Multi-  controller is excellent in this regard. 

 

So what about the CFIII AF settings?

For now I am using the defaults. The effect of these is difficult to test and will require considerable time. I was happy with my results using the defaults to date.

I recommend the center point with four expansion points for general use, and single point if more precision is needed. Canon has stated that any one point of the nineteen is as fast and precise as any other point, this is new as the center point was favored in the past. Selecting points with the multi function controller is fast and easy.

I would seldom think of using the "ring of fire" (all 19 points active) for Auto focus as there is  more chance of one of AF points finding something other than the subject, however it did seem to work fine for Herons flying in clear sky and may be useful for flock shots against a clear sky.

Canon 7D Autofocus overview
Electronic Level
Hit the INFO button twice when not previewing an image and the  leveling graphic  appears on the rear LCD screen. This allows you to level the camera in the horizontal and/or vertical dimension. This is useful for getting the horizon level when shooting landscape and particularly when stitching images together to make a panorama. In the past I would use a hot shoe mounted bubble level for this function which was easily misplaced.
For this to work the INFO button menu must have "Electronic level" ticked.

Pushing the M-Fn button will allow you see the leveling function in the viewfinder which uses the AF points to indicate level. This can be useful when laying on your belly shooting ducks where it is difficult to judge level easily.
 
 

Files 
7D Raw (CR2) are typically 21-28 mbytes in size and after conversion to TIF they become 30 mbytes (with LZW compression) on disc and occupy 52 mbytes in ram. These are big numbers and close to four times the size of the files from the 10D, 20D era cameras. This will mean you need a fast computer or a lot of patience when moving, storing or processing the. 
 
CF cards
This camera can make use of UDMA mode 6 cards for faster file writes and reads. This has a big advantage when shooting action. The camera has a stated buffer size when shooting RAW at low ISOs of fifteen but in fact the numbers I am seeing with the fastest UDMA cards suggest 18 - 24 frames are possible before the camera slows down some. This can be useful with a camera that shoots at 8 frames per second. UDMA cards vary in speed. I use Sandisk Extreme  IV, but the Extreme III 30 mByte addition works well also and the newer Extreme Pro 90 mBytes ones are even faster but expensive. 16 GBytes holds about 550 RAW images.

When Shooting JPGs there does not appear to be an upper limit to the buffer with the UDMA cards. 

If I was not shooting action I would purchase much less expensive non UDMA cards but be aware  that the UDMA cards with the proper card reader will transfer files faster to your computer.

Highlight Tone Priority
Highlight tone priority increased the "dynamic range" of an image by rolling off  the highlights gradually.  ISO can only be set from ISO 200 to 6400 when active. The downside of HTP is that it can increase shadow noise.  I do not usually use this but it may be useful for scenes of extreme dynamic range. It cannot be applied after the fact with the RAW converter suggesting it is an in camera hardware function.
Registering Camera User Settings C1, C2 and C3
One of the features of the Canon 7D and some of the other prosumer EOS cameras often overlooked by photographers is the ability to register (or preset) camera user settings. This is an incredibly useful feature for nature photographers as it allows you to quickly recall several  camera functions at once from the exposure command dial.

If you have  been caught taking a photo of a static object such as a plant or sleeping duck at low ISOs and small apertures, often with mirror lockup and  camera on tripod when an Eagle suddenly  flies over you will appreciate this feature!  It may be possible to whip the camera off of the tripod quickly but  the camera which was set to static mode shooting requires several changes to get it into "action \ flight mode" and this would take tens of seconds normally.  With the camera registered user settings wholesale setup changes are much faster!

 


My current settings

Updated Aug 26, 2010

Function 
Action (C1)
Movie (C2)
 Static (C3)
 ISO  400   200  200
 Exposure Mode  M  manual  M  manual  M  manual
 Shutter Speed 1/1600  1/60  1/250
 Aperture (f-stop)  f5.6  f5.6   11
 Mirror lockup  OFF  OFF  ON
 Drive (frame rate or timer)  H (8 fps)  H (8 fps)   2 sec timer
 Focus mode   AI Servo  one shot  one shot
White balance  AWB  AWB AWB
Picture Styles Standard Gamma S * Standard








* Gamma S is a custom curve I have added to make for a flatter image that can be edited more easily
 
I have  "registered" the C1 setting to be my flight or action setting as it is easy to remember that  "one" is for action, while C2 is for Movies and C3 are for Macro\Static  shooting. The nice thing about the presets is that any and all functions can be overridden. For example if there is heavy overcast and I use  C1 which I have preset to ISO 400  which is a sunny day setting and may not give a correct exposure with the f-stop and shutter speed I choose to use, I simply set the ISO to 800 or higher.  ISO 800 will be retained until  C1 is deselected at which time it defaults to the 400 ISO setting. The same goes for shutter speed and aperture which I often change to compensate the exposure.

The only other important parameter that cannot be set for flight shooting is the lens focus limiter, I always use the far limit for flight. It would be very useful if Canon can make this possible from the presets in the future.

Your own settings may be different than mine depending on the type of photography you do.

Refer to page 223 in the EOS 7D manual for instructions on registering the functions.
 
 
 

My Menu
The "My menu" menu is the right most menu that shows on the rear LCD screen. This can be setup to show your frequently used menu functions and each function is simply a copy of the same function from the other ten menus. This can be a real time saver as you do not have to search menus to find often used functions. The only downside is that "My menu" only holds six functions.   pg. 222 in the manual explains how to set and sort these.
 
 

"My menu" settings

Updated Aug 26, 2010

Grid display Grid 1 #
Format
Flash Control

Sensor cleaning
VF Grid display Enable
C.Fn III: Autofocus/Drive
1920x1080 30 fps
My Menu Settings

 
 
 

Menu Settings

Menu Screen 1 (Shooting)
Quality Raw
Red-eye On\Off Off
Beep On
Release Shutter without card Disable
Review time Hold
Peripheral illumination correction Disable
Flash Control Flash firing Enable


Menu Screen 2 (Shooting)
Expo, comp /AEB 0
Auto lighting Optimizer Off
White Balance AWB
Custom WB  - 
WB SHIFT/BKT 0,0/+-0
Color space Adobe RBG
Picture Style Standard


Menu Screen 3 (Shooting)
Dust Delete Data  - 
One-touch RAW+JPEG  RAW/ JPEGL


Menu Screen 4 (Shooting)
Live View shoot Enable
AF mode Live Mode
Grid Display  Grid 1 #
Expo. simulation Enable
Silent Shooting Disable
Metering Timer 4 Sec


Menu Screen 4 (Movie) this screen appears when the Movie Shooting Switch is active
Af mode Live mode
Grid display Grid 1
Movie rec. size 1920x1080 30
Sound recording On
Silent Shooting Disable
Metering timer 4 sec


Menu Screen 1 (Playback)
Protect Images  -
Rotate  -
Erase images  -
Print order  -


Menu Screen 2 (Playback)
Highlight alert Enable
AF point disp. Enable
Histogram RGB
Slide Show  -
Image jump 1 image


Menu Screen 5 (Setup)
Auto power off 30 min.
Auto rotate ON (camera and computer)
File numbering  Continuous
Select folder  -


Menu Screen 6 (Setup)
LCD Brightness Auto
Date/Time  Current date/time
Video system NTSC
Sensor cleaning  - 
VF Grid display Enable


Menu Screen 7 (Setup)
Battery info.  -
 INFO. button display options  (all 3 items ticked)
Camera user setting  -
Copyright information  -
Clear all camera settings  -
Firmware Ver. 1.2.1  -


Menu Screen 8 (Custom Functions )
C.Fn I :Exposure 1-0,  2-0,  3-1,  4-1,  5-0,  6-0,  7-2 
C.Fn II :Image 1-0,  2-3,  3-0
C.Fn III :Autofocus/Drive 1-0,  2-1,  3-0,  4-0,  5-2, 6 - (enable all), 7-0,  8-0,  9-0,  10-0,  11-0,  12-0,  13-0 (enabled in C3) 
C.Fn IV :Operation/Others 1 - (see note)    2-0,  3-0,  4-0
Clear all Custom Func. (C.Fn)  -


Menu Screen 8 (My Menu )
Grid Display Grid 1
Format
LCD Brightness Auto
Sensor Cleaning
Movie Rec size 1920x1080 30fps
My Menu Settings
VF Grid display Enable

 
 
 

Flash Anomaly

While testing the 7D with both 580 EXII flash and 430 EXII I noticed the manual flash X sync speed to be 1\200 sec when High speed sync was selected and in ETTL it was 1\250 sec but with a distance scale anomaly. The manual states the X sync to be 1\250 sec.

Here is the test with an external flash.

Flash in Manual mode and deselecting hi speed sync - Setting the flash to 1\4 power and shooting a target shows the same exposure (according to the histogram) whether 1\200 or 1\250 sec shutter speed is used as would be expected.

Manual flash mode and selecting hi speed sync - Setting the flash to 1\4 power and shooting a target shows less exposure by 2 stops (according to the histogram ) when shooting 1\250 sec as compared to shooting 1\200 sec. This suggests less flash output do to the use of high speed sync but this should not happen until 1\320!

Also the distance scale shows less distance by 1\2 when setting the shutter speed from 1\200 sec to 1\250 second with hi speed sync selected - which indicates the flash has switched to High Speed sync at 1\200.
 

Flash in ETTL mode and selecting hi speed sync - Testing the exposure (histogram) for a full power pop (forced by shooting a distance target at f22, ISO 160) indicates that High speed sync kicks in at 1\250 sec as it should .... but the distance scale is reduced when going from 1\200 - 1\250 second when Hi Speed sync is selected!

It does not matter whether Hi Speed sync is selected in the camera or from the back of the flash the result is the same.

Both the 40D and the 50D do not show distance scale changes when going from 1\200 to 1\250 second in Manual or ETTL mode with Hi Speed sync selected and exposure tests indicate the exposure is the same at both 1\200 and 1\250 sec as expected.

I have only tried this with my own camera but I suspect it may be a firmware bug with others.
 
 

Frame rate anomaly
In  high speed shooting with the  shutter manually set to 1/1000 sec and the lens  in manual focus mode (allows the  fastest possible frame rate), lens cap on, the maximum continuous frame rate was only around  4-5 fps. The manual warns that the frame rate drops in low  light, but I can see no logical reason for this..


Movie mode

This is the first time I have tried doing movies and so far I am happy with the results. I hope to have a brief movie clip on my website shortly.

High definition movies are possible with this camera. 1080P 24 or  30 fps, 720P 24, 30 or 60 fps 
1 - Frame and Focus manually (auto focusing can work while recording but is very slow)
2 - Switch the Movie Record\Live view switch to record.
3 - Push the Start\Stop button to record the movie. (A red dot will appear on the rear LCD screen when recording)
 

Aperture and Shutter dials are active and can be used to control exposure as can ISO. Normally you would set the exposure before recording begins using the Live View histogram but the exposure can be altered while recording. 

Be aware that unlike still images that can be shot in RAW mode movies files compressed JPEGs and fixing exposure in software after the fact will result in some loss of detail with no ability to correct over exposure at all.

Be aware that movies will use a lot of drive space and can be time consuming to edit. A fast computer is required.

I also note the built in microphone is very sensitive and especially adept at picking up the sound from swearing photographers!


 
 
 
 

A useful overview of the new features:  B&H 7D Video by a Canon rep in several parts

Another review: Bob Atkins review

Another review: ProPhoto Autofocus test
 


Update August 2, 2010

Overall I find the autofocus system is a major upgrade from previous pro sumer models in many regards but one. The Spot AF  mode which is supposed to reduce the AF sensor point size to allow more precise focusing on small objects. I had hoped this would be beneficial to me  for helping pick off small objects such as Warblers in shrubs where the surrounding branches often fool the auto focus. I have repeatedly compared Spot  AF mode to Single Autofocus point mode on small horizontal or vertical objects and I cannot find any difference whatsoever. If I find the minimum sized object that the Spot AF point will just detect and then switch to single point and offset the focus and try to refocus the object I can see no difference whatsoever between the two modes cabability. What prompted me to test this is that Canon had  stated that its Spot AF mode uses a smaller optical sensor array therefore it will not work as well in very low light as the normal sized AF point. Testing this in low indoor lighting with a subject that the AF system has trouble with showed no difference between Spot and normal modes in terms of reliably locking on the dim subject. It seems to me that Spot mode is not activated, perhaps this is a software glitch or was simply overlooked. I have tested this on three different 7Ds manufactured months apart, they behaved the same. If anyone has a 7D that shows a definite difference in response in Spot  AF mode I would like to hear about it and how it was tested.   (my 7D software was ver 1.2.1 when tested)


One other peeve is how to  quickly change the AF pattern. When a bird is flying against a clear sky I use AF assist points but if it drops to below the tree line it is necessary to quickly switch to single point to avoid focusing on the trees. To switch patterns It is necessary to push the M-Fn button after  pushing  the AF pattern button first. It is difficult to feel the M-Fn button without looking for it, it is very small and designed for smaller fingers than mine. Why is the M-Fn button needed at all, simply toggling the back AF pattern button as we did on earlier models would  do the job. The need to look or feel for the M-Fn button takes precious seconds.



Update August 26 2010

I have stoped using the odd valued ISO settings such as 320, 640 etc. in favor of the even values such as 200, 400, 800 etc. There is some evidence that Canon does not change sensor gain until the even values and it is easier to recall sunny 16 rule or standard exposure values based on experience witht the even ISOs.

MyMenu settings have been updated

Firmware was updated to version: 1.2.1




 Email: Ken Newcombe

Site and contents 2010 Ken Newcombe

 



 

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