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Many DSLRs can perform not only the capture of large, high quality still images in the ultimate RAW format but some models can now also record Full High Definition video with 1920×1080 resolution.
For me, the asking price of the Canon EOS 7D and an appropriate lens is ‘reasonable’. Reasonable? At $2699 (note: this author is an Aussie so this is AUD$) for the body? Add the stabilised f3.5-5.6/18-135mm IS lens and you reach a figure of $3699 (AUD$). Still reasonable IMHO.
The 7D offers the ambitious photographer a host of operating features in a non-intimidatory package.
The CMOS sensor has 18.0 megapixels and can capture a maximum image of 5184×3456 pixels; in print-speak, sufficient to make a 44x29cm print at 300 dpi.
The sensor’s dimensions are 22.3×14.9mm so the 18-135mm lens would measure up, in 35 SLR terms, as having a focal length range of 28.8-216mm, using a factor of 1.6x.
Still image file formats are 14-bit RAW, JPEG and of course simultaneous RAW+JPEG. Full High Def video at 1920×1080 res is recorded in MPEG4 at 25fps or, at 1280×720 res, 50fps.
The ISO runs to 6400 with an expansion notch up to ISO 12,800! Couple this with a shutter speed range of Bulb, 30 seconds to 1/8000 second; X-sync for flash is 1/250 second.
Continuous shooting can be done at up to 8 shots per second. If you’re shooting JPEGs this means you can fire off a burst of 94 shots at the top quality; up to 15 RAW shots in a burst; and six RAW-JPEGs … all written to a CF card.
The EOS 7D carries a pop-up flash, useful for unexpected situations and not only the province of the happy snapper! At ISO 100 the flash has a Guide Number of 12 in metres.
You can enjoy Live View on the rear, smudge-resistant 7.6cm LCD screen or view via the optical turret viewfinder; unfortunately, the LCD screen is fixed and neither swings out nor rotates.
The new Live Face Detection AF mode identifies and captures faces in frame and focuses on them automatically. Other, intuitive features like Auto Lighting Optimiser and Peripheral Illumination help exposure.
When you power up or down, the system auto cleans the sensor by shaking dust off its surface. You can also trigger this cleaning action at any time — or disable it. Should you face the more serious problem of dust adhering to the sensor surface you can attach a tag to images (Dust Delete Data) and ‘erase’ the dust spots later with the supplied Digital Photo Professional software. This is only a stop gap until you can tow the camera into Canon’s service centre to have the dust removed.
With the 18-135mm lens attached, the camera weighs 1.5kg — so it is a substantial piece of gear.
With a strap over the neck to take the weight it feels good in the hands and if you’re a reasonably competent photographer you won’t find the array of controls intimidating.
Bordering the status LCD panel on the camera’s top surface are buttons for direct access to exposure compensation, white balance, single frame or continuous shooting, ISO setting, etc.
The rear of the camera carries the usual array: menu, info, replay, AF-ON, viewfinder zoom and a button for direct choice of RAW or JPEG shooting. Tucked in right next to the finder eye-cup is a lever to switch from stills to movie shooting; centred within it is the start/stop button for movies.
Exposure options available via the top mode dial include a fully auto mode, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority as well as manual. Unusually, the Bulb setting is also on the dial, along with three custom settings. Another dial position, Creative Auto Shooting, lets you alter an image’s brightness, depth of field, colour saturation etc … quite a novel approach and one that takes the exploratory photographer further than mere auto.
Once you’ve become familiar with the controls then you’re ready to deal with the finder menu itself. And here your choices expand enormously and where you must immerse yourself in the options: matters such as JPEG quality, choice of colour space (Adobe RGB or sRGB) and a host of other choices.
The lens is internally stabilised but you can switch this off (especially for tripod work) and you move from full AF control to manual focus.
Some with extensive experience with camcorders will find shortcomings in using a stills camera to shoot movies … not least is the ergonomic factor and placement of controls.
A couple of cautions: if you want to select a specific ISO setting, place the camera in manual mode. Want to shoot macro? Get a macro lens … the camera has no inboard capability.
However, you can’t argue with a DSLR that shoots massive stills and Full High Def 1920×1080 video. Provided you write to a CF card with a read/write speed of at least 8MB/sec you’ll have no trouble with video data capture.
Capturing video when making a move between very dark interiors to full sunlight did not faze the system: it quickly coped with extreme changes of exposure.
Focus in movie mode is tricky tho’: you can preset the auto focus before you start rolling. If the subject approaches or recedes then press the nearby AF-ON button — this will correct AF to cope with the current focus zone. The problem with this is that midway through a shot it assesses and corrects focus with a brief blurring of the image; as well as this, the AF-ON button will assess/correct exposure with a brief burst of image brightness. In practice, you should use AF-ON only before rolling.
Alternatively, you can select manual focus on the lens: when shooting you have to continually monitor and correct focus; this would be an OK way to travel if you’re moving from one location to another — but no more.
Sound: the onboard mic captures your finger fumbling and fingering the camera controls as well as the incoming audio from the subject. An external mic via the 3.5mm input is the preferable route — and it captures stereo.
The image quality in the stills I made was superb in colour fidelity and sharpness terms.
Movies? Very sharp, accurate colour, good motion.