Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Canon EOS 7D - A monster upgrade!

This week Canon announced their next entry into the DSLR arena with the EOS 7D. By now you've read all of the specs and, if you're a gear geek like me, then you're likely drooling over this beast of a machine.

This post won't be a run down of the features of the camera -- a google search will bring up countless sites with that kind of info -- instead it is my reaction to this particular announcement and what I think it means for Canon shooters in the forseeable future.

First, I believe this camera represents the end of the 10D/20D/30D/40D/50D line. The specs for this camera are a massive improvement over the 50D, but not an evolution meriting the announcement of a 60D priced somwhere in between the two. Here's why: the 7D is not full-frame, but uses an APS-C sized sensor, in which they've managed to cram 18 megapixels. Smart people out there have said that APS-C tops out at about 15 megapixels, after which pixel density becomes so high that noise becomes uncontrollable. Canon has done a formidable job at gettng 18 megapixels out of it, but the 7D is pushing the APS-C sensor to its absolute limit. And the test shots I've seen so far bear out this statement. Low-light shots at ISO 3200 on the 7D don't look all that much better than ISO 3200 shots on my aging 20D - a full four generations old. Noise performance vs pixel density probably topped out with the 40D as far as ASP-C picture quality is concerned. So it's unlikey that a 60D could offer a higher resolution than this. Furthermore, this camera packs in SO many awesome features for only a mere few hundred dollars more than the retail price of a 50D. It's price makes it an "affordable" upgrade path for those of us with aging 20D's or 30D's, and offers a more amenable option over taking out a second mortgage in order to buy a 5D Mk II along with replacements for all of our EF-S lenses.

Secondly, now that the 5D Mk II is on the market, and with the imminent arrival of the 7D in stores, Canon's flagship 1D is starting to look like a dinosaur. So I expect that we'll see a 1D Mk iv announcement in the near future. Or perhaps Canon will announce a new model that completely replaces the 1D iterations -- maybe it'll have some catchy name like EOS Pro-X. I expect this camera to be everything the 5D Mk ii is, plus everything many thought it was lacking, such as faster burst mode, and likely a similar but more advanced focusing system to what's been introduced in the 7D. Of course expect the resolution to be some astronomical number that, like the 7D, will push the full-frame sensor pixel density to the absolute limit.

My question is: What comes next? Each camera evolution markets first and foremost its resolution. As much as we know that 18 megapixels is no reason to buy a new camera when yours is already capable of 12, nevertheless the camera manufacturers tout this number like a badge on their shoulder. With both the APS-C and full-frame sized sensors approaching their absolute resolution limit, what secondary feature can Canon possibly market that will have the same impact as an increase in resolution? OK maybe HD video capabilities will replace the megapixel race, but I'm still not convinced that buyers are going to choose one DSLR over another because of its video capabilities. To me, video is a parlor trick feature of the camera, not the main reason why I would use it. I'd love to be proven wrong here, so if your opinion differs, by all means share it here.

Does Caon then move to a bigger sensor size? That leads to the problem of instantly making your ENTIRE lens collection extinct overnight. I'm sure Canon (as well as all of the other big players) would not want to alienate their entire legacy base in order to market insane resolution numbers.

Now on to the camera. let me start by saying I LOVE what the 7D offers, and if I had $2000 to burn, I'd be lining up to buy one the second it appears on shelves. That's not to say I don't have a few gripes about it thus far:

- APS-C sized sensor.
The rumors leading up to the the announcement were that the 7D, like it's 5D big brother, would have a full frame sensor. I can see why this makes smart business sense to Canon, as everyone with a Rebel all the way up to 50D can upgrade to a 7D, and all of their lenses would still work. This opens the doors to the mass market, not just pros and enthusiasts with money to burn. And it also avoids cannibalizing the market for the 5D Mk ii. That said, noise control is no doubt getting better with each release, but there's just no comparison with the clean, crisp images you can get out of a full-frame sensor, as anyone with a 1D will tell you. Perhaps I am expecting too much from a $2000 camera body, but all the same I am disappointed.

- The wireless portrait grip accessory will be $700!!!!
I mean come on! It doesn't do anything all that revolutionary -- Ethernet / WiFi connectivity, wireless communication between other cameras (albeit a VERY cool feature), a USB port... nothing that a $300 netbook couldn't do. This is outright price gouging. Come on Canon. Offer this at a more reasonable price.

Don't get me wrong, the 7D is an awesome little machine, and I would love to get my hands on one (or two...). I mean 8 FPS burst mode, dual Digic 4 processors, a built-in level to keep your horizon straight(!!!), 14-bit RAW, ISO 12800, completely overhauled focusing system (FINALLY!!), 100% viewfinder coverage, low-glare lcd display... this will be, in my opinion, the best consumer and semi-pro class DSLR on the market.

Agree with what I say? Have a different opinion? Leave a comment.


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