My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

From around home, with the 7D Mk II

Where do I begin? I suppose that I’ll start by quibbling about a few of the things that I don’t care for about the new 7D Mk II camera.

I don’t know why, but Canon went cheap on the strap that comes with the camera, it’s not as well padded as the straps that came with the 60D bodies that I have, and it also seems to be made from a cheaper fabric that irritates the back of my neck. Maybe Canon assumes that every one will purchase one of the trick aftermarket straps for higher end camera?

I miss the vari-angle display of the 60D bodies as well, even though I keep them in the storage position 99% of the time. That’s one of the reasons that I miss that feature, the screen of the 7D is always exposed to being scratched or broken, since it’s in a fixed position. I haven’t tried live view photography or shooting videos with the 7D yet, I’m sure that I’ll miss the vari-angle display even more when I do.

I love all the options as far as the focus points that I have with the 7D, but I also have a small quibble about making the selection of which mode I’m going to use. I have to press a button to enable making changes to the focus point(s), then use a lever to cycle through the options, of which there are six or seven, I’ll list them shortly. The lever only works in one direction, so I have to move the lever repeatedly to get to the mode that I want to use, rather than being able to move more quickly to get to the one that I want.

Okay, I think that’s all the nitpicking that I have to do for now, so it’s time to get to the good stuff!

There are seven different focus point(s) settings:

A super small one for pinpoint auto-focusing, but that only works with a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or larger I believe, the manual is a bit unclear about that. I did try it while using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and the results weren’t very good.

Then, there’s a single point mode, and you’re able to select any single point of the 65 available to use.

Next, AF point expansion, which uses five focus points grouped together, and you can select which five.

Then, AF point expansion II, which uses nine points, and again, you can select which nine.

Next, Zone AF, which uses twelve points in one of nine zones that you can select.

Then, there’s large zone AF, which uses any one-third of the focus points available.

Finally, 65-point automatic selection AF, which uses all 65 focus points, depending on the lens.

I’m already getting more technical than I would like, but as a quick example, the 10-18 mm lens I have can’t use all 65 focus points, it’s limited to “only” 45 focus points. All of my other lenses can use all 65 focus points, but only the Tokina f/2.8 macro lens can make use of the dual cross-type point in the center of the screen, all my other lenses are restricted to “just” single cross-type points, darn. 😉

Anyway, I think that by listing all of the ways that I can make use of the focus points, you’ll understand why I would like the selector lever to work in both directions, it takes a while to cycle through all the options available, and here’s why it matters. If I’m trying to shoot a bird in the brush, I’d like to use a single point to make sure that the camera focuses on just the bird, not the intervening brush.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

However, for birds in flight, trying to keep only one focus point on a moving bird is difficult, and as fast as the 7D Mk II auto-focuses, if the focus point moves off from the bird for even a split second, the camera has focused on something in the background rather than the intended bird. So, for moving birds, I prefer to use the mode with five or nine focus points, so I can keep at least most of the focus points on the bird.

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

By the way, those photos aren’t truly indicative of what the 7D is capable of when it comes to birds in flight. For some reason, I let myself get distracted in trying to positively ID the species at the time, rather than concentrate on getting the images, and making a positive ID from the images. I could tell right away that it wasn’t a red-tailed hawk, but I wasn’t sure what it was when I began shooting. I think that must have been one of last year’s young osprey, as it didn’t look as large or as lanky as adult osprey appear. Anyway, it was cool seeing an osprey here at home!

Anyway, like I said, I prefer to use one of the focus point groups, such as the five or nine-point groups, for birds in flight, but that’s of right now as I’m learning the 7D. If I use more than just the smaller groups, the auto-focus becomes “confused”, trying to focus on both the bird and the background at the same time.

I hinted that the auto-focusing of the 7D Mk Ii is fast, it’s much faster than that of the 60D, by a considerable margin. I’m not sure how it speeds up the focusing motors built into the lenses, but it does, boy does it ever! Even with my long lenses, the Beast and the 300 mm L series, the 7D is on focus almost instantly most of the time. Low light, and/or low contrast subjects take a little longer, but that’s true of the 60D bodies I’m used to.

Now then, I’ve already told you that the 7D has improved the focusing of the 300 mm L series lens, it also works better when I use the Beast at the close end of its focusing range. The specs say that the Beast can focus down to around eight feet, but it never worked well for me under about ten feet, on the 60D. That’s all changed.

Daffodil, as shot with the Beast

Daffodil, as shot with the Beast

Okay, so I’m not typically going to shoot flowers with the Beast, not when I have the Tokina macro lens for them.

Heptacia?

Hepatica?

That was from one of the 60D bodies, just for the record.

Back to the 7D for now. Getting the Beast to focus at the close end of its range is what got me these.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I actually had to rock back on my heels a few times because I was so close to the chickadee that the Beast couldn’t focus on it, even on the 7D. Those weren’t cropped at all, I’m thinking of having one printed to create a giant chickadee. 😉

Since I’ve only had the 7D for a couple of weeks, I’m still not completely used to it yet, I’ll get faster at getting to the correct auto-focus settings for the subject at hand as time goes on, but here’s why it matters. Just after I had shot the photos of the osprey, I was reviewing the images when I heard a scratching sound coming from the tree above me. I looked up to see this.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

I was still set on nine focus points, so the camera focused on the tree limb, rather than the bird. Because of the short depth of field with the Beast at 500 mm, the tree limb is in focus and sharp, but the sapsucker’s head is a bit soft from being slightly out of focus.

Okay, changing gears a bit, I got a free SD card with the 7D when I purchased it, and I got what I paid for. The camera store must have rummaged through their stock and found an old, outdated SD card that’s extremely slow. It was taking the 7D forever to write the images to the card, I missed a few shots because of that. I have since begun using one of the much faster cards that I bought for the 60D, and that has sped the 7D writing to the card up so that I no longer have to wait several minutes if I have shot a series of photos.

Still, to really take advantage of how fast the 7D is, I need to pick-up an even faster CF card for it. The 7D holds one of each, SD and CF cards, so I’ll set it to use the CF card as the main storage device, and keep a SD card in it also for backup if I ever fill the CF card. I have tried the full speed test of the 7D a few times, and it really does shoot at ten frames per second under the right conditions. That’s really a bit crazy, but I can see that there’ll be times when it comes in handy. Most of the time, I leave it in the slow mode, only five frames per second, which is still faster than my 60D bodies.

The next item to report, ever since the first day that I used the 7D, I’ve been amazed at how accurate the exposure metering system is. That holds true for each of the three lenses that I’ve tried on the 7D so far, the Beast, the 300 mm L series, and the 70-200 mm L series lenses. However, that changes dramatically when I use the Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter with the 300 mm lens, which is the only lens I’ve used the extender on extensively. With the extender, the exposure is way off most of the time, usually overexposed by a full stop or more. I’m not sure why that would be, I half suspect that it’s the way that the 7D is programmed, to work well with Canon lenses and extenders, but not so well with other manufacturer’s equipment. But it’s something that I can live with, the osprey was shot with the 300 mm lens with the extender. I just dial the exposure compensation down when I install the extender, and go from there.

I have done limited testing of the extender and the Beast, but I lose the ability to auto-focus if I zoom the Beast past around 400 mm, due to the variable aperture of the Beast. Since that’s the case, I’m usually better off without the extender, and zooming the Beast all the way to 500 mm.

Well, I’m going back to the 7D’s auto-focusing system, that’s the main reason I purchased it, and there’s still more for me to say. It works much better in the servo mode of auto-focusing than the 60D does, that’s the mode where the camera is constantly focusing. I found that the servo mode produced too many out of focus images when I used it on the 60D. Not so with the 7D, since the entire auto-focusing system is so much improved. That may become the mode that I leave the camera in most of the time, but I’ll have to use it a bit more to be sure.

Back button auto-focusing helped the 60D bodies out, that does even better on the 7D, it works exactly as it should.

Okay, what does this all mean, I can see myself going crazy with bird in flight photos, and other action shots. During my last trip to the Muskegon area, I found a flock of Bonaparte’s gulls feeding in one of the man-made ponds there. I got the 7D set-up for action photos, did the same with the 300 mm lens, and even with the extender in the stack, I put the auto-focusing points on one of the gulls and let the 7D do all the rest of the work. It turned out dozens of images like this.

Bonaparte's gull in flight

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

It was almost too easy! I watched the birds while holding the shutter release down, and that’s all there was to it, no muss, no fuss, just lots of good photos to sort through. The 7D kept the gulls in focus as they moved around, and the shutter kept cycling away at five frames per second.

So, a gull is a rather easy subject for the 7D to track, but it also does well on smaller birds.

Blue jay on the move

Blue jay on the move

If I can get the focus points to lock onto a bird, the 7D stays locked on the birds as they move, and it can keep up with the birds, as you can see.

The 7D comes with six pre-programmed scenarios for how it tracks moving subjects, and each can be customized by the user. It will take me a while to get to know each of them, and which one works best for different situations. I have a lot to learn, a whole lot to learn. I’ll try not to be so technical in the future. So, from what I’ve seen so far, all three of my longer lenses perform much better on the 7D than they did on either of the 60D bodies, as far as focusing and sharpness.

But then, I’m still learning how to get the best results out of the 60D, which is no slouch of a camera if used correctly. Here’s a few images shot with the 60D with the Tokina macro lens.

Violets

Violets

Pennsylvainia sedge?

Pennsylvania sedge?

Box elder flowers

Box elder flowers

Box elder flowers

Box elder flowers

Vinca minor

Vinca minor

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

Hepatica

But, back to the 7D Mk II, what a camera! I have a few more of some of the very first photos that I shot with it, and at the time, I was thrilled with these.

Willow flowers in the sun

Willow flowers in the sun

Cottonwood catkins

Cottonwood catkins

Bumblebee in flight

Bumblebee in flight

Bumblebee in flight

Bumblebee in flight

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Box elder flowers in the breeze

Box elder flowers in the breeze

Now, those look worse than many of the photos that I rejected after my walk today. I’m not going to try to tell you that the 7D only shoots great photos no matter what, no camera can do that. However, I never thought that I would see this kind of image quality in a photo shot with the Beast.

Spring maple flowers and leaves

Spring maple flowers and leaves

Also today, I was following a red squirrel as it foraged for food in a small tree. The squirrel hopped down to a lower branch, and I followed it with the lens. Normally, I’d have to restart the focusing process since the squirrel had moved so far. But, the 7D snapped into focus before I could react to restart focusing, it had tracked the squirrel during its leap, I wish that I had thought to shoot while the squirrel was still in midair, but I didn’t. I did catch the landing though.

Red squirrel landing on a branch

Red squirrel landing on a branch

Am I a happy camper? You bet, I’ve had the 7D for just over two weeks, and the only surprises so far have been how well it does live up to its reputation of having one of the best focusing systems on the market today. Well, other than it doesn’t set the exposure as accurately when I use the Tamron tele-converter, and I have to go back to thinking while I’m shooting. 😉

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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22 responses

  1. Congratulations on your new camera. Great shots!

    May 2, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    • Thank you very much Victor!

      May 2, 2015 at 9:37 pm

  2. Absolutely beautiful….love the birds. So clear!

    May 2, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    • Thank you Mary!

      May 2, 2015 at 9:37 pm

  3. You’re lucky to have it Jerry. I dropped my Panasonic Lumix and I think it’s finished, so I tried a Sony with a Zeiss lens and it couldn’t find what I was trying to focus on if I begged it to, so it’s going back. I had forgotten how frustrating it was to have a camera that couldn’t even find the subject!
    I don’t think that first flower is a hepatica, but I’m not sure what it is.
    I’m not sure if that’s a Pennsylvania sedge or not but the box elder flowers are male.
    That’s a great shot of the spring maple flowers and leaves. It looks like it might be a Norway maple.
    I’m glad you’re getting some more time to be outside!

    May 3, 2015 at 9:41 am

    • Thanks Allen! Sorry to hear about the Lumix, it took great photos with you at the controls. I didn’t know that Zeiss made any lenses that auto-focused, at least not for Canon, which I looked at.

      I should make a rule for myself, never shoot a flower unless I can ID it, but that would mean few flowers on my blog. 😉

      May 3, 2015 at 6:56 pm

  4. Your bird pictures were particularly good I thought.

    May 3, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I hope to make even more improvements in the future.

      May 3, 2015 at 6:58 pm

  5. I’ll have to pay more attention to my focussing points after reading your lecture. It should prove helpful.

    May 3, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    • Thanks Tom! Choosing the right focus point(s) made a huge difference with the 60D, and I think that it will with the 7D. However, Nikon has a different system, at least my Nikon did, it was based on distance if I remember correctly.

      May 3, 2015 at 7:01 pm

      • I will have to check that out.

        May 4, 2015 at 6:26 pm

  6. Those last two shots are wonderful – the spring maple and the red squirrel! Your flower and bird shots are so good. I am glad you are happy with your new camera despite a few quibbles. I don’t think it is ever possible to get everything right when getting new equipment etc. There’s always something I forget to include on my list of must haves and mustn’t haves.

    May 3, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    • Thank you Clare! Overall, I’m very happy with my new camera, but there are always a few things about a new toy that take a while to get used to, or that you can’t figure out why it was made the way that it was.

      May 4, 2015 at 6:24 am

      • 🙂

        May 4, 2015 at 6:14 pm

  7. Oh, you have osprey! Of course, Michigan has osprey–you guys have all the cool birds! Congrats on the new equipment. That shot of the stretchy squirrel really shows it off! 🙂

    May 4, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    • Thank you Lori! Yes, we have a few osprey here, but not as many as we should given the amount of water here.

      May 4, 2015 at 4:01 pm

  8. LOVE those chickadee shots, especially that last one with the seed! Wow, so cool!!

    May 4, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    • Thank you Amy! The last one with the seed, I have to credit Lightroom for making it as good as it turned out. The sun was almost behind the chickadee, so the background was way too bright, but Lightroom saved it.

      May 5, 2015 at 5:31 am

      • You are blessed to have the intelligence and the time to perfect your photography skills and your photos! It’s great that there are so many tools out there now to make the best of each shot.

        May 5, 2015 at 6:35 am

      • Thanks again Amy! Since I have no life, I do have plenty of time to work on my photography, which suits me just fine.

        May 5, 2015 at 11:48 am

  9. I’m reading this after coming to the realization that I need to invest in some lenses to shoot what I am interested in shooting (otherwise what good is a camera)
    Looks like you are having fun!!!

    May 5, 2015 at 10:14 am

    • Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! As I learned the hard way, lenses form the image, the camera only records what the lens produces. So, it takes both, a good camera, and a very good lens to get good photos.

      May 5, 2015 at 11:50 am