Curious fellow that I am, I decided to rent a Canon 7D Mark II to see how it performs and to what extent I'd be blown away by its speed.
It's been interesting, not so much what I learned about the camera, but what I learned about myself and cameras.
The first thing I noticed as the camera was lying on my desk, was that I didn't reach for it that often. Currently, I also have two Zeiss Loxia lenses on loan and I had just received the new Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens. These were all vying for attention and I tended to veer toward the smaller, mirrorless options instead of the larger DSLR.
This is not a negative against the camera itself, but merely yet another reflection on how my own use of cameras has changed. Taking my own 5D Mark III with me is always a conscious decision, whereas I often quickly grab one of the smaller cameras as I head out the door. So it was with the 7D II.
The 7D II is all about speed, an upgrade of the 7D and apparently a 1Dx mini-me. But speed is relative nowadays. The dimunitive Sony A6000 is also quite fast and boasts impressive autofocus speed. I used it for a while and was impressed, though its body style does nothing for me and I never bought one.
My Olympus OM-D E-M1 does just as many frames per second as the new Canon, is lighter and autofocuses blazingly fast, even with that new 40-150mm lens at 150mm (the equivalent of 300mm in full-frame) and even when coupled with the new 1.4 converter at the equivalent of 420mm.
But that of course is not the whole story. Despite these observations, a top DSLR like the 7D II still has some aces up its sleeves compared to any mirrorless camera.
For one, no mirrorless camera and hardly any other camera can do focus tracking as well as this new Canon. It shines where my Olympus looks merely dull when tracking fast moving subjects.
It's also the kind of camera that gives you confidence that it can handly virtually any situation. I know, I know, all the top mirrorless models are also weathersealed and robust, but the fact of the matter is that they don't really feel or look it, not with their tilting rear screens and finicky buttons and dials. I like them and I use them, but I wouldn't take them to war with me.
The 7D II, on the other hand, reminds me of the 1D Mark II I used to own when I still thought I needed that kind of speed. That was the last camera I owned that I trusted to do whatever I could throw at it: a model shoot in the waves of the Mediterranean, a world rally championship on the mountains of Cyprus, with cars zipping past at high speed and rocks and dust thrown up toward you and your gear. It didn't matter.
That's the feeling this 7D II gave me. I could take it to war.
A handy side benefit is that the layout is almost identical to the 5D Mark III, so it's easy to switch between the two, although I ditch catch myself putting a 50mm lens on the 7D thinking that would be a normal lens. The sensor is APS-C, so 35mm is more like normal than 50mm. I just never shoot any APS-C DSLR anymore.
For those dedicated to sports and wildlife photography, there is of course much more to this camera. No mirrorless system comes close in the combination of speed in the camera and lens offerings in the system that really work for sports or wildlife.
And if you want the same speed and image quality from Nikon, you better be willing to shell out way more money, as Nikon has opted for an upgrade path toward more megapixels and full-frame sensors and left its APS-C user base wanting for an equivalent of the Canon 7D II.
While I do think Canon is a little slow to move on quality mirrorless offerings, I also think they hit the mark with the 7D II. As a matter of fact, I also think that if they were to offer a full-frame mirrorless camera that takes their current lenses, they could still give Sony a run for its money.
And while I didn't go into a detailed study of image quality or try every bit of functionality, I was surprised to see that one no longer has to fear the shadow banding from the Canon sensor. It's still not as clean as the Sony sensors, but you can now open up the shadows of an image without too much fear.
And, yes, you can also use this camera for everything else. I wouldn't buy it for that, though. I'd buy the 6D instead, because I prefer a full-frame sensor. Still, I don't think you can go wrong with the 7D II.
By John van Rosendaal