Canon’s EOS 7DII and the 100-400mm II

Is it a match made in Heaven?

Well I finally got my hands on Canon’s much talked about 7DII and the new 100 – 400mm II; a combination I was very keen to try out. With the Canon Day at Hamilton Zoo just over a week away from when I received the gear, there wasn’t much time to do a full appraisal, so this review is more of a first impressions opinion. It won’t be full of tech talk, graphs and charts because, to be honest there’s plenty of them already out there, but it does have quite a few  pictures to look at, after all that’s what photography is all about, for me anyway. When I get to test out any new gear the things I’m interested in is the quality of the images that it can produce, and will it be of benefit to help improve my photography. Simple really.

The 7DII in the Hand

Canon's EOS 7DII review by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold.

It certainly feels comfortable in the hand and with its magnesium alloy body it feels solid and well built; it also has the benefit of some decent weather proofing. If you’re used to the layout of buttons on a Canon then you’ll find it easy to get around as there is no dramatic surprises. It does have a few new buttons, and the one I really liked is a thumb switch situated around the joystick, which makes it very easy to navigate through the focus area selection modes.

One thing I was eager to test was the new focusing system, similar to that on my 1DX, so expectations were high. I’ll come back to that a bit later. The LCD monitor basically has a very clean sharp look about it and I found it was easy to see the histogram even on a bright day, making it quick and easy to make those fine exposure adjustments.

EF 100 – 400mm Mark II

Canon's EF 100 – 400mm Mark IIAn upgrade of the 10 year old EF 100 – 400mm lens has been long awaited by many, including myself, so personally I was more keen to get my hands on this rather than the 7DII. There have been some big improvements made to the mark II, the most noticeable one being the twist lens not the old push and pull (I can hear the sighs of relief from here). Then there is the image stabilizing, four stops worth apparently, and again I’ll come back to that when I talk about using it in the field. The image stabilizing has three positions:

1 corrects for movement horizontally and vertically.
2 is for panning, so it doesn’t try to adjust for the camera as you pan.
3 is a new setting that only engages the stabilization when shutter is fully pressed. In this mode you will not see any image stabilization effect through the view finder when you half press the shutter, like in 1 and 2.

One last thing I’ll mention at this point is the lens hood. “What?” I hear you say – well Canon has added a very nice little touch here by fitting a small opening that can be opened and closed to get access to a filter. Brilliant, no more messing around with the hood to adjust the polarizer.

The 7DII and 100 – 400mm II Combo

Gannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIWell it works, it works very well. In the hand this combo feels very comfortable, much lighter than when I’m using my 1DX so it would be great when you have to tramp into the bush or general travelling. The real bonus, especially as I shoot with a full frame sensor normally, is that this combo gives you an effective focal length of 160 – 640mm making it extremely versatile.

Focusing

So how does the focusing system perform, I hear you all shout? It’s very fast even when the subject is quite out of focus to start with, it will focus and lock on very quickly; I didn’t get any hunting going on, so ‘thumbs up’ there.
In servo mode, which I use most of the time, the tracking capabilities of the 7DII I have to say are excellent. With 65 cross-type AF points at your disposal, whether you’ve selected a single point or using the Intelligent Tracking and Recognition (iTR) setting (sorry bordering on shear geekiness there) it does an amazing job.

iTR – You can select a single point to focus the subject then the camera will track the movement of the subject as it moves across the view finder, using any of the other 64 points it needs to keep the subject focused – it works well most of the time, but it can depend on how close the subject is to the background. For birds in flight it can work very well.

In this sequence you can see the gannet stayed in sharp focus as it launched itself off the edge of the cliff. I set the AF to a single point with expansion: top/bottom/left/right.

Gannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIGannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIGannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIGannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIGannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIGannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIGannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIGannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIGannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIGannet image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DIIThis next sequence is for all you surf dudes out there; my subject was a bit larger but further away, I used the iTR mode (automatic tracking to you and me) to see if the focus would stay on the surfer, even in amongst all the spray and surf.
Pay particular attention to the last image. With the surfer almost completely engulfed by the wave the 7DII still managed to keep locked on to his legs and board. I was pretty gob-smacked to be honest; I didn’t think it would stay on him.

Surfer image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IISurfer image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IISurfer image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IISurfer image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IIJust to confirm what I’m saying is true, here’s a screen-shot showing the focus points the camera switched to in automatic mode in order to keep tracking the subject.Surfer image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold wit an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IIBy the way I don’t know who the surfer is but he was pretty darn good and gave me some great shots. If you know who he is please tell him to contact me.

Noisy or not that is the question

The original 7D was known for being a bit on the noisy side so it was going to be interesting to see how version two faired. Now I realize I’ve been spoiled because I have an EOS 1DX and I feel very confident using an ISO up around the 6400 mark, because with a slight bit of noise reduction I still get very clean looking images. And I wasn’t expecting the 7DII to be as good as the 1DX in the noise department but I was keen to see how it would perform in this regard.

Amazing image stabilizationThe images below were taken to show you the noise at various ISO’s. The lens image stabilizer was set to 1 and I was hand holding. The stabilizing was impressive, so much so that when looking through the view finder it was as though the camera was on a tripod it seemed so steady.
Below is a selection of images; they’re copies of the Raw files straight out of the camera, no adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction etc have been made, simply resized and uploaded – no sharpening applied either when resized. I’ve tried to keep them as unprocessed as possible. I’ve zoomed in to 100% so you can see any noise present. Click on the zoomed image for larger view at 100%.

ISO 3200

Spider monkey image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold with an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IITo view at 100% click on image below.

Spider monkey image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold with an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IIISO 2000

Red panda image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold with an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IITo view at 100% click on image below.Red panda image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold with an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm II

ISO 1600

Red panda image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold with an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IITo view at 100% click on image below.

Red panda image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold with an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IIISO 800

Red panda image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold with an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IITo view at 100% click on image below.

Red panda image taken by wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold with an EOS 7DII and 100 -400mm IISo there you go – I think it’s pretty impressive. You have to remember that you have to get your exposures correct, as if you’re needing to increase the exposure post capture you will introduce noise into you image even at lower ISO’s than I’ve shown here. So get it right in camera and you should be sweet.

VERDICT

I need to convince the wife I have to spend some more money. No seriously though, I was very impressed with both bits of kit considering the short time I’ve had them. The image quality and focusing system are great. I’ll definitely be looking into getting the 100 – 400mm lens, and if funds allow the 7DII as well as this combo works very well, is light and has good reach. I love my 1DX and the 7DII won’t be replacing it – it’s not quite that good! – but the two really complement each other. Off now to tell the wife how special it is.

If you want to know more about this combo come along to the Canon Day at Hamilton Zoo on Sunday 22nd March and I’ll tell you all about it and you can even have a go.

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