Canon makes digital SLRs in both the APS-C and full-frame formats. The EOS 7D is the latest top-of-the-range APS-C model, but it's more than just a midway point between amateur and pro gear. With its 18-megapixel sensor, 8-frames-per-second continuous shooting and 1080p movie mode, it's a professional camera in its own right.
You can buy the body only for around £1,500, or you can buy it with Canon's new 18-135mm kit lens for about £1,800.
Built like a tank
If you've used one of Canon's amateur cameras, like the EOS 1000D or EOS 500D, you may be surprised by how different the 7D is. These cameras may share sensors of the same size, but, otherwise, it's like comparing a Ford Fiesta with a Challenger battle tank. The 7D is built to survive the rigours of professional work, with a metal chassis, aluminium-alloy body panels and a shutter mechanism that has a 150,000-shot life. The latter's just as well given the camera's staggering 8fps continuous shooting. It can capture up to 126 JPEGs without stopping, using the latest UDMA (fast) memory cards. That's about 16 seconds' worth of snaps.
But don't get the idea that carrying the 7D around is going to be like toting a miniature ordnance factory. It's actually very cleanly designed. It's both tough and elegant at the same time.
High-speed shooting and professional build quality aren't all you get. There's also an 18-megapixel sensor -- the highest resolution yet outside of a full-frame camera. That could be something of a worry -- what about noise at high ISOs? It's actually not a problem. The 7D is slightly dodgy at its ISO 6,400 maximum, but, otherwise, it's a match for Nikon's 12-megapixel D300S, previously the standard-setter in this area.
Then there's the movie mode. It records at a 'Full HD', 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution; you get full manual control over shutter speed, aperture and ISO; and you can even switch frame rates, according to the final output you need.
Finally, Canon's new 18-135mm lens is pretty tasty in itself, offering a 7.5x zoom range and optical image stabilisation.
What's in a name?
Here's the thing, though. Previously, Canon used double-digit numbers for its high-end, APS-C-format dSLRs, like the EOS 50D, and single digits for its full-frame models, like the EOS 5D and EOS-1Ds. Canon can call its cameras what it likes, but some photographers are confused over the choice between the 7D and the 5D, given that there's not much difference in price. Others are even slightly miffed that Canon's sneaked an APS-C model into the single-digit range.
But there's got to be more to complain about than just the name, right? Well, yes, there are a couple of things. The 18-135mm kit lens is alright but ever so slightly prone to chromatic aberration, and not hugely sharp. If you really want to get the most from the 18-megapixel sensor, you're probably going to have to invest in better lenses, shoot raw files, or both.
Also, Canon's fancy new iFCL light-metering system seems to freak out now and again, producing hideous over-exposure with some backlit subjects. It doesn't happen every time, but it occurs often enough to make you wonder whether Canon has got this quite right yet.
The Canon EOS 7D has its faults, but it's a great camera overall. Look at what you're getting -- a metal-bodied, professional camera that can shoot at speeds barely bettered by cameras of two or three times the price, plus class-leading resolution and HD movies too. Nikon and the rest of the pack have their work cut out to top this.
Edited by Charles Kloet