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Question of the Month

August 2010

Which is the better camera,

the Canon Mark IV or the 7D?

For nearly two years I've been considering buying a Canon 7D, ever since our last Antarctica trip. There, as I carried 2 Mark III bodies, a 500mm f4 and a 28-300 zoom, and a 16-35mm wide-angle zoom, and a flash, I was, quite frankly, often exhausted at the end of the day. After that trip I was looking at ways I could shave weight.

Also on that trip I was very impressed by the shots participants were getting, catching AF action that was incredible. I wondered if they were that good (they were) or if the camera AF system was that good (it is). Later, interviewing participants of our various trips I learned that no one had a complaint about the camera -- they loved it.

Within days of writing this Mary and I are off to Brazil for more jaguar photography and some extension trips to other locales where we'll be flying, and where weight will be an issue. We decided to buy two 7D cameras, rather than wait with the hope that sometime before next year's Antarctica an 8D or something might appear.

The camera is sitting on my desk right now, next to and dwarfed by my Canon Mark IV. Without an accessory motor drive, which would add size and weight to the camera, the 7D is just a bit over half the size of the Mark IV, and much lighter. I elected not to buy the battery pack to avoid the extra weight and size, and instead just bought some extra batteries to insert when needed. These are small, and cheap compared to the Mark IV.

In many ways the 7D seems like a far more advanced camera than the Mark IV. It has a built-in, pop-up flash, which is generally considered an amatuer accessory, but it is very handy for fill-in light. Of course, the 7D has a hotshoe, too, where a big flash can be mounted, so I have the best of both worlds. The 7D also has the ability to control other flashes by a wireless connection, so that banks of flashes can be fired at different flash power ratios. I've just begun to experiment here but it is a neat feature, and one not found on the Mark IV.

The AF features are much more versatile and I'd argue advanced. Although there are only 19 AF points, in contrast to the 45 of the Mark IV, these can be grouped in several ways for precise AF or for detecting a moving subject in arrays I haven't found with the IV. And, with the IV, I usually had only 19 or 11 AF points active, anyway, so I was on equal ground with the 7D.

The Movie Mode is much easier to activate intuitively, although after watching Canon Digital Learning Center movies I did find a shortcut for activating the movie mode with the IV. However, with that camera the video (and my previous Tip) recommends using shutter speeds between 1/30th or 1/60th and 1/125th, while the video for the 7D states that any shutter speed can be used. Until I test this further, I'd recommend still staying at these speeds, and not going faster, to avoid choppy videos.

The camera also has a quick setting button that displays the camera settings, and by navigating to any one of these setting boxes it is easy to change them. Shutter speed, aperture, ISO, operating mode, metering mode, picture style, AF setting, format, and drive can all be changed by this box, making navigating the system traditionally almost or completely superfluous once the camera is set up. There's a multi-function button next to the shutter button that accesses several features, and not only takes the place of the Mark IV's FEL button but goes it several steps better, and the menu items are pretty well laid out, and far more versatile, than the Mark IV.

We treat our cameras hard, so it will be interesting to see if the cameras hold up to rigorous field use, and I'm sure the cameras are not as weather-proofed as the Mark IV, but in Antarctica I saw these cameras go through a lot of abuse.

The Mark IV has a 1.3X crop factor, and the 7D has a 1.6X, but more mega-pixels, and I'll be interested in comparing image quality between the two. I've never been too concerned about the crop factor 'advantage,' since a fine, high megapixel camera image can be cropped to produce the same result. Still, everyone I've talked with loves to see the bigger, cropped image native in the camera, rather than having to crop down later, so I suspect we'll enjoy that advantage as well.

Previously, I posted my impressions of the Mark IV, which were very positive. I'm happy I own one, but as we thought about upgrading for Mary, and what we needed, we felt it was worth the gamble and try the 7D rather than more, and very much more expensive, Mark IV cameras.

If you are thinking of getting a new camera, I'd strongly recommend checking out the Canon DLC site and comparing the videos of the two cameras.

Now, to answer the question, personally I think the 7D is the best buy, the better camera. I may amend this if it proves not to be durable, but for now, with the features it has, and its price, I'd think long and hard before spending the bucks for another Mark IV..



Questions of the Month

Are there Mountain Lions (Pumas, Cougars) in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic States?
Why is bat photography so difficult?

What do I think of the Canon 1D Mark IV?

How do I deal with shaving weight for carrying my gear
Why do I advocate manual exposure so avidly?
Where can I find Depth of Field reference charts?

What is the Kiboko backpack? Is it the New Best Pack?
Is there a correct position for the upright on a Wimberley actionhead?

How, Who, and Why? The story behind our new web site.

Archived Questions of the Month
Most of my original Questions of the Month for the last several
years are available through this link. The 'look' is from my
original web site, although if I ever have enough time I might
redo these pages to match the new web site But that's not
a high priority.