Canon EOS 7D Digital Camera Review$1,699.99
The Canon 7D reproduced colors well, though not as accurately as its brand mate Canon 5D Mark II or the surprisingly precise Nikon D5000. We measure color accuracy by shooting the standard X-Rite ColorChecker chart under bright 3000 lux studio illumination, in each available color mode, then run the test shots through Imatest software to determine the deviation between the captured values and the known chart values. More on how we test color.
There is an oddity in the way the 7D handles color across the five available color modes (called Picture Styles in Canonland). We found the most accurate color reproduction shooting in Faithful mode, with spot-on flesh tones and only yellow shades off by much. Neutral is just a hair's breadth less accurate. However, both of these modes are intentionally, significantly undersaturated (88.5% for Faithful, 90% for Neutral), on the assumption that the shooter will tweak the results in Photoshop or another image editing program. Similarly, both modes have sharpness lowered substantially, with future image editing in mind. These values can be adjusted, with three customized Picture Styles stored, but we expect most users who don't want to hand jigger each shot they take will use Standard mode most often, which delivers highly accurate image saturation and a reasonable amount of sharpening. Faithful mode delivers more accurate skin tone color values, shades of blue and red, but photos taken in Standard mode still look great right out of the camera.
The chart below shows same-size crops taken from our test images for the Canon 7D and four comparison cameras, each in its most accurate color mode. The color names are those used by X-Rite.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
As with most Canon cameras, the 7D offers very good color accuracy, and the option to tweak the settings and save them for future use (see the Picture Effects section for more details) is a welcome feature.
The Canon 7D offers six Picture Style selections (including Monochrome, not shown here). The same-size patches below were taken from our color test images.
Our white balance testing produced unexpected results: the automatic white balance system was exceptionally accurate, while the manual white balance system was much less accurate than competitive cameras. We test white balance using the X-Rite Judge II lightbox to produce consistent illumination from three different sources: daylight, incandescent (like household tungsten bulbs) and compact white fluorescents, shooting the ColorChecker chart and analyzing the color error against the known chart values using Imatest.
Automatic White Balance ()
As is often the case, incandescent lighting proved challenging to the auto white balance system, but the results under daylight and fluorescent lighting were spot on.
Custom White Balance ()
We look for a high level of color accuracy after taking a custom white balance reading, and didn't find it when shooting with the Canon 7D, even after running the test multiple times. The resulting shots didn't look hideous, but they were nowhere near as accurate as the other cameras in our comparison group, and dragged down the overall white balance score for the 7D.
In daylight testing, the AWB system in the 7D produced the most accurate color results among our test cameras. Incandescent lighting was a challenge but the 7D is in good company here. Only the Canon 5D Mark II was more accurate under compact fluorescents than the 7D.
If we were judging on automatic white balance performance alone, the 7D would receive a top score in this section, but averaging the two test segments produced a mediocre overall result.
White Balance Options
The 7D offers a modest selection of white balance presets, though each preset can be tweaked if desired. Given the excellent color accuracy we measured using the auto white balance system, we don't see a lot of use for these settings, with the possible exception of tungsten lighting.
We've used it many times on many cameras, but we still find Canon's use of two-step procedure for setting custom white balance to be slow and awkward. First you take a photo of a white or gray surface under current lighting conditions. Then you go to the main menu system and choose Custom WB from the second Record menu, select the photo and confirm you want to use it to set a custom white balance. This does let you save a shot to load the same white balance settings in the future, but a one-touch white balance system is our preference.
A white balance setting can also be entered directly in degrees Kelvin.
Fine white balance adjustment is available along the green-magenta and blue-amber axes.
Finally, white balance values can be bracketed, with three versions of a single exposure saved, with values shifted along either the green-magenta or blue-amber axis in user-specified increments.
Our two-part long exposure test, which considers both color accuracy and image noise in low-light, with shutter speeds ranging from 1 second to 30 seconds, produced a win for the Canon 7D, outperforming our comparison cameras overall. We shoot the ColorChecker chart with a low 20 lux illumination level, with and without long exposure noise reduction for cameras that support this feature, and use Imatest to analyze the resulting images. More on how we test long exposure.
Shooting 1-second, 5-second, 10-second, 15-second and 30-second exposures produced images with very accurate color and, also important, very little difference in color values between shooting speeds. Color differences between shots taken with and without long exposure noise reduction were inconsequential.
Image noise was consistently around 0.85% across the board, an impressive result. Here again, turning long exposure noise reduction on had little effect, a result we frequently encounter. Since most image noise is caused by random electrical events rather than consistent flaws in the equipment, attempts to digitally remove noise flecks are rarely successful.
Good things happen in the dark when shooting with the Canon 7D, whose ability to capture low-noise, accurately colored images under challenging conditions surpassed the competition.