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Canon 7D Mk II, A Sports & Wildlife Perspective | Review

By Anthony Thurston on December 7th 2014

I have had the pleasure of being able to use and shoot with the 7D Mark II for the last month, and being that my two favorite subjects to shoot are sports and wildlife, this camera was right up my alley. Here is my review of the Canon 7D Mark II from the perspective of a sports and wildlife photographer.

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Canon 7D Mark II – Sports & Wildlife Review

A lot has been said about Canon since the 7D Mark II was announced, be it disappointment over sensor performance, or ‘lack’ of cutting edge video features. But how does the camera actually perform in its designed niche, namely sports and wildlife photography?

The short answer is that it performs very well. A quick highlight of the features that makes it so perfect for this niche is the 10fps burst mode, incredible weather sealing, and super fast/accurate auto focus performance. I was blown away by the performance of this crop body, which matches (and maybe even outperforms, in some respects) Canon’s EOS 1-D X.

1/1000th, F/6.3, ISO 500 on Canon 7D Mark II w/ 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L

1/1000th, F/6.3, ISO 500 on Canon 7D Mark II w/ 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L

During my time with the camera, I was able to take the body to several sporting events and on a couple of photo walks out at the local wildlife refuge. In the sports setting, I could have not been happier with the performance of the 7D Mark II. I was able to try the different auto focus settings and find one that worked best for me.

The 7D Mark II focused and tracked players really well, and the 10fps performance meant that no moment was missed. I even gave the auto white balance and auto ISO a shot, and let me tell you, they may be the most accurate that I have ever used. The WB settings were always spot on, or within a range that only a small push one way or the other was needed, and the auto ISO was chosen perfectly, allowing for highlight and shadow recovery in post fairly easily. I always shoot RAW, even for sports, but I would feel comfortable shooting JPG with those settings on, and that is saying something.

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1/250th, F/5.6, ISO 200 on Canon 7D Mark II w/ 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L

I really could not ask for a better camera from a sports perspective. The full frame sensor of the EOS-1D X would be nice, but when you consider that you could buy 3 (almost 4) 7D Mark II bodies for the price of one EOS-1D X, things get a whole lot simpler in the decision making process.

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1/2000th, F/2.8, ISO 250 on Canon 7D Mark II w/ Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD

If you have ever tried to photograph small birds, you will know that they can be some of the toughest little targets for camera auto focus systems to track. Usually, initial focus is not a problem, but when they start hopping around and with the speed at which they normally move, it can cause AF systems trouble.

I took the 7D Mk II out with me to the local wildlife refuge to see how it fared against these small winged critters, and I came away very impressed with the AF performance. Specifically, with the tracking ability of the new AF system. It was not perfect, the little birds still managed to trick it, but overall, I was very impressed with how well the camera was able to keep up with these little guys.

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1/1250th, F/2.8, ISO 500 on Canon 7D Mark II w/ Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD

The 7D Mark II has met my expectations in every way, coming from personal experience with the original 7D and now, having used this new model, I can say without a doubt it is worth the upgrade for sports and wildlife photographers.

To all of you complaining about the video mode or the sensor performance, it is true, the camera could be better in these regards. But that hardly makes the camera bad for these uses. In a sports or wildlife setting, I would be very comfortable with the quality of video I can get from this camera. Sure, it’s not 4K, but it still looks great.

The same goes for the sensor performance; it may not be the best on the market, but it is hardly bad. You will still love the images that you can get out of this camera, and given the combination of other features, this is, in my mind, one of the top APS-C bodies on the market; if not the top.

The only way that you can really know if it is for you is to go out and give it a try. Rent one for a couple days and really see if it works for you. It’s as simple as that.

7D Mark II Sports and Wildlife Sample Images

7d-mk-ii-sample-0001 7d-mk-ii-sample-0001-2 7d-mk-ii-sample-0001-3 7d-mk-ii-sample-0001-4 7d-mk-ii-sample-0001-5 7d-mk-ii-sample-0001-6 7d-mk-ii-sample-0001-7 7d-mk-ii-sample-0002 7d-mk-ii-sample-0003 7d-mk-ii-sample-0004

Overall, I have been really happy with the 7D Mark II, and it has fulfilled every single one of my expectations coming into the review. I am highly considering it as my next DSLR, and any of you who enjoy shooting sports or wildlife would do well to consider it, too.

I would like to give a shout out and special thanks to the Western Oregon University Athletic Department for allowing me to come out and shoot on the sideline. If you are interested in the 7D Mark II, you can order your copy now over on B&H for $1799 body only or $2149 in the kit.

Stay tuned for more 7D Mark II perspective reviews coming up as our own Matthew Saville shares his thoughts from a wedding and portrait perspective.

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

22 Comments

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  1. Basit Zargar

    good one

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  2. Craig Cohen

    Was there any reason why you dropped the SS to 250 on the football shots?

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  3. Leo Ryan

    Matthew, that is very interesting and I would never have considered that Sigma so thanks heaps.
    500mm could be excellent down at the athletics track or cricket field.
    Not sure yet which way I’ll jump but I’ll bale out of the L series.
    Have a truly Happy new year.

    L

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  4. Leo Ryan

    Just wanted to say thanks to both Matthew and Adam for thoughtful replies.

    Guys, the 6D is crossed off and list is down to 7D2, 70D, (or even a 2nd hand 7D – I’ve seen these for $800 in good condition, with low shutter count.

    The take-home-message is that the 7D2 is better but the budget has to stop somewhere and there is the speedlite to think of.
    Also, I’ve seen 2nd hand EF 70-300mm L series for under $1000 so maybe putting that with a 70D (or 2nd hand 7D) is a way of stretching the $2K.

    Decisions, decisions….

    If anyone has any final thoughts, I’m all ears!

    Thanks again and Best wishes for a Truly Happy New Year!

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    • Matthew Saville

      Personally, if I was in the market for a budget tele zoom, I’d go for a Sigma 50-150, (either version is great) or a Sigma or Tamron 70-200.

      =Matt=

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    • Leo Ryan

      Thanks Matt for the comment re budget tele zoom.
      What if you just had to have up to 300mm capacity?

      cheers,
      Leo

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi again Leo,

      If you’d like to get to ~300mm, I personally would say that even a 1.4x TC on a 70-200 f/4 would be a better overall choice than a 70-300 L. Either that, or consider one of Sigma’s alternates that goes all the way to 500mm, Anthony Thurston seems to have really liked those!

      =Matt=

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  5. Leo Ryan

    Splendid review Anthony. Many thanks.

    Hello All, I’m a newbie here and not much of a photographer if the truth be told (I’m mostly content with a good result and the less fiddling I have to do with settings, the better). I killed an EOS 630 some years ago and now a 400D has died on me, so I’m keen to buy a new body. I have several Canon lens so will stick with that make.
    I mostly take shots of my beautiful young children and most of these are indoors so I was attracted to the 6D after reading Matthew Saville’s comprehensive comments. Also like its portability for holidays and hiking.

    However, the older of my brood are starting to play a lot of outdoor sport and this will only increase as the youngers ones continue to grow (others assure me this is guaranteed…!). Having read this article I’m now very interested in 7DmkII. Can’t wait for Matthew’s review from portrait perspective.

    Matthew, any word on when that might be published please?

    So, can anyone please give me some advice on what would be a good compromise for low light indoor portraits whilst also being able to capture outdoor sports action? I’d love a 5DMkIII but the budget just won’t stretch past 7D MkII territory.

    Many thanks again and Merry Christmas.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Leo, for kids, there’s nothing like having an AF system that totally blankets your viewfinder with cross-type AF points. That camera, in short, is the 7D mk2. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a “compromise”, depending on what you shoot, I’d say it’s actually the best choice out there.

      I’m working on my 7D mk2 review from the perspective of weddings and portraits, but with the holidays that might be a while… I’ll see if I can hustle!

      =Matt=

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    • adam sanford

      Leo, if I hear you correctly, you…

      * Have a number of Canon lenses
      * Want to keep the spend under $2k
      * Are shooting moving targets — kids and sports
      * Have a low light need for portraiture

      You really have the choice of either 7D2 or 70D. The 70D is no slouch focusing-wise and was the first Canon rig to pack DPAF, has the same resolution as the 7D2, and has a very respectable 7 fps burst. At $999, that’s a compelling option — you could get that *and* a good lens for the same price as the 7D2.

      But comparing the 70D to the 7D2 is like comparing a 6D to a 5D3. In specific places, the cheaper rig can actually do more, but on aggregate the better camera is worth it. In the case of the 7D2 over the 70D, you get a ton ‘more’ from the rig: you get a world-class AF system with a massive AF point upgrade, tank-like build quality with excellent weather-sealing, faster burst, bigger buffer, etc.

      I’d 100% avoid the FF migration if moving targets are your priority over portraiture. As great as those sensors are, you’ll have to go all the way to the 5D3 ($$$) and likely lose/convert/upgrade some EF-S lenses ($-$$$) to get what you are looking for.

      Budget option: if you don’t mind challenging your last bullet point above by buying a proper speedlite, the original 7D is still a formidable camera in good light (like for field sports) and can be snatched up for even less than the 70D. But it will fall off a cliff on-or-around ISO 1600, and indoor shooting without a flash will be problematic at times.

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  6. Daniel Thullen

    Anthony, just out of curiosity, what kind of post-production was done on these samples? Any?

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  7. Bob Heathcote

    Can you please tell us if you used any of the AF selection features or just locked it on center point for everything? As much detail as you can please. Thanks

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    • Herm Tjioe

      He answered that one, Bob. He tried different modes.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Bob, in my experience it depends on how neurotic you are. I’m OCD, so I fiddle between different AF point selection modes a lot. I really appreciated the new “flip switch” feature on the 7D mk2 that allows you to toggle between the various AF modes. on the 5D mk3, it was always kind of annoying to have to hit that teeny-tiny little M-FN button or whatever it’s called.

      I’ll let Anthony speak for himself since he did way more sports action testing than I did, but I settled mainly on traditional single-point AF, and then the 9-point group AF. Those two AF modes were all I ever used, once I got the hang of things.

      And if your question was actually more directed at the use of off-center AF points, the answer would be yes, I used them obsessively, and they worked very well. I only found myself having to default back to the center AF point for very, very dark conditions in which any other camera would already be having trouble anyways, even a 1DX probably…

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  8. Ralph Hightower

    The 7D Mk II probably would have been the DSLR that I bought, had it been available in December 2013. The 7D II is basically a mini 1Dx (which I cannot afford). I ran into “analysis paralysis” when trying to evaluate what would probably be my first and last DSLR purchase. I call it an “arms race” between Canon and Nikon trying to out-feature the other. I don’t do exclusively sports or wildlife, but general purpose photography.
    I compared features of my film cameras, Canon A-1 and F-1N to DSLR; yes, I could’ve switched to Nikon since my lens inventory is incompatible. Both cameras with their respective motor drives shoot six frames per second; with film, I only use the motor drive when necessary. Full frame vs. APS-C? There’s benefits on the telephoto side, losses on the wide angle side for APS-C.
    The A-1 that I bought in 1980 is still in service. Last year, my wife found a 5D III package with 24-105L on Amazon; I found a similar package at B&H for $500 less.

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  9. Herm Tjioe

    Are all these pictures posted taken with autofocus on ?

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yes, all of these pictures were with the AF, though with varying AF settings since I was constantly playing with settings trying to get the best performance out of each situation.

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  10. Herm Tjioe

    Thank you Anthony for this summary. I am reading from other sources how good this 7Dmk2 is performing. It’s getting harder to resist getting it rather than waiting for 5Dmk4

    The 7D is good, with me having to take dancers and performances, the feature set is important.

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  11. Barry McDonald

    Nice review Anthony. I Love this camera. It has been great for my daughter’s competitive cheer and gymnastics competitions. I am concerned with the soft focus issue reported by Michael over at http://www.michaelthemaven.com. Have you heard anything about this?

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    • Anthony Thurston

      I had not heard of soft focus issues on the 7D Mk II, and did not experience any myself. I generally don’t attribute soft focus to the camera, usually find that is a lens issue – or more specifically a lens/body combination issue.

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  12. J. Cassario

    Great review Anthony!

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  13. adam sanford

    Nice review, Anthony. Glad to see the 7D2 is performing well in your hands.

    Given the wildly changing lighting I experience in walkaround and street shooting situations, I readily admit to using auto ISO often. Some photogs really boo and hiss about auto ISO, but when you are running and gunning and trying not to hold up those you are with to dial in settings, it’s a lifesaver. Never having a blurry shot from too slow of a shutter (i.e. leaving it in a set low ISO for less noise) *and* never having too noisy a shot (i.e. leaving it in a set high iso to keep shutter speed up) is a nice feature. My camera climbs as much up or down the ISO scale as needed at that moment, and I never lament occasional blurry shots or (worse) an entire ‘roll’ of noisy ones from playing it safe and setting a conservative ISO.

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