The past few years has seen a rapid growth in popularity of consumer digital SLRs, and a corresponding expansion of the ranges of cameras available from the main manufacturers. A couple of years ago Canon's DSLR range consisted of a triple-digit "entry-level" model such as the EOS 350D or 400D, a double-digit model for advanced amateurs and semi-professionals such as the EOS 30D or 40D, and then it was on to the professional single-digit models such as the EOS 5D and EOS-1D models.
This year in spite of the difficult economic situation the main manufacturers have expanded their consumer DSLR ranges in both directions. Nikon has introduced the D3000 and D5000, as well as the new D300s, and Sony has added a whole swathe of new models to its already impressive range. For its part Canon has introduced the EOS 1000D as a new entry-level model, while the EOS 500D and EOS 50D now share the middle ground. However it is the top end of the consumer range that is attracting the most attention, because Canon has just launched a new semi-pro flagship camera, the eagerly awaited EOS 7D.
The 7D fills a gap that had opened up in Canon's range between the 15.1-megapixel, EOS 50D at £700, and the 21.1-megapixel full-frame EOS 5D Mk II at £1,800. With an 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and a price tag of £1,500 body-only the 7D hits the mark perfectly. It offers enough of an advantage over the 50D to attract the serious enthusiasts to upgrade, while its build quality performance and versatility don't fall much short of the 5D MkII, offering an alternative for those who can't quite justify the leap to full-frame.
Many commentators have characterised the 7D as an upgrade of the 50D, but I'd describe it more as a 5D MkII Lite. In terms of size and weight it is certainly closer to its full-frame sibling. It is a few millimetres narrower and shorter, but its body-only weight is actually 10g heavier. The body shape and overall feel of the camera is reminiscent of the 5D MkII, and the build quality is comparable as well, with a tough magnesium alloy body shell and full environmental sealing.