The 7D has to compete with some very strong rivals at the top end of the market. Its main competitor is of course the Nikon D300s, but the Sony Alpha A700 and Pentax K-7 are also serious contenders. Canon has cut no corners, and has gone all-out to give the 7D the kind of features and specification that will tempt buyers away from rival systems.
The external components of the camera make an excellent initial impression. The superb 3-inch monitor screen is the same that will be appearing on the new EOS-1D MkIV. It has a viewing angle of about 170 degrees in every direction, and the gap between the surface of the display and the scratch-resistant toughened glass cover has been filled in with a special optically neutral plastic. This means that the image on the display appears to be much closer to the surface, and it is virtually free from glare and internal reflection even in direct sunlight. It is brighter and sharper than any other camera monitor I've seen.
The quality of the monitor is matched by the newly designed pentaprism viewfinder, which is also superb. With 100 percent frame coverage and 1x magnification it is one of the clearest, largest and brightest viewfinders I've seen, certainly comparable with the Nikon D3X and the Sony A900, which were my previous favourites. The viewfinder has an internal transparent LCD overlay, so focus points, framing marks, grid lines, AF points and even an electronic artificial horizon with pitch and roll level can be overlaid on the viewfinder without having to swap out focusing screens.
One glance at the control layout is enough to confirm that the EOS 7D isn't aimed at beginners. It has four dials, three switches, a joystick and no less that 17 buttons, not counting the shutter release. I've used pretty much every digital SLR on the market including Canon's entire current range, and even I had to spend time with the instruction manual to find out what some of the controls do. I have to admit I've always preferred Nikon's control layout to Canon's, but despite its complexity I actually found the 7D quite easy to get to grips with. The ergonomic design of the body and control layout is excellent, and despite its weight the camera is comfortable to hold and operate. It has the usual dual-dial and multi-function buttons, but there is also an on-screen graphical interface for main shooting and exposure settings. It even has a full-auto shooting mode, although the idea of anyone buying a camera like this for their holiday snapshots is mildly distressing.
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