STUDIO TEST : Canon 7D Mark II ISO Performance

Ever since I received my Canon 7D Mark II, I have been itching to see what its real high ISO performance looked like.  I could have tried this with JPEGs but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  Fortunately, the day I write this, Adobe has released Lightroom 5.7 and the latest Camera RAW that directly supports the new RAW format.  Let's see what I learned.Canon's 7D Mark II produces crop sensor delivered images that are approximately 20 megapixels.  Dimensions are 3648 x 5472 pixels per frame.  This is a standard 2:3 aspect ratio, the same as a full frame sensor.  File sizes at ISO 100 were about 21MB each growing to 35.2MB by the time I got to ISO 51200.  This isn't surprising because the greater amount of noise requires more data points so larger files. The Test Shots

I put the Canon 7D Mark II on a Manfrotto 496 ball head mounted to one of their carbon fibre leg sets.  Usually I use Really Right Stuff but sadly the L-Bracket for the 7D Mark II is backordered so far.  I attached a Canon electronic cable release to minimize camera shake even while on the tripod.  I have found microshake even on this tripod at shutter speeds as fast as 1/13 second, so it's a good idea that you always use a release cable when shooting slow speeds even on a tripod.

I used Canon's 85mm f:/1.2L lens for each image.  While the 85/1.2 produces stunning bokeh, the purpose was to test ISO performance so I set a middle aperture of f:/11 for every shot.  Once I had the depth of field I wanted, I set up the lights.  Because I knew I would be running the gamut from slow to fast shutter speeds, well past the camera's native flash sync, and not wanting to get into High Speed Sync complexity I decided on using continuous light, so I set up the Westcott Spiderlite TD-5 with an 18" x 24" softbox slightly up and 45 degrees left of my usual model Sondra.  Distance from the front diffuser to Sondra was about 2 feet.  On Sondra's left and 1 foot away was a Lastolite Trigrip Reflector clamped with a Manfrotto Spring Clamp mounted on a light stand, using the white/silver striped surface.  I didn't want a really punchy reflector, but more snap than plain white.

Once the light and reflector were placed, and Sondra was in position, I took incident light readings with the dome of the Sekonic 478DR placed at Sondra's chin and pointed at the lens.  I was taught this positioning by Frank Doorhof as this measurement will make the cheekbones just a bit brighter because of the relative distance from the source.  Frank was right, and now it's my standard practice when the light is above the subject.

Once I had my meter reading for ISO 100, I made the first exposure.  For each subsequent exposure, I simply doubled the ISO and halved the shutter speed.  I did check each change with the light meter to verify my math was correct.

The results were very good.  The 7D Mark II delivers a significant improvement in image quality at higher ISOs than the original 7D.  Since the camera will be used most aggressively by wildlife and sports photographers who often have to deal with crappy light, this is a real boon.

To be fair, while it is much better than its predecessor, it's not the high ISO performance you will get out of a Canon 1Dx, Nikon D4s or the respected Prince of Darkness, Nikon's Df, a camera I reviewed and continue to say you can shoot all day long at ISO 25600 and get really good images.

But, the 7D Mark II doesn't go near the price territory of those cameras either, and it's not full frame with larger pixels to deal with the lower light levels.

In the gallery attached you can see images where the only things that change are the ISO and the shutter speed.  Since it is all continuous light, there is no quality shift caused by different shutter speeds so you get a fair representation of the ISO performance.  I started at ISO 100 and by doubling the ISO at each frame got to the camera maximum of 51200 in ten frames.

You can click on any image to make it larger, and as you mouse over, a caption will appear to share the relevant EXIF data.  As I shoot OJHL hockey in arenas where the lighting is often questionable, I used to be concerned about pushing the original 7D past ISO 1600.  Based on this initial test, I am quite comfortable that I will be able to shoot at 6400 and get good images.  By reasonable post-processing, I am confident that I can really make the noise irrelevant.  The images posted here have only had two modifications done in post-processing.  They all have a common white balance set custom using a reading off the grey background, and they all have had the Lightroom lens correction for the 85/1.2 applied, not that it does very much at all.  No other tweaks were applied so this really is the RAW output exported as JPEGs 1024px long side at 72dpi for the web.


This is not meant to be a comprehensive review of the 7D Mark II.  It is a fairly comprehensive single light source test of the ISO performance of this body with a decent lens mounted to it and constraints placed on the camera position and the lens aperture.  Reviews of any kind are always subjective, and in my opinion, the photographer who shoots, Canon, and wants a tough high performance DSLR body with a crop sensor, and who also needs really good low light performance will not go wrong with a 7D Mark II.

Next test will be video, and it will be a bit unfair because the comparison will be with my original 7D hopped up with Magic Lantern video firmware.  I will keep you all posted.