Canon EOS 7D vs Pentax K-7 at a glance
|Canon EOS 7D Enthusiast-level DSLR:||Pentax K-7 Enthusiast-level DSLR:|
|8 million effective pixels||14.6 million effective pixels|
|Live View on 3in, 920,000-dot LCD screen||Live View on 3in, 920,000-dot LCD screen|
|1920x1080p (Full HD) video recording at 30fps||HD video at 640×416, 1536×1024 or 1280×720 pixels (16:9) at 30fps|
|Wireless flash control||Moving, self-levelling sensor|
|Street price approx £1,250||Street price approx £944|
Canon EOS 7D vs Pentax K-7
In a sea of minor updates, it’s nice to see some fresh DSLR blood in the form of the high-resolution Canon EOS 7D and Pentax K-7
While other manufacturers appear to be preoccupied with bringing out minor updates and variations to existing cameras, Canon and Pentax have both introduced almost completely new digital SLRs that debut new technology.
The EOS 7D, for instance, is currently the only single-number-badged digital SLR from Canon to feature an APS-C-sized sensor, and its inclusion of wireless flash technology signals something of a change of heart by the manufacturer. It also features Canon’s new Focus Colour Luminance (iFCL) metering system, which uses subject distance, colour and luminance information, and a new 19-point AF system that allows the photographer to customise its response to suit the subject.
Meanwhile, the K-7 is billed as Pentax’s first real high-end enthusiast DSLR and is pitched against the likes of the Nikon D300S, Canon EOS 50D and EOS 7D. Although it has the same pixel count as the K20D, the 14.6-million-effective-pixel sensor of the K-7 has a new design. There are also a few novel features on offer, such as the ability to rotate the sensor by as much as 2° to automatically correct a sloping horizon, and an in-camera HDR mode.
I was very impressed by both cameras when I first tested them (the EOS 7D in AP 7 November 2009 and the K-7 in AP 15 August 2009). In this head-to-head test I want to find out which is the best model for enthusiast photographers.
Canon EOS 7D vs Pentax K-7 – Features
Although the Canon EOS 7D and Pentax K-7 sit at the top of their manufacturers’ APS-C-format DSLR range, neither replaced an existing model when it was introduced.
Instead, each debuts a new line of cameras. Both have a high pixel count, but with 18 million effective pixels at its disposal, the EOS 7D is arguably the more tempting for photographers interested in making large prints and capturing lots of detail.
With 14.6 million effective pixels, the K-7 has also proved itself to be no slouch in the detail resolution stakes, and it is interesting to note that at 23.4×15.6mm its sensor is a little bigger than the 22.3×14.9mm device used in the EOS 7D. This could have a significant bearing upon the level of noise in the images it produces.
The most innovative feature of the K-7 is its ability to rotate the sensor by up to 2° to automatically correct a sloping horizon. This is a clever additional use of its Shake Reduction system and links with the camera’s built-in electronic level.
Alternatively, the level indicators are marked in 1° to ±5° and can be displayed in both the viewfinder and LCD screen (in Live View mode) to guide the angle of the camera in portrait and landscape format. It is also possible to shift or rotate the sensor slightly to adjust the composition when an image is being composed on the LCD screen with the camera on a tripod. While the vertical and horizontal movements can make a noticeable difference, it is difficult to imagine that a tripod-using photographer will rely on using sensor adjustments to finalise the composition.
Although it doesn’t feature in-camera stabilisation (Canon uses its lens-based Image Stabilizer system), the EOS 7D has an electronic level that indicates how the camera needs to be rotated to make the horizon level. I will discuss the levels in more depth in the Features in use section.
Like the K-7, the Canon EOS 7D has wireless flash technology that enables compatible flashguns to be controlled by the camera. While this isn’t new for Pentax users, the EOS 7D is the first EOS DSLR to have an Integrated Speedlite Transmitter.
In the past, Canon users have had to invest in the ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter, which retails for around £169. Canon representatives had been adamant that wireless flash control was not necessary in-camera, but at last the company seems to have bowed to the peer pressure exerted by other manufacturers that have provided it for some time.
Pentax attracted some criticism for the limited functionality of the K20D’s Live View system, but this has been addressed in the K-7. Like the EOS 7D, the K-7 has contrast, phase and face-detection AF in Live View mode. The two cameras also feature 3in, 920,000-dot LCD screens and the ability to record high-definition video. This, plus viewfinders that provide an approximately 100% field of view, tops off an impressive feature set for both models.
Image: At ISO 6400 and with the in-camera noise reduction turned off, the Pentax JPEG file looks noticeably noisier than the equivalent file from the EOS 7D. The Pentax automatic white balance system also produced a cooler result, while the EOS 7D image is closer to reality
Features in use: Electronic levels
Image: When the cameras are held at an awkward angle, Pentax’s on-screen electronic level indicator is often easier to see than the more complex level display on the EOS 7D’s LCD screen
I have long since accepted that getting horizons level and trees upright in images is not my forte, so I was very keen to compare the electronic levels in the Canon EOS 7D and Pentax K-7. Both cameras allow the level to be displayed in either the viewfinder or on the LCD screen, and the levels operate whether the cameras are in the upright or the horizontal position. The K-7 can only show the level on its monitor when it is operating in Live View mode, while that of the EOS 7D can be shown on the screen as an alternative to the information display when the viewfinder is being used to compose the image.
When the option is selected using the EOS 7D’s Custom Function IV, pressing the Multi Function (M.Fn) button, located near the shutter-release button, uses the AF point displays to indicate whether the camera is level or not. Whichever the display method, the EOS 7D’s level can indicate the degree of tilt (up or down) as well as horizontal yaw (left or right) in 1° steps up to 6°. The Pentax camera only indicates the degree of yawing (in 1° steps up to 5°).
When the cameras are fixed on a tripod, the levels are extremely easy and convenient to use in most situations. However, when shooting from an exceptionally low or high angle it is a little harder to see the EOS 7D’s level properly as it uses a thin red line that turns green when the camera is level. The Pentax system uses a series of dashes along a line to indicate how much correction is required and this is often easier to see from an awkward angle.
I also found the Pentax level much more useful when using the viewfinder to compose my shots. This is because the Canon level uses the AF points and it disappears from the viewfinder as soon as the ‘AF-on’ or shutter-release buttons are pressed. As the K-7 uses the exposure-compensation scale, it works even when the shutter-release button is half pressed, making it easier to be sure that the camera is level when the shutter is fired.
One of the most impressive innovations during 2009 was the introduction of the Automatic Horizon Correction feature on the K-7. This allows users to set the camera to straighten horizons automatically by rotating the sensor by up to 2°. While it is very clever thinking, the level display gives users the reassurance that something is happening. Also, our tests have revealed that with slow shutter speeds, using Automatic Horizon Correction can lead to a slight reduction in detail resolution.
When the cameras are held at an awkward angle, Pentax’s on-screen electronic level indicator is often easier to see than the more complex level display on the EOS 7D’s LCD screen.
Canon EOS 7D vs Pentax K-7 – Build and handling
As I used these two cameras during some of the coldest, snowiest weather that has been encountered in the south-east of England for many years, I was very grateful for their weatherproof seals. Both cameras received a good covering of snow on several occasions when trees decided to drop their loads over me and when I ventured out in snowstorms. Although I had to wipe snow from the lenses occasionally and the viewfinders were prone to steaming up, neither camera showed any signs that water had entered its body or caused a problem.
With the K-7’s body-only mass of 670g, I expected to notice more of a difference between the weight of the two cameras in my hand. However, sometimes the grip and balance of a camera can make any difference in mass more or less noticeable when it is held. Despite its additional 150g, the EOS 7D doesn’t feel significantly heavier in the hand at first, but after a few hours’ shooting some may find the extra weight has more impact. The K-7 is also appreciably smaller, so it fits more easily into a slim bag and feels more discreet when you’re out shooting.
Despite the cold and wet conditions encountered during much of this test, I never felt that either of the cameras might slip from my grasp. The two fingergrips are good, but the EOS 7D provides a little more room for the fingers and those with larger hands may find that their little finger has to slip under the K-7’s body rather than around the contoured handhold. Despite the lower weight of the K-7, I find the grip of the EOS 7D a little more comfortable to use over long periods.
In the bitter cold I found it harder to distinguish the low-profile buttons on the rear of Pentax K-7 than the mini-joystick and buttons (on the back and top-plate respectively) of the EOS 7D.
On a few occasions I found myself pressing the K-7’s Live View button rather than the navigation buttons when the camera was held to my eye. The only button on the EOS 7D that gave my numb fingers any real problem was the one marked M-fn, which may be set to act as the flash exposure lock (FEL) or autoexposure (AE) lock, or to activate either the one-touch raw and JPEG options, or the electronic level in the viewfinder.
This control lies near the front dial and the shutter release button on the camera’s top-plate, and I normally find it a little awkward to reach it, but with cold hands I found myself searching around for it with my index finger as I looked through the viewfinder.
Even in the cold, adjusting the exposure compensation on the EOS 7D is easy thanks to the large control wheel on the camera’s rear. The K-7 has a dedicated exposure compensation button that is used in conjunction with one of the small control dials. The low-profile button is tricky to locate with cold fingers when the camera is held to the eye. Fortunately, the custom settings make it possible to apply exposure compensation without using the button.
One of the K-7’s weak points is the menu system, which seems rather dated. For instance, it doesn’t have an option to save preferred or frequently used menu options to a separate screen, and it’s not possible to make the menu open at the point where it was last used. The ability to assign up to six features to access via the My Menu screen and being able to set the menu to open at this point saves a lot of time scrolling through options with the EOS 7D’s menu.
Also, although the Pentax K-7 has plenty of customisation options, it is annoying that it’s not possible to see what they have been set to (unless you can remember what each number stands for) without selecting each one.
As is becoming more prevalent now, the screens on the EOS 7D and K-7 can be used to display and adjust many of the camera settings. The Pentax system is spread over two screens, which are reached by pressing the Info button once or twice depending on which one is required, but it means more options can be accessed in this way. The Canon system is reached via a dedicated button marked with a Q and enables up to 16 settings to be adjusted.
Build and handling summary
Apart from a minor grumble about locating the M-Fn button, I prefer the handling of the Canon EOS 7D. The controls that need to be used with the camera held to the eye are generally easier to identify (especially with cold fingers or when wearing gloves) and the menu system is better organised and presented.
White balance and colour
In their automatic settings, the white balance systems of both cameras perform very well.
On the whole, the EOS 7D tends to produce slightly warmer images than the K-7, but in most situations the difference isn’t huge. Pentax appears to have calibrated the camera to make images more neutral, which in some circumstances is desirable, but it can take some of the atmosphere out of a shot.When shooting a still life in fairly warm ambient light, for example, the K-7 produced a cold and cheerless result next to the warmer version produced by the Canon camera. The true picture was nearer to the EOS 7D’s interpretation, but neither shot can be regarded as 100% accurate.
There are plenty of ways to adjust the appearance of images captured by the EOS 7D and K-7, but the Pentax camera has the most extensive range. In addition to the Image Finishing Tone options (Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, Muted and Monochrome), which provide control over the saturation, hue, brightness, contrast and sharpness of colour images, and the coloured filter and toning effects that can be applied to monochrome images, eight filter effects are available. Like the HDR setting, these filters (which include options such as High Contrast, Fish-eye and Toy Camera) can only be used when JPEG images are recorded without a simultaneous raw file. The processing takes a few seconds and on the whole I’m not sure the gimmicky effects are worth the wait, although they can be fun on occasion.
The K-7’s default Image Finishing Tone is Bright, which produces pleasant images in good light. However, I often use the Natural setting as it applies less sharpening and the colours are more muted. Of the Canon EOS 7D Picture Styles (Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful and Monochrome),I most commonly use Standard (which is a good all-rounder), Monochrome and Neutral. The Canon Standard images tend to be a little warmer and punchier than the Pentax Bright JPEGs.
In the past I have expressed concern about the new 63-zone Focus Colour Luminance (iFCL) metering system in the Canon EOS 7D, as even in its evaluative mode the system can be heavily influenced by the subject under the selected AF point. However, in the challenging overcast and snowy conditions during part of this test, I found that the Canon system generally produced better results than the Pentax K-7’s.
The Pentax K20D is very prone to underexposure and although the K-7 is less so, I had 0.7EV or even 1EV extra exposure dialled in for the majority of the shots I took in the snow, and most need a little post-capture brightening even though the in-camera Shadow Correction option was often set to its highest value. Traditionally, this isn’t especially unusual, but on many occasions the EOS 7D managed to produce better exposures with little or no intervention on my part. This doesn’t mean that I left the exposure compensation or Auto Lighting Optimiser controls unused, but the EOS 7D often does a better job unassisted than the K-7.
In more standard, sunnier conditions, the metering systems of both cameras are very capable. Naturally, it still pays to keep an eye on the image histograms to make sure the exposure is in the correct range.
Generally, the K-7 tends to respond more like a traditional camera than the EOS 7D. Experienced photographers may prefer the predictability of the Pentax system over the more sophisticated, yet slightly less predictable metering of the EOS 7D. However, during this test the Canon camera got a better exposure in-camera more often than the Pentax camera did.
Images: Not surprisingly, both cameras underexposed this snowy scene when left to their own devices, even with their shadow enhancing dynamic range options set to the highest setting, but the Pentax image is a little darker and less neutral in tone
Viewfinder, LCD, Live View and video
Both cameras have a 3in, 920,000-dot (307,000-pixel) LCD screen, 100% viewfinders and can record HD video. However, while the EOS 7D’s viewfinder has a magnification of 1x, the K-7’s is a 0.92x unit. The EOS 7D’s finder is noticeably larger and brighter than the K-7’s. When using the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro lens with the appropriate mount on each camera, I found it easier to focus manually with the Canon camera.
Unlike the K20D, but like the EOS 7D, the K-7 has a fully rounded Live View system that offers contrast and phase-detection AF, as well as face-detection AF. Significantly, the K-7’s screen provides a clear view of the scene being composed and the 10x magnified view is very useful when focusing manually.
However, I found that I tended to adjust the focus back and forwards a little before I could settle on the correct point. This isn’t a major problem, but the slightly higher contrast of the EOS 7D’s screen meant I could be more confident and positive when focusing the lens manually.
Thanks to the new screen construction used by Canon (the gap between the display crystals and the glass is filled with an optical elastic that has a similar refractive index to the glass), the EOS 7D’s monitor suffers a little less from reflections than that of the Pentax K-7.
With the ability to record HD video at 1920×1080 pixels (Full HD) at 30fps, 25fps or 24fps, the Canon EOS 7D trumps the 1280×720-pixels, 30fps movie recording of the K-7. Perhaps more important, though, is that both cameras capture high-quality footage and have external mic sockets so that audio can be recorded without the distracting sound of hand movements and so on.
In their default arrangements the EOS 7D and K-7 have dynamic ranges of 12EV, which is now about standard for a high-end DSLR. Interestingly, both Canon and Pentax have chosen to provide two means of control over the dynamic range by separating the highlight and shadow enhancement.
However, the K-7 allows users to apply both Highlight Correction (on or off) as well as Shadow Correction (with three levels in addition to off), whereas EOS 7D users must choose between boosting the shadows using one of the three setting levels for the Lighting Optimizer (AOL) or preserving the shadows by activating the Highlight Tone Priority mode.
In practice, I find that I am usually better off controlling the highlights with the exposure and boosting the shadows with the AOL or Shadow Correction when necessary. With the Pentax model, I needed to use the Shadow Correction in its highest setting for most of the shots I took in overcast conditions.
On paper, the 19-point AF system of the Canon EOS 7D beats the 11-point system of the Pentax K-7. As well as having fewer points, the Pentax model is less versatile and neither the point selection method nor the AF response time can be varied to suit the subject.
However, in most circumstances the Pentax AF system performs well and pulls the subject quickly into focus provided there is reasonable light and subject contrast. It’s only really when the light is less than perfect that the K-7’s AF system starts to falter and the outer AF points become prone to indecision. Although no autofocus system is infallible, the Canon AF system in the EOS 7D performs significantly better than the K-7’s in low light.
Pentax lenses such as the smc DA 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL WR, which is weatherproofed and the ideal kit lens for the K-7, like to let you know that the AF system is doing its job.
Focusing is accompanied by a familiar ‘zzz-zzz’ sound that can make it seem as if it is struggling to focus more than it is. It is perfectly adequate for general photography, but if I were planning to shoot sport I would opt to use the EOS 7D because of its superior AF ability.
Landscape, still-life and macro photographers who compose images on the LCD screen will find little to distinguish the two contrast-detection Live View AF systems. But given that both cameras provide a decent magnified view of any part of the scene, manual focus is a much more sensible option for these users.
The fact that the K-7 can only autofocus prior to recording video footage while the EOS 7D can focus during recording isn’t a significant disadvantage. Like many contrast-detection AF systems, the EOS 7D’s is prone to drifting around the subject before homing in on it, and this looks terrible in a movie.
Resolution, noise and sensitivity
I would far rather have a gritty, noisy image that is sharp and with plenty of detail than one that is mushy and noise-free. Pentax seems to be of a similar opinion, and although the images from its recent DSLRs, including the K-7, are quite noisy, they contain plenty of detail.
Unfortunately for Pentax, the Canon EOS 7D is a high-pixel-count camera that combines relatively low levels of noise with an impressive amount of detail. When captured with the noise-reduction systems in their default settings, high-sensitivity JPEG images from the Canon EOS 7D have significantly less noise than those from the K-7.
When raw files are captured to maximise the level of detail and allow the noise reduction to be carefully controlled, the two cameras are capable of capturing a similar level of detail at ISO 3200 (the K-7’s highest native sensitivity setting), but the Pentax images are have more chroma and luminance noise. Some images captured at the EOS 7D’s highest sensitivity expansion setting, ISO 12,800, look smoother and less noisy than those recorded by the Pentax K-7 at ISO 6400.
At lower sensitivity settings, the extra 3.4 million pixels offer the EOS 7D an advantage over the K-7, with the former resolving a little more detail that will be apparent in larger prints or when images are cropped and enlarged.
Image: These images show 72ppi sections of images of a resolution chart, still-life scene and a grey card, captured using matching 105mm macro lenses. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting. The section of the still-life image contains the emblem on a standard-sized matchbox. The full scene can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/67sj96
Canon EOS 7D vs Pentax K-7 Verdict
I have been quite taken with the Canon EOS 7D and Pentax K-7 from the moment I started using them.
Both are nicely put together and feel like they are built to withstand the rigours of life as an enthusiast’s camera. Over the months since I first tested it, I have become used to the slightly tunnel-like viewfinder of the K-7, so I no longer notice that I have to have my eye at just the right angle to peer through the finder housing.
However, I found using some of the K-7’s controls quite different in the winter cold than in the relative warmth of the summer, or when shooting indoors. Identifying some of the controls when the camera is held to the eye becomes much trickier.
Like other Live View and video-enabled DSLRs, the EOS 7D and K-7 have extensive menus. Although it is not perfect, the Canon menu structure is one of the best around and the My Menu screen allows users quick access to the features they use most often.
Pentax’s engineers should spend a little time studying it to make the K-7’s menu more user-friendly and quicker to use. With a firmware upgrade, the lengthy custom menu could be made much easier to use by photographers who haven’t memorised what the default settings are for each of the 38 options.
One of the aspects I like most about the K-7 is its relatively small size, which makes it easier to transport. However, I found I could alternate easily between the K-7 and the EOS 7D without noticing a significant change in the weight. The main difference was the position of the little finger of my right hand and I find the grip of the EOS 7D a little more comfortable to use over a lengthy period.
One key difference between the EOS 7D and the K-7 is the autofocus performance. The Pentax system can be noisy, but it is capable, and while I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wants to shoot sport on a frequent basis, it can be used to do so.
When comparing the EOS 7D and the K-7 it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that there is around £300 difference between their street prices. As well as a larger body, an additional 3.4 million effective pixels and better low-light capability of the EOS 7D, the extra cash brings a little more finesse. Neither camera mollycoddles the user, but the EOS 7D makes life a little easier.
Canon EOS 7D vs Pentax K-7 Scores
|Canon EOS 7D||Pentax K7|
|Tested as:||Enthusiast DSLR||Enthusiast DSLR|
|Rated:||Very good||Very good|
Canon EOS 7D and Pentax K-7 Focal points
As the EOS 7D produces images with 5184×3456 pixels, prints made at 300ppi measure 43.9cmx29.3cm, which is a little over A3 size. Meanwhile the 4672×3104-pixel output of the Pentax K-7 results in 39.6×26.3cm images at 300ppi, which is a fraction under full A3 size.
Pentax was the first company to provide an image-combining HDR mode in a DSLR. In this mode the K-7 offers two levels of effect: Standard and Strong. After three JPEG images are taken in quick succession, they are combined into one composite picture. The processing takes around ten seconds and the camera must be mounted on a tripod to ensure there is no movement between the exposures to avoid a double-image effect.
The EOS 7D is able to shoot continuously at 8fps. This rate continues for up to 94 large, fine-quality JPEG images or 15 raw files, but when a UDMA CF card is used the number of large, fine-quality JPEGs that may be captured in a single burst extends to 126.
When set to shoot in its high continuous mode, the K-7 can capture images at 5.2fps for up to 40 JPEG images, 15 PEF or 14 DNG files.