If I could only have one, would it be: Canon 7D or Canon 1DsMkII?

Canon-7D Vs 1DsMkII

Some of you have noticed that I’ve been posting a lot of images taken with the Canon 7D, which I recently acquired. This has prompted questions asking me whether I prefer that camera over the full framed 1DsMkII. In some respects, yes I do. However, in other respects, no I do not. Don’t you just hate answers like that? Well, let me just list a few important features that I look for in a camera and then give you my impressions on how each model performs with respect to that feature. At the end, I’ll tell you which camera I would choose if I could only keep one.

Autofocus: I have a fairly eclectic portfolio and while I may be in manual focus when shooting macro, I need a reliable autofocus system when shooting birds, mammals, and action sports. The 45-point autofocus system of the 1DsMkII has always been spot on and reliable. With the fiasco that occurred in the 1DMkIII, I wasn’t about to “upgrade” to a camera with spotty autofocus. When it comes to autofocus reliability, I simply have no doubts about the 1DsMkII. It’s fast, accurate, and I can easily select an individual point whenever I need to. So what about the 7D? Well, I trust it too. I’m real impressed with it’s 19-point focus system. I’d say the 1DsMkII has a slightly snappier acquisition, but the 7D is not far behind, if it’s behind at all. What I like most about the 7D’s autofocus is the ability to memorize focus points or zones in either horizontal or vertical format. Now that I am comfortable with the camera, I can easily select an individual point or zone. The 7D can really pinpoint an area for fine-tuning though I have not used that feature yet. The Verdict? As for accuracy, it’s a close call but I’ll give the slight edge to the 1DsMkII. I was tempted though, to call it a draw and I will simply add that I really am impressed with the 7D.

Frame Rate.  If I am shooting portraits or landscapes, then this is a non-issue. However, when shooting action, more is better so the nod here goes to the 7D which fires 8 frames per second compared to the 1DsMkII’s 4 frames.

High ISO. Coming from film, it’s still hard to fathom the capability of today’s digital cameras and the ability to reduce noise (grain to you old film shooters) when shooting at high ISO’s. I remember thinking ISO 200 film was fast. I still prefer to use a lower ISO when possible, but when shooting wildlife in low light settings, bumping up the ISO is often necessary. Of course, this introduces more noise so how far you can go depends on the cameras ability to reduce it. I feel comfortable at ISO 800 on the 7D and perhaps as high as 1000. However, at 1600 ISO, the images just are not useable to me because of the amount of noise. The 1DsMkII images at ISO 1600 are useable though I prefer to keep it at 800 if I have to bump it up. Still, if the need arose, I would have no reservations using it at ISO 1600. Thus, at higher ISO, the nod here goes to the 1DsMkII. Between 100-400, it’s a draw.

Build Quality. The 1DsMkII is a professional workhorse and it’s build is simply superb. I love the way it feels in my hands. The 7D, while not quite the same build, is still very solid. I added the vertical grip and it’s just slightly bulkier than I like though that is a minor complaint. The 1DsMkII is built for the rugged environment so as far as build quality is concerned, the 1DsMkII is the winner.

LCD Screen. This is no contest. My only one real complaint about the 1DsMkII is the small viewing screen. It serves its purpose, but I don’t like its small size. The 7D has a large and vibrant screen and I really enjoy viewing images on it. So, the 7D wins here.

Megapixels.  OK, this is admittingly an over-marketed feature by manufacturers. Early on, we consumers decided that more megapixels was better than less. I recall using my old 8-megapixel professional 1DMkII camera and people using 12-megapixel point and shoots being very unimpressed when I told them mine had 8. It’s as if they believed their cameras were better than that big pro body I was holding. Anyway, my 7D has 18-megapixels and the 1DsMkII has 16mp. Honestly, I’d be much happier if the 7D were a 12 or 14 mp camera because that would equate to less noise at the higher ISOs. So what’s the verdict? As far as I’m concerned, I’ll call this feature a draw.

Sensor.  This is related to the megapixel feature above. The 7D is a crop factor camera, meaning that it has a 1.6 multiplier effect on all focal lengths. Cramming so many pixels on a crop factor body comes at the expense of noise at high ISO’s but it does leave room for cropping when necessary. So for focal length reach, the 7D is the winner. I’m also a fan of its dust cleaning capabilities. The big sensor of the 1DsMkII has no crop factor and thus, can handle noise better even though it’s an older model camera. Without the crop factor, my wide angle lenses are truly wide angle. Thus, for landscapes and other wide angle uses, the 1DsMkII is the winner.

Image Quality. This is the bottom line feature that matters most to me obviously. So forgetting all the hoopla, which camera produces the best quality images? I’m quite impressed with the 7D image quality, particularly in the range of ISO 100-400. However, the images produced by the older 1DsMkII, with its large full framed sensor, are simply better. Not necessarily by a huge margin, but the files are cleaner. In light of this, some of you may wonder why I have been using the 7D so much. Well, I recently acquired the camera and thus, I’ve been using it a lot so that I can get acquainted with its capabilities. I’ve been quite pleased and impressed. Also, I keep my 500mm tripod mounted on the 1DsMkII, while carrying the 7D and 70-200/2.8 on my shoulder for images that are too close for the 500mm. Ultimately, I give the nod on image quality to the 1DsMkII files, but the 7D’s image quality is still quite impressive.

Other Features. The 7D, with its newer technology, gets the nod on several features that are not the most important to me right now but will likely become more of an issue in time. The 7D records movies. This will be important to me someday but right now, I’m most interested in still captures. Finally, the 7D has a on camera flash that has the capability of acting as a master to fire off camera flashes. That feature is important and I will be testing it in the near future.

So which would I chose?

There are other features that I consider from a functional perspective but each model is equipped with these so I won’t list them here. What you most likely want to know at this point is which camera I would keep if I could only keep one. While it’s obvious that both are capable cameras and each has some features that are better than the other, if I could only chose one, it all comes down to image quality. So with that, I would keep the 1DsMkII. That may puzzle those of you who know I have put it up for sale in the past. I actually had a buyer for it once but the idea of parting with it and the reality of parting with it were two different things so I ended up not selling it. In time I will again list this camera for sale because I want to upgrade to the new full frame 5DMkIII. For now though, it is my camera of choice and the mega prints that it produces are outstanding.

So there you go, answers to why I’m using one camera or another. Want to know the best part? I do NOT have to choose just one camera. I have two so my choice now really comes down to what I am shooting on any given photo excursion. If I’m after action, or if I’ll need additional focal length, I’ll reach for the 7D. When I shoot landscapes and portraits (people, birds or mammals) or if I need wide angles, the 1DsMkII is my go to camera. I have two highly reliable cameras that deliver outstanding quality.

Let me know if you have any questions. Until next time, keep shooting. — KEVIN

4 thoughts on “If I could only have one, would it be: Canon 7D or Canon 1DsMkII?

  1. I used the 1Ds Mark III, this Fall in October and November on a 17 day photo shoot in Indiana and Michigan, and it is quite a bit better camera than the 1Ds Mark II. But I would take my 7D over the 1Ds Mark II and Mark III any day of the week, even when I’m doing people photos. I felt so handicapped when I was using the 1Ds Mark III because it was so terribly slow, and would fill the buffer so quickly, and took forever to empty the buffer. Only reason I ever used it was when I absolutely had to have full frame coverage with a certain lens when I was restricted to a blind to photograph wildlife.
    I also used the 5D Mark III on a photo shoot in Ohio in September, and another photo shoot in Wisconsin the first two weeks of December. And I must say, that for full frame cameras, the 5D Mark III BLOWS AWAY the 1Ds Mark II and Mark III. Those two cameras are abismally slow in their buffer, which is way too small, and thus fills up way too fast, and empties way too slowly. I also felt the same way about the Canon 5D and the 5D Mark II in the past, but feel the 5D Mark III is actually a pretty proficient full frame, wildlife photography camera. I have yet to try the 1DX, but I’m sure it blows away the 5D Mark III, from what I’ve heard and read.
    For me, the best camera body combo for wildlife photography is having all three sensor sizes with me in the blind, with the 5D Mark III, the 1D Mark IV, and the 7D giving me full frame, 1.3x, and 1.6x. This combo gives you a huge variety of focal lengths with your lenses, when you swap out the sensor sizes in the different bodies. Especially useful when you’re confined to a blind. Down the road, the 1DX would be a much better full frame body choice, I’m sure, than the 5D Mark III, but is way out of the realm of affordability for me at this point.
    I just wish Canon would come out with a 1D level body, that has full frame, 1.3x, and 1.6x sensor sizes, that have all the same form factor, where all switches and buttons are in exactly the same place. Would make a very user friendly system. As is, you have to really think when you’re changing from body to body, when you’re just doing something as simple as turning the camera on/off or even putting in a CF card.
    I’m pleased to see that you are enjoying your 7D, Kevin. I really like mine, as I’ve told you over and over, and look forward to Canon coming out with it’s replacement.
    Lance Krueger

    • Hey Lance,
      Great comments and perspective. I failed to include the buffer as an important issue but I suspect it’s because the occasions when the buffer was a problem for me have been few. Given your style of photography and the action you capture, the buffer would be much higher on my list. Certainly the 7D has a better buffer than the 1DsMkII and for the action, that would sway my decision.

      I’m glad to hear your initial use of the 5DMkIII is as high as it is. I would be disappointed if it didn’t blow either of these cameras away. Prior to the 5DMkIII and the 1Dx, neither 5D model, nor any 1Ds model was really designed for the wildlife photographer. I think the 1D line (MkII, MkIII, and MkIV) was our camera of choice. The portrait and landscape market had the 5D and 1Ds lines. Of course, we used those full frame cameras for wildlife and with the buffer concerns, had our gripes, but there were certainly no gripes about the image quality.

      The buffer has never been an issue for me with landscape or portraits and I really like the look of the files from a full frame sensor so I still choose it over the 7D for that type of shooting but we sure get great value for our money with the 7D. I’m interested in its replacement as well. I simply want them to improve the higher ISO performance. Up until Canon’s recent releases, I was always envious of the Nikon shooter’s ability to get clean files at ISO6400 on the D700, or ISO12000 on the D3s. The 5DMkIII and 1Dx finally get us there but the 1Dx is not a financial consideration right now. The 5DMkIII is in my near future, just not sure what “near” is yet. Here’s hoping the 7D replacement is not outrageously priced.

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