I had just received my 7D for testing when a friend asked me to shoot stills of his wedding at the last minute. At this point I hadn’t yet read the manual, so I just played around with the auto features and went anyway. The wedding was supposed to be an outdoor event in a park under the canopy of some large oak trees –– but then the rain came. The torrential rain wasn’t going to let up anytime soon, so the wedding was moved and the 75 guests were packed into the kitchen and front room of a small home.
With this last-minute change of venue, all of the glorious light filtering through the trees that I had planned to use was history. The lighting now consisted of a ceiling fan’s four small tungsten bulbs and whatever daylight that would filter in through the windows ––hardly a situation that you would refer to as well lit. At the time I thought that this would actually be a great test for the 7D because, in the real world, stuff happens and you need a camera that can overcome any challenge a job throws at you.
When the wedding started I began shooting stills, and even with the camera set on auto I easily got nice-looking images. The flash really improved the lighting and the auto color correction was dead on. Frankly, I was surprised that with the grim lighting conditions I still got great-looking results.
I wasn’t planning to shoot video but my plans changed when the videographer’s camera failed halfway through the ceremony. At that point I flipped a switch over to the 7D’s video mode and was able to capture the vows and the rest of the ceremony. The real surprise came when I got home and loaded the video into my FCP7 editing system. The HD video camera that I normally shoot with wouldn’t have recorded a clean image in the low-light conditions that I was forced to use without adding a lot of gain, so the 7D really saved the day. Using only existing light, the video looked great with deep color saturation and a background that was slightly out of focus.
Because of the bad lighting conditions, I added a color correction plug-in to the track –– but, to my amazement, this wasn’t needed at all. The tweaks that I made to the color were very small and completely unnecessary. I also learned something else about the 7D’s footage while editing. Sometimes I want to crop an image to improve the shot or image-stabilize it. With DV footage, I can zoom into a frame about 5 percent. With DVCPRO-HD, the number rises to about 25 percent before the image gets soft and unusable. For my 7D images this number was around 150 percent, so I was able to turn a medium shot into a close-up and still have it look good. I was blown away.
The weakest link in the 7D system is the audio. Considering that I was 10 feet away from the bride and groom, using only the built-in mic, I still got usable audio.
The work needed for pristine audio is to record on both the camera and a Zoom H4n digital recorder that allows you to record four channels of digital audio at a time. (The H4n recorder is a small handheld device that sells for under $300.) In post, you bring in both the 7D footage with audio and the H4n audio as well. If you edit with FCP or Vegas, you can use PluralEyes from Singular Software to automatically sync up all of your audio tracks. At that point you simply mute the 7D audio and you are left with great-looking images and pristine audio.
If you’d rather just use a small mixer to clean up the audio on the way to the 7D, BeachTek makes the DXA-5Da, which gives two balanced XLR imputs, line/mic switches, LCD meters, a mini-jack in and out, and a headphone monitor. The DXA-5Da is made to mount under your DSLR and is powered by a single 9V battery.
The Canon 7D is an amazing DSLR that allows you to get a film look’s shallow depth of field for very little money. It also takes great stills in jpeg and raw formats. This year’s NAB featured a variety of DSLR add-ons, including shoulder mounts, follow focus, rail and matte box systems, ND filters, digital range finders, Steadicams and software solutions for DSLR footage. Since I need to test all of these items before reviewing them, I will be reviewing the 5D and all of the add-ons in P3’s December issue to aid your loved ones during their holiday shopping.
Canon EOS 7D
MSRP: $1,699 (body only)
1-800-OK-Canon for service and support
David Hurd operates David Hurd Productions in Tampa, Fla. To see past reviews, go to www.dhpvideo.com.