Tuesday 2 August 2022

EOS R7 Hands On Review & Summer Birding

I've owned the EOS R6 since August 2020, since then I have praised the camera for its tracking ability multiple times, especially for birds in flight. It also performs well in low light conditions thanks to the CMOS sensor from the EOS 1DX MK III.

The only thing I wish the R6 had more were pixels, at 20MP the EOS R6 handles most situations well. But, as a bird photographer that relies heavily on cropping images in post production, the R6 simply doesn't quite have enough pixel count for heavy cropping. The easiest way to solve this problem would have been to get the 45MP EOS R5, however, the cost of the camera body alone was way out of my budget...Recently, Canon announced the EOS R7, a mirrorless camera boasting a 32MP APS-C cropped sensor. It is expected to cost less than the R6 and likely half the price of the R5! Will this be the answer for many amateur wildlife and bird photographers?

I was lucky enough to get a chance to try out the EOS R7 before its launch in Hong Kong back in June, thanks to wildlife photographer James Kwok who got his hands on one of the first R7 from Canon Hong Kong. He's been testing out the camera for a week in a wide range of situations including birds in flight, making sure to keep an eye out for his work on the camera. I was given the chance to use the R7 in the harsh and wet conditions of summer forest in Hong Kong...We actually wanted to head up to Tai Mo Shan, but misty conditions along with some rain didn't help much, therefore we ended up at Tai Lam Country Park where I got to try out the R7.

Forest birding in summer is no easy task...

Conditions that day were not the optimum, it was cloudy and misty throughout the day, at one point it was pouring down torrential rain. ISO setting was cranked all the way up to 3200 - 6400 at ALL times, being in an enclosed forest didn't help much with the light. I paired the camera with my trusty EF 500mm F/4 IS II along with the Canon EF-EOS R Mount adapter. It didn't help either that birding was slow to start off with, which is more or less what we expected in the summer. The first bird that gave us a good look was a Mountain Bulbul, a species that until not that long ago was considered a winter visitor, and now a widespread breeding species. Red-whiskered Bulbuls on the other hand were everywhere. Thanks to IBIS (In-body Image Stabilizer), I was able to get clear shots of the bulbuls in relatively dark conditions using just 1/160 shutter while hand held using my EF 500mm F/4 lens. 

EOS R7 paired with EF 500mm F/4 IS II USM

Mountain Bulbul

Red-whiskered Bulbul

I've learnt by using my EOS R6 that the fabulous animal eye AF function can only take you so far in gloomy conditions of forest birding, as hundreds of twigs that can possibly get in the way of your shot. I've found the best way to get birds into focus quickly is by manually focusing until you can see the outline of your subject before turning the animal tracking on, this way the camera is able to pick up the bird more accurately, once it locks on the R7 does a good job staying with the subject, even with a few twigs or branches in the way! Such as this Silver-eared Mesia, a quick species that is never easy to photograph in the forest, here the camera managed to lock onto the bird’s eye on an open branch before it flew off. 

Silver-eared Mesia

The animal tracking function sometimes works well despite the bird being obscured by branches, as was the case for this Orange-headed Thrush, which was actually perched behind a whole bunch of leaves and branches. I was actually surprised the camera was able to lock onto the bird in such gloomy conditions.

Orange-headed Thrush

We finally had some luck on our way back, with a pair of Brown-breasted Flycatchers. This species used to be less common in Hong Kong but is now a well established but still uncommon summer visitor, usually found near forested streams. The pair was relatively confiding and allowed us to get some good photos.

Brown-breasted Flycatcher

A pair of Hainan Blue Flycatchers nearby also made an appearance. These two weren't particularly cooperative, but I managed a half decent shot of the pair in the end.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - female

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

After lunch we tried our luck at Nam Chung, hoping to find Chestnut-winged Cuckoos. I managed to see one but it flew off before we got any chance for photos. The local Lesser Coucals were a little bit more cooperative, although still shy, one perched on top of a tree briefly. A Greater Coucal also came through, likely coming out to dry off its feathers after the rain. A male Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker was relatively showy, although I didn't end up with the ideal photo that I wanted, I still managed a respectable shot of this lovely looking male.

Lesser Coucal

Greater Coucal

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker - male

Finally, a Wild Boar that came right out onto the middle of the road before we left, allowing for a rather interesting composition.

Wild Boar

After a day with the R7, I must say I was quite impressed with the overall performance of the camera. The best thing about it being the extra reach that is particularly useful in wildlife and bird photography, plus the extra pixels to work with in post production. Noise control was better than I expected, as we are unable to open the RAW file of the R7 (Adobe since updated their Camera RAW plugin to include the EOS R7), all my photos were edited as jpegs, and in general I found the noise level acceptable all the way up to ISO 6400, I imagine that will only improve once we can utilize the full potential of the RAW files, and no doubt a massive improvement to my previously owned APS-C camera the EOS 7D MK II.

My overall impression of the R7’s auto-focus speed and accuracy was on-par with the EOS R6 and R5, that is not suprising given the R7 inherits the AF system of the flagship EOS R3, It was a shame that I didn’t get much chance to test out its 15fps mechanical shutter due to lighting constraint in the forest, but I am very happy to see Canon bringing in performance from higher end cameras to this relatively affordable body. The only thing that I found slightly troublesome on the R7 is the missing turning wheel on the top right hand side of the camera body, which made changing ISO settings slightly slower. That being said, this is a minor problem that could easily be solved if you are using an RF lens with control rings. The compact body boasts a large, comfortable handgrip which feels good in my hand, even after full day of hand-held use.

If I didn't get the R6 back in 2020 (No regrets there!), I know I would definitely be very tempted to get the R7. For those who still haven't made the plunge into the mirrorless world, there is probably no better time to do so than now!

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