Although I’ve been singing the praises of the Mamiya 7 II rangefinder film camera and Mamiya 7 II lenses to friends and colleagues alike, let’s face it: There are occasions when the sheer convenience of digital is impossible to match in analog, especially if you prefer to handhold your camera and plan to shoot under a variety of lighting conditions. Film cameras, alas, do not permit the latitude that digital cameras do when it comes to the vagaries of light. If you load your camera with the world’s best transparency film—Fujichrome Velvia 50—you are stuck shooting at an ISO of 50, which is fine if you’re taking pictures in sunlight or using studio flash, but not so fine if you’re shooting in overcast or by natural or artificial light indoors. To shoot in poor light, you need a much faster film or, sigh, a tripod. Unfortunately, on a film camera you can’t switch from a slow film to a fast film in the middle of a roll. Oh, you could use two identical camera bodies, one loaded with Velvia 50 and the other with a high-speed transparency film like Fuji Provia 400 or an even higher-speed negative film like Fujicolor 800, but another camera body costs a lot of money. It also means adding substantial weight to your kit. And, of course, while you’re switching cameras that shot you want to take might up and vanish.
Digital cameras don’t have this problem. They can switch speeds at the press of a shutter release button (assuming you’re in some kind of AUTO program mode) or at the turn of an ISO dial.
Come into a coffee shop after taking pictures like the one above on a bright day, and want to snap a candid like the one below of one of the customers browsing through some books?
CANNOT be done with my Mamiya 7 II. Even if the camera were mounted on a tripod, the exposure time would be way too long with Velvia 50 to permit such a candid shot. It might easily be too long to capture on Provia 400, too.
Oh, you could buy a versatile, lightweight point-and-shooter, for these occasions, like the Canon G10 I’ve been using for the last couple of years. Only the G10 and other point-and-shooters aren’t particularly good in low light. They shine in bright light. Indoors, their tiny pixel-packed sensors are simply overwhelmed by chroma and luminance noise at high ISOs, turning images into grainy, blotchy, poorly resolved messes.
All of which brings me to Canon’s latest APS-C wonder—the 18mp, 8fps (yes, you're reading that right) EOS 7D. You can read thoughtful professional reviews of this camera at www.dpreview.com/reviews/canoneos7d/ or www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Canon_EOS_7D/index.shtml, among many other sites. The 7D is quite the rage at the moment. I have nothing to add to the pros’ encomiums, save to say that I agree completely that this is a great second camera—for digital-shooters or for old analog hounds like me. It is lightweight, easy to handhold, and a snap to use; its controls are thoughtfully laid-out and intuitive (even to a film-camera guy like me); it is relatively inexpensive; it comes with excellent software and a very good kit lens (Ken Rockwell’s favorite all-purpose Canon zoom); and best of all it takes marvelous pictures, even in very low light. Below is a candid taken, handheld, at 3200 ISO, with light coming from overhead fixtures, a distant front window, and the computer screen in front of the subject. This is astonishingly low noise and high resolution for an APS-C-sensor camera, IMO.
To tantalize you further, in addition to shooting at 8 frames-per-second (making it superb for action photography) and that 18mp sensor, tthe EOS 7D has a full-frame viewfinder (yep, 100% of what you see through the lens), dual 14-bit processors, extinction resolution that approaches 4000 lph in DP Review's measurements for extremely fine detail (or, at least, the impression of same), and an ISO range that goes as high as 12,800 (although I wouldn't be taking pix up there or much above ISO 3200, save in a pinch).
I’ve been putting the 7D through its paces over the last week, shooting at a variety of speeds in everything from bright daylight to winter nights. Go to jlvalin.zenfolio.com/p479073022 to see the results and, then, by all means go to your Canon dealer and try this little wonder out. I would be surprised if you, too, weren’t impressed with all this camera can do.
Addendum 12.14.09. For you pixel-peepers out there, I've appended some crops to the Zenfolio site, including the one below. First the pic as taken and then a 1:1 crop. Both pix were converted to TIFFs in Canon's Digital Photo Professional software and then further tweaked in Lightroom.