DPG would like to thank Ikelite for supplying the Ikelite 200DLM housing for the Canon EOS R7 as well as a pair of Ikelite DS230 strobes and various accessories used in this review. DPG would also like to thank Pura Vida Divers for use of their dive operation.
It’s been very nearly five years since Canon launched its first full-frame mirrorless camera—the EOS R—and replaced the venerable EF lens mount with the RF mount. We’ve seen a slew of cameras with “R” in the model name since—RP, R5, R6, R3, and so on—but it’s been all about full frame. Indeed, with the dominance of Sony, Panasonic and Olympus/OM System in the cropped-sensor market, we’d forgive you if you’d imagined Canon had abandoned the idea of producing a mirrorless camera with a smaller sensor altogether. Happily, this was not the case: In May 2022, Canon finally unveiled its first mirrorless cameras with APS-C sensors—the entry-level R10 and the “enthusiast” R7.
While trying to fathom a camera company’s model naming conventions is a fool’s errand, to anyone coming from a Canon DSLR—myself included—it was obvious that the R7 was very much the intended successor to the widely admired 7D series of cropped-sensor DLSRs. Having owned the 7D and shot the 7D Mark II extensively back in the day, I was keen to know if—after almost eight years of development in camera tech—the R7 would indeed prove to be a worthy heir to the Canon APS-C throne.
Over the last few months—much longer than anticipated due to frustrating weather conditions and some untimely health issues—I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to test out the R7 in Ikelite’s compact housing (along with a pair of Ikelite’s flagship DS230 strobes) in my backyard testing grounds in Florida, at the Blue Heron Bridge and while shark diving in Jupiter.
A green turtle winging over a shallow reef: The Canon EOS R7 in Ikelite’s housing with a pair of powerful Ikelite DS230 strobes made for a formidable rig (Canon EOS R7, Tokina 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5 fisheye lens, Ikelite housing, Ikelite 6-inch dome port, dual Ikelite DS230, f/13, 1/50s, ISO 100)
|Canon EOS R7
||Ikelite Housing for Canon EOS R7
The beautiful eye and pattern of an invasive red lionfish: “Canon colors” is a real thing, and the R7 is no exception. The colors right out of the camera are phenomenal (Canon EOS R7, Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens, Ikelite housing, dual Ikelite DS230, f/4, 1/250s, ISO 100)
1. Top-Spec’d Camera, Ultra-Compact Housing
In truth, sensor size aside, the R7 shares little more than a spiritual connection to the 7D Mark II. The R7 packs half as many pixels again into the APS-C sensor (32.5MP vs 20MP), shoots half as many shots again in burst mode (15fps vs 10fps), and while both cameras employ Canon’s tried-and-true Dual Pixel AF, the R7 has 10 times as many autofocus points as the 7D Mark II (651 vs 65). The fact that the R7 has a single processor as opposed to two in the 7D Mark II also goes to show just how much technology has progressed in what is nearly a decade. Something that hasn’t taken a giant leap forward is the RAW buffer: The 7D Mark II’s buffer depth was 31 frames, but the R7’s buffer isn’t much more impressive, filling up after a just 51 images.
For Canon DSLR users, the switch to mirrorless will be jarring at first. The R7 is significantly more lightweight than the 7D Mark II (22oz vs 32oz) and dramatically less bulky, and because the R7 fits very snugly in the Ikelite housing, this translates to an extremely compact and travel-friendly rig. Interestingly, this is tempered a little for macro photography, as the RF 100mm f/2.8L loaned for this review is slightly longer (5.8" vs 4.8") and heavier (26oz vs 22oz) than its DSLR counterpart, the EF 100mm f/2.8L. However, one should keep in mind that the RF lens offers a maximum magnification of 1.4x compared to 1x for the EF lens.
I will say right from the start: The RF 100mm f/2.8L is my favorite macro lens ever. I have used it before both topside and underwater, and every time I shoot it, a part of me is tempted to become a Canon shooter just for this lens—it is that good! It focuses quickly, it is ridiculously sharp, even wide open, and it resolves a ton of detail. On the R7, the 100mm is the equivalent of a 160mm macro on a full-frame camera, giving a phenomenal working distance, which makes it much easier to get images of skittish critters.
Atlantic longarm octopus: Even at wider apertures, the RF 100mm is incredibly sharp and gives great separation from ugly or distracting backgrounds (Canon EOS R7, Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens, Ikelite housing, dual Ikelite DS230, f/4, 1/250s, ISO 100)
Of course, wide-angle photographers shooting cropped-sensor DSLRs always had an ace up their sleeves—the Tokina 10–17mm fisheye lens. For many, this small and inexpensive lens, while not being optically the world’s most impressive glass, remains the go-to lens for shooting the ocean’s biggest subjects, as well as being great for close-focus wide-angle work. Fortunately, while this versatile lens isn’t (yet) available for RF mount, it functions well on R bodies with the EF-RF adapter and I didn’t notice any issues with regards to autofocus accuracy or speed. It’s worth noting that you also have the option of adapting the Canon EF 8–15mm f/4L fisheye, which is optically superior but not quite as wide at its widest.
Lemon shark in the dark: With the EF-RF adapter, the much-loved Tokina 10–17mm fisheye lens performs as well as, if not better than, on Canon DSLRs (Canon EOS R7, Tokina 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5 fisheye lens, Ikelite housing, Ikelite 6-inch dome port, dual Ikelite DS230, f/14, 1/250s, ISO 100)
The Ikelite housing for the R7 was the first housing from the U.S. company that I have used in probably 15 years. The Dry Lock (Micro) port system is far superior to their old four-screw port mount, and despite the housing’s plastic construction, it feels sturdy and durable. There is also something reassuring about being able to see—with your own eyes—your camera safe and dry through the transparent back. The housing comes with a vacuum valve, so all you need to purchase is a vacuum pump if you don’t already own one. (There is no electronic detection circuitry included; it’s a case of drawing a vacuum and checking to see that the vacuum has held after waiting for a period of time.)
Ikelite offers a range of strobe models aimed at shooters of different levels, with their current flagship being the DS230, a pair of which were loaned for this review. Central to Ikelite’s “flash philosophy” is electrical triggering, so all Ikelite housings come as standard with a single electrical bulkhead and a manual strobe hot shoe. Thus, “out of the box” you can hook up your Ikelite DS-series strobe(s) and trigger it/them in manual mode. For automatic strobe exposure, all you need to do is add the appropriate Ikelite TTL converter (connected between housing and sync cables) for on-the-fly switching between manual and TTL. While you have a few more O-rings to look after, there’s no doubt that electrical triggering makes for a very robust and reliable connection.
Whether you want the added benefits that come with a TTL converter is a personal choice, but one housing accessory that I consider to be very essential is a (preferably 45-degree) external viewfinder, which provides a full, clear image of the camera’s EVF (while creating space for your regulator). As an external viewfinder wasn’t supplied with the housing, I only used the camera’s rear LCD, but it made for a perfectly enjoyable shooting experience all the same. Given its high-quality optical components, an external viewfinder is a substantial investment, and it’s debatable whether the R7’s mediocre 2.36M-dot viewfinder justifies it.
Scaly tailed mantis: The LCD on the R7 is bright and easy to see, which makes straight down shooting much easier (Canon EOS R7, Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens, Ikelite housing, Ikelite DS230, Backscatter Mini Flash 2 and Backscatter Optical Snoot 1, f/11, 1/250s, ISO 100)
I'll end this section on a positive note about battery life—rare for mirrorless. The R7 comes with the LP-E6NH battery, which is the same one used in the full-frame R5 and R6 Mark II, and is rated at 770 shots with the LCD and 500 shots with the EVF. I found the R7’s battery life a pleasant surprise. While I didn’t have any wildly long days shooting with it, I never once found myself thinking about battery life. For my style of shooting, I easily did a few hundred pictures over the course of several days and had no cause to worry. Shooting video or spending eight hours out on the ocean shooting the entire time are scenarios when I’d recommend bringing a second battery, but for a normal two- or three-dive day, I think the R7 battery fares very well.
Even after a productive dive and photographing sharks all morning, I still had plenty of battery life left to photograph this wacky hybrid batfish at the end of my evening dive (Canon EOS R7, Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens, Ikelite housing, Ikelite DS230, Backscatter Mini Flash 2 and Backscatter Optical Snoot 1, f/13, 1/250s, ISO 100)
2. Big, Bold and Beautiful Images
The first headline-grabbing spec of the Canon EOS R7 is its newly developed high-resolution sensor. There are few cropped-sensor cameras that pack in as many as 32.5 megapixels, and the R7 was indeed capable of resolving lots and lots of detail—at least at low ISO settings.
In lower-light situations, when you need to increase ISO, a higher pixel count can come at a price—noise—and I did find that noticeable noise crept into the R7’s RAW files fairly quickly when increasing sensitivity. There’s a hint of noise at ISO 400, and it’s quite noticeable in the RAW files when you reach ISO 1600. By comparison, out-of-camera JPEGs—with noise reduction applied—are very clean. Fortunately, it’s a straightforward matter to reduce the fine noise in the RAW files during post-processing and output superb-looking images.
Longlure frogfish perched on a sponge in ambush: The R7, especially when paired with RF glass, produced beautiful images, loaded with detail, and razor sharp (Canon EOS R7, Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens, Ikelite housing, 1x Ikelite DS230,1x Backscatter MF-2, 1x Backscatter OS-1, f/3.2, 1/250s, ISO 100)
A bane of Canon cameras in the past was dynamic range—how much detail is preserved in the shadow and highlight areas of an image. Not so with the R7: I found that I could bring out lots of details in the shadows and highlights when processing the RAW files. Dynamic range was far better than older Canon cameras, especially their DSLRs, with the possible exception of the 1D X Mark III. Of course, you will not have as much latitude in post-processing as you do with a higher-end full-frame sensor, but you do have a good deal of leeway in case exposure is a bit off or you need to recover part of an image. When paired with the RF lens especially, the detail and sharpness of the images was extremely impressive.
I was pleasantly surprised by the dynamic range of the R7. Not unlike the full-frame R5, which I have also used, it was vastly superior to every other Canon camera I have shot (Canon EOS R7, Tokina 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5 fisheye lens, Ikelite housing, Ikelite 6-inch dome port, dual Ikelite DS230, f/9, 1/80s, ISO 250)
3. Quick and Assured Autofocus Performance (Eventually)
The 7D series was marketed as a line of cropped-sensor cameras capable of taking on fast action, as they had great autofocus and could shoot bursts at high frame rates. The R7 is very much in the same mold, but makes big strides in both areas, at least on paper. Canon claims the R7 inherits the top-of-the-line autofocus system from the flagship R3. I haven’t used the R3, so I can’t compare it, but I did have somewhat mixed feelings about the overall autofocus performance of the R7. In some instances, it was very, very good, and you almost don’t have to do anything at all. In other modes, it can be a bit unpredictable.
Canon’s two main autofocus modes are called “One Shot” and “AI Servo,” and there are any number of different configurations in each mode. For macro, my favorite was One Shot, Expanded Spot Focus, and Subject Detection enabled. With macro subjects, the R7 was uncanny in its ability to find what it was in the frame I wanted it to focus on and would do so nearly flawlessly. Seemingly an issue with all mirrorless cameras, if you lose focus on a subject while using a longer focal length lens, it can be problematic to have the camera relocate the subject again. I had this experience with the R7, and there were a few instances when the camera just refused to lock on to what I wanted it to focus on. It was more of a nuisance than anything, but I could see it causing photographers to miss a critical shot.
Banded jawfish: The autofocus performance of the R7 is among the best I have ever used—once I figured out how to properly set it up! (Canon EOS R7, Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens, Ikelite housing, dual Ikelite DS230, f/10, 1/125s, ISO 100)
This Pederson cleaner shrimp was perched on a coconut, underneath a rock in very dark conditions, but the R7 with the RF 100mm macro had no issues locking onto the subject (Canon EOS R7, Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens, Ikelite housing, dual Ikelite DS230, f/11, 1/250s, ISO 100)
For wide angle, I typically prefer to shoot in tracking or continuous AF modes. Wide angle on the R7 is when I encountered some interesting issues. Depending on your AF configuration, I found the R7 consistently back-focused no matter where it showed the actual focus point to be. This was incredibly aggravating, especially as the tracking and continuous AF were billed as being taken from the top-level R3. Eventually, however, I was able to find a configutation that did work very well: AI Servo mode, Subject Tracking enabled, and Expand AF Area selected. This final setting was the key: When using Whole Area AF or any of the Flexible Zone AF modes, the camera back-focused nine times out of 10. Expand AF Area solved that problem, and the aforementioned settings became my go-to for action or moving subjects. With these settings, the R7’s wide-angle autofocus performance was excellent.
Silky shark with battle scars: The R7 tracked this silky from 15 to 20 feet away, all the way until it was all but touching my dome port. Not once did it lose focus (Canon EOS R7, Tokina 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5 fisheye lens, Ikelite housing, Ikelite 6-inch dome port, dual Ikelite DS230, f/13, 1/13s, ISO 100)
4. A Perfect Tool for Fast-Moving Subjects
For its time, the 7D Mark II and its 10fps burst shooting defined it as the Canon cropped-sensor camera for fast action. The R7 can comfortably claim that mantle in the mirrorless realm: It shoots 15fps with its mechanical shutter and even up to 30fps with its electronic shutter. With the correct AF settings, the R7’s autofocus system was impressive enough to keep up with the highest frame rates, perfectly tracking moving subjects—even those coming towards the camera.
For me, and I suspect, for most people, 15fps with the mechanical shutter is plenty fast enough. Shooting full speed with the mechanical shutter, I found myself with way too many pictures to go through! For wide angle, I usually shot no more than about 5–6fps. For macro, I prefer to shoot a single frame at a time, regardless of camera. As already mentioned, the R7’s buffer is only 51 images when shooting RAW, so be aware that if you’re using higher frame rates, the buffer will fill in just a few seconds before performance slows.
This test shark burst at 10fps was typical of the impressive hit rate I achieved with the R7: The focus of every frame was tack sharp (Canon EOS R7, Tokina 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5 fisheye lens, Ikelite housing, Ikelite 6-inch dome port, dual Ikelite DS230, f/10, 1/200s, ISO 100)
5. Reliable and Flexible Strobe Control
The R7 doesn’t feature a pop-up flash, so triggering is via the hot shoe on the top of the camera. With the Ikelite system, it’s a simple matter of making the connection with the manual hot shoe supplied with the housing or with the TTL hot shoe that comes with the optional Ikelite Canon TTL converter you may wish to install if you want the option of automatic strobe exposure. Testing both manual and TTL flash options, I found the Ikelite system worked perfectly: I had no issues with reliability nor any sort of communication issues between camera and strobes. Ikelite’s TTL implementation is among the best available and works well for a wide variety of subjects, and while I personally prefer to adjust strobe power manually, I could fully appreciate the attraction of TTL.
One technique that I personally love is motion blur photography, where a slow shutter speed creates the impression of movement while strobes are used to freeze the action. By default, cameras are typically set to trigger the flash when the first, or front, shutter curtain opens at the start of the exposure, creating unnatural motion-blur images where the movement is in front of the subject. To get the motion blur behind the subject, you have to fire the flash at the end of the exposure, when the second, or rear, curtain closes. It’s one of the first settings I adjust before I start using a new camera.
A slow shutter added some drama to this shot of a barbfish, which tolerated me putting the dome port right in its face (Canon EOS R7, Tokina 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5 fisheye lens, Ikelite housing, Ikelite 6-inch dome port, dual Ikelite DS230, Kraken Sports Hydra 2500 V2, f/11, 1/4s, ISO 100)
Unfortunately, with Canon cameras, you can’t simply connect any flash and enable rear curtain sync in camera; you’re required to use a Canon-compatible flash in order to have the rear curtain sync option available. Thus, with the manual hot shoe that comes with the Ikelite housing, you will only have the option of first curtain sync. However, you can get around this limitation by using Ikelite’s TTL converter, which communicates with the camera like a Canon flash. The converter handles shutter sync automatically: At shutter speeds of 1/30s and higher, first curtain sync is enabled, while at slower shutter speeds, sync switches to the rear curtain. (It’s important to note that the converter takes care of flash sync whether you’re shooting in TTL mode or manual mode—if you love motion blur photography, the TTL converter is a necessary purchase.)
As a side note, while the R7’s flash sync speed maxes out at 1/250s with the mechanical shutter (1/320s with the electronic front curtain shutter), interestingly, I found that I was able to shoot at 1/400s with the Ikelite DS230s. However, while the camera registered 1/400s as the shutter speed, the EXIF data recorded 1/250s. So either the EXIF is correct and the camera is misreporting, or the EXIF is incorrect and the R7 can actually sync faster than the specifications suggest.
Motion blur added life to this lemon shark portrait (Canon EOS R7, Tokina 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5 fisheye lens, Ikelite housing, Ikelite 6-inch dome port, dual Ikelite DS230, f/14, 1/15s, ISO 100)
6. Final Thoughts
Without a doubt, the Canon EOS R7 is a very impressive high-end APS-C mirrorless camera, a logical upgrade for shooters coming from the 7D series of DSLRs or anybody moving up from point-and-shoot or even Micro Four Thirds. The R7 packs a lot of performance into a small-form-factor mirrorless body at a very competitive price, while Ikelite’s similarly compact housing offers a great platform to build a capable and versatile underwater rig. Add an external viewfinder, a pair of Ikelite’s excellent strobes, and a TTL converter, and you have a full-fledged system that will serve you well for many years.
If you’re a serious shooter moving into the Canon APS-C ecosystem, it’s worth emphasizing the quality of the glass you’ll have available to you: at the macro end, the outstanding RF 100mm f/2.8L, and at the wide end, the EF 8–15mm f/4L, which fills the frame throughout the zoom range on APS-C cameras. And again, let’s acknowledge the incredible longevity of the Tokina 10–17mm, the eminently affordable wide-angle option which may not hold any optics records but can still hold its own after all these years.
Perhaps the most important take-home message here is that APS-C is not dead after all. Far from it. The Canon EOS R7 reminds us just how cool it is to be cropped!
Even without the Eye AF engaged, the R7 seemed to know exactly where I wanted to focus and locked right on to the eyes of this stareye hermit (Canon EOS R7, Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens, Ikelite housing, dual Ikelite DS230, f/10, 1/250, ISO 100)
About the Reviewer: Matthew Sullivan is a Florida-based wildlife photographer who has been diving since he was 10 years old. He has traveled extensively, visiting well-known dive destinations such as Guadalupe Island, Indonesia and the Philippines, but he also likes to dive closer to home in the Pacific Northwest. When not taking pictures underwater, he can be found trekking mountains, or exploring national parks and rainforests in search of new adventures and wildlife encounters.
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