Is the Canon 7D Mk II your next Bird Photography body?

Since Canon announced the Canon 7D Mk II I’ve been trying to get my head around what Canon is trying to do and how it fits into their product line, and mostly, I’ve been coming away rather confused.

I am a happy Canon 7D user, and it’s been in the back of my head that I’m probably ready to think about an upgrade/replacement in the next year or two. The question is — with what?

Over the last few months when I’ve been asked what to buy for bird photography I’ve been pointing people at the Canon 70D, which I think is a fine and cost-effective body. As soon as the 7DmkII started shipping the 7D photographers I know all seem to have started upgrading, and most of the feedback I’ve seen and images I’ve looked at have been pretty positive.

And yet… I haven’t been convinced. the 7DmkII is almost twice the cost of a 70D. Is it worth it? I look at the specs. I look at the price. I look at the 70D. I’m not convinced.  I read reviews. I listen to podcasts. I see what others are saying. I’m still confused.

That, in a microcosm is how I feel about Canon’s product strategy right now. It’s been pretty clear for a while their interest (and engineering resources) have been aimed more at the high end Cinema DLSR style units where they’ve had some success and there’s some market growth (and margins). Their consumer and prosumer class bodies have been slow to market and their generation to generation improvements have been mostly incremental and not anything I’d point at to a Nikon shooter and suggest they should consider switching.

One of the better discussions of this new body that I’ve run into is on the This Week in Photo: Gear podcast. Doug Kaye seems to have a very similar lack of enthusiasm for this body that I do. It’s well worth a listen.

I’ve ultimately come to this conclusion, for better or worse: Most bird photographers who shoot Canon don’t need the 7DmkII. It’s primary audience seems to be 7D owners looking for a new body, but this is a really expensive body for relatively little improvement. The image quality isn’t significantly better, and the big improvements are improved weatherproofing and a new and significantly improved autofocus.

I find that autofocus interesting, but at almost double the price of a 70D? I can’t justify it either to you or to myself. My recommendation for people just getting started in bird photography is still the 5Ti entry level, and for most of us in the intermediate and advanced prosumer realm, the 70D. If you do a lot of tough flight shots in bad light, the 7DmkII AF will likely mean the difference between made and lost shots, and then maybe you ought to consider it, but that extra almost $800 is a lot of money for that feature.

I simply can’t justify it to myself. If I hit a point where I need to replace my 7D I’ll do it with a 70D. At this point, I’m staying on the sideline because sometime in 2015 Fuji will be releasing it’s 200-400 equivalent lens, and I’m hoping they’ll release an update to the XT1 that’ll be up to the rigors of reliable birds in flight operations. If so? I’ll shift my gear over to 100% Fuji. If not? Maybe I’ll have to consider a switch to Nikon, because unless you can afford an $11,000 lens and  a $2,000 body, the offerings from Canon for the intermediate prosumer wildlife/bird photographer are increasingly looking uninteresting to me.

And honestly, if I could afford that $11,000 200-400+1.4xL hunk of glass, I’d probably switch to Nikon, sell my Canon gear, and the hunk of money I didn’t spend on the gear would pay for 2-3 weeks at Yellowstone for an extended shoot.

Yes, I mentioned the “N” word, because I’m that disenchanted with what I’m seeing coming out of Canon right now. But that’s a discussion for another time…