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Long Term Test: Canon 7D Vs Nikon D300s

by Chris Gampat on 06/18/2010

Both the Nikon D300s and the Canon 7D have been reviewed in different situations and at different times. However, when a review is complete, there are still issues that arise with the cameras way afterward. After using both for a prolonged period of time, this is the posting that will weigh the pros and cons of each camera against one another after they have been used in conditions and situations that most users of these cameras will find themselves in. Further, problems that did not arise before will now be noted.

Complete Postings

Canon 7D

The Complete 7D Review

Night 1- The camera and two prime lenses documented a Jewish Seder during the week of Passover. It performed very well and users of this camera may be asked to actually join a family at dinner and document the happenings as they progress throughout the night.

Day 2- The 7D and 24-105mm F4 L IS went to the giant pillow fight in Union Square. While the FPS kept up, the autofocus couldn’t quite capture the quickly moving combatants at varying distances and at such as fast speed too. But it did withstand the punishment of elbows, heads, shoulders and pillows knocking it about. When the autofocus did work correctly, it captured some wonderful images. If you’re getting into a warzone like this, perhaps you’re better off with a 1D Mk IV.

With the Sun Sniper Camera Strap- This strap has replaced the Canon strap on my 7D as it typically holds my longer lenses during events and it’s also the camera I go to when I need to quickly capture something. Along with the 5D Mk II, I’ve run into nothing that the combined two can’t tackle.

Day 3- Testing at a get-together of NYC gaming journalists at a bar. Autofocus was fine in the dim light and mostly stagnant people. As was the high ISO ability shooting at ISO 3200 and above. All photos were shot in JPEG for truly showing the noise levels.

On the Set of a Podcast- The 7D performed much better in terms of manipulation vs the T2i. Noise levels in movie mode seemed to be the same.

Nikon D300s

The Complete Nikon D300s Review

This isn’t as fully detailed as the Canon review for the reason that this is around the time that the Field Reviews were just starting and didn’t start to evolve into the long and thorough discussions that they became. Admittedly though, much more time was spent with the D300s but enough time was spent with the D300s to make complete conclusions about the camera.

Autofocus

The original D300 blew its competition, the Canon 50D out of the water. In order to compete, Canon needed to totally revamp their autofocus system. While the systems are similar, they are still totally different beasts.

Both autofocus systems work best in still camera mode vs video mode. No company has created an effective solution to autofocusing in video at the time of writing this posting.

Both systems utilize different zones and areas to achieve focusing. To make a long story short, Nikon’s is smarter in full auto-focusing while allowing more maneuverability and faster access to settings on the fly in varying shooting situations. What’s its edge? For starters it allows to user to move the focusing points around using the back joystick. When a photographer is shooting, all that one needs to do is just move this point back and forth to the exact area that they want to focus on. A great example is sports, event or concert shooting. Also keep this in mind for when the kids are running around at the wedding reception.

Editor’s Note: After working with it on a photoshoot, I figured out how to unlock the previously said feature on the 7D. It’s something that most photographers would look past though, but works just as well as Nikon’s system. The fact that it is readily available on the Nikon though is very critical.

In contrast, one has to press a series of buttons on the 7D. If the 7D had allowed for the flexibility that the D300s did it would be game over. The reason for this is because of just how accurate and smart the zones and areas are to lock onto the subject that the photographer really wants to get.

Nikon fanboys can relax now.

Winner: Nikon D300s

Video Modes

Both the Canon 7D and the Nikon D300s shoot HD video. The quality of both is very good and for photojournalists, it should be enough for their purposes.

Here are the differences—the Canon 7D shoots 1080p HD video at 30p, 24p, and 25p. It also shoots 720p 60p video for users that need that specific look. Further, the camera can also shoot in standard definition mode. To top all this off, it has a switch on the back to put the DSLR into stills or video mode very quickly. Utilizing the back and front dials, the camera can be an excellent tool on the set of a video production.

The Nikon D300s shoots 720p HD video at 24p. It can also do this in VGA and QVGA modes—standard definition and mobile video.

When shooting, users will also see less of the dreaded, “jello effect” when using the 7D. To be fair, if you put an image stabilized lens on either camera, it will effectively eliminate this problem.

So which one is better? The 7D takes the cake here. The Dual DIGIC IV processors combined with the different video modes available and the noise control at the higher ISOs just take offer videographers, podcasters, photojournalists, wedding photographers and concert shooters so much more that they can offer to their clients—which further amounts to more of a monetary return. Further, the 7D offers full manual control over the image. Sadly, its flaw is little to no control over the sound. Keep this all in mind when you are on the video set of your next production.

In the end, we just want to see the pores on your face.

Winner: Canon 7D

Ergonomics

Right off the bat, the 7D is a more complicated beast of a camera. There are more buttons in different places that previous Canon users will need to get used to as it will require a rewiring of your muscle memory.

The D300s on the other hand feels exactly like the previous generation of cameras that came before it. To that end, users that are upgrading will have no trouble adapting. This will make a difference when shooting in situations that require hastiness on the photographer’s part.

The feel of both cameras are solid and unless there was some major fondling going on you probably would not be able to tell the difference.

Something that did bug me a bit was the fact that in order to change some settings on the D300s the photographer’s eye needs to leave the viewfinder at times. An example of this is the ISO settings. To be fair, the 7D also can have this problem unless the photographer really knows his/her way around the buttons when switching the autofocus settings.

Winner: Tie—they could both use some tweaks. Overall, they both feel the way that a camera should and definitely don’t feel like something that is meant for amateurs.

Durability

Both the 7D and the D300s are workhorses—make no mistake about that. They weren’t designed like the T2i to be for casual users and tourists. No, these cameras are for working photographers. And cameras for working photographers are built to be tough.

On both sides of the fence, the cameras are indeed tough. I’ve never dropped either one per se, but they have been subject to being in my messenger bag while traveling from venue to venue, on a crowded NYC subway, pushing their way through crowds, getting bumped by ravers and teens in the equivalent of a mosh pit filled with pacifists, etc.

As far as weatherproofing goes, the cameras will and should both be able to resist good amounts of rain and downpour. I know many photographers that are always afraid of rain hitting their cameras. For the most part, you can stop worrying about the weather being kryptonite to your camera.

So which one is better? They’re tied actually. At this spot in the product line, both cameras are essentially the same. Once you start moving up, you’ll see that Nikon takes the edge. I previously wrote that if someone tried to steal the D3s I was reviewing that I would beat them with it without any fear of breaking the camera.

Their skull on the other hand…

Winner: Tie

Image Quality

This is a bit of a tough one. In terms of color quality, you’re really not going to see much of a difference except if one shoots in JPEG mode.

When in JPEG mode, the D300s takes the cake for less noise. However, there is also less detail in the images because of the 12MP sensor vs Canon’s 18MP sensor.

In RAW mode, one really won’t be able to tell the difference between the two cameras unless you sit there everyday studying the way that the images are taken with both cameras in different situations. This becomes even more true with the use of modern day editing programs like Lightroom or Photoshop. The 7D can go up to ISO 6400 while the D300s can do ISO 3200. When shooting concerts or weddings, the latter could become a pain unless faster glass is attached. For best results, try some Nikkor primes or the 24-70mm F2.8 ED.

For anyone’s work, the D300s and the 7D will both suffice.

Winner: Tie. It really depends on your needs too.

High ISOs

The Nikon D300s uses a 12MP APS-C sensor with a 1.5x crop. Nikon’s formula is simple—low megapixels but excellent High ISO images with low noise. It has been working for them for a couple of years now.

For the Canonites, the 7D uses an 18MP APS-C sensor with a 1.6x crop. Because of this, the Canon sensor is just slightly smaller than the Nikon’s. To counter the problems that could arise from High ISOs, the camera has Dual DIGIC IV processors. Otherwise, the images would probably look much like the Canon T2i’s. You can see what those look like here. Granted though, the images have been edited.

Don’t expect to not do noise reduction to the files that come out of either camera at high ISOs. But in this case, the Nikon D300s does do slightly better because of the lower megapixel count. This isn’t by a very large margin either.

Winner: Nikon D300s

LCD Screen

Both cameras have large LCD screens designed to be utilized to check for minor details. Because of this, they are both of high pixel count.

The Nikon D300s comes with the equivalent of what could be called a condom for an LCD screen. There is a cover that goes on top of it to prevent it from becoming fogged up from the photographer’s breath. This is nice in practice. What’s even nice is the fact that it doesn’t seem to obscure the view of the LCD at all either.

For what it’s worth though, the 7D’s is more useful. The reason for this is the way that it was designed. The 7D’s screen can be used by videographers that need to zoom in very closely to their subjects to ensure that their focusing is spot on to the nearest pixel. This assures quality and optimum sharpness to the user.

While the D300s can do this, it isn’t as useful as the 7D’s. The extra nail in the coffin comes from the color schemes used in the menus—which can really aid visually impaired photographers.

Winner: 7D

Metering

This is an issue that has been debated back and forth for many cameras. I’m going to put this one to rest—they’re both good enough for whatever any photographer needs. They are accurate and reliable and will not let a photographer down after lots of use in estimating the exposure needed for the shot that the photographer wants and not necessarily what the camera meter tells you is balanced, overexposed or underexposed.

Winner: Tie

RAW Image File Versatility

Here’s where I may be opening up a can of worms to readers. Try playing with the Nikon D300s’ and the Canon 7D’s files in Lightroom. Manipulate the colors to get an accurate reading. To throw more heat into the fire, shoot a concert with multi-colored lights in auto white balance.

For what it’s worth, the lifelike color will be better achieved by the D300s. I say better achieved because it still isn’t perfect. Put the files into post-processing though and you’ll see that the 7D will allow you more versatility in the exact look you may be going for. Desaturate all you want with the 7D’s files to get the exact level of color that you want. Sure the files may be off in this shooting situation, but you’ll be able to get them to be accurate enough for publishing.

Winner: 7D

Conclusion

Get the camera that suits your system. If you’re a Nikon user, get the D300s. If you’re a Canon user, the 7D is a great option. If you’re thinking of switching systems, remember that both cameras are still different beasts and can do different things. Make sure you know what your needs are before you purchase either one.

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