I think this question is one that most of us ask ourselves when considering a purchase of this magnitude. The question is not an easy one, and I'm not sure I made the correct decision in purchasing this marvelous piece of technology. Let me put it in perspective; I am a prosumer camera user. I love photography and take a variety of photographs including family pictures, sports photography (see photos at smugmug for gatorowl), and casual street photography. I have owned lots of cameras including film, digital P&S and DSLRs. The 7D is my sixth DSLR (including a DReb XSI that I sold after two weeks). Before the 7D, my main camera was a 40D, which I found to be satisfactory especially the image quality (IQ). The negatives of the 40D are lack of weather sealing, 6.5 frames per second (fps) repeat rate, 1600 ISO max (can be pushed higher) and some focusing issues especially in sports photography. Of course, when comparing with the the DReb series, these "negatives" immediately become positives. The 40D has better construction, much faster repeat rate, and much better focussing (the T1i has, arguably better high ISO capabilities). The 40D compares well with the Nikon D90. Both cameras are very close. The D90 has video, better high ISO performance, and is a little more compact. However, it is a little slower in repeat rate, and I found selecting D90 focus points a bit on the clumsy side. Anyway, because of lens choices, I decided to go Canon. The 50D held no allure mainly because it was an incremental improvement. So, I thought my kit was set for at least a couple of years.
Notice that in the above discussion, I never talk about IQ. Of all the 10MP or better DSLRs that I have used, there is no noticeable difference in IQ. However, after the 7D announcement and some of the preliminary reviews, I was convinced that the 7D was a quantum improvement over the 40D in every respect. I panicked, sold my 40D and bought a 7D.
So, what did I find? The 7D is a great camera and is a clear improvement over the 40D. In some respects, it is substantially better than a 40D, but IQ isn't one of those major improvements. If you look at your files at 100%-300%, you will see more detail in a 7D shot. I have a standard photo that I take in my office when I get a new lens. I had to blow the photos up to 300% before I could detect differences. There was more texture detail in the 7D and the contrast and saturation were better. However, to be honest, it's not clear how much of this difference is attributable to the camera or the lenses (I shot the 40D with a Sigma 70-300mm and the 7D with a Canon 70-300mm IS lens). Frankly, I'm not surprised. DSLRs are so good right now, differences in IQ at low ISO are marginal. However, I do feel confident that I can shoot at 1600 ISO or 2000 ISO with the 7D without a substantial reduction in quality. While I can control noise at 3200 ISO, color saturation and contrast decline more than I like. With the 40D 800 ISO was as far as I wanted to go, but I would push it to 1000 when desperate. The 7D provides is a major ISO gain.
I really love the 7D focus system. I don't know if it is as good as the Canon 1D series, but it is so, so much better than the 40D. By focusing on the exact point in a field, I feel like my creative options are substantially expanded. I was frequently frustrated by having the wrong part of my picture in focus. This need never happen with the 7D.
The 8fps repeat rate is a nice bonus. It just raises the probability that the exact frame you want will be captured.
So, the question is should you upgrade? You have to decide whether you can afford it; so my advice assume that you can afford the camera, but are looking for the camera that best matches how you shoot.
If this is your first SLR (film or digital):
I'd recommend starting with a Canon T1i or Nikon 90D. The 7D is an extremely complex camera that will take many hours to learn and dozen of hours shooting to master. Unless you have the time to invest in such a camera it will just be a source of frustration. Unlike almost every other camera I've owned, the user will obtain disappointing or bad results unless s/he truly understands this equipment. By contrast, you can take other DSLRs and just start shooting. Unlike the other cameras, the 7D has no scene modes. With other DSLRs you can take your time and gradually learn the more sophisticated capabilities. Most importantly, the quality of your pictures will be just as good.
If you are moving up from an entry level DSLR:
You need to ask yourself why you are moving up? If you are dissatisfied with the IQ, then the 7D is not your answer. Using the 7D, it will take a lot more work (initially) to become proficient. However, if you need a faster framerate, better high ISO performance (although the T1i and D90 are very good for high ISO), long for a better focussing system, or shoot in the rain or the beach, then the 7D might make sense.
If you are moving up from a mid-level XXD or Nikon D300:
As before, you're getting very little IQ improvement (wildlife photographers claim they can use the extra cropping capability, but I'm not convinced it's substantial). Buy the 7D because the features provide you with value. Also, I would seriously discourage anyone from switching from a Nikon D300 to a 7D. There has to be an absolute must-have 7D feature for you to make that leap.
As for me, I don't regret this purchase. I'll never say never, but I'm hoping that the 7D will be my last crop-sensor camera. I love the flexibility and expansion of creative options that the new features allow me. It's a wonderful camera. I'm looking forward to spending many hours becoming intimately acquainted with its capabilities.
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