TECHNIQUE — Setting Up Your New Canon 7D by Guest Contributor Doug Brown

No, this is not a Costa Rican bird! This is a northern pintail that Doug Brown photographed in the western United States.

The 7D is (still!) Canon’s latest and greatest prosumer camera body; it has generated a lot of interest, heated discussion, and plenty of confusion on the internet forums. I’ve shot the 7D extensively and thought I’d share some of my initial impressions and usage settings with you. I’ll start with the body’s construction. It feels quite well built; not a 1-series body to be sure, but a definite step up from the XXD series. The 7D handles challenging weather conditions without a hiccup; I’ve used it in both the freezing cold of the Bosque del Apache and in light rain on the California coast without a single problem. The controls are substantially new, bringing added functionality at the cost of a small learning curve. The new LCD is excellent, with great sharpness and easy readability in all lighting conditions. While in California I photographed with a friend who used a Nikon D300s, and compared to the 7D his screen was very difficult to view in bright sunlight. The viewfinder is big and bright compared to the 50D’s. Other noteworthy features of the 7D include a frame rate of 8 fps, a new 19-point AF system (all cross-type) with its own dedicated processor, wireless flash control, 1080p HD video recording, a new higher capacity battery with ‘intelligence,’ and an electronic level.

So, enough of the preliminaries; let’s delve into how best to set up the 7D for bird photography, and in particular bird flight photography! We’ll start with the first red menu. If I don’t comment on a setting, assume that it’s in its default position. I almost always set ‘Quality’ to ‘RAW,’ unless I’m using ISO 1600 or greater (in which case I tend to shoot JPEG or RAW + JPEG. I always set ‘Release shutter without card’ to ‘Disable;’ there’s no worse feeling than taking a series of images only to find out that you forgot to put in a memory card. I have ‘Review time’ set to ‘Off’ to preserve battery life. On the second red menu I have my ‘Color space’ set to ‘Adobe RGB’, which has a wider color gamut than sRGB. The third red menu is set to the factory defaults. Moving to the fourth red menu I have ‘Silent shooting’ set to disable; the default ‘Mode 1′ position decreases your maximum frame rate to 7 fps.





Moving next to the blue menus, I haven’t changed the settings in the first menu. On the second menu I have ‘Highlight alert’ set to ‘Enable;’ I tend to use blinking highlight alerts rather than the histogram in the field because I find it gives the quickest feedback, allowing me to adjust my settings on the fly without missing the next bird as it flies by. I set ‘AF point disp.’ to ‘Enable;’ during image review, the focus point(s) are displayed in red.



Now for the yellow menus. On the first menu I have ‘Auto rotate’ set to monitor (the middle option); that way when I’m shooting in a vertical orientation the image won’t rotate 90 degrees when I’m trying to review it in the camera. Only when I download the file onto my computer will it auto-rotate. I leave the second yellow menu unchanged. On the third menu I have ‘INFO. button display options’ set to ‘Displays shooting functions.’ You can actually put check marks next to any and every one of the options here and cycle through them with the ‘INFO.’ button if you like. This is where you’ll find the electronic level option. I have entered my copyright information into the camera so that it is included in the EXIF data of all of my images.




Let’s move on to the orange Custom Function menus. I have ‘C.Fn I: Exposure’ set to the camera defaults. Under ‘C.Fn II: Image,’ I have ‘Highlight tone priority’ set to ‘Disable.’ It is designed to expand the dynamic range from 18% gray to the highlights. To get the benefits of highlight tone priority you must either shoot JPEG or process your RAW files in Canon’s DPP software. Programs like Lightroom ignore highlight tone priority. With HTP enabled your ISO choices becoming limited to ISO 200-6400, and you will see ‘D+’ displayed on the back LCD and in the viewfinder. Canon doesn’t reveal exactly how HTP works, but it is likely that among other things it underexposes images by a stop. The result can be more shadow noise, especially when trying to enhance shadow detail.


I’d like to address high ISO speed noise reduction (C.Fn II 2) in a little more detail, since this is a topic that generates a fair amount of confusion among Canon shooters. This camera setting is useful when shooting in the JPEG format only; you’ll notice that the default setting on the 7D is ‘Standard,’ not ‘Off.’ The ‘Standard’ setting significantly reduces chrominance noise primarily (the pastel-colored speckles of noise that you see in the midtones and shadows). Luminance noise (gray and black grain) is also reduced but not to the same extent, because image detail is a component of luminance and the camera is trying to preserve image detail. The ‘Low’ setting reduces chrominance noise exclusively, and the ‘Strong’ setting goes after both chrominance and luminance noise more aggressively (at the expense of image detail). The high ISO speed NR setting does not impact RAW images, and RAW conversion software (including DPP) either ignores or minimizes the impact of the in-camera high ISO speed NR setting. My personal feeling is that 7D JPEGs with standard high ISO speed NR look very good at ISOs 1600 and higher; this is why I prefer JPEG to RAW when I hit ISO 1600 (I will normally dial in RAW + JPEG just to be safe). On many older Canon bodies, enabling high ISO speed NR severely reduced the maximum burst rate (on the 1D Mark III, the maximum burst drops from 114 frames to only 14). With the new DIGIC 4 processor found on the 7D, the maximum burst rate doesn’t decrease until you set NR to ‘Strong.’

Next we’ll cover ‘C.Fn III: Autofocus/Drive.’ Some of these settings are among the most important of all 7D settings when it comes to getting the best possible images. I have ‘C.Fn III 1 AI Servo tracking sensitivity’ set to ‘Slow.’ If I’m tracking a flying bird and it flies behind a tree, slow tracking sensitivity means the camera will not give up focus on the bird and grab focus on the tree. This setting makes the AF much less twitchy. I have ‘C.Fn III 6 Select AF area selec. mode’ enabled. If you then select ‘Register’ you can place check marks next to the types of AF you use. Once you have your check marks finished you select ‘Apply’ to finalize your selections. To me this is probably the most critical setting of all. I have both of the automatic focus point selection options unchecked (these are the first 2 choices on the menu). If you want your images to be critically sharp where you want them to be sharp, don’t rely on the camera to choose your focus point for you. Using these 2 focus options is akin to shooting in full auto mode in my opinion, and is the cause of many out of focus images being posted on the internet forums. I have the last 3 AF options enabled (’AF point expansion,’ ‘Single point AF,’ and ‘Spot AF.’ You can cycle through the active focus modes by pressing the top right button on the back of the camera and then repeatedly pressing the M-Fn button just behind the shutter release button. I use ‘AF point expansion’ and ‘Single point AF’ for birds in flight. ’Spot AF’ is a more precise version of ‘Single point AF;’ it’s like an AF point within an AF point. I use it for perched subjects when I want to get the eye sharp. When using Single point and Spot AF, I often move the focus point around the frame in an attempt to compose correctly through the viewfinder (if a duck is moving across the water from my right to my left, I will move my focus point above and to the left of center and try to place the focus point on the bird’s eye). The next setting I alter is ‘C.Fn III 12 Orientation linked AF point.’ I have it set to ‘Select different AF points.’ With this setting, I can select both an AF mode and an AF point for the camera to use depending on whether the camera is in a horizontal or vertical orientation; the camera senses its own position and makes the adjustments automatically.



The last menu item is ‘C.Fn IV: Operation/Others.’ I have altered the default settings for ‘C.Fn IV 1′ only. ‘C.Fn IV 1′ is a slick way to customize the functions of many of the buttons on the camera. I’m going to provide my settings, but keep in mind that this is an area where personal preference is important. I changed the first button (‘Shutter butt. half-press’) to ‘Metering start.’ I changed the third button (‘* AE Lock button’) to ‘Metering and AF start.’ This combination of changes turns the asterisk button on the back of the camera into my AF start button. The shutter button no longer initiates AF; it only takes the picture. I have my AF mode set to AI Servo at all times and thus I am always ready for action. If I want to use One-Shot AF I simply press and release the asterisk button with my focus point on the subject. Once focus is locked and I release the asterisk button, the camera will stop trying to focus. The shutter button will simply take the picture. If the perched bird that I was focusing on suddenly flies, I can initiate AI Servo AF by pressing and holding the asterisk button again. This button configuration also allows me to focus and recompose. I put my AF point on the subject and then press and release the asterisk button. I can now recompose. Pressing the shutter button will not cause the camera to refocus; it will just take the picture.

The green ‘My Menu’ allows you to place your commonly used menu items in one convenient menu. I’ve selected ‘Format,’ ‘Battery info.,’ ‘Flash control,’ ‘Quality,’ ‘Live View shoot., and ‘VF grid display’ for my menu items.


The ‘Q’ button is new to the 7D; it is located on the back of the camera in the upper left corner. Think of it as a souped up ‘INFO.’ button. It allows you to both view your camera settings and change them from a single screen. Changeable settings include shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation (+/- 5 stops) / exposure bracketing, flash exposure compensation, AF area selection mode, picture style, white balance, metering mode, auto lighting optimizer, image quality, AF mode, drive mode, and custom controls (C.Fn IV 1).



Enough with the settings! I’m sure you all want to know how this camera performs in the field. After 15,000 frames, I’m very impressed with the 7D. Image detail is excellent, metering is accurate, and AF is probably the best that I’ve seen in a Canon body (for reference I’ve shot the 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, and 1D Mark III). While it’s no Mark III in the noise department, it is significantly better than the 50D; noise has a much finer grain and is easily managed in post-processing until you get above ISO 800. I’ve gotten good quality images up to ISO 1600, but they require more intensive processing to look their best. The feature set is impressive, and I say that even though I have yet to use the video mode or the wireless flash control feature. The 7D is highly customizable; a positive if you’re comfortable making changes to the various settings, but a negative if you’re intimidated by all the options available to you. Hopefully the above information will help you fine-tune your new body; with the proper settings the 7D is capable of capturing incredible images!

Text and images by Doug Brown. Visit Doug’s site here to see more of his beautiful bird images.

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blog category = technique blog category = behind the lens blog category = philosophy blog category = gear reviews blog category = digital workflow The Guide to Tropical Nature Photography support deep green, see my sponsors subscribe to the Deep Green newsletter subscribe to Deep Green blog updates
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Greg Basco
Greg is a professional nature photographer specializing in tropical rainforests and also runs Foto Verde Tours, Costa Rica's first and only travel company dedicated to photographic tourism.

246 thoughts on “TECHNIQUE — Setting Up Your New Canon 7D by Guest Contributor Doug Brown

  1. Awesome write up!!! Thanks so much. One of the best written, step by step and illustrated tutorials out there! 😀

  2. Doug I can’t thank you enough, I was struggling to get good sharp images with my 7D but setting up the AF to your settings and using the asterisk button I have seen a vast improvement, I have so much more confidence in the camera now.

    Thanks so much.

    Regards. – Gary

  3. Doug,
    Thanks for the excellent article. I have just bought my 7D and after upgrading the Firmware to version 2.0.0 I started the set up process.
    I was keen to use the C1, C2 and C3 (Cx) functions for different styles. I had anticipated these being very useful indeed and expected to be able to set shooting mode (P, Tv, Av, etc) from the Q-screen. However, I find that I cannot set it from this screen and it is set at ‘P’, which is not what I want at all, and I can see no other way of setting shooting mode in Cx.
    Also I quite like the viewfinder grids but find that Grid 1 and Grid 2 return the same grid (Grid 2 I think with 4 horizontal and six vertical lines).
    Am I missing something with the Cx modes or is there a major error in the firmware update?
    Hope you can help.

  4. Thank you, thank you , thank you. I was having a terrible time trying to work out auto focus selection.(And I was beginning to wonder what I had bought!) Disabling the automatic setting did the trick. I can now start enjoying this camera. Love your work.

  5. @Mike, set the camera into whichever mode you like (TV,AV,etc) then configure all the settings you require, then finally when you are done, enter the menu and choose the option to assign the current camera state to either C1,C2, or C3. This is the best method to setup the custom functions. Hope that helps.

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  7. Very good article. Thank you. I have been using the 7D like this for about a year now. With very good results. The only thing I change is. I do not keep it in Servo mode all the time. I found it is to inconsistent on birds that move slowly. The One shot is much more accurate and predictable for me when shooting slow moving birds. Just jumping around in the tree.
    Anyway great write up.

  8. Great write up. I hear that the 7D manual does not go into great info on the tracking, Not speaking from experiance as I am using the 50D and want to move over to the 7D. But thanks for the well laid out write up.

  9. Pingback: Canon 7D and 400mm 5.6 lens photo problems advice please. - Page 2 - Wild About Britain

  10. Thanks Doug for your info on back focus buttons for Canon 7d. I used it today for the first time and felt comfortable and even in more control in focusing. I experimented around the house on the usual birds cardinals chickadees towhee etc. then a call came abouot a Snowy Owl in Louisville Ky. about 20 min. away from where I live. I used the back focusing you described and went away with some pretty good photos.
    Again Thanks,
    Eddie Huber

  11. Hi Doug

    Thank you for this writing, you have made my life so much easier, I was almost redy to give uo , but now I am so excited and it works great for me and ewhat I want to do ! Sincerely a happy camper here !

  12. Pingback: B.I.F. 7D Settings? - Page 2 - Wild About Britain

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  14. Hello,
    recently I’ve purchased a 7D. It’s good to read your review. I do have problems with the camera. There is so much noise in pictures that should be fine (Iso maybe 400). Pictures from my 1000D have way less noise. A suggestion from the camera shop is that my preference for -2/3 in the AEB setting could be the cause. Any other suggestions???
    Also, the photo programme (DPP?) won’t show my 7D RAW-pictures. Can anyone help me?
    Thanks, Anne

  15. Hello Anne,
    I use a 7D too. 7D is good till ISO 400 (I shoot on AV mode with the ISO set to 400 and AEB -under exposed). If you are shooting RAW try downloading ‘FastStone image viewer’ to edit your pics. Its freely available on the internet. hope that works for you.

  16. Hi Anne, I have been using my 7D since last May and am still learning :O)

    Have you updated the Firmware to V2.03? If so you also need to download the latest DDP from Canon, you need V3.11.31.0

    I have no problem with opening the CR2 files in that programme. However, Paul’s suggestion of using FastStone Image Viewer is an excellent one, especially for a quick viewing.

    As for noise above ISO400, I wouldn’t be too concerened. I shoot to a Professional standard for a friend of mine at ISO4000 for indoor equestrian and she is quite happy with them, even though she does do some noise removal…..I wouldn’t go any higher though as I feel that is the safe limit for this camera :O)


  17. Hi Martin & Paul,
    thanks for the advice. I’ve downloaded the new DPP but the new firmware won’t install, it’s a ZIP-file but when I try to open it, only a weird WORD-document opens.. I do can view RAW-images now! :)

    I always take pictures outside so light is a real problem most of the time. With my 1000D photo’s with 800 ISO still looked fine, 1600 ISO not so much.

    Hmm, the pictures really do look a lot better in RAW. This weekend I will compare some of my pics with my friend from the same objects with the same adjustments.

    Thanks, Anne

  18. Hi Doug,
    I have a 7D and Sigma 150-500 and do a lot of bird photography but lots of noise in my pictures. Can u let me know the camera set up for bird photography. What ‘sharpness'(1-7) do you use in picture style ? Can u suggest other settings to reduce Noise.

  19. I need the same recommended setup for Canon 7D and Canon EF 100-400MM 1:4.5-56 L IS lens. Need this setting for photographing nesting Eagles (Nest 70′ up in old Oak Tree) with month old chicks. Nest is near Tennessee River and parents feed the chicks often with fish and turtles. Google for photos.

  20. Thank you so much! I was struggling to get good images with my 7D. WIth your guide I have seen a huge improvement. Enjoying my 7D every bit more now!

  21. Thanks for a great guide.

    I hope you can help with my issue. I bought a used 7D and a used Canon 100-400 lens. I tried your settings doing images of the osprey near my house, which I do every year. This year is the first year with this camera and lens set up. Prior to this I had a 60D (not a D60, but the old 60D) and the Canon 75-300 IS lens, and got many good shots, even hand-held from my kayak. I had experimented with a tripod as well as handheld on land, as a bird photographer in Trinidad told me he did everything handheld. And anyway I can’t use the tripod in my kayak. With the old set up, I got just as many good shots handheld on land as I did with the tripod, so I stopped using the tripod with cable release for bird photography. I got the new gear so I could magnify the images in the field to see if they were sharp, as well as to have better optics, better resolution, and better ISO capabilities. But it seems to me that this new lens is heavy enough that I don’t seem to be able to hold it steady. At least, my images at 400 mm (640, I think, with the crop factor) do not come out tack sharp unless I use not only the tripod, but the cable release. That puts a crimp in being able to use the asterisk button to focus, as specified by your settings. I don’t know if I am aging or becoming incompetent, and that is why I can’t seem to get a decent bird image with my new (to me) gear, or if using this new lens at 400, I would be expected to have to use a tripod or monopod. But this inability seems to extend to when the osprey are just sitting on the nest as well as in flight. I did get one in focus in flight image out of perhaps 300 without the tripod. I just shot another hundred images this morning, and until I put the lens on the tripod and the cable release on the camera, and took the autofocus off the asterisk button so I could use the cable release, I did not get a single in focus image, even with the birds just sitting on the nest.. I am pretty bummed out – don’t know, like I said, if it is me or the gear needing a tripod. But I assume the gear itself is fine as Canon does free recalibrations on used gear bought from B&H, and they did work on both my camera and lens. Anyway, any advice would be greatly appreciated – I can’t stand watching the chicks grow up and not being able to make a decent image – it is driving me up the wall. Thanks!

  22. Pingback: Bird Photographs - Page 733 - BCMTouring

  23. Your back button focus lesson makes it sound easy, but I am doing something wrong.
    I have single point expansion with one shot and spot metering on in aperture priority.
    I hit the back button on a tall bush in the distance, then recompose with the focus point on the sky. When I hit the shutter to take the shot, the exposure changes as if metering for the sky leaving the landscape dark. What did I do wrong?
    Thank you for time and reply.

  24. Is your back button set for focus only? The * button is for locking exposure settings, regardless of which mode you are in (I believe). If you focus on the bush, and then meter off either some grass or blue sky and lock the * button you should be able to get an even exposure. For example, when I’m shooting motocross and the rider is all in black, I meter off the grass (or blue sky if no grass) then activate BB focus on the rider and get an even exposure.

    Of course, you don’t have to lock the exposure with the * button, just half press the shutter button to lock it , recompose them shoot, as long as it has been disable to focus as well.

    My camera is permanently set to Evaluative metering and I find it works for me, I change it for specific needs though… hope this helps :O)

  25. Hi Martin,
    Thanks for your help. I set my buttons the same as Doug, except I am using the AE Lock button for back button focus sand AF On button for locking exposure. After switching from spot metering to evaluative metering, everything worked fine. For what I was trying to do it makes more sense to me. Your method helped me to arrive at my solution.
    Thanks, again.

  26. Pleased I could help.. and just looked at my camera and noticed I had done the same, If I remember correctly I found it difficult to reach the AF On button too. lol

  27. Yes, the AF On button is at an angle and seems easy to slide off (to me).
    This morning, I reached for my 7D for some quick shots . Wow, is it quick !!!
    I forgot to use the back focus and went for the shutter-bam,bam, bam !!!
    I’ ll have to practice those emergency situations !!!

  28. LOL .. does that mean your shutter button still focuses? Mine has been disabled, only the * button focusses now, and I still fumble with it sometimes, must be my age …

  29. That was the funniest part(not) the shutter no longer focuses, but my memory has not been fully updated yet !!!!

  30. Sorry – accidentally unsubscribed and just trying to resubscribe the only way I can see how to do so.

  31. You are not the only one, using BBF takes a while to get used to. I’ve also done the same..makes you feel kinda dumb, but not for long though….now the next bit to learn is not to keep pressing the shutter button whilst pressing the BBF button….I still take photos when I didn’t want to so don’t worry too much if you do it too :O)

  32. It’s OK, I’ve been wanting to try BBF for the longest time and I love the feel of it.
    I’ m waiting for my nephew’s baseball team to begin playing and know I’ll love the
    new method. I usually don’t speak on forums or the net in general but I enjoy listening to your advice and experiences. I once read the the review on Deep Green for the Canon EF 70-300L
    Lens and after seeing the pics from it and reading the review, I went out and bought it!
    Great BBF guide also, thank you.

  33. Hi Doug,

    Thank you so much for this, very useful tutorial and informative.
    I got same problem with focus and aperture but by this info I get so much better understand my 7D.



  34. Just an update. It turned out it was not me. The lens had a focal plane issue. This was why I could not get a decent image to save my life. This osprey season I got many good images and I am learning how to pan. Finally I can make use of this excellent set up guide. Now I have another question: I did 9000 images just this osprey season. I am processing them, and not all are keepers, but many are. This is a lot of hard drive space. I assume people who go shoot penguins in the Antarctic, etc, often wind up with thousands of images over a few weeks. How do people store these for active processing and then archiving? Just keep buying more and more 1TB Thunderbolts? Thanks for whatever info you can provide. I am about to go to Maine and shoot loons and puffins, and I expect to shoot a few thousand more over 2-3 weeks. Don’t know what to take to make space. Also, what laptops do people use so they can process images on the road? I calibrate my monitor at home for color, but I don’t know what portable options there are so I don’t have to come home with thousands of images I had to wait to process because I don’t have a portable means to do so. Used to be, laptops just were terrible at this, but I understand there have been significant improvements. And again storage will seem to be an issue. Thanks for any help!!

  35. Dear Sir,
    Thank you so much for your excellent website & step by step instructions for the Canon 7D.

    Question: I’ve been trying to put my initials (MTM) on the photo file #. i.e. MTM.0001
    There are no instructions in the owners manual but….on the camera there is a “box” where an alphabet listing (file numbering) is present and I can put my initials (MTM) but……I can not make the initials stay in place or stay.
    Can you help?

  36. Thank you for this, it is well set out and explained, I have had my 7D for two years and only now is it starting to come alive, hoping you cover ext flash use as well :)

  37. Hiya, can you try this? – Menu > First ‘spanner from right side’ showing Battery Info > Down to File Name > down to ‘change user settings1>then change to your initials and remembering to include the _, >OK it and then select as choice. Then you might have to return to menu and select Camera User Settings…hope this works :-)

  38. Hi, Dewald. I’m working this year on a comprehensive e-book that will cover both the technical and artistic side of flash use for the nature photographer :-)


  39. Further to Martins reply above re renaming your files – I tried this but had to “tweak” it a bit:
    Go to “File Name” IMG_ is displayed
    Go to “Change user setting1″
    In blue box, move cursor to RH side using either the big wheel or thumb push.
    Press the erase “bin” button to delete the current content of the blue box.
    Press the Picture Style button to move down to the letter selection line.
    Using the big wheel select the letters you want in the box, then the _ underscore. When done hit the menu button
    Go back to the “File Name” and press OK.
    In the drop down box that appears your initials will appear second one down. Select this then press the Menu button again.\That should do it.

  40. SuPer great article! Let me mention another option. In preference to a back focus, I prefer to set the the AF-On button to focus off. I can easily then press both the AF-on button and the * buttons simultaneously with my thumb to stop both focus and metering effectively putting me into a one shot mode for a stationary target so that I can recompose etc if needed. I do not see that taking a quick shot in this manner is any slower than using a back focus. That is, it would seem actual shutter release is just as quick from a half shutter focus as from a back button focus as either are doing the same thing. I do believe back focus has its usefulness, but I am not sure that it is an advantage when in sevro for moving subjects.

  41. Hey, I just got my efs 55-250 STM lens and wanted to add another plus to setting the AF-On button to focus off. Just hit the AF-On button, and you can manually focus the lens when in AI Servo mode.

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