Equipment Reviews

Image Quality Comparison – Canon 1Dmk4 and Canon 7D

Canon currently produce two camera bodies that have quite a high degree of similarity, based on their general specifications.  The two bodies are the Canon 7D, which is an APS-C sensor camera, that has 18mp of resolution, 8 fps drive and the Canon 1Dmk4, which has a larger APS-H sensor inside, with 16mp and 10 fps drive speed.

I often am asked as to what some of the main differences are in image quality between these two cameras.  With this in mind I set up the two cameras to shoot some comparative images from both in order to compare some of their characteristics.
I used a Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II lens, mounted on a tripod.  Only the camera body was changed each time.  No sharpening was applied other than a default setting of 25 in Adobe Camera Raw.  Raw images opened in Photoshop CS5, downsized and saved using File Save For Web and Devices at 90kb file size.
The images were taken in good light, as can be seen from the exposure details.  The black and white zebra made a good target for comparing detail in blacks, whites and fur, especially around the edges of the animals ears.  I also included the dark green and shadow patches in the background for comparing noise levels.

Canon1Dmk4, f/5.6, 1/1250s, iso 400, as taken, no cropping.
Canon 7D, f/5.6, 1/1250s, iso 400, as taken, no cropping.

The first image is that of the Mk4, with its 1.3x crop effect.  The image directly beneath it, and above this text, is that taken with the 7D, with its 1.6x crop effect.
Another way to better understand the size difference between the images is to relate them to the sensors in each camera.
The APS-H sensor in the 1Dmk4 is 27.9mm long and 18.6mm high.  When the image circle is projected from the rear of the lens, more of it falls onto this sensor then the smaller sensor in the 7D, hence the wider field of view, with more background visible.
The APS-C sensor in the 7D is 22.3mm long and 14.9mm high.  When the image is projected from the rear of the lens, this smaller sensor can only record over its smaller surface.
These two pictures serve to show the difference in subject size between the image obtained by the 1DMk4 and the 7D then, out of the camera.
The Mk 4 image is made up of 16 megapixels, and each pixel is 5.7 microns in size.
The 7D image is made up of 18 megapixels, and each pixel is 4.3 microns in size.
None of that is apparent whilst looking at them now, only the fact that the 7D is giving you a bigger zebra.

In the next step I have cropped the same two images.

Canon 1Dmk4, cropped from 16mp to 7mp.
Canon 7D, cropped from 18mp to 12mp
In order to make it a bit easier to see differences at what might be considered a normal crop size, I cropped the bottom image, from the 7D, to 12 megapixels, thus discarding 6megapixels.  
Then, I ‘equalized’ the two cameras by cropping the Mk4 image, until the zebra was the same size, approximately, as the zebra in the 7D image.  This left me with a cropped 1Dmk4 image of 7 megapixels, still pretty much usable for most requirements in resolution I would say.
Comparing the quality of the two images on my 23″ screen side by side, I cannot see any massive quality differences between them.  To my eye the blacks look a little better on the Mk4 image, and the background is showing slightly more noise on the 7D image.


For the last example, I again cropped the two images further, keeping the zebra pretty much the same size.

Canon 1Dmk4, cropped to 0.9 megapixels, downsized to 800x533px.
Canon 7D, cropped to 1.6 megapixels, downsized to 800×533.
This time I cropped in really heavily, to try and make it as easier to judge image quality almost at pixel level.
The cropped 1Dmk4 image comes in at 0.9 megapixels, roughly a 92 % crop of the original, and downsized to 800×533 for the test.
The cropped 7D image comes in at 1.6 megapixels, roughly a 70 % crop of the original, and downsized to 800×533 for the test.
To my eye the Mk4 file is still slightly superior in terms of noise, the blacks, and the general tone of the whites in the image.  On the other hand the 7D file is retaining more detail in the stripes across the zebras muzzle, due to my very heavy cropping of the Mk4 file, around 1 megapixel, which was for illustrative purposes only.

This comparison shows that in good light, and at ISO 400, it is possible to crop the 1Dmk4 image until it matches the “subject size” of the same image taken on the 7D, and that there is not a great deal of difference in the image quality of the two cameras with my preference being the Mk4.  At extreme crop sizes, the higher resolution of the 7D gives it an advantage.
I have more sets of these images taken at higher iso settings and will post them in an upcoming blog post.

A different method of testing sensor characteristics between the two cameras would be to compare image quality between the two bodies when longer focal length lenses were used on the Mk4’s bigger sensor, to ‘equalize’ the sensor characteristics, for example shooting the 7D at 100mm focal length and the Mk4 at 130mm, approximately.
After extensive use of both of these camera bodies, my own findings in actual shooting conditions pretty much supported what comparing these images shows.  However, I did find that in low light the differences are greater, with the Mk4 further ahead.  Similarly, when I did not have to crop the Mk4 image as extensively, the result was better.

I did not calibrate the two camera bodies to the camera lens.  Whilst there were no clouds in the sky, and I shot as quickly as possible between changing bodies, there might be slight changes in available light, though not enough for the camera metering to pick up.

No sharpening applied to these images, but for my purposes, in raw format, I felt completely happy that the pictures were sharp enough and that both lens and camera combinations were working well enough for my purposes.
With proper sharpening applied, there would be lots more detail showing on the subject.
About the Author:

I am a guide and a photographer, with a deep interest in all things to do with nature. I am based in Cape Town, South Africa, but travel often to wild places whilst leading photographic safaris, and enjoying the outdoors.

3 Responses to “Image Quality Comparison – Canon 1Dmk4 and Canon 7D”

  1. Helena Atkinson Says: February 29, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    This is a great post and I am sure many people will find this helpful.

  2. Martin Benadie Says: March 1, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Some very interesting findings here Grant. Hoping for more technically informative posts like this from you in the future!

    Would be very interesting to see how these two bodies compare with this cropping method at higher ISOs.

  3. Grant Atkinson Says: March 2, 2012 at 5:58 am

    Thanks for reading Martin
    There will a be a 1Dmk4 crop test at high iso coming shortly!
    cheers
    Grant