Canon 7D vs. Canon Rebel T2i : Half the price… half the camera?

Who will benefit from paying for the Canon 7D?

Canon 7d vs Canon Rebel T2i 550D

[If you're interested in the VIDEO features of the Canon 5D Mark II, 7D, and T2i / 550D, you may also find this article helpful: Canon SLRs for Video - JMG]

This week’s introduction of the new Canon 550D / Rebel T2i raises some interesting questions.  This is a camera that clearly out-classes the Canon 50D in many regards, and has many of the features of the Canon EOS 7D, but at less than half the price (Currently $715 at Amazon.com). Will professional or semi-professional photographers be satisfied using the T2i instead of the 7D? What types of photographers will get any practical benefit from paying double for the Canon 7D?

Let’s get this out of the way first. If you’re at least a semi-pro, you’ll want to opt for the 550D designation over the “Rebel”, if it’s available. What photographer over the age of 15 wants a camera with “Rebel” in red letters across the front? Just kidding.

More seriously, though, let me do a quick side-by-side comparison of their features. If you’d like to see the whole table at once, just click use the drop-down menu at the top-left of the table:

 
Canon 7D
Canon 60D
Canon Rebel T2i / 550D
Canon EOS 7DCanon EOS 60D

canon rebel t2i aka 550D

Amazon Price$1599$1099$715
B&H Price


$1599$1099 (rebates available)$719
Body MaterialMagnesium AlloyPolycarbonate and Stainless SteelPolycarbonate, Fiberglass Resin and Stainless Steel
LCD Size / Resolution3.0"
920,000 pixels
3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
LCD Articulated?NoYesNo
Sensor Size14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)
Crop Factor1.6x1.6x1.6x
Sensor Resolution18 Megapixels18 Megapixels18 Megapixels
ISO Range100-6400
+12800
100-6400
+12800
100-6400
+12800
Total AF Focus Points1999
Cross-Type AF Sensors19 (dual diagonal)91
AF Light Level Range-.05 to +18 EV-.05 to +18 EV-.05 to +18 EV
Metering System63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
9.4% Center Weighted
2.3% Spot
63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
6.5% Center Weighted
2.8% Spot
63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
9% Center Weighted
4% Spot
Exposure Compensation1/2 or 1/3 stops via thumb dial1/2 or 1/3 stops via thumb dial1/2 or 1/3 stops
Auto-Bracketing
/ HDR Options
Max Frame Rate : RAW (14-bit)8 fps5.3 fps3.7
Max Frame Rate : RAW (12-bit)n/an/an/a
Max Frame Rate : JPG8 fps5.3 fps3.7
Max Burst Duration RAW (at highest frame rate)15166
Max Burst Duration JPG (at highest frame rate)945834
Shutter Speed Range1/8000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
1/8000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
1/4000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
Maximum Flash Sync Shutter Speed (standard flash)1/250th sec.1/250th sec.1/200th sec.
HD Video Resolutions1080p, 720p1080p, 720p1080p, 720p
Available HD Video Frame RatesPAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
PAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
PAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
Firmware Sidecar AvailableUnder DevelopmentNoNo
Media TypeCompact FlashSD / SDHC / SDXCSD / SDHC / SDXC
Weight820g (body only)675g (body only)530g (with battery and SD card)
Viewfinder Coverage100% Frame,
1.0x magnification
96% Frame,
.95x magnification
95%
0.87x magnification
back view of the canon rebel T2i

The back of the Canon T2i is dominated by the 3" LCD

If you think any items should be added to this table for comparison, let me know.

There are certainly some differences between these cameras. The 7D has a metal body and a brighter viewfinder with full coverage. The 7D will feel better in your hand,  and these things are always nice. On the other hand, the new 550D sports a higher resolution LCD than the 7D, which can be handy in the field.

The main differences, though, are centered around a very specific style of photography, and really might not be a benefit to many photographers. The main area difference? Speed. The Canon EOS 7D will focus on faster moving subjects, and take more photos at faster shutter speeds. It has a faster flash sync speed, too. Many of these are the result of the dual-processor power of the 7D, though some are certainly limitations for marketing purposes… (my Canon EOS A2 in 1994 had a 1/8000th sec. shutter speed at half the price of this camera… I’m sure this isn’t a technological based limitation for the “Rebel”. I don’t remember ever using it then, either).

For example, if you primarily shoot in the studio, there would be no benefit to spending the extra $900 on the 7D, especially for product photography. Since they use the same sensor, the image quality will be identical. Fast moving models might be a little more of an issue if you’re shooting with very dim modeling lights, but most models are staying within a relatively small studio space, so this just wouldn’t make much difference. In fact, a great deal of portraiture work would fall under this category as well.

Similarly, if you primarily shoot landscapes or other still-life fine art photography, you can expect the same image quality as that produced by the 7D, and being able to focus faster and take 8 frames per second won’t make any difference.  Both have mirror lock-up, which is more important to this type of work. Indeed, if you’re backpacking and every ounce counts, the Rebel T2i / 550D has the benefit of being lighter. Keep in mind that if you’re rough on your cameras out there in the wild, the 7D will hold up better.

canon 550d front view

I suspect that the lens mount is the only metal portion of the housing of the Canon Rebel T2i / 550D

On the other hand, journalists who need to catch fast action on a regular basis will have better success with the 7D, as it has a superior auto-focus system. The Rebel T2i’s AF system is basically the same that found in the 40D, so if you have used that camera with success, the Rebel may suit your needs as well. Sports photographers will undoubtedly enjoy the accuracy of focus provided by the 7D.

Similarly, wedding photographers (especially wedding photojournalists) may find the speed and accuracy of the AF (as well as the other high-speed functions) useful for catching those moments that only happen once. If you’re a more traditional wedding portraitist, the 550D may suffice, especially as a backup. Indeed, you could buy two of the Rebels for the price of a 7D. David Ziser, a well known Ohio wedding Photographer (see his training videos on KelbyTraining.com) used a 40D for years. Personally, I would not use a 550D as my main camera for shooting weddings since my own work involves catching fleeting moments… but I’d consider using one for a backup or second body.

Needless to say, if you have the extra money, the Canon EOS 7D is going to be the superior camera. However,  that saved $900 could buy a pretty nice lens (or two) or some pocket wizards or flashes… The choice in the end depends on your shooting style and how important it is to have extra money left over for extras.

As always, comments are welcome!

READY TO BUY ONE? I’ve found that the best prices are at Amazon, but some people prefer B&H for their selection and reputation.

22 Comments

  • Bijon says:

    Hey Mathew, I’m a film student. And I was looking for a DSLR that can shoot great Video. I can’t afford films all the time, and sometimes It’s cool to use video depending on the story of course. I know you don’t shoot Video and Matt’s reply really helped me as well. As the video quality is exactly same, do you think it’d be better for me to get the T2i and some good lenses, instead of getting the 7D without that many lenses (as my budget is limited)?

    • Matthew says:

      If motion picture is your goal rather than still, there aren’t many reasons to choose the 7D over the T2i. The 7D uses CF cards, which are faster when it’s time to transfer the files to your computer. There is now Magic Lantern firmware under development for both cameras (like that for the 5D Mark II), which will help with audio issues, when complete. I think that T2i sounds like a good choice for you.

      You might take a quick glance at my other article, specifically on the subject of Canon SLRs for video.

      – Matthew

      • chris says:

        I recently bought the T2i for my company with the purpose of shooting a lot of videos and stills. We were choosing between the T2i and the 7D. Something I read online and that was voiced by the sales person has now become evident: The T21 heats up fast when shooting video.
        We’ve had the temperature warning come on a couple of times now ( a little thermometer flashing on-screen), but haven’t had it overheat to the point were it shuts itself off yet.

        I’ve heard, but cant comfirm, that the 7D has less of a problem with overheating.

        • Matthew says:

          Hi Chris,

          Thanks for the info. I’ve heard mixed information about the heat issue with the T2i; some people seem to have problems while others say that they’ve never encountered a problem. Needless to say, heat is a problem with all SLRs when it comes to video, but it makes sense that the metal construction of the 7D would help absorb some of that heat more efficiently… but with no internal air movement, I’d guess that it’s a limited advantage.

          – Matthew

  • Vikdaddy says:

    Hi Matthew, great site! I stumbled upon it when researching the 7D, which was likely to be my next camera until the 60D came out and confused things for me a little. I currently use the 450D, which to be frank I’ve outgrown. The size of the 450D just isn’t adequate for man-hands and I find the body too light. I have briefly considered the 5D Mark II, especially as I’m in to landscapes and candid (not studio) portraiture, but I love using my 10-22mm too much and considering I’m not a pro or earning shed loads I cannot justify the expense. The 7D is stretching my budget as it is.

    Anyway, on to my first question; what mid-range lens would you recommend for the 7D? I currently use the 28-135mm lens for my 450D, but it’s too big and heavy, and from what I’ve read so far from your comments the better the camera, the better the lens that’s required. The 10-22mm is wonderful to use and the image quality is excellent. Would you say the 17-55mm f/2.8 is comparable, and an ideal lens to use with the 7D? I think the 17-55mm would be ideal for the type of candid portraiture I like to do.

    Second, judging from my description of the type of photography I’m in to, would you say I should save a little money and go for the 60D? I also shoot events sometimes, and I’m guessing that the 7D’s shutter rate coupled with a fast(ish) lens like the 17-55mm would make it the ideal combination.

    Thanks
    Vik

    • Matthew says:

      Hey Vik,

      First of all, welcome :) I’m really just starting to get this site under way, but it’s making progress.

      Some people don’t like the feel of the 17-55 f2.8, but optically its a great lens: sharp and high resolution that’s very even. I think it’s definitely of the same caliber as the 10-22, which is also a great little lens. The only major drawback of the 17-55 is the somewhat limited telephoto range. At the long end, it’s equivalent to an 88mm, which is just at the very bottom of what is considered an idea portrait (studio) focal length (usually 100-120 is about perfect). But considering the fact that it’s a constant f2.8 throughout the range, plus has 4 stops of image stabilization, it’ll be great for natural light portraiture… especially on a camera that you can shoot at ISO1600 with no worries.

      Your second question is trickier, since so much depends on what is important to you. If I had a job to do, shooting a wedding, for example…. I wouldn’t worry about the image quality or AF of the 60D, I’d be happy to shoot the wedding with it. And I don’t shoot a lot of bursts, so the slightly reduced frame rate wouldn’t be a concern. However, unless I’m mistaken, it doesn’t allow you to have fine tuning adjustments for each of your lenses as the 7D does… and that might be a concern if I were a very technical landscape photographer, especially using some older lenses… although it doesn’t sound like you are. That said, if I were going to be shooting a dozen weddings, I’d really want a camera with a metal body and the build quality of the 7D.

      Hope that helps a little bit, at least :) Good luck! You might also want to take a look at the 5D markII vs 7D article, or at least the comments section. There is a lot of discussion there about lenses for the 7D.

      – Matthew Gore

      • Vikdaddy says:

        Thanks Matthew for your considered reply.

        I think the AF system, faster frame rate, the ability to fine-tune my lenses and of course the sturdier body swings me towards the 7D.

        I am struggling to choose between the 17-55mm f/2.8 and the 15-85mm, which apparently is similar in image quality…

        Vik

        • Matthew says:

          Vik,

          The 15-85 is a nice lens, too. Anytime that you expand the zoom range, though, you’re generally going to run into optical problems at one end or the other… and this lens is no exception. It has some nasty vignetting at it’s widest apertures, and at the long end, it’s not as sharp away from the center of the frame. That said, you can avoid the vignette if you stop down a bit, and the softness may not be an issue for you… but they’re worth keeping in mind.

          – Matthew

  • Marcio says:

    Very nice article! I’m looking for a new camera, leaving from a Nikon 40D. As I’m a weekend photographer, I understood that 7D benefits does not worth the money invested in it. Although it is pretty hard to find the 550D kit with 18-135mm lens in NYC or the body and lens sold separately, I just found the 550D kit with 18-55mm lens, which I don’t want it.

    Anyway, I’ll look for the 550D, in case I don’t find it, I’ll think about the 7D.

    • Matthew says:

      Hi Marcio,

      Sorry for the slow response! For some photographers, the benefits of the 7D certainly justify the price… but you’re right… probably not the weekend photographer. The 550D/T2i is an awesome choice for you; I’m sure that if you head over to B&H (on 9th Ave @ 34th St), they’ll have any selection of cameras and lenses that you’d like. It may cost a little more to get the body and lens that you want separately, but you’ll end up with better equipment that way.

      If you haven’t already, you might consider checking a lens testing site to see which lenses for Canon offer the best optical performance; sometimes the advertising and the prices don’t tell the truth. My favorite is probably http://www.photozone.de , but there are others as well.

      Good luck!

      – Matthew

  • Francisco says:

    It’s my understanding that the Rebel T2i doesn’t output HD while recording, meaning that you can’t do critical focus using say, an HD on board monitor. Does anyone know if this is accurate, and secondly, does anyone have any info regarding firmware updates for the Rebel T2i that would enable it to do HD out while recording?

    • Matthew says:

      Francisco,

      It’s true, sort of. Via HDMI, the T2i/550D only outputs SD video while recording. However, you can connect a laptop via USB and use the bundled software to view full HD video while recording. The nice thing is, most of us already have laptops that will do the job, so it saves a bit of money (even if it might seem like a clunky solution at first).

      – Matthew

  • Matthew says:

    This question was posted in response to another article, but I thought that it might be more useful here… so I’m copying it, along with my response.

    Ritam says:
    June 19, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Dear Matthew,

    I am fond of nature photography, photographing mostly flowers, larger flora and landscapes. I use canon 450d with canon 100mm 2.8 macro for macro shots and canon 17-40 L for landscapes. Now I have a possibility to purchase canon 5d for an affordable price. I would love, of course, to jump to canon 5d mark II, but that is still too expensive for me at present. At the same time I am thinking of changing to the recent canon 550d which has so lovely features of higher resolution, HD video and greatly improved LCD-screen at so affordable price. Could you please kindly advise me on what is the best option to go from 450d to 5d or 550d? First of all, I would like to have best image quality. I could not find anywhere a direct comparison of 550d with 5d, so it is difficult for me to jugde the difference in their image quality. Usually, of course, FF provides better image quality that crop. But, at the same time, 550d has greater resoluton and newer Digic IV processor and better gapless design of the matrix. So, could you please clarify something on their comparative image quality? For me, it is also very important that 550d has LiveView which is extremely helpful for shooting wild flowers with a tripod. I am acually scared of how I am going to shoot flowers with 5d without LiveView! :) I would appreciate greatly also the video feature of 550d. And its improved LCD is supreb indeed and very helpful for evaluating the true image quality an the spot.

    I am also worried that my lenses will work in a different way on 5d. Now my 100mm lens works in fact as a 160mm lens on FF, and that is not bad for macro. Besides, the cropped matrix provides greater DOF which is also very nice for macro (it is easier to get shallower DOF, that greater DOF). My 17-40 lens now works for me as a universal lens, for, in fact, it is somewhat 28-70mm lens on the crop, it suits fine my needs for shooting landscapes and large flora as well as family shots, etc. On the FF it will become an ultrawide zoom, and I am not sure if I really need so wide angle – till now, it is perfectly enough for me as real 28-70. Besides, I have read such a wide zoom looses, to certain extent, its image quality on the wide angles on FF, especially in the corners. All these differences make me hesitant.

    But still, if 5d provides truly better qualtiy than 550d, then, I feel, im prepared to sacrifice the convenience of 550d for that.

    Or would you recommend to content myself for the timebeing with 550d and just amass gradually the fortune to get 5d mark iI? :)

    Thank you so much, if you will find time to answer me!
    -Ritam

    Reply

    *
    Matthew says:
    June 20, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Hi Ritam,

    That’s a very good question, and unfortunately, I don’t have an old 5D around for testing, which is really the best way to settle the matter.

    Probably the most striking difference between the cameras will be the build quality. The 5D feels solid and heavy, and it will stand up to hard, professional use, whereas the 550D will feel like an entry-level camera. Some people don’t care about that sort of thing, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

    But as for image quality…

    If both cameras had 12.8 megapixel sensors, but one full-frame and one APS-C (1.6x), then to make a print of the same dimensions, the lens flaws recorded by the smaller sensor would have to be
    magnified by 1.6x, and you’d therefore expect the image quality to be better from the larger sensor.

    However, if you’re comparing an 18 megapixel with a 12.8, you’d have to enlarge your photos from the 12 megapixel sensor by 1.4x to get to the same print size, which means that you’d be enlarging those lens flaws anyway. It would be very slightly less (1.4x rather than 1.6x), but this difference is probably not significant, especially with high quality lenses (like yours).

    So, right off, I think that the sensor size issue that IS significant when comparing the 5D Mark II and the 7D or 550D is not an issue between the 5D and the 550D; they should be about the same with regards to lens flaws, and the 550D ultimately gives you more resolution. There is also, as you mentioned, the “sweet spot” effect to consider: the 550D is using the highest resolution part of your lens’s frame of coverage, so you’re likely to be getting better and more even images anyway.

    The other issue is technology age. Most importantly, the 5D’s sensor has 12-bit capture, while the
    550D‘s has 14-bit. This is a very significant difference, especially in the shadow side of the histogram. With the 550D, you should expect more dynamic range and smoother tonal gradients. Of course, the 550D‘s Digic Processor is a newer model, and the sensor boasts two extra f-stops of exposure, and it should be more energy efficient and produce less noise, relatively speaking.

    Despite how well the new generation of cameras handle noise, I’d guess that you’d still get slightly better noise performance in low light with the 5D in mid-range ISOs.

    So, with all of that said, I would expect that you’ll get very similar image quality between the two cameras, but with good technique, it may be better with the 550D. And if you’re interested in the live view and video features of the 550D, I’d say you should go for it :)

    Hope that helps a bit!

    – Matthew

  • Matt says:

    Thanks for your article. It provides some good things to think about.

    I’ve been a video guy for some time, and one of the things that we all wanted for years when digital video cameras started becoming available was the ability to overcrank the camera (or in other words shoot at higher frame rates) to produce real slow motion when the footage was played back at 24 or 30 frames a second.

    All the main prosumer HD camcorders out there now provide the capacity to shoot at 60 or 50 frames per second (progressive) to make real slow motion. However, I don’t know of any of them (at least none that cost less that say, $10,000) that can shoot full 1920×1080 HD at anything over 30 frames per second progressive.

    When I saw that you listed the Canon 7D as being able to shoot at 60fps at a 1920×1080 resolution, I was a bit surprised. I’m afraid it’s too good to be true. I’ve had a look over at Canon’s website and read the specs for video. Here’s what it said:

    “Advanced movie mode with manual exposure control and selectable frame rates: 1920 x 1080 (Full HD): 30p (29.97) / 24p (23.976) / 25p, 1280 x 720 (HD): 60p (59.94) / 50p, 640 x 480 (SD): 60p (59.94) / 50p.”

    So at the bigger resolution, the camera just shoots at 30p, 24p and 25p (the European standard), and it’s not until you get down to 1280 x 720 that you start seeing 60p or 50p…just like the T2i. I had wondered if perhaps the dual Digic processors might make it so the 7D could get more video onto the CF card faster and therefore not have to buffer as much, such that perhaps it could shoot longer clips. However, the pages for both the 7D and the T2i over at usa.canon.com say that the cameras max out at 4gb per clip. For video people, this might make the T2i again more attractive, because it appears to have exactly the same video capabilities as the 7D.

    • Matthew says:

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the correction! I’m not sure how I made the mistake, but I certainly did… I’ll correct it in the text shortly. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, I don’t shoot video at all… so I suppose I was probably just being lazy :)

      – Matt

      • Matthew says:

        Incidentally, the 4GB file size limit is not related to the architecture of the camera; it’s due to the formatting of the cards. They use the older FAT32 file system (like Windows 98) rather than NTFS, and FAT32 does not support files larger than 4Gigs (minus 1 byte).

        This seems to me (with a very limited understanding of the matter) like something that a firmware update COULD potentially change. If the camera supported an NTFS file system, and the cards were re-formatted to NTFS, there might be much less limitation on the duration… but that would be a very hefty chance to the Camera’s OS.

        As Ever,
        Matthew

  • Nick says:

    “I suspect that the lens mount is the only metal portion of the housing of the Canon Rebel T2i / 550D”

    I really doubted that statement so I did a quick magnet test, it sticks. Yup there seems to be a metal frame under it.

    • Matthew says:

      Interesting. I made that comment in jest (at least half-jest), but since Canon claims that it is made of polycarbonate, fiberglass resin, and stainless steel, I’m surprised that any of it is magnetic… since many of the formulations of stainless steel are non-magnetic. The chassis (frame) is stainless steel, but the housing truly is not made of metal… it is all polycarbonate.

      Of course, much of the innards and electronics of the camera must be metallic. I’ll hope that you kept your magnet away from the storage media :)

      The comment, though, was driven by the feel of these cameras. The rebel series usually feel like what they are… mainly plastic and resin, and they don’t have the robust feel of a professional camera. This can be an advantage sometimes, as long as you’re getting what you expect.

      Although the “chassis” is officially stainless steel with a plastic body, you’ll get a better idea of what they mean by “chassis” if you take a look at the construction diagrams. There’s a great one published on DPreviews, here: http://a.img-dpreview.com/previews/CanonEOS550D/images/exploded.jpg as compared to the magnesium alloy bodies of the 7D, here: http://cpn.canon-europe.com/files/education/technical/eos7d/caption_020.jpg

  • David says:

    I expect that Canon knew that the 550D would cannibalize 7D sales to some extent. Do we expect to see an updated model that supersedes the 7D?

    • Matthew says:

      Canon seems pretty consistent with giving each new model in the x0D (30d, 40d, 50d, etc.) series about 18 months before announcing a new model, so the 7D is relatively young if they stick to the same schedule (it only started shipping last autumn). It will be interesting to see how well the 550D will sell… the previous Rebel models have been top sellers in the USA, at least on Amazon.com.

      – Matt

  • AJ says:

    Very informative and well-flowing article. I didn’t know the T2i had so much in common with the 7D; it almost seems like the 7D isn’t really worth it for what you’re actually getting. I’m still shooting with the XTi so either would be a big leap ahead technology-wise, but the size of the body itself is a major factor for me; the XTi (which is around the same size as the T2i) doesn’t fit well in my hand. Thanks for the info!

    • Matthew says:

      Since I originally wrote this article, I’ve seen dozens of blogs saying things like “The T2i is a 7D Killer”, which is a little absurd. Anyone who actually fully uses the features of the 7D would not be satisfied with the Rebel T2i. However, I think it’s safe to say that there are many people who want the pixel count of the 7D, and maybe the HD video, but really don’t need the rest…. for those people, it’s a legitimate option.

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