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7DMII or 90D for Low-Light Wildlife Photography?


Very very new to wildlife photography, and photography in general. Camera I own currently is--get ready for this--a Rebel t1i, which got me through photography class. Now I want to get into wildlife photography and am looking for something <$800. I found the 7DMII at a good price point, and I've heard it's reliable in the wildlife scene, but I'm worried about its low-light capabilities--shooting at dawn/dusk, etc. I've heard wildly different things...should I be worried? Is the noise something that could be fixed in Topaz or Lightroom?

I've also seen the 7DMII be compared to 90D, which obviously has newer hardware while still getting around 10 fps, I believe? So presumably the ISO capabilities will be better while still being good for wildlife. But it's above my price range everywhere I've checked, so not sure if it's worth the investment. It also starts to get into the same range as the 5DMIV--on eBay at least--which seems to be the preferred overall, so maybe I should be considering that as well? (A little too expensive, though)

Basically, I'm worried the 7DMII won't perform well during dusk/dawn, which is the ideal time for the wildlife I'd like to shoot. Is the splurge for the 90D a good idea? Is there another camera entirely closer to the 7DMII's price range I don't know about?



Watching this thread.



2 trains of thought here.  

The 7D2 is a tank and solid for wildlife photography.  It's AF is best in class, but it is starting to show its age (a lot actually).  Both cameras are weather sealed.

I'd buy the 90D since its quite a bit newer.  It also has better ISO, and higher resolution.  It shoots 4K video and has an articulating screen, all of which are important to me.  Conversely, the 7D2 has 65 AF points vs. 45 of the 90D.  If shooting BIF was super important, I might consider the tracking capability of the 7D2, but I usually only own 1-2 cameras at a time (usually one) so I would want it to be as versatile as possible.  This is where the 90D would shine and why I would choose it over the 7D2.  The 90D also supports focus bracketing, will allow you to crop more freely, and shoot longer (better battery life).  In case you are using a teleconverter, the 90D also supports more AF points.  The 90D does cost more, but you are getting more too.  Other will respond with their opinions as well.   


Bay Area - CA
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"I'd buy the 90D since its quite a bit newer."


Me too! But perhaps a different approach. The 90D is newer so it is the logical choice if the price is possible. New tech is almost always the better way to go. However, the 7D Mk II is a fine camera and in real world, hands on shooting I doubt you will find a substantial difference. Especially if you are not doing video. A lot of the time the "better" is in the realm of pixel peepers. And most of the time that is meaningless in real world use. You have to draw the line somewhere and get the best camera you can afford. Reason being, the lens you select will have a huge impact on, in your case wildlife, photography.

I've seen a lot of cases where guys have said I need a good low light camera to work in dim lighting situations.  Then go buy a variable aperture f3.5-5.6 very slow zoom lens. So match your gear to your stated requirement.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!


I am a predominantly a wildlife photographer, and I have both the 7DII and 90D.  I much prefer the 7DII over the 90D for the tracking, which is clearly superior to the 90D - I, like many wildlife specialists, was gobsmacked that Canon didn't include the tracking from the 7DII into the 90D, it would have made it a brilliant camera.  Absolutely, the 90D has more pixels and is newer, but if you can't consistently focus on a subject, especially a moving one, they mean nothing.  Furthermore, more pixels does not mean better photos if you don't use them - most websites (including this one) demand significant downsizing of images to post in any case, and considering these are crop sensors, a significantly greater number introduces the risk of greater noise in low light.

I use the 90D for other purposes where its greater MP size has an advantage.  I have used the 7DII with a variety of lenses: Canon EF 70-300 (IS USM MkII & L versions), Canon EF 100-400 MkII (with and without the MkIII 1.4x extender), Sigma 150-600 and 60-600 units and get images from it I am happy to live with.  The following images were all taken the with the 7DII, but had to be significantly downsized to fit on this site.  All are taken in available light, hand-held.

As far a tracking goes, catching a raptor in full flight as it is directly opposite is a good test.Canon EF 70-300L@81mm, f/7.1, 1/2000sec, ISO-320Canon EF 70-300L@81mm, f/7.1, 1/2000sec, ISO-320

Canon EF 70-300L@300mm, f/5.6, 1/160sec, ISO-320Canon EF 70-300L@300mm, f/5.6, 1/160sec, ISO-320
The image can be cropped to concentrate on the subject where one cannot get close.
Canon EF 100-400MkII @263mm, f/8, 1/800sec, ISO-320Canon EF 100-400MkII @263mm, f/8, 1/800sec, ISO-320

EF 100-400L MkII@ 263mm, 1/800sec, ISO-320EF 100-400L MkII@ 263mm, 1/800sec, ISO-320
The image below of a NZ Tui was taken in extremely dim light, but the sensor handled it with no issues.
EF 70-300 IS USM MkII @ 263mm, f/8, 1/800sec, ISO-320EF 70-300 IS USM MkII @ 263mm, f/8, 1/800sec, ISO-320

This is in very dim light, complicated by speckles of brighter light, and cropped.
Sigma 150-600c@347mm, f/9, 1/640sec, ISO-1250Sigma 150-600c@347mm, f/9, 1/640sec, ISO-1250

Another test of autofocus is the ability to keep the eye in focus as the target is moving directly towards the photographer, as in this shot of the Australasian gannetEF 100-400L MkII@330mm, f/8, 1/400sec, ISO-200EF 100-400L MkII@330mm, f/8, 1/400sec, ISO-200

cheers, TREVOR
Professional photographer, engineer and educator since 1980

"All the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow", Leo Tolstoy;
"Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase" Percy W. Harris
"A good swordsman is more important than a good sword" Amit Kalantri
Technique will always Outlast Tech - Me


I, too, would prefer the 7D2 for its tracking capabilities.  However, I never use mine in low light scenarios.  The 7D2 is a great camera with good light.  

I have never used the 90D.  I get the impression that it has better low light performance than a 7D2, but not the type of performance that you can get with a FF sensor.

Camera selection is finding the right compromise based upon your own use cases.

"The right mouse button is your friend."

Really agree with you Bill that this is a balancing act - as all camera choices are, between budget, low-light performance and dynamic range, tracking and resolution.  It would be helpful to get a clear definition, and preferably example, of what the term 'low light' means in this case.   The 7DII takes great photos in deep bush, which is really quite dim, but for example night shots, caves or other very low light applications, it would not perform as well as a FF sensor camera.

cheers, TREVOR
Professional photographer, engineer and educator since 1980

"All the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow", Leo Tolstoy;
"Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase" Percy W. Harris
"A good swordsman is more important than a good sword" Amit Kalantri
Technique will always Outlast Tech - Me


Great info.Trevor, you had shown some outstanding photos. Gives me something to shoot for (no pun intended). The hot weather here in the SE US has kept me inside a good portion of the time. Hoping for the weather to break so I can get outside and get some photos.

Thanks! 🙂 I must emphasize that when I post such examples, I am not showing the images to beat my own drum, but to show that the gear can perform at an acceptable level in the situations described.   I am trying to show that the 7DII is a capable camera - but the rest is up to the photographer: which is a constant with any camera.

cheers, TREVOR
Professional photographer, engineer and educator since 1980

"All the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow", Leo Tolstoy;
"Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase" Percy W. Harris
"A good swordsman is more important than a good sword" Amit Kalantri
Technique will always Outlast Tech - Me


For low light shooting the 7DII is the better choice. It is a 20MP camera and that relatively moderate resolution makes it pretty good at higher ISOs. The following is a test shot I did with one of my two 7DII at ISO 16000:

Note that's ISO 16000.... NOT ISO 1600!

Yes, there is noise in the image, as you can see in the above crop. However IMO it's pretty well handled. That image was shot by RAW at ISO 16000, using EF 100-400mm Mk II zoomed to 158mm and f/5 aperture, hand held at 1/125 shutter speed. The only lighting was from a window approx. 8 feet away and a 60 watt bulb even farther away. Image was converted to JPEG in Lightroom 6.14 with nothing more than a slight boost in contrast and the default level of noise reduction.

I don't have 90D to compare high ISO performance directly. But it is the highest resolution APS-C camera anyone makes. With 32.5MP it has the most crowded sensor of any interchangeable camera I'm aware of. The next closest APS-C camera is 26MP. If a full frame sensor were made with the same pixel density, it would be 83MP... The most any FF camera has right now is 61MP. If a medium format sensor were made with the same pixel density it would be 140MP... The highest resolution MF camera currently is 102MP.

Actually, considering how high resolution it is the 90D appears to do very well keeping noise under control. But you should expect to see some with it.

There are other reasons to consider a 7D Mark II for wildlife photography. It has a unique 65-point AF system that's one of the best and highly customizable for different situations (there's an approx. 50 page user manual for the AF system alone). The camera is also well sealed for weather and dust resistance. And it has a high durability rated shutter (200,000 actuations, compared to 120,000 for the 90D). 7DII also has two memory card slots (one Compact Flash, the other SD)... the 90D has a single slot (SD). 7DII can optionally be fitted with BG-E16 battery grip. 90D uses the same BG-E14 that its 80D and 70D predecessors used. 

Both AF systems are rated to work as low as -3EV (bright moonlight). Both also are "f/8 capable", meaning they can focus an f/5.6 lens with a 1.4X teleconverter, or an f/4 lens with a 2X (other cameras may be "f/5.6 limited", unable to autofocus those combos). Image below was shot with EF 100-400mm Mk II lens and EF 1.4X II teleconverter at 560mm and f/8, on 7D Mark II at ISO 1600, 1/800 shutter, hand held.


The 7D Mark II can only focus an f/8 combo like that with its center AF point. The 90D has more AF points capable of f/8 focusing... but only with certain lens and teleconverter combinations. One of those is the EF 100-400mm Mk II lens with EF 1.4X III, where up to 27 of the 90D's 45 AF points can focus. There are several other lens/TC combos that allow more than one of those points, see the 90D user manual for details.

The 90D has a fully articulated rear LCD that's an active Touch Screen. The 7DII's screen is fixed and it's not a Touch Screen.

7DII has a bigger buffer for continuous shooting... It's rated to handle 31 RAW files and unlimited JPEGs (until the memory card is full). In comparison, the 90D is rated to handle 25 RAW or 58 JPEGs. And, to be honest, I'm not sure how big a deal this is... I try to avoid long continuous bursts because too much of that just means more time sitting at a computer editing a big pile of images! Still, there are times when the fast frame rates come in handy...

Reportedly the 90D is more power efficient. Canon claims it can get 1300 shots on a battery charge, while the 7DII is only rated to do 670 shots (with an earlier, slightly lower capacity battery). However, these are both pretty conservative numbers. I've often gotten upwards of 1200 or 1300 shots per battery charge out of my 7DIIs and still had power to spare. I have not compared this with 90D, but imagine it out-performs its rating too.

Depending upon your budget, today you might want to consider the Canon R7 or R10 for wildlife photography. The R10 is 24MP and costs $979 (body only), while the R7 is 32.5MP and costs $1499 (body only). These mirrorless cameras have fantastic AF systems, capable of things we only dreamed about with our DSLRs. They also take frame rates to whole new levels. Where the 90D and 7DII both can shoot at 10 frames/sec., the R10 and R7 mechanical shutters can do 15 frames/sec. (Both also have even faster electronic shutters, but rolling shutter effects may limit their usefulness with fast moving wildlife.) The R7 also has in-body image stabilization that combines with IS in lenses to offer 6, 7 or even 8 stops worth of assistance! The R10 doesn't have IBIS.

There are other pluses... and some minuses... to the mirrorless cameras. While there are a whole new line of RF lenses being offered for the R-series cameras, a $100 adapter allows any EF and EF-S lenses you might already have to be used on them too. People who have done often report that the EF/EF-S lenses work just as well or even better than the did on their DSLR.

Have fun shopping!


Alan Myers
San Jose, Calif., USA
"Walk softly and carry a big lens."
GEAR: 5DII, 7DII (x2), 7D(x2) some other cameras, various lenses & accessories


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