Rudy Winston
Rudy Winston

Rudy Winston has over 17 years experience with Canon USA's Pro Products team, and has been responsible during that time for training Canon's staff on new products, creating presentations for customers and dealers, numerous writing projects, and providing technical assistance to professional and amateur photographers.

New Intelligent Viewfinder feature on EOS 7D Mark II

September 15, 2014

The EOS 7D Mark II isn’t the first Canon EOS camera to use a clear, transmissive LCD panel directly above the focus screen for viewfinder information. But without question, it’s the most sophisticated and feature-packed display to date. We’ll discuss the ways this can be managed by the photographer, to show the information he or she wants, and clear any unnecessary info from the finder display.

The viewfinder information:

Using the Full Viewfinder Display image (above), we’ll quickly look at the different information that’s in the EOS 7D Mark III’s viewfinder. From top to bottom:

  • New: Viewfinder Electronic Level display
    Full-time Electronic Level display can appear in the camera’s finder, the first time that’s been possible in any EOS camera. This joins a separate level display that can appear on the LCD monitor; the two are independent of each other. It’s a dual-axis Electronic Level, showing any tilt (in 1-degree increments) from side-to-side, as well as up-and-down.
  • Auto AF Point Selection frame
    As with previous EOS models, thin outer lines form brackets that surround the entire AF point array. When Automatic AF point selection is active, this frame appears in the finder to indicate that you’re in that AF Area mode.
  • New: Large Zone AF frame lines
    Smaller frame lines appear to indicate the center, left or right areas when the new AF Area “Large Zone AF” has been selected. These won’t appear at any other time.
  • AF point (larger individual “box”)
    Each of the 65 AF points is indicated by a separate, square icon. These normally appear only when a particular AF point is active and that can be from manually selecting its location or in an expanded AF Area setting (or Automatic AF Point Selection), if the point is selected by the camera.
  • Surrounding AF point (smaller individual “box”)
    • All can be activated, to indicate the location of each available AF point (if you wanted to move from one AF location to another, for example).
    • During Spot AF, the smaller box inside a larger AF point indicates that this AF Area option is active and shows the location of the particular Spot AF point in use.
    • These are also used to indicate the presence of expanded AF points, in the Zone AF or AF Point Expansion AF Area settings.
  • Grid Lines
    These can be separately turned on or disabled, in the camera’s Set-up Menu. Grid Lines, along with the Electronic Level, are a very useful compositional aid, and greatly assist in keeping horizon lines and similar elements straight in a finished picture. Note that unlike many previous models with grid lines in the viewfinder, the EOS 7D Mark II does run them through the center of the image, making it easy to determine the exact center in compositions. Grid Lines are especially useful because the EOS 7D Mark II doesn’t offer a separate interchangeable focus screen with etched Grid Lines as an accessory.
  • Spot metering circle
    This circle is at the very center of the viewfinder, indicating the approximate area covered by the EOS 7D Mark II’s Spot metering. This only appears when Spot metering is active; Spot metering on the 7D Mark II is only at the center and cannot be moved elsewhere in the picture area.
  • New: Shooting Information
    This is the first time ever in an EOS camera that this amount of shooting information appears in the viewfinder. Only the currently active settings are displayed across the lower part of the focus screen and they’re grouped together with similar settings (in other words, all WB settings are clustered together and each appears in the same area, all Exposure mode settings appear in same area, and so on). Each grouping can be individually be activated or turned off, in the Set-up Menu > Viewfinder display > Show/hide in viewfinder.

Settings include the new FLICKER! warning, which (when active) appears both during actual flicker correction and blinks to alert the shooter to turn the correction on if flicker is detected and it’s currently off.

This new information is particularly useful if you’re changing a setting with one of the top buttons (WB/Metering, or Drive/AF). These settings can now be made while looking through the viewfinder, something not possible with earlier EOS models. The new finder icons appear and change as you input changes via the buttons and either the Main or Quick Control Dials.

Turning information on or off in viewfinder

The EOS 7D Mark II gives substantial control over what appears in the viewfinder and the photographer is never forced to have more than he/she would like. Even if you’re shooting with AF, for instance, it’s possible to have all AF points completely disappear from the focus screen, if a totally clear viewfinder is what you prefer.

Most viewfinder info is activated or turned off in the Set-up Menu: 2nd Set-up Menu > Viewfinder display. Within this menu item are three separate entries:

  • Viewfinder Level (Hide/Show)
    The Electronic Level Display in the viewfinder is normally not visible; this command makes it visible, full-time, in the camera’s viewfinder.
  • VF grid display (Disable/Enable)
    Not visible by default, the EOS 7D Mark II’s viewfinder grid lines can be activated here.
  • Show/hide in viewfinder
    This is where the new groupings of shooting information, toward the bottom of the viewfinder, can be turned off. By default, all are on when the camera comes out of the box. Separate entries for independent on/off control of each of the following:
    --Exposure Mode
    --AF setting (One-Shot AF/AI Focus AF/AI Servo AF)
    --Metering mode
    --Image quality (RAW or JPEG)
    --Flicker! icon

AF points are displayed or disabled separately, in the AF Menu: 5th AF Menu screen > AF point display during focus. Most commonly used options (there are more) are…

  • Selected (constant)
    Displays only the active AF point(s) in viewfinder
  • All (constant)
    Displays every AF point’s location with the smaller point “box” in viewfinder; active AF point(s) shown with larger AF point icon.
    Especially considering the very broad AF coverage in the EOS 7D Mark II’s viewfinder, and the extreme off-center subjects the AF system can read, keeping all AF points active readily displays every available AF point location. If you enjoy working with off-center AF points and changing points on-the-fly, using the All (constant) option is one we suggest experimenting with.
  • Disable display
    Shuts off viewfinder display of any AF points, even those that are active; keep in mind this doesn’t shut down autofocus itself and you can indeed AF even if you want the viewfinder completely clear of any AF points

Please note that the display of the Spot metering circle in the viewfinder is linked to how you have AF points set for finder display. Whichever of the above settings is in effect for AF points dictates how the Spot meter circle will appear in the EOS 7D Mark II viewfinder, if Spot metering is active.

Viewfinder illumination

Information on the focus screen can be set to illuminate briefly in certain conditions for better viewing in low light. This is actually set in the EOS 7D Mark II’s AF menu: 5th AF menu screen > VF display illumination:

  • Auto
    Red illumination of AF points, Grid Lines, or any other viewfinder info on the focus screen when the camera detects low-light conditions (there’s no way to change the factory-set cut-off point for illuminating vs. not illuminating).
  • Enable (ON)
    Red illumination is always active, regardless of ambient light level. Illumination is limited to when AF is actually being activated; it does not simply constantly illuminate.
  • Off
    No illumination of viewfinder info that’s over the focus screen, regardless of ambient light level.

An important aspect of viewfinder illumination in the EOS 7D Mark II is that if active, it’ll appear differently in One-Shot AF vs. AI Servo AF. In One-Shot AF, when you press whichever button activates AF, it’ll flash briefly upon completion of AF, so you can visually confirm which point(s) are active and where they fall in the scene. In AI Servo AF, it behaves like the EOS-1D X with version 2.0 or higher firmware installed — during continuous AI Servo focus-tracking, the red illumination flashes on every second or so, briefly, then goes off. Again, there’s no way to have it simply illuminate constantly, regardless of the light level.

What about if you’re using Manual focus? If you’ve got the lens set to MF and press actively on whichever button would have been your AF activation button, you’ll get focus confirmation in the viewfinder when you do achieve sharp focus and the red illumination will flash briefly (as in One-Shot AF) when that happens. But again, it won’t illuminate continuously, even if the menu for illumination is set to ON.


There’s more extensive information in the EOS 7D Mark II viewfinder than any previous Canon EOS digital SLR but, again, the cool thing is you can display as much or as little as you like. With as sophisticated an AF system as this camera has, it understandably gives numerous options for how AF points (and even AF Operation Settings, One-Shot AF, AI Focus AF, and AI Servo AF) are displayed in the viewfinder.

Even the appearance of the Spot metering circle (if you’re set for Spot metering) is tied into the AF point display, so if you’ve minimized or completely disabled display of AF points, the same applies to the Spot metering circle.

The viewfinder is the nerve center of any SLR camera and the EOS 7D Mark II provides options that make it almost like a heads-up display in a plane or automobile, figuratively speaking. Even experienced SLR users, who may feel somewhat set in their ways, should give this camera and some of its exciting new features a try and acquire a sense of when some of this technology may be useful for them.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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