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Canon EOS 70D Hands-on Review

by Bob Atkins, November 2013 (updated December 2013)


The Canon EOS 70D , (compare prices) replaces the Canon EOS 60D as Canon’s mid range APS-C DSLR.

The EOS 70D has a number of features which are improvements over the EOS 60D, including:

  • The return of AF microadjustment capability
  • An all new 20MP sensor with each pixel capable of phase sensitive detection AF
  • Built in WiFi
  • The AF sensor system from the EOS 7D
  • A fully articulated touch sensitive LCD
  • A Digic 5+ processor
  • ISO 25600 (with boost)
  • ~7 fps continuous shooting
  • In camera HDR (only composite JPEG saved).
  • 98% coverage viewfinder
  • Single axis electronic level display in viewfinder

Curently (12/13) the 70D is selling for around $1100 for the body alone or around $1450 with the 18-135/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens. [UPDATE: as of 12/23/13 the EOS 70D body is selling for around $949]

The EOS 70D retains most of the features of the EOS 60D including the fully articulated LCD screen. The two cameras are also quite similar in size and weight. Full specifications can be found on the Canon EOS 70D Specifications page.

Who the EOS 70D is for

The EOS 70D is Canon’s mid-range APS-C DSLR, lying between the various Rebel modes at the lower end and the EOS 7D at the upper end. It offers better ergonomics than the Rebel series (it has a rear Quick Control Dial and joystick for cursor movement), more features, a faster (1/8000s) shutter speed and a better AF system, while it costs less than the EOS 7D but the AF system firmware isn’t quite so sophisticated. The 7D also has a slightly faster continuous shooting speed (8fps), 100% viewfinder coverage, dual axis electronic levels and a magnesium alloy body shell.

The 70D is ideal for someone wanting a little more flexibility than the Rebel series offers. For many users it’s actually a better option than the 7D since the new sensor of the 70D makes AF when shooting video (especially with STM lenses) much faster and more accurate. In fact the 70D may be the best of all the EOS DSLRs for amateur videography.

Using the EOS 70D

For those used to shooting with EOS DSLRs the EOS 70D controls will be quite familiar. The main mode control dial is on the left of the viewfinder. To rotate it the center button must be pressed – this minimizes the odds of accidentally moving the dial. The usual EOS modes are present. There are the “creative” manual, aperture priority, shutter priority and program modes, a B (“bulb”) mode for long manual exposures and a C (“custom”) mode which can be programmed by the user to default to almost any desired set of parameters including AF mode, shooting mode, white balance, exposure compensation, ISO, lens aberration correction, flash control and just about anything else under the user’s control.

There are 4 other dial settings. Flash Off is a fully auto mode which won’t use the flash, so you can shoot in places that don’t allow flash but still be in a fully automatic mode. Scene (SCN) gives a choice of Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait, Handheld Night Scene and HDR Backlight Control. Scene Intelligent Auto (A+) is a fully auto mode that tries to determine what’s being photographed and sets the shooting parameters accordingly. Finally there’s a Creative Auto mode which starts out the same as Scene Intelligent Auto but lets the user change things like the lens aperture. It does so via a somewhat confusing menu for the experienced photographer. For example it allows to to change a setting for background blur from blurred to sharp. What it’s actually doing is changing the lens aperture, though since this is a beginners mode, it doesn’t actually tell you that!

To the right of the viewfinder is the LCD displaying the currently set camera parameters and a set of buttons for setting AF mode, Drive mode, ISO setting, Metering mode and LCD illumination. In front of those is the main control used to change aperture, shutter speed etc and in front of that is the shutter release. Just behind and to the left of the shutter release is a button that allows change of focusing zone modes and positions.

The viewfinder pentaprism has a hot shoe for Canon Speedlites, and microphones for the left and right stereo sound channels. There’s also a diopter control wheel just to the left of the viewfinder with a range of -3.0 to +1.0.

On the rear of the camera the “Menu” and “Info” buttons are at the top left. “Menu” does exactly what you’d expect and brings up the various camera setting and control options. “Info” controls the amount of information displayed on the screen when images are viewed (shutter speed and aperture, ISO, histograms etc.).

Immediately to the right of the viewfinder is a video/liveview switch with a start/stop button for those modes in the center. Further to the right are AF (which allows AF without using the shutter button), exposure lock and AF zone selection buttons. Exposure lock doubles as zoom-out in image playback mode and AF zone selection doubles as a zoom-in button.

Immediately to the right of the LCD are the “Q” and “>” buttons. The Q button brings up the Quick Control Menu which allows rapid selection and adjustment of the major camera parameters such as ISO setting, white balance, exposure compensation, metering mode, drive mode, shooting mode, WiFi, Highlight Tone Priority, AfFzone selection and a number of other parameters. The “>” button is used to playback images and video clips.

Also to the right of the LCD is the rear control dial which surrounds the 8 way multicontroller switch and the “set” button. The control dial can be used to adjust parameters when the top panel buttons are pressed to change ISO, drive mode, metering mode and AF mode. It can also be used, without pressing any buttons, to set exposure compensation or aperture or shutter speed in Manual exposure mode.

At the bottom right of the LCD is the image delete button and immediately below the quick control dial is a switch which prevents the dial affecting any camera settings should it accidentally be rotated.

The EOS 70D has a small built in flash with a guide number of around 12 (m @ ISO 100). This flash can wirelessly (optically) control external Canon Speedlites that can be configured as slaves (e.g. the 430 EX II and the 600 EX-RT). The built in flash has an angle of coverage matched to that of a 17mm lens. Recycling time is around 3 seconds.

The 70D has WiFi built-in which can be used to enable a number of modes of wirless connectivity. You can transfer images between different WiFi enables Canon cameras, print from a WiFi enabled printer, remotely control the 70D from a PC (via the EOS Utility), connect the camera to smartphone or tablet via the EOS remote app, upload images to the web via the Canon iMage gateway and you can view images on DNLA (Digital Living Network Alliance) enabled devices such as TVs.

The WiFi manual for the 70D is a 3MB .pdf file with 172 pages (download), so I’m not even going to attempt to describe how to set it up to do all the various possible functions. The downside of having so many options is that setting it up isn’t as easy as it could be, though if you just want to download images to a smartphone it’s not too complex. I suggest anyone who is really into the WiFi capabilities and options should probably download and study the Canon ,pdf manual linked to above.

Overall the camera is responsive and easy to use. It was my only DSLR on a recent trip and I found it just as easy to use as my EOS 7D, in fact it was a little easier in some respects.

Image quality and performance

The Canon EOS 70D has a new sensor of a new design. The 70D sensor is made up of around 20 million “dual pixel” sensors, each of which can be used both for imaging as as part of a phase sensitive AF detection system. The obvious question is whether the new pixel design has any negative (or positive) impact on overall image quality.

The short answer is that there don’t seem to be any negative effects. The longer answer is that I compared images shot with the 20.1MP EOS 70D and the 18.8MP EOS 7D. I looked at images shot from ISO 100 to 12800 (the limit of the 7D) to assess image noise, shots of resolution test charts at low ISO to assess sensor resolution, and shots at ISO 100 and ISO 3200 underexposed by up to 5 stops to look at dynamic range.

I’m not going to bore you with pages of charts and shots of resolution test targets. I will tell you that the performance of the 70D sensor is fully up to that of the 7D sensor, and may very slightly exceed it in some areas. Looking down at the pixel level for resolution differences I really couldn’t see any. In theory (Nyquist limit), based on the number of pixels and the actual physical sensor size, the 70D could have a native sensor resolution of up to 122 lp/mm while the 7D could have up to 120 lp/mm (at the sensor) assuming the use of the same low pass filter and assuming perfect focus of a very good lens operating at it’s optimum aperture. I’ve seen some internet reports of the 70D being sharper than the 7D, but I didn’t see it from my tests. I used a Canon EF 80/1.8 at f5.6 for the resolution tests.

In terms of noise the sensors were again very close. Maybe the 70D was very slightly cleaner at high ISO settings, but the difference wasn’t really significant. In terms of dynamic range, again things were very close. Maybe the 70D had a slight edge but the difference was nothing that would really single out either camera.

Dynamic range of the 70D and 7D were pretty much the same, based on shadow detail in highly underexposed images. Certainly not enough difference to make either camera a clear winner.

The following images are 100% crops from optimized RAW files shot at ISO settings from 100 to 25600. More noise reduction can be applied, but at the expense of greater resolution loss.

The bottom line here is that the new 20MP dual pixel hybrid sensor has not suffered from the new design and at least equals and sometimes perhaps slightly outperforms the previous generation 18MP sensors which have single pixels and no phase sensitive AF capability. Canon have a winner with the new design, though I would note that the dynamic range of the Sony manufactured sensors (which are also used in Nikon DSLRs like the D7100) is quite a bit higher, especially at low ISO settings, so Canon isn’t yet the sensor performance leader when it comes to dynamic range.

The actual noise level of the 70D, as you might conclude from the preceding remarks, is pretty similar to that of the EOS 7D. At ISO setting of 100-800 you really don’t see any noise. From 800-3200 noise starts to show but overall image quality is still very good. At ISO 6400 noise starts to become quite visible and it increases at ISO 12800. The expanded ISO setting of ISO 25600 is certainly usable for smaller prints, but when viewed at 100% it’s probably not something you’d choose to use unless you had to. The selections below are 100% crops taken from images shot at ISO 6400, 12800 and 25600. Very slight noise reduction was applied to the RAW files for these JPEGs. As you can see noise increases, contrast decreases and resolution drops at these high ISO settings

The EOS 70D has a significantly upgraded AF system, both for conventional reflex viewing and for Live View and video. The 70D uses the AF hardware of the EOS 7D (though slightly different firmware. All 19 AF zones are cross sensors, with a high sensitivity zone in the center. In addition, the AF microadjust function has been brought back to the 70D. The EOS 50D had it, but it was dropped on the EOS 60D. The normal AF system (phase sensitive detectors via the reflex view) is as fast and accurate as you would expect from a Canon EOS camera. Some lenses may need AF adjustment, and with the 70D you have it available.

In live view, contrast detection AF, now with assist from phase sensitive pixels, is slower than the reflex viewing phase sensitive AF system, but more accurate. This is because the final contrast detection step adjusts the lens back and forth in a feedback loop to optimize focus. This takes time, but increases accuracy over a pure phase sensitive AF system which essentially measure the amount and direction of defocus, then rapidly drives the lens to the calculated focus point without any final check on the focus The addition of the phase sensitive pixels speeds up the live view focus process because they can be used to drive the lens quickly to close to the best focus point and then allow the slower contrast detection component to make the final, more accurate, adjustment.

With the new dual pixel hybrid phase/contrast AF detection sensor, the EOS 70D probably has the best video AF performance of any EOS DSLR. With an STM lens I found that focus tracked smoothly, silently, accurately when the subject to camera distance changed, not to mention rapidly! The 70D has a “touch to focus” feature, so just by touching the LCD screen you can pull focus between subjects at various distances. Again, with an STM lens, this produces a fast, silent, smooth focus change. It’s not quite so smooth or silent with a regular USM lens, but it’s still very good.


Canon EF-S 18-135/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens

The 70D is capable of around 7fps in high speed continuous shooting mode, and that doesn’t really depend in the speed of the SD card or the mode (JPEG/RAW) you are shooting in. In my various tests I found an actual continuous shooting rate of 6.7-6.8 frames/sec. In JPEG mode pretty much any card will give you a large buffer of at least 40 frames, with faster cards the buffer can be 65 shots or more. What the card speed does effect is the speed of continuous shooting once the buffer is full, especially important when shooting in RAW mode. There is also a small effect on buffer size.

In RAW mode, a slowish card like the 6MB/s Transcend Class 6 allows 14 frames to be shot before the buffer fills, then things slow down to about 2.6 seconds between shots. A faster card like the 24MB/s Delkin class 10 also allows only 14 RAW frames at full speed, but then it slows down to a faster 1.3 seconds between frames. A fast card like the 95MB/s SanDisk Extra Pro class 10 allowed 20 RAW frames to be shot before the buffer filled, then additional shots every 0.54 seconds.

Conclusions

The Canon EOS 70D , (compare prices) represents a significant upgrade of the capabilities of the EOS 60D. The new sensor with each pixel capable of acting as a phase sensitive AF detector makes AF during video (and in live-view mode) much faster. When coupled with an STM lens the tracking AF video is probably the best of any EOS DSLR, with quick and positive focus adjustments as the subject distance changes. I suspect we will be seeing this new “dual pixel” type sensor in a lot more Canon cameras in the future.

In addition to improved AF, the 70D adds built in WiFi capability and sees the return of AF microadjustment (present on the EOS 50D, but lacking in the EOS 60D).

My tests showed excellent image quality, equal to, and perhaps on occasion slightly better than, that of the Canon EOS 7D, (compare prices) (review)

So should an EOS 60D user rush out and upgrade to the EOS 70D? Well, strictly in terms of image quality, I’d say no. Image quality may be slightly better, so not so much that most people would notice any difference. However there’s more than image quality involved. AF performance for video and in live view are much better with the 70D than the 60D. If you shoot a lot of video, then I’d say the upgrade would certainly be worthwhile. Plus you get other features such as WiFi, AF microadjust, a faster continuous shooting speed and better AF overall (with the AF sensor from the 7D being used in the 70D). If you need any of those features, then again, the 70D would be a worthwhile upgrade from the 60D.

Similarly, should a 7D owner upgrade/downgrade to the 70D? There answer there is certainly no, not unless you shoot mostly video and need the better video AF of the 70D, or for some reason you desperately need WiFi connectivity (which I understand you can get on the 7D via SD Eye-Fi cards and hacked SD to CF adapters).

Alternatives

The obvious direct competitor to the Canon EOS 70D is the Nikon D7100, (compare prices) (review) They are about the same size, weight and price and share many similar features. The Nikon has arguably the better sensor, with 24MP vs 20MP, a higher dynamic range and no low pass filter (which can improve sharpness). However the Canon 70D has a dual pixel hybrid sensor which gives it much better liveview and video autofocus. The D7100 has a fixed LCD vs. the articulated screen of the 70D, but the D7100 can take two DS memory cards while the 70D only takes one. Anyone with an existing investment in either Canon or Nikon lenses would probably be better off sticking to their chosen camera system. For someone with no current investment in either system, the Canon EOS 70D would probably be the choice for those with an interest in video. Those concentrating on still photography might be attracted by the higher pixel count, aliasing filter free free, higher DR sensor of the Nikon. Bottom line is that both are excellent cameras.

Canon EOS 70D Image Samples

Canon EOS 70D
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Canon EOS 70D , (compare prices).


Text and photos © 2013 Bob Atkins.

Article revised December 2013.

Readers' Comments


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Dick Arnold , December 20, 2013; 05:29 P.M.

Bob. I did a three day 500 person Masters swim meet at the Boson University with the 70D this past weekend. I shot about 450 pictures from the pool Deck. The pool lighting was a combination of light coming through a large center sky light that ran the length of the pool (I gazed at it while doing the backstroke) and the artificial lighting. Being mid Dec. the pool got dark early. I also had my 7D with me. This is a large meet that I have done every year for I think the seventh time. The lighting allowed me to set 1/640th, and use f 3.5 or 2.8 at ISO 3200 for most of my pictures. After using LR5 noise reduction the pictures came out very well with the 70D and exposures were quite consistent. I use a lot of single shot, center focus although I do occasionally 7 frames per second on starts. I don't use that all the time to keep the number pictures I have to process down and having done sports for years single shot, center focus has stood me well. I really liked using the 70D for ease of use and I think great consistency. I am not a purist and when I do head shots and small groups I like live view and being able to select focus with my finger tip. I think I see composition better and react better with the subjects in those non action photos on the LCD. I did have a little difficulty with sharpness when shooting at high frame rates with the 70d but maybe that is me. The buttons and controls are smaller on the back of the 70D than the 7D and Canon has changed the configuration the upper lcd and I am not used to it after using several earlier Canons. I did not do videos because I was too busy both swimming in the meet and photographing my club. I have posted a hundred or so pictures on FB for my teammates to view. I have also made some prints and I see no noise in either mode. I am a 20 some year user of Canon. One side note is that my Canon 70-200 2.8L was purchased in 1997 and has been dropped, kicked around, rained on and it is still surprisingly sharp and new looking. I bought the 70D because I thought it was a very good value for the type of photography I do. I have had full frame and I sometimes lust after the 5DIII but there is a two thousand dollar difference between the 5Diii and the 70D. My pictures satisfy me and my constituency and I keep putting money into lenses and not trading old lenses for what might be a small and sometimes little noticed improvement in picture quality. I actually shot sports with a Canon 650 that were published. All cameras and lenses are unbelievably good today IMO. I think there is much hair splitting over small increments of difference. So I am happy with the 70D, I like and use the touch screen. I use the tilt screen and will use the wi fi. I come from aviation and know that carbon fiber has replaced aluminum in major aircraft parts like wings. It doesn't corrode, is strong and breaks and rather than bends when goes to yield but at those stress levels the camera would not survive. Consequently I have no compunctions about so called plastic bodies. I will still use my 7D in really wet environments though. The 70D has a lot of capability for the price, I think.

Stephen Conkie , December 31, 2013; 08:15 A.M.

I find it a bit worrying that, (how many years after the launch of the 7D?) their latest sensor is only up to par with such an old camera, which was fighting head to head with the D300 so long ago. Nikon are now using sensors much much better than this and have been for a couple of years now. Canon is coasting, while others are surging ahead. This is a real shame.

Bob Atkins , January 03, 2014; 09:27 P.M.

Better? The Nikon sensors do have a little more dynamic range at low ISO settings, but unless you really need that I wouldn't say the Nikon sensors (made by Sony) can generally be called "better". Certainly no Nikon sensor has the advanced hybrid dual-pixel CMOS architecture of the 70D which can provide phase sensitive AF detection at every pixel site.

Nikon (i.e. Sony) do some things on-chip that Canon do off chip and I believe they also use higher resolution lithography, but on a practical day to day basis based on actual image quality, there's really not that much difference between Canon and Nikon (Sony) sensors. Both are good.


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