Canon EOS 70D
It has taken Canon three years to perfect its latest enthusiast-level consumer DSLR, making a worthy replacement for the EOS 60D to fly the firm’s flag in this tough product sector. And the EOS 70D faces tough task as number one rival to the excellent Nikon D7100 that has ruled the waves since the beginning of the year. But this Canon camera is fighting back with a secret weapon—Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology—promising to revolutionise autofocus performances in video mode and in Live View. Sounds promising!
The Canon EOS series branched out into double figures in 2003 with the 10D. Ten years and six updates later, and the 70D is the latest model to grace store shelves. This camera has its work cut out for it. First of all, the 70D needs to keep Canon regulars on side. Next, it needs to hold off tough competition from the Nikon D7100 launched earlier this year. And finally, it needs to be able to stand the test of time, since the lifespan of the average Canon enthusiast-level DSLR keeps creeping up.
Although the 70D is the firm’s very latest EOS DSLR, once in hand it feels like a return to familiar ground, with a design and layout that feel typically Canon-esque—it’s sober and serious but effective and pleasant. In fact, it’s so user-friendly that we could almost wrap up this part of the review here—the 70D does the job well and can be more or less mastered in 10 minutes flat.
Review: Canon EOS 70D screen and controls
But that would be too easy. And anyway, we do have a few minor complaints about the camera’s design. As with the 60D, Canon has decided to keep the ON/OFF switch right on the camera’s “shoulder” above the “Menu” button. That makes the 70D a little tricky to use with one hand. Similarly, the settings wheel over the four-way arrows is a bit too low down, so only users with larger hands will be able to find it without taking their eye away from the viewfinder. In spite of these blips, it’s nice to see that each of the camera’s basic settings has its own direct-access button. These physical buttons are handily accompanied by touchscreen controls and a practical “Quick Menu” for access to all kinds of custom settings, such as ISO, drive mode, AF mode and file compression. And it’s definitely worth making the most of these features, as Canon is up there with the best when it comes to camera touchscreens. The touch-controls are smooth and instinctive to use, even when browsing through the menus.
The Nikon D7100 still leads the Canon 70D in certain fields, however. The Nikon SLR has a second memory card slot, a proper control system with two thumb-wheels, a slightly more advanced level of weatherproofing and a high-resistance Gorilla Glass screen to keep scratches at bay. That said, deleting several shots at once is frustratingly difficult in both models. The 70D, on the other hand, has the advantage of a highly responsive touchscreen with Canon’s habitually excellent display quality. Movie-shooters and anyone looking to line up snaps from original angles will be pleased to hear that Canon’s screen has swivel functionality too. On top of that, the kit zoom lens bundled with the EOS 70D has a slightly bigger focal range, with 18-135 mm for the Canon and 18-105 mm for the Nikon, although Nikon has a new 18-140 mm lens due to land soon.
Review: Canon EOS 70D Wi-Fi connectivity
The EOS 70D comes with built-in Wi-Fi whereas Nikon sells an optional adapter for its D7100. Note that Canon has two smartphone apps for managing Wi-Fi—Canon Camera Window for sharing photos and Canon EOS Remote for controlling your SLR remotely via a phone or tablet. Initial set-up is a little long and laborious, but once that’s out of the way, subsequent connections get much easier, as you just pick the relevant device from a list of detected Wi-Fi networks then fire up the app of your choice. Note that it’s only possible to set the focus area, shutter speed, aperture, sensitivity and exposure correction (depending on which PASM mode you’re working in) via your phone or tablet. You can’t change other settings such as white balance or compression options directly from your phone.
All these little details make the EOS 70D and the D7100 two quite different SLRs, and that’ll no doubt help users decide which model to pick. Fans of the great outdoors and all-weather snapping will no doubt head for the Nikon, whereas urban shooters looking to cutting-edge technology, speedy response times and versatility may well prefer the Canon.
On the whole the Canon EOS 70D is a pleasant camera to use. It’s a little heavy, but it’s well-made, easy to grip and has loads of customisable settings. In other words, it’s a sound enthusiasts’ DSLR.
The 70D has gained a switch for flipping between photo and video modes with no need to use the mode-selection dial. Plus, battery life is excellent. We were able to shoot 1,000 photos and 15 minutes of video (using both the viewfinder and the screen) on the first full charge of our test model’s brand new battery.
The 60D didn’t leave much room for improvement in this field, but the 70D manages to correct one of its rare flaws by focusing twice as quickly in low-light conditions. Otherwise, the 70D walks its way to a five-star score in this part of the review. We wouldn’t have expected anything less from this SLR. It’s actually around 25% faster than the Nikon D7100 in our various lab tests. However, that works out as an average gain in speed of around a tenth of a second, so it’s more about proving a point that having any real practical consequence.
Review: Canon EOS 70D speed with optical viewfinder
With the optical viewfinder
Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology promises to improve autofocus speeds when lining up shots onscreen in Live View mode. It takes between one and a half and two seconds for the mirror to get into place and the first image to appear onscreen. At wide-angle, the AF focuses with ease. It’s obviously a fair bit slower than when using the optical viewfinder, but it’s still reasonable. It’s much quicker than the Pentax K-50, for example, which admittedly isn’t a direct competitor for this SLR, but for the time being it’s the only other model we’ve subjected to the same kind of tests.
Beyond the response times from our lab tests, the really great thing about Dual Pixel AF technology is that—with the 18-135 mm STM zoom lens—it helps the camera get on with focusing with minimal delay. There’s barely any trace of hesitation—except at 135 mm. Even then, the lens doesn’t dither enough to be truly problematic. This marks major progress for Canon, and stands the EOS 70D way out in front of other SLRs, which tend to become sluggish and hesitant once you start trying to line up shots onscreen. It’s still no match for the best hybrid autofocus systems seen in in DSLM cameras, but Canon is definitely moving things in the right direction.
Review: Canon EOS 70D speed with live view In Live View mode (using the screen instead of the viewfinder)
IMAGE QUALITY 5/5
It’s safe to say that standards have risen during the three year since Canon last outed a model in this SLR line. It’s no longer unusual to see a compact camera shoot its way up to 25600 ISO, even if picture quality may not always be that great. It’s therefore logical to see the EOS 70D extend its ISO range upwards to reach 256000 ISO and up its resolution from 18 to 20 Megapixels.
The addition of Dual Pixel AF technology means that the photosites on the sensor have two functions (see inset box, below). This new structure in turn changes how the camera behaves in our ISO tests. While the 60D maintained detail up to 3200 ISO and took still-usable shots at 6400 ISO, that’s no longer the case with the 70D. With the 70D, the picture stays sharp up to 1600 ISO, but beyond that image saturation starts to drop then smoothing starts to get stronger as you head into higher sensitivity settings. But this Canon enthusiast SLR does an excellent job of keeping colour noise in check and maintaining neutrality. Big, flat areas of black or expanses of colour are free from annoying coloured artefacts. Clear progress has been made on that front compared with the 60D—which tended to pick up a magenta tinge—and the 70D outperforms the D7100 on this particular point (Nikon’s SLR picks up a yellowy/orange tinge).
Review: Canon EOS 70D ISO test, picture quality
The 18-135 mm STM lens struggles to get the best out of the CMOS sensor in the 70D. It’s very soft at wide-angle up to f/5.6. In fact, it’s only as you reach f/8 that you really feel the 20 million pixels come into their own. On the other hand, image quality is very consistent over the frame—even around the edges—so you don’t have to keep your subject right in the middle of the shot. Quality gradually improves as the focal length increases, but you’ll need to make sure that the focus area is perfectly set and locked on before you shoot. Anyone using more advanced lenses than the kit zoom can improve things further by playing around with AF micro adjustment. It may take a little time to perfect, but it’ll be worth it when you see just what level of image quality the 70D is really able to deliver.
We had high hopes for the video mode in the 70D and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, the video mode is excellent, and out-performs the 60D on every front. For starters, the stereo mics record top-quality audio, but you can always take things further thanks to the external mic socket. The video image is a little dark, but that’s not too problematic since colour and detail are both rendered well.
The 70D films Full HD at 24 or 25 frames per second (progressive scan), with a choice of IPB and ALL-I compression. IPB is a pretty standard option that already delivers excellent results, giving a 30000 kbit/s video (just a little lower than Hollywood’s favourite 5D Mk II DSLR). ALL-I makes files that are twice as big but pushes the bitrate up to 85000 kbit/s, with each frame individually compressed to maintain the highest possible level of detail and to make things easier for post-editing. The gain in quality this brings is visible even to the naked eye and even on a non-professional monitor.
So what about the much-vaunted Dual Pixel AF technology? To cut to the chase, Canon sets a new standard here, moving way out ahead of its competitors with a much improved continuous autofocus that works very well.
It’s a shame that you can only adjust the exposure correction when filming in P, A and S mode. Proper video buffs will therefore need to switch to M mode, which brings access to speed and aperture, both of which can be adjusted on the fly via the touchscreen. Dual Pixel CMOS AF Technology
As the name suggests, Dual Pixel technology splits each pixel into two photodiodes (making a total of 40.3 million photodiodes—watch out for diffraction!). The output from the two photodiodes can be read as a combined output per pixel when capturing an image. However, the two photodiodes in a given pixel each capture light coming from different directions. They can therefore be read independently for phase detection.
This on-sensor system orders the lenses to move into position to focus on a subject. Previously, the motor moved the lenses then the AF module validated or refused the position in order to focus the image. This often made the lens feel annoyingly hesitant. Canon’s Dual Pixel AF gets around this problem by directing the lens straight to the subject, with no hesitation and no need to keep moving back and forth. This makes the whole process smoother and more responsive, and helps the EOS 70D perform almost as well as the excellent Olympus OM-D E-M5. This is notably helpful when shooting in Live View mode or when filming video, bringing a smooth and seamless feel that has nothing to envy of Sony’s SLT cameras. Plus, seeing as the 70D has a touchscreen, you can focus quickly and easily by simply tapping your finger over a zone covering 80% of the image.
It works so well that we can’t help wondering why no-one has thought of doing this before. Note too that you don’t need any kind of special lens to use Dual Pixel AF—all of Canon’s EF lenses are compatible.
Smooth, responsive autofocus in Live View and video modes Excellent build quality User-friendly design and controls Very responsive when working in good light conditions Good screen with touch-controls and swivel functionality Colour noise is controlled very well Battery life (1,000 photos + 15 minutes of video on one charge) First-rate video quality Onboard Wi-Fi for photo sharing and remote control via smartphone
No second SD card slot Weatherproofing isn't as advanced as with some competitors' models Still a few design/handling flaws Heavyweight video bitrate—SD card with at least class 10 speeds required
The EOS 70D is a great update of Canon’s enthusiast-level consumer DSLR. It’s a user-friendly and pleasant-to-use camera that sets a new standard for DSLR autofocus thanks to its innovative Dual Pixel AF technology. Video buffs and fans of Live View will love it. Picture quality is up to the firm’s usual standards, with excellent colour rendering even at high sensitivity settings.