There's so much to like about the eagerly awaited replacement for the Canon EOS 60D, the 70D. It comes with a completely overhauled, Live View/video-optimised autofocus system that doesn't require special lenses; a more streamlined body design with an articulated touchscreen; and Wi-Fi support. And with only a couple of exceptions, we like the 70D and enjoy shooting with it; it's fast and fluid. However, pixel peepers will likely be disappointed with the still photo quality, which really should be better for the money.
Design and features
Overall, it's a slightly more streamlined layout than the 60D, so it's comfortable to grip and shoot, even single-handed.
On the top left sits Canon's now-typical mode dial with centre lock button. It's got the usual manual, semi-manual and automatic modes, plus a single custom setting slot. On the top right above the status LCD is an array of direct-access buttons for metering, ISO sensitivity, drive mode and autofocus mode (single, AI Servo and AI Focus), plus a top dial and a second AF area select button. You cycle through your AF area options — single-point, Zone (centre 9 points or 4-point clumps on the top, bottom, left or right), or auto 19-point — by repeatedly pressing the button and then choosing the point or points using the back Quick control dial.
The back offers Canon's typical thumb-operated Live View/Movie switch with record button; AF-On, exposure lock, and second AF-area selection buttons arrayed above the thumb rest; Quick Control panel and review buttons next to the LCD; and the multicontroller navigation control inset in the quick-control dial around the Set button. It has a dedicated lock switch; you can choose to apply it to the main dial, quick control dial, multicontroller, or any combination. On the front near the bottom of the lens mount is a small, reprogrammable depth-of-field button. The viewfinder is sufficiently big and bright that the preview is usable.
The 70D's multicontroller is slightly smaller than the 60D's.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Canon's articulated touchscreen remains a favourite of ours for shooting video, and the 70D keeps the same interface as the 700D. It's responsive and has an intelligent user interface, including the usual capabilities, like touch focus, that streamline Live View shooting. You can view the screen pretty well in direct sunlight. You don't have to use it if you don't want to, though operations like selecting ISO sensitivity go much faster when you can directly select rather than having to cycle through them. Overall, Canon's interface is straightforward and easy to use.
Click through for hands-on photos with the 70D. (Credit: CBSi)
We've never been fans of the multicontroller design, though. It looks sensible and straightforward, but it's too flush with the control dial, and now that it's smaller, it's even harder to precisely manipulate without stopping and concentrating.
In other interface quibbles, we don't really like the viewfinder level display either. It's a tiny camera icon with em dashes that project from it indicating the degree of off-level rotation. Unfortunately, it's really hard to use — nay, impossible — in dim or dark conditions. In contrast, other viewfinder implementations use illuminated bars along the bottom and sides and provide information for two axes not just one.
Also, the camera still has only a single card slot. And though it has built-in Wi-Fi, you have to disable movie mode in order to turn it on. We don't mind that they can't work simultaneously, but if you try to turn on Movie mode, why not disable Wi-Fi? Don't just say, "Movie recording is disabled when [Wi-Fi] is set to [Enable]." It's really annoying to be unexpectedly forced to delve into the menu system because you have forgotten to turn the Wi-Fi option off.
The Wi-Fi implementation is identical to the Canon EOS 6D's and not bad for remote shooting using the EOS Remote app, which currently lets you change shutter speed and aperture, ISO sensitivity and exposure compensation. Configuring the connection is neither notably easy nor difficult; the camera acts as access point that you then set as the device's Wi-Fi connection and then launch the app. However, as with many of these cameras, it doesn't always connect to the phone the first time.
You can also wirelessly tether the camera to a computer using Canon EOS Utility — but only through an access point not peer to peer; that renders it useless for a subset of cases. Setting it up is a little more convoluted than we would like.
The 70D offers a reasonably broad set of video-specific features, although like most of the company's digital SLRs, it ostensibly can't output clean HDMI for external recording. We wouldn't be surprised if that capability eventually surfaced in a Magic Lantern hack, though. Like many of the digital SLRs that Canon's been churning out, there's nothing else notable in the 70D's feature set; a reasonable set of still shooting options but no photographer-friendly frills like time lapse/intervalometer, multiple card slots or multiple custom-setting slots.
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot time
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
Canon EOS 70D
Canon EOS 60D
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
Canon EOS 70D
Canon EOS 60D
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
With the exception of focusing speed in dim light, the 70D delivers excellent performance. It powers on, focuses and shoots in about 0.4 second — not quite Nikon fast, but generally fast enough and better than many Canons. Time to focus, expose and shoot in good light runs a zippy 0.2 second and in dim light a modest 0.8 second. Two sequential JPEG or RAW shots also run about 0.2 second, rising to only half a second with flash enabled. In Live View mode, that rises to 1.5 seconds.
Continuous shooting operates really fast for this class, with a sufficiently deep buffer to make the speed useful. JPEG runs past 30 shots at a rate of 7.1fps; raw shooting slowed down to about 2.5fps after about 17 shots during testing, but in field testing, we sustained reasonably fast 9-shot bursts of raw+JPEG with Servo AI focus. That's pretty good for a prosumer model. Testing was conducted using a 95MBps SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card.
Dual Pixel AF
The new Dual Pixel CMOS AF (DPA) autofocus system is a definite update over many previous Canon models, both from a performance and features perspective. Typically, a single photodiode — the element on a sensor that collects light and converts it to an electrical signal that carries the image information — only passes on image data. DPA splits each photodiode in two, comparing the signals from each half using a phase-detection algorithm for autofocus, in addition to using the signal from the entire photodiode for image data. In contrast, Canon's Hybrid AF system, used by the 650D, 700D, 100D and EOS M, simply supplements its phase-detection AF with contrast AF.
There are a few theoretical advantages of the new architecture. First, it has the potential to be faster, mostly because it drives the lens directly to the focus position; it doesn't have to iterate to fine-tune position like contrast AF does, and it can more quickly determine focus because it's measuring off the sensor rather than having to go through a separate phase-detection sensor cycle. Second, it covers about 80 per cent of the frame (like the 100D's implementation), which improves off-centre focus performance. And third, the lens shouldn't need to hunt, which makes operations like rack focus smoother when shooting video.
In practice, the system delivers; working in Live View is relatively seamless. For stills, it usually locks focus quickly and accurately, regardless of which AF-area mode it's in, and Live View is fast as well — about 0.6 second to focus and shoot in good light. It's the first digital SLR we have used in which Live View is really usable for stills. In dim conditions, it's not nearly as great — 1.5 seconds to focus and shoot. While that's not optimal for stills, it's excellent for shooting video in low light where you want the focus to glide in rather than snap. It racks really well with touch focus.
The only AF accuracy problem we ran into, and it's a common problem, is that Live View tracking AF is frequently misled into locking on to things that aren't faces — you can't disable face detection for this mode — and tends to be too easily distracted from its target. We still wish the camera had manual focus peaking in Live View, though.
The 70D picks up Zone focus from the 7D, but we really wish it had focus-point expansion instead. Zone focus, which lets you choose a group of AF points from which the camera then automatically selects, helps a lot with continuous shooting, where it can be tough to keep the AF area centred over the subject. However, within the zone, it still does a pretty poor job of automatically selecting the correct focus areas.
The LCD is really nice, with a responsive touchscreen and good visibility in most conditions. And the viewfinder, while annoyingly providing only 98 per cent scene coverage, is big enough and bright enough for manual focusing.
Although it's not the fastest camera in its class in every aspect, we gave it extra performance-ratings props for its overall speed and excellent Live View focusing and fluidity.
Image quality didn't change noticeably between our pre-production tests and final tests — but our opinion has. It's... fine. Not outstanding for the money but not bad, either. However, it's simply not as good as the Nikon D7100. Yes, it's still an advance over the 60D but not enormously. You don't even gain a full stop of usability, and any advantages seem to stem from the slight increase in resolution. It's a bit better than the 700D across the entire sensitivity range, although you really have to scrutinise them. The 700D looks better starting at ISO 1600, but that seems to be because this camera meters a third of a stop brighter.
The camera produces clean JPEGs through ISO 800, but they all look a little soft.
(Credit: Lori Grunin/CNET)
Canon really pushes the contrast on its default Picture Style to increase perceived sharpness of the photos because when you look at details closely, they seem awfully soft. You lose a lot of shadow and highlight detail if you leave the Picture Style on Auto. The dynamic range doesn't seem especially wide, without a lot of recoverable highlight data in the RAW files and shadows that are difficult to bring up without introducing noise. The new sensor does seem to have a finer noise pattern at higher ISO sensitivities than previous sensors, though.
Low ISO sensitivity shots look pretty typical for a consumer SLR. Exposure: 1/125, f/5, evaluative metering, AWB, ISO 100, 18-135mm STM lens at 62mm.
(Credit: Lori Grunin/CNET)
JPEG shots look OK up to about ISO 1600; beyond that it depends upon scene content. We were occasionally able to produce sharper images at ISO 1600 by shooting RAW — but not always.
Thankfully, the video from the production unit looked better than the pre-production unit, though it suffers from the same general softness as stills, compounded by the relatively low resolution of HD. It displays edge artefacts — ringing, aliasing, moire and crawling edges — which, as is common, get worse as ISO sensitivity rises. It looks a little better than the 700D, though not obviously, and most casual users probably won't see a big difference. Low-light video has nice tonality and a reasonable dynamic range, but there's still quite a bit of colour noise.
Click here for more photo samples from the 70D.
We wanted to give the camera an image quality rating of 7.5; it's very good, but overall, not quite as good as the D7100, all things considered. It's unfortunate because the rest of the package — excellent autofocus system, streamlined shooting design and appropriate feature set for the price — adds up to a camera we really like.