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Canon EOS 70D Review: Video Rock Star
by Jim Keenan -  10/16/2013

Announced in July 2013 and available in the marketplace this past September, the EOS 70D is Canon's latest addition to its midrange  DSLR line, targeting "advanced amateur photographers and photo hobbyists". The camera retains an APS-C sensor and 1.62x crop factor like its stable mate 60D; resolution increases an insignificant 2 megapixels to 20. More importantly, the new camera features a Canon DIGIC 5+ image processor and the 3-inch articulating LCD monitor acquires touchscreen functionality. The native ISO range extends an additional stop on the high end from 100 to 12800 and is expandable to 25600. The autofocus system features a new dual pixel CMOS phase detection design that permits continuous AF during video capture, and incorporates 19 focus points instead of 9 on the earlier camera - with all 19 being cross focus, including a high-precision f/2.8 dual cross-type AF center point. Canon claims the new AF system "...realizes shorter focusing times, exceptional tracking performance and smoother autofocusing during video shooting". Full HD video is available and there is a built-in RAW image processing capability for still images.

The maximum continuous high-speed still shooting rate sees a nice gain to 7 fps (up from 5.3 fps in the 60D) and the new camera features a built-in wireless transmitter  that "...users can connect to both iOS or Android smartphones and tablets  to wirelessly transfer photos and videos from camera to device. Users can also control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO from their smartphone. This camera also has the ability to connect directly to Canon's iMAGE GATEWAY4, making photos easily accessible and ready to share on social networking sites. In addition, the EOS 70D has the ability to connect wirelessly to computers, DLNA devices, Wi-Fi Certified Canon cameras and wireless PictBridge5 compatible printers."

The 70D utilizes SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media and is both UHS-1 and Eye-Fi Card compatible. Canon includes an eyecup, battery pack and charger, camera strap, USB interface cable, basic printed camera instruction manual and CD-ROM software, including an additional RAW converter and complete user's manual with each camera. Compatible lenses are Canon EF and EF-S models. The camera is available as a body only with an MSRP of $1199; kits are available for $1349 bundled with an EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens or $1549 bundled with the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens.

While our review unit was still in the hands of site editor Laura Hicks, it got a once-over by one of Laura's friends who owns and shoots a 60D:

Canon got rid of the amateur looking mode dial and replaced it with a traditional looking mode dial. This is a very good thing in her opinion.

Canon moved the "trash" or delete button to the spot where the play button used to be on the 60D. She kept hitting the delete button to review her images. The good thing however, is that if you actually want to delete an image you have to be in playback mode. So you can't delete an image in shooting mode accidentally.

Looks like they made the Auto ISO mode to insure the camera's shutter speed does not drop below 1/60 second. She sees this as a great feature. Now a user won't end up with blurry images due to low shutter speeds when the lighting changes drastically while shooting (shooting weddings, for example).

There you have it, quick first impressions of the 70D from a 60D owner. Let's take a closer look at the 70D and see what else comes up.

Build and Design

Our 70D review unit was paired with a Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM zoom lens - IS indicates the lens is stabilized and STM refers to a stepping motor lens which Canon advertises as producing much less motor noise during video capture. Here's a look at both ends of that focal range.

The body is constructed of composite materials and appears well-built; point of manufacture is Japan.

Ergonomics and Controls
The 70D features a composite body in typical DSLR configuration, with a pebble grain rubberized material in the exaggerated handgrip and rear thumb rest areas. The size and contours of the handgrip/thumb rest area along with overall camera size made this a very comfortable camera to hand hold. Paired with the 55-250mm zoom the camera/lens combination proved a bit nose heavy, a feeling that I personally don't prefer when shooting handheld.

Controls are well placed so as to provide no conflicts with either shooting hand during image capture. The upper left portion of the camera body houses the mode dial and power on/off switch; the center of the body is taken up by the hot flash and built-in flash housing. An LCD panel and array of external control buttons extend across the upper right portion of the body: these include AF mode selector, drive mode selector, ISO speed setting, metering mode selector and LCD panel illumination buttons. The camera main dial and autofocus area mode selection button are positioned just forward of this button array, near the shutter button.

The camera back is dominated by the 3-inch articulating monitor and includes menu and info buttons at the upper left rear portion of the body. Moving to the right of the eyepiece (with its attached diopter adjustment knob), we find a live view shooting/movie shooting switch, AF start,  AE/FE lock and AF point selection/magnify buttons arranged horizontally on the upper right rear of the body. Extending down vertically from the live view switch are quick control and playback buttons along with a multi-controller incorporating a quick control dial and setting button; an erase button lies just below the multi-controller, alongside a multifunction lock switch.

There is control redundancy between the buttons on the upper right of the camera body and camera functions that may be selected via the quick control button on the rear of the camera. Changing camera settings utilizing the buttons on the top right of the body involves using the top LCD panel, and this display is relatively small compared with the monitor on the camera back that is incorporated when using the quick control button. As a practical matter, I found it easier to use the quick control button and camera back to affect changes in camera settings rather than the external buttons on the top of the camera body. The quick control screen offers access to a number of settable functions including aperture, shutter speed, shooting mode, exposure compensation, picture style, autofocus operation, white balance, AF area selection mode, white balance correction, drive mode, white balance bracketing, metering mode, auto lighting optimizer, image recording quality, custom controls, Wi-Fi function, ISO speed, highlight tone priority, AE lock and flash exposure compensation. Here's a look at the quick control screen in aperture priority mode.

Menus and Modes
70D menus can be somewhat substantial or quite modest, depending on the shooting mode chosen. Canon generalizes shooting modes available via the mode dial as being either "basic zone" (the fully automatic and scene modes) or "creative zone" (the semi-automatic/manual modes). Basic zone menus offer three-page shooting, three page playback and four page setup menus. Creative zone menus run six pages in the shooting menu, with the last two pages being live view related; playback menus are three pages, set up menus are four pages and there are single page "custom settings" and "my menu" entries not found in the basic zone offerings.

Here's a rundown on the specific shooting modes available in the 70D:

Display/Viewfinder
The 3 inch LCD monitor on the 70D has a 1.04 million dot composition and is adjustable for 7 levels of brightness. More significantly, the monitor is articulating and can swing through 180° along its horizontal axis; it can rotate through 270° along the same axis. While coated with an anti-reflective/anti-smudge coating, the monitor's touch screen feature can work against it in bright outdoor conditions despite the ability to adjust brightness and rotate the monitor to more favorable viewing positions - imprints from fingertips on the monitor can make viewing it a difficult proposition. The touchscreen operates via capacitive sensing and the use of a stylus or other artificial means to select items on the screen may damage the screen and is therefore not recommended. Monitor coverage is approximately 100%.

The 70D viewfinder offers .95x magnification, approximately 98% coverage and is diopter adjustable to accommodate varying degrees of eyesight acuity.

Performance

The 70D starts promptly (Canon specs say .15 seconds), but like the 60D has a default setting of sensor cleaning at both start up and shut down. Sensor cleaning can be immediately aborted by a half press of the shutter button and sensor cleaning altogether can be disabled. There is also an internal menu setting that permits manual sensor cleaning. Single shot-to-shot times are typical mid-range/high end DSLR: a function of how quickly you can reacquire focus and press the shutter button again after each shot. With a high-speed continuous shooting rate of up to 7 frames per second the 70D has the potential to rack up a lot of frames in a hurry if you hold the shutter down for any extended period of time. Fortunately, Canon has provided a fairly decent buffer capacity to match the motor performance, at least if you stick to RAW or JPEG Fine images: utilizing a Lexar 32GB 600x SDHC card produced 18 shots in RAW format and 64 shots and JPEG Fine before the shooting rate slowed. Shoot RAW/JPEG Fine combinations and the 70D slows up after only 8 images.

Write times for the complete bursts are impossible to calculate as the camera allows you to resume shooting as soon as there is buffer space available - the "busy" designation that appears in the viewfinder goes away as soon as space becomes available. But even after a full burst of RAW or JPEG Fine images, the camera could resume shooting at full speed in a few seconds, albeit for only 2 or 3 images.

Much of the advertising buzz surrounding the 70D has to do with the new autofocus system -- "Dual Pixel CMOS AF employs a revolutionary CMOS sensor on which all of the effective pixels are able to perform both still imaging and phase-detection AF simultaneously to achieve dramatically improved AF performance over other EOS cameras during Live View shooting and when shooting video". We'll discuss video AF performance later but first a few observations about AF performance with still images.

The 70D AF system does seem to offer improved AF performance during live view shooting of still images, principally in shorter focus acquisition times in good light than have been available in past cameras. AF acquisition with live view for still images is quicker in good light than it was in the 60D, but not as quick as times obtained using the viewfinder. In dim light the 70D system has not impressed me as being a measurable improvement over the older camera - our review unit struggled in dim light with live view and often could not acquire focus on a scene in which switching to the viewfinder produced a quick acquisition of focus. If I was shooting the 70D for still images I would shoot live view only if the viewfinder was absolutely, positively unavailable for the shot I wanted to make.

Still image AF using the viewfinder with the new system is capable and fairly quick - possibly a bit quicker than the 60D - but overall I'm not sure I noticed that much difference between the two cameras (with the caveat being that I shot the 60D back during its introduction over 3 years ago). Adding 10 more focus points to the mix doesn't seem to have demonstrably upped still image autofocus performance over the older camera.

The built-in flash guide number of the 70D is a bit lower than the 60D, approximately 39.4 feet at 100 ISO versus 43 feet in the older camera. Given the f/4-f/5.6 maximum aperture range of the 55-250mm that translates to a maximum flash range of about 9.85 feet at wide-angle and about 7 feet at telephoto. Flash recycle times on the 70D were fairly quick with a fully charged battery -- full discharges recycled in about 2 seconds while partial discharges took even less time. With the flash enabled the 70D will not allow you to take another photo while the flash is recycling.

Battery life is listed as 1300 images using available light; this figure drops to 920 images with 50% flash usage. Live view shooting figures are 230 and 210 images under the same conditions. There is an optional Battery Grip BG-E14 that utilizes a second battery, doubling the above listed battery life.

Lens Performance
The EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM zoom lens provided with our 70D is a new addition to the Canon lineup and is notable for the inclusion of the quieter STM stepping motor; Canon also makes a stabilized 55-250 without the stepping motor. This lens is currently available at reputable Internet vendors for about $349; the non-STM version is about $50 cheaper.

The lens features a composite barrel and lens mount and Canon reports its stabilization system can provide up to 3.5 stops of shake correction. The lens appears well-built; point of manufacture is Malaysia. The zoom ring requires -- turn to go from one focal length extreme to the other and I found this action to be smooth and consistent. The front element of the lens does not rotate during either zooming or focus changes.

Maximum aperture at the 55mm wide-angle end of the lens produced an image with a bit of softness in the corners and edges, but not an overly dramatic change from the center of the frame, which was fairly sharp. Closing down two stops to f\8 produced improved sharpness over the entire frame. At the 250mm end maximum aperture produced noticeably soft corners and edges, but at f/8 edges had improved to closer to center frame sharpness while the corners had lost most of their softness. Vignetting (darkening in the edges and especially corners) was noticeable at maximum aperture at both focal extremes.

There was longitudinal chromatic aberration (purple fringing) present at both ends of the lens with the effect being more pronounced at the telephoto end. In both cases the defect was relatively benign and required enlargements in the 300 to 400% range to be readily visible. The 70D features a two-stage lens aberration correction setting that is enabled by default and helps correct for chromatic aberration along with peripheral illumination (vignetting). I shot the camera with this feature both enabled and disabled and found no change in shooting times due to processing with it enabled; the improvement in image defects was apparent, particularly pixel-peeping with regards to chromatic aberration.

Video Quality
While I found the new autofocus system to be capable, if unspectacular, with regard to still image capture the same cannot be said for AF performance during video capture. The 70D is by far the best autofocusing DSLR in video capture that I have ever had my hands on. Not just in the Canon family (where the 60D didn't even offer continuous video AF) but Sony, Olympus, Pentax and Nikon. While it turned in a stunning continuous AF performance in good light, the 70D struggled to acquire focus in dim light to the same degree as the camera did with still images - and in both cases we're talking about dim light but some fairly contrasting details that the camera acquired promptly in still image capture using the viewfinder.

Canon has been producing nice image quality with videos out of their DSLRs for some time now, and the 70D is no exception, but to me the strong point of this camera is clearly the autofocus system and performance with regard to video capture. One of the tests I threw at the AF system was to acquire focus and initiate video capture on some plants at my feet, about 5 feet away. I then swung the camera immediately to capture rosebushes and a mailbox about 25 feet away; this was followed by a rapid pan to a neighbor's house across the street perhaps 100 feet away and another rapid pan to a palm tree about 100 yards away. Finally, I panned directly from the palm tree back to the plants. Focus was established promptly on all these separate points with no hunting whatsoever, and in fact it seemed that focus had been established by the time the camera stopped panning in each instance. Here's a look at this test clip--decide for yourself just how well the 70D performed.

Another aspect of video recording that I like in the 70D versus 60D is the movie capture process has been removed from the mode dial. It's a more simple matter to simply flip the live view/movie shooting switch with the thumb of the right hand, establish focus with the shutter button and then initiate capture with the thumb. So, a more seamless video capture interface than the earlier camera along with a simply amazing AF system makes for a very potent video capability.

The 70D utilizes a CMOS sensor so rolling shutter effect can be a concern, but I found the effect well controlled with the exception of exaggeratedly fast pans. The built-in stereo microphone can be supplanted by an external microphone, and is susceptible to wind noise. Audio may be captured automatically or by manual control and there is a wind cut feature available. There is an in-camera video editing suite available and, as always, the camera may shut down before video capture limits are reached in order to prevent damage due to overheating.

Image Quality
Default still image quality of the 70D was quite nice, with accurate color rendition and fairly pleasing sharpness.

Even so, I maximized sharpening in each picture style within the camera. "Auto" is the default picture style but there are also standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, and monochrome options available. Visually, there's not a lot to separate the various picture styles with standard, neutral, faithful, and auto offering very accurate color renditions while landscape saturates colors a bit more deeply. Disneyland images used in this review were shot in the "disable flash" auto mode where the camera handles all settings; other shots were generally aperture priority in the standard picture style. Here's a look at the auto, standard, landscape, neutral, faithful and monochrome offerings.

AUTO                                                                                            STANDARD

LANDSCAPE                                                                                           NEUTRAL

FAITHFUL                                                                                          MONO

A 3:2 aspect ratio is the default setting for still images, but 4:3, 16:9 or 1:1 ratios may be enabled by the user. Maximum resolution (file size) in both RAW and JPEG images is achieved in 3:2. Images are output at 72 dpi regardless of aspect ratio - great for email transmission but needing resizing for printing.

Evaluative metering is the default setting for exposure calculation and recommended for most shooting scenarios - creative zone shooting modes offer partial (center, approximately 7.7% of viewfinder), spot (center, approximately 3.0% of viewfinder) or center-weighted average metering options. I found the 70D when shot utilizing evaluative metering seems to be biased a bit more toward shadow detail than the 60D - the 70D seems to fairly consistently lose highlights, particularly in high contrast situations (which are a difficult exposure test for most cameras). But I was somewhat surprised that the 70D also seemed to overcook highlights in a lot of scenes where the light distribution looked a lot more average. If I were shooting a 70D as my personal camera I'd probably introduce a bit of exposure compensation for JPEG images or shoot RAW files and fix any blown highlights in post processing.

Auto white balance was used for all the images captured by the 70D in this review and worked well across a variety of light types, including daylight, cloudy, open shade and flash. Like the 60D, the 70D shot a little bit warm on auto white balance under incandescent (3200K) light. In addition to auto there are presets for daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten light, white fluorescent light and flash, as well as a user-defined custom setting and a Kelvin temperature setting.  Not surprisingly, the 70D was spot on with white balance when shot at either the tungsten or Kelvin option when set to 3200 degrees - it turns out the tungsten preset is based on a 3200K light source.

ISO noise performance in the 70D reminded me strongly of the 60D, which is to say quite good. Because my personal preference is to leave high ISO or long exposure noise reduction to post processing, the initial batch of ISO samples were shot with all noise reduction disabled in the camera. 100 and 200 ISO are virtually indistinguishable and the bulk of my creative zone shooting for this review was shot at 200 ISO in order to pick up an extra bit of shutter speed. 400 shows a bit of grain beginning to appear and there?s a bit more at 800 but ISO settings from 100 through 800 are basically interchangeable for large print work. 1600 picks up a proportionately larger increase in grain but is still quite clean and might possibly be useful for large prints as well; 3200 shows a marked increase in grain and the beginnings of some chroma (color) noise and I would probably leave it for smaller prints unless there was no other way to get the shot. 6400 looks like the tipping point for this sensor, with grain, chroma noise and artifacts ramping up noticeably. 12800 shows a modest increase in grain, chroma noise and artifacts and 25600 displays another large deterioration as colors begin to fade in addition to noticeable jumps in grain, chroma noise and artifacts. 6400 might be usable for small prints and Internet traffic but 12800 and 25600 are best left as sensitivities of last resort if you don't plan to employ noise reduction.

ISO100                                                                               ISO200

ISO400                                                                               ISO800

ISO1600                                                                          ISO3200

ISO6400                                                                         ISO12800

ISO25600

However, remember that the above samples don't include noise reduction - for comparison purposes here are 3200, 6400, 12800 and 25600 ISO images with the 70D default high ISO noise reduction setting ("standard") enabled. There are also "low" and "high" NR in-camera settings that may be user specified.

ISO3200 NR ON                                                           ISO6400 NR ON

ISO12800 NR ON                                                         ISO25600 NR ON

Clearly, noise reduction offers some significant gains in the higher ISO settings, whether you choose to have the camera do it or save it for post processing. Canon advises that when shooting at 12800 or above in the continuous high-speed setting with noise reduction enabled that the 7 fps shooting rate will be greatly slowed due to in-camera NR processing. 

Additional Sample Images

Conclusion

The introduction of the Canon 70D doesn't mark a dramatic upturn in still image capture performance over its predecessor, the 60D. Probably the most significant changes in this regard are the inclusion of a 7 fps continuous shooting rate and the touchscreen functionality of the monitor. ISO noise performance seems comparable with its predecessor, the 2MP increased resolution is nice but basically meaningless and the new autofocus system is capable but really doesn't significantly outperform its predecessor in the 60D based on my usage. For still image capture the 70D is a solid, competent midrange camera.

Switch the 70D into video mode, however, and all bets are off. While the 60D didn't offer continuous AF for video capture, the 70D does so, and does so with a vengeance. Continuous AF shooting video with the 70D is simply the best DSLR performance I have ever had my hands on, regardless of camera brand. I don't shoot a lot of video with my personal DSLRs, but the AF system of the 70D has the potential to make even a video novice like me look like they know what they're doing. Canon has had good video image quality for a while now in their DSLRs, but the introduction of this AF system raises their video performance to another level.

Is the 70D an automatic "must have" for 60D owners? If they shoot a lot of video, almost certainly - in video performance alone the 70D really outclasses the 60D, in no small part due to the lack of continuous AF in the 60D to begin with. Primarily shoot stills but a lot of bursts for sports or wildlife photography? Maybe - those extra 2 fps are a fairly significant jump over the 60D. Looking for your first DSLR and want/expect to shoot a lot of video? Run, don't walk to your friendly local Canon dealer and check out the 70D.

Pros

Cons