Canon EOS 70D Experience

For those who have used any of the long line of intermediate Canon DSLRs, the 70D will feel familiar. Though it trimmed some of the bulk compared to the 50D, the 60D was still a good camera for intermediate photographers, but it leaned more toward amateurs by omitting a few key features, among them an X-sync socket for attaching external strobes, and the AF Microadjustment feature for fine-tuning autofocus. As I used both features extensively, I had to skip the 60D despite my overall fondness for the camera, and I imagine many others did too. I suspect that’s why we now see the re-introduction of at least AF Microadjustment on the 70D. The camera’s speed has also increased to 7 frames per second, after falling to 5.3 fps in the 60D (the 50D could capture 6.3 fps).

As I mentioned, the 60D was shorter than the 50D, but the 70D feels more stout than the 60D despite the fact that it’s actually less wide than its predecessor, making it even smaller than the 50D. That makes it a closer contender to the Nikon D7100 in terms of size, just as much as it is in terms of comfort when shooting.

After a lot of shooting with the 70D, I can report not only is it as natural to use as a Nikon D7100 or 60D, it has considerably better live view and video autofocus performance thanks to its new Dual Pixel AF system.

As for video shooting, we were impressed with how well the 70D worked with even non-STM lenses. You can hear some AF noise in some circumstances, but AF seeking is well-controlled, and doesn't jump around at random to verify focus, as we usually see in cameras using contrast-detect systems. Canon's new Dual Pixel AF works quite well, far better than the Hybrid AF systems used by recent Rebel-series SLRs and the EOS M, which didn't seem much improved over the solely contrast-detect systems its older SLRs (we'll exclude the Rebel SL1/100D from that, as it also works better than its predecessors).

Live view autofocus

Autofocus in live view is very fast, but how fast depends on which mode you choose. In the default Face-detection + tracking mode, pointing the camera at 'faceless' scenes can take about a second to focus on just about anything you point it at. However, as soon as it detects a face, the Canon EOS 70D will confirm focus almost instantly, about as fast as the optical viewfinder's phase-detection system.

Like almost any AF system, the 70D's Dual Pixel AF gets faster with a smaller target area. Letting the camera determine where to focus, which it does in the Face-detection/Tracking AF, takes much longer. Pressing the Set button in FlexiZone auto-area confines the camera's attention to a smaller area, which greatly speeds things up. Switching to FlexiZone single-point AF gets even faster; seemingly as fast as traditional phase-detect. It seems clear that when the system has less data to process it makes autofocus decisions more quickly. That's generally true of most autofocus systems, whether phase or contrast-detect, so it isn't a surprise, but the length of this delay - nearly one second - in auto-area AF is worth considering when choosing which AF method is right for a given situation.

One important factor to note about Live View AF we learned in our more thorough testing: The camera will not track a subject once you start shooting in continuous mode in Live View mode; instead, the LCD blanks out and focus locks at the first frame. Canon says to track a subject you are confined to using the 19-point AF system through the viewfinder. Though the default autofocus mode employs tracking, that only applies to tracking a subject or face as it moves in the live view frame; once you start shooting, autofocus is locked. See our autofocus page for more.

We've prepared a video to show the differences between the FlexiZone single-point phase-detect AF and Face-detect/Tracking autofocus.

Video shot of the back of the Canon EOS 70D in live view mode.

Capturing Action

The Canon EOS 70D's 7 frames per second drive mode comes in handy when you want to capture just the right moment. A nearby jousting exhibition was a good place to show its effectiveness. These shots below were adjusted to reduce brightness before creating the animation, as the meter was thrown off by the gray sky background.

When shooting Raw+JPEG, the 70D can fire off about eight shots at ISO 100 before slowing down, which covers a little over one second. The main point of this animation is to show how well the 70D captured this 1/2 second of time with its four frames. Shooting only JPEG fine, it'll capture about 43 images with a fast 94MB/s card, but that again depends on the subject and ISO setting. Shooting images of a stopwatch program on a computer screen at ISO 800 for our Performance page allowed capture of only 19 shots before the buffer filled.

A few representative images

The 70D helped me capture many of my day-to-day images from the past few months, and I'm going to share a few with you here.

ISO 640, F5.6, 1/200, 18-135mm STM @135mm - JPEG

While shooting at our local zoo, I found myself with the 18-135mm lens mounted when the lion decided to get up and wander around posing for the camera. I had just removed a longer telephoto zoom that would have offered better background and foreground blur, but I like the result nonetheless.

ISO 400, F5.0, 1/100, 18-135mm @56mm

I tend to pass around the camera at lunch time, particularly if we go somewhere with relatively low light. I'm not sure who took this among DPR staff, but it's an excellent portrait, made with the 18-135mm kit lens.

Wi-Fi experience

While I found the Canon EOS 70D's Wi-Fi useful when I wanted to quickly share a photo via email or social media, it wasn't quite as fast to connect as I'd like. Once connected, though, image browsing was reasonably quick, and the reduced images copied over in a snap. It's far better to have Wi-Fi than not.

Because Wi-Fi can't be used to copy video files, Canon disabled the ability to shoot video with Wi-Fi enabled. That strikes us as an odd decision. It would have made more sense to just not allow videos to copy. As it is, if you've left Wi-Fi enabled, you can't shoot a video at all. A message appears on the LCD telling you: 'Movie recording is disabled when [Wi-Fi] is set to [Enable].' Rather than just disabling Wi-Fi for you so you can get on with your video opportunity, you have to go into the menu to disable Wi-Fi.

At first we thought it would be handy to just use the Quick menu to turn Wi-Fi off, which is a good idea anyway to save battery in both your phone and camera, but this isn't sufficient; that onscreen switch turns off Wi-Fi, but Wi-Fi is still 'Enabled'. You have to go into the menu to Disable Wi-Fi altogether. You'd think you could set the Custom position on the Mode dial to Enable Wi-Fi by default, but that doesn't work either, because the Wi-Fi Enable setting is global.

As I said about the HDR mode, it would be nice if the camera would disable and warn, rather than force the user to disable functions before doing something simple like switching to HDR mode or recording a movie. When movie recording is usually as simple as flipping a switch to access, having it disabled by a popular new function - Wi-Fi in this case - makes very little sense.

Summary

Shooting with the Canon EOS 70D, I felt right at home. I've owned a 20D, and even so many models removed, the 70D still seems familiar. It works the way I like to, able to flip to full-control Manual when I want it, with both front and rear dials. Its ability to remote control flashes - albeit not as thoroughly as a 7D - comes in handy on mobile shoots when I don't want to bring the big lights. The increased frame rate was handy as well, up from 5.3 to 7 fps - an improvement that was essential when shooting everything from boat races, to jousting, to bracketed sequences.

I had no trouble letting the ISO float in Auto mode all the way up to 6400; beyond that, though, and I preferred to set it manually or not go there at all. It's not that it's so terrible, but it's just that ISO 6400 is so good, able to capture what my eye cannot see already, why should I bother?

Overall, the Canon EOS 70D has more of what you want in an intermediate SLR without over-reaching, neither in features nor price. It's true that most of what's improved about the 70D has more to do with live view and movie modes, which at first blush doesn't make it a compelling upgrade for stills photographers. The advantage becomes more clear when you remember the 70D's articulated LCD, which is made more useful by live-view phase-detect autofocus that's essentially as fast and accurate as conventional, optical-viewfinder phase-detect AF. That won't be significant to those who are accustomed to always bringing an SLR to their eye, but it will matter to anyone raised in the generation used to framing their world on an electronic display.