Conclusion - Pros

  • Dual Pixel AF makes movie and live view modes more usable
  • Good heft without being too large to hold
  • High ISO shots are quite usable, even above ISO 6400
  • Excellent LCD and responsive touchscreen
  • Special coating minimizes fingerprint smudges from touchscreen use
  • Articulated LCD for shooting from odd angles made more useful by fast, precise AF
  • 7 fps shooting speed
  • Silent shutter mode
  • AF Microadjustment
  • Built-in Wi-Fi for transferring and capturing photos
  • Good range of HD video features (including stereo mics and mic jack)
  • Single-axis electronic level (in-viewfinder display simplified compared to 7D)
  • Built-in flash serves as remote control for external EX flashes
  • In-camera Raw processing

Conclusion - Cons

  • Dual Pixel AF does not allow tracking autofocus while shooting continuously
  • Relatively small viewfinder
  • LCD blacks out completely during continuous shooting in live view
  • AF illuminator integrated into flash (must have flash engaged to use it)
  • Complicated Wi-Fi setup
  • Movie mode disabled when Wi-Fi is enabled
  • HDR mode unavailable if Raw is active (rather than disengaging Raw)
  • Only one SD card slot
  • Levels indicator only shows roll, not pitch
  • Disappointing battery life in live view mode

Overall conclusion

After aiming the EOS 60D at a more consumer audience, Canon has brought some important features back to its ninth-generation enthusiast DSLR, effectively reinstating a more affordable yet comprehensive option to a growing number of people who have taken on photography as both a hobby and a business. A solid, well-designed interface and sophisticated set of features make the 70D a good choice for those who want a little more control of their image capture, with a reasonable set of automatic fallback features for things like HDR, night photography, and remote flash control.

Canon has tended to target its SLR's feature sets to user groups and price points. This could be seen as cynical, but more charitably avoids cluttering the interface by including everything. The features included in the 70D are just about right for the enthusiast user who wants a good range of control, but doesn't need many of the pro-orientated features found on the 7D. Rather than overwhelm the 70D user with the five AF pattern options on the 7D, for example, the selection is limited to just three. The resulting camera is appropriately replete with useful features, but not overwhelmed by them.

Autofocus

The 70D introduces Canon's Dual Pixel AF system, which utilizes nearly every pixel of the image sensor for phase detection to rapidly attain focus. From both our studio tests and real-world experience it provides much-improved focusing in live view and movie mode, particularly compared to the Canon EOS Rebel T5i/700D and EOS M (which lagged behind DSLR contemporaries in live view, let alone their mirrorless camera peers). Despite some disappointments - particularly the lack of AF tracking while shooting continuously in live view - the 70D's Dual Pixel AF offers the most impressive Movie and Live View autofocus we've seen from a true SLR.

One important fact we confirmed with our autofocus testing is that the (more complicated, multi-mirror) conventional method of phase-detect autofocus that companies have been using for two decades isn't always as reliable as we'd all like to think. Sensor-based phase-detection proved its value mightily, able to focus challenging lenses like the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 accurately and consistently, which none of the 'regular' Canon SLRs in the office could achieve. The EOS 70D regains AF Microadjustment to compensate its conventional AF where needed, but the simpler alternative is to use Dual Pixel AF via Live View when precise focus is critical.

The EOS 70D may be the best SLR for live view autofocus, but when compared to Sony's SLTs and many mirrorless offerings, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1, it rather plays catch-up. These cameras have made impressive autofocus advances in the last few years, dramatically improving their autofocus systems in live view and movie modes. One advantage for the Canon though is compatibility with a wide range of EF lenses, including fast primes and long telephotos.

Handling

With a solid build, good grip, and balanced feel, the 70D has controls well-arrayed for quick access. For example the AF-area adjustment button is ideally placed between the shutter button and front control dial, allowing rapid AF style selection whether working from the optical viewfinder or the LCD. The built-in Levels display in the optical viewfinder, though simple compared to other solutions, is an improvement over the company's previous attempt, which rather clumsily used AF points as level indicators. It only has one axis, but is still useful for getting straight horizons whether shooting handheld or on a tripod.

Dual Pixel AF increases the utility of the 70D's articulating LCD screen, since the faster autofocus makes live view shooting that much more valuable and usable. This also applies to Movie mode, where the 70D allows more versatile capture while maintaining focus, usually without noticeable focus seeking, even with non-STM lenses. Focusing with the touchscreen is also swift and easy, though we would like to see the option for slower focusing speeds to give more a more sophisticated focus-pulling effect.

The touchscreen also works well for more common purposes, allowing easy swiping between images in Playback mode, and quickly selecting on-screen options is fairly obvious, in both the Quick menu and regular menu system. The touchscreen can also fire the shutter if you like, a function we left disabled.

The other major feature addition in the 70D is Wi-Fi. It's essentially the same system we encountered in the EOD 6D, which is to say 'comprehensive but a little complicated.' Setup is rather involved, particularly when connecting to a PC, and the on-camera instructions for making and saving connection profiles are rather opaque. Enabling Wi-Fi also disables video, which gives the impression of a tacked-on feature, rather than one that's been thoughtfully integrated. But once you've got it all sorted out the Wi-Fi works pretty well, with a stable connection to the camera, and pretty straightforward implementation of remote shooting and image transfer to your phone.

Image Quality

Given that the 70D's Dual Pixel CMOS sensor uses two photodiodes for every single pixel, we were keen to make sure the overall image quality hadn't degraded when compared to the company's widely used 18-megapixel sensor. In fact, it appears to have improved, with a lower noise floor and lower noise overall than the 60D, and good image quality in both bright and low light. This still leaves the camera behind the Nikon D7100, which can record more detail in deep shadows, but in most situations the difference is extremely small.

Auto white balance was usually correct but we had some issues with metering and white balance depending on how we used the camera - with Live View often offering better stills exposure settings than using the OVF. Auto Lighting Optimizer frequently lent a hand to flat or backlit situations, offering a tweak-free approach for quick posting on social media, and Highlight Tone Priority mode can help protect highlights in contrasty situations. But advanced shooters will do well to also shoot Raw images, as white balance, sharpening, shadow detail and exposure can be better adjusted in an image editing program.

Video quality is very good, made better primarily by the 70D's Dual Pixel AF. Combined with either of the new STM kit lenses, autofocus is smooth, quiet and accurate most of the time. Older lenses also work more smoothly than with other Canon SLRs, though you can often hear the motors stepping through focus in a quiet scene.

The Final Word

Better crafted for the enthusiast photographer than its predecessor, the Canon EOS 70D is an excellent blend of control and quality in a tight, reasonably affordable package. Anyone looking for better autofocus in video mode need look no further, as the 70D's Dual Pixel AF offers the most advanced phase-detect autofocus on the market, with around 80% of the camera's pixels dedicated to the job. In our extensive use of the camera, we were able to use both modes almost interchangeably as the need arose; the only exception being when we needed to track focus while shooting, which the 70D cannot do at all in Live View mode.

In terms of image quality the 70D is essentially on a par with its rivals. The Nikon D7100 captures a fraction more resolution but the 70D comes closer to offering comparable low-light performance. This isn't enough to stop the Olympus OM-D E-M1 closing much of the gap on the Canon, despite its smaller sensor - leaving anyone without an existing investment in lenses with a tough decision to make.

It's only really the smaller viewfinder, less substantial-feeling construction and a couple of minor complaints surrounding JPEG defaults and white balance that count against the 70D in our scoring. Overall, the Canon EOS 70D exceeded our expectations in the autofocus department, and satisfied our needs as a quality enthusiast camera for a wide variety of shooting situations.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Canon EOS 70D
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
Offering most of what an enthusiast looks for in a digital SLR, the Canon 70D takes it a step further with excellent live view and movie mode autofocus. Good continuous shooting performance and Wi-Fi simply serve to sweeten the deal.
Good for
Almost any semi-pro shooting situation, from sports action to portraits, as well as video.
Not so good for
Casual snapshooters on a budget; those who shoot neither live view nor video; photographers looking to travel light.
83%
Overall score

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