Canon 70D Review
The Canon 70D may very well have started a revolution with an innovative autofocus system that's new not only for Canon DSLRs, but also for the camera industry as a whole. Thanks to its Dual Pixel CMOS AF system, the Canon 70D -- a replacement for the three-year-old 60D -- could change the way you shoot both video and still images.
At the heart of this innovation is the Canon 70D's image sensor, a 20.2-megapixel APS-C-type CMOS chip that's been designed to accommodate on-chip phase detection -- but with one huge difference. To date, on-chip phase detect systems have provided but a handful of focus points scattered across the sensor's surface. With the Canon 70D, almost two-thirds of its surface area at the center of the frame can provide phase-detect AF, and not just at a handful of locations -- we're talking phase detect at every single pixel.
And unlike typical hybrid systems which use phase detect simply for a ballpark distance and direction to focus, then fine-tune with contrast-detect AF, the Canon 70D's on-chip phase detect is accurate enough that tuning with contrast detection isn't necessary. That is huge news for video capture, because it means no more hunting around the point of focus. With the AF bobble gone, full-time video becomes a much more exciting proposition, letting you quickly and smoothly guide your viewers' attention between subjects without distraction.
The new image sensor doesn't just drive the completely new autofocus system; in addition, its resolution has been increased slightly over the Canon 60D's. Sensor size is unchanged, but Canon has increased the active imaging area of the sensor slightly, from 22.3 x 14.9mm to 22.5 x 15.0mm. This means that, although pixel pitch has been reduced, the difference isn't as great as you might otherwise expect. A simultaneous switch to Canon's new DIGIC 5+ image processor further aims to tame image noise.
The net result is that, according to Canon, the 70D will produce noise levels that are roughly on par with the lower-res 60D for raw shooting. Meanwhile, the company says that JPEG shooters will see a "huge improvement" in image quality. To back up that claim, the ISO sensitivity range has been expanded to encompass everything from ISO 100 to 12,800 equivalents, with the ability to expand sensitivity as high as ISO 25,600 equivalent. Further in our review we'll see if the camera live up to these promises.
The new image processor also yields a significant increase in burst shooting performance, which is now rated by Canon at a full seven frames per second.
Canon has gifted the EOS 70D with a new body that's just slightly smaller, while retaining the same side-swiveling LCD monitor, and packing in several new features. These include a touch-panel overlay on the LCD monitor, built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity, a stereo microphone, and the same Live View control seen on other recent Canon SLRs. And supplementing the new on-chip phase detection system, there's also a new dedicated autofocus sensor, identical to that used in the EOS 7D.
[Note that in some markets, a variant of the Canon EOS 70D is offered without the aforementioned Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity. Technically, the Wi-Fi enabled variant is known as the EOS 70D (W), and the variant without Wi-Fi as the EOS 70D (N).]
The Canon EOS 70D's design clearly shows a strong focus on video. Here, it's compared to one of the most video-friendly mirrorless cameras, Panasonic's Lumix DMC-GH3.
As well as all of the hardware changes, Canon has made numerous tweaks to firmware as well. These include the ability to preview creative filter effects before shooting, a new 3x to 10x variable video zoom function, the same video snapshot feature seen in recent Rebel-series cameras, and a choice of both ALL-I and IPB compression schemes for video, along with optional time code.
Walkaround. Although the Canon 70D looks a lot like its predecessor, it does feature a brand-new body design. Let's take a look at what's stayed the same, and what's been changed.
Seen from the front, the Canon 70D is a little less wide than is predecessor. Otherwise, though, the basic dimensions are pretty close to those of the 60D. The arrangement of controls and features on the front of the camera is near-identical. The most significant difference is the absence of the small four-hole microphone port that, on the 60D, sat directly above the model number badge.
Seen from above, the Canon 70D likewise retains an arrangement very much like that of the 60D. As well as the two four-hole ports for the relocated microphone -- now stereo, and straddling the rear of the hot shoe -- there's a new button between the Shutter button and front dial. This new control is used to select between autofocus area modes. The number of positions on the Mode dial has also been slashed by a third, to just 10.
It's when you come to the rear of the camera that the changes are more significant. In fact, something of a game of musical chairs has taken place. The Menu and Info buttons have jumped from the top right corner of the LCD monitor, and now sit above its top left corner, instead. With its chair taken, the Delete button has grabbed a spot at the bottom right corner of the display.
That move left the Playback button homeless, and so it has jumped up to take the spot previously occupied by the Info button. The Quick Menu button now sits above it, with its old spot now button-free. The Unlock / Print button of the 60D is replaced by a Lock switch, and the Live View button is substituted for a more modern Live View switch with central Start / Stop button.
The LCD monitor looks identical, but now features a touch-screen overlay. In other respects, the layout is much as it was.
The left-hand side of the EOS 70D (as seen from the rear) also shows a few changes. The connectivity available on this side is as it was, but the original single flap covering all of the ports has been split in two, with one half moved slightly behind the other. Microphone / wired remote terminals sit in front of and above the HDMI and combined AV Out / Digital (USB) ports. Above these, the speaker grille is now a nine-hole instead of seven-hole arrangement.
On the right-hand side, the changes are solely cosmetic, with no features added or removed.
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- Canon 70D body-only (US$1199)
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- Canon 70D 18-135mm STM kit (US$1549)
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- Canon 70D body-only (US$1199)
- Canon 70D 18-55mm STM kit (US$1349)
- Canon 70D 18-135mm STM kit (US$1549)
In the Box
The Canon 70D retail box ships with the following items:
- Canon EOS 70D DSLR body (some markets have 'W' version with Wi-Fi, 'N' version without.)
- 18-55mm IS STM or 18-135mm IS STM lens (in the US market, depending on kit; other markets may vary)
- Front and rear lens caps
- Eyecup Eb
- LP-E6 Battery pack
- LC-E6 Battery charger
- IFC-130U USB interface cable
- EW-EOS 70D Wide shoulder strap
- EOS Digital Solution Disk CD-ROM
- Software Instruction Manual CD-ROM
- Camera Instruction Manual booklet
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. These days, 16GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity for a consumer DSLR, but if you plan to capture HD movie clips or shoot in RAW format, look for larger cards with Class 6 or faster ratings.
- Additional lenses
- Extra LP-E6 battery pack for extended outings
- BG-E14 battery grip (and optionally, six long-life AA lithium disposable batteries if you want a backup when you're away from your charger, although it will also accept a second LP-E6 battery pack)
- CBC-E6 car battery charger
- ACK-E6 AC adapter kit or DR-E6 DC coupler if you already have a suitable AC adapter (for studio shooting)
- External Speedlite flash, or other shoe-mount accessory flash
- Angle Finder C
- Dioptric lenses for viewfinder (if built-in diopter adjustment is insufficient for your prescription)
- EP-EX15 II eyepiece extender (if you want to shoot while wearing your glasses)
- External monaural or stereo microphone
- HTC-100 or other Mini-HDMI cable
- Medium size camera bag
Canon 70D Dual Pixel CMOS AF
As the years go by, we see camera technology advance by fits and starts. Some developments are a bigger deal than others, but it's rare that anything really amounts to a true technological breakthrough. However, the Canon 70D's Dual Pixel CMOS AF system qualifies.
This new AF system is as revolutionary a development as any we can remember seeing since the dawn of the DSLR era itself. By integrating accurate, fully-capable phase-detect autofocus over a majority of the image sensor's surface, Canon is fundamentally rewriting the book on autofocus.
The Canon 70D delivers phase-detect autofocus across an area that's fully 80% of the height and width of the sensor, that allows any area within that region to become a focus point, that can remain operational during video recording, and that will operate at any aperture. It's a whole new AF ballgame, and one that's going to shake the DSLR video business to its roots.
Click here for a close look at the 70D's new Dual Pixel CMOS AF system!
Canon 70D Tech Info
What else is new?
Sensor. The story of the Canon EOS 70D begins and ends with its 20.2 megapixel, APS-C CMOS image sensor. It's absolutely unique, with two photodiodes sitting under a single shared microlens at each pixel location. This, as we've described in much more detail further up the page, allows Canon to provide for on-chip phase detection at every pixel location over almost two-thirds of the sensor's surface area.
The new sensor is also slightly higher-res than the 18.0 megapixel chip of the EOS 60D, although the difference is modest and accompanied by a reduction in pixel pitch from 4.3 to 4.1µm. Simultaneously, the sensor's active area has increased slightly to 22.5 x 15.0mm, bringing a minute reduction in the focal length crop from 1.61 to 1.6x.
Processor. The Canon 70D replaces its predecessor's DIGIC 4 image processor with a newer DIGIC 5+ variant, first seen in the EOS-1D X professional digital SLR. The new processor allows improvements both in performance, and in image quality.
Click to read detailed Canon 70D tech info!
Canon 70D Shooter's Report
When Canon announced the 5D Mark II five years ago, it took the video production world by storm. It was the first full-frame DSLR with high-definition video recording capabilities, and was offered at an extremely affordable price compared to other large-sensor video cameras at the time. It wasn't a slim margin, either: The Canon 5D II was tens of thousands of dollars more affordable, and yet still had a larger sensor than its rivals! However, for the average video shooter or casual consumer, the 5D Mark II and other subsequent HD-DSLRs all lacked a critical feature: full-time continuous autofocus for video.
Now, the Canon 70D isn't the first Canon DSLR with video autofocus by any means, as most of the brand's newer models have some form of continuous Live View AF. However, the Canon 70D feels like the first DSLR that does continuous Live View AF properly. Canon's new Dual Pixel CMOS AF is pretty amazing -- and not just for video. It works great for still photography, too, as I found out during my time putting it through its paces.
I've been a Canon user for a few years now and shoot both still photography and video. I started with a 7D, and a while later added a 5D Mark II to the mix. In terms of still photography, I love my 5D Mark II for landscapes and occasional events or portraits, but my 7D has been my go-to still camera for capturing anything fast and tough to shoot, such as sports and wildlife, thanks to its more advanced autofocus and higher speed continuous shooting.
Read our Canon 70D Shooter's Report for our take on real-world stills and video!
Canon 70D Image Quality Comparison
How is it for stills?
So, the Canon 70D is awesome for video. But how about stills? Does the added resolution help or hinder the 70D compared to its predecessor? Do the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system's two photodiodes sharing a single microlens at each pixel location impact still image quality? We compare Canon 70D with the Canon 60D, Canon 7D, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Pentax K-5 II and Nikon D7100 to find out how the 70D competes in still image quality. Have a look and let your eyes be the judge!
NOTE: Images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.
See our Canon 70D Image Quality Comparison
Canon 70D Print Quality
How does it look on paper?
Image quality on the screen and printed output don't always mesh. Our print quality analysis gives you a definitive answer to the question: "How large can I print my photos as I push ISO?"
The Canon 70D more than holds its own in the print quality department, delivering sharp, worthwhile images at sizes comparable to its competition all the way up the sensitivity scale. It is worth noting here that one of its primary competitors, the Nikon D7100 (70D vs D7100), does print one size larger at base ISO due in large part to higher resolution and the lack of a low pass filter, but the 70D stays in step for most of the remaining ISOs, and even bests the D7100 at ISO 25,600. The D7100 does better at resolving detail in our difficult red fabric swatch, while the 70D does a better job controlling noise in shadowy areas as ISO rises, so there's a definite trade-off one direction or another. But for the most part these two challengers deliver comparable image quality other than the difference we mentioned at base ISO.
Check out how the Canon 70D's print quality holds up at higher ISOs
Canon 70D Conclusion
Best video experience from a DSLR yet!
The Canon 70D ultimately may not have delivered what everyone wanted or expected -- a significant upgrade in still image quality over its predecessor, the 60D -- but instead it ushered in a new technology so unexpected (and useful) that there's no way we could be disappointed. We love when a camera manufacturer surprises us with a treat like Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology. After all, a rare, ground-breaking innovation like this doesn't come around too often.
What's even better is that the 70D's full-time phase detection autofocus system for video and Live View shooting -- with PDAF at every pixel in the AF area -- more than lives up to its promise. We were thoroughly impressed by how quickly and accurately the Dual Pixel CMOS AF operated. For movies, this technology finally puts true camcorder-like performance into an HD-DSLR; it's been a long time coming. Racking focus between near and far subjects is especially easy and smooth with the 70D's LCD touchscreen touch-to-focus feature. And when using Live View for still shooting, the advanced autofocusing felt nearly as fast as traditional viewfinder shooting under most scenarios.
Read the Canon 70D Conclusion for our verdict on this ground-breaking DSLR!