Canon 70D Field Test
Canon 70D Field Test
by William Brawley | Posted: 09/16/2013
The Canon 70D (Canon 70D Deals) coupled with the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens proved to be a great, comfortable combo that produced sharp images, pleasing colors and nice, creamy bokeh. (Shot with Live View)
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.
When I first learned about the 70D's new AF system, it was immediately clear the camera would be huge for the video crowd, but I wondered how it would handle still photography. My personal preference when shooting stills with a DSLR is to use the viewfinder nearly 100% of the time, unless I'm on a tripod shooting landscapes or using manual focus. The 70D does have a dedicated phase-detect AF sensor for viewfinder shooting, just like any other DSLR. However, I started thinking creatively about what kinds of subjects I could shoot -- or shoot more easily -- in Live View mode, thanks to its Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology. Did it work? Oh yes! But I won't spoil the surprise just yet. Let's take a closer look at the camera, first.
Out for a hike? The 70D is light enough to carry in your hand, over the shoulder or in a backpack for a day outdoors. (Shot with Live View)
Design and feel. The Canon 70D takes its design cues from the 7D and morphs them with the 60D. I like the result. Having used a 7D extensively, the 70D feels very similar in-hand with a comfortable, contoured, heavily rubberized grip and subtle indentations for your fingers. The 70D is a bit smaller than the 7D -- and the 60D too, but only by a hair -- yet still has a nice heft to it, and my hand fits nicely around it.
The 60D's body was comprised of an aluminum chassis with an exterior of polycarbonate resin and fiberglass, and it appears that the 70D has retained that design and construction choice. The 70D is heavier than the 60D by nearly 3 ounces (80g), but since I'm used to carrying heavier cameras, I found the 70D was still comfortable to hold. It didn't weigh me down at all when I carried it around in my bag.
The 70D maintains the characteristic articulating LCD screen design of the 60D. In the past, I've normally dismissed this type of screen as somewhat gimmicky, and something that either adds bulk or is more fragile and easily broken. However, after using the 70D, I have to say, I think I'm a convert. For certain scenarios, I discovered that I love the 3-inch tilt-screen, such as when I needed to shoot at awkward angles on a tripod. The LCD folds out from the body and can swivel 270 degrees. It can also be stored with the screen against the camera, meaning it's protected from scratches and bumps when I'm carrying it around, or when it's stashed away.
Coupled with fantastic capacitive touch capabilities, the articulating monitor proved to be a very versatile feature -- made even more important since Live View shooting has been improved by the 70D's Dual Pixel CMOS AF system. The touchscreen on the 70D is excellent, and feels very similar to that of a high-end smartphone. It doesn't appear to add any bulk compared to my 7D, and seems relatively robust and rugged. Quick, light touches are enough to navigate through menus or tap on icons, even on the "Standard" sensitivity setting. It's great for shooting video with the tap-to-focus feature, as I can minimize the risk of jostling the camera when tapping or pressing on the screen. In bright sunlight, the LCD is still very readable. There's some glare if the angle is just right, but thanks to the articulated hinge of the LCD, I could easily tilt it to eliminate glare.
Controls. Moving on to the buttons and control layout, the 70D looks unsurprisingly similar to the 60D for the most part. There are a few minor changes that, in my opinion, make it a little easier to use and more familiar to users of other Canon DSLRs. The first thing I noticed was the addition of the 7D's fantastic Live View toggle switch. Unlike the 60D, you don't have to rotate the Mode dial to Movie Mode, then tap the Live View button to start and stop video recording. Users of the 7D or 5D Mark III will be at home with the 70D in this regard.
The 70D (left) features a similar convenient AF mode button near the shutter release. It's a design cue taken from the 7D's (right) Multi-Function Button, no doubt.
One of my favorite controls on my 7D is the Multi-Function button, a small programmable button near the top scroll wheel behind the shutter release button. Canon has added a similar -- albeit single-function -- variant of this button to the 70D, and I love it. By default, the 7D set this button to toggle through the various AF point modes, and the 70D's button does the same. When doing traditional viewfinder shooting, pressing this button lets you quickly change AF modes (single-point AF, zone AF and 19-point automatic selection AF), and displays your options in the viewfinder.
The third change to the layout is that the Menu button is now in the upper left-hand corner, as it is on most of Canon's current DSLRs. This is great for those of us with a deeply ingrained motor memory of button layouts. Canon has also moved the Playback button right above the rear scroll wheel, making it much closer to the delete button. Users of the 60D should be happy that these two buttons are no longer in diagonally opposite corners of the camera. My brother owns a 60D, and he and I would both fumble with its button layout, which just didn't seem to make sense.
Lastly, the 70D maintains Canon's locking Mode dial that's become a mainstay in its other recent DSLRs, and which I've quickly grown to appreciate -- no more erroneous mode changes! The 70D also does away with cramming in a little icon for each Scene mode on this dial, as it did with the 60D. Now, there's simply a single "SCN" mode option on the Mode dial, and you can access and navigate through the various scenes on the touchscreen LCD.
The 18-135mm kit lens provides decent "macro-ish" shooting capabilities with a 39cm (16 inch) minimum focusing distance and a magnification of 0.28x. (Shot with Live View)
There are a couple of qualms I have with the controls on the 70D, albeit minor ones. The rear control dial on the 70D (and 60D) surrounds a multi-directional tilt-button unlike Canon's higher-end DSLRs which have a separate multi-directional joystick-like button placed above the rear wheel. I find that the larger-sized rear control dial of cameras like the 7D and 5D Mark II are easier to rotate without looking, and there's less risk of an accidental button-press on the multi-directional button.
I also miss a dedicated white balance button in the row of control buttons along the top LCD screen. The 70D actually has a set of five buttons, whereas the 7D, for example, has only four. Each button on the 7D has a dual function, one being adjusted by the top scroll dial and the other by the rear dial. The buttons on the 70D are all single function, however, and are adjusted by either control dial. With less room for options on the single-purpose buttons, Canon removed the quick white balance adjustment, which I found quite handy.
The Canon 70D's 3-inch articulated LCD screen, which can be pivoted 270 degrees, makes it easy to get uniquely-angled shots like this low-to-the-ground picture.
Shooting with the 70D. If you've ever shot with any other prosumer-level Canon DSLR then you'll feel right at home operating the 70D. Control conventions and the menu system are standard Canon fare, but even users switching over from other brands should find this camera equally easy to use. Suffice to say, for me, switching over from my 7D and 5D Mark III to the Canon 70D was comfortable, familiar and easy.
My plan of attack for shooting with the 70D was to use Live View for the majority of my testing since it's this camera's claim to fame. However, traditional viewfinder shooting shouldn't be forgotten -- it's been substantially upgraded from the 60D as well. The 70D borrows the excellent 19-point all-cross-type AF system from the 7D. Shooters of fast action and wildlife will rejoice in this fact.
When shooting with the viewfinder, the phase-detect AF felt just as snappy as my 7D, or my 5D Mark II with the center AF point. Nothing stood out to me to indicate any lag or AF performance issues with phase-detect AF. Obviously, lens choice can affect the performance of autofocus, but when using a Canon USM or STM lens, the 70D focused very quickly. Our lab results found pro-grade AF shutter lag, and in real-world shooting, the 70D was certainly no slouch. Given that the 70D features the same 19-point all cross-type AF system from the 7D, it's not surprising that I found the 70D to be a excellent performer at AF speed and accuracy.
It's also worth noting that the 70D can shoot up to 6.7 frames per second in burst mode according to our lab testing, whereas the 7D goes up to 8fps. The 70D is not as fast, nor does it quite reach Canon's performance claim, but it's not too shabby either. It's much improved over the 5.3 frames per second speed we saw from the 60D.
Remember when I mentioned that the new Dual Pixel CMOS AF is great for still photography, and not just an advantage for video? As long as you're using a compatible lens, the Live View focusing actually feels almost as fast as traditional phase-detect autofocus through the viewfinder. I took the 70D out for a hiking trip with the new EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens, and in bright sunlight, Live View AF blazed new trails for me photographically. When I first enabled Live View, I was pretty astonished with what happened when I gave the shutter button a half-press. I got tell-tale AF confirmation beeps almost instantaneously, which is pretty amazing compared to how other DSLRs perform in Live View. I'm used to resigning myself to expect slower AF results every time I enter Live View using my Canon DSLRs and EOS M, which all feature slower contrast-detect AF systems. Not so with the speedy 70D.
That said, where I feel the 70D really shines is not in normal, everyday still photography, where most users (including me) would simply use the viewfinder, but rather for certain shooting scenarios and tricky shots. After all, the 70D has a trifecta of features -- Dual Pixel CMOS AF, the articulating screen and Wi-Fi -- that make Live View shooting particularly awesome and present unique opportunities which other cameras just can't take advantage of.
Dual Pixel CMOS Live View AF + Wi-Fi + articulating LCD = fun. One of my favorite things to photograph is birds, and hummingbirds in particular. Hummingbirds are a tricky subject to shoot, since they are not only very tiny and extremely fast-moving, but they are also quite skittish around people -- or at least the ones I've encountered are. I've attempted to photograph them with a long telephoto lens, and many times even the slightest movement to raise my camera scares them away. Wouldn't it be nice to remotely set up a camera, yet still have the ability to see through the lens and have powerful subject-tracking autofocus? Enter the 70D.
I spent my first weekend with our earlier pre-production version of the 70D taking photos of hummingbirds with my 400mm f/5.6 L lens. Thanks to the 70D, I was able to get more shots of these little guys than I would have with my regular Canon cameras, trying to stand as still as possible. First, I placed the camera on a sturdy tripod, and due to the abysmal minimum focusing distance of the 400mm lens (~12 feet without using extension tubes), I had to position the camera practically up against the back of my house to get the framing I wanted. However, thanks to the articulating touchscreen, I could stand to the side of the camera and frame shots and configure settings in the menu with ease.
Thanks to the Wi-Fi and articulated screen of the 70D, I could set up more intricate shooting scenarios like this one above. The makeshift tablecloth "camo-cover" also helped protect the camera from any stray "fluids."
Next, I set up the Wi-Fi feature in the 70D. You are given the option of either connecting your smartphone or tablet to the camera via an existing Wi-Fi network, or turning the camera into a wireless access point and connecting your smart device directly to the camera. This is excellent if you're out in the field somewhere without any network connection.
I went with the direct-connect method and quickly connected my iPhone to the camera's network. Then I used Canon's EOS Remote app (available for Android and iOS), chose the remote shooting option, and after a few seconds, the Live View screen of the 70D appeared on my phone. Now I was ready to shoot.
On a side note, this was my first time using a Canon Wi-Fi-enabled camera with their EOS Remote app, and I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed. Not only can you simply trigger the shutter button and see the Live View screen, you can also fully adjust exposure settings like shutter speed, ISO and aperture all without touching the camera.
An example of what I saw using the Canon EOS Remote app on my iPhone 4s. The app -- which is also available for Android phones -- gives you not only remote shutter release, but also Live View, exposure control and image playback.
Now, in terms of shooting and focusing, of course I could have simply pre-focused the lens and fired away when I saw hummingbirds fly in to view. However, I wanted to see how well the 70D's new focusing system performed, particularly with subject tracking. I set the 70D to Live View and to Face + Subject tracking AF mode, and framed the scene in a way that the bird would generally be in the focusing zone, which covers 64% of the sensor area.
This was my first time shooting a setup like this, and it was quite a humorous experience. In a way, I felt almost like I was cheating. Instead of standing out in the hot sun and humid air, I set up the camera, high-tailed it inside and captured some great wildlife shots all from the air-conditioned comfort of my living room.
When the hummingbirds slowed down just a bit, the 70D's Dual Pixel AF tracking was able to find the subject and lock on very quickly. This screenshot comes from Canon's Digital Photo Professional software, which has the ability to display the AF point(s) used by the camera.
The results? I was very impressed that the 70D did everything I wanted it to. The AF tracking did a good job of recognizing the hummingbird as it flew into the frame, and although there was a very slight delay until it appeared on the Live View display inside the smartphone app, I was able to trigger the shutter in high-speed continuous mode and snap some photos. More often than I expected, the AF tracking locked on to the hummingbird as it flew into the frame.
Of course, shooting like this, the Dual Pixel AF wasn't always perfect. According to the EXIF on this photo, it was taken just 5 seconds earlier than the shot shown above. The bird zoomed into the frame quickly, and for the first sequence of shots, the AF was just slightly off, but the 70D quickly adjusted, as shown in the previous screenshot.
Now, no autofocus system is perfect and of course it missed the mark several times, either by remaining locked onto the bird feeder or sometimes just deciding to focus on something else in the frame for whatever reason. Sometimes, it would catch the bird just a fraction too late. This is to be expected whenever you're relying on the camera to calculate and select its own AF point. Also, I was most likely pushing the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system to the extreme, as Canon specifically told us that for small objects in the frame like birds in flight, that traditional phase-detect autofocus is much more reliable and recommended. However, the fact that I can get nearly as fast AF speed in Live View as I can with regular phase-detect AF was very impressive.
The 70D's Dual Pixel CMOS AF system also did a great job in low-light situations and at night. For the most part the 70D had few problems focusing in dark areas; it was only when trying to focus on low-contrast or very dark objects that the Dual Pixel system had issues locking-on.
The Canon 70D was able to handle low-light scenes very nicely, producing slightly less high-ISO noise than did the 60D or 7D.
The kit lens (well, one of them). When I took the 70D out for a hike and some nature shooting, I took along with me one of the two kit lenses that Canon offers with the 70D -- the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM. This pairing was quite light and easy to carry around in my hand or backpack. The lens itself is fairly lightweight, yet there's still a little heft to it that adds a feel of quality and durability. It's quite unlike the more plasticky feel of the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens, which is the other kit lens option with the 70D. The 18-135mm lens also features a metal lens mount as opposed to the 18-55mm's plastic one. (Though the 18-55mm's build isn't quite as nice, it's still better-than-average for a kit lens and a good value.)
The key features of the 18-135mm lens are its versatility, long zoom range and image stabilization. I really enjoyed having the reach of 135mm; I hadn't used a lens like this one in a long time. (I owned the Nikon 18-135mm lens with my D80 many years ago.) At 18mm, the lens provides a decently-wide angle of view, if not as wide as I would have liked. (I'm a fan of ultra-wide angle lenses.) I ended up using the longer end of the lens more, though. The 18-135mm has a decent minimum focusing distance of 1.3 feet, but I found myself wanting to get just a little bit closer when shooting small subjects.
Overall, this is a nice lens that produces sharp images, with great image stabilization and nearly silent focusing thanks to the STM motor.
Image quality. The 70D's brand new APS-C sensor features 20.2 megapixels of resolution. It's Canon's first APS-C camera since 2010 not to feature an 18-megapixel APS-C sensor. I was very intrigued -- and somewhat concerned -- by this, as I've heard complaints from fellow 7D shooters about noisy images due to the extremely tiny pixels Canon used to get 18 megapixels on an APS-C sensor. The perceived downside of smaller pixels is that these little photosites have a harder time collecting photons than do those of image sensors with larger pixels (and a resulting lower megapixel count). For example, in the 7D, you have 18 megapixels crammed onto an APS-C sensor, whereas the 1D Mark IV has a larger sensor area (APS-H) yet only 16 megapixels. Therefore in low-light scenarios, the 7D, for instance, should struggle with high-noise problems at higher ISO levels. I've typically paid little mind to this issue when shooting with my 7D. As long as I expose properly (and don't pixel-peep!), I don't usually see noise problems. I'm also not afraid to post-process my raw images and fiddle with noise reduction adjustments.
Shot with the beta version of the 70D, this image was captured in raw format at ISO 1250, 1/3200s, f/5.6 and then edited in Adobe Lightroom 5 for noise reduction. (Shot with Live View)
So, when I was out shooting with the 70D, I wanted to get a feel for it how it handled higher ISOs given that its pixel size was even smaller. In my hummingbird shooting bonanza, I was typically shooting at ISO 1250 or 1600, and the resulting photos were pretty good. Was there noise? Sure. However, it wasn't unexpected, nor was it something a little Adobe Lightroom noise reduction or other noise removal plugins couldn't handle. I did most -- if not all -- of my test shots in raw+JPEG with default JPEG noise reduction enabled for higher ISO values, and the 70D's processing did a decent job with noise reduction on the JPEG images, while still leaving a good amount of detail.
As far as the other facets of image quality go, I found the 70D to be a solid performer. Colors looked great and the dynamic range was pleasing. With both the 18-135mm kit lens and my 400mm lens, I found my images to be sharp, showing off a lot of fine details.
Did the 70D's images blow me away? Not really. They're very good, but look pretty similar to what I've seen from my 7D. However, the other features of the 70D definitely make up for this by letting me capture some unique shots that my other Canons can't, straight out of the box.
The Canon 70D was able to produce nice, bright colors at default Picture Style settings. The notorious "Canon reds" dominate these shots, and are perhaps a little too saturated.
Video. Now, still photography is only half the story with the 70D. Where the new Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology really shines is with video. Canon appears to be taking aim at the other big shots in the HD video-capable stills camera market, like the Panasonic GH3, for example.
As I said before, Canon was one of the first players to the DSLR video market with the 5D Mark II, but it lacked one crucial feature that average consumers -- accustomed to years of camcorders -- expected from video recording devices: full-time continuous autofocus. Since then, Canon has included full-time autofocus in a number of their DSLRs, but the 70D is the first one that I've seen that really brings "camcorder-like" video autofocusing to the playing field.
I loved shooting video with the 70D, and this comes from a videographer who's stuck by his 5D Mark II and 7D that only have manual focus. Video autofocusing feels smooth and accurate on the 70D. It's not too fast, nor does it hunt back and forth when acquiring focus like you see with contrast-detect AF systems.
The 70D also did an excellent job with video subject tracking. It quickly locked onto most targets and tracked them as they moved, keeping them in sharp focus almost all the time. I especially enjoyed the LCD monitor's touch-to-focus feature for quick-and-easy rack focusing between near and far subjects. Overall, the camera operated very smoothly and didn't quickly jump to refocus like some other cameras do. Again, the 70D's video AF performs very much like that of a camcorder -- and that's saying a ton.
Canon 70D Video AF Comparison: 70D versus Panasonic GH3 and Canon SL1
1,920 x 1,080, MOV, Progressive - Download Original (209 MB MOV)
One very cool feature that I realized while shooting video with the 70D is that I no longer need to worry myself much when using lenses that are not parfocal -- lenses that stay in focus when zooming. The vast majority of DSLR lenses are not parfocal, including my go-to choice when shooting DSLR video: the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS lens. I would constantly have to readjust the focus ring when I zoomed in or out. The smooth continuous focus of the 70D eliminates that worry, as the camera constantly adjusts focus while you zoom in and out. I experimented with this using both the 18-135mm kit lens and 24-105mm lens, and both worked great and stayed in focus while I racked near and far.
The 70D also beefs up its video recording formats to match Canon's more high-end DSLRs like the 5D Mark III. It features the same 1080/30p/24p and 720/60p resolutions and frame rates as the 60D, but includes ALL-I and IPB compression schemes like the higher-end models. This easily makes the 70D a contender for video enthusiasts and independent filmmakers looking for higher image quality at a reasonably affordable price.
Canon 70D Sample Video
1,920 x 1,080, H.264, Progressive, 30 fps, ALL-I
Download Original (387 MB MOV)
There's a big caveat I need to mention regarding video on the 70D. Despite a stellar experience with Wi-Fi control with still photography, I thought I could do the same with video. Sadly, that's out of the question. In fact, you can't even record video while the Wi-Fi radio is enabled; it doesn't even matter if you don't plan on using the EOS Remote App. If you just leave Wi-Fi enabled -- by accident, for instance -- the camera won't let you record video. A big warning will be displayed on the screen telling you to turn off Wi-Fi.
This is not a deal breaker for me personally, but it's kind of a bummer that remote video recording is out of the question. I later found out that a similar limitation exists with the Canon 6D. I can perhaps see there being technical issues with transmitting the data necessary to stream a Live View picture from the camera to your smart device while simultaneously recording video, but why does simply having Wi-Fi enabled completely disable video recording? If there's not some technical hardware limitation at the root of this, perhaps a future firmware update can offer a remedy.
You can take still photos in movie mode, although they will shoot in the 16:9 aspect ratio like HD video footage.
Summary. So, did Canon create a winner with the 70D? I sure think so. It doesn't blow the competition or its predecessor out of the water in terms of still image quality -- it's only a marginal improvement compared to the 60D, primarily at higher ISOs. However, just as Canon claims, the 70D is a powerhouse in the video department, as well as with Live View focusing and shooting. The new Dual Pixel CMOS AF system is equally awesome at both. In most lighting situations (full sunlight to darkish interiors), Live View focusing felt nearly as fast as regular phase-detect autofocus. It was only in very dark scenes with low-contrast subjects where the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system struggled to acquire focus.
A wide-angle hummingbird photo taken using the 70D (again, beta version) with the Tokina 11-16mm lens. Without the Wi-Fi remote shutter release, I couldn't get a shot like this with the cameras that I own without resorting to buying additional accessories. (This photo was processed from RAW in Lightroom and Photoshop).
It's the trifecta of features that really attracts me to this camera: Dual Pixel CMOS AF, articulated LCD touchscreen and Wi-Fi connectivity. With ergonomics and image quality on par with my 7D for the most part, the 70D feels just that much better thanks to these welcome features. They give me the ability to shoot photos that I couldn't previously make with other cameras.
Could I shoot something similar after buying extra accessories like radio remote triggers or a camouflage blind to hide from the hummingbirds? Sure, but with the 70D, I can do something similar straight out of the box -- remotely setup the camera and then hide out of the way.
And for video recording, the 70D is a no-brainer. If you're a Canon shooter who records a lot of video, then the 70D should be high on your list for your next camera, as the autofocusing is spectacular, and the addition of ALL-I and IPB compression really makes the 70D a pro-level video tool. Note, though, that the 70D tends to exhibit some moiré and anti-aliasing at levels that are similar to what the 5D Mark II and 6D produce, so the 5D Mark III is still a superior camera in that regard. I've always found the 5D Mark II video quality more than acceptable for the type of videos I shoot and produce, so I'm not turned off by this, and I don't think the typical user should be either, especially given the 70D's much more affordable price.
Overall, the Canon 70D is a fantastic camera that's fun and easy to use, and features the excellent build quality I've come to expect from the company. The DSLR is packed with outstanding prosumer features for a camera in its class -- some not found on many other models. If you are already a Canon 60D or even a 7D shooter, it's not really a radical upgrade, if all you care about is pure still image quality. However, if the extremely useful and fun Wi-Fi features, an excellent articulated touchscreen and its game-changing Dual Pixel CMOS autofocusing for video and Live View shooting are intriguing to you, I think you should strongly consider moving up (or over) to the Canon 70D.
Canon 70D Additional Shooting Modes and Options
To illustrate more of what the Canon 70D has to offer, we shot additional images using a variety of the camera's special built-in modes and image processing effects. The 70D doesn't include as extensive a feature set of creative filters and effects as some entry-level cameras tend to.
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