Canon EOS 70D at a glance

  • 20.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-25,600
  • 19 cross-type AF points
  • 7fps shooting rate
  • Street price around £1,069 body only

When I tested the Canon EOS 60D three years ago in AP 23 August 2010, I thought it was quite a significant camera for the company. The market for middle to high-end enthusiast DSLRs has always been very competitive, so when Canon introduced the EOS 60D it had some small, but important changes. These new features would pave the way for the Canon EOS 70D, which was released earlier this year.

The EOS 60D retained the 18-million-pixel-resolution, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor of its predecessor, the EOS 50D, but what turned heads was the inclusion of an articulated screen – at the time, such a feature was associated with compact and entry-level DSLRs, not serious cameras costing large amounts of money. Similarly, the polycarbonate build of the EOS 60D was a departure from the magnesium-alloy body of the EOS 50D. I didn’t notice any difference when I was using the newer camera, but then again, neither did I drop it from varying heights to test its ruggedness.

Overall, I was very impressed with the EOS 60D: the build and handling felt slightly different to previous Canon DSLRs, and I remember thinking at the time that the camera was friendlier and more logical to use. Of course, the image quality is excellent with colours being especially well rendered – which is great for those who shoot JPEGs.

Now, three years on, Canon’s newest offering, the EOS 70D, has arrived with its own new features, each of which is precise and having a purpose. Together, these add up to what could be one of the best enthusiast DSLRs we have yet tested.

Canon EOS 70D review – Features

The most notable change in the Canon EOS 70D is, of course, its 20.2-million-pixel CMOS sensor. Although it may not seem all that much of a jump from the 18 million pixels in the Canon EOS 50D, 60D and 7D – because it isn’t – what’s really exciting about it is the technology.

The final image is created from 40.4 million photodiodes on the sensor, with each photosite consisting of a pair of these photodiodes with a single micro lens in front. By measuring the difference in light that reaches each of the two diodes, the camera can perform on-sensor phase-detection focusing when using live view and shooting video.

The standard phase-detection AF system is the same as on the professional-level EOS 7D, with 19 cross-sensor AF points. In fact, by combining the best features of the EOS 60D and 7D in the new EOS 70D, Canon has produced a very capable camera. The sensor and Digic 5+ processor allow for a sensitivity range spanning ISO 100-12,800 and extendable to ISO 25,600. Meanwhile, the shooting rate is an impressive 7fps for 16 raw files or 65 JPEGs when shooting with a UHS-I-compatible SD memory card.

Like its predecessor, the Canon EOS 70D has an articulated touch LCD screen, but the traditional viewfinder has also been improved, borrowing the EOS 7D’s smart viewfinder technology. This highlights the AF point in use, and allows for a new level indicator to be shown through the viewfinder.

As with seemingly every new camera these days, the EOS 70D is Wi-Fi-compatible, enabling image sharing and remote capture from a smartphone or tablet via the Canon app for Android or iOS. Remote shooting will be useful for wildlife photography, as will the silent shooting mode, which significantly reduces the shutter sound, especially when combined with the virtually silent focusing of an STM lens.

Images: The 7fps shooting rate of the Canon EOS 70D perfectly captures the precise movements of the gymnast. Heavy vignetting has been applied to the images using editing software to focus attention on the performer

Canon EOS 70D review – Dual Pixel CMOS AF

The standout feature of the Canon EOS 70D is the unique Dual Pixel CMOS AF system built into its 20.2-million-pixel sensor. This technology is Canon’s method for performing on-sensor phase-detection focusing. Each of the 20.2 million pixels that make up the images are produced from two photodiodes on the sensor.

The reason for having pairs of photodiodes is that any difference in the electrical readout between the pair will indicate that the image is not in focus. Depending on the exact difference between the readout of the photodiodes, the camera’s processing system can calculate how much the focus of the lens needs to shift to make each readout match. When this is achieved, the image is in focus.

As the signal from these photodiodes is used to create a single pixel in the image, Canon insists that the system does not degrade image quality in any way.

Although the entire surface of the sensor uses the same dual photodiode arrangement, the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system only covers 80% of the image frame. This is because lens distortions could affect the accuracy of focusing at the very edges of the frame, so coverage has been restricted to prevent it.

Of course, on-sensor phase-detection systems are primarily to allow the use of autofocus when shooting using live view or video mode, and in theory they should provide a faster method of focusing than contrast-detection AF systems. However, contrast-detection AF has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years as camera processing power and actuator motors in lenses have become more powerful. One area where contrast detection is still some way behind phase detection, however, is when shooting a moving subject in continuous AF mode.

Images: By analysing the difference between the output of each photodiode, the lens can be refocused to the correct position

To find out just how good the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system really is, see the Autofocus section.

Canon EOS 70D review – Build and handling

Like the EOS 60D, the EOS 70D is made from polycarbonate rather than the magnesium alloy of the EOS 7D. While this may put some people off, I don’t really see it as much of an issue. The build quality is excellent with a high level of weather-sealing. So while polycarbonate may not be quite as strong, unless you are likely to drop your camera from a great height or carry it around in a bag full of rocks, it needn’t be too much of a buying consideration.

Overall, the design and layout should feel very familiar to Canon users. Buttons are laid out in a similar manner to those on the EOS 60D, and there’s the aforementioned articulated rear screen. I’ve got used to having some sort of articulation on LCD screens and find I use them more and more. However, what I also like about the one on the EOS 70D is that it can be folded in so that it faces the camera body, thus protecting it from scratches. I’ll cover the screen in more detail later in this test.

As you would expect, the menu system remains unchanged and follows the layout and design we have seen in numerous EOS DSLRs, so existing Canon users will feel right at home. Those new to the system shouldn’t have any issues navigating their way around, although it is worth looking through the custom settings menu to find out how to tweak individual features.

One issue I have with all Canon DSLRs is the placement of the on/off switch. On Canon’s professional models it is on the bottom rear of the body, and on its recent enthusiast DSLRs it is on the left-hand side of the top-plate. I would much prefer the switch to be positioned on the right, making it accessible to either my thumb or forefinger so I can turn the camera on and lift it to my eye in one motion, without having to use two hands or move my eye from the viewfinder. Pentax, Nikon and Sony all position the power switch on their DSLRs around the shutter button, which, to me, is ideal.

That said, if the only criticism I can find is the location of the power switch, then the rest of the camera’s build and handling can’t be all that bad. Indeed, even the camera’s touchscreen adds to the experience of using the camera. The on-screen buttons are large and the screen has a good level of sensitivity. Pressing the quick-menu button displays the regularly used shooting and image settings, and I found myself changing settings via the touchscreen much more than with the direct buttons or in-camera menus. Also, selecting the AF point when shooting using live view is far quicker than using the control dials.

Canon has introduced a new system to make it easier to change the AF mode and area in use. The viewfinder of the EOS 70D is similar to that of the EOS 7D, displaying information such as the AF point in use and a level guide. I’ll cover these in more detail later, but one feature worth mentioning
now is the new AF-point selection button next to the shutter button. By pressing this and using the dial on the top-plate, the AF point mode and the points, or area, in use can be changed while still looking through the viewfinder.

Generally, the EOS 70D’s build and handling is a case of ‘if it ain’t broke…’, with the basis of the camera the same as its predecessor. A few slight tweaks have certainly improved how the 70D handles, but not by enough for 60D users to upgrade.

Canon EOS 70D review – Metering

The EOS 70D uses the same tried-and-tested 63-zone Dual Layer SPC metering system as found in both the EOS 60D and 7D. Again, as standard, the 70D has evaluative, partial, centreweighted, average and spot metering. With such an array of different metering options, I encountered no problems when trying to expose an image correctly.

The evaluative metering system works well, although it does have a tendency to expose images 0.3-0.7EV brighter than I would like.

Canon EOS 70D review – Autofocus

As with a number of other features, the EOS 70D borrows its AF system from the flagship Canon APS-C model, the EOS 7D. The AF system consists of 19 points, all of which are the more sensitive cross-type so they should provide faster and more accurate focusing as they work across both a horizontal and vertical axis.

In bright light, I found the autofocus of the EOS 70D to be extremely fast and accurate, not to mention quiet. In fact, when using the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 STM kit lens, there were a few times when, were it not for the audible AF being switched on, I wouldn’t have known that autofocus had taken place.

In lower light, the camera does hunt around a little more, particularly when using a zoom lens with a f/5.6 maximum aperture at longer focal lengths. At f/4 and larger there was no such problem. Focusing in live view using the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system, it still struggled at f/5.6, but was very snappy at larger apertures, although not quite as quick as the camera’s standard phase-detection system. Dual Pixel CMOS AF in live view is certainly a lot faster than the on-sensor phase detection Canon first used in the EOS M compact system camera.

The EOS M has now received a firmware upgrade to significantly improve its focusing speed, and it would seem that Canon has learned a thing or two about on-sensor phase detection over the past year, as the new 20.2-million-pixel Dual Pixel CMOS AF sensor is a marked improvement. Its development will have been expensive, so I would expect to see it in more Canon cameras in the future.

Another new feature is the aforementioned AF mode selection button on the top-plate. When held down, using the control dial allows you to change the AF mode and the points in use while still looking through the viewfinder. This is great for when you have to act quickly, such as when shooting wildlife.

Image: Taken using the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 STM kit lens, the 70D resolves a lot of fine detail

Canon EOS 70D review – White balance and colour

As you would expect, colours produced by the Canon EOS 70D are excellent. There are five basic image styles, and unlike those in other cameras each has a specific use, which warrants their inclusion. There is also an automatic setting that applies what the camera thinks are the optimum settings for the specific scene, as well as three user-definable settings.

Each of the colour settings can be adjusted to taste, which is particularly handy when using the monochrome image style. As well as being able to adjust the sharpness and contrast of this style, a coloured filter effect can also be applied for sepia, blue, purple or green filter effects. As a result, you can fine-tune the look of black & white images to your personal taste. I chose to use the red filter effects and increased the contrast and sharpness slightly to produce dramatic black & white images.

The auto white balance setting also works well in a variety of different lighting conditions. Under tungsten light it gives quite clinical results, while the tungsten setting itself leaves a hint of the amber tungsten light in the image. If you aren’t shooting raw and wish to get perfect images straight out of the camera, there is the option to adjust the white balance settings slightly, as well as to shoot a series of bracketed white balance images.

Canon EOS 70D review – Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video

The EOS 70D’s 98% viewfinder is bright and large and, best of all, it uses the same intelligent technology found in the EOS 7D. This means that the viewfinder has an LCD overlay that allows information about the focus point, the focus mode in use, and a level guide to be visible in the window. Settings can therefore be changed without having to remove your eye from the viewfinder, and I found that having a level available in this way was extremely useful.

Unlike the first incarnations of live view from a few years ago, that of the Canon EOS 70D works extremely fluidly. Focusing using Dual Pixel phase detection works well – very quickly in bright light and smoothly when shooting video. Image effects applied in live view are nicely previewed so you can see exactly what you are going to get on the 3in, 1.04-million-dot LCD screen.

The high resolution means that images look extremely detailed, and even the menus look great, which can’t be said of many cameras. The one downside of the articulated touchscreen is that smudges and fingerprints can be a problem, particularly in bright light. In such conditions I had to increase the brightness of the screen, and thankfully it can be increased quite a lot. The catch is that you have to remember that images look brighter on screen than they actually are, so you’ll need to trust the metering when shooting in this way.

As I said in Build and handling, having an articulated touchscreen is great for certain types of shooting. Obviously, it makes shooting at low angles much easier, especially as you only need to touch the screen to select the point of focus, and then to actually focus and fire the shutter. It is also useful for macro photographers.

Videographers too will like the capabilities of the 70D, and will find the focusing and screen perfect for their needs. Video files can be saved at 1920×1080-pixel full HD resolution at 30fps, and are saved as .mov files with H.264 compression. A 3.5mm microphone socket is provided.

Canon EOS 70D review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

Images: Both images look good taken at ISO 5000, although there is some colour noise in the JPEG that was easily removed from the raw file

As is to be expected, when editing raw images more detail can be revealed than can be had from JPEGs, and there is plenty of latitude for sharpening. One thing to note is that, while it is possible to remove virtually all colour noise from raw images using the latest version of Adobe Lightroom, there is some slight colour noise visible in the shadow areas in JPEG images, even at ISO 400. While this isn’t much of an issue straight from the camera, if you plan to edit the shadows of JPEG images, they will have to be handled carefully.

Regarding detail resolution, JPEGs reach almost 30 at ISO 80-200. This is a good amount and is a reflection of the camera’s 20.2-million-pixel resolution. The degradation of resolution is actually quite slow, with the first real notable drop coming at ISO 3200, where JPEG images resolve to around 24-26 on our test chart. Although there are hints of colour noise beyond ISO 400, it really becomes a concern at ISO 6400. At this point luminance noise also becomes a lot stronger, really softening the image and reducing resolution. By the time the extended ISO 25,600 sensitivity is reached, JPEG images only resolve to around 16-18 on our test chart.

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens set to f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in the images, the better the camera’s detail
resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

Canon EOS 70D review – Dynamic range

Nikon generally seems to have the edge over Canon with regard to dynamic range, and that seems to be the case here. We measured the dynamic range of the EOS 70D to be 11.52EV at ISO 100. However, what the numbers tell you and what you actually see in real-world images can be different things. I found that the dynamic range of images taken at low ISO sensitivities were acceptable, with a good balance between shadow and highlight detail.

The tone curve applied to JPEGs in Canon cameras is my favourite from any manufacturer as it really provides a good balance between highlight, midtone and shadow detail, producing great images straight out of the camera. However, when raw images have been edited to the extreme, there is a little more noise visible in the shadow areas than is seen in cameras with a larger dynamic range.

So while the numbers may seem quite average, generally the dynamic range performance shouldn’t be an issue.

Canon EOS 70D review – The competition

The Nikon D7100 is the camera most likely to be compared against the Canon EOS 70D. The 24.1-million-pixel Nikon DSLR was released in February this year and can now be purchased for around £840, which is over £200 less the EOS 70D’s RRP. In terms of features, the two cameras are quite similar, although having used both I feel that the Canon model is the more professional.

As it features the same AF system, the 70D will also be compared to the EOS 7D. The latter camera is now four years old, but it has a good AF system and a magnesium-alloy body, and currently retails for about the same amount as the initial price of the EOS 70D. There is very little difference in resolution, however, and the older DSLR does lack some of the new features you would expect from a contemporary model, such as Wi-Fi compatibility.

Canon EOS 70D review – Our verdict

It seems that there used to be a wealth of high-end enthusiast DSLRs to choose from, but with a longer wait between updates it appears that choice is gradually being reduced. Whether or not the EOS 70D should be your next Canon DSLR depends on your existing camera. Based on image quality alone, it may not warrant an upgrade from the EOS 60D, or even the EOS 50D. However, the autofocus and viewfinder, combined with what is in fact slightly improved image quality, do make the EOS 70D a very compelling camera. Plus, it handles superbly.

I was a little disappointed by the amount of colour noise in JPEGs, but this is easily removed from raw images. The dynamic range is also a little restricted, but in practice I found that it didn’t really affect my photography. Overall, images produced by the EOS 70D are excellent, with superb colours straight from the camera.

The EOS 70D performs well across the board and this is reflected in its score. However, in use it feels quite workmanlike – in other words, it ‘puts in a shift’ but doesn’t make you think, ‘Wow!’

Canon EOS 70D – Key features

The EOS 70D has a bright 98% coverage with a 0.95x magnification

The built-in pop-up flash has a guide number of 12m @ ISO 100, with a sync speed of 1/250sec

Quick menu
A press of this button displays the shooting and image settings shown in the screen image below. These can be changed using the touchscreen or the directional control on the rear of the camera

In-camera correction
Those who shoot JPEGs can take advantage of the fact that vignetting and chromatic aberrations can be corrected in-camera

Image rating
In the image playback menu, it is possible to rate images out of five stars. This information is saved to the image metadata and can be read by editing and catalogue software, such as Adobe Lightroom or Bridge, so you can start organising and sorting your images in-camera

Viewfinder level
As well as being able to view an on-screen level, an additional level display is available in the viewfinder. This is different from the previous level used in the EOS 60D, which relies on highlighting the AF points to indicate whether the camera is level