Canon EOS 70D Review – Enthusiast Snapper

Overview

Canon announced the EOS 70D last year in July, which got everybody excited. It featured a brand new sensor, with a larger pixel count, and was aimed at enthusiast photographers. It replaced the EOS 60D which had launched 3 years ago, and added dual-pixel CMOS Autofocus which made it a very good video camera as well.

What’s new in the 70D?

The 70D with the pop-up flash deployed
The 70D with the pop-up flash deployed, and kit 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM lens attached

The 70D is still just an APS-C device, meaning it does have a crop factor of 1.6x over a standard 35mm (or a full-frame sensor). While that is not new compared to the 60D, it does feature a higher maximum resolution at 20.2 MP. On the sensor side you also get the Digic 5+ image processor, which is 17x more powerful than Digic 4. That is also the key reason why the 70D can now shoot burst images at 7 FPS, all of which are stored in an SD card. The image buffer is 65 L-JPGs, or 14 RAWs.

The next big thing the 70D pioneered is the dual-pixel CMOS autofocus which makes autofocus during live-view and videos much faster and precise. How it works is by featuring two photodiodes in every pixel, and each reads light separately when using the display to focus.

When you are using the optical viewfinder, the camera reverts to standard phase detection and uses its 19 cross-type AF points – just like the 7D Mark I – albeit having only Single point AF, Zone AF and 19-point Area AF.

The ISO range is from 100 to 12800, and an option to expand it to 25600. Thanks to the newer sensor, image noise is also reduced by up to 75% through better signal processing compared to the 60D.

The flip-out touchscreen is a fantastic option, one that I miss even on the 7D Mark II
The flip-out touchscreen is a fantastic option, one that I miss even on the 7D Mark II

The best part is, the 70D still features the flip-out screen, but also has a 3 inch 1.04 million-dot capacitive LCD touchscreen, allowing you to interact with the camera just like your smartphone. Don’t fret about losing your aperture ring or back-button focusing, for everything is still there.

Only the second Canon DSLR to feature it, the 70D follows the full-frame 6D by including a WiFi radio which does make obtaining instant social-media ready JPGs easy if you’re shooting RAW or are away from a computer. The main draw, though, is the presence of remote shooting using the free EOS Remote app.

Build Quality and Handling

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To many enthusiasts’ annoyance, Canon continued with a polycarbonate body in the 70D. Personally I honestly felt fine with it. It feels solid in the hand and its ergonomics are a big step above the Rebel series. Furthermore, while an aluminium body like the Canon EOS 6D would have made the camera sturdier, it would have made it heavier than the 755 grams (incl. batteries) the 70D currently weighs. For a camera priced at S$1499, this is an acceptable trade-off.

The 70D has a larger grip than the Rebel series, which makes handheld shooting much more comfortable, especially if shooting for long periods of time. The presence of the aperture control ring is also very welcome, allowing you to cycle through settings much faster compared to a Rebel. Thankfully, the standard 4-way control pad is still present, nestled in the centre of the aperture ring.

eos-70d-kit-ef-s18-55-is-stm-5

The power button is located on the left, right below the mode dial which features a button-lock that needs to be depressed if changing modes, preventing accidents. Ease of use also is boosted by the continued presence of the LCD next to the shutter button where you can view all the settings with a quick glance rather than shifting the whole camera away to take a look at the main LCD.

Talking of the main LCD, it is a flip-out capacitive touchscreen which opens your photography up to whole new dimensions. With the flip-out screen you can take photos from different vantage points without having to awkwardly twist your body around. The touchscreen is chiefly useful when in the Quick Control menu, as well as when zooming in/out and for general housekeeping.

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The 70D is extremely easy to use, even when in full manual mode thanks to the many features I talked about above. The key buttons are also all accessible by your right thumb when shooting, which increases the level of convenience so much more. All these might seem inconsequential on paper, but it all adds up and is plainly visible when upgrading from a Rebel series DSLR.

Performance

With the kind of power the 70D brings, there is no excuse to be shooting in any of the Auto modes. It is designed for manual control, and that is where it excels at.

While the Auto mode is quite good in the 70D, at the end of the day, the computer always ends up being inferior to the photographer’s mind which decides what and how to capture and portray the scene. My recommendation is to attempt to shoot in RAW, and in full manual with the 70D, for anything less would be doing the camera an injustice.

The various picture styles, with 7 presets and 3 custom ones
The various picture styles, with 7 presets and 3 custom ones, although all can be modified

As I said, there is nothing wrong with the automatic systems. White balance is mostly accurate (save for in low-light), the Standard picture style is adequate for most conditions, and metering is generally accurate. However you do come across many conditions where you begin to feel cramped by Auto mode, as well as simply shooting JPG. When in RAW, if shooting a backlit scene, you can simply expose for the sky and lift the shadows in post – something the 70D excels at thanks to the Digic 5+ processor capturing really fine detail.

When it comes to auto-focusing, the 70D does very well in both still image and video capturing. In still imaging, if using the viewfinder, you get 19 cross-type AF points that are well distributed along the frame so I rarely felt a shortage of focus points. The contrast detection is as quick as the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM kit lens even when using my EF 28mm f/1.8 lens, which is notorious for slowing down focus.

In low-light, the camera does slow down a little (especially with my 28mm f/1.8) and a front-back focusing action is required before the camera achieves focus-lock. With enough contrast, though, the 70D can still perform fast enough that you don’t miss any moments as I have had with my own ailing 400D.

Dual Pixel AF Infomercial

The innovative dual-phase detection autofocus only kicks in when using Live View, in either still imaging or videography (though LV is mostly used during the latter), and it is properly quick. Cycling through objects placed at varying distances is extremely quick, measuring under 1 second to achieve focus-lock.

The best results with dual-pixel AF are with a Stepper Motor (STM) lens, as it is much faster and quieter than achieving focus lock even when compared to Ultrasonic Motor (USM) lenses. Still, even with a non-STM lens, focus lock is achieved within one second. In Servo-AF mode, the 70D does extremely well too, tracking a moving subject with ease at it traverses the frame.

Still Image Quality and Samples

In Auto mode, the 70D performs acceptably, with its Digic 5+ processor still susceptible to basic errors such as over/under-exposure and it sometimes even drops the shutter speed to below that which can be handheld without introducing shake (e.g. 1/30s, 1/15s). Not only that, even with my 28mm f/1.8, the camera selects odd settings such as 1/30s, f/4.0, ISO-1200 when settings of 1/60s, f/1.8 and ISO-640 would have worked fine.

Not only that, Canon’s sensor still only has a dynamic range of 11.6EV compared to 13.9EV that we see in the similarly priced Nikon D5300 (the recently announced D5500 should have an equal or greater dynamic range too). This is an issue Nikon addressed by switching to Sony sensors, and it is my opinion Canon should either do the same or produce a sensor by the end of this year than can achieve comparable dynamic range.

Without further ado, here are some camera samples (with accompanying settings) that are untouched JPG images, as well as their untouched corresponding RAW files, straight from the 70D with the 18-55mm kit lens.

JPG:

Auto Mode 1/250s f/10 ISO-100 18mm
Auto Mode
1/250s
f/10
ISO-100
18mm
Manual Mode 1/800s f/8 ISO-160 18mm
Manual Mode
1/800s
f/8
ISO-160
18mm
Auto Mode 1/400s f/11 ISO-100 18mm
Auto Mode
1/400s
f/11
ISO-100
18mm
Auto Mode 1/125s f/7.1 ISO-100 18mm
Auto Mode
1/125s
f/7.1
ISO-100
18mm
Auto Mode 1/320s f/10 ISO-100 55mm
Auto Mode
1/320s
f/10
ISO-100
55mm
Manual Mode 1/800s f/8 ISO-160 55mm
Manual Mode
1/800s
f/8
ISO-160
55mm
Auto Mode 1/250s f/10 ISO-100 20mm
Auto Mode
1/250s
f/10
ISO-100
20mm
Manual Mode 1/800s f/8 ISO-160 20mm
Manual Mode
1/800s
f/8
ISO-160
20mm
Auto Mode 1/30s f/4 ISO-640 18mm
Auto Mode
1/30s
f/4
ISO-640
18mm
Auto Mode 1/30s f/3.5 ISO-640 18mm Flash Off
Auto Mode
1/30s
f/3.5
ISO-640
18mm
Flash Off
Auto Mode 1/30s f/4 ISO-640 Flash On
Auto Mode
1/30s
f/4
ISO-640
18mm
Flash On
Auto Mode 1/60s f/3.5 ISO-1250 Flash On
Auto Mode
1/60s
f/3.5
ISO-1250
18mm
Flash On
Auto Mode 1/30s f/3.5 ISO-1250 Flash Off
Auto Mode
1/30s
f/3.5
ISO-1250
18mm
Flash Off

RAW:

Auto Mode 1/250s f/10 ISO-100 18mm
Auto Mode
1/250s
f/10
ISO-100
18mm
Manual Mode 1/800s f/8 ISO-160 18mm
Manual Mode
1/800s
f/8
ISO-160
18mm
Auto Mode 1/400s f/11 ISO-100 18mm
Auto Mode
1/400s
f/11
ISO-100
18mm
Auto Mode 1/125s f/7.1 ISO-100 18mm
Auto Mode
1/125s
f/7.1
ISO-100
18mm
Auto Mode 1/320s f/10 ISO-100 55mm
Auto Mode
1/320s
f/10
ISO-100
55mm
Manual Mode 1/800s f/8 ISO-160 55mm
Manual Mode
1/800s
f/8
ISO-160
55mm
Auto Mode 1/250s f/10 ISO-100 20mm
Auto Mode
1/250s
f/10
ISO-100
20mm
Manual Mode 1/800s f/8 ISO-160 20mm
Manual Mode
1/800s
f/8
ISO-160
20mm
Auto Mode 1/30s f/4 ISO-640 18mm
Auto Mode
1/30s
f/4
ISO-640
18mm
Auto Mode 1/30s f/3.5 ISO-640 18mm Flash Off
Auto Mode
1/30s
f/3.5
ISO-640
18mm
Flash Off
Auto Mode 1/30s f/4 ISO-640 18mm Flash On
Auto Mode
1/30s
f/4
ISO-640
18mm
Flash On
Auto Mode 1/60s f/3.5 ISO-1250 18mm Flash On
Auto Mode
1/60s
f/3.5
ISO-1250
18mm
Flash On
Auto Mode 1/30s f/3.5 ISO-1250 18mm Flash Off
Auto Mode
1/30s
f/3.5
ISO-1250
18mm
Flash Off

In conclusion, you can be very happy with the 70D’s Auto shots as well, but to use the camera to its full potential, you really should be using Manual mode and RAW. After all, the enhanced ergonomics are for those more serious about their photography than someone who’s just starting out.

Still Image Noise Levels

As far as noise level goes, the 70D does a marvelous job of managing it so that unless you zoom in at 100% crop, you don’t see much of the noise.

For the JPG files, the default in-camera Noise Reduction (NR) did very well so much so that most fine text was still visible even at ISO-5000, while the value was at ISO-2500 for RAW images (before any manual NR). Stay far away from anything above ISO-6400, though – fine detail is practically non-existent after that point.

However it is of note that the 70D produces cleaner images when the ISO is in multiples of 160, with the exception of ISO-1600 and ISO-3200. There is much more noise in the ISO-100/200/400 shots than there is in the 160/320/640 shots.

Have a look at both the JPG and RAW noise image samples which were shot at 18mm focal length, f/3.5 and various ISO and shutter speeds below.

2s ISO-100
2s
ISO-100
1.6s ISO-160
1.6s
ISO-160
1.3s ISO-200
1.3s
ISO-200
0.8s ISO-320
0.8s
ISO-320
0.6s ISO-400
0.6s
ISO-400
1/2s ISO-640
1/2s
ISO-640
1/3s ISO-800
1/3s
ISO-800
1/5s ISO-1250
1/5s
ISO-1250
1/6s ISO-1600
1/6s
ISO-1600
1/10s ISO-2500
1/10s
ISO-2500
1/13s ISO-3200
1/13s
ISO-3200
1/20s ISO-5000
1/20s
ISO-5000
1/25s ISO-6400
1/25s
ISO-6400
1/40s ISO-10, 000
1/40s
ISO-10, 000
1/50s ISO-12, 800
1/50s
ISO-12, 800
1/100s ISO-25, 600 (H)
1/100s
ISO-25, 600 (H)

Conclusion

The Canon EOS 70D is truly a worthy upgrade over a Rebel series camera, though anyone with a 50D or a 60D may not be entirely convinced to get one now as those two DSLRs were stellar in their time as well. The new features added such as the innovative dual-pixel AF, WiFi, and LCD touchscreen improve ease-of-use immensely all while continuing on the high level of image quality offered by the X0D series.

The detail offered by the 70D is at a fantastically high level, as can be seen in the shot below.

Before (left) and After (right) editing
Before (left) and After (right) editing

The photo (shot in RAW) had been originally exposed for the sunlight streaming in instead of the trees, leaving them dark and full of shadows. But a complete +100 lift of Shadows in Lightroom, alongside some other exposure/contrast tweaks resulted in the image on the right. The amount of detail that had been retained by the 70D was seriously impressive, and enabled me to give a new look to my photos.

As I’ve said earlier, the automatic systems on the 70D are perfectly fine, and will get you good images. However – on a technical level at least – if you want to take a step into a higher level, it screams at you to use it manual mode, and with RAW for that is where its forte lies in.

In conclusion, the Canon EOS 70D is a stellar camera for its price and the extremely high quality lens library that becomes accessible with it. For an enthusiast photographer who does a fair bit of videography on the side, the 70D is the camera to get – no questions asked.

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