Canon EOS 70D £1079.99

14th Nov 2013 | 14:36

Canon EOS 70D

Canon's most enthusiast-friendly APS-C SLR to date

TechRadar rating:

5 stars

Canon has produced a very well rounded camera for enthusiast photographers. It has all the specifications that we expect, along with a few modern niceties in a body that feels well made and comfortable in the hand.

Like:

Excellent image quality; Plenty of control over images; Responsive, articulated touchscreen; Wi-Fi built in for remote control; 19-AF points all cross-type

Dislike:

Creative Filters JPEG only; HDR mode JPEG only; Creative Filters live view only; Viewfinder level can be hard to see; Metering problems in high contrast

Introduction

The announcement of any Canon DSLR usually creates a lot of excitement, but when that camera launches a new sensor with a new pixel count (for the manufacturer) and is aimed at enthusiast photographers, it ups the ante considerably. So naturally there's been quite a buzz surrounding the new Canon EOS 70D, which has a 20.2 million-pixel CMOS sensor coupled with a Digic 5 processor.

As well as having a higher pixel count than Canon's other recent APS-C format sensors, the EOS 70D's sensor is a Dual Pixel CMOS device, which enables faster focusing during Live View and video mode. There are two photo diodes for every pixel site (strictly speaking pixels don't exist until an image is created) on the sensor, and each of them can read light independently to enable a form of phase detection autofocusing to be used to focus the lens.

Ratings in depth

Canon EOS 70D review
Canon EOS 70D review
Canon EOS 70D review
Canon EOS 70D review
Canon EOS 70D review

While the diodes are read separately for autofocusing, they are read together to form the image, and this means the Canon 70D creates 20.2 million pixel images.

Although every 'pixel' is a dual diode device, only the central 80% are used for auto focusing, because using the outer edges makes the system more prone to errors.

The Canon 70D also has a dedicated phase detection sensor for use when images are composed in the viewfinder. This has 19 AF points, all of which are cross-type, just like the Canon 7D's AF system. However, the two cameras' AF systems aren't identical, since the Canon 70D only has three AF point selection modes: Single point AF, Zone AF and 19-point Area AF.

Canon EOS 70D review

While the 60D has a maximum continuous shooting speed of 5.3fps, the 70D can shoot at up to 7fps at full resolution for up to 65 JPEGs or 16 raw files, which is useful when shooting sport and using the 60D's continuous focusing capability.

Sensitivity may be set in the native range of ISO 100-12,800 with an expansion setting allowing the equivalent of ISO 25,600. The top native setting, ISO 12,800 is an expansion setting on Canon's other enthusiast SLRs.

Canon was the first manufacturer to give a DSLR a touchscreen, and the 70D has a 3-inch 1,040,000 dot LCD that can be used to make settings adjustments and scroll through images. As with the Canon 700D, the manufacturer hasn't added the touchscreen functionality at the expense of buttons or dial controls, since the Canon 70D has all the physical controls that you'd hope for.

Further good news with the Canon 70D is that the LCD screen is on an articulating joint, and this makes it easy to view from a range of angles, whether shooting in landscape or portrait format.

Wi-Fi connectivity is fast becoming one of the must-have features for cameras, and the Canon 70D does not disappoint in this respect.

Canon EOS 70D review

While the ability to download images wirelessly may not be all that enticing, the possibility of controlling the camera remotely using Canon's free EOS remote app for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets is a real bonus for wildlife photographers.

Canon has also included a few features to enable more creative images to be captured with a Canon 70D - there's a built-in Speedlite transmitter, for example, which gives wireless control over multiple Canon Speedlite EX flashguns, a multi-exposure mode and an HDR mode that combines three images to create one with a greater range of tones.

There's also a collection of Creative Filters (Grainy B/W, Soft Focus, Fish-Eye effect, Art Bold effect, Water Painting effect, Toy Camera effect or Miniature effect) that can be used to give JPEGs a particular distinctive look when shooting in Live View mode.

Canon EOS 70D review

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While it's disappointing that these can't be used when shooting raw files simultaneously, or when using the viewfinder, they can be applied post-capture in review mode, so it's possible to retain a 'clean' image as well as one with the filter effect.

The Canon EOS 70D has a full price of £1,089 / US$1,199 / AU$1,499 body only, putting it well above the Canon 700D but at the same price point as the Nikon D7100.

Build and handling

Some photographers get a bit worked up about Canon's choice to use polycarbonate rather than metal for some of its camera bodies - including the Canon 70D' - but the new camera feels nice and solid and seals ensure that it should survive some exposure to the weather.

Not surprisingly there are no major changes to the overall shape and feel of the replacement to the Canon 60D. The buttons and dials are sensibly arranged and the deep grip has a textured coating that makes it feel secure in your hand.

Canon EOS 70D review

As with the Canon 700D and Canon 100D, the brand has opted to use capacitive technology for the Canon 70D's touchscreen, and this ensures that it's very responsive. We suspect that even those who don't intend to use the touchscreen will find that they do gradually, starting with swiping from image to image in review mode, perhaps progressing to pinch-zooming to check images' sharpness, and then eventually progressing to taking more control over the camera via the screen.

One downside to a touchscreen is that the screen inevitably gets covered in fingerprints, and this makes the image harder to see, especially in bright light. Nevertheless we found that the Canon 70D's screen provides a pretty decent view in most lighting conditions. Although they are often present when shooting outside, it doesn't suffer too much from reflections.

The touchscreen is particularly useful for quickly setting the AF point in Live View and Movie mode, It can also be used to set the AF point when shooting with the camera held to the eye, just press the AF point selection button and then tap the desire point on the screen (or use the navigation keys). However, you need to be careful that your nose doesn't pres the screen when the AF point options are displayed otherwise there's a good chance that you'll select the wrong AF point.

Canon EOS 70D review

Because the Canon 70D has a new, faster AF system in Live View mode, we think that users are far more likely to compose images on the LCD screen than they may have been in the past. But it's quite bulky compared with a compact system camera (CSC), and it doesn't feel totally natural to hold it away from your face to compose images on the screen.

However, it's very useful when shooting with the camera on a tripod or composing images at awkward angles - it's here that Touch-shutter mode comes into its own, since it enables you to set the AF point, focus the lens and trigger the shutter with a single touch on the screen.

No matter how good the LCD screen may be, there are times when it just seems more natural to compose an image in the viewfinder. It's much easier to follow a moving subject with the camera held to your eye, for example, than when it's held in front of you. Because it's a DSLR, the Canon EOS 70D has an optical viewfinder, and it's a nice bright unit. However, since it 'only' covers 98% of the frame (the 60D's covers 96%), you may still find the odd surprise around the edges of your images.

Canon EOS 70D review

One advantage that electronic viewfinders offer is the ability to display the image as it will be captured. Naturally as an optical finder the Canon 70D's viewfinder can't do this, but it does have an electronic overlay that displays key settings.

There are also three new icons at the top of the viewfinder that indicate the AF point selection mode. In the past we have found some of Canon's icons difficult to interpret, but these three make it clear which option has been selected.

It's also easy to change the mode, because Canon has introduced a new button just to the side of the shutter release. A single press activates the system, and subsequent presses toggle through the selection mode options. Alternatively, a single press of the new button followed by presses of the navigation keys selects the AF point to use. It's a great system.

Canon EOS 70D review

The viewfinder can also display an electronic level to indicate whether the camera is on an even keel or not. In the past, Canon has used the AF point display for its electronic level, but this has the disadvantage of switching off the minute the shutter release button is pressed.

While this level is still available, Canon has also given the 70D the option to display a new icon at the bottom of the viewfinder, and this remains visible even when the shutter release is pressed. It's a much better system, but it takes a little while to get used to how sensitive the level is. Because the level icon isn't illuminated, it's also quite hard to see when shooting dark subjects, or when shooting at night-time.

Performance

Although Canon's new Dual Pixel AF system is faster than its previous Live View AF systems, it isn't quite as fast as the contrast detection systems in Panasonic's recent G series compact system cameras such as the Panasonic G6 and Panasonic GX7, or Olympus's PEN range including the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 and Olympus PEN E-P5.

However, it's not that far off, and it's sufficiently fast for the camera to be used handheld when composing images on its screen - at least in normal daylight conditions. And it means that the articulating joint on the screen is much more useful.

When light levels fall, however, the focusing slows and a backwards and forwards adjustment becomes noticeable.

Canon EOS 70D review

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While the Canon 70D's Dual Pixel AF system may have grabbed many of the headlines, it's only used in Live View and Movie mode. When images are composed in the viewfinder, the 19-point AF system is on hand, along with manual focusing. This AF system uses all cross-type points for greater sensitivity, and it's excellent, very fast and accurate.

In comparison with the Nikon D7100's 51-AF point system, however, 19 points doesn't seem that impressive, but the centre of the frame is well covered. In comparison with the coverage that you get with the average compact system camera, it seems rather poor, because the points are clustered around the centre. This means that off-centre subjects require the focus and recompose technique, which is a common issue with DSLRs.

Canon has one of the best automatic white balance systems around, and on the whole it does a good job of capturing pleasant-looking colours that reflect the conditions without overly correcting for any particular light source.

Canon EOS 70D review

The images sometimes err on the side of warmth, but the results were generally very pleasant and better than cold, 100% accurate shots. That said, the Daylight white balance setting often produces slightly more pleasing results in early evening light or on bright sunny days.

In the Standard picture style the Canon 70D produces images with pleasantly saturated, natural colours. However, there's a trend towards more vibrant tones and stronger contrast these days, so some may prefer to boost the saturation and contrast in-camera using the available settings adjustments.

This can be done pre-capture in-camera or post-capture using the supplied Digital Photo Professional software. In addition, Picture Style Editor is supplied to enable Canon 70D users to create bespoke picture styles to use in their camera.

Canon EOS 70D review

There are no surprises with the Canon 70D's 63-zone iFCL metering system. It generally performs well, but because of the weighting that it gives to the brightness of the subject and that the active AF point, it is prone to over- or under-exposing in high contrast conditions.

This can be a real problem when shooting sunlit landscapes, because you need to be very careful about where you set the AF point. If it's positioned over a patch of pale grass in full sun, the chances are that the rest of the image will be underexposed, whereas positioning the active AF point over a shadow area will result in the majority of the image being over-exposed.

Many of the enthusiasts who make up the target market for the Canon 70D will be experienced enough to know how to deal with such an issue. But less experienced photographers may fall foul of the metering system. One way around the problem is to shoot in manual exposure mode, taking a spot meter reading (Partial, Spot and Centre weighted metering are available, in addition to Evaluative) from a mid-tone.

Canon EOS 70D review

Our tests show that the Canon 70D is capable of capturing plenty of detail. However, even at the lowest sensitivity settings there's a clear benefit to shooting raw files, since out of focus areas in JPEGs sometimes have a slightly watercolour appearance at 100% on-screen. In comparison, raw files look more natural.

Even images taken at ISO 100 have a slight texture visible at 100%, but chroma noise (coloured speckling) isn't a major issue throughout the native sensitivity range (ISO 100-12,800). As usual, however, in-camera noise reduction takes its toll on detail as sensitivity rises.

Raw files converted to TIFFs using the default settings in Digital Photo Professional look a little better than the JPEG files captured simultaneously, but we think it's best to turn down the noise reduction a little as the raw files are processed, to reveal a bit more detail.

That said, there's an impressive amount of detail visible in images captured at ISO 12,800, and although there's a fine-grained texture visible when images are sized to make A4 prints, it isn't objectionable. If light levels permit, however, we'd recommend keeping below ISO 6400 where possible.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Canon EOS 70D, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Canon 70D is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Canon EOS 70D review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 100, score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 3200, score: 20 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 6400, score: 18 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 12800, score: 18 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Raw

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 100, score: 28 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 200, score: 26 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 400, score: 26 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 800, score: 26 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 1600, score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 3200, score: 24 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 6400, score: 22 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 12800, score: 22 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Canon EOS 70D with the EOS 60D, the Nikon D7100 and the Pentax K-30.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Canon EOS 70D review

While the Pentax K-30 wins this particular battle it's worth noting that it has a significantly lower pixel count (16.3 million) than the other cameras in this group. The Canon 70D competes well against the other cameras up to about ISO 800 when noise levels increase and the signal to noise ratio dips.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Canon EOS 70D review

This graph indicates that apart form at the lowest sensitivity setting the Canon 70D has a lower signal to noise ratio than the 18MP Canon 60D, which indicates that images may be a little noisier.

JPEG dynamic range

EOS 70D review

Canon cameras tend to produce nice punchy images with a pleasant level of contrast straight from the camera which means that the dynamic range of their JPEGs is a little restricted. Nevertheless, the Canon 70D performs well here, only being beaten at the lowest sensitivity settings by the Nikon D7100.

Raw dynamic range

Canon EOS 70D review

Sample images

Canon EOS 70D review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The Grainy Black and White creative filter produces some nice results, whether it's used pre- or post-capture.

Canon EOS 70D review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Boosting the saturation and contrast of the Landscape picture style has worked well in this scene, captured as the sun burned off the early morning mist.

Canon EOS 70D review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The raw file conversion shows the results of the same picture as before, with the standard Landscape settings.

Canon EOS 70D review

Click here to see the full resolution image

This was converted to Grainy Black and White mode post-capture to emphasise the shadows.

Canon EOS 70D review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Colours look great straight out of the camera, and despite the bright sun and foreground, the Evaluative metering got this shot right itself.

Canon EOS 70D review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Both versions of this image look good, but the raw file looks more natural at 100% on-screen.

Canon EOS 70D review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Another example of the Evaluative metering getting the exposure bang-on when left to its own devices.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Canon 70D review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

EOS 70D review

ISO 100 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 200 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

EOS 70D review

ISO 400 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 800 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 1600 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 3200 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 6400 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 12800 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Raw

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 100 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 200 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 400 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 800 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 1600 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 3200 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 6400 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Canon EOS 70D review

ISO 12800 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Verdict

If Canon follows its usual pattern we can expect to see the Canon EOS 70D's 20.2 million-pixel Dual Pixel CMOS sensor appearing throughout the range. Many Canon users are likely to be satisfied with this pixel count, but newer photographers without any brand commitment may find themselves being drawn by the 24-million-pixel offerings from Nikon, such as the Nikon D7100 and Nikon D5200.

However, photography is about much more than pixel count, and the Canon 70D is a well-built and capable camera that produces excellent results with plenty of detail - especially in raw files.

Although you need to take care in high-contrast conditions, in many situations the 63-zone Evaluative metering system does a great job, delivering a perfectly exposed subject. The camera's images also have natural colours with pleasant saturation and contrast, but as ever, if it's not to your taste you can tweak the camera's settings to deliver what you want.

Combining the usual array of physical controls with a touchscreen makes the Canon 70D quick and easy to use. The screen is responsive and it provides a very clear view in all but very bright light, although it's a good idea to keep a lens cloth to hand to wipe off fingerprints.

Canon has made great strides with its Live View and Movie mode focusing system, and the Canon 70D's is the best yet. We found it silent with the new EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens mounted.

We have become used to sharing images immediately after capture with smartphones, so it seems like a logical step that we should be able to do this from our DSLRs. While the Canon 70D's Wi-Fi connectivity may not enable such direct image sharing as the Samsung Galaxy NX's, it's the next best thing. The Canon's EOS Remote app also affords extensive control over a camera via an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet, and it could prove a hit with wildlife photographers.

We liked

While some photographers remain skeptical about the benefits of a touchscreen, we would urge them to try one of the modern systems, because they are far more responsive than some of the first touchscreens that appeared on compact cameras.

As on the Canon 650D - the first DSLR to feature a touchscreen - and its replacement the Canon 700D, the manufacturer has backed up the touch controls with the usual array of physical buttons and dials. This means that you can choose how you wish to control the camera, perhaps using touch control for some aspects and physical controls for others.

We suspect that many users will start out using the physical controls, but gradually start using touch control more often. The touch navigation is particularly useful for changing settings via the Quick Menu, and for reviewing images, when you can swipe and pinch-to-zoom to check sharpness.

A vari-angle screen is really helpful when composing images at awkward angles, whether you're shooting landscape or portrait format images. However, to get the best from it you really need a fast autofocusing system, which is something we have seen implemented to great effect with the Panasonic G6 and Panasonic GH3. Canon's new Dual Pixel AF system promises to deliver this kind of performance in a DSLR, and it should help photographers to take more creative photographs.

We disliked

The Canon 70D's touchscreen provides a quick and easy way of navigating through menus and making selections, as well as reviewing and magnifying images, but it doesn't help with selecting the AF point when shooting through the viewfinder.

Because the Creative Filters can only be used when shooting JPEG images and not raw and JPEG, it's unlikely that many enthusiasts will use them. This is a shame, because they're fun and the Grainy Black and White, Art Bold, Toy Camera effect and Miniature effects produce some nice results that even if not used in the final image can trigger some creative thought on post-processing. The effects can be applied in-camera post capture, but they don't fire your creative thinking while you're shooting.

Since the Canon 70D has an optical viewfinder, the impact of the Creative Filters can't be displayed in it, but it seems a bit strange when they can't be used without Live View mode. After all, the picture styles, including Monochrome, can be used when composing images in the viewfinder, so why not the filters?

Initial verdict

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Canon has produced a very well rounded camera for enthusiast photographers. It has all the specifications that we expect, along with a few modern niceties in a body that feels well made and comfortable in the hand. It should be serious competition for the Nikon D7100.

The new Dual Pixel AF system for Live View and Movie mode is very impressive. In bright light it's fast and decisive, being quickest in still mode and smoothest in movie mode. In low light, however, there's often some of the backwards and forwards adjustment that is typical of contrast detection systems rather than phase detection.

All things considered, however, the Canon EOS 70D is a very desirable camera that is capable of producing superb results.

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