on August 30, 2013
This is going to be short, since I've not had the chance to do a whole lot of shooting as yet. Consider it a "just out of the box" impression. I already have a Canon 5D Mk III, and a number of L series lenses. I wanted a "backup camera" for video shooting, and I was intrigued by the new auto-focus system offered on the 70D.
So far, I'm extremely pleased with this camera. The 18-35 mm kit lens gives a lot of range, and I tested the camera out with my other lenses. The L series lenses work very well, and auto-focusing is fast, smooth, and doesn't search around much even in very low light. The camera is not as heavy as the 5D Mk III, but feels solid enough, and not all that different in the hands. Even with the 70-300mm f4-5.6L IS USM zoom - my heaviest lens at the moment - the camera feels surprisingly balanced.
The crop sensor obviously changes the effect of the lenses, but having a full sensor and a crop sensor both, it's like having 2 sets of lenses. My 70-300mm zoom now has an effective reach up to 480 mm (on the Canon 70D) due to the crop factor of 1.6. To me, this is kind of a bonus, though not in itself a reason to buy the camera. Smaller sized sensors result in an apparent increase in focal length, and a greater depth of field, but this is a generalization and each lens has its own properties that affect the image as well. Read the reviews of individual lenses when considering how each one reacts to different types of camera bodies.
The main thing to take note of is that while the Canon 70D will accept all the EF and EF-L lenses, it is designed to use the EF-S series lenses as well. In fact, the EF-S series lenses are custom tailored specifically for the Canon 70D and (as far as I know) other APS-C crop sensor cameras made by Canon. These lenses - and the kit lens is one of them - will not work on a full frame camera like the Canon 5D mkIII; the rear element extends back into the camera body in a way that makes it impossible to attach lenses of this series to full frame sensor cameras. Even if they could be attached, I suspect the captured image might suffer from serious vignetting and other problems.
For a thorough understanding of how the APS-C, full frame and other types of sensors interact with various lenses, I highly recommend doing some research on the web. There's a lot of good information out there, and this is a fairly involved subject that I don't even want to attempt to dive into here :)
One thing I couldn't figure out before having the camera in my possession deserves a mention. This is my first experience with a fold-out LCD screen on a DSLR, and I had no idea how the display would deal with flipping around 180 degrees. Would it be upside down? This was the first thing I tried, and the screen auto-flips when it is rotated. Maybe everyone else already knows this - but I didn't! Anyway, the fold-out display is a great feature, and it also folds face-in to protect the display when not in use.
The ability to touch various points on the LCD display while in Live View or shooting video, and shift focus while shooting is - to me at least - worth the price of admission. If Canon eventually updates the 7D and/or the 5D Mk III, this functionality would be most welcome!
Purely as a "gut reaction" - I really like the 70D immensely. And it seems a very good value for the price. This may actually become my preferred "walk-around camera, though time will tell.
EDIT - 10/22/2013: I've spent a lot more time with the camera now, so I can add to my earlier comments.
While I purchased the 70D mainly for shooting video, I recently used it to shoot bracketed exposures for HDR (high dynamic range) panoramas. A friend of mine had a nodal camera head (The "Ninja" head) which allowed for precise rotation of the camera to cover a full 360 degree field-of-view. The Canon 70D allows for up to 7 bracketed exposures via the AEB controls. The plates were shot in the RAW (CR2) format, using the kit lens, and stitched together using PTGui software.
After some initial trial runs, where we ironed out the kinks in the whole process, the results were exceptional. For those who may be wondering "why do you want a 32 bit HDR 360 panorama at 10k-16k resolution?" it is used to create realistic lighting and reflections in a 3D/CG software (i.e. Modo or Maya, for example). The 3D scene can be lit entirely by the 360 panoramic image, producing a very convincing result.
At any rate, the Canon 70D delivered terrific results doing something I didn't even foresee when I bought the camera. I will try and upload some of the tests (where the photographic panorama serves as both background and light-source) if I can figure out how to do so on the Amazon site.
EDIT - 11/9/2013: A note to anyone who intends to shoot green screen (for color keyed composites) or do precise color grading in post production: The video output from the 70D is not YCbCr 4:2:2 compression. This is not apparent to the naked eye when viewing the video footage, but it becomes an issue when attempting to work with the footage in a post environment. The firmware update for the Canon 5D addressed this problem by enabling 4:2:2 color output via the HDMI port to an external recording device (I use the Atomos Ninja 2 for this) but currently uncompressed "clean" HDMI is not enabled on the Canon 70D. I have my fingers crossed this will be dealt with in an update to the firmware.
This is not a huge issue unless you intend to do extensive manipulation of your video footage in post production, but it is something to consider with this camera and DSLRs in general. There are workarounds, of course, but that can entail a fair amount of time & effort, particularly when extracting color key mattes (masks) involving fine edge detail or areas of transparency.
That being said, the footage is nevertheless beautiful. And I suspect this technical point should not be an issue for most people considering buying the Canon 70D. The CR2 (camera raw) files are not at all affected by this, it's a factor limited to the HD video.
This camera is a vast upgrade from the 60D, combining the best features of that body, the T5i, 6D, and 7D, with superior movie motion tracking. It's a legitimate sports camera and the first DSLR I can recommend for amateur video without a caveat for slow autofocus. Mirrorless and hybrid bodies are still better at shooting stills from the rear LCD.
A short history follows. I've also compared the 7D II further down.
==== 50D /2008
9-point AF, all cross-points
6.3 fps, 16 raw
640 x 480 LCD
Flash sync socket
CF memory cards
==== 60D /2010
+ 1080p/720p/480p movies
+ Mono mic
+ 720 x 480 LCD
+ LCD articulates
+ Metering improved
+ White balance improved
+ Wireless flash control
+ HDR / MSNR / exposure merge
+ Raw conversion and filters on-camera
+ Movie crop zoom (7X, 480p)
+/- SD cards
+/- simplified button layout
-- 5.3 fps, 16 raw
-- no AF joystick
-- no AF micro-adjust
-- no flash sync socket
-- lesser build
==== 7D /2009
+ 19-point AF, all cross-points
+ 8 fps, 25+ raw
+ AF joystick
+ AF micro-adjust
+ Magnesium chassis
+ 100 % viewfinder
+ Flash sync port
+ Video sound level adjustment
+/- CF cards
-- 640 x 480 LCD
-- LCD won't articulate
-- Movie crop zoom
-- HDR / MSNR / exposure merge
==== 70D /2013
+ 20 MP, noise improved
+ 'Dual Pixel AF' in Live View
+ LCD articulates
+ LCD touchscreen
+ 720 x 480 LCD
+ Wifi built-in
+ Silent-shooting w/ viewfinder
+ Scene Intelligent Auto mode
+ Stereo mics
+ Video compression improved
+ Movie crop zoom (3X, 1080p)
+ HDR / MSNR / exposure merge
+/- SD cards
+ /- weather sealing
+/- simplified button layout
-- 7 fps, 16-23 raw
-- no AF joystick
-- no spot-AF or AF-point expansion
-- no flash sync port
-- lesser build
==== 7D II /2014
+ 65-point AF w/ color-based tracking
+ 10 fps, 31 raw
+ AF joystick
+ Superior metering
+ Shutter timing for pulsing lights
+ Bulb timer
+ Magnesium build
+ Weather sealing
+ 1080p/60 video
+ Adjustable Movie-servo tracking
+ Distortion correction w/ movies
-- LCD articulation
-- LCD touchscreen
Viewed from another angle, here's where we've seen the major features before:
* 20MP sensor
* Dual-Pixel AF
* 16-shot raw buffer, 60-shot jpeg buffer (60D)
* 19-point AF system (7D)
* Swivel LCD screen (60D)
* Touchscreen LCD (T5i)
* Simplified rear control layout (6D)
* Wifi (6D)
* AF micro-adjustment (7D)
* Stereo microphones (T5i)
* Silent shooting through the viewfinder (5D III)
* Movie crop zoom (T3i)
* IPB and ALL-I video compression (5D III)
* On-camera raw conversion, movie editing, and effects preview (T5i)
* Scene Intelligent Auto mode (T5i)
It's like a greatest-hits album; there's almost nothing from the parts bin that hasn't made an appearance.
HANDLING AND NEW FEATURES:
No surprise: it feels exactly like a 60D. Small compared to the 40D/50D/7D, but without the handling compromises you'd see moving to a T5i. General build is fine except for the mushy buttons. It isn't brickish like the 7D and the other two to a lesser extent. The difference shows up on the scale: this body mirrors the 60D and weighs 6 ounces less than the 7D, splitting the difference between that and a T5i. Good for travel, though lens weight tends to dictate the DSLR experience at this level.
Canon has rejiggered the button layout to match the 6D. A new button near the shutter changes AF modes. Five buttons have switched functions relative to the 60D. Menu adjustments are faster because you can use both thumbs. If you're shooting multiple bodies, the 70D pairs best with a 6D, and the 7D with the 5D III. Earlier bodies require more acclimation.
Coming from the 40D/50D/7D, I'm not keen on the rear dial and D-pad. The dial works, it's just small. The D-pad, though, is at least an inch from the AF-on button. If you're using it for direct AF point selection and the AF-on button to AF, you'll wear out your thumb in a hurry. The 40D/50D/7D/7D II all have a separate hat-switch in a more ergonomic position. That aside, there's the question of weather-sealing. Regardless of what Canon says, pretend it's a sieve if you're in more than a drizzle. The 'it got wet' repair isn't cheap and the kit lenses aren't sealed.
The big addition for the 70D is the touchscreen. The implementation is straight from the T5i: if you can adjust a setting with the physical UI, you can adjust it by touch. This significantly lowers the EOS learning curve. The touchscreen is capacitive and almost as responsive as a modern smartphone, unless you're wearing non-conductive gloves.
How does touch change things in practice? If you're a novice, it makes things accessible. Press the Q button to pull up all the major camera functions and tap to adjust. If you're more advanced, it simplifies Live View autofocus. You don't have to place focus points on your subject or pan a focus box with the D-pad. Just tap. It's so much faster. This yields huge dividends when coupled with LCD articulation for off-angle shooting (of high or low objects), studio shooting from a tripod, and most especially with movies, where you have no time for adjustments and don't want to shake the camera by mashing buttons. Picture review also benefits. Phone gestures (e.g., pinch zoom, swiping) make checking focus vastly quicker and more flexible than on any other non-touch EOS camera.
Wifi is also new. I didn't care much for it on the 6D, but it's growing on me for one reason: I can get a live feed to my phone with AF control. That's a big deal. You've always been able to remotely trigger EOS bodies with radio transmitters, but you can't preview the shot, change settings, or move the AF point. Third-party software will do all that, but only with a cable. It's always been an either-or thing. Now you can have both with a free Canon app that'll work with Android or iOS.
Wireless control opens a lot of creative possibilities. Put the camera on a bear path or strap it to your car. Make it a flexible second-shooter at a wedding or behind a hockey net. Take a selfie or a group shot without prefocusing or hoping there's contrast in front of an AF point. Move pictures to the phone, process in Instagram, and upload to Flickr. Shoot in one room and have an assistant sort pictures in another on a different floor.
It's very cool, but with limitations. You can't take or send movies when Wifi is on (and the setting won't change automatically, you'll probably end up binding it to your custom menu), the app has only bare-bones functionality, live preview is sluggish, and a transfer rate of 2 MB/s makes it impractical to move 25 MB raw files. You wouldn't do any better with an Eye-Fi card; the X2 version is about half as fast.
Because it combines a touchscreen with most of the hardware controls from Canon's professional bodies, this body leaves a lot of room to grow. It won't be intimidating for long if you're coming from a Rebel.
Like all DSLRs that can display a live feed to the rear LCD, the 70D has multiple autofocus systems. The primary is for stills shot through the viewfinder. The other is for stills or movies composed from the rear LCD.
The AF array for viewfinder shooting is a 19-point system pulled from the 7D. It covers the same area as the 9-point array from the 40/50/60D/T5i/T4i, but the hit-rate in AI-Servo (Canon's motion-tracking mode) with fast or unpredictable movement improves by at least half. That applies to the full grid and, to a lesser extent, the center point alone. The older system was already a third better than the one in the T2i/T3i/SL1. Thanks to the dense AF grid, the 70D is much less likely to miss during full-grid shooting for lack of having a point on contrast.
While it's definitely an upgrade over the 60D, there are few caveats to this system relative to the 7D:
First, it has only three of the 7D's five AF modes: Full Auto (19 point), Zone AF (5 zones), and Single-Point (1 point). It's missing Spot AF (1 point, reduced size) and AF Point Expansion (1 point, reverts to local outer points if necessary). Will you miss them? Maybe. Spot AF makes it easy to hit a very small target with a fast lens, like an eye instead of an eyebrow. AF Point Expansion is great for motion when you want to use a specific AF point, but with a fallback so the camera won't give up if that point misses.
Zone AF isn't a perfect substitute. It groups points into areas that you can select, but the point chosen within each area is always the one over the closest subject. If your subject is surrounded by other viable closer subjects, that may cause a miss noticeable with a fast lens.
Second, there's more button-pressing than with the 40D/50D/60D for single-point shooters. The earlier bodies can directly select the outer AF points (where eyes typically end up in portraits) with one thumb movement. This 70D can't because the rocker only goes 8 ways (plus a center button) for 19 points. There's no custom function to ignore middle points. Zone AF gives the same economy of thumb movement, but without the same precision from each zone.
Third, certain older lenses may be more consistent with the 60D system. I've had trouble in the past with false focus confirmations on a 7D paired with a 50/1.4 and 50/1.8. The 70D hasn't hinted at that issue so far. Still, whatever you buy, give it a controlled bench test before you trust it in the field. Even four-digit gear has quality control variation.
Three other narrow points of note: like the 7D, this body has AF microadjustment, an AF offset intended to tune out manufacturing variability in lenses and bodies. Third-party, wide-aperture, and telephoto lenses benefit most. Less so lenses with older AF mechanisms (e.g., 50/1.8, 50/1.4) and those that misfocus variably at different distances or lighting.
In aggregate, I'm pleased with what I've seen so far. Full-grid automatic AF and AI-Servo on the 60D and before were not ideal. The focus points were too far apart, the selection method was not predictable, and AI Servo was not consistent with static subjects. In response, I used One Shot with single-point selection for most subjects. This 70D is actually usable in full-auto. I find myself in full-auto or Zone AF with AI Servo about half the time shooting f/2.8 or above, so I'm not as disappointed about the loss of the other two AF modes as I could be.
LIVE VIEW AUTOFOCUS:
The 70D's Live View AF is a revolutionary feature, so let's start with deep background. Skip the next three paragraphs if you're already familiar.
Live View focusing has always been a challenge for true DSLRs. Absent a translucent light-robbing mirror, you can't get a live feed to the rear LCD without disabling the main phase-detect AF array. In the past, that left you with focus from whatever the camera could divine from image data, the same 'contrast-detect' AF used in point-and-shoot cameras, mirrorless bodies, and phones. But unlike phase-detect, the camera doesn't know which direction or how far to focus. So it guesses. And hunts.
Fine for still subjects and small sensors if it's done right. Not so much a DSLR; Canon's implementation in every body before the T4i was nigh unusable with any moving subject. The T4i sensor improved with a couple of phase-detect pixels in the middle of the sensor. The SL1 expanded that system to 65% frame coverage, which made it Canon's best hands-off movie DSLR.
But the SL1 is hardly perfect even within the phase-detect AF area. It's usable with subjects that don't move toward or away from the camera too quickly (about a third as fast as the main phase-detect AF array could track), but it still gets confused, it's not brilliant in low-light, and there's a subtle back-and-forth focus-racking when it settles on a subject and when tracking anything.
Enter the 70D. Canon's made every pixel over the same area capable of phase-detect with a technique they call 'Dual Pixel AF.' And they've done it without any obvious effect on image quality, while ditching contrast-detect entirely for most lenses. Extraordinary, this.
What performance can you expect relative to the SL1 and the main phase-detect array?
(+) In Movie Servo mode, it responds almost instantly to scene changes. Focusing on static objects in general is very quick, although a few mirrorless bodies are even faster. Enabling face detection adds a slight delay, and more if there's no face in the scene.
(+) Different lenses change focus at different speeds. None of them seem to run at maximum speed. The change algorithm is tuned for pleasing transitions.
(+) There's no focus-racking when focus stops. All mirrorless bodies still do this in low light and most in bright light.
(+) It keeps subjects that move at one speed in focus instead of repeatedly snapping in and out of focus. Here again, some mirrorless bodies can track things even faster, but the object won't actually be in focus for as long. With the kit lenses in good light, it'll hold focus on a subject moving directly at the camera from close range at 7-10 MPH. Indoors in low light, closer to 3-5 MPH. Movement can be much faster if it's far away or tangent to the camera.
(+) Focus accuracy is very high. AF-M does not, and need not, apply here.
(+) USM lenses work as fast as STM, though USM may be audible on the audio track in quiet settings. STM lenses are capable of smoother transitions.
(+) It works down to EV 0, half the light of the SL1 and almost even with the main array. Almost candlelight.
(+) Face-tracking is effective even with conventional indoor household lighting.
(+/-) It works with lenses as slow as f/11, a full stop ahead of the SL1 and two ahead of the main array. Not Canon teleconverters, however. A third-party TC that doesn't report the aperture? Maybe.
(-) The main array is still more responsive with erratic movement.
(-) A few lenses don't work with it. The ones that matter are: 14/2.8L MK1, 24/1.4L MK1, 16-35/2.8L MK1, 28-70/2.8L, and 80-200/2.8L.
(-) Contrast-detect is the fallback for unsupported lenses, Movie Crop Zoom, and some teleconverters.
It's just incredibly confident. The subject was out of focus. Now it's in focus. If you choose your own AF points, it looks like a professional focus-pull. The only difference is that you can't (as yet) control the transition pace. (The 7D II has this feature.) That may well become an update down the road, and I'm sure Canon will improve speed and predictive ability in future generations. A version of this system may eventually even obviate the main array. But for now, it's good enough. Great, even. Finally.
Image quality is very good. There's about a half-stop less noise in JPEG and raw relative to the 18MP bodies and less low-frequency blotchiness at high ISOs. JPEG noise processing has improved. Colors are preserved better at high ISOs. I'd run this body to ISO 6400ish for full-res shots. The 6D is two solid stops ahead if low-light is your highest priority.
Dynamic range is about the same, though you can add a stop back to the highlights with Highlight Tone Priority. I use that feature constantly in daylight; it's worth the noise to keep the whites intact. Nikon leads here with the D5200 and D7100. Those two also have slightly more detail from their 24 MP sensors, similar high-ISO noise, and less shadow noise at low ISO. Color noise in deep shadows is still there with the 70D, so you can't be as aggressive boosting low tones in post.
That aside, a deep 16-23 frame raw buffer, 7 FPS (6.7-7.5 in raw), and the 7D's AF system make this a legitimate sports camera. It wasn't so long ago that Canon's 1D series capped out at 8 FPS. Stills shooting with Live View is a different story, though. You can still bang out frames at full speed, but you won't be able to see or track anything. The live feed doesn't come back until a few seconds after you've released the shutter button. Focus is fixed from the first frame. Better mirrorless bodies show intermediate frames and continue to focus, but that's partly out of necessity. I don't rely on Live View for scenarios that need quick feedback.
If this is your first foray into DSLR video, you'll be impressed. The right lenses give creamy backgrounds and professional-looking subject isolation, often with the subject you actually intended. Such are the benefits of that trick AF system. But don't expect the stills-centric interface to feel quite as natural as that of a purpose-built video camera.
The 70D's feature set borrows a few things from the 5D III: 1080p/30, 720p/60, 480p/30, Time Code support, and a choice of IPB and ALL-I compression. Missing are the 5D III's headphone jack, uncompressed HDMI video, live audio gain control, and both Av and Tv modes (M is still available). We might eventually see one or all of these arrive via Magic Lantern's inevitable piggyback firmware. New to the 70D is onboard stereo sound. It has an ambiance that the mono mics from the 60D and 7D can't match, but like every onboard setup, it picks up camera and lens noise in quiet environments. There's a jack for an external mic. Maximum recording time is a half-hour. Battery life is 1-2 hrs depending on temperature, AF use, and lens stabilization, though you can double it with the battery grip.
Image quality is Canon's status quo despite the new compression. Color and contrast are strong by default. Resolution hasn't changed: it's somewhat soft at 1080p, but in a way that's only apparent with high-detail scenics or when shown back-to-back with Panasonic's GH3 or a video-only body like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Moiré control (of false coloring and interference patterns on subjects with repeating fine detail) is decent. Better than the 6D, short of the 5D III. You'll still see some edge-crawling with horizontal features. Noise is subtle enough until about ISO 800.
A key returning feature is Movie Digital Zoom. It's a menu option last available with the T3i that lets you zoom from 3X to 10X in 1080p mode. The higher zoom levels aren't that interesting, but 3X mode has 1:1 pixel mapping, so you lose very little quality. It's effectively a free teleconverter without the light loss. In 35mm terms, it turns your kit 18-135 into 600mm on the long end. Two caveats: it only works with contrast-detect AF and it can't be enabled while recording is in progress. Macro shooting and the sort of fixed composition and focus shots common to professional productions benefit most.
Like the 7D and 60D before it, the sole on-camera editing controls trim the beginning and end of the clip. Achieving that on a computer takes surprising effort. If you're not post-processing, shoot in IPB, trim the footage in-camera, copy it to your system, and use Handbrake or AVS Video Converter to bring it down to a size suitable for Youtube or Vimeo. IPB doesn't hold up to major changes in colors or tone curve in post; choose ALL-I for a more serious production.
What are we missing? Mostly out-of-the-box thinking. Given what Magic Lantern has added to the 5D III (raw video, HDR video, a thousand other features) solely through reverse-engineering, one wonders where Canon might have gone. Even the more prosaic 1080p/60 and a less indifferent downsampling algorithm would have been appreciated. Still, I've a greater appreciation for what's already there now that it's actually in focus.
Both kit lenses are excellent. The 18-135 STM is much improved over the USM version that came with the 60D and earlier kit choices like the 28-135 USM. Strong points include a smooth zoom action, no zoom creep, and nearly inaudible focus and stabilization. It's a little heavy and bulky compared to the 18-55 STM, but I'd still favor the longer zoom range. There's no image-quality benefit to the shorter lens.
Some thoughts on future additions:
* Primes are often lighter, smaller, cheaper, available in wider apertures, optically better, and subject to less less manufacturing variation. They're less convenient, less versatile, updated less often, and can cause you to miss shots in fast-paced shooting environments.
* An f/2.8 lens on this body is just fast enough for most indoor use without flash. You'll want a flash for anything slower. A flash can provide more even, pleasing pictures, at the expense of a bulkier, attention-attracting rig.
* Third-party lenses tend to have less initial cost, better warranties, and more aggressive designs. AF and optical performance is often (but not always) inferior to OEM lenses, quality control and service can be less consistent, and resale values are lower. Value varies by lens model. Some are better than the OEM equivalents (e.g., Tamron 70-300 VC, Sigma 35/1.4). Some fill holes in the OEM lineup (e.g., Sigma 50-150/2.8 OS, 8-16/4-5.6, 30/1.4, 18-35/1.8). And some are lesser substitutes, but still competitive (e.g., Sigma 10-20/4-5.6).
Try Canon's 50/1.8 if you're looking for an economical leap in subject isolation relative to the kit lenses.
Video chews through storage space. A 32GB SD card is good for about 45 minutes with ALL-I compression and two hours with IPB. 8GB and 16GB cards are plenty for stills. Size aside, interface responsiveness isn't much affected by card speed. Faster cards have three advantages: they can shoot longer high-speed raw bursts (up to 22-23), clear the picture buffer more quickly, and record video at the highest quality without risking a speed warning.
In one-shot mode, this difference is invisible; very fast cards would only make sense if you were time-limited on card-to-computer transfers with a USB 3.0, SATA, or Firewire card reader. Consider also that this camera caps out at about 50 MB/s internally. There is zero difference between SanDisk's Extreme, Extreme Plus, and Extreme Pro in any metric.
This is the most significant DSLR Canon has introduced since the 7D. It's the first one I've reviewed without some major caveat. And that's unusual. Canon doesn't often make game-changing cameras. They do what they did with the 30D, T3i, T5i, and 6D: make incremental improvements and leave a lot on the table. That's not what happened here, and so much the better.
The 70D is significant because it has most of the 7D's AF unit, which is serious business because Canon differentiates cameras with AF performance. It's significant because Canon has licked the movie AF problem that stopped me from ever recommending a DSLR to normal people for movies, while leapfrogging even Sony's pellicle-mirror DSLR-alikes, a former class leader. And it's significant because it combines these upgrades with a physical and touch UI that makes them accessible to a broad cross-section of users.
But should you buy one? Maybe. Like every new DSLR, it's expensive, and the old ones depreciate like dairy products. There's no question the major upgrades are in Live View. If you're all about stills through the viewfinder, plenty of bodies from the 40D onward could satisfice. But for videos with moving subjects, this is the zero square. There's nothing from Canon behind it. If I had $700 to buy a movie DSLR that would fit into a small bag, I'd save another $500 and buy a bigger bag rather than take the SL1 over the 70D.
vs. 7D - New at $1500, the 7D's a nonstarter. Used at $750 and with the enhancements from firmware 2.0, it's a bargain for viewfinder stills if you don't need silent shooting. It's faster, more usable, more configurable, and built like rocks. It's also short an articulating touchscreen and completely inept in movies without manual focus, but focus peaking in Magic Lantern makes that easier.
vs. 7D II - This is a 1D X with a crop sensor. If the AF system pans out, it will be the best action crop camera in history. A lot of little things (e.g., the automatic shutter timing to catch the bright point of pulsing lights) will have enormous impact for some people. If you frequently shoot in arenas, that single feature will double or triple your hit-rate.
At retail, though, the 7D II costs about 60% more than the 70D, which is itself an exceedingly capable action camera. Very few people will benefit from the additional ability. If you can read that 7D II spec list in my intro and see the advantage of each "+" in your shooting, you want the 7D II. If it's just a list to you, you don't. Spend the difference on a nice lens.
vs. 60D - New, it's barely half the price of this 70D. Viewfinder focus is pretty decent, the framerate is high enough if you're not relying on your pictures for dinner, and it has the same nifty articulating LCD less the touchscreen. A fine camera. I'd buy that used 7D first without a second thought.
vs. T5i - At $750, this camera is $150 more than the 60D. It has the awkward honor of being a consumer-class device that's harder to use in movie mode than the semi-pro 70D. That accompanies a lesser build, lesser physical UI, very small raw buffer, no Wifi, no AF-M, no top LCD, no movie zoom, and the 60D's older phase-array AF. To me, the step down is not worth $450.
vs. 6D - This full-frame body has appeared for $1500 in some places. It has far better noise control in low light: almost two full stops on the 70D, with a very sensitive center AF point to match. Physical size and layout are similar, but framerate and motion tracking with the main phase array are way behind, as is Live View AF. No LCD tilt or touch. Full-frame lenses cost half again more. The 70D is a better choice for most people, but weigh the 6D if you shoot methodically and care most about subject isolation and low-light performance.
vs. Nikon D7100 - Stills have more detail and dynamic range and respond better to post-processing. The main AF array is better than the 70D's and more configurable, but offset by a 6-frame raw buffer. No LCD tilt or touch. No Wifi. Dual SD cards. AF assist lamp. Intervalometer. The physical UI is better, though the menu UI is less polished, as are some software features. Video can be uncompressed over HDMI and 1080i/60, but motion AF is Rebel T5i-caliber. On the system side, Canon has better service and cheaper lenses in some categories. Stills would have to be a much higher priority than movies to favor this over the 70D.
Post if you have any questions -- I'll answer them.
The 70D packs cutting edge technology and features into a compact body. It's basically a marriage of 60D form factor and 7D AF. Toss in Wi-Fi, a new 20.2MP Dual Pixel CMOS, Movie Servo and that's the 70D in a nutshell.
CONSTRUCTION is superb: polycarbonate body shell, matte black paint and stainless steel undercarriage. Thick textured rubber and finger groove make for a secure grip. The shutter has the same metallic click-clack as the 60D and is louder than the 7D and 6D. Silent drive mode can fade operation to pianissimo, making it ideal for ceremonies.
Like the 60D, the 70D has a vivid 3.0" 1,040,000 dot LCD. The big deal is the addition of a touch screen: sensitivity is better than my iPhone 5s and ideal for LiveView shooting in dim light. The swivel LCD is handy for video and ground level macro. However, it hits L-plates and flash brackets when swiveled to the side.
CONTROLS: DSLRs are about control and nobody buys one to use in full auto. Don't like the results of auto exposure or AF? No problem: override or directly control. Plus, controls and features may be customized, allowing multiple ways to do the same thing. For example, I assigned electronic level activation to the DOF button and programmed C mode with my favorite drive, AF and exposure settings.
Buttons and wheels are solid and can be operated by feel while looking through the viewfinder. Unlike the 50D or 7D, the 70D lacks a joystick, flash exposure compensation (FEC) button and WB button. However, you can assign FEC to the SET button and a scale appears in the viewfinder. Finally, the 7D's toggle switch for LiveView and video migrated to the 70D, a big improvement over the 60D's clumsy Mode dial video.
AUTOFOCUS: The 70D inherited the 7D's blazing fast 19-point cross type AF array. It's sensitive and sure-footed in most light and includes three of the 7D's five AF modes: zone, manual selection and 19-point auto. Spot and expanded point AF are MIA. Nevertheless, a big step up from 9-point 60D AF. New DSLR users should understand these three AF modes aren't designed to recognize human faces like a point-and-shoot or iPhone. However, face recognition AF is available in LiveView and video modes.
TESTING AF: Using single point AF mode and a tripod, I shot test patterns both flat and inclined with my 15-85 IS USM and 50 2.5 CM. AF was extremely accurate, locking consistently on the point I selected on an inclined ruler. In real world use--landscapes, portraits, stage and travel--the AF system was surefooted and fast, besting my 7D with a nearly 100% keeper rate. This is the best AF system I have used, and I've owned dozens of cameras. My most important advice: take control of AF and select what you want to be in focus. Cameras aren't smart enough to know if you want a tree or cloud in focus, so avoid 19-point auto select mode and full auto. If you expect this camera to guess what you want you'll be disappointed.
UPDATE 08/10/2014. I tested my EF 10-22 3.5-4.5 USM and focus was spot on. My EF 70-200 4L IS USM was a little off: contrast focus in LiveView was perfect but the 19-point array needed +3 micro adjustment at the wide end and +2 at the long end. Now it's tack sharp. It's fine at default (MA 0) on my 7D and 6D. However, glad MA was included on this model! I had to mail my 20D to Canon for focus calibration.
IMAGE QUALITY is similar to the 60D from ISO 100 to 800, i.e., great! I developed RAW images in DPP and was pleased with detail, color rendition and noise control. At ISO 1600 plus the 70D pulls away from the 60D: less noise and the noise it has is less prone to banding artifacts and more grain-like. Also, noise is easier to control with noise reduction plug-ins, e.g., Topaz Denoise, squeezing out another stop of acceptable high ISO over my 60D. Basically ISO 6400 is acceptable for web or small prints, e.g., 11x14, with mild noise reduction treatment in PP.
VIDEO: Contrast detection AF during video or LiveView is a mammoth improvement over previous DSLRs. It's much faster, includes a camcorder-like movie servo mode and focus-pulls are a snap with the touch screen. However, focus is poky compared to 19-point AF and my Olympus Pen E-P5. For dim light, e.g., city lights or moonlit landscapes, you'll want to stick to 19-point AF. That said, the improved contrast detection AF is a great feature, especially for holiday video shooters! If you disable face recognition AF speeds up considerably.
Built-in stereo audio is okay for casual clips but is noisy, bass deficient and compressed. I use outboard audio and mics for serious shoots.
The file size limit of 4GB (FAT spec) means older EOS stop recording midway in a long track! The 70D solves this gotcha by automatically and seamlessly splitting files greater than 4GB for extended video recording! Plus, HD video quality is excellent: blacker blacks and cleaner in low light than my 60D and 7D. Search YouTube for videos of my ensemble, Leeward Coast Guitars, shot during Spring and Fall 2014 (outboard audio used).
WI-FI: Via the EOS Remote app you can diddle settings, fire shutter, and use LiveView on your iPhone, iPad, Droid or computer. Wi-Fi eats batteries fast, so carry spares. My main complaint is Wi-Fi is complicated to set up. Also, you can't upload directly to FB or photo sharing sites but, instead, upload to Canon's awkward photo service and transfer from there. But at least Canon wants your uploads to look good and provides in-camera tweaks and RAW conversion.
VIEWFINDER: The 98% coverage and .95x magnification are less than the 100% coverage and 1.0x of the 7D. However, viewfinder clarity and brightness are a level above the 60D and 7D and a couple levels better than a recent Rebel. Even with a F4 zoom the viewfinder is a pleasure to use: bright, grainless, smooth and vivid. The transmissive LCD display--transparent LCD over the focusing screen--can display icons, AF patterns, metering patterns, grid and plain matte screens and an electronic level.
FLASH: The popup flash is fine for fill and snapshots, and functions as a wireless E-TTL master. My 430EX II worked well as a slave bounced off walls and ceilings. Both bounce and direct flash images were well exposed. This is one of the few cameras I rarely need to touch FEC.
FINAL BURB: The 70D is a petite, nimble and capable instrument, and a significant upgrade over the 60D. Plus, it's easy on the shoulder, nails focus in most situations, captures impressive images and video and is an ideal travel and hiking DSLR.