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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.