Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Canon 70D-First Impressions

Canon 70D with 300mm f2.8 IS
I purchased my first DSLR back in 2003,when most were still shooting film and digital photography was just beginning its' rapid rise to the forefront.  That camera was a Canon 10D,  a 6.3 megapixel camera, which if I recall correctly had an ISO range of 100-1600.  I stuck with this range of camera for several years, but I didn't buy each model that came out.  I passed on the 20D and 50D, but used both the 30D and 40D extensively.  Canon changed things with the introduction of the 7D in 2009.  This camera had a more professional feel and features than the 50D. With the advent of the 60D it became clear that Canon had in effect replaced the 10D-50D type camera with two different types--a higher end one (the 7D) and one that didn't have as many features or quite the professional feel, but was a distinct notch above the Rebel line in this aspect.  With that being said, the 60D was and is a great APS-C sensor camera.  Perhaps the greatest loss was micro-adjustment which was introduced in the 50D, included in the 7D, but not in the 60D.

In 2011 my main camera was the 7D, which was usually mounted on one of the big telephotos with the 40D being used with the 70-200mm, etc. so that one could cover a variety of situations without changing lenses. Since I am primarily a video shooter, in the spring I decided to replace the 40D  with another Canon that shot video.  A flip-out LCD is a decided plus for video so I was going to get a 60D, but then I found that the recently introduced T3i (600D) had a 3x crop mode that made extreme long range wildlife video recording possible. Since Canon had discontinued the XL-H1 type of camcorder that excelled at this, I was on the lookout for a technology that would give me the long range ability so there was no difficulty in selecting the T3i over the 60D.  The 60D is a more solid feeling camera and I prefer it for still photography, but since video was to be my primary use, there was no regrets.

I thought that Canon would improve on the 3xcrop or 3x-10x digital zoom principle and incorporate it in most if not all future models, but I was disappointed to find it was not in the 5D MK III or either of the two Rebel models that followed, the T4i and the T5i. Although they did introduce auto focus in the T4i this was not of interest to me without the 3X crop mode.

I got the 5D MK III in May of 2012 with its' primaryuse to be as a still camera. I found it had the best video quality of any of the Canon DSLRs I had tried so far, but it was sadly lacking in reach for long range work on whitetail deer, birds, etc.  In the meantime I had read many positive reviews of the Panasonic GH2, which was reported to have better video quality than the 7D, 60D, and the Canon Rebels.  I found this to be the case and used a GH2 for  long range video work from July 2012 until late  January of 2013 when I got the Panasonic GH3.  This camera  had even better quality than the GH2.  Another plus for the Panasonics is that they have decent autofocus in video mode when lenses such as the 14-140mm Lumix or 100-300mm Lumix are used. With that being said, I am not sure they have better video quality than the 5D MK III. They are a definite cut above the other Canon models we have mentioned in this respect; however.   but in my opinion the Canons win hands down as  better choices for still photography..

Canon 70D Equipped For Video With Canon70-200mm IS II L and Rode VideoMic Pro
 It was certain that I would try a 70D at some point when it was announced that it had "advanced movie digital zoom". This turned out to be a 3X-10X digital zoom like that on the T3i, although with the T3i they played up the term, "3X crop mode"instead.  Digital zoom has always left a bad taste in my mouth in traditional camcorders, etc., but this is somewhat different as at least on the T3i at 3x it is supposedly reading the central portion of the sensor to record a full HD 1920X1080  video file.  I am told that in actuality it is not quite full HD and is upscaled a bit, but it is still close enough that it does give very  acceptable video.  Based on limited experience comparing the two cameras so far it seems that the 70D digital zoom is the same as that in the T3i and is very usuable at 3X so it is likely actually the 3X crop at that point. On both cameras once you go past 3X you are into the same negative that has always existed with true digital zoom in that you are enlarging pixels and the image rapidly downgrades as the power is increased so I do not think it is usable for serious work past 3X. I do think the 70D  video quality is a bit better than that of the T3i, but there is not a tremendous difference at the lower ISOs. It seems like it gives significantly better performance at the higher ISO settings, but I am not certain of this yet. I will post no video clips today, but hope to do so after I do more testing.

70D Back View-Note 3.0"vari-angle LCD, video mode selector around record button
Perhaps the biggest news about the camera is the use of a  "revolutionary autofocus technology that unlocks the potential of Live View: Dual Pixel CMOS AF. This game-changing technology allows the EOS 70D to capture video in Live View with smooth and precise autofocus similar to that of a camcorder, complete with the superb image quality that is a hallmark of EOS cameras. Additionally, Dual Pixel CMOS AF provides fast and accurate autofocus during Live View still image capture, enabling you to fully benefit from the freedom of angle allowed by the Vari-angle Touch Screen 3.0-inch Clear View LCD monitor II. Compositional options are now nearly limitless with the two real-world choices of Live View and viewfinder shooting" as Canon describes it on the Canon USA Website. 

Whitetail Doe: Autofocus In Live View- Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @200mm-ISO 100-1/320sec. f 5.0

In my limited experience it does seem that they have taken the use of live view for still photography to a new level.  Gone are the days of lengthy hunting for focus in live view mode.  I like to shoot video with the camera on a tripod and about waist level or slightly above with the LCD tilted for easy viewing in that position.  Now taking stills is as simple as switching from video mode to your favorite still mode and pressing the release button.  Focus is rapid and accurate.  You could actually remain in video mode and capture the still for even less hassle, but I use different the Standard picture profile for stills and Neutral profile for video so I do like to change the mode button if possible.  In addition the camera focuses very well in video mode and compares favorably to the Panasonic cameras.  It will take more use to develop a final opinion.  One minus is that the Canon cannot use the new autofocus technology in the digital zoom mode but reverts to the old method, which will not track motion. Regardless of this, it still seems to focus reasonably well and will remain on the subject without hunting about until one presses the shutter release to refocus it. Once  focus is set you can press the movie button (it will not cause the camera to refocus ) and you can film in good focus until the subject moves and then you can either stop the camera and press the shutter button to auto focus or you can try to adjust focus manually while the camera is running, which seems to work reasonably  well.

While autofocus in video mode brings a significant gain in ease of use it does create problems with getting good sound.  Only Canon STM lenses are silent focusing.  At this point only a few are made and none are large telephotos or L lenses, so the vast majority of Canon lenses make a noise while focusing that is easily picked up by the internal mike or shotgun mikes mounted in the accessory shoe.  To date I have tried the camera with the 70-200mm f2.8 II L, 24-105mmf4L, and the 500mmf4 IS L. The 70-200mm is the quietest with the 24-105mm running a close second.  The 500mm f4 is very noisy, but still focuses quite well.  The bottom line is one needs to get the mike off of the camera for best results in situations where audio quality is critical. 

Most readers are likely more interested in how it performs as a still camera so I am posting a few stills.  I realize that perhaps I should post comparison shots between different camera models, etc., but at present time constraints prevent me from going into it this deeply and it can be hard to judge quality differences in internet photos and video anyway so here are some photos to give you a general idea of what to expect with this camera.

Mature Gobbler Late Evening: Canon 300mm f2.8-ISO 400-1/200sec. f2.8
Wild Turkey Hen in Morning Sunlight: Canon 300mm f2.8-ISO 400-1/640 sec. f4.0
All in all the 70D seems to perform quite well in good light.  The 5D MK III seems to get a higher percentage of photographs in perfect focus, but the 70D does quite well.  I think that those that are used to the 7D and the 60D will find the camera very acceptable, but I doubt they will notice a terrific improvement in still image quality, although the inclusion of micro-adjustment should give it a sharpness advantage over the 60D in some instances.  Of course there should be some gain in quality because of the 20.2 effective megapixel sensor vs the 18 effective megapixels of the 60D and 7D.  In addition there may be some gain in quality due to the DIGIC 5 processor of the 70D v.s. the DIGIC 4 of the 60D, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

The shot below was taken early in the morning and although I could have gotten away with using a lower ISO by going to a lower shutter speed, I wanted to get a general idea of how the camera performed at ISO 1600.  The image is also cropped a significant amount. Noise is noticeable on a large monitor.

Fawns Grooming Before Sunrise: Canon 300mm f2.8-ISO1600-1/500 sec. f2.8
When using the noise reduction tools in Photoshop, one must choose to have the image as sharp as possible, reduce the noise as much as possible, or find an acceptable compromise between noise and sharpness. The image above was the best I could do with noise reduced somewhat and the image being somewhat soft in the fine details. Whether right or wrong, I turn all in-camera noise reduction off and rely on Photoshop for noise reduction processing.

The bottom line is that based on my limited experience with the 70D I think it is better at handling high ISO settings than the 7D or the T3i, but I never used the 60D so have no opinion on that.  It does not do as well as the 5D MK III at high ISOs, but that is to be expected.  Over a period of time a much clearer opinion of its' capabilities will emerge, but for now it does seem like a good camera for the price range. It will be interesting to experiment and compare it against the other cameras that I use.  At present my favorite still camera is the 5D MK III and the video favorite is the GH3.  It will be interesting to see if that is still so a month from now.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.