The recently released EOS 70D appears to be a much improved and direct replacement for the EOS 60D in the Canon range. The 70D has a high level of specification for a camera at its particular price point, and for a nature and wildlife photographer like myself, completely outclasses the model it replaces (the 60D) when it comes to autofocus, image quality, speed and just about everything else. In fact, the 70D has such an impressive set of specifications that in some ways it matches or exceeds the next model above it in Canon’s range, which is the the EOS 7D (another camera with high specifications). For this reason, and because the 70D offers much of what the 7D can do, I have decided to compare the two dslr bodies side by side.
If you compared these two cameras on specification alone, they seem very similar. In the hand though, the newly-released 70D and the older but still current 7D are different in some quite important ways.
Both share the APS-C sensor size, (although not resolution or sensors) which makes it easier to compare image quality between them. My wife and I used three Canon 7D bodies as our primary camera bodies for some time. Recently, I have been using the EOS 70D as a working camera doing what I do, which is taking wildlife photographs in the outdoors. I have compared the two camera bodies extensively, feature for feature, and shared my own experience that comes from shooting with both of them. If you are wondering which one might be best suited for your own purposes, keep on reading, and hopefully my findings will be of use to you.
Build Quality, Controls and Ergonomics
For this comparison, I worked without the optional battery grips on either body. Adding the battery grips will bulk up the bodies, whilst making them more comfortable to hold for most users, whether shooting vertically or horizontally. Aside from the benefit of longer shooting time that comes with the addition of the second battery cell in the pack, the battery grips also add vertical shooting controls but this comes at the cost of added weight and bulk. Both the 70D and 7D can achieve their maximum frame rate without the need for a battery pack, which is different to some other camera brands.
When it comes to build quality and feel, the 70D feels pretty solid in the hand, with a comfortable, deep grip covered in grippy rubber. The 70D body is constructed of aluminium and plastic composite material, which make it both light and strong. It is a very compact body though, and might not suit those with very big hands.
The 7D feels more substantial, with its overall larger size, and more extensive rubber coating. The 7D is constructed with a magnesium alloy chassis, and overall, it feels more rugged than the 70D. It would also appear to me that the rear screen of the 7D sits more flush against the rear of the body, and might thus be a little less likely to incur accidental damage. Both cameras have plastic and metal storage card doors.
Canon claim similar levels of weather sealing for both bodies. Again, I have had no moisture issues with either camera body. I would think that the 7D may have a slight weather sealing advantage with its flush, integrated rear LCD screen as compared to the flip-out screen on the 70D. This is just my assumption of course. To date, I have found the 70D to be just as good as the 7D is at staying free of dust, either on it’s mirror, sensor or AF screen. Both cameras are exceptionally good at staying clean, with both featuring the flourine coating on the sensor, which helps them stay clean. In more than a month of use, and multiple lens changes, I have yet to find any dust specks on the 70D sensor and I often went months in the field before having to clean the 7D sensor.
The 70D has the new locking mode dial that comes standard on most Canon dslr’s these days. The 7D has a non-locking mode dial, and it is one that I often accidentally nudge onto a setting other than what I was meaning to use. It is possible to have Canon tech support fit the new dial at a cost to the 7D. Both cameras share AV, TV, P, M, Bulb, Auto and Creative Auto settings on their mode dials. The 7D has three Custom C settings for users to store favoured settings, whilst the 70D has just one Custom setting. The 70D is alone in having a Flash Off setting, as well as a bunch of presets under the SCN setting, which stands for Scene. Selecting SCN and pressing the Q button will reveal these presets. The SCN (Scene) mode is a feature that may be appreciated by users upgrading from entry level and compact cameras. On/off switches are identical.
Flash mounts are similar, with built-up ridging around the mount to help with keeping water out. Both cameras have a top lcd screen that shows virtually all the most important settings.
Information displayed on the top screens is pretty similar, though the 70D includes indicators for HDR and Wi-fi that are not options on the 7D. The 70D also leaves out White Balance selection from the top panel, though one can easily see what WB setting is selected by looking on the back screen and pressing the Q-button.
There are differences in layout and function of the top row of buttons ahead of the lcd screen. The 70D buttons have only one function each, and there are 5 buttons laid out in a row. They control Autofocus mode, Drive, Iso, Metering and Light. Pushing one of these buttons and then turning either the Main Dial or Quick Control Dial cycles through the options. On the 7D, there are only 4 buttons. Each button controls two functions, depending on whether the Main Dial or Quick Control Dial is used to change selections. The buttons control Metering/WB, then Autofocus/Drive, then Iso/Flash Exp comp, and then the light for the top panel. Both 70D and 7D have a button just ahead of the shutter release that can be used for changing between the AF point groupings.
The eyepiece on the 7D is larger and deeper. The viewfinder itself in the 7D has full coverage of the frame, unlike the 70D which has a viewfinder giving 98% coverage. The 7D also has a deeper grip which is quite chunky in comparison to that of the 70D. The 7D body should be a better fit for those with larger hands and bigger fingers. Users of the 70D with bigger fingers should also note that certain lenses which may have wide barrels close to the lens mount, can make the grip area a bit uncomfortable.
The back of the 70D has a full set of controls, with a layout roughly similar to the EOS 60D and the EOS 6D. The swivel LCD means that there are no controls down on the left side of the screen. The 70D has a dedicated AF-On button, a combined Live View and Video switch, as well as a Q -Quick Control button for accessing menu functions rapidly. The 70D uses the two buttons high up on right side of the back of the camera for zooming in or out. The Quick Command Dial is a composite control, with the outer ring a separate piece than the directional pad inside it, and the Set button positioned right in the middle. You can customize what the different parts of this composite dial do, although the directional pad serves mainly to move the focus point around the grid.
Although both cameras have 3-inch sized LCD screens, of similar non-reflective design, similarities end there. The 70D screen can flip out and swivel, which allows Live View shooting and video capture from unusual angles with ease. As well as this, the LCD itself can be used in a multitude of ways to control and operate the camera functions. The touchscreen design means that it is fast and intuitive to just use finger pressure to move around the menus, make selections from the Q-screen, and even browze images. Zooming in and out is accomplished by pinching fingertips together. In Live View, the screen allows the choice of focus point merely by tapping. The touchscreen can also be turned off entirely. When it comes to Live View performance the new Dual Pixel AF system (more on that later) combines with the super intuitive touchscreen to make the 70D distinctly faster and more effective than the 7D.
The rear of the 7D is altogether a bit more spacious in its layout. Both cameras share similar switches for engaging Live View and video, and they also share the same Multi-Function Lock switch. The 7D also has a 3 inch rear LCD, also of Canon’s Clear View II specification, which means non-scratch glass surface, and non-reflective design.
The 7D has a large Quick Command Dial as well as a dedicated AF multi-controller. Both of these controls are bigger, and easier to operate whilst shooting than the combination dial on the 70D is. Although the two cameras have almost all the same controls, the layout is a little different in that the 7D has a set of buttons on the left side of the lcd, while the 70D concentrates most of its controls on the right side.
Size and Weight
To put numbers to the physical differences between the two bodies, a comparison of dimensions show that the 70D is significantly smaller than the 7D. Overall, the 7D is wider (9mm) and higher (6mm). The 70D is deeper by 5mm. The 70D hits the scales at just 755g with battery whilst the 7D is noticeably heavier at 900g, including battery.
Both cameras use the LP-E6 Lithium-Ion battery pack, which also simplifies things if you end up owning more than one Canon camera. Other Canon cameras that use the LP-E6 are the 5Dmk3, 5Dmk2, 6D and 60D.
Compared to the 7D, the 70D is quite compact, and it may be the camera that is best suited to those with smaller hands. The 70D is also lighter.
The EOS 7D has been available for several years now, and the autofocus system is a proven one. The 7D’s AF performance is generally considered to be quite good, better perhaps than all other Canon dslr’s except the 5Dmk3, (the 6D?) and the 1D series at the time of writing. The AF grid is made up of 19 points and they are all cross-type, at f5.6. Coverage across the frame is good, and although some other cameras might have a higher density of AF points, the 7D’s AF points are quite widely spread which is very useful when composing. The centre AF point is a high-precision type when used with an f2.8 or brighter maximum aperture lens.
This AF system is shared with the EOS 70D, although in the case of the 70D, a single Digic 5+ processor controls autofocus function. The 7D is driven by two Digic 4 processors.
Autofocus accuracy seems similar between the two cameras, although I felt that the 70D was just the tiniest bit more stable when it came to fast-moving subjects, perhaps due to the new processor or some other improvement in the AF system.
The 7D has 5 different options for utilizing the AF point area: Spot, Single Pt, Expanded AF, Zone AF and 19 Pt Auto AF.
In comparison, the 70D offers 3 of the options: Single Pt, Zone AF and 19 Pt AF. Both cameras have a dedicated button ahead of the shutter release for controlling AF area whilst shooting without having to look away from the viewfinder.
As I seldom use Spot AF, Expanded AF or the 19 Pt Auto AF groupings on the 7D, I find myself quite satisfied with the reduced choices on the 70D. Users who favour the expanded AF point and spot AF point options that are missing from the 70D might not feel the same as I do.
Regardless of which of the two cameras I might be using, I almost always shoot them in Single Pt AF. In my experience, AF accuracy is noticeably better for both cameras with just a single point active, selected by myself. Again, I come to my conclusions about autofocus performance as a wildlife photographer with a liking for moving subject matter. For slow-moving or static subjects the multiple AF point options work just fine. If you want superior and consistent accuracy from the peripheral areas of your focus grid (with fast-moving subjects), away from the centre point, then the 5Dmk 3 and 1D series become the only options in the Canon line-up at the time of writing. That said, the centre point AF performance from both the 70D and 7D is good enough for my needs.
How the AF points show in the viewfinder is similar between the two cameras, but there are some differences when it comes to the Custom Functions that affect AF performance.
The 70D C.Fn II:1 AF Tracking sensitivity, is very similar to the 7D C.Fn III:1 Ai Servo tracking sensitivity.
Only the 70D has C.Fn II:2 Accelerate/Decelerate tracking (as found on the 5dmk3 and 1DX, and 6D AF). This parameter (also present in the 6D, 5Dmk3 and 1DX AF systems) appears to be replacing C.Fn III: 3 in the 7D.
The 70D also has intermediate options in its Ai Servo focus or release priority settings, whereas with the 7D there are two options to choose from when working with these parameters. 70D Users can choose Release, or Focus, or a new setting midway between the two, whereas 7D users only have Release (which stands for speed) or Focus options. On the 70D, these parameter settings are found in C.Fn II: 3 and C.Fn II: 4.
On the 7D the parameter settings can be found in C.Fn III: 2.
Overall, I found the two cameras to have very similar autofocus systems. Even though the 70D has two fewer AF Area options (Spot AF and AF Expansion), I found that it mattered very little in the overall evaluation of what the AF systems can do, and I found its AF performance to be similar to the 7D, at least as good if not a little more stable and accurate with fast-moving subjects. With Canon’s newest set of AF parameters adjustments as part of its menu set, I found dialing in the 70D easier, too.
I photographed a very wide variety of wild subjects with both these cameras. From big cats like leopard and lion, to African wild dogs, and marine mammals like humpback whales in all kinds of light. I also spent many hours photographing birds with both cameras. I used my 7D bodies with many different Canon L-series lenses, including the Canon EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii and EF 300L f2.8 IS. I mostly shot the 70D with the Canon EF 70-300L f4/5.6 IS as well as both version i and ii of the Canon EF 500f4L. For wide angle work I mounted the cameras mostly with the EF 17-40 Lf4 or the EF 16-35 L f2.8, as well as the EF-S 10-22.
Response, Speed, Storage, Sound and More
The 70D is driven by a single Digic 5+, whilst a pair of Digic 4 processor’s run the 7D. Response to me is defined by a combination of shutter lag, viewfinder blackout, and frame rate, In this regard, the 70D is a good performer, with a shutter lag of 65ms, viewfinder blackout of 97ms and continuous frame rate of 7 frames per second. The 7D is a little bit faster, with shutter lag of 59ms, similar viewfinder blackout, and a faster frame rate of 8 frames per second.
Whilst the 70D has a raw buffer of 16 raw images (tested by me) the 7D has a much deeper buffer, rated at 24 images (higher with a fast CF card). At the time of writing, the fastest SD cards do not transfer data as quickly as do the fastest CF cards. The 70D has a single SD card slot, compared to the 7D which takes a single CF card. These numbers may only mean something to you if you shoot bursts or continuous action. The 7D shoots faster, and can shoot for a lot longer, with it’s deep buffer. With both cameras, I shoot raw images only, and turn off all in-camera processing options to maximize buffer space. I have never managed to get close to filling a 7D buffer whilst in the field. The 70D buffer is not as deep, but it was still big enough for my shooting needs. I would rate the 7D as excellent in buffer capacity, with the 70D considered decent.
The type of card type may also matter to you if you are already invested in one type only. Although I prefer CF cards for their speed, I do find it convenient to be able to download directly into the SD slot in the side of my computer when using SD cards.
When it comes to their drives, both cameras are fairly quiet. They share Single, Continuous Low, Continuous High as well as two timer modes. Only the 70D has Silent Single, and Silent Continuous (3 frames per second). The silent mode is a big plus, and I make use of often when shooting wildlife from hides, or from very close. The noise generated by the 70D in silent mode is so quiet that wild subjects are often not disturbed at all. The silent modes are also desirable when photographing any kind of event where loud shutter noises might be obtrusive.
The shutter on the 70D is rated for an approximate life cycle of 100 000 cycles whereas the 7D shutter should be more durable, with its rating of 150 000 cycles.
Both cameras have a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000sec, and both have the same flash sync speed of 1/250sec. Both cameras can remotely trigger Canon speedlights.
Both cameras use the same LP-E6 battery, and it seems to me that the 70D is squeezing a few more shots out of a charge perhaps due to its single processor design. Shooting stills alone with only a little Live View usage I can get more than 1000 shots easily on a charge with either camera.
The two cameras share the same 63-zone metering system, and similar metering modes. In Spot metering, the 70D reads from 3.0% of the viewfinder whilst the 7D reads from a smaller area of just 2.3%. This is reversed for Partial metering, where the 70D reads from 7.7% of the viewfinder, and the 7D from 9%. I typically never shoot in either of these metering modes, preferring evaluative metering.
They both have the same options for Auto Lighting Optimizer, Auto-Iso, In-camera noise reduction, Highlight Tone priority, AF Microadjustment and Lens Aberration correction.
The 70D is capable of shooting multiple exposures and combining then in camera for a creative effect. Only the 70D can also merge a series of bracketed images and create an hdr jpg image.
Sensor and Image Quality
The 70D and 7D both have APS-C sized sensors, which are approximately 22mm wide. Interestingly, the physical dimensions of the 70D sensor reveal that it is 0.2mm wider, and 0.1mm higher than the 7D sensor. Whether that implies a fractionally larger area for image capture is not clear to me.
The 70D holds a slight resolution advantage at 20 megapixels against the 7D with 18 megapixels.
A vertical crop taken from a horizontal with the 70D, at an aspect ratio of 2:3 produces an image of 8.9 megapixels. Performing the same crop action with a 7D horizontal frame results in a vertical image of 8.0 megapixels.
It is not always very easy to see differences in sensor output between the two whilst viewing images that are downsized for the internet, but I am finding that the 70D images superior for my own shooting needs.
Whilst shooting the test images with the two cameras side by side, I noticed that the 70D image tended to be a little brighter in identical lighting and with the same shutter speed, aperture, iso and metering mode selected . The difference was less than one third of a stop. For this direct comparison, I adjusted exposure upwards on the 7D images and downwards on those from the 70D in Lightroom. The total adjusted difference is less than a third of a stop. I also noticed slight differences in white balance rendering between the two cameras, with the 70D images being a bit cooler. On my 23″ inch screen that I use for editing at home, raw images from the 70D have a neutral look to them, fractionally lower in contrast than those of the 7D.
I have posted the series of test images from the two cameras, with the same lens, mount and subject. Between each set of images I increased the iso sensitivity by one stop. Every second set of images is deeply cropped for comparison and to allow finer inspection of image quality. I took these images indoors although the light was all natural and indirect. Each image is captioned with details.
The two images below were downsized from full resolution to web size, iso 100.
EOS 70D and EF 70-200f2.8L IS ii. 1/50 sec at f6.3. Iso 6400. Downsized from 20mp for web. Click for larger view
In terms of processing the test toy animals in this post, I shot in raw, and processed in Adobe Camera Raw, applying a low level of sharpening to the high-contrast edges of the subject only. Sharpening amount was 50. I applied no noise reduction at all, and I sharpened each image once for website viewing after downsizing to the 800 x 533 web size in Photoshop. Every image was identically processed.
I found the 70D raw images to be quite neutral, and with slightly less contrast than those from the 7D. Adding or reducing contrast is part of my normal raw workflow and I was happy with what I was getting from the 70D raw files.
I also experienced a bit of a difference in white balance rendition between the two cameras, and more so than I expected, given that they share metering systems. Again, white balance is something that I usually adjust in my raw workflow.
The 70D has a resolution advantage, of 2 megapixels. What this means is that it has slightly smaller individual pixels, 4.1 microns compared to 4.3 microns for the 7D. The 70D’s resolution advantage, though slight, is a real one. You can make slightly larger prints from the 70D. Alternatively, you could crop the 70D’s image of 20mp down to 18mp, which would match the 7D in print size, but would result in a slightly larger subject size.
Despite its slightly smaller photosites, the 70D image shows a little less noise than the 7D, and this even if you compare them at pixel level, or 100 percent view.
Anytime you compare the two sensors output whilst maintaining the 70D’s native resolution advantage, the difference becomes a little greater between the two sensors in favour of the 70D.
My assessment of image quality is subjective, and may be different than yours. For my needs, I was happy with output from the 7D up to iso 800 although I mostly preferred to try and keep it below that setting.
With the 70D, I am quite comfortable shooting at iso 800 whenever I need to. It is still worthwhile switching to a lower iso setting for better quality when possible, but I am quite happy to shoot at iso 800 whenever I may need the extra shutter speed or greater depth of field that it may bring. I also have 70D images taken at iso 1000 that are totally usable for my needs.
When it comes to dealing with noise I use Lightroom 5 or Adobe Camera Raw, which have similar noise reduction procedures. I use selective processing techniques that help to minimize noise and I always try not to enhance noise at any point in my workflow. It is also important to note that heavy cropping reduces image quality, and may make noise more visible. My preferred iso limits of 800 with the 7D and 1000-1600 with the 70D are for images that are intended for print quality. For smaller image output, such as internet usage, I am comfortable using images taken at higher iso settings with both cameras, up to iso 3200 with the 70D.
To sum up image quality, I feel the advantage definitely lies with the 70D. Lower noise, especially in the range from Iso 200 to Iso 1600, expand the shooting possibilities beyond that of the 7D for my style of shooting, even more so when combined with the resolution increase. Although the 70D beats the 7D in image quality, neither of these two APS-C camera bodies are a match for the current crop of full-frame Canon bodies when it comes to shooting in very low light or at iso settings above 1000.
Both cameras are well equipped for video and live view shooting. When it comes to Live View, the 70D has a clear advantage mostly due to the Dual Pixel AF technology. At the time of writing, the 70D live view autofocus performance is a whole lot quicker than any other Canon dslr, including the 7D. In the past, I have only been able to make use of live view for wildlife photography when the subjects were virtually dead still. That was until the arrival of the 70D. For the first time I was able to photograph animals from a low angle, by holding the camera away from my body. I found the focus quick and accurate, even good enough to get an image of a bull elephant that was walking slowly right beside the vehicle with me holding the camera down at a full arm’s length. The 70D flip-out swivel screen also makes Live View shooting easy at the most unusual of angles.
Yet another feature that is present in the 70D and not the 7D is its built-in wi-fi capability. Using the Canon program, it is possible to control the camera remotely by means of a smartphone or a tablet. It is also possible to transfer data directly from the camera to a remote device. The wifi connectivity opens up lots of remote shooting options, and adds extra value to what the 70D offers.
The 70D holds an image quality and resolution advantage, as well as the versatility that comes with effective live view performance, and all that in a very compact package that is easy to use, and lightweight.
The 7D has a rugged, full-sized body, with a complete set of controls that are easy to operate without looking when speed is important, whilst looking through it’s big viewfinder. It’s frame rate and buffer depth are still impressive, even four years after it was released.
Choosing between these two might not be that easy, but a lot would depend on your own needs.
If image quality is more important than anything else, then the 70D is the best choice.
If the bigger bodied, more robust, and fully external-featured 7D suits you better, with its slight speed and response advantage, then it may be the best choice, especially as prices may fall a bit as the camera moves toward the end of its product life as a new model.
It is great to have such good choices in this segment of the market.