Real Life Review – Live View AF Revolution with the Canon 70D?

Posted by on Jan 22, 2014 in Real Life Reviews | 15 Comments


70d_586x186_hero

If you know anything about Samantha and I, you know one thing for certain, we are slow and careful about upgrading our cameras. Sam still shoots with a four-year old Nikon D300s and I have an ancient Canon 1ds Mark III ( six plus years old). Unless there is compelling reason to do so, we stick with out cameras for a long time. It makes more sense to invest in quality lenses than to update our camera bodies at every upgrade of our chosen model. Most camera body upgrades are cosmetic and with no real creative advantage to the photographer. Also I have been burned too many times in the past buying the latest model only to find serious issues with the camera (mostly with auto-focus with –ahem!–a certain brand). Sam and I vowed to carefully test over a long term any new camera we might be interested in. Hence this review.

We test cameras in real life situations.

We test cameras in real life situations before we buy them.

Why the 70D?

First, of all, thanks to thanks to McBain Camera in Red Deer for the long term loan of a Canon 70D – you guys are awesome. I was interested in the 70D because the Dual Pixel AF technology introduced with the 70D  seemed likely to offer serious creative advantages for live view still photography but even more so for video. Canon designed a whole new sensor with pixel level phase detection autofocus that would make autofocus in live view and in video mode super fast, accurate and work across 80% of the frame. This kind of live view AF performance is unheard of in dSLR cameras.

We love live view and the ability to have the camera focus almost anywhere in the frame using a scrollable focus point or using touch screen technology really intrigued us.  As well, face recognition tracking focus in live view means that anywhere the camera sees a face in still or video shooting it will keep that face sharply focused no matter where the face moves in the frame. That seems really handy especially for our assignment work and to make videos. We were intrigued enough by this advance in technology to ask McBain Camera for a 3 month loan of a 70D to see if this camera would be worthy of adding to our camera bag. Our decision? Read on to find out!

The ability to quickly place focus anywhere in the frame using live view in still or video mode is a great creative feature!

The ability to quickly place focus anywhere in the frame using live view in still or video mode is a great creative feature!

Getting sharp focus on a face at the edge of a frame is a breeze with the Canon 70D using Face Detection Tracking mode in Live View

Getting sharp focus on a face at the edge of a frame is a breeze with the Canon 70D using Face Detection Tracking Mode in Live View.

Besides the potentially awesome new live view autofocus system, the 70D also has many desirable features that appeal to beginner and advanced photographers alike. Most of this stuff is not new but sure is nice to have especially if it’s been a long time since you upgraded your camera (e.g. 20.2 MP sensor, 7 fps motor drive, built-in Wi Fi, in-camera HDR and multiple exposure capability and a vari-angle touch screen LCD).

Having a tilt and swivel LCD let's you make photos you could not possibly make if you needed to have your eye to the viewfinder. Here I shoved the 70D under some ice and tilted the LCD so I could see to make the composition.

Having a tilt and swivel LCD lets you make photos you couldn’t make if you needed to have your eye to the viewfinder. Here I shoved the 70D under some ice and tilted the LCD so I could see to make this composition.

OK… So Cut to the Chase… Does the New Live View Autofocus System Work?

In a word – YES!

And we found this new live view autofocus to be a game changer for dSLR photography and video.

For still photography, live view is awesome because you see 100% of the scene, viewing your photo on a beautiful 3 inch LCD. Seeing a bigger photo allows you judge your composition better than when looking through a tiny viewfinder. In the past, with dSLR’s, live view AF was sluggish at best and most often restricted to the AF area of the sensor. For us, we always used manual focus in live view because we were so much faster and more accurate than the camera was with live view focusing. The 70D changes all that. Now we can get fast focus in live view especially when using FlexiZone Single focus point. We simply touch the LCD screen and the camera will focus the scene at that point (you can also set the camera to trip the shutter once you touch the LCD as well). Or, you can use the Multi-controller dial to move the focus point around the LCD.

In this shot we used FlexiZone Single Point autofocus in Live View to focus on the front prayer flags. with a quick touch of the LCD (or by moving the Multi-controller) we could quickly get the rear prayer flags in focus almost instantaneously.

In this shot I used FlexiZone Single Point AF in Live View to focus on the front prayer flags. With a quick touch of the LCD (or by moving the Multi-controller) we could quickly get the rear prayer flags in focus almost instantaneously.

In the beginning, I almost always used the Multi-controller on the back of the camera to move the focus point around on the LCD. But the more I played with the touch screen, the more I liked how fast and easy that approach was for getting fast focus. Of course, I just assumed that for winter photography, the touch focus would not work with gloves on. But I was surprised to find it works perfectly well as long as you are just using thin liner gloves when touching the screen. I am now a touch screen convert!

For this photo I had gloves on and touched the LCD to get single point focus on the tree.

For this photo I had gloves on and touched the LCD to get single point focus on the tree.

The other live view focus mode that we love with the 70D is the Face Detection + Tracking AF. In this mode the camera recognizes a face and locks focus on the face no matter where the face is in the frame (well, nothing’s perfect: the tracking breaks down if the face is very small and at the far edges of the frame). If the face is moving in the fame, the tracking feature keeps the face in focus. With images without faces you can use tracking AF and touch the LCD where you want focus and then if you recompose the camera the selected part of the scene will stay in focus. Or if the part of the scene you focused on moves (e.g. a piece of wind-blowing ice) then tracking will keep the moving subject in focus.

Face Detection AF in live view even recognized the side view of a human face and locked focus perfectly.

Face Detection AF in live view even recognized the side view of a human face and locked focus perfectly.

I tried Face Detection AF on wildlife with my Sigma 100-400mm lens and the AF kept track of the sheep's face even as the sheep moved it head in the scene!

I tried Face Detection AF on wildlife with my Sigma 100-400mm lens and the AF kept track of the sheep’s face even as the sheep moved its head in the scene!

Face Detection AF even worked on dogs and it perfectly focused on Brando's smiling mug in this photo.

Face Detection AF even worked on dogs and it perfectly focused on Brando’s smiling mug in this photo.

One of the disappointments of the Dual Pixel AF system we found was when the camera was in tracking AF and the motor drive was set to continuous (high or low). With these settings the LCD went black after the first shot was taken. The moving subject was rendered perfectly sharp as it moved towards the camera but live view shut down and we could not see the subject or the composition! The good news is you can return to  viewfinder AF and use servo follow focus and continuous motor drive to make action images of moving subjects (and it works pretty darn good!).

In live view using Face Detection + Tracking AF, the camera did and amazing job tracking focus of fast moving subjects but if the motor drive was set to continuous (high or low), the LCD went black after the first frame was exposed.

In live view using Face Detection + Tracking AF, the camera did an amazing job tracking focus of  a fast moving subject but if the motor drive was set to continuous (high or low), the LCD went black after the first frame was exposed.

Video AF Revolution!

We loved the AF performance in video mode on the Canon 70D!

FlexiZone Single AF worked just as flawlessly in video as it did in still photography letting us place focus almost anywhere in the scene just by touching the LCD (or by using the Multi-controller selector). We especially like the ability to quickly pull focus from a near foreground to a distant background seamlessly.

Also, Face Detection + Tracking AF worked perfectly to keep faces in focus even as the face moved in the scene. We loved using wide aperture prime lenses to keep the face sharp while the background was blurred!

Even with relatively fast moving or erratic subjects the tracking focus in video did a great job. For the first time dSLRs now acted like more like conventional camcorders. So awesome.

The new Dual Pixel AF opens up creative possibilities using wide aperture primes for precise focus with moving subjects but keeping beautiful bokeh backgrounds. Oh yeah!

There is a big caveat with this new Dual Pixel AF and making videos – - if you are using the built-in camera mic or a hot shoe mounted mic, the sound of the lens focusing (even a USM lens) will be heard in the video. Canon has new STM lenses to overcome the focus noise issue but these lenses are optically not that great in our opinion. Instead get your mic off camera and close to the subject where it belongs and the noise from a continuously focusing lens won’t be an issue. Then you can use those sharp, fast lenses you saved your money to buy!

The new Dual Pixel AF is compatible with 103 of 156 Canon EF lenses. I mostly used Sigma AF lenses for all my tests and found no issues whatsoever with AF performance, even when using the Sigma 85mm f1.4 or the Sigma 18-35 f1.8 lens. The camera focused these lenses precisely.

Beyond Autofocus

The Live view autofocus really sold us on the 70D but the camera has every feature we need to do advanced photography – see this link for a complete set of features. Below are some features we really love that make our photography easier and more creative:

  • that awesome tilt and swivel LCD!
  • really good image quality from the sensor
  • low noise that we found acceptable to 6400 ISO
  • auto-bracketing in 2, 3, 5, or 7 frames at up to +/- 3EV for serious HDR photography
  • 7 fps motor drive for action
  • multiple exposure function for cool creativity
Image made using the multiple exposure function

Image made using the multiple exposure function.

What We Didn’t Like

  • no head phone jack for audio
  • really crappy DOF preview button – c’mon Canon fix this problem with your low and mid-range cameras!
  • substandard viewfinder (small and tinny looking) – Nikon’s mid-range cameras’ viewfinders are way better!
  • that nasty problem of blacked out live view when using tracking AF and continuous motor drive
  • battery life suffers significantly in the cold with constant use of live view
  • battery life also suffers significantly with WiFi and GPS enabled
Battery performance is pretty darn good using Live View in temperatures above 0 C

Battery performance is pretty darn good using Live View in temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius.

Conclusion

If you don’t use live view much, don’t plan to use video and really shoot mostly static nature photos then the 70D is probably not a great investment for you – buy a second hand 50D or 60D. The only reason to buy the 70D is to take advantage of the Dual Pixel AF system. We found the new live view AF really useful for our assignment work, for creative work with wide open apertures and fast lenses, and mostly for fantastic AF in video. In the end we bought the camera. Now we just fight over who gets to use it!

Using wide apertures like f1.4 or f2.8 will give lovely out-of-focus backgrounds

Using wide apertures like f1.4 or f2.8 will give lovely out-of-focus backgrounds.

File quality from the sensor is really nice but the better the lens used, the better the file quality!

File quality from the sensor is really nice but the better the lens used, the better the file quality!

Touch screen AF even works with gloves in the winter.

Touch screen AF even works with gloves in the winter.

In-camera Orton Images can be made with the Canon 70D multiple exposure function

In-camera Orton Images can be made with the Canon 70D multiple exposure function

Of course I still use tilt shift lenses with the 70D but with these manual focus lenses all the advantages of Dual Pixel AF are gone!

Of course, I still use tilt shift lenses with the 70D but with these manual focus lenses all the advantages of Dual Pixel AF are gone! Darn.

Prairie sunset with the 70D

Samantha shooting a prairie sunset wishing she was using the 70D – I was hogging it!

Thanks again for letting us test the 70D, McBain’s in Red Deer!

mcbain_fotosource

 

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.

15 Comments

  1. Jeff Sinon
    January 22, 2014

    Great review. Gives me something to think about if and when I’m ready to part with my 7D. Though I really have my eye on full frame and the 5D MKIII.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      January 22, 2014

      It really depends on if Live View autofocus or video is important to you or not. If it isn’t then you do not need a 70D. Go with the full frame 5D Mark III which has amazing viewfinder AF

  2. Kent Wilson
    January 22, 2014

    Did you try it on birds in flight? I assume in that case you would use the viewfinder. Just wonder, because there’s been controversy over how good Canon’s AF is for this.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      January 22, 2014

      Nope, did not try with flying birds only erratic running dogs and horses.

      For flying birds I would recommend the viewfinder AF. The regular non live view AF in the 70D is the same as in the 7D. Now if you are shooting video of flying birds then the 70D is your camera!

  3. Robin
    January 22, 2014

    Darwin & Samantha, bought the 70D in November as a upgrade to my 40D. It immediately blew me away! It’s a great camera! Glad you agreed with my assessment!

    Reply
  4. Real Life Review – Live View AF Revolution with the Canon 70D?
    January 23, 2014

    […] If you know anything about Samantha and I, you know one thing for certain, we are slow and careful about upgrading our cameras. Sam still shoots with a four-year old Nikon D300s and I have an ancient Canon 1ds Mark III ( six plus years old). Unless there is compelling reason to do so, we stick with out cameras for a long time. It makes more sense to invest in quality lenses than to update our camera bodies at every upgrade of our chosen model. Most camera body upgrades are cosmetic and with no real creative advantage to the photographer. Also I have been burned too many times in the past buying the latest model only to find serious issues with the camera (mostly with auto-focus with –ahem!–a certain brand). Sam and I vowed to carefully test over a long term any new camera we might be interested in. Hence this review. MORE… […]

    Reply
  5. RHWeiner
    January 24, 2014

    Thanks for the review. I’ve heard/read that the 70D is a game changer if you are into video and/or use liveview. Well, I think that going towards video is yet another learning curve I’d rather not tackle, plus it is a totally different mindset from still photography…and I still don’t have a good handle on that one. Additionally I am of that age where I have problems seeing far off (been that since grade 4) and problems seeing up close so trying to control the camera view the back LCD would be a bit of a hardship. Still, there are the other factors that someone like me (still shooting a 20D & 40D) would appreciate in terms of upgraded capabilities.

    A greater question to ask is this…Has the Image Quality increased with all these bells and whistles?

    Reply
  6. Tom Smith
    January 25, 2014

    Thanks for your review of the 70D, looks like it would be a good backup for my 5Dmk3.
    You commented that you could do an Orton Effect within camera. I reviewed Canon’s online manual and could not see how to do this, please elaborate.
    Your web postings are most appreciated, please keep up the good work.
    Tom Smith, Millarville AB

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      January 28, 2014

      For Orton in-camera all you need to do is set the 70D to enable multiple exposure (set to Additive and 2 exposures) then take one shot with the scene perfectly focused and with good depth-of-field (I usually underexposre this image by -2/3 EV( and use an aperture of f11 to f16. Now take the same photo but defocus the lens so the scene becomes very blurry and use the widest aperture setting on your lens (e.g. f2.8) and take the blurry image (also underexpose by -2/3 EV). the two photos when processed by the camera will give you an Orton looking image.

  7. Real Life Review - Live View AF Revolution with the Canon 70D ... - Modern IT
    January 27, 2014

    […] Go here to see the original: Real Life Review – Live View AF Revolution with the Canon 70D … […]

    Reply
  8. Josh M.K.
    February 17, 2014

    Hi Darwin,

    Your articles and gear reviews give me info the way I want to see it! Thank you for largely avoiding the pixel-peeping 100%-crop noise comparisons and other common camera review dogma which (in my opinion) bogs down other sites. Your focus on real world snaps and the creative process is incredibly refreshing, and in this case helped me decide to spring for the 70D. I love my SX40 and will continue shooting with it every day, but feel that the step up to the 70D will give my creativity a much longer leash.

    Unfortunately for the time being I am stuck with the 18-135 usm kit lens, but hopefully as soon as possible will be able to upgrade my glass. I do a lot of mushroom macro photography and wildlife shots in the woods, so all over the place in terms of lenses. I’m rambling at this point, haha. Just wanted to extend a sincere thank you!

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      February 17, 2014

      Hi Josh,

      The more I use the 70D, the more I love it. For macro it will be awesome especially with the tilt swivel LCD and the live view touch focus. We are so glad you like our reviews, they are fun to do but take a fair bit of time to write up ;-)

  9. Marius
    February 26, 2014

    Hi nice review

    Its really time for me to upgrade and I have been using the ancient Canon 500d. Know the camera very well.

    A friend ask me to be his second camera at weddings (done a few with 500d hired great lenses and did it as wedding present) so guess its time to do the upgrade thing.

    Wanted a ff camera but this seem like a good option. Been in South Africa with the weak Rand its hell of expensive but I saved and have nice nest egg to help me.

    I want a better than decent lens or two for doing weddings and walk around every day use with the 70d.

    Any advice is welcome!

    Marius

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      February 26, 2014

      My first choice for a lens for the 70D would be the Sigma 18 – 35 f1.8. Awesome lens, fast for weddings and for walk around street lens!

  10. Michael Ward
    March 31, 2014

    Thanks for the insight on live view focusing with the 70d. Great article!

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Top