In an age where we're all accustomed to using our smartphones to take pictures, it's important to remember that although the camera in your iPhone or Nexus can shoot decent stills and video footage, huge compromises are made in order to fit these systems into such tiny form factors. For anyone who is remotely serious about photography (or increasingly these days, video), a dedicated DSLR is a necessity if you want to realize professional results.
Serious camera setups can quickly run into thousands of pounds and it's true that only people making a living at photography are likely to want to spend that kind of money. But there's a middle ground somewhere between the high hundreds and just over a thousand where you can get a seriously powerful camera capable of excellent results, and that doesn't require a degree to operate. I personally have always subscribed to the idea when buying kit to do work on that you should buy the most appropriate thing, even if that means spending a little more than you'd ideally like. If you're doing this stuff for money, good kit will pay for itself very quickly in terms of satisfied clients and the time you save by not having to clean up shaky footage.
Canon's EOS 70D supersedes the much-loved 60D and adds some up-to-the-minute new technology to the package. I'm not going to write long lists of tech specs in this review because you can find all that on the product website. Instead, I'm going to look at how this camera does its thing and why it might well be the one for you.
It looks deceptively simple, but inside lurks some fearsome processing power.
As you would expect, the build quality is excellent and the camera is solid but just the right weight that you won't get tired holding it for extended periods. The viewfinder is also a very high-quality touch screen and you navigate and make settings using a combination of the onboard physical controls and tapping on the touchscreen. When you're viewing images you can pinch to zoom and swipe to move, just like on a smartphone. In Live view or video shooting mode you can even tap to focus, which works extremely well. The screen can be swung out and rotated, meaning you can shoot at difficult angles and still see what's happening.
A Menu button lets you make all the settings that govern the way the camera behaves and though there are lots of these, they are neatly arranged and easy to understand. There's even a Help system that displays crucial information about certain shooting modes like what each one is best suited to, how it will affect the exposure and shutter settings and so on. This is great for beginners or mid-level users but it can be switched off if you prefer.
The function dial provides quick access to the camera's main shooting modes and these have their own onscreen controls for further tweaking. At its most basic, you can put the camera into Auto mode which makes decisions based on whatever you point it at. Scenes mode is more creative, letting you flip between settings such as portrait, HDR, handheld night shots, landscape, closeup, sports and so on. In each mode the touchscreen or Q button can be used to access quick controls to change the behavior of the camera. You can easily switch for example between single shooting, low or high speed continuous or silent shooting. The camera can do 7 FPS shooting at full resolution and there's little physical movement, thanks to the electronically controlled shutter.
Closeup mode knows to focus on specific elements in the foreground and blur the background.
The camera can be placed into more advanced modes too, including aperture or shutter priority and various combinations of auto and manual, and there's a Bulb mode that extends exposure for as long as the shutter button is pressed, which is great for shooting things like fireworks. It has a 19 point autofocus system that works even during video shooting (more on this in a moment) and advanced 63-zone dual layer metering and goes as far as ISO 12800 for low-light shooting. You can get some truly remarkable results in low light thanks to this feature, plus the camera's ability to take several shots in quick succession and average them out to produce the best possible results. If like me you hate built-in flash, this is a godsend.
Color balance and auto exposure are excellent.
And so on to video performance. The camera shoots at full HD as you would expect, and you can select smaller frame sizes too: shooting at 50 FPS is only supported as far as 1280, but full HD can be up to 29.97 FPS which is pretty standard, or indeed at 25. The STM (Stepper Motor) lens is able to perform accurate autofocus during video capture'"and while moving'"while remaining silent, or as close to silent as makes no difference. This means that as you track or pan you can follow a subject without having to manually re-focus: perfect for 'run and gun' interview work. And it performs brilliantly. Tap-to-focus works in video mode too so you can re-focus without having to use the shutter button.
The video quality is astonishing, and the camera's 20.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5+ processor are completely unfazed by difficult lighting conditions like fluorescents in offices. I shot a ton of footage in just such an environment and had no problems at all with flickering from the lights. As with any camera, you have to approach filming sensibly, but the results are arguably the equal of a much more expensive, dedicated video camera.
There are other handy features thrown in too, like Wi-Fi. The camera can create its own Wi-Fi network and this can be used to beam images to other cameras, tablets, Wi-Fi printers, web services and DNLA devices. Install the Canon EOS Remote app on your iOS or Android device and you can remotely focus and shoot as well as viewing the images on your handheld. There are some editing tools supplied in-camera including filters and basic movie editing functions and though these are good to have when you don't have access to a computer, the vast majority of people will be moving to the desktop to edit images and video. There's HDMI and USB out ports as well as a mic input and onboard mic plus a small speaker. Last but not least, a built-in electronic spirit level helps you get perfectly level shots, and there's image stabilization to prevent camera shake.
Are you ready for your close-up?
The EOS 70D is a remarkable camera, equally adept at photography and video. It's portable enough not to feel like a burden and yet delivers pin-sharp images with astonishing clarity as well as professional-looking HD video. Battery life is good and for anyone with an eye for a picture who is looking to expand their skill set, it offers the perfect balance of usability and depth of features. As the centerpiece of a wider setup, I'd even say it could make great-looking films.
Pros: Excellent design and usability. Pin-sharp results. Good selection of preset modes and manual control. Amazing video performance. Touchscreen is intuitive. Wi-Fi mode.
Cons: Remote app feels slightly unpolished. No headphone output onboard.
Price: Body from Â£819. With 18-55 STM lens as reviewed Â£965.