Canon’s impact on amateur filmmaking shouldn’t be understated — its 5D Mark II made incredible image quality and portability affordable, easily making it one of the most important DSLRs ever. Canon is calling on that pedigree today as it introduces the successor to the EOS 60D. The EOS 70D is a mid-range DSLR that’s built for video, and Canon thinks it has something that can change the game once again: an all-new focusing system that it says will allow autofocus to work beautifully while shooting video.
In most areas, the 70D is a modest but welcome improvement over the 60D, which it’ll be replacing when it launches sometime this September. The 70D adds Wi-Fi and NFC sharing, it brings touch capabilities to its 3-inch LCD display, and it has a slightly higher megapixel count on its APS-C sensor, bumping it up to 20.2. That all makes for the type of fine upgrade that you’d expect, but it’s the camera’s new “Dual Pixel CMOS” focusing system that Canon thinks will really make a difference.
Traditional autofocus systems are built around photography: they make one quick jump to get nearly into focus, and then a second small adjustment to perfect it. That works great when speed matters the most, but on video it creates an unpleasant stutter that has long made autofocus unusable for most filmmakers. Canon says the 70D should fix that: the new autofocus system is meant to move into focus smoothly and on the very first try. In our limited testing of the camera, it appeared to do just that.
That means that filmmakers should be able to achieve a smooth transition between subjects without carefully turning a focus ring by hand. To make it work, Canon effectively built a phase detection autofocus system onto the imaging sensor itself. It uses each pixel to make two measurements at once, combines the data, and then uses it to calculate focus correctly on the first try.
The camera can still return to quicker autofocus modes when shooting photographs — but Canon wouldn’t be quick to suggest it. The company hardly mentioned basic photography when explaining the new camera, despite it being a DSLR at heart. And while the 70D is aimed straight at filmmakers, its new focusing mode is unfortunately short on creative options: while it’s easy to focus using the touch screen, you can’t select how quickly or slowly the focus will transition between subjects. Using the 70D’s autofocus may be easier and more convenient for most amateurs, but it’s not about to kill the manual focus ring.
The 70D will be available body only for $1,199, with the 18-55 STM lens for $1,349, or with the 18-135 STM lens for $1,549. That places it above Canon’s consumer-oriented Rebel series, but beneath its prosumer cameras like the 7D. The 70D will also include Canon’s Digic 5+ image processing, built-in image and video filters, and continuous shooting of up to 7 frames per second. That all makes Canon’s latest look like a fine camera — but whether a fancy autofocus system is enough to set it apart from the company’s more-affordable Rebel models will be a tough question for filmmakers on a budget to answer.