Canon EOS 70D: Cynical, Substantial or Stepping Stone?

I am trying to work out what to make of the announcement of Canon’s new 70D. For those of you who haven’t caught up yet, Canon have finally, after four years, upgraded their APS-C sensor technology, yesterday announcing their new “prosumer” model. This will have a 20.2 MP sensor, whose main achievement is innovative autofocus technology in live view or movie mode.

In optical viewfinder mode the camera will fall back to an autofocus scheme based on (but slightly downgraded from) the 7D, and the announcements have been oddly quiet on the topics of image quality and dynamic range, arguably weak spots of the current 18MP sensors.

Now part of me says that any improvement is welcome. I had started mentally drafting a blog post worrying about whether Canon had effectively abandoned the middle ground – at least I don’t have to complete that. I had been waiting for a real upgrade to my 7D and 550D for so long I almost ordered the new camera as a reflex action. And the combination of a feature set similar to the 7D in a smaller and lighter chassis might hit a sweet spot for me in practical terms.

But apart from being lighter and newer, I’m not convinced the camera has anything to offer me. In terms of feature set, it’s still definitely a downgrade from the 7D, and a poor successor to the 40D and 50D. The new autofocus will probably be brilliant for video, but of limited value in the types of photography for which I use the 7D.

I don’t do much video, and on the rare occasion that I might my tool of choice is probably the Panasonic GH2. I do use Live View, but only really to extend my reach (e.g. shooting over crowds), for “sneaky shots” and the occasional tricky manual focus task. 90% or more of my 7D shots are through the viewfinder, ensuring visibility in all lights, and stability down to very low shutter speeds. I suspect the vast majority of stills photographers using Canon DSLRs are similar.

The new generation of Canon cameras may therefore be at best a “stopgap” upgrade, particularly if image quality is no better than now. However, I’m not completely despondent. I think the camera is actually something else altogether – it’s actually a “stepping stone” to something completely different.

Canon have “form” in this area. The 50D was a similar “stepping stone” between the excellent but relatively low-res 40D and the 7D/60D (high resolution, split by functionality). The 70D looks suspiciously like enabling technology for a whole new generation of Canon cameras.

The cameras I think, and really hope, will emerge will look like this:

  • An electronic viewfinder fully replacing the optical one
  • Body shape and size similar to the 7D/70D (which works very well), but hopefully much lighter because of all the moving parts which can be dumped. There will also be at least an XXXD version with its familar control set
  • APS-C sensor, hopefully with a step up in image quality and dynamic range from the 7D’s sensor
  • EF-S lens mount, so we can carry on with all the existing Canon glass

It’s important that the “full size” version is “full functionality” with dual axis level, multiple custom settings, built-in GPS etc. (7D replacement). If necessary for marketing purposes there can be a “reduced functionality” version like the 60D as well.

In other words, I’m now really waiting for something which looks like an APS-C, EF-S mount GH2/OMD. If they’d announced that yesterday I would have bought it sight unseen.

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