Since 2005, I’ve photographed over 400 weddings, elopements and engagements with Canon APS-C Elan series of digital camera bodies. With multiple copies of the 20D, 30D, 40D, 60D and 7D I’ve captured joyous gatherings throughout the Rocky Mountain West of the United States. For the last four weddings, I’ve been using Canon’s latest successor in the series — the 70D. Following are some random reflections from my time in the field and a few processed final images as my clients will see them.
Canon 70D Wedding Photographer Review
Until the 70D, I was a wedding photographer with two 60D and two 7D bodies with a range of zoom and prime Canon lenses. I preferred the handling and weight of the smaller 60D, but relied on the 7D’s for its significantly more robust auto focus system. The new 70D appeared to be a mix of the best of both cameras, a lighter weight 7D with a great feature set borrowed from other Canon bodies both up and down the range. I’d prefer to shoot with consistent fleet of bodies with the same menus and controls, so the question is asked: Could 70Ds alone replace my mixed bag of 60Ds and 7Ds? My prime concerns are handling, auto focus, and high ISO shooting.
With a schedule of 50+ weddings a year, it’s not uncommon for me to shoot for 2 to 4 days in a row and I really appreciate a lightweight camera system with great ergonomics. For example while most wedding photographers would simply choose a large 70~200 2.8 zoom for their telephoto tool (“big white” as I call it), my choice is a mix of three lighter weight lenses — the 70~200 4 IS, the 85/1.8 and 135L. To that end (lighter and less conspicuous), the 70D is a joy to shoot with. The size is a bit smaller, the weight is perfect, the grip is easy to hold like the 60D, and the thumb rest has evolved to perfection — akin to Canon’s excellent handling 6D. This is most comfortable camera I ever used, with one glaring negative — AF point selection. Since my first Canon camera — the 20D — I’ve loved the picking AF points with the little joystick next to the chimp screen. It was dropped on the 60D, in favor of a combo dial / multi-directional controller, which I didn’t mind because the the dial was fairly large and easy to manipulate. On the 70D however, the combo dial has gotten noticeably smaller and moving the AF point to the left of your composition is a very un-natural movement for your thumb. After my second wedding with the 70D, my right thumb was actually sore the next day. After the fourth wedding with the new camera, the pain was gone. My thumb muscles got used to the new movements and I discovered C.Fn II, page 10 in the menu set-up: Manual AF pt. select. pattern. Select it to 1, continuous. Now keep moving to the right to and the AF point will “loop” over to the left side. Works for me. I miss the joystick, but this isn’t a deal breaker.
Canon’s legacy 9-point AF system was mostly fine for a wedding photographer — until the lights went off. Shooting with an EF-S 10~22 on a 60D I never had an issue with auto focus until that point at the reception when the DJ would invariably turn off all the house lights. My choice to continue shooting was either a) mount a speedlight and incorporate the red assist beam or b) simply switch to a heavier 7D in my bag. The 7D, with it’s newer and more sensitive 19-point system could deliver reliable focus to the very last sing-a-long, even with a relatively slow zoom like a 10~22 (and no AF assistance). In order for a 70D to replace a 7D in my fleet, it would have to pass the dark, drunken dancing test. Good news! It’s an excellent evolution of the 7D system. Simpler to configure on the fly, very responsive and it will keep up with almost any lights off wedding reception to the very end. Canon rates the 70D as sensitive as the 7D (-.5 ev at center point) but I find low light support for a slow lens like a 70~200 4 IS to be better than the 7D and won’t hesitate to use “little white” for toasting coverage in the rare event that the prime lens 135L won’t get me close enough. There’s also great all around response with my beloved 10~22 and the new face tracking live view really works. A problem lens like the EF-S 60mm Macro (known for hunting) is whip fast and accurate. It’s a great system. Wedding worthy.
Processing and delivering over 35,000 images a year to clients, I’ve determined that while both the 60D and 7D could both shoot at ISO 6400, the color fidelity from the 60D was noticeably better over 3200 (particularly in skin tones). The new 70D has a native high ISO range of 12,800 and I’m happy to report it holds passable skin tones up to that mark. Thanks to a consistent use of off-camera strobes, the ratio of images I shoot over ISO 1600 is fairly low, but it’s nice to know I can shoot into severally dark conditions (even if the mixed color temperatures in those conditions are often unflattering). As for overall image quality, the new 20 megapixel sensor delivers a subtle evolution to the signature Canon look. Colors are pleasing and detail is great. My office is filled with awesome two and three-foot canvas prints from the lowly 10-megapixel Canon 40D, so I’m pretty easy to please in this area. More pixels for cropping and higher resolution editing is a good thing but dSLRs have been able to deliver great jumbo prints for years.
So much of the international press attention at the 70D’s debut concentrated on the video-centric new Dual Pixel CMOS auto focus sensor that many of its new niceties for still photography got overlooked in internet coverage about the new camera. I was delighted to discover the 70D includes a silent shooting mode (like the 6D and 5DmkIII) which is a big plus at weddings (especially during bride preperation and quiet church ceremonies). It’s a beautiful low and lush sound, as opposed to a hard “slap” dSLR users are used to. Additional surprises are the auto-switching orientation linked AF point (like the 7D — different AF point / mode for horizontal vs. vertical shooting), a little viewfinder camera level (that I leave on all the time), plus an iPad -esque touch screen for configuring all the menus and modes. Under pressure, making fast mode and menu changes is a dream. Any other interface now seems second-class.
Where the 7D Still Shines
The 7D has a noticeably larger 100% viewfinder, versus the the 70D which is 98% (not a big deal) but is also smaller (could be a big deal). Smaller viewfinders can actually aid in composition (taking in the whole scene more like a thumbnail) but make it more difficult to judge fine focus adjustments on the fly. I never felt the 70D viewfinder was inadequate, until I grabbed a 7D for a few shots. The difference is noticeable. A much bigger deficit of the 70D is the smaller continuous shooting buffer and slower card write speed. In well over a hundred events with the 7D, I’ve never hit buffer limit shooting RAW on medium speed Sandisk Extreme cards (it will shoot on Continuous High for a very long time). But at my first 70D wedding, I hit the ceiling on the burst memory (also shooting with a Sandisk Extreme). It’s not an issue during general shooting for 90% of the day, but high frame rates such as recessionals and wild dancing it’s noticeable and takes an adjustment in shooting. You’re forced to either a) shoot more selectively b) switch to JPEG for those moments. One might think simply switching to a faster card would fix the issue, but I’m not confident as online tests aren’t showing much of a payoff. Still, it’s a relatively inexpensive upgrade and I have an Extreme Pro card on order to see if that helps it keep up with those infrequent (but vital) wedding bursts. Finally, on the list of 70D deficits, Canon Professional Services has just announced they will no longer service the Elan series of cameras (“60D and it’s successors”) so I’ll miss out on the faster bench turnaround and reduced repair fees on any inevitable service needs.
I’ve shot several weddings with the faster SanDisk Extreme Pro cards and they clear the buffer fast enough for my shooting style. Yay! Problem solved. And an update from William at Canon Professional Services USA … “The EOS 70D will not add points toward the total CPS points of the account, but the camera can still be serviced with the repair discount.” Yay, again!
Within a couple of days of receiving my 70Ds I sold my 60Ds on the used market — replacing them was a no-brainer. The silent shooting and dramatically improved low light auto focus were enough for me. While I’d love nothing more to have a fleet of capable lightweight bodies with identical menus/interfaces, I’ll pause before eliminating both of my 7Ds until I can resolve the RAM buffer issue. I’ll revise this blog post after shooting with an new Extreme Pro card (with it’s published writing speed actually beyond what the 70D can deliver). If the faster card can help keep those occasional burst needs more in line with 7D, I’ll migrate and be a entirely Canon 70D wedding photographer. It’s packed with a great feature set, superb handing and I’m very happy with the images. Please share your thoughts.
Now that I have both the buffer and repair issues resolved, the only remaning deficit was the smaller viewfinder which (after 6 more weddings) isn’t noticeable in the field. Over time, I’ve found myself not looking forward to shooting at all with the 7D. So I’ll order two more 70Ds —one with vertical grip. Looking forward to shooting the scores of weddings on my appointment schedule with the new lightweight wonder-cams!
All images were converted from RAW with Adobe Lightroom release candidate 5.2 and a web sharpening / resizing routine in Photoshop CC.