REAL WORLD REVIEW
The Canon 80D is the latest in their line-up of mid-range, enthusiast level DSLRs. On paper, the 80D looks to be an improvement in practically every regard over the 2013-model 70D, especially with the introduction of a new dual-pixel 45 point auto-focus.
That said, I've never been 100% convinced by the need for the "double digit" models Canon offers - when you have extremely capable "entry-level" cameras like the 760D for beginners or the 7D mark II/full frame options for the more seasoned photographer who wants even more capability, I always felt like the 60D and 70D have been stuck in a no-man's land. A mid-range obscurity. With the touted specifications for the 80D it felt like Canon were making a bit more of an effort to differentiate the 80D from the likes of the 760D.
So when a box arrived by courier containing an advance preview of the 80D I was looking forward to testing it out but starting from a position of mild skepticism. It will have to work hard to impress me :)
OUT OF THE BOX
Canon released a couple of other items at the same time as the 80D, including a new 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 "Nano USM" kit lens and a powered zoom adaptor. I didn't expect to find the power-zoom in the box but I did expect to see the 18-135mm lens. Instead, it shipped with one of the older and less exciting 18-200mm lenses. I'm still awaiting availability info on the camera + 18-135mm lens options so for now this review will only cover the camera.
Box contents were very much expected in other aspects. Camera, battery & charger, strap, all the usual manuals plus the aforementioned 18-200 kit lens.
- 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor
- DIGIC 6 processor
- ISO 100 - 25,600
- 7fps burst mode
- 1080p 60fps FHD video recording, MPEG4 AVC/H.264
- SD/HC/XC card formats supported
- 45 cross-type point phase-detect multi-mode autofocus
- 63-zone 7,560 pixel metering sensor
- 3" 1.04mp LCD screen
USAGE & HANDLING
The 80D is a "mid-range", weather-resistant EF-S mount DSLR. Size-wise it sits reasonably squarely between the 760D and the 5D-III. Actually, the biggest difference in physical size comes from accomodating the LP-E6N battery, otherwise it's more in line with the smaller 760D than the other "mid-range" camera I compared it to. The 80D has managed to lose some weight too and is about 5% lighter than its predecessor. It's still on the relatively heavy side at 730g, putting it in the same ballpark as the Sony A7RII. So it's not the biggest, heaviest brick in the Canon lineup yet still benefits from their biggest battery.
The vast majority of changes between the 70D and 80D are internal and although there have been some cosmetic tweaks I didn't really find anything significantly different. I generally find that most of the buttons are laid out in a more intuitive & sensible location on mid-range size bodies like the xxxD and xxD, rather than on the full-size SLRS, but to be totally honest it's "more of the same" and any Canon shooter will adapt extremely quickly. I still think Canon ergonomics & menus are the best out there.
The touchscreen is worth a special mention. It was pretty good on the 70D and it just *feels* better here. No accidental shooting when your nose touches the screen as you raise the camera to your eye!
Onto the good stuff :)
The autofocus has seen a serious boost in capability featuring 45 all cross-type focal points (up from 19 in the 70D). Superficially, using it reminded me a lot of that on the 760D but performance wise it's a step up. It was fast & accurate on all lenses I tried shooting through the viewfinder. That said, third party lenses including the Tamron 24-70 and 150-600, and Sigma 70-300, were slightly slower. Not slow - not by a long shot - and they were still accurate, but there was a small, perceptible difference between 3rd party lenses & EF-S lenses and good L glass as you might expect. To put it into context, as you'll see later in the sample images, even when shooting birds in flight with the 150-600mm Tamron it was still very quick & tracked the target accurately. That said there is still a problem using third party lenses in Live-View mode. Both the Tamron & Sigma lenses did not work, at all. In fact, with my Tamrons, if you half-pressed the shutter button the lens & camera would lock up completely. Even turning the camera off would not fix the problem and you need to remove the battery completely. Bear in mind these lenses had their firmware upgraded after I encountered a similar issue with the 7Dmark2 so this is a new issue - actually, it's a lot worse than before because it crashes the camera! This is always a risk you take when buying off-brand lenses and even though it's limited to Live-View mode it's still very annoying!
With all my Canon lenses though, autofocus really worked well with using Live-View and touch focusing. For people & moving targets it was good, tracking them across the entire scene. It even tracked through fences & tree branches pretty well. It will come into its own for videographers! Shooting wildlife was less impressive, not because of any limitation of the AF but only because it's difficult to practically use live-view and follow monkeys and birds racing around tree tops! Even shooting waterbirds skimming above the reservoir was tricky and I managed to get much more consistent results using the viewfinder. Being able to control the AF when you wireless connect your phone/tablet is also pretty cool - touching the tablet screen refocuses the camera, just like touching the LCD screen would.
Switching between AF modes is simple but I found that manually selecting a single specific point was a bit tricky - you need to use the D-pad while keeping the subject framed, one hand holding the lens while the other holds the camera, thumb fumbling for the control. Maybe it's just my giant hands :) But in the end I opted to use the grouped AF point mode, that way I could select and switch between groups of AF points when predicting the ones I needed rather than have to manually select the 1 in 45 point I needed! One last change to the AF is that the centre point now focuses down to -3EV.
The 7D mark 2 is still the king but it's pretty exciting to see such quality AF systems appearing across the whole Canon range.
Video features have been up-rated too, albeit stopping short of including 4K video. I think this is a mistake, whether it's true or not it feels like now Canon are deliberately hamstringing their cameras, we know the tech is available so when it's omitted it gives the wrong impression. Still, the 80D now shoots FHD at 60p, increased from the 30p of the 70D. The 80D also has headphone & microphone jack sockets now too, meaning the need to hack/workaround to monitor audio while recording can be done directly.
Other features include the anti-flicker white balance mode (very handy), WiFi & NFC (couldn't test NFC, WiFi worked as well as other Canon cameras) and an improved metering sensor. For the latter, it's the same metering sensor found on the 760D but if I am being totally honest I didn't really notice any huge difference over my other cameras and still needed to be consciously aware of/compensating for the lighting conditions myself. A quick word on battery life which was, in short, exceptional. I charged the battery to full once when I received the camera and never needed to charge it again throughout the entire time I used it, for just over a week. By the time I handed the camera back I'd shot 1107 images (according to Lightroom) and the battery was still showing over 30% charge. Even if the remaining charge was an overestimate, that's still superb performance and is a pretty stark contrast to the couple of hundred shots you get in the competition's small batteries.
Overall, there have been a number of good refinements & improvements with that new AF system on top. So far so good...
Rounding out the package is the new 24mp sensor - let's see what it can do! I always try to test cameras out in a range of scenarios, from situations you'd expect it to excel & ones it may be less comfortable in. However I'm well aware that the 70D was popular with bird & wildlife photographers who may be interested in it as a cheaper alternative to the 7D mark 2. With that in mind, I thought I'd give a bit more attention in that area where I could.
To begin I wanted to explore the cropping potential from the higher resolution sensor - the next three images show the beginning, middle & end of a very quick, rough & ready process.
The next two images show the image noise - shot at 1/100th sec, f/8 and increasing in full stops. ISO 100 is at the left and it goes up to the maximum expanded ISO of 25,600 on the right.
This is the same image as above but pushed in Photoshop to accentuate the differences between ISO settings.
Generally speaking I think images are clean and largely indistinguishable upto 1600. 3200 is pretty good and 6400 is definitely useable in some cicrumstances - some of the bird photos were shot at ISO 6400 to make sure I could get the aperture & shutter I wanted. Above that though, it gets messy...
Onto the sample images!
- Very impressive autofocus, fast & accurate
- Decent upgrades for video, in both recording quality & camera handling
- Good touchscreen, probably the best implementation on a DSLR I've seen
- High ISO performance is relatively average at best
- Still no 4K video
If you remember I started this review with the opinion that I'm not a solid fan of the xxD series of cameras. I suppose the first question is whether the 80D has changed that perception? Well....
Yes & no. Mostly no, but the "yes" part surprised me in a very good way. When comparing the specs of the older models, let's say the 700D, 70D and 7Dmk2 as all were released relatively close together, I personally thought the feature set of the 70D simply wasn't useful enough on a day to day basis to warrant paying extra for. I can count on one hand the number of times I've shot at 1/4000th of a second let alone 1/8000th, by way of example! It felt like the 70D was the "Grande" option from a Starbucks menu, just something at an interim price point to satisfy buyers who had more money than needed for the 700D but not enough for the 7Dmk2. I've always advised people to start with the "best of the lowest level", in this example I advise gettingthe 700D, spend lots of time using the camera to work out what they truly need with their first upgrade - be it the features of a 7Dmk2 or a full frame option.
The 80D is the first time I can remember where Canon have genuinely differentiated between the models in their lineup. I thought the 760D was going to be tough to beat and to my surprise Canon have actually put features in the 80D that means I would - for photographers who would realistically get the best out of it - recommend it over the entry level option. If you're shooting birds & nature but can't afford the 7dmk2 then it's definitely a very solid choice; what you lose in things like burst rate you gain in extra resolution to give more latitude for cropping.
That said though, the camera is still definitely evolution rather than revolution. Just because it surprised me doesn't mean it amazed me. The high-ISO noise performance was something of a disappointment, albeit in that it didn't feel significantly better than the older model rather than being "bad". The video improvements are solid, but not 4K-level inspiring. The improvements in shadow rendering and how far you can push the RAW files are hugely exciting though and I hope they filter down into the rest of the range.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this 80D to people interested in shooting wildlife who can't afford a 7dmk2, or perhaps as a second-body for someone with a full-frame camera. I'd still nudge beginners in the direction of the 760D and the serious sport/nature-togs are still going to go for the 7Dmk2 but the 80D represents a good improvement in sensor technology that's still pitched into an odd no-man's-land that will only appeal to relatively small segment of Canon shooters. The future for this new sensor tech is very bright though :)
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